In case you didn’t know, the Writers’ HQ writing community is the actual, literal best in the universe, full of amazingly talented and generous writers who make our little corner of the internet a very nice place indeed.
And, as part of WHQ Community Week, we wanted to show some of ’em off — blog stylee.
Every day this week we’ll be posting up an interview with one of our WHQ members so you can get to know them as well as we do: how they write, what makes them tick, their influences, inspiration, top tips and favourite stories.
We also wanted to show just how different each and every writer — and their writing process — is, and how there’s no one ‘right’ (write?) way to do things.
So today we are delighted to introduce you to WHQer, flash fictionista, and classic ‘getting-into-mischief-at-the-back-of-the-class’ community member, JP Relph.
Tell us about your writing journey — where did you start, where are you now, and how did you get there?
I used to write, when I was in my late teens/early twenties, mostly angst-ridden poetry. Then I posited a bonkers idea for a novel to my readerly mates on Facebook a few years back, and was swiftly encouraged to “get that written!” I joined WHQ in late 2020, didn’t actually log in and do anything with it until January 2021. I started with Plotstormers, which had the unexpected effect of making me a bit underwhelmed by my novel. Then I was swiftly encouraged to have a mooch around Flash Face Off (FFO), get to know people so they’d seek out my words, have a bash etc. etc. The gateway drug essentially. And it worked. I had my first published flash in August 2021, others followed and continue to follow. I have made a writing buddy and we plan more collaborative work – including a novel – and my own novel is still simmering away and demanding not to be left in the corner like Baby off of Dirty Dancing. I even met a crime writer I really like and she said she’d buy it – so Baby will be fluffed up and released sometime.
So, where I am now? Writing flash fiction and strangely enjoying the challenge of 249 character microflash, subbing and being published, enjoying the buzz of that and finally feeling like I am a writer
Do you have a writing routine? How do you work best?
I have a notebook around most of the time for those moments of inspiration, especially and annoyingly at night in bed. I work from the couch. It’s practical for me, I have an over-bed table that I use for long stretches. I spend time on research, even for the most basic line in a story, and then just start. I often have a couple of open Word docs and flit between the two until one demands more attention. I don’t write every day, but I do jot down ideas or do research every day. My chronic health issues mean I have to watch the amount of laptop time so I tend to write flash in spurts – crank out 800 words or so and then have to start slashing. I would say I definitely pantser on short work, but anything longer or more complex (like a collab) I would plan first. I work with a music channel on the TV in the background, usually a cat or two sprawled over my legs/lap, and easy access to the kettle. That’s all I need.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m looking at a couple of sub opportunities and picking work to edit and polish for those. I recently had a free critique with Matt Kendrick and plan to work on the story I sent him for a sub later this year. I rarely start my Flash Face Off piece/s before Wednesday these days – although the ideas are usually percolating and being discussed with other writer pals.
What advice would you give to a writer starting out?
Be open and prolific on the forums and make friends – it makes all the difference to be able to bounce ideas, check work, share those moments of imposter syndrome and success. I have to say FFO opened that door for me, although I didn’t do Plotstormers with Friends [the community cohort edition of our plotting course]– which I am sure would have created those connections.
Write your ass off. Do it for competitions, for that novel dream, for your family, to see your name in indie lit mags, to be published alongside writers you consider highly, to get into a habit, to tell all the frickin weird and wonderful stories that smash around inside your head at 3am. Write for yourself, leave yourself on the page. Just write. And when you can’t write? Read, make stupid notes for bonkers ideas, research telephone box colours or the sound darkling beetles make. Then write again.
What’s the piece of writing you’re proudest of (and why)?
That’s a tough one, but I reckon it would be The Girl Who Rides a Clydesdale Bareback on the Sand. The first stab I had at lyrical flash after I had observed how others did it. Inspired by stories my mum would tell me of riding the giant working horses bareback when she was a teen – a fearless thing I couldn’t imagine her doing. My mum inspires a lot of what I write as she died the year I came to WHQ and never saw anything I’ve written or had published. She would have loved to read everything. My pen name – Relph – is her family name.
The Clydesdale story took me all the way to the end of HISSAC 2021 where it was Highly Commended. My first stab at a competition and I had all three of my subs in the longlist – alongside WHQ greats – and I was thrilled it was the Clydesdale that made it to the end.
What are the main challenges you face with your writing?
As well as the fairly universal challenge everyone has – the IMPOSTER – I’m also challenged by own physical limitations at times, as well as the associated fatigue. I write around it and never about it. The imposter has a way of appearing unexpectedly too – recently a discussion on Flash Face Off night about Shakespeare sent me into a mood dive. I’ve never read any classic literature – I mostly read crime, apocalypses, supernatural stuff. Always have. Love the extreme escapism in the way I love Marvel movies. I had a bit of a moment wondering if I could class myself as a Writer if I hadn’t even read the “right stuff”, there were tears. A writer friend gave me a virtual slap, a virtual hug and we talked it through.
I do suffer a bit from a lack of direction. Is writing what I’m writing enough? Do I need to do more? I figure as long as I AM writing, the rest will sort itself out in the fullness of time.
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading one of a series of Scottish detective novels which manage to be bloody, gritty and fabulously humorous. The author is J D Kirk. I’m waiting for the latest novel from a fantastic fellow Cumbrian writer called M W Craven. If I was to recommend one book that I read recently and LOVED, it would be The Poison Garden by Alex Marwood. Culty, nasty botany, questionably happy ending – YES
What’s your favourite part of the Writers’ HQ Community?
I have to say FFO, I can’t not say FFO. It took me from a kinda-writer to a bona fide published writer in less than six months. It brought me one seriously amazing friend and several others I regularly chat and collab with. It brought me to Little Fuckington [a bonkers and extremely profane fictional town created by the utterly bananas FFO crew] and let me loose with a very niche side of my writing. It brought me into a dysfunctional family at a time when I was lost and lonely and utterly terrified of failure, and that is totally and utterly priceless. FFO made JP Relph a reality and that’s a dream come true.
And finally, give us three recommendations of writers or stories you love.
Alfred Untold by Neil Clark in Jellyfish Review – one of the most incredible examples of hermit-crab flash I’ve seen and just so bloody cool
The Reason Wolverine and Deadpool Are Flambéing on the Barbecue by Jo Withers in SmokeLong Quarterly – my kind of comedic writing, deliciously dark (and I’m a huge Marvel fan!)
My writer friend Jo Clark, after talking me out of my Shakespeare meltdown, sent me a book she helped crowdfund to life sometime ago. It’s called #Sonnets by Lucien Young. Sonnets done modern innit. “Walter White” and “Zombie” are favourites.
READ JP’S WORK HERE
Rebellion in The Fantastic Other
The Girl Who Rides a Clydesdale Bareback on the Sand — Highly Commended in the 2021 Highlands and Islands Short Story Association and Writng Competition (HISSAC)
The Loxodonta in the Room in Sledgehammer Lit
Minnow in Splonk
Under the Fervent Gaze of the Cold Moon in Noctivagant Issue 3 (p111)
In the Summoning of Beasts in The Anansi Archive Anthology Vol. 1 Winter 2021
Only the Ghosts in Full House Literary
Steps in Time — winner of the Loft Books competition and nominated for a Pushcard Prize
Into the Lair of Adeline Wolfe in Pure Slush Vol. 22: Appointment at 10.30
Sliver in The Hyacinth Review
For the Roses in Quill and Crow
Scrap in Moss Puppy Magazine
There is no Spoon in Bear Creek Gazette