Kate's Writing Blog

Olive Tree at Sunset

I subscribe to Mslexia women’s writing magazine which comes out quarterly.

In the last issue of Mslexia, there was a reference to the YouWriteOn website, which is funded by the Arts Council.

Yesterday I went to the website and signed up (it’s free). Members upload their short stories and/or sample chapters of their novels for review by other members. To earn a review from another member, you have to do a review of someone else’s work. A member can be a writer and/or a reader. Readers can review others’ work without uploading anything of their own.

I uploaded my short story, Olive Tree at Sunset, and did several reviews. In return, reviews of my work by other writers began to come in. The first described Olive Tree at Sunset as “beautifully written”. The second review was worthless, being a cut-and-paste job by a writer who was cheating the system to earn a review without putting in any work herself. I highlighted her misconduct on the Message Board (an action that resulted in another member accusing me of being a “sock” – an online identity used for deception – but he later changed his mind and apologised to me for his mistake). The third review included “your short story is wonderful”. And the fourth review summed up the story with: “beautiful”.

The problem is that in all these reviews there was only one suggestion for an improvement. I can’t believe that my story is that perfect. The single suggestion came from the first reviewer who thought I should take out the last line, but I think it ends the story with a punch so I’m not convinced about removing it. The other reviewers did not refer to the last line at all. So I’m waiting for more reviews to come in, to see what others think.

To read Olive Tree at Sunset, go to the YouWriteOn website, sign up and search for my name or the title of the short story. After reading it, you can do a Free Will review, if you wish.

OLIVE TREE AT SUNSET (Short Story, Literary Fiction)

A man is on the run after escaping from prison in Lalibela in the northern Ethiopian Highlands. They say he committed a gruesome murder. With the militia in pursuit, he seeks refuge in an old woman's hut.

"A man appeared on the footpath from the south. He was running, not the way the old woman ran at monkeys stealing her maize crop, waving her hands and shrieking and throwing stones, but like a donkey fleeing a pack of hyenas."

Let me warn you… I find YouWriteOn addictive!

I am fascinated by how other people have written stories in various genres. Unlike most published works, these offerings are usually flawed. Perhaps a writer makes mistakes in characterisation, plot, pace and structure, use of language, narrative voice, dialogue, setting, theme. It is a challenge for a reviewer to consider all these aspects when writing a review. And it is very good training for a writer: if I can see these failings in another person’s work, I shall be able to avoid making these same mistakes myself.

It is also a challenge to write an objective review that gives positive, constructive criticism when the genre or subject of the piece being reviewed is not your cup of tea. I reviewed a short story about a psychopathic murderer who attempts to kill a prostitute; the author said he found my review helpful and afterwards I found myself lying awake at night thinking how he should re-structure his story so that it worked better.

For three days we had no electricity in Debark, where I am this week. At 2,900 metres, it is cold in the evening, night and early morning. On Wednesday evening I retired to bed, it being the warmest place to be. Lying there in the dark, I thought up and visualized two short stories and two children's stories. Later I got up and wrote them down by candlelight. The short stories need a lot more work before they will be ready to be uploaded to YouWriteOn.

All the work I do on short stories is good practice for writing my autobiography.