It's time to meet the Notes From the Writing Chair short story contest winner, Almiria Wilhelm!
Almiria lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, in a household that contains more pets than people. When she isn’t writing she’s probably reading. Unless she’s dancing, an activity she discovered a passion for shortly after she learnt to walk. Probably as a consequence of this, Almiria is also a dance teacher and award-winning choreographer. She uses her students as guinea-pigs to test her fiction on.
Almiria has just completed her first YA novel. There’s no dancing in it, but she hopes to be able to write a lot of dance-related stories in the future!
You can connect with her on Facebook.
Almiria's story, "The Favourite," won first place in the Notes From the Writing Chair Short Story Contest. I'll be publishing the story here on Friday, but in the meantime, let's get to know Almiria a little better.
How long have you been writing?
Ever since I learnt the alphabet! Seriously though, I wrote my first short story (complete with illustrations) at the age of ten.
What is your favorite genre to write and why?
Fantasy, both for adults and teens. I love creating worlds which are different from ours and yet entirely believable for the reader.
What inspired you to write "The Favourite"?
A dream. I woke up remembering an unsettling scene of a teacher looking for her students in a room crowded with strange creatures and decided to create a story around it. The fact that I’m a dance teacher myself may have something to do with it too, although I’m nothing like the teacher in the story!
I had another reason for writing The Favourite and that is my love of Henry James’s short story, The Turn of the Screw. For anyone unfamiliar with it, Henry James tells the haunting tale of a governess who has to look after two very creepy little charges. Or is it the governess that is creepy? Henry James leaves the sanity of the governess, who tells her story in first person, in doubt. I probably shouldn’t mention this, since I really wouldn’t like The Favourite to be compared in any way to Henry James’s masterpiece, but the challenge of writing something with a similar concept inspired me. Is the teacher’s obsession with her favourite affecting her mind, or does she really have frighteningly manipulative students? This is the question which I hope to raise in the reader’s mind. Only the readers can tell me if I’ve succeeded!
The story has a beautiful, otherwordly feel to it. Can you tell us a little about your world-building process?
It’s difficult to talk about a process which I handle very intuitively. I like to start with a feeling. In the case of The Favourite, I wanted to convey the unsettling atmosphere of the teacher’s mental and physical world, while still retaining the beauty of the imagery. I relied heavily on my love of myths and legends, particularly those of the Irish fairytales in which fairies and similar supernatural creatures are beautiful, dangerous and unpredictable. I tried to use the gentler, more romantic language typical of those tales. At the same time, I prefer to keep language simple and focus on the backbone of whatever story I am writing. I find that writing for a word-count limit is a very useful exercise in getting rid of anything that is not directly related to the core concepts of my story!
And a few fun ones, since the story is about favorites!
Favorites are so difficult for me because mine are never hard-and-fast! Stand-out novels that come to mind are Roger Zelazney’s Chronicles of Amber, Patricia McKillip’s Riddle Master trilogy and Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover.
I’m a big fan of Hollywood of the ‘30s and ‘40s, so my answers in this category tend to surprise people! The Scarlet Pimpernel with Leslie Howard, Tale of Two Cities with Ronald Colman, (both from the ‘30s), and pretty much anything with Olivia de Havilland in it!
On cold days, pizza and pasta! On hot ones, (we get a lot of those in Africa), I love fresh fruit.
I don’t know yet – there are still so many places to explore!
Favorite leisure activity?
No doubts here – a two-way tie between reading and dancing!
Thanks for joining us at the writing chair, Almiria! You guys are just going to love her story! Watch for it here on Friday!