Sunday, 28 February 2010

Guest blog post: Kate Long

I'm delighted to welcome Kate Long to my blog this week. Kate's been a friend for many years - we met first on the old BBC Get Writing website. Although she began her career with short stories as you'll see below, she's since published 5 novels. Her latest, A Mother's Guide to Cheating is out now. There's a signed copy to be won - details at the end of this post.

OK, over to Kate!

The Road Between the Short Story and the Novel

As this blog’s about short stories, I thought I’d post about what short stories have meant to my development as an author and how they still shape my writing today.

Back in the early 90s, when I was starting to put pen to paper, I had no idea what kind of format or genre I wanted to work in. So I sketched out a couple of short stories, approached a woman’s magazine, and was rejected pretty promptly. Neither my style nor my subject matter was appropriate and I’d arrogantly failed to research the guidelines. In fact I cringe when I look back. My only excuse was that in those days I had no access to the internet, and to fantastic resources like this blog where market information is gathered together and shared.

I’d next had an idea for a novella and was very engaged with that; still I wanted to write and place shorter fiction. I turned to my local library, and to magazines like The New Writer and Writers’ News, for lists of competitions. Then I sent off some of my latest stories, and crossed my fingers.

About the same time as the rejection slips for my novella were coming in, I began to have the odd competition success: Raconteur, Real Writers, The Kent Literature Prize. The novella abandoned, I embarked on a teenage novel and submitted more shorts. A pattern emerged, and soon competition wins were keeping me going in the face of a growing pile of letters rejecting my longer works.

It was a short story that caught the interest of my first agent, David Rees. He’d published a piece of mine in his literary magazine, and someone from a major publishing house had asked after me: had I written a novel? No, I hadn’t; not a full length one for adults. So at David’s suggestion I began one, based loosely on the short story he’d accepted. It took me a couple of years to complete, provoked some encouraging rejections but still failed to hit the mark. Close, as they say, but no cigar.

Soon afterwards I gave birth to my first child, then a couple of years later another baby came along, and in the fug of sleepless nights writing slipped well down my list of priorities. I still managed to send off the odd short story, but my free time was so stretched I couldn’t get into a decent writing rhythm. However, just as I was feeling I’d lost my creative momentum, I heard I’d won the £1000 first prize with Real Writers, and the competition organiser, Lynne Patrick, was so positive about my prospects I felt inspired to get moving again.

I managed to nail the first couple of chapters of The Bad Mother’s Handbook, went on an Arvon course, had a story placed in the Bridport Prize. I had my mojo back! The new novel wrote itself in just a couple of months (editing took a lot longer, I hasten to add) and by 2002 I’d signed my first book deal. Would I have got there without the steady drip of competition placings? No, I don’t believe I would.

Nowadays I produce the odd commissioned short story, but I also write them for fun when an idea grabs me. They’re actually harder to place nowadays as I don’t feel I can enter competitions any more; in my view comps are for giving unagented writers exposure, to help them make contacts, to give the kind of boost and reassurance I know I appreciated when I was working in an editor-free void.

But the crafting of the short story is also a crucial part of my novel-writing life. In the same way an elephant has to be cut into bite-sized pieces before you can eat it, a novel, for me, needs to be broken down into a string of scenes, little associated stories, and as I forge my way through a massive hundred thousand words, I’m focussing almost exclusively on just one tiny part. I do have an plan of the overall narrative, but the sense of what I’ve already written and what’s yet to come is misty against the sharpness of the section I’m involved with. Holding onto that perspective is crucial for me because it reduces the anxiety associated with having to complete a four hundred page manuscript by a given month. The pressure’s off: I tell myself all I have to do is finish one scene and start another.

So it’s fair to say I owe quite a debt to short stories, and it’s great to see a blog like this where they’re encouraged, celebrated and shared. I only wish womagwriter had been around when I was starting out!

Aw, thanks Kate for those kind words about this blog! Kate WAS around when I was starting out, which was lucky for me, as I've learned a huge amount from her over the years.

OK, competition time. If you'd like the chance to win a signed copy of Kate's latest novel, post a comment here telling us about a short story which made a real impact on you. I don't mind if you can't remember the title or author - just tell us about the story and why it has stuck in your mind. We all try to write memorable stories, so finding out what made a story memorable to someone else could be hugely informative!

Post your comment by 8pm (UK time) Friday 5th March. No anonymous entries - obviously you can't win if I can't contact you! I'll decide a winner (might get Kate to help out!) and will announce the winner on Sunday 7th March. Good luck all and I look forward to seeing your entries!

Previous stops on Kate's blog tour here and here . Next stop here.


Old Kitty said...


This one sticks in my mind!

It was a short story in My Weekly (not Women’s Weekly – as I get them thoroughly confused – it was definitely My Weekly)!

The story starts with a third person narrator – a woman is waxing lyrical about her new kitten, a stray she has found. This kitten is the centre of her life, more than her husband whom she’d been married to for a while now. She doesn’t care that her husband thinks she is too obsessive about this new kitten. It turns out she had a previous cat but somehow this cat disappeared while in the care of her husband. She always had her suspicions and tells her neighbours about her fears that maybe her husband had something to do with her first cat’s disappearance. Then she starts to tell them how her husband has been acting very strange lately and how she fears not only for her new cat but also for herself. Her neighbours dismiss her suspicions at first and then her new cat disappears and she is frantic. Her neighbours begin to grow as suspicious and she is completely paranoid. That same night she voices her paranoia to her neighbour, she hears a noise coming from the garden shed. She goes to investigate, she screams. A neighbour comes running in to investigate. She is gone. Then the narration switches (in italics) to first person narration. We are in the woman’s mind. She narrates how the neighbours will find the garden shed and her home empty, how she is certain that they call the police because they hear her scream but she is gone. How the neighbours will do their best to convince the police that the husband is somehow linked to her disappearance. How his life will be ruined even if they never find what everyone will think is the body of his wife because the aura of suspicion and gossip would have taken their hold. It turns out that the wife had planned all this ever since her husband got rid of their first cat. It ends with the wife driving to her sister’s in another part of the country to be reunited with her second cat whom she has left there all along.

I remember this so well because it was kind of dark for My Weekly. I mean really dark! And I loved how the author switches POV in the second half of the story – and it works because you realise you are reading about a very damaged and vengeful woman- but you don't know this until you are reading the italicised bit. Yet I like that I was on her side and I understood her extreme actions. She did this to free herself. Oh ok and for her cats too! :-) And all this madness in just 2000 words.

Thank you for this really inspiring blog! And thank you Kate Long. It really gives me hope.
I’m, so glad to hear that winning writing comps could bulk up one’s writing CV! Good luck Kate with your novel! thanks womagwriter.

Take care

Anonymous said...

From Elaine Everest (still having trouble logging in!)

A truly inspirational blog posting Kate. I remember the BBC days well when we spoke out against so many critics and made so many friends.

For purely pesonal reasons I recall a short story which I have the feeling came from The People's Friend although the outcome makes me doubt my memory.

A young female is in church, it is full of family and friends. As the service progresses she gazes at her handsome husband and thinks of the life they have shared so far. She wonders what the future will bring. She smiles at her young daughter who for the first time in her short life has dressed herself for this special day. She is unsure of her son as he tugs at his tie and scowls at the vicar's words. Is this a wedding? A christening? No, it is the woman's own funeral and she is a ghost.

I've just come home from a family party. It is my uncle's 90th birthday. There was a group photograph with his brother and sisters. My slightly younger uncle sang 'My Way' which is a family tradition. I, along with a cousin, sobbed as our parents can no longer join in the song or take part in the group photograph. They are the two family members who have died.
In my heart I could see my father standing there with his brothers, a pint of beer in hand joining in the song. Wouldn't it be lovely if it was so?

Dreamstate said...

Kate, I just love your books and I am so encouraged by your story! Thanks for visiting here.

My short story memory is actually a book of short stories: '75 Short Masterpieces' a collection from such greats as O Henry, Guy de Maupassant, Ray Bradbury. My favorite was Charles by Shirley Jackson, about a little boy just starting school. It had a nice little twist at the end and seemed so innocent, yet still resonates with me now.

Kate said...

Kitty, isn't it fascinating which stories stick with us?

Hey, Elaine, nice to see you again!

Thanks for the nice comment about my books, Dreamstate.

Kate said...

Just leaving another comment to activate the 'Email follow-up comments' - forgot to tick the box last time!

Bernadette said...

My favourite short story is 'The Trail of your Blood in the Snow' from Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I don't want to give too much away, but it starts quite light and happy and then a small incident turns into something more serious. By the end you are living the journey yourself and the feeling of panic, desperation and sadness is overwhelming.
I first read the story many years ago, long before I ever tried writing for publication myself, and haven't read it for a good while but that feeling resurrects whenever I think of it. I'm going to read it again today to see if I can work out how he did it.

(Don't put me in the comp, womag, as I won Kate's book on Helen's blog!)

Kate said...

It can be a strange experience revisiting a story we remember from days before we wrote fiction ourselves. Let us know what you think of it now.

Sally Quilford said...

Thanks for another great blog tour, Kate! It shows that one should never give up, no matter how many rejections one receives.

One of my all time favourite short stories is The Fruit At The Bottom Of The Bowl by Ray Bradbury. It's about a man who murders his wife's lover, then starts wiping his fingerprints from the door handles etc. This becomes an obsession as he tries to remember everything he touched when he arrived at the house, eventually spending many hours cleaning things he couldn't have possibly touched, including the titular Fruit At The Bottom Of the Bowl.

It's a masterpiece in obsessive behaviour, and how guilt can disable a person mentally.

(Don't put me in the comp womag. I've already got Kate's novel).

Kate said...

Oh, I remember that one! I read it first, I think, in a Pan Book of Horror Stories. Pretty much everything I've ever read of Bradbury has stayed with me. He's an amazingly inventive writer.

Sally Quilford said...

Yes, he's wonderful. I must admit it was a toss up between that story and the one about Venutian rain (The Sun Chamber?) His description of rain at the beginning of that story leaves you feeling like it's rolling down the back of your t-shirt!

HelenMHunt said...

Another great post from Kate. Really interesting and inspirational.

Im going back a long time for my memorable story - probably about thirty years or so. I don't remember the writer or the title, or the magazine - but it was back in the days when I used to read my gran's Woman, Woman's Own and Woman's Realm.

It was told from a male POV which I imagine was quite unusual at that time. The story was of a father with two daughters, the elder was adopted and the second a natural child. When he gets a garbled message from the school to say one of the girls has run away he assumes it is the adopted one and that despite their efforts to make her feel as loved as her sister they have failed. When he gets to the school he realises it is the other daughter who is missing. He finds her quite easily and she explains that she doesn't feel as loved as the adopted daughter who was 'chosen'. The father realises that they've been so careful to make the adopted daughter feel part of the family that they've overdone it and excluded their biological daughter who doesn't feel special. He makes the little girl feel better by pointing out she loves a teddy she was given as a present as much as one she chose herself and bought with her pocket money.

I hope I've remembered it right, but I think the fact I remember it at all after all these years is a real testament to that writer's skill. I wish now that I knew who it was.

womagwriter said...

Some great memorable stories here!

One that's stuck with me a long time was written by Della Galton and published in My Weekly. It pulls at the heartstrings and I think that's why it has stayed with me. I cried buckets when I read it.

An elderly widow is caring for her old, sick dog. She knows the dog won't last much longer, but doesn't want to make that final trip to the vet, so she makes the dog comfortable in a bed beside the fire and sits back in her chair to wait. She nods off. When she awakes, the dog is sitting up and wagging its tail happily. In the room are lots of other dogs, the ones she's loved throughout her life. In a chair is her husband. 'We've been waiting for you!' he says. She gets up, no aching joints now, and they go out with all the dogs for a walk on the beach, reunited at last.

I think this one touched me because it was written so beautifully, and so much emotion was packed into under 1000 words.

Tickle said...

I love any short stories by Jill Butcher as they are usually perfectly judged.
But the story that always stayed with me is one by Teresa Ashby published I think in Woman's Weekly. A daughter is visiting her dying mother and the story focuses on the old woman's hands. At first you think it is a sentimental look back with the daughter losing her mother but when she reveals these hands were not loving mother's hands but hands that hit, the story takes on a real power. Loved it.

Joanne Fox said...

Great post Kate.

My favourite story is The Squirrel by Tove Jansson from her collection A Winter Book. There's very little plot to speak of. A woman living an isolated existence by the sea spots a squirrel near her house. Because the woman has such rare contact with other living creatures, human or animal, this squirrel becomes a very big part of her life. The entire story is really about the relationship between woman and squirrel. The writing is very sparse, observant and funny, and I love this story for how the characters of both woman and squirrel shine through. Brilliant!

Linda said...

Firstly I must congratulate you on such a wonderful and informative blog. The guidelines you share make life so much easier in trying to send the right stories to the right magazine in the hope that one day the answer will be a big fat “yes”.

Kate, thank you too for an inspiring guest blog. I love your books and your experience just goes to highlight the need for perseverance.

The story which has had a resounding impact on me was one from the Woman & Home 2008 short story competition. The story, “A Boy At Play” was a runner up in the competition and was written by Fiona Bar. The atmosphere of the story has lingered with me since I read it over a year ago, and your blog has made me re-read it. I’m so glad I did even though it brought tears to my eyes.

The story concentrates on a young boy who is obsessed with his toy soldiers. Whenever he is home from boarding school he takes over his father’s study to play armies. No one is allowed in without permission and if his mother hoovers up one of his soldiers by mistake she will find him rooting through the hoover bag to find the missing man.

The description in this story is amazing and you really feel that you are there. For instance “His teeth are still too big for his young face,” conjures up in my mind the face of my own son who now has his second set of teeth, and they do look incongruously large compared to the size of his face.

The story passes through the boy’s childhood into adulthood where he joins the army. He is sent to Iraq where he meets his sad fate.

The end of the story is so touching as we see the boy’s mother getting out the old tin containing the toy soldiers and then crying as she too searches through the hoover bag looking for the missing solider.

A truly emotive and memorable story which can still be found on the Woman & Home website.

Susan Wright said...

There are quite a few stories, which have stuck in my mind, but the most recent is 'The Octopus Nest' by Sophie Hannah.

I first heard this on Radio 4 and then went on to read the story, but knowing the end spoiled it a bit - it is the sort of story that has a terrific impact the first time, but is not so good when you know the twist right at the very end.

Basically, having looked at many family photographs taken over the years, a wife spots the same woman in the background time and time again, and becomes convinced that she and/or her husband are being stalked.

In one of the photographs, the woman stalker is holding a book called 'The Octopus Nest' so the wife googles this and discovers that the woman is the author of the book. She also discovers that the author is about to go on holiday - to the same place where she and her husband and children are going.

Convinced there is something very sinister going on, she decides to phone the police, but then goes into the garage (I think!) where her husband keeps books he has read. She opens a large filing cabinet and comes across many copies of The Octopus Nest - even foreign language copies - and finally realises that it is her husband who is doing the stalking!

Doesn't sound that brilliant they way I tell it(!), but it is absolutely stunning, believe me! Draws you in right from the start - and has a very creepy end. Now spoilt for everybody reading this - sorry!

Ellan said...

Love this blog - the variety and the sheer usefulness... wow.
When I was 13 I read a SF story in an anthology titled The Vortex Blasters. An alien is on trial. The prosecution makes a very convincing case, showing how devious and dangerous the alien is (and I was thinking, Yes; guilty.) Then the defence lawyer shows the same events from a different perspective, finally revealing the alien is actually a female infant who has acted as an infant would.

I'd just like to thank you for asking for a story that stands out. The one above (sadly, I can't recall its title) affected the writer in me. I wanted to be able to mislead a reader; I wanted to be able to show character; I wanted to be able to manipulate a reader's emotions; I wanted to write characters with motives.
That short story was the best teaching tool... and I haven't looked back.
Cheers, E

Kate said...

Some great story outlines here.

I have the anthology where 'The Octopus Nest' comes from and every tale in there's a belter.

Funny how some stories stay with us because of character, some because of language, some because of the world they create or because of our confouded expectations as readers.

One of my favourite stories is 'Weekend' by Fay Weldon: But there are three women's magazine stories that stick in my mind because they struck personal chords.

One is by our own Womagwriter, and concerns a woman approaching the anniversary of the child she miscarried early on. I hadn't seen that topic dealt with in a short story before, and it was really sensitively done.

The second was about a teenage girl who seemed to want to go away with her mates to stay unsupervised in a caravan, and was kicking up a fuss because her mother said she couldn't go. The twist was that she needed her mother to say no because she was secretly scared; her mother formed a protective barrier for her, an excuse to stay safe. This story pops into my head often when I'm dealing with my own children.

And the third deals with an elderly woman who's just settled her mother into a residential home, and the mother's pretty miserable about it and seems to be sinking into herself. She has everything on a plate, but she's lost the will to live. Then one day the heroine visits and her mum's in the garden helping to peg out the washing, and looking so much happier. The image of the frail old lady battling with the huge white sheets, and loving it, really stuck.

womagwriter said...

Thanks Kate - that story earned me a good few pennies when it was published in a Take A Break seasonal special, so I remember it well also!

Yes, Fay Weldon's Weekend is an excellent story - you sent me a link to that many years ago and I have never forgotten it. I love Weldon's writing. There is no one better at portraying women gracefully cracking up.

It's interesting what we remember most about each story - the character, the plot, the structure, a particular image (eg your frail old lady with the huge sheets) or the emotions evoked by the story. So far we are all picking out something different about each story. Which goes to show there really is no formula for writing the perfect memorable story!

Joanne Fox said...

I remember that story The Octopus Nest which Susan talks about above. That's a great one!

Lydia said...

Hi Kate and Kathleen. Inspiring blog, Kate. First time I contributed to a blog on which the "Kate" turned out to be you I was like: "OMG I've been talking to Kate Long" Pathetic, I know, but there you go!
Memorable stories: one from teenage years when computers were still mystery boxes in the corner of the room (giving my age away). Story revolves around creation of the biggest, most powerful computer which will answer all questions. Not sure, but might be by Bradbury. The first question programmers pose when the machine is ready: "Is there a God?" The answer from the computer has always stayed with me: "There is now."
Another womag story (can't remember author)from fairly recent WW Fiction Special concerned the death of a beloved dog and reduced me to a blubbing heap. Wonderful non sentimental but emotional writing whoever you are and a classic example of how to hang a story together: "(Dog's name) died today" then later "(Dog's name) died yesterday"; "(Dog's name) died a week ago" etc. Even if you hate dogs (which I don't) you couldn't fail to be moved.

Sally Quilford said...

Lydia, I'm pretty sure that story you mention about the supercomputer is by Isaac Asimov. I can't remember the title now, but it is a great story.

Kate said...

Asimov's another short story writer I read avidly in my teens.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

A great post and continuing thread. The story that made a huge impact on me when I was beginning to write seriously, was Sally Zigmond's prize-winning 'The Millennium Miracle' - published in the World Wide Writers collection in 1998.
The historical detail, language, characterisation, humour and clever twist have stayed in my mind all these years.

womagwriter said...

I read a lot of Asimov too, also Arthur C Clarke who wrote some very memorable stories which made you think about your place in the cosmos.

One I specifically remember - in the future a spaceship is exploring the remains of a distant supernova, because there's a faint radio signal coming from there. They track it down to a lump of rock, orbiting the remains of the exploded star. There's a beacon, clearly put there by the beings who once populated planets in that solar system. It marks the spot where relics of the civilisation have been buried. Looks like they'd invented space travel to the point they could put that beacon at the furthermost reaches of their solar system, but not to the point they could save themselves when they realised their star was about to go nova. The captain of the human exploration spaceship is a devout Christian. Calculations show that the star went supernova around 0AD. It was the star which shone over Bethlehem. The captain rages to God, oh why did you have to destroy a civilisation just to mark where your son was born?

Sally Quilford said...

Another one of Asimov's was where humans spread out into the galaxy, then spread out further, overpopulating planets and using up resources, then became simply thoughts and waves, before becoming extinct. And finally there's only darkness and the mega computer left that they started with, and it says 'Let there be light'. Made me shiver when I first read that!

Paula Williams said...

I love the O'Henry story The Gift of the Magi,(I think that's the title) where this young couple are very much in love and very broke as they approach their first Christmas together. Each wants to buy the other something really special. The husband has a silver pocket watch that means a lot to him as it belonged to his grandfather and she cuts off her beautiful long chestnut hair (of which she is very proud) and sells it to buy him a case for it. But in the meantime, he has sold the watch to buy a real tortoishell comb for her hair.
It's a sad but uplifting ending, as of course, the love that each has for the other is the best gift of all.

Bernadette said...

I've just received my signed copy of Kate's book that I won on Helen's blog. Thank you, Kate! I'm looking forward to reading it.

Kate said...

Glad to hear it arrived safely.

Kate said...

I remember that story about the comb and the watch chain. I always thought it was Maupassant!

Sally Quilford said...

I think they made a tv film of the comb and watch story, starring none other than Marie Osmond.

womagwriter said...

Sally, yes I think I saw that many years ago!

Geraldine Ryan said...

I could have sworn that was Maupassant too!

Kate said...

Definitely O'Henry - I've just checked. Geraldine, I think what we've got mixed up with is the story about the fake pearl necklace.

Paula Williams said...

I'd just assumed I was the one who got it wrong! Still a good story, whoever wrote it... wish I had, although I did once write a sort of version of it concerning an old teddy bear and a cup final ticket.

Geraldine Ryan said...

All these years I've had that wrong! Sounds like a great story, Paula!

Sally Quilford said...

The O Henry story is available to read here

Joanna said...

I can never forget Maupassant's The Necklace. It is an example of how lives can change as a result of one misunderstanding. In fact, the central characters' lives are devastated by a simple assumption. This theme is poignant, as so many of us have that failing and it often leads to ruination of friendships, finances, health or whole lives.

Ashamed of her social status, the young woman borrows a pearl necklace for a ball she attends with her hard-working and devoted husband. They assume it is very valuable. I love their frantic search, following the shocking realisation that she has lost the pearls.

Alongside her, I lived through those subsequent years of misery and hardship, as she works to repay the loans they acquired to replace the necklace. Her youth vanishes, her prettiness is obscured by exhaustion.

The twist at the end is perfect and the image of that necklace will always stay with me.

Lynn said...

I loved Rock Creek. It's a strange desolite story with the setting mirroring the state of the main characters soul.

Even now, years after I've read it, one scene comes back to me unbidden.

ellie said...

I recently read 'Some New Ambush' by Carys Davies. The whole collection was good but one story really stuck in my mind. It was a very short story (only 2 pages) told from the point of view of a man coming home from a long sea voyage, watching the women on the quay and imagining his reunion with his family. I don't want to give away the twist but I thought it was amazing how the writer took such a seemingly insignificant part of history - the passing of a trend - and told such a wonderful story in only a few hundred words.

Geraldine Ryan said...

It's impossible to single out just one story of William Trevor's but one, "Broken Homes" sticks in my mind. Briefly, it is the story of Mrs Malby who finds herself agreeing to having her kitchen decorated by pupils from a nearby comp and the resulting havoc they wreak.

Trevor writes hauntingly and sympathetically about old age and is a master at creating a whole world in just a few pages. His writing style is sparse and an absolute delight - no flowery language or lengthy description here but a great many spaces that speak volumes. What he does may be obvious - he tells stories - but nowadays the fashion, in literary fiction at least seems to sneer at giving the reader a proper story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

You always get the feeling that he loves the human race, faults and all and he is the best observer of people I can think of. Read his short stories and study how he builds his characters - always in conjunction with his setting and always in relation to the past and to other people - and you'll learn a lot about the craft of writing. William Trevor, still writing in his seventies, is a true craftsman!

Geraldine Ryan said...

Seem to have posted twice!

Helen Yendall said...

One of the best short stories I’ve ever read is one I came across recently: ‘Slog’s Dad’ by David Almond (who wrote the award-winning children’s book ‘Skellig’). ‘Slog’s Dad’ was runner-up in the National Short Story awards in 2007. It’s told in a deceptively simple, ‘bare’ style, with lots of dialogue, so it’s a quick read. The narrator is a child, Davie – Slog’s friend – who describes an afternoon in their home town in the North East when Slog’s Dad has, seemingly, come back from the dead.
Read this story if you want to see how dialect can be included with subtlety, how to use all the senses, how to engage your reader and most of all, how to resist the temptation to over-write!
Like the best short stories, it leaves you wondering and thinking about it long after you’ve finished reading. It made me cry. It made me want it to be true. It made me remember how it felt to be a child, when all things seemed possible.
It made me wish I could write like David Almond.

Helen Yendall said...

Sorry - the link to the story, 'Slog's Dad', if you want to read it (didn't work last time), is:

womagwriter said...

Thanks all for your entries! Some great stories described here, and I've really enjoyed reading about what's made an impact on you.

The competition is now closed. I will print the comments from this thread and make a decision tomorrow, and will announce the winner on Sunday.