What I read in March 2023, and my experiences of the 555 Story Challenge

Another weirdly long month down. As well as all the usual reading and blogging, I finished and submitted the 5,000-word sci-fi/speculative story I started for a competition in February, and this past week, I took part in Nicole Breit’s 555 Story Challenge.

This was a really good experience! The challenge was to write one 100-word creative non-fiction story a day for five consecutive days, with Nicole presenting a video with a theme, techniques and examples each day.

I’ve found quite a lot to say about it, so if you just came here to see what I read in March, don’t click the next line!

Here be my extended thoughts on the 555 Story Challenge

This challenge suited me perfectly, as I'm most motivated to write when I'm given a prompt, a word limit, and a deadline (no, 22 years(!) in the British education system hasn't ruined me, what are you talking about?).

I'm really pleased with what I came up with, and it's so tempting to put what I wrote on my blog right now (this is why I could never be an academic), but I must let the dust settle a bit, then look into submitting them to competitions/journals. But for now, here are five things I gained from this experience:

1. The obvious one: I now have five pieces of writing I didn't have before!

2. A technique that works better for me than free writing/"morning pages".

When I've done free writing in the past, I've tended to ruminate myself into a hole, it's felt a bit too self-indulgent/obsessive, and I've never looked at it again (I have a lot of frenzied, quite frankly concerning scribbles from 2021 that I need to get around to shredding).

Having a strict word limit means I don't feel like I'm just rambling about myself, and I'm using my "editing" muscle rather than my "write something, anything!" one.

Not that the latter exercise doesn't have its place - I find it useful, especially in conjunction with a gin-in-a-tin or two (drink responsibly), for banging out draft zeroes of fiction short stories without getting held up by my inhibitions or trying to nail down precise details about events, characters, or settings.

3. Confidence in my future writing.

The piece I had published in the Colchester WriteNight anthology the other year comprised three scenes, in which I was writing creatively at ages six, 20, and 32. But all the short stories I've written since then have followed a more traditional format, and I've been questioning whether that first short story was "legitimate" (I know, I know).

Nicole showed us examples of published and award-winning creative non-fiction made up of a number of short pieces describing related experiences. It's allowed! Encouraged, even!

4. Ideas for my future writing.

Big news: Colchester Arts Centre have put seven Emotional Madness shows in the diary, taking us up to the end of 2024. The next one is on Tuesday 16 May.

But that means I quite possibly need to conjure up seven new 1,500ish-word stories. My hope going into the 555 Story Challenge was that it would shake loose some ideas for these, and it has.

The stories I read at the two shows I've done so far were pretty standard short fiction, but used my own experiences as a jumping-off point. I'm open to doing that again if inspiration strikes, but I'm now also buzzing with ideas for potential stories in the collage style described above.

5. Themes and messages emerging.

Over the course of the week, two main themes/messages jumped out from the body of work I created.

One was the pleasure I get from opening and closing things I can hold in my hand. On Monday, it was Polly Pockets and my wireless earbuds case; on Friday, it was horse chestnuts.

The other was the importance to me of feeling visible and valued. On Tuesday, it was the lack thereof at school and in my first year of university; on Wednesday, it was my cat choosing to sleep next to me; on Thursday, it was someone I know being so kind and attentive when I saw them for the first time in 18 months, I believe they set the wheels of my recovery in motion (insert vomit emoji).

What I read in March

Going by Goodreads, I read 14 books; however, two were re-skims of books I read for BBNYA judging in November last year (and therefore wasn’t at liberty to say I’d read them) for reviews, and one was the final couple of chapters of a book I put down in 2021 (this happened a lot that year).

A fair bit of March was taken up with two long books - coincidentally, one was set in Japan in the past, and the other was set in Japan in the future. Both were 4.5* reads.

All the Little Bird-Hearts, The Rules of the Road, The Purgatory Poisoning, Pachinko

All the Little Bird-Hearts, by Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow - 4.5*

The Rules of the Road, by C.B. Jones - I low-key think this is the exact horror story I’ve been seeking all my life? I’m a sucker for anything involving mysterious broadcast interruptions. 5*

The Purgatory Poisoning, by Rebecca Rogers - 4*

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee - 4.5*

Lesser Known Monsters, Beautiful Shining People, Reaper Man, Three Weeks in the Summer, The Time Trials

Lesser Known Monsters, by Rory Michaelson - BBNYA re-skim. 4*

Beautiful Shining People, by Michael Grothaus - 4.5*

Reaper Man, by Terry Pratchett - 4*

Three Weeks in the Summer, by Paul Marriner - 3*

The Time Trials, by Jon McConnell and Dayna McConnell - BBNYA re-skim. 4*

Hinton Hollow Death Trip, Musicophilia, This is your Brain on Music, Go As A River, The Maiden

Hinton Hollow Death Trip, by Will Carver - good, but I have some reservations about one of the deaths. 4*

Musicophilia, by Oliver Sacks - started in 2021 (my failing, not his). 4*

This is your Brain on Music, by Daniel Levitin - interesting and educational in parts, but not what I was hoping for, and very 2007 descriptions of autism. 3*

Go As A River, by Shelley Read - review coming soon! 4.5*

The Maiden, by Kate Foster - 4*

Looking ahead…

The Ringmaster, Soul Music, From Far Around They Saw Us Burn

This month, I’m hoping to continue working my way through Vanda Symon and Terry Pratchett’s books.

I’ve got a few blog tour spots, as usual, and as it’s a short story collection, I’m especially looking forward to reading and reviewing Alice Jolly’s From Far Around They Saw Us Burn. While I didn’t read any short stories in books in March, I did read quite a few in zines and Substacks!

Alice Violett's Picture

About Alice Violett

Writer of blogs and short stories, reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK https://www.draliceviolett.com