The winning entry in the USD$500 STEAM PRESS Short Sci-Fi Competition, is A Beta Life, the work of Auckland-based English teacher and freelance writer, Jack Gabriel. One judge commented that A Beta Life was 'an engaging and original story whose details slowly emerged to hook in the reader. The Sci-Fi elements of the story were skillfully introduced and believable.’ And all of the judges enjoyed the humour in the story.
Jack says that winning the competition was a total surprise, especially given that entries were received from around the world. It was only a few months ago that Jack had returned to writing short stories after shelving a novel he had been working on. A Beta Life is actually a snapshot of a larger story he had planned, but he thought that it worked well enough on its own to warrant sending it in to the competition.
The writer feels that, to begin with, creative writing was not something he was good at. He says, “It was something I decided I would do one day because I thought of a story and needed a way to tell it. Since then I haven’t felt right unless I’m writing.”
Like many authors, he also admits to finding it easier to start but harder to finish a longer piece of work.
“I’m great at starting stories. I tend to think of an idea and a character and see what happens, inventing the world as I go. As a result my first drafts are usually structureless ambles, especially when it comes to longer forms. I can never quite seem to get to the third act.”
But in the short story genre, the author may just have found his forte. “Short stories are fun because you can sit down with one little idea or a single line of dialogue and see what happens. At the end of it you’ve got a cold, half-drunk coffee and a finished first draft of something!”
Jack’s ambition is to publish a longer work, but in the meantime, he’s been experimenting with other forms of storytelling, including computer games, scriptwriting, screenwriting and playwriting. He says, “The structural constraints of these mediums are a great way to explore dialogue and being concise with description.”
The author’s Favourite Authors list is never up-to-date for long, but at the moment it includes David Mitchell, China Mieville, Alan Moore and Ray Bradbury. Jack says Bradbury “personifies that sort of Cold War science fiction that was always written with tongue in cheek. Something about that nostalgic science fiction resonates with me. On my bookshelves are stacks of magazines like Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction and Fantastic Stories ranging from the 50s to the 90s. What those writers are doing is what I’m trying to do: use tiny little humans to tell stories about immense things.”
One of the biggest issues for Jack, and one that perhaps other writers will relate to, comes with showing people what he’s written. “It’s never quite what I meant. Always a weak facsimile of what I had imagined. What winning the STEAM PRESS Short Sci-Fi Story Competiton has given me, more than anything, is confidence to continue writing. It’s a lonely hobby, and one with a lot more rejection than reward. Among a few other projects I’m currently in the planning stages of what I hope will become a new novel, and it’s recognition like this that gives me that bit of extra motivation.”