As a writer, I’m allergic to themes. Or, perhaps more accurately, I have an intolerance of themes, rather than a full-blown allergy. I can see why magazine and anthology editors like themes – to give structure and shape, an overall coherence to the final selection. The theme may also help restrict the volume of submissions to a slightly more manageable level than it might otherwise be. Or it could be a themed writing competition, in support of a particular cause or to promote a sponsor. I realise the given theme is meant to be a starting point, a trigger to spark ideas in all sorts of directions, to be interpreted in any number of weird, whacky or wonderful ways. But, for me, too often, a theme leaves me cold. My writing muscles freeze, and I can’t get beyond the most obvious and literal images or thoughts prompted by ‘water’ or ‘chocolate’ or whatever the theme is. I’ve tried my darnedest in the past to write to a particular theme, but the resulting piece more often than not strikes me as weak or forced. On the whole, then, (oh, and I do love my qualifiers, which probably should be the subject of another post…), so, on the whole, if I come across a call for submissions on a certain theme, I’ll tend now to see if there’s an existing piece I’ve written that fits the criteria. That’s how my short story ‘Howard’s Journey’ found its home in the latest Duailty anthology, on the theme: ‘Home’.
Of course, more broadly, certain themes recur in my writing, sometimes despite myself: childhood, moments of departure, misfits looking in on life from the outside. A nonconformist streak, which no doubt also plays its part in my resistance to writing to a specific theme. Now, there must be a publication out there somewhere looking for obscure navel-gazing writerly reflections?


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