Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2021 – An Interview With Second Place Author Chiara Bullen

Perito Prize 2021 – Transcript of Our Podcast Interview With Perito Prize 2021 Runner Up – Chiara Bullen


You can find the audio version of this excellent interview with CHIARA on our podcast host and its available on all podcast sites like Apple and Spotify.



Perito:     Welcome to Episode 2 of the Perito Podcast 2021, a specialise Podcast series all about celebrating the writing and creativity for this year’s Perito prize and anthology, now in this episode we’ve got Chiara Bullen joining us from Glasgow.  Chiara wrote the runner up story for the Perito prize 2021 called Smelly Cat which can be found in the Journal section of the Perito website and was selected by the judges as a second place story for this year.  (0m.29s) Welcome to the Podcast Chiara.

Chiara:    Hi James, thanks for having me.

Perito:     (0m.36s) Hi, it’s an absolute pleasure so before we start then how about some kind of quick warm up questions iron out any of those nerves or anything that you might have?

Chiara:    Sure.

Perito:     (0m.46s) Let’s a little about your writing routine then so what kind of things like where you like to sit, have to drink or maybe the music that you like to listen to?

Chiara:    So I think quite a lot of writers would be quite horrified at my set up and for most of my PHD it’s been the pandemic so it’s just my desk at home and it’s always super messy and when I’m finished with my PDF work for the day I usually just launch straight into writing so nothing really special about that which is probably isn’t great but I do like listening to sound tracks to inspire my writing kind of like video game and TV shows sound tracks and things like that.

Perito:     I am obsessed with the Elderscrolls Ambiance soundtrack on Spotify I just have it on repeat because it just sits in the background and does its thing.  So I can relate to that but I think what probably surprised me the most with your answer was the fact that you can write after work, I’m normally at the end of work I don’t want to do anything else so I tend to prefer writing in the morning.  (01m.43s) What is it about the afternoon that works for you?

Chiara:    By the time I’ve finished work it’s normally the evening I suppose but yeah I don’t know, I guess I just sort of associate it as my sort of downtime even though it’s still like, it’s still working, it’s still quite difficult, I guess I’ve always just been a little of a night owl when it comes to my writing so I can’t be one of those people who get up really early and do it before work I think I just need to, I wouldn’t be able to start my day at that point so.

Perito:     (2m.17s) So you’re not kind of like a Raymond Chandler with a whisky in hand in the evening?

Chiara:    Not quite (laughter).

Perito:     Good okay (2m.26s) tell us about the PhD, what are you doing at the moment for the PhD?

Chiara:    So I’m in my third year of my PhD, I’m doing it across the areas of publishing studies, literature and law and I’m kind of looking at like the social responsibilities of the book publishers in the 21st Century so for example right now I’m kind of looking at like what happened in the publishing industry in the wake of the Me Too Movement, for example of authors who were accused of sexual harassment and things like that, I’m just kind of getting an idea of what’s happened in the industry in the past few years cos obviously there’s quite a lot of kind of like discussion and controversy around it so it’s just kind of examining that.

Perito:     (3m.07s) Have you come to any kind of hypothesis or conclusion as to what might need to change or is there change underway?

Chiara:    I mean change is definitely happening, I wouldn’t want to talk about any findings I have yet we’ve got another year to go to iron them out but I do have some ideas of what’s going on and kind of what needs to be changed and things like that.

Perito:     Perfect.  (3m.33s)  Okay, so second question then, when you’re wondering about you’re going to write about in the evening who do you turn to for inspiration and why?

Chiara:    Well I don’t really have just like one figure, I suppose I kind of always keep in mind that like widely used advice which is that to be a good writer you have to be a good reader and read widely kind of in your field and know what’s out there and what works, what doesn’t, what gaps are there and how you can fill them.  I think if I ever have a bit of a writing block and like I think I’ll just spend a good few weeks like reading and enjoying myself and then I’, sort of like refreshed to go back to it.

Perito:     (4m.14s) So are you admitting there is such a thing as writer’s block?

Chiara:    I’m currently, I’m actually currently suffering it with my academic writing, (laughter) not my grade of writing but I guess, yeah I guess some things it’s really hard to get the words out, I think you can always kind of writing something is better than nothing in those instances even if it’s not great or what you’re entirely happy with but yeah you can definitely feel a little bit like stuck.

Perito:     I’m sure everyone whose listening can relate to that at one time in their lives certainly, okay perfect, thank you very much for those answers that was really interesting.  (4m.52s) Moving on to the prize then so what made you enter the Perito prize and how did you find out about it in the first place?

Chiara:    I really liked Perito’s dedication to accessibility, for example, I really liked that there was no entry fee which is often a barrier for lots of people and there were options to submit like audio files and an option to get in touch if you needed to submit your application in any other way like the team would help.  I really like that side of Perito and I don’t just enter my writing kind of like anything, well first of all there’s a lot of times where I can’t afford to, so yeah I just thought that was really great also you were open to young adult stories and young adult short stories are quite hard to be placed cos there’s not, there are places for them but there aren’t as many as adult section and things like that, then I heard about the prize via The Mslexia Newsletter so that’s a magazine for women writers and they do, it might be monthly or it might be every few weeks, they do a newsletter where they showcase writing opportunities and things like that.

Perito:     Perfect, thank you very much.  I think you’ve hit the nail on the head from an access point of view, I just always got really annoyed about the idea you had to be from South Norwich, 6 foot tall and have £50.00 waiting to be able to spend…

Chiara:    Yeah.

Perito:     …in order to even get submitted so the prize is definitely designed to encourage everybody to try and get involved which is why we tend to get, certainly last year, 50 or 60 countries around the world and that’s another great point about sterling GDP, pounds don’t translate well into other currencies…

Chiara:    Yeah exactly.

Perito:     …due to inflation and things, so.

Chiara:    And I completely understand that opportunities, magazines, competitions they do have, they have something to pay their staff, they should always pay their staff but they have running costs and things like that so I am completely sympathetic to that sometimes there just has to be, there just has to be a charge but it’s good when there are options in place, for example if an organisation is gonna charge sometimes they will have a certain amount of slots for people who can’t afford to enter and things like that but I definitely still think there is more that should be done for, to widen accessibility sort of like wider writing competitions and things like that.

Perito:     Thank you very much Chiara that’s a great response.  (7m.21s)  So some people may not have read your story yet and can you tell us about what’s Smelly Cat’s all about and kind of the message that you wanted to write about?

Chiara:    Yeah absolutely I’m don’t blame them if they haven ‘t read it yet (laughter) which is good.  So the story is about a girl, a teenage girl who is bi-sexual but she hasn’t come out to her friends yet and she’s sort of internally agonising over what she should to do because she’s already come across a lot of bi-phobia and bi-sexual erasure and things like that and she’s just not very confident and what the reaction will be like.

Perito:     (8m.01s)  And how does the, without kind of ruining the entire plot line, how does the whole kind of 90’s pop culture vibe fit in?

Chiara:    I suppose, I mean it just sort of got me thinking about how pop culture can really shape it, can really have an impact on our identities but popular culture can also have a kind of harmful effect because it can provide inaccurate stereotypes and things like that, so for example the main character reflects on the fat phobia in friends amongst other things and some people if they watch that a lot when they’re younger in the 90’s or if they’re coming to a little bit later they might always then replicate those stereotypes and those feelings for their whole life, even though they don’t think that it’s harmful because it was a funny joke on Friends, how horrible can it be and that just sort of creates this kind of, kind of strange cycle and makes kind of marginalised people feel even worse and it’s, I think it’s how we get to these conversations when people will say something offensive or hateful and they’re like, “oh but I didn’t mean it, this was just what I was this was what I thought was the case” so yeah, I was just thinking about that when I wrote the story.

Perito:     It’s a great point you make about kind of people reinforcing cycles of exclusion and if you’re watching, how many episodes of Friends are there 300 odd.

Chiara:    Something like that yeah.

Perito:     Yeah and if you’re watching them like I used to, the Sunday omnibuses or whatever, you’d maybe 3 and 4 and yes you’d laugh and things but actually the messaging of and also their casual stupidity as well sometimes, particularly with Ross.

Chiara:    Yeah.

Perito:     Kind of sets in doesn’t it and then as you say the people are then going to think well actually that’s reasonable, if someone whose, and they’re all reasonably good people fundamentally and if they’re saying it then why not, why not we just use that and take that on.  I definitely agree with you the idea of society and media has a role to play in kind of re-framing the conversations around that sort of stuff.  So that’s why I particularly liked Smelly Cat because it really kind of gets to the point and in a nuance way and says, “yeah have you thought about this”.

Chiara:    Definitely.

Perito:     (10m.21s)  So do you find you write a lot about TV shows or popular materials, current affairs and things in your other work?

Chiara:    Actually this is the only time that that’s happened, I usually write like speculative and fantasy and sci-fi and things like that, I honestly, if I may be completely honest, I don’t know where the story came from I think it was just a manifestation of thinking about what we’ve just discussed and a sort of instance where, where that particular episode of Friends might have a negative impact like in real time because the, if people read the story the episode that I’m referring to that always kind of, always bothered me so yeah.

Perito:     Yeah it’s a little bit like Little Britain, even Little Britain I never particularly found it that funny, there were some good bits but often you were still sitting there even back in the 2000’s just thinking, “no I’m not sure that quite works in a way maybe they’re intending” and I think Friends obviously is earlier but at the same time it’s no real excuse because these same conversations were happening then at the same time.

Chiara:    Yeah exactly.

Perito:     Okay, perfect, thank you.  (11m.33s)  So as the Perito prize is dedicated to inclusion, access and inclusive environments did you find that topic difficult to write about or concede with the ideas?

Chiara:    I didn’t really, I do write other genres like fantasy and stuff that’s something that I always keep in mind and I always write about some sort of kind of like injustice and things like that so inclusively is something that I do think about a lot and I like to keep learning and kind of like educate myself to be a little bit of an ally for areas that are that I’m not like part of and things like that.

Perito:     (12m.10s) Despite being a little bit too close to a long conversation but particularly with your skills and understanding of the publishing industry, do you feel that kind of class and social status plays a big role in these sort of coming up with stories and background and certainly being able to get published.

Chiara:    Oh yeah absolutely (laughter) I could be here forever if I worry to talk about that but yeah I mean for so long we’ve had the majority of stories and writers they come from the same, they’re white middle to upper middle class if not more and we have those kind of stories and I started kind of noticing like when I thought about the popular media I consumed like maybe like throughout my whole life, there’s so many recurring issues like, where like the parents getting divorced or not being able to live up to an older sibling or a very successful parent is like the main conflict, the main difficulty and I sort of, and those are horrible things regardless right but I realised that for so many people writing and who they assume the audience to be that those were like the most pressing things that people would ever deal with in their life and then again those are really, those are really difficult things to deal with and recently we have popular shows are tackling things like racism and ableism and tackling the stigma and mental health and stuff that’s really great and I’m really glad to see that happening and there are changes to make publishing more inclusive and diverse, maybe not quite as fast as we would like but I think, yeah I think things are definitely changing but the money that it costs to sort of just often get a story out there, for example creative writing courses and degrees are really popular now and they cost a lot of money and time and there’s scholarships available but there’s not, these opportunities available for everyone and you’re often kind of up against these people who have a lot more time and money to put towards their craft and things and it’s just kind of, yeah it’s definitely kind of been eye opening looking at things from a publishers side and then from the writers side, but yeah sorry that was a bit of a (a ha) a conscientious answer but I hope that kind of answered your question.

Perito:     Well I’m actually thinking of a whole different podcast about these subjects actually to be honest, I’m sure there’s gonna be plenty of people on who’d happily listen to your thoughts all day about that stuff so maybe watch this space, that’s brilliant.  (14m.41s)  So what was the most valuable thing about going through this writing process for you?

Chiara:    I think it really was just with this story in particular it just helped me get my thoughts about pop culture and what we’ve just discussed like really together and put them on the page and just sort of see how that can, yeah how that can impact people but it also helped me to remember that again things definitely aren’t changing fast enough whether that’s in publishing or the film industry or in TV or whatever but there are more pieces of popular culture tackling injustice and raising awareness to issues and issues with stigma surrounding them and things like that and that is great, I suppose yeah it kind of taught me to sort of, there’s still a good reason to be hopeful and things like that.

Perito:     There is definitely, yeah 100%, that’s great.  (15m.34s)  Now I suppose a continuation of that theme, has the prize made you think differently about how inclusive and accessible the whole world we live in actually is?

Chiara:    Yeah, yeah definitely, I think it’s sort of made me think, it’s sort of reinstated that in terms of making an inclusive and accessible world there’s still so much, we’ve so much further to go and just another reminder that there’s still so much to learn and there’s still ways that you can help and things like that, yeah it just sort of reinstated all of those kind of values and the things that we discussed earlier particularly about publishing and accessibility and things, I liked how the prize, that spelling, grammar doesn’t matter and this is open to everyone and we can help with that and I thought that was great and that’s something I often don’t see in publishing and is something that I often, I don’t, for example I don’t end up talking about that in my work and maybe I might or maybe I should think about that when I think about inclusive publishing and things like that.

Perito:     I’m a Dyslexic, relatively moderate to severe and I used to get called stupid at school by my teachers and two in particular and without, what’s that’s done is really set the kind of, the scope for actually what if you aren’t a particularly good speller or you don’t have a Cambridge Grads academic understanding of the English correct grammar than how are you meant to kind of cruise through this, how are you meant to get your voice and story out there if the first people are doing is looking at your, the way that you pronounciate and accentuate your words so that’s, it’s nice that you spotted that as well cos that was a really big important thing for me personally.

Chiara:    Yeah and it often disadvantages people who are, who English might be a second or third or a fourth language, I know that’s a big issue in academia with journal articles for example, people not getting necessarily accepted because of that but all the ideas and the research are right there, it’s not something that should include, exclude people with good ideas and have voices that should be heard.

Perito:     Well exactly if you think from a voices perspective how are you going to engage with a lady from Benghazi if her English is not great and how are you going to get her story, I bet the first thing you do is look at how many spelling mistakes she’s made but that’s only in English.  So it’s a really important point and I think sometimes it does take a while for people to understand, that’s one of the messages that I’m trying to get across by putting this prize together is that idea that we’re not being exclusive just because the be all and end all is whether your grammar and spelling is literally perfect.  You can always pay someone to check it but at the same time if you’re not gonna win that’s expensive.

Chiara:    And also sometimes you just can’t, like that’s not something you have a budget for so yeah it’s just, it’s just something to think about I suppose.

Perito:     (18m.47s) Brilliant and so finally then any recommendations and tips for people entering next year, now I’ve got high hopes for this one Chiara so you (laughter) lay it out there and give everybody as many tips as you possibly can that would be fantastic.

Chiara:    (laughter) So much pressure, I hope you’re not gonna be disappointed with my answer but it was basically, it sounds kind of cheesy but honestly like don’t give up, with this story Smelly Cat I’d entered it in a few places and it got quite a lot of rejections but I would take it back and rework it and honestly went I sent it to this prize I was like this was the last time I’m gonna send this out because I just don’t think there’s a home for this story and obviously it worked out really well but, and it kind of made me realise like oh even if it wasn’t placed here definitely shouldn’t have given up because so much about publishing is just subjective, maybe you don’t quite fit with the theme of like being with the anthology or the issue that you’ve submitted for sometimes the people putting together the magazine or the competition they just don’t feel passionate enough about it, it doesn’t mean that your writing isn’t good and it doesn’t mean that there’s not a place for it, finding the right home for your writing is way more important than just trying to gonna get it published anywhere so yeah, sort of keeping, yeah don’t give up when you’re trying to place a story and just think about what would suit as much, what would suit the story as much as the sort of like just the sort of feeling that you need to get it published, I just think it’s more important to find a good home for it.

Perito:     That’s a lovely point, thank you very much and I think again there’s lots of wisdom backing that up as well so Chiara that’s wonderful.  Now it’s been great to find out more about you and your story but now it’s time to sign off and tell listeners about the upcoming anthology which would be available from Amazon in time for Christmas 2021 and thanks again to our special guest to Chiara Bullen, Author of the short story Smelly Cat, thanks for talking to us today Chiara.

Chiara:    Yeah it was so good, it was so great to speak to you.

Perito:     That’s brilliant and thanks for all your lovely information as well.  Now you’ve been tuning into the Perito Podcast 2021 special addition, thanks for listening everyone, everywhere.

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