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From Harborough to Hollywood

Talented writer Sam Parr discusses how his love of writing fantasy and science fiction led to a life changing trip to Hollywood earlier this year, where he was able to gain confidence, get published and learn from some of his literary heroes.

The Market Harborough native, was crowned a winner of the prestigious ‘Writers of the Future’ contest, after his latest fantasy and sci-fi short story captivated judges.

As part of his prize, Sam was flown to Hollywood for a string of exclusive writing workshops, and his story is featured in ‘L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 39’, alongside others from across the world.

Picture: Writers of the Future

Being chosen out of thousands of entries, was something which came as a great surprise to the 29-year-old, who had entered the international contest six times previously, coming close but never quite making the grade.

He told Pukaar that he is thrilled to finally win a spot in the anthology, and to actually hold it in his hands is a “dream come true.”

“If you told me as a kid ‘one day Sam, you’re going to be part of a book which has a flaming dragon on it, I’d have been very, very happy!” he said.

“Not only is it amazing to be in print, but to be in an anthology with other winners – people I met and bonded with in America, is also very special,” he added.

Being a part of this anthology has even more meaning now because it’s also got all those friendships inside – built with people who are all as nerdy as I am!

Sam’s story, ‘The Last History’, centres on the brutally long Civil Service Exams of Imperial China. However, he explores the idea of making them into a kind of magic ‘battle royale’ – a gateway to power for one and likely death for all others.

Its entrants include ambitious nobles, desperate peasants, and Quiet Gate, an old woman with nothing left to lose…

“The story explores how tradition and family shapes our lives, and asks the question: how far should you go, in pursuit of what you believe is right?” he said of the plot.

During the Hollywood workshops, Sam and the other winners had input from acclaimed fantasy and sci-fi writers – some of which he counts among his literary heroes.

“Some of these authors are ones that I’ve had on my bookshelf for years, so it was very surreal and very cool to be able to ask them lots and lots of questions,” he revealed.

“All of them have won multiple big awards in the genre. Nnedi Okorafor is one of my favourite authors and I asked her about 50 questions! To meet someone like that was really inspiring – a great opportunity.”

The world of fantasy and science fiction has captivated Sam ever since he read The Hobbit as a youngster.

In happiness and health, in illness and grief, he has found fantasy a consistent source of beauty, solace, and inspiration.

He started writing ten years ago, partly as an attempt to give back to the genre that has gifted him so much.

“I find it so much more exciting to read about dragons and spaceships than true crime or anything like that,” he explained.

“There’s that sense of escapism, which all fiction achieves, however, I think with science fiction and fantasy it’s amplified and is much more powerful.

“I think escapism is quite an important thing. People have said before, if you’re escaping your life, you need to do something about your life, but I think we all need a bit of escapism just to recharge our batteries sometimes,” he added.

“Over the past couple of years, I’ve suffered with chronic pain, and something I found quite a bit of solace in was fantasy and science fiction.”

Sam currently lives with his wife Kat, who is his ever-patient first reader
and creative partner in discovering magic in day-to-day life. It was Kat who encouraged him to enter his story into the contest, which has been running since 1983.

Writers of the Future aims to help aspiring authors of speculative fiction get a foot in the literary world and past winners have gone on to publish more than 1,000 novels and nearly 4,500 short stories, including 32 New York Times bestsellers.

Winning has helped Sam after a lifetime of low confidence in his writing. Now he can’t wait to continue setting the weird worlds in his head onto the page.

“I’ve been someone who’s always struggled with confidence in my writing and that’s always stopped me. But winning this competition and getting these opportunities was hugely inspiring and affirming for me,” he said.

“Within a month of being back from the workshops, I finished two 15,000 stories and am just about to finish another one. I’ve always been a slow writer so that kind of output is unprecedented for me.

“It’s because when I sit down to do it now, it’s not a source of worry and concern as well as joy – it’s just joy and it’s just fun and I’m using it as a sort of solace and distraction from my health problems as well.

“That kind of artistic endeavour can be really therapeutic I think.”

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