Briony Merritt (she/her) is a writer and actor based in Halifax/Kjipuktuk, Nova Scotia. She is a founding member of BARE Theatre Co. and playwright for their current work-in-development, THE STATION. Briony recently completed her first feature screenplay, an intergenerational family drama set in Atlantic Canada.
“Blackfriars Bridge,” your winning entry for the 2022 Budge Wilson Short Fiction Prize, takes us back in time to a story set along the River Thames. What helped you inhabit this long ago and faraway space in your mind as you wrote?
Originally, this story began as a writing challenge between me and a friend! We gave ourselves two requirements: both of our stories had to be set during a specific time period and they each had to feature a young child or baby. From there, I settled on the backdrop of a London Frost Fair pretty quickly. These festivals occurred when a portion of the River Thames would completely freeze over during the winter, allowing Londoners to walk safely on the ice for a few days. I started by researching the different vendors and performers who would set up booths for the event – acrobats and puppeteers, tradesmen selling coffee and cider and freshly printed poems – which really helped me get a feel for the world my characters lived in. After that, I knew I wanted to combine the bright, expansive setting of the Frost Fair with a more intimate “backroom” conversation, and found a protagonist who could traverse both.
I know you have a background in film and theatre as well. How does your writing process for a short story compare to working on a theatrical script or screenplay?
I think I’m getting better at recognizing what form a story wants to take. My last couple of projects have been scripts (one for the stage and one for the screen), which meant they were inherently driven by dialogue and character relationships – with only bite-size visual descriptions! For these projects, I’d find myself scribbling down fragments of conversation in no particular order and then filling out the details of a scene around the dialogue. With short fiction, l try to force myself to write in chronological order to maintain a better sense of pace and voice. In “Blackfriars Bridge,” specifically, I was able to strip out almost all of the dialogue and enjoyed delving into one child’s perception of events.
If you could sit down for a conversation with any writer living or dead, who would it be and why? What would you most want to chat with them about?
Ooh! I’m a big fan of Tom Stoppard plays and would credit Arcadia as being a huge influence on the style of my current play-in-development. I would love to have a coffee chat with him about his writing career and how on earth he produces such consistent, clever comedy! However, I also read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke recently and was blown away by the scale and intricacy of the world that she built. I would be fascinated to sit down with her for a conversation about Strange & Norrell, as well as her 2020 novel, Piranesi – which is next on my TBR list!
What advice would you have for anyone who is thinking about entering Nova Writes in the future?
If you’re not sure, just enter! I had been hesitating to send “Blackfriars Bridge” out to competitions or journals because historical fiction doesn’t always seem to be as in-demand as contemporary stories. Ultimately, I submitted to Nova Writes with the hope of getting feedback on the piece, and received some very encouraging comments and useful suggestions from the judges.
What’s next for you in your writing journey?
Last summer I participated in a script development program where I completed the first draft of a feature screenplay called Love in Marginalia. The story follows three women (grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter) as they navigate a book hunt through rural Nova Scotia after a death in the family. I’m really looking forward to diving back into the script this month for some rewrites and editing!
For more about the Budge Wilson Short Fiction Prize, see our Nova Writes Competition for Unpublished Manuscripts.