To continue our series of interviews with our short story contest winners, we talk to Sam Szanto, author of second place winner, If No One Speaks. Sam is an accomplished writer and poet, whose had nearly 40 stories and poems published and listed in competitions.

11 Questions with Sam Szanto

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where are you now? What has your life been like?

I’m originally from Eastbourne (known as God’s Waiting Room), a seaside town in South-East England. I’ve lived all over England but mainly (20 years) in London. Last April, my family and I migrated to the other end of the country and now live in Durham, a city where everyone knows everyone (except us).
I have a husband, two young children and an old tabby cat. Life has involved a number of jobs from (wo)manning an ice-cream kiosk to working at a girls’ private school to marketing for a national blind charity, and now writing as much as possible while freelancing as a copy-editor and English tutor. Much of my copy-editing is academic research for clients in Taiwan, although I also do novels, PhDs and whatever else anyone asks for.

2. What kind of stories do you like to write?

I write stories and poems; some are political, some about love relationships and some combine the two. They tend to be realistic, although I do like to add in the odd ghost! I also write a lot about displacement and alienation, with a particular interest in refugees (I am from a refugee family who came from Hungary in the Second World War). I like to place my writing in a wide variety of settings: Mexico, Madrid, Thailand, Cambodia, Venezuela, Russia, Bangladesh, etc. If you can’t travel far in real life, you can in your mind!

3. What sets you apart from other writers in your space?

I guess I haven’t read any other stories that sound as though I could have written them. But presumably every writer feels like that. I’m lucky now that I have the time to write, as I didn’t when I was younger – I have been reprimanded by a former boss for writing when I should have been working!

4. What drives your writing? What do you mean to accomplish with your stories?

I was once told by a novelist that ‘Writers need to write.’ This is absolutely true for me; and the older I get, the truer this is. I need to write, and I want to write. My aim is to publish a short story collection, which I have recently finished and am querying.

5. Who are your favorite writers and books? What are your other creative influences?

So many. I’m reading Val McDermid’s ‘1979’ at the moment, and Carolyn Forche’s ‘The Country Between Us’. I also always have an audio book on the go. My favourite short story writers and influences are Tessa Hadley (I was lucky enough to have been taught by Tessa on my MA in Creative Writing) and Elizabeth Bowen. My favourite novelist is Kate Atkinson and favourite poet Simon Armitage (neither seem very original answers!) but I could go on listing all day…

6. Tell us about your writing space. When and where do you write? Do you work in silence? Or music?

I write as much as possible, when I’m not doing paid work, housework or school pick-ups (I do also sleep). I can’t write with music anymore, although I did all my A-level English coursework with happy hardcore bulldozing into my ears. I write in silence in a study, interrupted by my kids asking what’s for tea and my husband asking what’s for lunch. The study is a luxury and blessing, as I spent each of the lockdowns in London writing at a table while the kids bounced up and down in front of the TV at the other end of the room.

7. What is your favorite thing to do when you are not writing?

I exercise a lot, mainly at the gym at the moment although we’ve also just bought a rowing machine. I’ve also got into gardening so I know I’m middle-aged. I also like the theatre. And of course, reading! When I was younger, I was often to be found unwashed at a music festival.

8. Who is your current artistic muse?

I’m not sure I have one, but I am smitten with the poetry of Warsan Shire, who wrote the poem I wish to have written (‘Home’).

9. Why do you think it’s important to write fiction?

Fiction has so many important roles. I can’t remember a day of my life when I haven’t read a book. Escaping into different worlds has got me through all the problems and hardships in my life to date. I’ve also learned so much about different worlds and times. Writing also has a very important role in mental health: it certainly helps me with that.

10. Who would be the best writer, alive or dead, to tell the story of your life?

Tessa Hadley. If only!

11. What are you working on right now?

A story about a school reunion, featuring a ghost, entitled ‘Everybody loved Romy’.


About Sam

Sam Szanto lives in Durham, UK with her husband and two children. She has had almost 40 stories and poems published and listed in competitions.

In March 2022, her short story ‘If No One Speaks’ won second prize in the Writers’ Mastermind Short StoryContest; ‘Mikey’ was longlisted for the Bedford International Writing Competition (previously also highly commended in the Write by the Sea KQ Competition) and ‘The Thought of Death Sits Easy on the Man’ was published in WayWords, Issue 5 and ‘The Yellow Circle’ was published in Personal Bests Journal 3 (also published earlier by Storgy). In 2021, her story collection ‘Courage’ was a semi-finalist in the St Lawrence Book Awards; ‘Quiet Love’ placed third in the Erewash Writers Open Short Story Competition; ‘The New House’ was longlisted for the Crowvus Ghost Story Competition; ‘Rubbish’ was highly commended in the Glittery Literary Summer Competition and published in Anthology Volume 2; and ‘Don’t Refuse Me’ was listed in the Parracombe Prize Story Competition and published in the Parracombe Prize 2021 Anthology.

In 2020, Sam’s short story ‘Inaccrochable’ was published in Storgy; ‘125’ was a finalist in the 2020 Literary Taxidermy Competition and published in the Regulus Press anthology 124 Beloved – another of her stories in the 2021 competition also received an Honourable Mention; ‘Ferhana’ was published by Momaya Press in their Short Story Review 2020 and ‘Phil in Real Life’ was published in Secret Attic Booklet #6. ‘Making Memories’ was highly commended in the Michael Terence Publishing Winter Short Story Competition 2019 and published in the anthology The Forgotten. Also in 2020, Sam had stories shortlisted in the Writers Forum Competition, the 2020 Exeter Literary Festival Short Story Competition, the Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition and the 2020 Pennine Ink Writing Competition; and longlisted for the Flash 500 2020 Quarter One and the Cranked Anvil Short Story Competition.

In 2019, she won second prize in the Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition with her story ‘Letting Go’, which was published in the 2019 Chairman’s Challenges Anthology. Also in 2019, one of her stories was shortlisted in the Henshaw Press December Short Story Competition. Her flash fiction, ‘The Things that he Gave Me’ was published in Gold Dust.

Sam is also a poet and in 2022, three of her poems will be published in Europe Poetry Magazine and Horned Things Journal. In 2021, she was published in Alternate Route Zine. She won both the 2020 Charroux Prize for Poetry and the First Writers 12th International Poetry Competition. In 2019, she won second prize in the Hammond House International Literary Prize and was published in the anthology Leaving. Her poetry was shortlisted for the Grist Prize in 2019.

Sam is currently studying for the UK Poetry School / Newcastle University MA in Writing Poetry and also has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University.

Twitter: sam_szanto
Facebook: sam.szanto
Instagram: samszantowriter


Read Sam’s prizewinning story.

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