Guest Post: Anna Vaught on Writing in a Different Genre

In the latest in my series of guest posts by authors of new books, Anna Vaught tells how returning to short story writing in a lull between working on novels proved to be a rejuvenation.

I believe in complicity and its special heat. See what I have. Eat.’

Where, I was asked, do short stories fit into your writing? This is how.

I had written short stories for a blog I kept, entered a couple of competitions, and had had two stories published in anthologies; I also read many short stories of varied provenance, but that was it. Now, in the early spring of 2019, I found myself feeling jaded between projects and unsure what to do, though I thought I needed to do something. My third novel Saving Lucia was placed but still a year away from publication and I was yet to work with my editor; my first two books, autobiographical fiction and novella, had lacked exposure and, partly because of this, I lacked faith in myself to make a new novel do well. I write quickly, so I had already written a follow-up novel to Saving Lucia, but understood that this would not be read for some time, and I had had a couple of meetings with agents who had asked to meet for a chat about what I was up to. One of them, incidentally, is the greatly supportive woman I now refer to as my ‘not-agent’ and the other, the goddess who was soon to sign me on the back of a short story collection I had not written – or even thought of – yet. Possibilities hung in the air, but also a lot of self-doubt. I wanted to keep busy to assuage it.

I decided I would try some short stories again. I had written a good deal about memory, trauma and testimony in fiction and creative non-fiction; I had also written food journalism, was interested in culinary history and, owing to a rather colourful past and many strange familial events in childhood and teenage years which revolved around food, its preparation, purveying and sharing (or not), an idea coalesced: how about a collection of stories involving adventures at table, feasts, consuming and being consumed; about food and trauma. Funny, peculiar, entertaining and with language you could get your teeth into; I would draw on my reading and experience and the rest would be new literary horror and weird to which I naturally incline.

Up bubbled a book, and it came out very quickly. I feel embarrassed to say this: I wrote it in two weeks, in a wonderful fury, sometimes getting up at four to make the stories on top of my other responsibilities. I do not recommend this practice, but it was what I wanted here. I wrote about being held back, being terrified (I know this is weird) by trifle, tripe, and tapas; I drew on old stories, food journals and apocrypha. I wrote on food as metaphor, but also about food as something plainly and brutally literal. I did not know I could do any of this; I only knew that once I had started I did not want to stop and particularly enjoyed the concept of an overarching theme and some overlapping details in terms of characters and psychological or erotic tryst.  I felt rejuvenated. Then, when a submissions window came up at Influx Press – exciting: I had loved Attrib. by Eley Williams and How the Light Gets In by Clare Fisher – I sent it to them (and to the second of the wonderful literary agents I had met at the same time) and, within three weeks, I had both an offer of publication and an offer of representation. I did not know I was capable of that, either.

There might be a moral here: when you feel jaded, lacking in confidence or that sense that you are drifting and want to crack on with something, then try writing in a different genre, as I did. As I said, doing so rejuvenated me. So, try something new (or newish) and you never know. If you lack confidence, do it anyway. I found, having written a collection of short stories, I could move on to another one then another novel – the one I have just finished for my agency. What is more, my follow-up to Saving Lucia has not been taken up for publication, but I am pleased to say that I was able to take a section of that and make it into a long short story about trauma, memory and recovery for an Unsung Stories anthology out next year. I felt more confident in my craft now, so this was something I could do. I also took up disappointment and, from it, I made a new thing, and that is a good thing to learn, because not everything will work and not every book ought to be published. As to where short story writing fits in going forward, I hope I will always be able to write short story collections and novels, though I know that stories are a harder sell for my agent. We shall see. It will be an adventure, won’t it?

Famished: seventeen stories to whet your appetite and ruin your dinner. I hope you like them.

I believe in complicity and its special heat. See what I have. Eat.’

Anna is a novelist, poet, essayist, short fiction writer, editor and a secondary English teacher, tutor and mentor, mental health advocate and mum of 3. 2020 sees the publication of Anna’s third novel Saving Lucia (Bluemoose) and a first short story collection, Famished (Influx). Anglo-Welsh, she splits her time between Wiltshire, Wales, and the Southern US, where her husband is from. She is currently finishing a new novel and waiting on exciting decisions. Anna is represented by Kate Johnson of Mackenzie Wolf, NYC. 

www.annavaughtwrites.com , Twitter: @BookwormVaught, Instagram: bookwormvaught6

Anna Vaught

Famished is available from all good bookshops or from Influx Press website, where you can also subscribe – a great way to support an independent press. 
https://www.influxpress.com/books
and https://www.influxpress.com/subscriptions

Guest Post: Amanda Huggins on Killer Short Stories

In the latest of my six-month series of guest posts from authors of new books, Amanda Huggins gives some tips for fledging short story writers.

If you want to write killer short stories, then one of the most important things to do is to read killer short stories. Lots of them. It sounds obvious, yet I often meet blank looks when I ask writers who are new to short fiction to name their favourite short story writers. Short stories aren’t novels-in-miniature, any more than novels are extended short stories. They are two different skill sets, and the best way to get started is to read the masters.

A great short story needs to plunge straight in with no preamble. It should have conflict, a strong ending, a limited cast of characters, and every word should count. (If only I stuck to those rules myself!)

I have countless favourite short story writers and the collections on my shelves include books by William Trevor, Tessa Hadley, Helen Simpson, Helen Dunmore, A L Kennedy, Wells Tower, Stuart Evers, Miranda July, Yoko Ogawa, K J Orr, Ernest Hemingway, Taeko Kono, Haruki Murakami, Richard Ford, Alice Munro, Flannery O’Connor, Anton Chekhov, Annie Proulx, Isaac Babel, Angela Readman, and A M Homes.

A recent delight was Helen Dunmore’s posthumous collection, Girl Balancing, and I particularly loved the first section of the book, ‘The Nina Stories’. These stories are almost notes for a novel-in-waiting; a sequence of vignettes centred around a girl called Nina, set in the 60s/70s. They are painstakingly intense; attention is paid to Nina’s every moment and action, and there are some lovely period details that evoke a strong sense of place. The writing turns the mundane into something beautiful, and the final story soars. Seventeen-year-old Nina is left alone on Christmas Day in a house at the seaside. She goes roller skating along the seafront with her friend, Mal, and when the mood turns, she must outwit him. I’ll leave you to find out for yourself if she succeeds.

I’d also recommend having several pieces of work out there at any given time. If you only submit one story and then wait patiently for it to be rejected/accepted, when that rejection comes it will hit hard. If you have ten or twenty pieces out at any given time then the rejections won’t feel as bad.

Never forget that the opinions of editors and judges are subjective. So be persistent! My story ‘Red’ was a runner-up in the 2018 Costa Short Story Award, but had already been rejected by a couple of magazines and failed to reach the longlist of three smaller competitions.

Sadly, despite an encouraging rise in sales of short story collections, it’s still difficult to get work published anywhere for hard cash. That’s why prizes and awards are so important to emerging short story writers, and why I still enter most of my stories into competitions first.

Lastly, really take note of feedback. It’s all too easy to reject criticism, yet in my experience the advice of a good editor is nearly always sound.

Amanda Huggins is the author of four collections of short fiction and poetry. She was a runner-up in the Costa Short Story Award 2018, and her prize-winning story, ‘Red’, features in her latest collection, Scratched Enamel Heart. Her poetry chapbook, The Collective Nouns for Birds won the Saboteur Award for poetry in 2020. Amanda grew up on the North Yorkshire coast, moved to London in the 1990s, and now lives in West Yorkshire.

Blog: https://troutiemcfishtales.blogspot.com/

Twitter: @troutiemcfish

Amanda Huggins
Scratched Enamel Heart is available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Scratched-Enamel-Heart-Amanda-Huggins/dp/191606938X/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=scratched+enamel&qid=1589632869&s=books&sr=1-1


Friday story: 9) Underneath the Stars

This is a little story which I started in Italy in May, in the wonderful flash fiction course with Kathy Fish, Nancy Stohlman and a bunch of other talented writers. Here’s the beautiful soundtrack which inspired it and from which it takes its title:

Underneath the Stars

Cath Barton

He still looks for her at the tail end of the day, our old grey cat, Merlin. Sitting at the top of the steps, outside our front door. Watching the bend in the road. Watching and waiting for her battered old Ford Fiesta to appear round the bend, her tooting and waving to tell us she’s home and calling out to me to put the kettle on because:

‘I’m dying for a cup of tea!’

That was Marie-Louise. She was greedy for life.

She brought cakes, always a little sweet something. But now the days of our feasting are done and it’s quiet day and night in Silverdale, in the quicksilver light of the moon and the rarely-now-golden light of the sun.

For they closed the road off.

Marie-Louise would not have wanted that, would have insisted that the va-et-vient should continue. For she loved the rush and fall of things.

Merlin’s still sitting looking, still hopeful, as the silvery sheen of his coat merges into the dusk. I call him and we go together into the back garden. We sit by side, noses twitching to catch the sinuous waft of night scents as, above us, the map of the heavens unrolls. There’s the whoosh of a train down in the cutting but Merlin doesn’t stir.

I point. ‘She’s up there,’ I whisper in his ear.

It’s a blind hope. I can’t read the night sky any more than I could read her mind or understand her crazy impulses.

Merlin’s ears prick now and he darts after some little creature invisible to me in the fading light. Something snuffles near the railway tracks. A fox maybe, or a badger. I call Merlin back from danger. He comes and he sits, quietly, close by me. And I nuzzle his soft back.

 

NEWS!  I’m going to include this story in a collection of short fiction and photographs which I’m putting together with my husband and fellow writer, Oliver Barton. It’s called Candyfloss III. Yes, it’s the third in a series, though there’s been a bit of a gap since the last one. You can still buy Candyfloss II here.

We hope to have Candyfloss III out in January. All profits will go to local charities where we live in Abergavenny. And it will be available to buy directly from us. You’ll hear about it here first.

 

 

My twelve days of Christmas – 11 – The short story

As a writer of shorter fiction I obviously hope that readers will want to buy and read short stories. I’m currently reading Elizabeth’s Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, which you will see described as a novel but is actually made up of short stories. All feature the character Olive Kitteridge, but each can stand alone. I wonder if the book would have been so successful if it had been promoted as a collection of short stories rather than a novel!

Anyway, I look forward to reading new short stories in 2018. The longlist for the Galley Beggar short story prize has just been announced, and all are available to read here.

I also greatly look forward to the posthumous publication in June of a new book of short stories by Helen Dunmore:

Girl, Balancing and Other Stories

The Christmas season is nearly over, but  before you let it go enjoy Helen Dunmore’s story  A House by the Sea, published by The Independent in 2008.

Helen Dunmore story illustration.PNG