It’s been a long winter. Helped by the support of other writers – those in my local writing group and others at a distance – I’ve carried on writing stories through the dark days. I’ve submitted some of them here and there. I’ve had some acceptances, more rejections. I am grateful for those acceptances, believe me. But I’m always striving for more.
Sometimes I feel like a cat going round in circles, never quite able to catch its tail – or in my case, tale. So it’s good to come across a new writing exercise. Here’s one I came across on twitter courtesy of the writer Kathy Fish. I tried it this morning with remarkable results – and now have ideas for ways to start at least half a dozen new stories! I think the exercise gives you access to a free-thinking part of the brain. Perhaps this is what the Surrealists did with their automatic writing. Follow the link to Kathy Fish’s post and try it yourself.
Like all writers, I read as much as I can. I do this primarily for enjoyment rather than as an academic exercise, but of course it informs my own writing.
As I embark on a year’s mentoring I’m learning more about so-called ‘rules’ of writing, or at least recommendations. One of these is that dialogue is good. It breaks up the text, makes it easier to read. I’m a (fairly) diligent student and I’m currently sowing dialogue through the short stories I’m writing.
Another recommendation is to use the active voice. Passivity distances the reader. Yes, I’ve bought into that one.
Don’t jump from one point of view to another. Very confusing for the reader. Okay, must bear that in mind.
I am greatly encouraged when I read other people’s work which breaks these ‘rules’. I’ve just devoured Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 (2017). I have followed Jon McGregor’s work since his first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (2002). This book became a success by word of mouth. Since then McGregor has gone on to become ‘a prize-winning author’. I put that phrase in inverted commas because, affirming as that may be, it’s just one thing about him, not for me a defining characteristic.
After I’d finished the book I looked up some one-star reviews, curious to know why anyone would not love this book as much as I did. Criticisms include it being boring, that nothing happens, difficulty of keeping track of multiple characters and, interestingly, lack of dialogue and the use of the passive voice. I think the problem is that people have certain expectations of a book, instead of reading it on its own terms. A cursory glance at the blurb on the back will tell you that this is not a conventional murder mystery story.
The comment that ‘Anyone could write a book like this’ is, frankly, crass. If one day I can write something that is halfway as compelling as Reservoir 13 I will be a very happy person. I’ll never write in the same way as Jon McGregor and neither do I want to do so. I want to use my own voice, and while I will think about writing ‘rules’, I will also feel free to break them.
I’m absolutely delighted to have been awarded a place on the 2018 Literature Wales Mentoring Scheme for emerging writers.
I’ll be back at Tŷ Newydd for a week’s course with fellow Mentees later this month, so watch this space for further news after that.
In the meantime I’ll be revisiting the work I’ve done so far on my Bosch stories (see my About page) and planning where I’m going next in that world!
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.
As a writer, I’m delighted to see the rise and rise of independent publishers. My indie publisher of the year is
Galley Beggar Press
Sam and Elly at Galley Beggars publish brilliant books – I haven’t been disappointed once. And they also respond personally to their customers. Next year they’re doing even more to support writers with their new School offering mentoring, classes and more – read all about it on their website.