Short Fiction

March has been an unsettling month. It began with the incredible high of having my first short story published. It ends in confusion, and uncertainty, and doubt. But not, strangely enough, concerning my writing. This is not to say that I have become recklessly overconfident (or even confident), but I am beginning to have better faith in my ability to string sentences together in a meaningful way. Which is quite a leap when you consider that not so long ago I was seriously considering giving up writing short fiction altogether.

Consequently, in light of having been published (published!) and the supposed renaissance that the form is currently enjoying, I have become obsessed with all things short fiction, to the detriment of both my reading pile and the WIP. The reading pile has doubled in height with a selection of short story collections, and the WIP has ground to a halt somewhere in the middle of chapter six. On the other hand I am currently working on two (TWO!) new short stories, which may, possibly, have some potential. Or not. We shall see…

One of the collections I finished reading recently (devoured, in fact), is Etgar Keret’s Suddenly, A Knock At The DoorApart from wondering how it is that I’d not come across him before, his stories have made me think, and think hard, about writing. I won’t bore you with my inchoate philosophical ramblings on the matter; they’re too tangled up with everything else in my head. But, his stories make you think, and make you think about how you feel. And he is not afraid to break your heart a little. Or a lot. One story in particular has stayed with me; What Do We Have In Our Pockets? is a little heartbreak of hopefulness that packs an emotional punch disproportionate to its size. And that is a part of the beauty of good short fiction.



So the second draft is under way; five chapters redrafted, and the sixth about to be embarked upon. Bits of it have simply flowed, and other bits are a struggle – chapter four was particularly sticky. Copious notes for the third draft are being made concurrently, in my super-large bought for that purpose Moleskine. And I’m fairly happy with the progress made so far.

Last night I printed off the first draft of what is about to be the sixth chapter. And I looked at it, and looked at it. I stared at the words on the pages, and they danced before my eyes, but they would not let me in. So I went back to the beginning, to the original short story that six years ago started this narrative chain-reaction in my head. And in the file next to it I found a printed copy of an essay by Neil Gaiman. I re-read it, and when I reached the final paragraph, I realised that I had kept a printed copy for exactly this moment of uncertainty. Here’s why;

You never learn how to write a novel. You just learn how to write the novel that you’re writing.

Gene Wolfe

I’m going to frame that.

Jam today?

Jam every other day, that was the rule, as the White Queen told Alice; jam yesterday, and jam tomorrow, but never jam today. In the last six weeks or so since I finished the First Draft, I must to confess to feeling as though jam today was an unobtainable pleasure.

But jam today is steadily becoming something tangible – and without being sticky. Although the prospect of redrafting the WIP still fills my soul with a sort of apprehensive horror, other ideas are beginning to filter through to the front of my brain. So far I have two ideas for short stories, one tentative and one strong; and the other morning in the bath I had a blast of inspiration for the next big project after the WIP. It’s a long way off being ready to begin in earnest, but a keystone in one of the supporting arches to its world foundations has magically slotted into place; it will work, its internal logic will be – reasonably – logical. It may even – gasp! – be able to slip into the interstice between hard SF and space opera.

It ocurrs to me to wonder why it is that inspiration seems to strike so often when I’m wallowing in hot lavender or geranium scented water. It almost never happens in the shower. Perhaps I should indulge in baths more often? If only to wash off the stickiness when it is at last jam today.

NB. By stickiness I suppose that I mean the ache of sitting hunched over the keyboard, heedless of the passage of the hours. Either way, writing will soon be taking place. The Muse is returning.

The holiday starts here

It’s 1.30 in the morning, and I’ve almost finished the packing. In half an hour I must wake up my husband and daughter; we’ll be out of the door by 3am. My ipod has dropped its charge, so will be out of action for a few days, which is INFURIATING (it does it every few months or so, and then works perfectly; but it’s bloody typical it would happen NOW). There are jelly beans waiting to be enjoyed once we’re on the plane. Everything is under control, or as much as is reasonable, and I’m really looking forward to the heat, the food and the wine. Oh yes, and I’ve finished the First Draft.

170,461 words that all add up to one baggy behemoth of a narrative monster. I can’t wait to pull it all to bits. See you in 10 days!

(The reading list was whittled down to A Game of Thrones, Green, The Tiger’s Wife, and The Hobbit and Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, both of the latter to read with my daughter.)

Today I saw a superhero walking down the street

It’s one of those days, a good day that feels ever so slightly at an angle to so called ‘normal’ days. Real things feel more real somehow, and unreal things feel slightly surreal. Superman walked down the High Street, his muscle suit bulging, although the cape action was hampered by the insufficient breeze. All the people sitting outside Costa stopped talking to watch him as he passed. You see? One of those days.

So. April has been, and gone; the appleblossom is done with, the lilac is almost over. I had bunches of it scenting the whole house for days; heavenly! There are still some Easter eggs yet to be consumed; we’re working our way through those… and my daughter has at last gone back to school  – she had a very long Easter holiday, which explains why my self-imposed deadline has  been missed. Yes, the WIP is still in its formative first draft stage. BUT there are only three chapters left to write, including the one I’m writing at the moment. ALSO, I have had several moments of clarity, epiphanies if you will, those bolts of open-jawed whydidn’tIseethatbefore inspiration so invaluable to seat-of-the-pants plotters like me. So not only do I now know how it will end, but also when it will end. And I have an additional plot device to enrich the narrative detail with when it comes to the Second Draft. So you have before you a basically happy neophyte novelist.

There have been other matters that have contributed to the curtailment of writerly effort, family matters on a par with the Life stuff that scuppered writing last July. But these are now mercifully in abeyance, and that’s all that needs to be said about that. And while I’ve been writing this I have come upon a happy secret – somebody let something slip – but it isn’t mine to tell, and I promised to be discreet, but it is a truly happy secret, and just goes to show that today really is one of those days.

While I haven’t been writing, I have been reading; Lionel Shriver’s So Much For That, and now David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.  If you’re looking for something new to read you could do a great deal worse than to pick up either of these titles. Both are tremendously good writers, and I have loved and am loving reading them. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

Summer is rushing upon us for lack of rain and a surfeit of sunshine. And next weekend we’re off to glorious Devon again. Life is good.

And now, the end is near… possibly, we’ll see how it goes…

It’s a beautiful day here. The sun is brilliging – even though it is not yet the time for broiling things – everyone is in a mostly good mood, apart from a friend I bumped into who is seriously peeved with her garden contractor. I have seen bees, and ladybirds, the azalea is unfolding itself, and the apple tree is so imminently ready to fling open its blossom that it almost hurts. The smell will be amazing… and the magnolias along the front gardens of Slad Road are waiting for their cue. I do wish that our garden was big enough for a magnolia tree, but we have to make do with a small magnolia stellata: it is very pretty though, or will be when its small white stars come out to glimmer in the sunlight. In short, spring is springing about like anything in my part of the Cotswolds.

It is always easier to feel hopeful when the sun shines, but I really do have cause, as far as the WIP goes. There has been much progress made on the Big Battle chapter – I managed over a thousand words on Tuesday, and look to be repeating that small feat tomorrow. The end of the first draft is so very near – and about time too! But I still don’t know how it will end… oh! The joys of making it up as one goes along! And only a month until Easter… we shall see.

I cannot seem to stop eating almonds today – although obviously I will have to once this little box is empty. I wonder if I’ll  see any toves, later…?

(Clearly, Lewis Carroll has a lot to answer for.)

There Just Aren’t Enough Hours In The Day, or Why I Don’t Want To Be A Zombie…

Once upon a time, I was able to do it all. Once upon a time, I didn’t need as much sleep. Now I find myself pulled in so many directions – too many directions. I can’t do it all. Last night for instance; I got into a good flow of writing, and I would dearly have loved to have just carried on. But no. I had to be up very early again this morning (Very Early), so I had to give in to my body’s unreasonable need for sleep. Once upon a time, I could race through my reading list, gallop and cavort through several volumes at a time. Now, I have to juggle my reading time with writing, and sleeping (never mind everything else, the non-negotiables that come with being a mother and a wife). Maybe it’s an age thing; that has a ring of inevitability about it. I can no longer burn the candle at both ends; not if I want to be taken seriously as a decent-looking, well behaved human being. Zombiedom does not appeal!

But the main reason my brain has wandered down this particular path is the issue of reading. I’m still ploughing through – and digesting – The Seven Basic Plots (Booker, 2005), and I’m still dipping into and loving The Legacy (Bedford, 2005). But the waiting to be consumed pile never seems to go down, and already I have more to add to it. Under Heaven (Kay, 2010) is the hardback treat I have promised to myself for when  the First Draft is completed – so a sort of non-chocolate easter egg. Then there are two new paperbacks, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (Mitchell, 2011), and So Much For That (Shriver, 2011). I won’t go on, because if I do, I won’t know where to stop; working in a bookshop is a tremendous source of pleasure, but also frustration! And if I had a penny for every customer who has looked round at the laden shelves and told me that they suppose I spend all my time reading… I gave up trying to read at work when Cold Mountain was published, back in 1997. There are only so many times I can cope with rereading the same page and then being interrupted. I’m not there to read, but to assist, to sort out, to make presentable. The shop can be quieter than a really quiet thing, and I promise you, the moment I think about picking up a book, someone will ask me something. I never did finish Cold Mountain, either… so many books, and not enough hours in the day.

But the sun shines more and more, with increasing strength. I’ve seen celandines, little golden glossy stars that twinkle in the verge. And the washing line once more billows with laundry, while the apple tree promises to unfurl its blossom in a few more weeks. Spring is bouncing around like a bouncy thing in spring, and the WIP is gathering pace. So I’m not complaining, not really.