With Christmas but a few days away, I’ve already accumulated a little library of books to read, including The Watcher in the Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Girl Who Soared over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M Valente, Dublin Express: A collection of short fiction and drama by Colin Bateman, and The House Where It Happened, by Martina Devlin.
It’s an eclectic collection, but with something of everything I like – mystery, magic, short stories and just really good writing. Two of these authors are from Ireland – Colin Bateman is from Bangor in Northern Ireland and is one of our best literary exports, and Martina Devlin is also a very talented writer from NI – Omagh to be precise, although she now lives in Dublin. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting both of these authors and am awaiting my Devlin book in the post, as I won it the other day in a competition. What’s even better than buying books? Getting them for free!
Anyway, I enjoyed a reading and talk from Colin Bateman this week and as a writer of children’s fiction, adult fiction, short stories and screenplays… I was interested to hear what he had to say about writing in general. Also, I’m still geared up to write my Christmas-themed story over the holidays, so was keen to see how his short fiction measured up.
- Colin doesn’t do research for his books. Why?
“At the end of the day, it’s fiction.”
- He only has a rough idea of how his stories will end
- He often doesn’t know who the bad guy is in his crime books until near the end
“I have a very rough idea of what I want the story to be. I very rarely know who the bad guy is. If I had to know the entire story before I wrote a book, I probably would never write anything.”
He added that most of his titles are puns or a play on words – e.g. Reservoir Pups – and sees the potential of self-publishing but like myself, thinks it needs to be done properly…
“It’s great in many ways, but a lot of books are being published where no editing takes place. People are taking a chance on a new writer and then they download something which makes no sense, so they stop taking chances on new writers…”
As for his advice on writing a book at all?
“The experts say, write about what you know when you’re starting out. I knew about being a young man, and being a journalist and writing a column, and I knew about the Troubles. So, I had an idea – about a young man who writes a column and gets involved in the Troubles.” (Hence… Divorcing Jack)
“The mistake a lot of people make is they try to do it quickly,” he added. “I turned the TV off just for an hour every night and worked just for that hour. I gradually built up my book over six or seven months.”
Sound advice indeed. After listening to him talk about writing, I was subsequently intrigued to see what Bateman’s writing was actually like (yes, I admit, I had never read his work before – my crime reading has dissipated over the years – that’s my excuse). So, I grabbed a copy of Dublin Express and have read the first three stories already. What can I say? He’s good. Sorry, great.
In the book’s preface, Bateman says short stories are “much too hard work,” so he tends to shy away from them. It’s only the first line, but already I’m hooked. I like it when a talented writer admits short stories are difficult to create, as it does help one a bit when they’re struggling to eek them out!
He goes on: “Many people, when they start out writing, their first bash is usually a short story. This is because it seems like the easier option. Short stories are, by definition, shorter than a novel, or a play, or a screenplay… Short stories are not the easy option. They are notoriously difficult to get right.”
What can I say? I AGREE!!
As for Bateman’s short stories? Well, so far, I’m loving them. They’re actually very short, compared to some I’ve read, but are perfect little literary gems. They pack a real punch and each time, there’s a clever twist at the end. They draw you in quickly and the pace is steady, while the stories are strong and, well, funny.
Bateman, you see, likes a dash of humour with his words, and all too often, it’s this which draws you in, makes you almost like a character, and then – well, he drops a surprise.
I hope you’ve all collected your own little Christmas libraries to tuck into during your time off at Christmas. I hope you all too get some writing done. In the meantime, here’s a link to some almost forgotten Christmas stories from The Paris Review.
Festive tales tended to be spooky in days gone by… perhaps that’s how mine shall be!
Merry Christmas 🙂