Seasons readings!

005With 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.

You can read my review of his talk in the Articles section on my blog, but here’s some stuff I left out due to having a word count to keep to!006

  • 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…”

Indeed.

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.”

christmas-treeSound 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.Dalmation Xmas

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 🙂

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