The best way to brighten up a chilly February is by snuggling up with a few good books of an evening – once work has been put to bed and the pet pooch has had his run of the dunes of course… And, with last week having been my birthday, it was books in abundance!
First up, I plunged into Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story, edited by Vanessa Gebbie – a book crammed full of first-hand experiences from a variety of published short story writers. There are tips aplenty but ultimately, this is a book which champions the short story and pulls together a lot of good advice in one handy volume. There’s no formula for writing the ‘perfect’ short story of course, and the book doesn’t suggest this at all, but it’s a great resource to have to hand I think – a bundle of creative writing classes stapled together for frequent perusal.
It’s also opened my eyes to the art of flash fiction and the tantalising challenge which lies in crafting a snippet of prose in this much more concentrated form, but more perhaps on that in a future post…
In the meantime, I’ve punctuated my reading about writing, to well, reading actual writing, and a varied mix it has been! This has included everything from the beautiful descriptive prose of Bernie McGill in Sleepwalkers, to the magic realism of Neil Gaiman in Smoke and Mirrors and the darker undertones of belfast noir – a collection of short stories by Northern Irish authors centred on Belfast and the unsettling stories lurking beneath this cityscape… (Four of these authors will be chatting about crime writing at my local library this week, so I very much look forward to hearing what they have to say about writing! I’ll keep you posted…)
I’ve also finally purchased Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, and have a little book of Irish stories to pore through, so I’ve more than enough to keep me going. From assessing styles and themes, to noting the language used, the narrative viewpoint and many other things, the more I read of short stories, the more I love them. Of course, it’s always by osmosis, I believe, that we really soak up the ‘rules of writing’ – only by swimming in stories, will we pick up the natural ‘knack’ of writing well.
“Short stories, by definition, are windows, perhaps a series of windows, a short chunk of life in motion, usually an extraordinary, compelling, or dramatically resonant stroboscopic snapshot of one or a few characters’ lives… their endings are of a different category to novels.”
Therein lies the challenge, and that is why those of us who love them, do.