This week I received an exciting piece of news. A short story I entered into a competition made the Short List. As a writer it is the sort of news that sends tingles down your spine and puts a smile on your face.
Rejection is part and parcel of the everyday when you write, it comes with the territory. So when you get a short list or long list placing you can be assured that your story has had an impact – it is a wonderful feeling. Some days writing is thankless and hard, it can feel as if you are wading through treacle. You try your hardest to make your story sing only to have it land flat. Moments that make you fly are so important. They serve as a reminder that sometimes, just sometimes you can hold a tune!
Thankfully I do not have to wait too long for the results.
After the week I’ve had (I know it’s only Tuesday) all I needed to do was to lie quietly in a dark room and recharge. After a super early start and a 5-mile walk with the naughty dog, I sat down to write. It was to be my quiet time, my time to complete another round in my (editing) chamber of hell. That reminds me, my third novel, I’m pleased to report is being tweaked and polished… Again! As a distraction, I wanted to work on something that did not involve a red pen and lines.
For inspiration, I looked through projects I’d begun and not finished. Works which for whatever reason I’d put onto the back burner but didn’t burn. Maybe secretly deep down I hoped they could be resurrected. After all, where there’s life there’s hope, right?
I spend the first hour or so on the internet doing ‘research’ (OK… randomly doing anything but writing), then set to it.
I had two lightbulb moments –
‘who the hell wrote this dross?’ and ‘some of this isn’t that bad.’
The dross has now gone to the log basket to be ‘recycled’ – the rest? Well, the rest is being restored and will be looking for a home in the not so distant future. Onwards people onwards…
Now in its seventh year, National Flash Fiction Day is dedicated to the celebration of writing in one of its shortest forms (Flash). Flash fiction is usually considered to be a story under a 1000, 500 or 300 words. Anything less is regarded as ‘micro-fiction’ (100 words) or a ‘minisaga’ (50 words).
The roots of flash fiction go back (literally) centuries. In the 1920’s flash was known as ‘the short short story’.
Flash fiction sits perfectly with our crazy busy lifestyles. A 500-word piece can be easily read on the train, bus – in fact anywhere.
The nuts and bolts of what measures up as a piece of Flash Fiction are difficult to pin down, but I’ll give it a go. For me, the art of a good piece of flash fiction lies in what the author does not say. It’s down to you the reader to grasp the meaning and fill in those spaces between the words. It needs to grab you, keep you wondering.
This year I am lucky enough to have my flash fiction ‘Yellow’ feature on the Flash Flood Journal blog in celebration of Flash Fiction Day. Take a peak here
Today I’ve been ruminating… Yes, I am feeling quite well, thanks for asking!
A while ago I wrote a blog piece on the believability of character flaws. They are such a big part of a writers remit that I wanted to revisit them. Recently I’ve read a few books where the characters were not believable and it irked me. The books were well written, and the stories could have been so amazing. Yet the characters were not believable. Those books sadly were just words on a page, there was no life in them and I got bored!
Characters need to be equally at home eating a plate of pasta, as running for their lives. Buried deep within the pages they need to live, breathe and come to life.
As a reader, I need to understand them. If I don’t understand them, I don’t believe them. If I don’t believe them, I can’t connect with them and I hang up. I don’t have to agree with them or even like them, but I do need to have a level of understanding.
As I move forward to write book 4 my head is filled with people. Tall people, short people, fat people, thin people – all bouncing through my mind waiting for their moment to connect. Some I’ve already ditched, some I am curious about and some keep me awake at night!
They are ordinary people living ordinary lives…. until something extraordinary happens. How many ordinary lives do you know that are perfectly lived? Exactly!
We, as a species love nothing more than neat little boxes. We want labels on absolutely everything from gender to religion, to leftovers in the fridge (maybe that one’s just me…). We gain a level of security knowing where we are within the world and how everyone else fits into our model.
I, am a walking contradiction. I change my mind more often than not, tell white lies, debate, argue and cry. I laugh at things I shouldn’t and get myself into awkward and tricky situations. Am I perfect – er no! Am I believable? I would like to think so. And that’s the point. It is OK for me to change my mind – I am flawed, it’s part of who I am. It is the same for my characters. They can change their minds too but (you knew there was a ‘but’ coming), as writers, we get so focused on making sure our characters fit into the boxes we’ve created they can become ‘too perfect’. Characters with contradictions, some ‘why the hell did they do that?’ moments grab our attention. Crazy events work well if you understand them. You need events to move your story forward. People are peculiar- not perfect!
Usually, events are character driven, unless you’re a shark, a big great white shark with big teeth! Although, thinking about it, even shark based thrillers require the characters to get into the water!
So lovely people put your characters in the water and watch them swim for their lives! They can swim right?…Cue scary music…
We have all been there haven’t we? You are merrily munching your way through the first few chapters of a book that has sat on your TBR pile for a while and then it hits you…. boredom! Yep, mind numbing ‘I’d rather be anywhere but here’ boredom. Like a beautiful car which has been filled with the wrong fuel, the story splutters and then comes to a grinding halt. I have kicked myself so many times for playing the martyr and plowing through to the bitter end only to kick myself a bit more for even bothering to finish it. On reflection what a lot of these books had in common was simple – a soggy middle. At the beginning I’m intrigued, the writing is good and has me turning the pages with glee and then, somewhere, somehow, the tension is lost and the story becomes like a slow moving stream, no I correct myself more like a stagnant pond! Nothing is moving, the characters are not under any sort of pressure to do anything or see anyone, they are just… well they are just there! I don’t know about you but I don’t want ‘just there’ when I’m reading a novel, I can watch TV for that. I want empathy and commitment, as much from the characters as from myself. Commitment comes from making decisions, if nothing is happening no commitments are being made. All of this equals boredom for me, the reader. Don’t get me wrong I am not proposing that there should be twists and turns on every page but the story does need to move forward. Sadly this vacation I have read two such books.
Sitting here in the Mallorcan sun (photos to follow), I am struck by how important and methodical the editing process needs to be. I don’t want my books to be considered boring and I definitely don’t want a soggy middle! I am the first to admit I write too many words sometimes. Which is why I need to be strong and robust (like a good cup of coffee) when it comes to editing my own work way before an editor gets sight of it.
I’m sitting poolside trawling my way through the draft of my next novel and three things strike me:
– Who the hell wrote this?
– Oh, that’s rather good
– What a load of tosh!
It’s the ‘what a load of tosh’ that is bothersome. These are the sections where I need to channel a high court judge and become harsh but fair! Sometime the ‘tosh’ can be salvaged, sometime not. If there is a meaningful reason for the words to be there I will play around with them. If, however, they are acting as fillers for the main act then they have to go. No ifs, no buts, they must be crossed through with a red pen never to be seen again.
I have asked myself the same question over and over today – what would happen if the words weren’t there? If I can not defend them then they have to go !
I am doing well arguing with myself, although the lure of the pool is proving powerful! One more chapter then time for a swim….
Providing a taxi service for number 3 son last night, I found an unexpected nugget of writing gold. Anyone with children of a certain age will be familiar with the ‘taxi of mum and dad’. Hours of tiresome journeys, interspersed with sitting and waiting, followed by further tiresome journeys. I’ve often wondered why the legal driving age is not 12 – that would be OK wouldn’t it??
I digress… Last night, awaiting the return of my Tae Kwondo enthusiast, I sat aimlessly flicking through the car radio stations. A word caught me, it was unfamiliar and sparked my interest, so I scrolled back. The word was ‘Uhtceare’.
Uhtceare ~ ( pronounced oot key-are-a)
An Old English word that refers to anxiety experienced just before dawn. It describes that moment when you wake up too early and can’t get back to sleep, no matter how tired you are, because you’re worried about the day to come.
Unbeknownst to me, I had long been a sufferer of uhtceare! I listened avidly to the show, absolutely enthralled. A radio programme devoted to forgotten words. Who knew there were so many? I was in heaven! Our language constantly lives and evolves. Words come into, and go out of fashion. Some change meaning, whilst others fade and sometimes disappear. As any writer will tell you, the sound and meaning of unknown words, is like nectar to the Gods. Each word carries its own sense of identity and purpose. New words allow you to expand your linguistic creativity even further. It’s like Christmas and birthdays and chocolate and wine – you get the picture! The words I heard were all part of a book called ‘The Horologican’ by Mark Forsyth. It is a book devoted to the most extraordinary words in the English language, according to the hour of day you may need them!
After doing a bit of research on the big G, I have decided to make it my mission to include a few of these unusual offerings within future works. Here’s a few examples you may/may not find useful:
Snollygoster – A 19th century American word for ‘ a dishonest or corrupt politician’. I can not think why on earth we might need this word ( tongue firmly placed in cheek).
Flabergudgion – A mischievous or nasty person
Wamblecropt – Overcome with indigestion.
Right then I am off to gongoozle………
I’ve put a link here for your enjoyment – happy reading!
Today is National Authors Day.This day began way back in 1928 when teacher and president of the Bement Illinois woman’s club, Nellie Verne Burt McPherson wrote a fan letter to an author in appreciation of his story. The idea evolved from there and, in 1949 it became an annual observance day which was recognised by the US Department of Commerce. Writing can be a lonely pursuit. Why not write and tell your favourite authors how much you enjoy their books? Or spread the word about how enjoyable you find their writing? Happy National Authors Day people! A few of my favourites are Maya Angelou, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Charles Dickens. Who are some of your favourite authors?
Long seen as the poor relation to the novel, short stories are back in vogue, and with good reason. The turnabout probably came, back in 2013 when Lynda Davis won The Man Booker prize for her collection of short stories. That coupled with the launch of Amazons ‘singles’ – (works of between 5,000 – 30,000 words) have spurred on its success. Since then the short story has grown in popularity, going from strength to strength.
The world today provides a perfect landscape for the short story to flourish. We are all so busy these days. By trying to navigate and juggle our frenetic lives, our time gets consumed by all things electronic. This is both good and bad. It is within this world that the revival of the short story is showing its metal. The reading of a short story can be achieved on the commute to work, say on your phone or tablet in one sitting – it’s a perfect medium and fits well into that time and place. I personally love the short story form form. As a writer, it helps me to stay sharp and focused. Somehow it seems to drive my creativity for my longer novels if that makes sense? By losing myself for a couple of hours writing a short story, I return to my larger work refreshed and fully charged. Writing a short means I have to be bold, be bright and be gone. No waffle just straight in feet first. Less is definitely more with a short and therein lies my love of writing them. It appears I am in good company!
The short story has its roots buried deep within our culture. Dickens, known for creating some of our best loved fictional characters was a prolific short story writer. His success began with the serialization of The Pickwick Papers. His novels were mostly published in weekly or monthly installments, a sort of short story for the times.
I have recently had some successes with my short stories. They have woven their way into a variety of longlists and this month saw my first short list addition! …. Fingers crossed.
With my second novel well into the ‘red marker’ editing phase (or slash and burn as I call it), I have set my sights on my next piece of work – a collection of short stories. They will be my toughest challenge yet but I’m game if you are?