Here’s a big mag. with a small (BHD) story in it!

Happy New Year!

Most of the short stories I write are less than a thousand words long. Many of them hover around the 500 word mark – that makes them eligible for the Flash Fiction competitions that are so common these days. It also makes them vulnerable to being thought of as Flash Fictions, which risks them being thought of as something other than short stories.

I’m interested in definitions: they are one of the mechanisms by which we can see the erosion or development, if you prefer, of language. When we change our definitions of things, it is often not the thing itself that is being changed, but the perimeter of the sphere of things which the word encloses. It is important I think to know what a thing is, when we are trying to make it, and especially so, if having made it we want to make it better.

There’s another term, not so often encountered now, that refers to very short stories, and that is ‘anecdotes’. It’s a term that seems to me to be written with a curled lip, at least in the books of literary criticism, and the introductory essays that I have read, and it’s considered as a lesser thing than even short stories, in a context of seeing them as lesser things than novels.

Yet another label is that of ‘Tales’, which Coppard favoured and Bates disparaged – despite using it in the title of a 1938 short story collection. Tales and anecdotes both imply told stories, and stories told in voice, rather than in print. Perhaps if Flash Fiction carried the same implications I should not be so wary of it, but the fact that its American originators meant by it the flash of a single turned page, pins it to the printed, rather than the spoken word, and that alone risks pinning it, as a minor afterthought, or apprentice-piece, to the novel.

I see the short story, however short, as a tale, or anecdote, as something that one person might tell to another, or to a group of others. I see it also as a tale told with purpose, and with a point that is revealed, shockingly, subtly, or even slyly underhandedly, in its closing sentences, phrases, or words. In fact, the more I think about it, the less comfortable I am with the idea of long short stories being thought of as short stories at all. Stories that cannot be listened to, or read, in one sitting, taken in as a single unit, need another word. Length might give them the complexity that requires the word ‘novel’ or at least that vaguer term, novella.

Stories that do not need to belong to print, but where print is merely a convenient way to store them, are what I want to reserve the term ‘short story’ for. People often feel constrained by definitions, but definitions can be like the strings of a kite, and strings are what enable the kite to fly. My favourite metaphor for the novel is a cruise: my favourite for the short story is a crossing.

Whether I’m right, or wise to see short stories in this way is a matter for discussion, and persuasion, but that’s where I am, and have been, give or take a little refining, for the past decade or two.

Pewter Rose Press, publisher of BHD’s collection of short stories, Talking To Owls will cease trading at the end of March this year, but they still have copies available, here.TalkingtoOwls

Local writer and Creative Writing teacher, Darren Harper, asked if he could interview view me, in BHD mode, for a film to be made by film-maker Phil Hewitson of Toliver Productions. That put me on alert to think about what I might want to say, and to be seen and heard saying, about the process of writing short stories.

I found myself looking for the metaphor I’d use to describe what I think I’m doing when I’m setting out to write a story. I’ve used, and written about, such metaphors before. A favourite, which I use to explain the distinction I see between the novel and the unrelated short story form, is that one is a cruise and the other a crossing. But I was looking for a metaphor to capture what the process might be, rather than the product.

One that might suffice, is to describe the writing as analogous to climbing a mountain. Mountaineers will often say, when you ask them – bemused – why on earth they do it, that it is because it is there; and there might be a similar passion behind the writing of stories. Each one, for me at any rate, is an attempt on something – to capture a moment of perception, to reveal the hidden depths in something glimpsed, overheard – rarely imagined. Getting the story down, and making the capture, or the revelation, is like scaling the peak, reaching the summit.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And publication then becomes something like having your photograph taken on the top. The photograph isn’t the point of the exercise, only evidence that the point has been achieved. Publication isn’t always the point of the writing, nor its success, only a record of it having been done.

Of course, publication might be the point of some other endeavour, to which the writing is merely contributory, but then, perhaps we’d have to look for another metaphor.

 

 

 

If you are interested in scaled peaks, of a literary kind, you might like to read the three volumes of Mike’s12 more essays on short stories and their writers The Silent Life Within Readings For Writers series….in which short stories and their writers are examined.Readings For Writers cover

img_8098 img_8099There are several – some might say many – pairings of books and their film adaptations on my shelves. One pair that gets taken down and watched and read more often than most is Isabel Colegate’s novel The Shooting Party and Geoff Reeve’s film of the same name. I’ve written about this pair before as an example of the ‘faithful’ adaptation, but that fidelity doesn’t mean it is a slavish copy, a filmic re-enactment of the scenes readers might be expected to imagine (as has been said of the film version of McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men, for example).

Recently I watched and read, the Colegate/Reeve pairing with a closer eye than usual, looking, to begin with, for what I thought of as filmic equivalents to the told story’s content. Perhaps because Reeve has captured the tone and characters of the film so well and in many cases has replicated word for word the dialogue of the told story, I was surprised to recognise just how many changes I had not been conscious of when the watching and reading were weeks and perhaps months apart – or when the attention to detail was overwhelmed by the enjoyment of absorption in the story, told and shown!

In fact, even where those dialogues had been lifted ‘faithfully,’ they had often been placed differently in the film to where they lay in the original, both  in time, and place, and on several occasions had been put into the mouths of different characters. Many had been turned from internal monologues, to comments made in public.

Speaking on the DVD ‘specials’, Rupert Fraser, who played Lionel, remarks that there is only one scene in the film that is not in the book – the fancy dress scene that takes place on the stairwell at Knebworth (which took the role of Nettleby). I have said as much – and written it! But it is not, in fact, the case. There is at least one other – where Lionel and Olivia, in the film alone, go riding and have a faithfully reported conversation from the book – but not at the same point in the story nor in the same location. Other scenes have their conversational and incidental content switched around, the dinner party, in the film, for example, allowing words that are only thought to be exchanged aloud and thus made available to the watcher as they were to the reader.

The point I want to make is not so much about the particular novel  and film, but about the fluidity of of stories – how conversations can be manipulated, moved from place to place, and time to time, and mouth to mouth, without obviously changing their significance in the story, and, at first glance, or indeed any ‘glance’, without changing our perception of the characters that speak them.

Yet on a close examination it might be that a story is changed, subtly, and that its characters will be different, and not so subtly? One case I would give is where, in both versions, Sir Randolph, the key reader-proxy and opinion touchstone of the story, talks to Aline, the mistress of Charles Farquhar (in the book), and of Sir Reuben Hergesheimer (in the film), and accuses her of ‘wickedness’ in her speculations about the ‘affair’ between Olivia and Lionel. In the former version this is quite a long conversation, but in the latter is equally brief. More sharply potent perhaps, is where, in the film, Sir Randolph confesses to Hergesheimer that copying the Sandringham shoots almost bankrupted the estate. In the book, though the rest of the conversation does take place, Sir Randolph only recalls this to memory. He does not share it with his house guest. The shift in our perception of Sir Randolph may be slight, but is in a definite direction: In the first case what he is shown taking an interest in seems to me to be narrower and more focused in the film, broader in the novel. In the second, the told Sir Randolph’s reticence seems more in keeping with his character than the film’s more expansive version – yet, without that remark the audience of the shown version could not know that particular detail.

This isn’t offered as a criticism, only as an observation, and one that might support the contention that the business of shown, rather than told stories is one of sharper focus – streamlined is a word I have heard used by film-makers in relation to the adaptation process. With a novel our imaginations, sparked by what we are told, might run more freely, than with a film, where we must observe what is put before us.

Of course, whether or not considering this helps, when it comes to writing a story, might be a moot point. Another story set in the past but not made into a film (yet) is BHD’s A Penny Spitfire,  available here (but only for a couple of months more).

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A day late with the blog post…and who can afford to lose a day?

Here are two images (taken mid-December 2016 on Bury Ditches hilltop village site – Buried Itches?). One makes me think of Roman soldiers, the other of iron age peasants. Perhaps they shouldn’t.

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Pewter Rose Press is closing down. This is one of the best independent small publishers that I have encountered.

I first came across Pewter Rose at the launch of Vivien Jones’ Perfect 10; short stories ‘about big girls and big women’ (and so much more!). It wasn’t only the quality of the stories, but the professionalism of the publisher, Anne McDonnell, that impressed me. That was the reason I sent my novella A Penny Spitfire for her to consider. That was published in 2011, and a year later the short story collection Talking To Owls followed.

Both of these titles, along with those by other Pewter Rose authors, will be available from the publishers – click on the images to link – until 31st of March 2017, so why not take this chance to get yourself some copies.  APennySpitfire-frontcoverTalkingtoOwls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BHD on A Penny Spitfire – It all started with a photo album, and a conversation. Why, I asked my cousin – who was a decade older than me – were my parents in the nineteen fifties, so dour, compared to the laughing figures in our black white photographs from before the war? The war changed everything, she told me. When your dad came home, he wasn’t the same. So far as I knew he hadn’t been in any horrendous battles. Yet something had shaken the foundations of his life. Oh yes, and while I was clearing out my mother’s house I found a penny spitfire that he had made. [that penny spitfire dropped from my lapel after the book was published…I heard it tinkle as it landed, and looked around to see what might have fallen…but didn’t! Almost like a scene from the book – its job done, it was moving on]

BHD on Talking To Owls –  I can’t remember, from my school days, ever being told about ‘the short story’. It was novels all the way. But once I’d discovered the form, whilst taking my M Litt at Glasgow University’s Crichton campus in Dumfries, I realised that I had been reading them for a long time – in Kipling, and W.E.Johns in my childhood, and in the Sci-Fi stories of various annuals, collections and anthologies. I’ve been BHD since the day I was born, but have only known it for the past twenty years. What better form in which to explore the people I might have been, and the voices I might have had?

I don’t so much launch my books as chuck ’em in the deep end.

Here’s one I chucked earlier. There are a dozen stories inside. Some have won prizes. Some have been published. All have missed the boats one way or another that would have put them into previous collections. One is so old that I was still using those wriggly little speech marks when I wrote it….and I’ve left them in. Irritating, I know. Click here to get a copy…

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There was a pithy little snippet cropped up during the Scottish referendum campaign, where an observer commented on a pro-independence demand: ‘Freedom!’ The comment was, ‘from what?’ The answer would have been instructive, no doubt…but it’s that word freedom which was in my mind today. This morning I made myself a cooked breakfast…a rare weekend treat for me. I included a ‘free range’ egg. That reminded me of an American asking what ‘range eggs’ were? Nobody, I think, expected a small plastic effigy when they saw the slogan ‘Free Nelson Madela,’ but I wonder how many have asked, as Kowalski did once in a story that foundered, ‘what’s he in for?’ when they saw the sign I saw once that exhorted us to ‘Free Buxton Water!’ (Ever since, I’ve harboured a desire to write a story with a character called Buxton Water, but I haven’t yet managed it – feel free to. We could compare notes, stories!)

We’re back, of course, to an old favourite of mine: ‘the fat policeman’s wife’ game. I’ve played this with students and writing workshop members before now, but it originates in a Grammar of Modern English, published in the seventies by a Professor Mittins. It’s a great little grammar, making an almost computer-like analysis of how English works. Prime among the mechanisms is that of proximity: we associate the meaning of words with those of the words they are nearest to. Thus, in the phrase ‘the fat policeman’s wife’ we have no way of knowing which is fat – of course, neither of them would be today! Mittins calls the error ‘squinting’, where the middle word could relate to either of the ones beside it, which is where my American friend was caught. The other two examples are slightly different, but you don’t need me to tell you in what way!

English! Doancha luv it!

Worth a go, I’d say (so would he)..BHDandMe

ShortStops

reflex-fiction-flash-fiction-competitionThe inaugural Reflex Fiction flash fiction competition is now open for entries.

Reflex Fiction is more than a flash fiction competition. Of course, entries are read and judged, a longlist created, winners selected, and prizes awarded. But that’s not where the story ends. Reflex Fiction is also a place to read and share fantastic flash fiction every day.

After we’ve announced the competition longlist, we’ll publish one story each day as we count down to the publication of the third, second, and first placed stories. If you’d rather we didn’t publish your non-winning story so you can enter it into another competition, you can opt out of the open-submissions element of Reflex Fiction when you submit your story. Though, of course, we hope you’ll join in the fun.

Visit the Reflex Fiction website to learn more.

Prizes

First place £100, second place £50, third place £25.

Fee

The inaugural contest is free…

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Now here’s a good idea…surely (don’t call me Shirley!)

ShortStops

What does ‘home’ mean to you? With millions of people driven from their homes all over the world, ‘shelter’ often equates to ‘safety’. Closer to home, at least 120,000 children in the UK were homeless for Christmas 2016. Shelter, the charity that helps people who are homeless or in poor housing, needs our help more than ever.

We’ve been here before, of course. Three years ago, we formed a community to produce an anthology which raised over £3,000 for Shelter. We are now open for submissions for Stories for Homes Volume 2. The plan is to launch the e-book in September 2017 and a paperback version in November 2017. As before, all royalties will go directly to Shelter.

Submission guidelines:

  • Stories (poems also considered) should be between 100 and 3000 words long (not including the title).
  • The theme is HOME.
  • Please send your story as a Word document in an attachment to sforh2@gmail.com…

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