TalkingtoOwlsIn discussion with a fellow writer we got onto the subject of to what extent every story is an experiment.

Mostly, I suspect, we would think of experiments as being in form: ‘can I tell the story like this?’ But, of course, asking, ‘can I tell a story about this?’ would lead to an experiment in content.

Form and content are said to be (or said to should be) inextricably linked, though I think in most stories one or other will tend to dominate. C.S.Lewis’s idea, that a story ‘is a net to catch something else’ touches on this, and raises the question ‘if I write about this, can I do it like that?’, or ‘if I write like this, can I write about that’. Behind those stand the questions of what a story written about, or like this or that, will evoke in the reader.

The act of imagining a story, or of telling one, cannot help but be an experiment of sorts, in form, or content, or both. It might even be the weaving of a net that will capture something of the writer.

It might explain too, why we sometimes end up writing stories and poems (Lawrence even did it with novels, and so have others) on the same or similar subjects. Subject is almost synonymous with content. Some writers have a wide range of content. For them experiment in content seems to be a norm, but for those of us who come back again and again to the same palette of content – whether or not we vary the forms – it’s more a matter of trying again, I suspect, to catch that something in that net. Putting together stories for the Pewter Rose Press collection of BHD’s, Talking To Owls, and then another for Sentinel (hopefully to be published later this year), and then a speculative one with the new stories coming off the screen and out of the notebooks, plus some re-writes, and re-discoveries from old notebooks, I became quite conscious of what I was writing about.

It began with looking at what was in Talking To Owls, and trying to construct it in such a way that the disparate stories would hang together, picking up and following themes as you read through the collection. In working on putting together stories for Sentinel it was slightly different, perhaps because the previous exercise had raised my awareness. Now I was selecting stories to hang together, rather than re-ordering ones that had already been selected. There are fewer themes in the Sentinel collection, and perhaps a greater cohesion between the stories. Working on a third collection – and as with other two, this included stories written over a period of several years, I began to see the possiblity of a collection with essentially one theme, and as I write further stories on that theme, they are, mentally least, popped into a file all of their own. When I’ve 25-30,000 words of them I’ll think about what to do about it. At the moment I’m in the high teens with about fifteen tales.

One of which, the c2,500 word Lena, will appear in the next edition of Southlight, the literary magazine from south-west Scotland. There’s a link to their website on the left hand side of the page.

Lena threw up some editorial queries, about the ending. My gut feeling was the ending is right, so I ran it past two of my literary correspondents, Kurt Tidmore and Nick Dowson. They both gave the ending a thumbs up– which is good, ’cause if they hadn’t, I think I still would have. I ran it past one of my Facets of Fiction workshop groups too. The advice I always give to members of these groups is, only take advice that chimes with something you already thought! If it rings a warning bell you’ve already installed in the subconscious, I reckon, it’s pretty good advice. If it doesn’t – it’s just somebody else’s opinion, which is a mighty fine thing, for them to have, and you to respect – but not a good reason to go changing the ending of a story!

I don’t know what discussions the editors of Southlight felt compelled to have about Lena, but I’m mighty glad they took her on, and with her rump as nature intended it, well, as I intended it, I guess. Southlight is a good magazine to be included in from what I’ve seen, with some excellent poetry, illustrations, and short fiction inside.