TalkingtoOwlsA recent correspondent expressed surprise that my stories had been ‘accepted’ as short stories. This was because, he implied, they lacked a necessary ‘punchline’. They might, or might not. Certainly I conform, and enthusiastically support, the contention that stories are all about their endings, but that ‘punchline’ raises a question, and so does his ‘accepted’.

Who should they be accepted by (by whom? If you prefer). Editors, one imagines, if publication is your primary concern; assuming, that is, that editors are looking for something they would describe as short stories, whether you have or not. The same might be true of readers. Never mind that you are writing a short story suggests that you might want others to recognise it as such. There was a period in the not too distant past when short stories were referred to by some (including editors, I believe) as short fiction. The ‘story’ word became rather unfashionable. In his book on the novel (Aspects of the Novel), E.M.Forster, writing about an entirely different beast, rather put the story down. It was an inferior, regrettably essential aspect. Other commentators have taken a similar tack. Academics have no need of stories. Analysis can be quite happily lavished on sentences, clauses and the like, without any regard to sequences of referred meaning. The reader though, has a good old fashioned grasp of story, and knows that what it’s about is, well, what it’s about. That’s why readers, when they hear what you are reading, will ask, what’s it about?

So, I’m pleased, generally, that the stories in Talking To Owls ( ), which is what my correspondent had been reading, have been accepted as such, however surprising he may find that. What’s more pleasing, and perhaps it shouldn’t be, is that the stories struck me as being short stories, because that is what I had been setting out to write. The late Norman Nicholson, said of his poetry, that it must be like a pot; well made enough to stand on the shelf on its own. I feel something similar about my short stories. I favour the metaphor of a chair. If you set out to make a chair, it might be that, though what you have ended up with can be sat upon, you might not recognise it yourself, as being a chair. In which case, I would aver, you have a good reason to be dissatisfied; even, I might add, if editors and readers like to sprawl upon it whilst reading my short stories.

Being accepted; having one’s short stories accepted as such, is only part of the story. You want, well, I certainly do, to recognise them as such our own terms first of all. A game that some of you know I like, is the metaphor game, where we search for the metaphors we like to use to describe the things we do and make. The metaphor for the short story which I like to use, is that of the ‘crossing’. A short story, for me, is something like a crossing: a journey from here to there; and one, at the end of which, we look forward to the hinterland of where we have arrived, or look back to our point of origin from this new perspective, or indeed realise that we (or our characters, have in fact gone nowhere. A novel, by the way, I metaphorise, as a cruise, during which we island hop from place to place, stopping at many ports, resuming our voyage with many new dawns.

What about that ‘punchline’ though? His metaphor? The American writer O Henry, no slouch in the short story department (and, coincidentally, bearing the same name as my paternal, adoptive grandparent beneath that nom-de-plume), was famous, infamous some would say, for the punchline story. Twist-in-the-tail was a common description of his stories, and often offered as a criticism. He was very good at it, as as people do, when they are very good at it, he rather overdid it, and encouraged a generation of short story writers to follow in his footsteps.

Play the metaphor game again though, and you’ll find lots of alternatives for the ending of a short story: a candle blown out, a light switched on, embers dying, a fire taking hold, a door opening, another closing, a knife being thrust in, a blade being pulled out.

What my correspondent missed, or at least, didn’t refer to, is common to all those: that it is the ending of a short story that we go to see. And you can find editors, writers and commentators all over the place who will take note of that, and pass it on, in introductions, prefaces, articles, interviews and academic essays. Of course, that doesn’t mean that all the stories in Talking To Owls have that quality, but I rather intended that they should. You’ll have to read them to find out!

Those interested in the short story can hear fellow Pewter Rose Press author Vivien Jones read at Aspatria Library on Tuesday 17th Feb (doors open at 7.00pm.£5 admission), in an event organised by Solway Arts Group. BHDandMe & Marilyn Messenger will be there to add our thruppence worth of short tales (careful with my spelling there).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA