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After failing to read to the end of any of the stories in A.S.Byatt’s Sugar and other stories – something that has never happened to me before – I began to look at the cover blurbs with fresh eyes, especially the bit that said she ‘displays all her talents as a novelist.’ Was somebody, Penelope Lively in the London Evening Standard, in fact, just ever so slightly putting their head above the parapet and whistling a faint bar of ‘The King Is In The Altogether’? It might also explain why I had trouble with some of the stories in Henscher’s 2 volume British Short Stories collection (dedicated to Byatt), and to the Oxford English Short Stories which she edited (in pencil on the title page of my copy…’some poor stories from writers who have written better ones’… and over the page…’the tedious listing of what is seen oin the background’. I must have been having a bad day. (three OKs, two goods, one goodish and one liked it. Plus the wonderful Little Brother, by Mary Mann)). Sheesh!

I wouldn’t have dared, perhaps, to have raised the issue, if it were not for the fact that recently I had been reading Simon Heffer in The Daily Telegraph, exhorting us to boo when the Art we are encountering simply isn’t doing its job.

I have also been reading L.A.G.Strong’s (not in the Oxford) collection of short stories, Travellers, winner in 1945 of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Strong, it seems to me, is largely forgotten now, but if this collection of thirty one stories is anything to go by, he knew his way around the form. Some carry uncomfortable markers of a time when language could be less than politically correct, but all have a story to tell, and several have a very good one, told with a good telling.

Whether or not one likes something is, according to some, not the point. But to those of us doing the liking, and disliking, of course, it is the whole point.

And all the talents of a novelist, I suspect, are about as much use when writing a short story, as all the talents of a golfer would be when making fairy cakes.

So, as we say nowadays for no obvious reason, I’m undertaking (sic) a walk in the sun (literary/film reference – don’t worry about it), on June 17th, in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. This is a Good Cause. Undoubtedly. We aim to raise fahsands of pounds. You wanna help? Go to JustGiving page, and well, Just Give. The walk is marathon in length …that means around 26 miles (I get a meal at the end – I should get that far). It’s over hill and dale. It’s gruelling (the gruel won’t be the meal, I hope). I don’t do gruel for fun. This is a serious business. So open your wallets. Keep your hearts for the casserole.

Updates will accrue. Here’s a picture of the miserable scenery to be endured – or something like it….grass is like grass when all is said and done. Here’s the link again, in case you missed it.

BHD’s salacious story of dark veined Cubans and smooth skinned Connestogas (cigars!) Hecho A Mano is among Liars Leagues’ TOP TEN STORIES of all time (well, their first 10 years!)…. You can vote for it too….on the link below!  Hecho a Mano, by the way, means  – roughly translated – a hand job!

http://www.liarsleague.com/liars_league/2017/04/vote-for-your-top-liars-story.html

Radio 4 pissed me off this week. (No! Never! Well, hardly ever…). They announced a short story slot with the phrase ‘by the novelist’.

 

 

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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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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Penelope Lively, on Radio 4 last week to promote her new collection of short stories, her first for twenty years, remarked that you couldn’t just sit down and write a short story. You had to wait, she said, for them to come to you.

This reminded me of Pooh Bear, talking about poems. But it also reminded me of Stephen King, remarking that he only wrote when he was inspired (adding that he made sure he was inspired at 9.00am on a working day morning!)

Dickens showed a similar sense of focus. He allocated himself several hours of writing time…and took himself off to his workroom (apparently with the kids in tow sometimes) to see it out. If nothing ‘came’ to him, he would doodle, or whistle, or pace, but he wouldn’t give up trying to face down the blank page. Samuel Johnson, an altogether grimmer character I suspect, had already told us that, if a man wants to write he will do it if he sets himself doggedly to it!

It all goes to show that there are many ways to skin that white paper, and that widely divergent writers recognise, not only that, but also what a struggle it can be.

So perhaps now is the moment to put Penelope’s assertion to the test, and without waiting, take yourself off to your writing place……and write a short story….(or a poem). You know you can do it!

The Silent Life Within

I took the title for this collection of essays on the short story and its writers from George Moore. The phrase features in the story Home Sickness, one of the stories in The Untilled Field, which is the subject of one of the essays. The full sentence tells us something about why one might write: ‘There is an unchanging, silent life within every man that none knows but himself’.

I often cite Moore for his description of short story endings, quoted in the 1985 Uncollected  Short Stories, edited by Eakin and Gerber. They end, Moore says, in ‘Minor Keys.’ The phrase is evocative, but the qualifier he adds to it is more powerfully so: ‘the mute yearning for what life has not for giving.’

A contemporary of Moore’s, H.G.Wells provides the opening essay of my collection with his story The Magic Shop. A simple story of a father and son going shopping, spins into a magical yarn. Out of the increasingly fantastical events comes a profound insight into the relationship between parent and child, and the way it must change.

Mary Mann’s Little Brother, one of her 1890s rural tales set in the fictional Norfolk village of Dulditch, gives the last word, not to the middle class narrator, but to the poverty stricken Mrs Hodd who rebukes her.

Two European stories are the subject of the next two essays. Justus van Effen ran a magazine modelled on The Spectator and what interested me about his story was the way that a seemingly outdated, politically incorrect even, piece of social observation could turn out to be, in fact, quite contemporary on closer inspection. The French writer, Alphonse Daudet’s story Belisaire’s Prussian, allows a long look at how the order of words can change the weight of a sentence, and, when it is the last sentence in the story, might shift the focus of the story itself.

Three stories, of travellers encountering ‘a woman’ are compared in the essay Fellow Travellers. H.E.Bates, V.S.Pritchett and Katherine Mansfield do something very similar, yet very different!

I take a rare visit to contemporary stories in the next essay, with Matt Plass’s almost ghost story, Next to Godliness, which is built on an elegant premise. Then we look at Elizabeth Taylor’s The Blush, an oblique study of a failed marriage and failed middle class life.

A group of Somerset Maugham tales, turned into mini-films, provide the opportunity to look at adaptation and the impact of changed agendas comes next, followed by a study of Mrs W.K.Clifford’s dark tale of class, snobbery and passionate love, The Heart of the Wood.

The penultimate essay discusses Sir Arthur Quiller Couch’s Captain Knott, in which three seafaring men with a history of piracy and slave-running between them meet in a Bristol pub and discuss the souls of ships, and of men.

Finally, I examine the trickery and sleight of word in Daphne du Maurier’s deceptive tale The Old Man.

The Silent Life Within, short stories examined is available here.

Power doesn’t confer authority, and sometimes authority can be powerless. On Thursday the UK citizens of the EU will use their votes to empower the UK government to take a course of action that will be accepted as authoritative by all 28 members of the EU.

This is an authority that citizens in many countries never equal.

As far as I know, no other group of countries has ever attempted anything remotely like the European Project….Empires and countries have expanded by conquest, taking in what one group will regard as ‘inferior’ groups, but Europe has attempted something quite different: to take in groups by consent, and to preserve their individuality, their languages, customs and cultures. Alternative projects have involved suppression – in the UK, though English itself evolved from a fistful of quite separate languages as an answer to the Norman French  conquest, we have gone through periods when indigenous languages have been physically suppressed (Nach eil? Tha gu dearabh!).

Choosing Brexit, whatever its effect on the economy and immigration, may give hope – however ill founded – to the enemies of democracy, free speech, and rule of law wherever they are; those who favour coercion over compromise, intransigence over co-operation,  censorship over free speech, diktat over rule of law. It will neither empower nor authorise them, but it might embolden them.

Apparently, a neighbour of mine, campaigning for the referendum, was beaten into unconsciousness at the weekend by someone who, presumably, thought his own arguments would be unconvincing. The relevant campaign will doubtless repudiate the attacker, but he will continue to believe he is supporting it. Perhaps you will encounter him, if he has been released on bail,  at a Polling Station near you. We all have to stand up for democracy, unless we are prepared to suffer the consequences of its loss.