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Have you checked out these guys yet? CUTalongstory
.Cent magazine has one too……(a story by BHD ….hasn’t he been busy…sheesh!)
Like buses and policeman today….. Just heard that BHD has picked up second prize in the TSS Flash Fiction quarterly competition:
Winning Stories often more than disappoint me, even in competitions I haven’t entered! (No! Not when they’re mine!:-)
That’s perhaps to do with the fact that we all read differently. We might be ‘better’ or ‘worse’ readers than each other. We might be readers who are each looking for, and responding to, different story elements.
Recently I was stopped on the second sentence of a prize winning (2nd prize in a Flash Fiction competition) story simply by the fact that, three characters having already been introduced and the first two being men, the third asked ‘he’ a question. Which of them, I wondered, was being asked? Either could have been intended, but the significance of the question, and of the answer would have been, well, significantly different. Reading on, it seemed to me that the ambiguity was not intentional, that one was more obvious than the other…obvious enough, perhaps, to claim that there was no real ambiguity, only a grammatical, structural one.
It was enough to have stopped me in the story though, and not least because it was a prize-winning story. The questions raised about that placing seemed to erase the questions raised by the story. I was more interested, I confess, in thinking about why the judge had not noticed, overlooked, or not recognised what I saw as a fault, and a fault so early in the story…before I had irrevocably engaged with it.
There’s a section relevant to this in Tobias Wolff’s introduction to his 2008 collection Our Story Begins. I’ve quoted this introduction before, in relation to H.E.Bates, with whom it disagrees fundamentally about the practice of re-writing and editing stories written, and published, long before. Wolff is in favour (Bates wasn’t). The point here is that Wolff is in favour of ‘correcting’ anything he sees that needs correction, and asks a rhetorical question that reveals why: ‘why should I throw you out of the story with an irritation I could have prevented?’
We’ll answer that question for ourselves, and perhaps with questions, but I can say with certainty that I felt ‘thrown out’ of that prize-winning story by that unexpected early encounter with the ambiguity; yet not primarily because of the story. My attention had been entirely diverted to the judging!
BHD is cock-a-hoop (or some sort of cock anyway!) …. One of his stories is in the shortlist for the TSS Autumn Flash Fiction Competition! Can’t say which one, but you won’t have read it, because no one else but the shortlisters (as opposed to A listers) has read it – he’s even only read it silently to himself (except once or twice). Maybe he’ll be coq-au-vin before long, or simply toast, but so far so good….
Perusing The World’s Thousand Best Stories (Hammerton c1933) I dipped into the far reaches of volumes 17 & 18.
It often strikes me that there are lines that stand out, in poems and fiction, and, for that matter, in essays. They stand out when we first encounter them, and linger on in our memories long after other details of the piece of writing have faded, become garbled, and are ultimately forgotten. The explanation for this, it seems to me, is likely to be not so much in the nature of the lines themselves, but in their particular relationships to the details of our individual lives, and to our individual personalities.
In the introductory essay to volume 18 (The Spanish Story-Tellers), by Hammerton himself, he makes a remark in relation to a very short tale called The Biter Bit. An anonymous anecdote, it was ‘here included,’ he says, ‘to show how common to all European literature was this brief anecdote form.’
And suddenly all that woffle about the newness and originality of flash fiction is shattered into a thousand pieces, and it comes to me that somewhere else, reading about the short story form, I previously had come across a reference to the ‘anecdote form.’ This, in some other book, had been a dismissive remark, suggesting that the short story had been born out of an evolution from the earlier, and implicitly inferior earlier and shorter form. Rather than seeing the ‘anecdote’ as a type of short story, and a venerable one at that, it saw it as a rather shameful background from which the genre needed to disconnect itself in order to become respectable.
There are parallels to that sort of thinking: to make more complex, to make merely bigger, is often assumed to be to make more worthwhile. The baroque and the rococo, the pretentious and the overblown will follow in its train. The five thousand word short story, must of necessity, it might be argued, be a better one than the five hundred word anecdote. But, not, of course, if four and a half thousand of the words are superfluous!
The Biter Bit, attributed to a fifteenth century anonymee, takes up a mere thirty three lines on the printed page, and I estimate it to run to no more than 350 words, is a delicious tale of three travellers. They are ‘two townsmen and a countryman, on a pilgrimage to Mecca.’ The Moorish origin of the tale is thus revealed. Their ‘victuals ran short, so that they had nothing left but a little flour-enough to make a loaf.’
The two townsmen plot to cheat the countryman out of his share, and across the centuries the anecdote stretches out its fingers to touch stories such as ‘Local Hero’ and ‘The Maggie’ (seen elsewhere on the blog!). Their plan involves the trio sleeping while the loaf bakes, and the meal going to the one who has the most interesting dream. No elaboration is necessary – the implication is that the simple rustic will not be able to win!
But the rustic, as rustics will, cuts across this sophistication. He simply wakes early and eats the half baked loaf, and then goes back to sleep. The townsmen, a little later, wake also, and go through the motions of describing their dreams, which the countryman overhears. One of them says he has dreamt of being taken to heaven by two angels, the other that he has been similarly taken to hell. Then the rustic speaks, and ends the story (in traditional short story style, with the emphasis in the last word).
He begins by asking who it is he can hear talking. His companions tell him, it is they whom he hears. ‘Have ye returned?’ he asks. Where from? they ask him, and he delivers that final blow.
‘But now methought I saw two angels take the one of you to heaven, and then two other angels take the other to hell; and seeing this, and thinking you would neither return, I got up and ate the loaf.’
What I rather like about this ending is that it manages to pack a punch despite repeating a piece of information that we, the readers, already know. Could this be another one of those anecdotes that we might re-write for our own times? It must surely have been re-written many times before it reached its fifteenth century form, and no doubt has been many times since. Could it also be an example, and a clear one at that, of the content being what is ‘immortal’ in it, with the form serving to present that content for each contemporary audience or readership?
The Writers Quarter returns to Carlisle as part of the Second Borderlines Carlisle Book Festival in September (3rd to 6th September). This is the element of the festival specifically aimed at writers writing, and we have workshops (at The Crown & Mitre, Tullie House, and The Cathedral), in poetry, prose fiction, memoir and historical writing, and in using research, plus workshops on self publishing in both print, and digital formats. There will also be a Flash Fiction Forum, hosted by Dumfries & Galloway’s Crichton Writers, to which all are invited to bring, share and discuss their Flash Fictions, and their ideas on Flash Fiction. Facets of Fiction colleague, Marilyn Messenger will lead another writing session in The Border Gallery at Tullie House, this time, using ‘antique’ letters as a source of inspiration. Finally there’ll be a grand celebration in the Cathedral Fratry, on the evening of Saturday 5th, at which Manchester based Flash Fiction writer David Gaffney will read, and will announce the prize winners for L’al Crack…Borderlines own Flash Fiction competition.
Details of all these events, and many, many more, can be found on the Borderlines website at www.borderlinescarlisle.co.uk Have a good one!
While you’re waiting….why not read ……..
by Brindley Hallam Dennis
Stephen King in On Writing makes the interesting observation – among many – that writers, in reference to their own writing, don’t know what works, and don’t know what doesn’t. Tom Pow , the Scottish writer and tutor who helped drag me kicking and screaming through my M.Litt at Glasgow University’s Dumfries campus, put it more succinctly – You’ve Missed the F—-ing point! (Sadly, Tom, I still haven’t got it where that particular poem was concerned, but anyone who wants to listen to it – and perhaps get the point – can do so on Vimeo at BHDandMe. The poem: So Still). All this is the preamble to noting that I got a story into the early hours of this year’s National Flash Fiction Day Flash Flood http://flashfloodjournal.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/the-alibi-by-brindley-hallam-dennis.html The Alibi was written several years ago, and I can remember the exact place where the idea occurred to me. It was near the gate, at Bank House above Ullswater, where the Rose Garden opened onto the car park. A lot of poems and stories came out of that garden one way or another. I don’t think The Alibi had ever been sent anywhere, but I can’t find it on my submission log to confirm that. Somebody at National Flash Fiction Day must have thought that it worked, and I suppose I have to admit to liking it myself – but, back to Stephen King – if it does work, I have no idea why, or how! Another F—-ing point I’ve missed! One theory might be that a story like this, which is really an eavesdropped conversation, works like eavesdropped conversations in real life do…by making us wonder what they meant, and where do they go to from here. Working as a groundsman in a Lakeland garden my head was often full of imaginary conversations – a form of catarrh one supposes – and I was always happy to listen to them….Then I’d sneak off to my shed and note them down…Whatever the mechanism, and whatever it does, BHDandMe are pleased to see this one up on the Flash Flood Journal.
The Christmas Jumper
She had knitted him a Christmas jumper every year since he was two. She took great delight in poring over possible patterns and yarns.
He answered the door and took in the parcel, recognising his grandma’s shaky handwriting. He unwrapped her woolly creation and felt a surge of warmth as he admired the garment fashioned with such care and love. He admired the intricate design for a few moments, before folding the jumper and adding it to the pile for Oxfam.
(sent in by Janet – our most recent recruit to Facets of Fiction!)