You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘short stories’ tag.

Coming this Saturday, 16th December, 4.30pm, to the Sun Pub on Drury Lane(the one in London), is the Inktears Launch Party for two Showcase Editions. BHD will be among the writers present to read from, and sign (should that be deface?) copies! Click on the link for more details. There’s also a link on the link that’ll take you to where you can buy the books in advance!

 

Advertisements

BHD’s short, short story Echoes is among the sixty stories by sixty authors in the newly published Flash Volume 10 (April’17), the Flash Fiction magazine of the IFFA. Stories included are all of 360 words or fewer (less, if you prefer).


It doesn’t matter how many times you kiss the frog. It won’t turn into a Prince.

Facets of Fiction: Writing the Short Story

– a short course by Mike Smith, devised for Darren Harper’s Carlisle Phil and Lit Society.

Thursdays, 1.00pm-3.00pm, 11th January to 15th March 2018. Room 8, Fisher Street, Carlisle.

£70 (£49 over 60/ £14 in receipt of benefits)

This 10 week Facets of Fiction course examines the short story elements: Beginnings, Endings, Middles, Locations in time and place, Ambience, Character, and Narrative voice. Short stories are short, sharp, subtle, and to be taken ‘at a sitting’. Includes sessions that take published short stories and examine how they have used those facets.

  1. Cut Up Exercise – Reconstructing stories reveals our grasp of the genre.
  2. Beginnings – What are they for? What must they do?
  3. Endings – The point of a story: the view it takes us to.
  4. Dialogue – how much, and where, and why? And how to do it…
  5. Character & Situation – Characters create situations, and are caught in them.
  6. Location – Stories take place, and time, and are made by them
  7. Ambience – every story has a mood, which might deepen, dissipate, or change.
  8. Narrators – Who is telling the story, and why, and to whom?
  9. Editing & Redrafting – exercises with prepared stories (c1000 words).
  10. Publication: How and Why? Options to consider.

Suggested Reading:

The Poetic Impulse by Mike Smith. Explores the ideas from which the course was constructed. Available on Amazon (or from the author).  Mike Smith, M.Litt (Glasgow) -aka Brindley Hallam Dennis- has won many prizes and awards for his writing.

Story by Robert McKee. Intended for Screenwriters, but useful for any story constructor!

Aristotle’s Poetics – An ancient overview of how tragedy works (even today!). Various translations (over the past centuries) are available. (McKee’s book draws heavily on it!)

Did you know that BHD’s story, The Turkey Cock, is this month’s ‘featured story’ on the CUTalongstory site? You can download it, for Kindle and other formats, for 99p – here – or watch BHD reading it (for free) on Vimeo at BHDandMe. I made the error of reading this story at a Christmas party a few years ago, on the shaky basis that it had ‘Turkey’ in the title….and it has caused contention and disagreement throughout it lifetime to date (as good stories perhaps should)! It was included in the 2014 HISSAC Winners anthology, celebrating 10 years of the Highlands and Islands Short Story Association.

You can also find it in Ten Murderous Tales, available on Amazon for Kindle, or in print. Click on the cover image to go there.


I take a long look at H.E.Bates’ grim story of abuse and exploitation, The Mill, on the Thresholds website – here. The study focuses on the three men in Alice Hartop’s life: her father, her abusive employer, and the compassionate and perceptive Albert, her employer’s son.

 

There’s a study of Bates’ short story, The Little Farm, in the first volume of my series of essays on short stories and their writers, Readings For Writers, available –here.

There’s nothing new in the idea of a visual prompt to kick start a piece of writing. I have a folder of random images, from the post card of a red faced eighteenth century farm worker, to a twelve by fifteen inch landscape of the Lincolnshire fens, via some grainy black and white character studies and full colour night time shots taken at Carlisle’s railway station.  Workshops all over the world use the technique. Our own Liars League recently ran a competition in which punters chose a painting from the National Gallery (online) and wrote a story sparked by it. I had a punt (unsuccessful, of course) with Gainsborough’s Mr & Mrs Andrews, whom I might have been thought to have slandered unmercifully…but really, she does look a sharp faced little minx and he a gormless galloot (not sure of the spelling there, but the computer sure doesn’t like it!).

The question the technique raises is whether one is interpreting the picture or sparking off from it. Both are possible, and possibly in the same piece of writing I shouldn’t wonder. What is unusual, at least in my experience, is to couple up the resulting story with the originating image. Of course, that National Gallery/Liars League competition did just that, and I can remember using a photograph by a friend of mine to stand alongside the story The Three Billy Groughs and the Owld Goat (in Talking To Owls, Pewter Rose,2012).

But I recently came across a whole collection of short stories written around the paintings of Jack Vettriano. I’m a fan of Vettriano’s art, not least because, as someone pointed out in a video shown at the recent exhibition of his work at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery, Vettriano speaks directly to his audience, not requiring the intercession of academic interpreters. Maureen Oxley’s Myself and Other Strangers (the title aping that of Vettriano’s own book, Lovers and Other Strangers, Pavilion, 2002 with a text by Anthony Quinn) appends a story to each of 14 Vettriano paintings, and has one for its front cover too.

I think it’s rather splendid that the artist agreed to this, but I have misgivings about the coupling of the stories to the paintings in such a permanent way. Of course, if they are interpretations of the images, rather than stories inspired by them, it makes perfect sense, but if the images have been starting points for story making – as they usually end up being in those workshops – then making that permanent coupling seems to me to risk diminishing the stories as pieces of art in their own right. In this particular case that coupling is double locked, the stories carrying the same names as the paintings that accompany them.

Titles, whether for paintings or written stories, can be powerful indicators of how the artist or writer wants the work to be interpreted. Certainly for told stories they can set traps for the reader or listener, wrong footing the response until some key fact or alternative meaning is revealed later on. At the very least they seem to suggest that reader and viewer, in this case, are setting off down the same, or at least a similar road.

Vettriano’s paintings are all a moment in story, but which moment? Do they crystallize the beginning, the middle, or the end? Are they the moment of crisis? The turning point? The resolution or, to borrow Mckee’s term, the inciting incident? For each of us, I suspect, each painting will be a different point in a different story, one that we have recalled, or fantasised about, and each of us could write down our own version, a version that would be as valid and meaningful – especially to us – as anybody else’s.

Oxley’s stories won’t prevent or even discourage us from doing that, even though the paintings might seem to be as linked to them, as they are to the paintings. The question is rather, will Vettriano’s paintings tie the stories to them, hi-jacking our imaginations, and limiting our readings of them? Or will the stories – and I think one of them at least achieves this – subdue the paintings to mere illustration of one of their passages, if only for the duration of the reading?

You can’t argue with the commercial sense, though, of coupling the writing to the paintings of one of the country’s most popular and successful artists! Oxley’s book is available on Amazon, which is where my copy came from.

Carnivale was written after my first encounter with Venice in October of 2016. I found the city amazing, I might even say awesome, if I knew the word. Right down to the window catches and the door latches, it caught and held my attention. What helped, perhaps, was that I was staying – for two nights only – in the north west, not far from the old Jewish quarter. It is an area of workshops and old houses, of decaying brickwork and all the narrative killing description that had to go into the story of Carnivale. The places in the story you could find, with a little luck (and that canal-side bar comes highly recommended), including the costumier’s shop. It was not open on the day I walked past, but the window, both literally and metaphorically, was a window onto another, imagined world: a world for which the word ‘imagined’ seems a pale representation. It was a fantastical world, and the perception that were you to dress in those clothes you would be changed utterly, and the world changed with you, was immediate and overwhelming.

It was that epiphany that I wanted the story to evoke, but also the realisation, that for each of us, as individuals we have to have the wit to see the gulf, and the courage to o’er leap it. (That’s the first time, I think, in sixty and more years that I’ve used the word ‘o’er’).

The Carnivale that you see in the Black Market Re-view, and, potentially in a ‘2017’ collection, intended to be published in 2018, is the 6th draft. It was a problem story right from the beginning – having to decide whether it was about Venice, or about its protagonist for example. And all that detail. It had to be overpowering within the story, but not get between the story and the reader. It had to be readable, yet the images had to be crowded in on each other. I wanted those narrow twisting streets with their four and five storey buildings, and their insistent detail, to crowd in on you – but not to the extent that you gave up on the reading.

Then there was the ending. A much earlier edition was sent out and got a useful rejection slip, with the sort of commentary that tells you it’s worth working on. That editor didn’t like the ending, wanting a more definitive one. I’m all for sharp endings, that stick it to you so you know where and how deep! But here I found myself wanting to leave it unsaid – to let the reader’s disposition tip the balance. Short stories, after all, are about the reader to some extent. How would they feel, think, and act in the situation? What would they expect their partner to do?

Later versions got into Longlists. Longlists can mean everything that was submitted – but in these two cases I think did not, and, like that helpful rejection, they can be an encouragement. Particularly pleasing about the BMR acceptance, was that it was made with so little tinkering required. A missing word here, a changed word there, a couple of re-ordered, rather than re-written sentences. In a 2000 word story (long for me) that was pretty minor – though it shows I could have paid more attention! In fact, reading through the story again did make me pay more attention, which is a curious thing. Knowing that someone is about to publish a story, sharpens the senses more than hoping they might, it seems.

Writing Carnivale came at an important time for me. I’ve been writing short stories for nearly twenty years, and two decades seems to me to be long enough to convince yourself you can’t do it. The last eighteen months or so have been a conscious last push before giving up. In fact, I’ve wrestled with the problem of just how to do that.

There has been a series of stories over that period that have been consciously different, at least in my mind, from those that went before. A series of so called ‘flash fictions’ also began to come to fruition during this time. Getting a higher than average proportion of them into print, with magazines, e-zines and journals, and perhaps into competition shortlist and prizes, might be a last gasp validation, perhaps, of that twenty year undertaking. Yet, the true, and proportionate success must always be that you’ve said what you felt needed saying, whatever anybody else might feel. You can find Carnivale in The Black Market re-View #4, here.

 

I have to confess that it was Kipling’s short story, The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat, that I didn’t get through in Hensher’s recent compilation of British short stories for Penguin. I’ve found some of Kipling’s shorts impenetrable, or at least too hard a work to do for fun. Yet I can remember absolutely loving The Jungle Book(s) when I was a child, and could recite several of the poems of the ‘camp’ (old meaning assumed, back then) animals. The White Seal was one of the stories included, and I remember that with affection – if not in detail.

Reading H.E.Bates and Frank O’Connor on Kipling though, in their respective histories of the short story form, I can’t help feeling that there is an agenda being brought to (at least) his short stories that goes beyond what one might actually find in them. Kipling is rightly criticised for his support of the Imperialist ethic, and its indivisible racism, but I’m not convinced that the stories, at least, many of the ones that I’ve read, do, in fact, promote that ethic.

Two features of the stories in Plain Tales from the Hills stand out for me. One is that they seem to be very journalistic, by which I mean that they have the quality of seeming to be written by a close observer, which Kipling obviously was. The other is that Kipling quite often seems to be satirizing, not only the characters and manners about which he writes, but the narrators in whose mouths he places the telling.

In these stories at least, and often right at the end, where the ‘meaning’ of the short story is frequently – perhaps always – signposted, Kipling’s narrator makes comments that seem to undermine, rather than underline his ostensible ‘agenda’.

In the story Cupid’s Arrows the dead-shot toxophilist, Kitty, deliberately loses an archery competition, in order not to be given the prize bracelet by her unwanted suitor, Barr-Saggott. At the end of the story, facing the opprobrium of the crowd, and of her ambitious mother, she is whisked away by her young, and favoured lover, Cubbin. The narrator’s comment closes the tale ‘-the rest isn’t worth printing.’ This more than hints at a story that most of us would find more interesting, unless we are of the same cast of mind as the narrator. More starkly, in Yoked with an Unbeliever, where an Englishman is made ‘a decent man’ by his ‘Hill woman’ wife (and saved from his mem-sahib ex-fiance), the closing comment is ‘Which is manifestly unfair.’, which we know it, manifestly, isn’t.

Compare those with the ending of Consequences where Kipling’s formidable Mrs Hauksbee has the last word: ‘What fools men are.’, which it seems to me, we are meant to take absolutely seriously. IThere are a lot of women in Kipling, and rarely, if ever shown in a patronising light. They always have admirable qualities, though they may be abused for it by the men in the story, and by those undermined narrators.

In the first story of the collection Lispeth, another Hill-woman, falls for an Englishman whom she believes she will marry. He, and the people at the Christian Mission where she is nursing him, play along with the idea, until he has recovered sufficiently to abandon her. When the truth is finally revealed Lispeth returns to her original culture, for which the Mission people accept no responsibility, seeing it, not as a reflection of their dishonesty, but of her origins. The story hardly reflects a racist contempt, or even an imperialist one, for the abused heroine.

An odd story in the group is A Bank Fraud, in which a manager, from his own salary, perpetuates the belief that his dying assistant – who has been sacked – is still employed, and will recover. The skin colour of the two men is quite irrelevant to this tale, as is their class. It is their personal qualities that matter. The dying man, it must be said, is no friend to the man who is paying him, and keeping his hopes alive. At the end of the story, again, in the character’s rather than the narrator’s voice, we get the statement: ‘I might have heartened him to pull through another day.’ The protagonist in this story is so explicitly altruistic that we cannot doubt him, even though we might marvel at him.

Over and over again, Kipling points up the human qualities behind the choices people make, and the actions they take, whoever they are, and wherever they come from. At the end of The Bronkhurst Divorce-Case the narrator remarks ‘And my conundrum is the most unanswerable of the three.’ That conundrum is ‘How do women like Mrs Bronkhorst come to marry men like Bronkhorst?’ When we’ve read the tale, we’ll tend to agree with him, I suspect.

Then there is the almost flash fiction, at least by length, of The Story of Muhammad Din. The eponymous hero is an Indian child who strays into the sahib’s house, but whose intrusion, though scandalous to his father, is not resented by the sahib. Kipling always puts the ‘S’ word in italics, along with its memsahib version. The eponymous boy never repeats his mistake, but is met in the garden from time to time. The first person narrator greets him ‘with much state’, but then inadvertently destroys ‘some of his handiwork’, a concoction of ‘six shrivelled marigold flowers in a circle’. The destruction is assumed to be deliberate. Then the child falls ill, and despite the grudging treatment of the sahib’s doctor – grudged by the doctor, it is made clear – he dies. The story ends with the first person narrator encountering the father carrying his son to the ‘Muslim burying-ground’. If there’s condescension here, I don’t recognise it, and I think that if you tried to re-write this story and set it in an English country garden, you would struggle to tell it with more, or even the same degree of objectivity. In fact, I might just have a go at that! Frank O’Connor, in his chapter on Kipling  (in The Lonely Voice), writes of doing something similar with Kipling’s The Gardener, and quotes his own alternative first sentences. But they form an example that illustrates the dangers of such an experiment, rather than the value.

I have read only a small portion as yet of Kipling’s short story output, so might well find all that Bates and O’Connor alerted me to. It seems important to me that I have found other than that in what I have read. Reading someone’s short stories might be a route to knowing them, but before and more importantly than that, it is a route to knowing the stories, and, perhaps oneself.

One of my favourite authors is, or put more correctly, several of my favourite stories were written by, James Joyce, but I have a more than sneaking suspicion I wouldn’t have liked him, nor he me. The ‘singer not the song’ is a symptom of commercialism and its attendant need for celebrity. Not merely ‘the stories’ of a writer, but each story stands alone, to be understood, assessed, and enjoyed on its own merits, within the limits of our capacities as readers.

I told my writing buddy about the new anthology launch – at the Sun pub in Drury Lane, near Covent Garden – London, you know – on Saturday 16th December (4.30-7.30pm) – why not come along and see what’s on offer?

I said, they’ve described my writing as ‘modern noir’, whadcha think of that? She said, it sounds like the name of a paint. I’ll wear tweed, and a black raincoat, and brown leather shoes (which my father warned me against when I was quite young).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seems to me it sounds more like the name of a dark chocolate, but hey, as long as you enjoy watching it dry!

So the BBC had their man interview Tom Hanks yesterday, about his new collection of Short Stories (power to the man!)…but asked him how he felt about becoming ‘ a novelist’. Shades of Muhammed Ali – what’s my name? – but no blows rained sadly.

Today they topped it off with a decent short story on Radio 4 ….and you’ve guessed it….. ‘by the novelist…’

When will these people learn?

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a date for those of you in or near Carlisle, England: At Darren Harper’s Phil and Lit Society, Room 8, Fisher Street Galleries, Friday, 3rd November 7.00pm-8.30  English Short Stories between the Wars… a talk by Me (with help from BHD), looking at A.E.Coppard, H.E.Bates, V.S.Pritchett and others. (£4.50 members, £6 non-members). Book through website https://www.darrenharper.net/