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

Here’s the paperback version of my Kipling short story essay collection.

Advertisements

The better I get at reading, the worse I realise I am at writing!”

 

There’s something I need a short story to do. And however startling the events, however moving the content, however beautifully written the individual sentences, if the story hasn’t done it, I will consider it to be flawed.

For me, this is the X or Y chromosome of the genre (don’t ask me which sex it is!).

So what is this unique element? It’s that the story must take me to a place where I am left wondering, contemplating, reflecting upon, why the author has had his or her narrator bring me to that particular spot, at that precise word in time, and facing in this particular direction.

It often isn’t the most dramatic point in the story, but it is the point of the story; the point of the telling of the story – and if anything before, or, more importantly, after that point distracts me from that view and contemplation of it, I will consider the story flawed.

Novels suffer no such constraint. They can close down their main plot line, resolve their central theme, dispose of their principal characters and then go ambling off through the future lives of minor characters, explanations of dangling sub-plots, and authorial musings on the meaning of life and joys of freshly baked scones, all without suffering the least damage. It’s just another addition to the numerous trips a novel will have been taking us on.

But a short story isn’t a cruise or a road trip. It’s a crossing. It’s a crossing from here to there, or there to here, and it leaves us with a view across the there that must come next, or of the here that we have reached, or of the there that we left behind us; and all of those views will have that shocking quality of unexpectedness, and inevitability.

That doesn’t mean that the view or the significance of it need be obvious, though sometimes they are. The most successful short stories, perhaps, are those that hang around in the consciousness for hours, days, weeks, even years, nagging away at you, before you finally catch up with the insights that their author has shared.

Which means, of course, that when you read a story that seems to go on beyond what might have been its ending, to something that seems, well, pointless and unnecessary, you can never be quite sure whether the fault is in the writing, or in the reading.

Just heard a rather good short story on Radio 4 (read by Bill Nighy…written by I don’t know who…?) Didn’t get the title either, and missed the first few minutes. However, it made itself clear, and you could see what was coming well before the end, sufficiently to make you wonder, I mean, but not so obvious it gave the game away!

But the ending, which I did hear, and was spot on, came a few lines before the story finished. Why, I wondered, were the extra lines added?

Now this is a hobby horse of mine. The nearer the end is to, well, the end, the better I like it, and this story seemed to ramble on a bit past a perfectly judged ending. It’s wasn’t a case, as with several I’ve looked at before, where a striking event isn’t the ending. There were striking events; two in fact, and they weren’t the end., but it seemed to me that somewhere else distinctly was (but it wasn’t at the end!).

I reckoned there were three possible explanations. The obvious one, obviously, is that I might be wrong! But it might also be that the writer had misjudged…perhaps it was a novelist (!). (Perhaps it has a different idea to me of what a short story is.)

Or could it be, that with that BBC timed slot to fill you just have to provide the right number of words, even if some of them end up being the wrong words for the story? (It was good to hear, or rather not hear, a very light extraneous addition of BBC sound effects and background music – in case the words don’t do the job – as this story didn’t need anything except that voice!) Worth listening to if you can find it (or reading for that matter): Pauzwang Syndrome – unattributed today on the BBC webpages.

 

 

Some speculative, post Brexit stories on show from BHD, in the collection Days to Come, with a mild Cumbrian flavour, now available on Cutalongstory.

The recent furore over the use of facial recognition cameras at King’s Cross reminded me that I wrote a story a decade or so ago in which going masked and hooded was a significant feature.

This was long before the hijab and the burka became a fashionable source of angst. It was written in a period when the generic CCTV camera was beginning to proliferate, and when the ‘hoodie’ was becoming an object of fear and trepidation. What if, I wondered (in fact, I probably wondered, along with Philip K Dick, Wow! What if!) we had a world where to avoid those CCTV cameras we all went hooded, or had to have a damned good reason not to.

The story, Alcedo the Dipper, at c7000 words, was long for one of my short stories, and told the tale of a street kid who makes a living pick-pocketing the browsers in a shopping mall. The hoods in this already dated, yet still futuristic fantasy world were electronic devices rather than cloth ones, and were called veils. The pockets being picked were the holsters in which shoppers carried pistol-like credit storage devices.

There was another strand to the fantasy, and that was my attempt to create a street patois fashioned out of recycled words from, in this case, the world of finance and the stock exchange.

Other than that it was a boy meets girl; girl gets lost; boys rescues her, sort of story, which is definitely dated! Futuristic stories, it seems, will always, at some future date, give a picture of the time in which they were written. As with many of the short stories I write, though, it wasn’t primarily the events, or indeed the characters that I was interested in. It was an experiment to see if I could make that ‘veiled’ world stand up, and make that patois walk!

The story ended up in my collection of ‘longer-than-average-for-BHD’ stories, The Man Who Found a Barrel Full of Beer, which you can buy here (and which, co-incidentally, is another story!).

I seem to specialise in missing things on the web…. like this BHD story, put up on May 12th (which I thought they hadn’t used…) Sheesh! (It’s your age, pet-ed.) You have to scroll down, you see…..

I’ve not read much by William Trevor. I have Beyond the Pale and other stories, a selection of 18 short stories, picked and introduced by their author. (Folio Society,2010). The Grass Widows is one among them that has stuck in my mind. There was also a particular ‘feel’ about the stories, not quite a gloom, but a reticence, almost as if the stories were trying their hardest not to be told.

With Last Stories, that gloom, that reticence, and the sense that the stories have not ended, are perhaps not even taking place, is stronger.

Cover blurb approbations, a score of them, trot out all the trite clichés that one might expect, and which Trevor merits, and I suppose that’s all they need to do. But for me there were specifics that the collection as a whole, rather than the individual stories, demanded that I address.

One was how does Trevor signal so effectively whether he is writing in an English register, or an Irish one? It’s as subtle as a mist, and creeps up on you, but you know which voice you’re hearing, and not, I’m sure, simply because of which country the tale is set in.

In the story The Crippled Man we get it in the opening lines:

 

‘Well, there’s that if you’d want it,’ the crippled man said. ‘it’s

a long time waiting for attention. You’ll need tend the mortar.’

 

It’s not there at all in the opening of the following tale, At the Caffe Daria:

 

Along a single wall of the Caffe Daria the scarlet upholstered

banquettes haven’t changed, the ornate brass foot-rail at the counter

remains.

 

The place, as described, could be anywhere. It could be in Leopold Bloom’s Dublin, but there’s no hint of anything but RP in the words, and it turns out to be a London eatery. You can listen for that tone of voice throughout the stories in the collection, and sure it will come to you, appropriately, unfailingly, if you have only half an ear.

More pervasive though, at least for me, was the question of was this collection written as a ‘last collection’, or did it just happen to be found, a bunch of stories left over that would happen to be the last ones to be published? If it was written as a last collection another question is raised, which is was it written ‘last’? Or were the stories collected over the years with the thought to put them aside for when the time came? Is it a writer’s last stories, or a publisher’s? Is it writer’s actual last stories, or his developing idea of what last stories ought to be?

For many of the stories death is present, or in the wings, but more haunting than that is the idea that life is something that is never quite accomplished, which might be considered rather disappointing, or then again, rather reassuring.

Here’s another article by Me on the TSS Publishing website. Hemingway’s story Up in Michigan tells of a flirtation that ends in rape, but is the rape what the story is really about?

See you Jimmy! Further Considerations of Hemingway’s ‘Up in Michigan’ by Mike Smith

Here’s a nice little bedtime story for you from BHD.

Moko The Monkey (and the iron collar)

 

When Moko heard the chicken squawking and saw it hanging upside down, its wings flapping wildly, he was terrified. But when his Master reached down and gently took its head in his hand and twisted and pulled, the squawking stopped immediately. Then there was only the intermittent beating of its wings as they remembered briefly what it had been like to be alive.

Poor Moko. He was so frightened, even when Master smiled at him. How could he be sure, he wondered, that the same would not happen to him? Master said softly, do not be afraid, little Moko, I shall not hurt you. But Moko whimpered and chattered his teeth together – which were big enough and sharp enough to bite off Master’s hand in one snap – because he was so afraid.

Then Master lifted up a dark circlet that hinged open and shut and said, little Moko, if you wear this silk scarf around your neck like all the other monkeys do, I will know never to hurt you, even by mistake. And he clamped the heavy circlet around Moko’s neck, and Moko lived happily, more or less, ever after.

Of Mice and Men: the Short Fiction of John Steinbeck