Having begun the year’s reviews with a Kindle catch-up, including a couple of single-author collections, my attention was drawn to another couple of multi-author short-story anthologies waiting on my physical shelf. I don’t know why I’d neglected them. Perhaps because anthologies are harder than novels to review? Whatever reason, I’ve finally read them. Enjoyed them. And now I’m here to tell you why.
With my own short story collection scheduled for November next year, I thought I should give more blog space to the short story. But although I managed to pick the winner of the BBC short story award, the first two of these collections knocked my confidence in my ability to review the short form. Listed in the order I read them, the third has me fizzing with excitement about what the short story can achieve. See what you think!
Sometimes fiction furnishes a necessary escape from harsh reality. Sometimes it helps us interpret a confusing world. At other times it provides a safe space to explore disturbing issues we’d rather turn away from. These two books from small independent presses fall into the latter category: important stories, but I wouldn’t be supporting them if they weren’t also a good read. Personally, I’d rather dark truth than artificial light, but mostly, as these are, I want my stories well told.
Stand by for two haunting short books published in the UK today about different facets of the lives of women.
I recently shared an extract from my next novel, Underneath, in which a little boy is dancing with his mother to Cliff Richard’s Living Doll. The words are taken all too literally by the child who becomes the man who keeps a woman imprisoned in a cellar but I knew, from the very first draft of this novel, to be wary of quoting song lyrics. Yet, in the version I sent my publisher, I’d retained six words that furnished a neat link between past and present, while demonstrating the narrator’s disturbed and disturbing state of mind. But as publishing becomes a (still fairly distant) reality, I thought I’d better get some advice from the Society of Authors on copyright law. Based on what I was told – and this is only my interpretation – I’ve decided to paraphrase instead of quoting: I don’t want to risk having lawyers on my back; nor do I want to renege on my own personal vow never to pay to be published (it’s the author’s, not the publisher’s, responsibility to seek out and pay for permissions).
Where were you when you heard the news of the planes crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Center? I was at work, trying to squeeze a month’s worth of tasks from my to-do list into the remaining forty-eight hours before I left for a three-week holiday. One of my colleagues had heard the news on the radio during a ten-minute break between clients, but it didn’t make much of an impression on me until I got home and saw the footage on TV. So it wasn’t my story. Another of my colleagues was bound for a conference in New York, on a plane that got diverted to Canada. He came back with a tale to tell about the kindness of strangers, of sleeping like a refugee in a sports hall, and missing out on what might have been his only opportunity to attend a conference abroad. His story was bigger than mine, but still not much of a 9/11 survival story. In Richard Bausch’s Before, During, After, Michael Faulk is waking up with a hangover in a hotel in New York, deciding against breakfasting at the top of the towers before attending his cousin’s wedding. His fiancée, Natasha Barrett, is on a Jamaican beach holiday with one of her friends, frantically trying to find out if Michael is alive. This is their story.
I do enjoy exploring unexpected links between the novels I’ve been reading. A gritty story of the real-life dangers faced by illegal immigrants on the streets of contemporary Cape Town seems a world away from the remote homestead in 1920s Alaska in which Eowyn Ivey’s modern fairytale is set. Yet, apart from being debut novels and the happenstance of my reading them in sequence, both are stories of survival with an unusually pale-skinned girl at their hearts. In addition, The Snow Child also gives me an opportunity to acknowledge the writing of a couple of other bloggers whose support I cherish, while Zebra Crossing has served as the inspiration for my response to Charli Mills’s latest flash fiction challenge.
It’s some years now since I had any interest in holidaying abroad – or venturing on holiday at all, if I’m entirely honest – and my last trip outside Europe could well be part of the reason. This was a fascinating botanical tour of Madagascar but, because we were focused on the flora, our interactions with the local people were somewhat limited and often unsettling to my woolly-liberal constitution. I wrote about this in my post On Memory and Imagination on the publication of my short story, Silver Bangles, a fictionalised account of an incident on that trip that brought the disparities in wealth between the locals and the tourists into sharp relief. A similar encounter provided the material (if that doesn’t sound too disrespectful) for my water-themed flash. But a third uncomfortable event from that holiday – in which I dithered about donating my sunscreen lotion to a family with albinism seen from the comfort of our bus in a remote village – hasn’t yet made it into my fiction.
In terms of wacky ideas for a story, what’s your verdict on these?
Henry Merriweather falls in love with a playing card; Dan and Evelyn cannot shuffle off this mortal coil until they finish the card game they began on their wedding night in 1928. Lady Farrimond plays cards with a stranger and forfeits her most treasured possession.
Two brothers cannot agree even on the rules of a simple game like noughts and crosses; rioting has become a national sport with fixtures, policing, and the whole media circus; even Scrabble has become a dangerous game when the tiles spell out MURDER.
Breaking the Rules, a short story anthology edited by Alex Davis, is replete with such unlikely scenarios convincingly portrayed on the page. Published by Derby-based (very) small press Boo Books, this collection of thirteen stories buzzes with quirky creativity and eloquent prose. Unlike the editor, I’m not a particular fan of games, but I found myself entertained by the stories and in awe of the depth and breadth of creativity on show.
As they crouch to catch the babe, I wonder what might soothe their minds. I don't mean the medical team in the delivery room, but the anxious hacks hovering outside. After the lambasting of Hilary Mantel, it takes guts to say anything intelligent on the royal process, but there was good sense in the other Saturday's Guardian from Marina Hyde. If that's not enough to shame them into leaving the poor woman to get on with the job, the hospital could pipe out the glories of Handel, or read them Kate Blackadder's beautiful story, Oldshoremore from The Back of The Beyond.
I'm not given to risk-taking, especially not on something as scary as the net where trolls can monitor your every move, so I thought long and hard before starting my blog. Mostly what I thought was: No, that's not for me. Quick, draw the curtains, you never know who might be peering in.
Then, all of a sudden, I had a new computer and a brand-new blog. Learning my way round both Windows 8 and Weebly at the same time, perhaps I should be grateful that it was the computer and not me that went into meltdown (miraculously only a couple of days shy of the end of the no-quibbles return period). Aside from the first post, which seems a bit pointless, but I'm leaving up as part of my ten-step programme for combatting shame (not that ten steps are anywhere near sufficient), I'm glad I've done it, but I'm still not sure what it's for. There's a part of me still thinks it's quite mad – but that might be the same part that thinks that any project not set up with the explicit purpose of pleasing my mother is mad, I'm not sure how seriously to take it.
Yet I’m seriously addicted and, I think, in a good way, so read on if you want to know the three reasons why I got into blogging and kept going.
As the warm-up to my forthcoming post on interrupted childhoods, take a look at kids being their horrible selves in this fabulous flash from Elissa Cahn. I know where my sympathies lie, how about you?
I was moaning recently how I wasn't content to be a writer, I wanted to be a published novelist. I still do, of course, but on the days that that seems an impossible dream, this amusing short story from David Howard is beautifully reassuring. Who wants their novels to go on sale for less than the price of a bookmark?
Do take a look at my author interviews for debut novels that have done rather better and, to mark the latest interview with Charlotte Rogan, author of The Lifeboat, my next post is on three ways to make life harder for your protagonist.
Happy New Year!
While many people are already shedding over-optimistic New Year resolutions, I'm still writing cheques for January 2012 so I hope I can be excused for kicking off my blog with a review of the last writing year.
It's been a good one for networking, getting my short stories out into the world and progressing my novels.
finding truth through fiction
events coming soon:
Annecdotal is where real life brushes up against the fictional.
Annecdotist is the blogging persona of Anne Goodwin:
slug-slayer, tramper of moors,
author of three fiction books.
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I don't post to a schedule, but average around ten reviews a month (see here for an alphabetical list),
some linked to a weekly flash fiction, plus posts on writing and my journey to publication and beyond.
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