When, well over a decade ago, I heard I’d won my first short story competition, I was bursting to tell someone. It being a weekday, and Mr A busy at work, I phoned a certain person I knew would be at home. Her reaction? Perhaps you imagined it! Well, I do find it hard to tell the difference between fiction and reality sometimes.
This is the person who informed me, shortly after I began to try to write for publication, that she’d stopped reading novels because she knew she could write better herself. She had attended a creative writing class, but hadn’t attempted a novel and probably never would. She wasn’t happy when I told her she must be reading the wrong things. But it seems to me essential that, if you aspire to write at any level, you should be reading better than you write.
I’m envious too of those better-than-me writers, but generally that’s a positive kind of envy, that can motivate me to raise my game. The thinking that goes into writing reviews can help me identify more clearly what makes the novel special and, both consciously and unconsciously, feeds into what I write myself. Even so, there are times when this reading-writing gap feels overwhelming and I know I need to take extra care of myself.
The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay, published by Grove Atlantic, is a beautifully narrated debut about a privileged young woman who has her fingers burnt by turbulent politics when she travels to a remote part of Kashmir in a vain attempt to recapture the essence of her recently-deceased mother.
At a party in Berlin, a photographer captures Anna May Wong, Leni Riefenstahl and Marlene Dietrich in the same frame. In her beautifully accomplished debut, Delayed Rays of a Star, published by Bloomsbury, Amanda Lee Koe presents the personalities behind the performance, entwined with the politics of prejudice and the murky world beneath the cinema glitter.
I had this post ready to go when this week’s flash fiction challenge came in. Could I ever have foreseen a better fit? Charli’s post is about writerly comparisons, and the fear and envy that might prevent us putting our efforts out. The theme for this week’s 99-word story is winners: mine is a mash-up of a little piece I got published several years ago and a mix-up at a big prize ceremony (I think the Oscars) more recently. And I’ve taken the title from the beginning of this post. Because I can!
As the compere brandishes the envelope, I rehearse my routine. Feigned surprise, a single tear, a never-expected-this speech. Out comes the card, my name announced, a hug and I’m on my feet. Squeezing past knees, deafening applause, fake smiles. Too busy balancing on five-inch heels to glance up at this stage.
“Oh my God, I’m sorry!” A sweaty hand on my bare arm, why has the clapping stopped?
Another starlet rises, is rushed along the rows. Some tuxedo guy explaining they must have mixed up the cards.
Of course, no problem, it happens. My aching chest. My frozen smile.