A while back, in this very blog, I came out as suffering from, or perhaps reveling in, Multiple Publishing Disorder. After making my name first of all as a poet, reducing, ditching and deleting to enrich my work, I then became a novelist. How to make a story that long, without padding! Ulp.
Poetry, crime fiction, comedy fiction, stage and radio plays (of all lengths, and some including original songs), scientific articles, prose polemic/non-fiction, and a nice line in science-themed textual kinetic art installations became my lines of work: in other words, it was a shorter story to say that I wrote everything but short stories.
|Ooh missus! |
As a reader, I love short stories (brilliant, intense, funny, scary, eg Char March's 'Something Vital Fell Through
' or Saki
's) and hate them (interminable inner monologues with long descriptions of cigarettes lit, coffee made and drunk, eg far too many I’ve been subjected to at spoken word events and had to go to a happy place in my head to prevent me gnawing my own leg off). Anyway, I’m here to confess that I am now a published, nay, commissioned, writer of short stories. How to make a story that short, without losing the plot… And like my long fiction, so far my published short stories, all two of them, cover both crime and comedy.
|What's wrong with just 'Once'? Cut!|
At the top you can see the new book of short stories by six luminaries of the crime fiction world who form the Murder Squad (including Cath Staincliffe of TV’s ‘Blue Murder’, and ‘Scott and Bailey’, and award-winning big hitters Margaret Murphy and Martin Edwards) and six of their ‘accomplices’. Squaddie Ann Cleeves (of TV’s ‘Vera’ and ‘Shetland’ series) chose me for her partner in crime for this special assignment, commissioned by Welsh publisher Graffeg. Each story was to be inspired by a photograph of the Welsh landscape by David Wilson. I said yes, thank you, lovely, I will, and then later, alone, OMG me and my big gob. But one of David’s superb atmospheric photographs turned out to be of somewhere I’d spent an eventful, even dangerous at times, part of my early adult life, the beginning of many enduring relationships, and suddenly I was there, among tall young Viking-descended farmers all armed to the teeth. ‘The Starlings & Other Stories
’ is launched this week, and a lovely, deadly thing it is, crammed with treats both visual and fictional by some top names and some newbies, like moi.
|Erm, perhaps I've cut the dialogue enough now...|
A crime short story can’t be like a novel – you can’t have masses of sub-plots, characters, endless twists and turns – not really enough time or wordcount to focus on the investigation, so instead, writers may concentrate on the crime itself, or the run-up to it, or an aspect of it, though the rules about not cheating the reader and giving them a fair batch of clues still apply.
|Our new anthology, so electrifying, you need rubber gloves to handle it!|
The other call to (short) arms was from within Authors Electric itself, for a new anthology from my various and multi-talented colleagues. Again I said yes without thinking too hard about it, and used an idea from a sketch I’d written for a surreal yet satirical comedy story, in 'A Flash in the Pen' in both ebook
and soon, paperback incarnations, tales of suspense, horror, fantasy, history, and indeed just about anything you can think of. It’s a dream pub quiz team of a book.
Already, a certain wippit-wrangling colleague is after another one for the sequel. The hounds are on the scent.
So to cut a long story short –
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Back in Fitzgerald/Hemingway's day, they thought of the novel as the sideline, but the short story as the bread-earner when they had to pay bills (with Hemingway not approving of Fitzgerald's tactic of writing the story in one "artistic" version, to keep for posterity, but then creating a more lurid, money-making version which would be easier to sell, in order to pay the next drinks bill for Zelda perhaps...)
Congratulations on your inclusion in the "Starlings" anthology, Valerie, honourable company there indeed!
As one who has changed writing horses frequently - and often in midstream - I stand in awe. I tip my hat to your outstanding turns.
I've always found these transitions way more difficult than I anticipated. But if I had been a realist, I probably wouldn't have experimented in the first place. I came later in life to fiction, first to short stories, then to longer prose. I work to keep my short stories short, only to realize that some were novellas. As a former journalist, I have to guard against creeping factoids and reportage drying out my fiction, yet the old nose-for-news skills can help too.
Maybe you could share more of your transitional experiences in another posting one day, when and if the mood strikes you. I certainly enjoyed this one. Thanks!