Recommended Reads: Table Manners and other stories

Every year at Dahlia Publishing we provide a placement for two students from University of Leicester to undertake a 70 hour project. The placement forms part of a publishing module and offers students the opportunity to gain some valuable hands-on experience at a small press. 

This year, Ella March spent ten weeks with us. She was particularly keen to work with short stories and has written a short blog about her favourite short story from  Susmita Bhattacharya’s debut collection, Table Manners and the connections she found to her other favourite books.

It’s not exactly an uncommon experience to wake up to the sound of someone you love calling your name. It’s a little bit more so if that someone is dead. That is what happens to Mouli, the main character of ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’.

It takes her a little while to work out what’s happening- and if you don’t know, then you should read the story! But if you have read it, then you’ll know that hearing her husband’s voice helps Mouli come to terms with his sudden death, and her isolation from her family in its wake. Here are a few more books which deal with similar themes.

The obvious connection between ‘Good Golly’ and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is the isolation experienced by both of the main characters. They are perfect examples of how grief can make you feel trapped, but they also eventually find a way to let other people help them. Neither of them can be said to have truly happy endings, either- you come away feeling that you understand the characters, and wishing them well beyond their stories.

‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ is in many ways similar to PS I Love You, by Cecilia Ahern. If you enjoyed reading about how Holly came to find a way forward in her life without Gerry, you’ll also enjoy reading about Mouli’s journey. There are a lot of parallels between their stories, not least the peace it brings them both to feel like their husbands are still a part of their lives and the way they renegotiate their relationships with their friends and family. However, there’s a more humorous edge to ‘Good Golly’ that’s bound to make you smile.

The suddenness and brutality of death, which Mouli cannot really cope with, is also a struggle for the family of Maddy in I Liked My Life, by Abby Fabiaschi. Just as Maddy’s daughter Eve and husband Brady wonder how their beloved mother could disappear so abruptly, so there is an air of shock in the way Mouli reflects on her husband’s death. There is also an element in both stories of loved ones never fully leaving, and the knowledge that the only way of honouring a life loved is to move forward.

Finally, another story about accepting death is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. This is a book which can be equally enjoyed by children and adults, and features a main character who feels just as isolated in his grief as Mouli does. Both characters also choose to find refuge in memories of their loved ones in happier times. They are both heartbreaking tales, but ultimately rewarding to watch the characters accept the magnitude of their loss.

Like many of the other short stories in Susmita Bhattacharya’s anthology Table Manners, ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ is not a happy story, but it is a hopeful one. It reflects on human life and love and pokes into the corners of how we deal with loss.

‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ is a short story in Table Mannersavailable from Dahlia Publishing.

Ella March is a final year student at the University of Leicester. She studies English and Creative Writing and is hoping to go on to a career in publishing.

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A Sense of Place in Short Fiction

Dahlia Publishing is delighted to be publishing Susmita Bhattacharya’s short story collection, Table Manners. I’ve been a fan of Susmita’s work for years and had the pleasure of working with her on our Beyond the Border anthology in 2014. It was only recently that I plucked up the courage to ask Susmita whether she had plans to work on a collection. I was delighted when she said yes. In this short blog, Susmita Bhattacharya tells us more about her fascinating life, moving from place to place on oil tankers, and how this informs her short fiction.

“Maybe you had to leave in order to miss a place; maybe you had to travel to figure out how beloved your starting point was.”
― Jodi Picoult

When I began my writing career, I had no idea how true Jodi Picoult’s quote would be and how much it would relate to me. I had no idea, in the first place, that I’d be leaving my home in Mumbai and travelling around the world on oil tankers for three years with my husband. I had no idea that I’d live in five cities in three different countries that I’d call home. And I certainly had no idea how much I’d miss the place where I was born. Where I’d grown up. Until I moved so far, far away from there.

I lived in Cardiff, back in 2004, when I wrote my first short story that was published. It was filled with nostalgia for Mumbai, the place I had left. I remember feeling so homesick while writing that story that I cried and ached to go back home. I also wrote about Singapore, where I had lived prior to Cardiff and that had a different feel to it. It was more to do with the culture, the sights and sounds and tastes – because that’s how I had experienced the city. It did not pull me emotionally like my city, Mumbai, did.

While in Cardiff, I did my Masters in Creative Writing at Cardiff University. I was putting together a collection of short stories as my submission. I realised most of my stories were set in India – one in Singapore. But I couldn’t set any of my stories in Cardiff. I lived there for nearly five years, but I didn’t dare to. I didn’t feel like I had immersed myself enough to be able to do justice to it. Except the one where the protagonist lived in Cardiff but pined away for Mumbai. That was kind of autobiographical, and I learned to move away from such themes quickly.

Finally, after moving to Plymouth, I got the distance I needed from Cardiff and did not hesitate to set my stories there. I realised that not being present in the place I was writing about gave me a new perspective about the place that I missed while actually living in that city. I still haven’t got that distance form Plymouth, having moved once again, to write about it. But I will – soon enough.

My days of sailing gave me the distance I needed from myself. It put me in an extraordinary position of leaving the ordinary life behind and experiencing new adventures. It was a fantastic opportunity for me to reflect and think about my life and my goals. It gave me time and space to write and to experience the world quite organically. It helped me see new worlds and cultures, and it definitely helped me figure out how much I valued my starting point.

The stories in my debut collection, Table Manners are my attempt to capture some of these experiences, physical and emotional, my starting points and create fiction that explores this sense of place.

Susmita Bhattacharya was born in Mumbai. Her short fiction has been widely published, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Her novel, The Normal State of Mind, was published in 2015 by Parthian (UK) and Bee Books (India). It was long listed for the Words to Screen Prize by the Mumbai Association of Moving Images (MAMI). She teaches contemporary fiction at Winchester University and also facilitates the Mayflower Young Writers workshops, a SO:Write project based in Southampton.

Reviews for Table Manners

“Graceful, poignant and beautifully wrought – a masterful debut.” Angela Readman

“These triumphant, sharp eyed humorous stories mark the arrival of an intriguing new voice; tender, poignant and wry.” Irenosen Okojie

“A winning collection. These stories are delicately shaped around sharp and tender moments rendered in rich, vivid prose.” Mahesh Rao

Table Manners launches on 28th September 2018 at P&G Wells Bookshop in Winchester. Everyone is welcome to join us for an evening of readings and refreshments.

Table-Manners-invite

 

Short Story September

A new campaign to get everyone writing short stories kicks off this week.

Short Story September is a month-long initiative set up by independent press, Dahlia Publishing. Following their first short story festival, the aim of the project is to celebrate the short story form online as well as raise the profile of British short story writers.

Writers can follow the campaign via a dedicated blog which will offer daily prompts and feature a showcase of writing by authors with published collections. Authors featured during the campaign include ShortStops Founder, Tania Hershman, BBC National Short Story Prize Winner, Sarah Hall, and rising stars, such as CG Menon.

Writers also have the chance to win some fantastic prizes in a weekly competition supported by generous partners, including The Word Factory, Bristol Short Story Prize and Comma Press.

Writers can sign up at http://shortstoryseptember.co.uk/. Follow us on Twitter @dahliabooks and use the hashtag #ShortStorySept to join the conversation.

Short Story September launches on 1st September, so sharpen those pencils, power up the laptop, let’s do this!

Subjunctive Moods: How I put my first collection together

Dahlia Publishing is delighted to be publishing CG Menon’s short story collection, Subjunctive Moods. Catherine won two competitions hosted by us, The Asian Writer Short Story Prize in 2014 and the inaugural Leicester Writes Short Story Prize last year. It was after this second win, about a year ago, that I spoke to Catherine about the possibility of putting together a collection. In this short blog, CG Menon introduces her debut short story collection, Subjunctive Moods and shares her experience of the process.

When Dahlia Publishing approached me about putting a short story collection together, at first, I thought the hard work was over. Once I’d got that far, surely it would simply be a process of picking out the best stories and stapling them into a book. To cut a long story short: it wasn’t. Putting together individual stories into a consistent and cohesive collection was an intricate journey, and along the way I learnt a lot about the stories themselves and exactly why they worked.

Like many people, I write short stories without having a particular theme or common thread in mind. A lot of my pieces draw on my family history: my father is Malaysian Indian, and much of our family “folklore” comes from rural Pahang. However, there’s an equally strong pull from the other side of my family, who originate in Yorkshire. Both Pahang and Yorkshire are places with a very strong tradition of oral storytelling. They mix myth up with real, mundane events. They’re the sort of places where ghosts always appear when you’re doing the washing-up, and your first thought when a fairy walks in is whether you’ve mopped the floor.

Because of this, there were strong common threads between stories which were superficially quite different. I’ve never felt that I identify solely as an Asian writer, or solely as a white writer, and having a mix of the two was very important to me. In the process of choosing stories I noticed several resonances that I hadn’t at the time of writing. One of these was the role of children in myth and folklore, and the ways in which they grow up. My stories set in both England and Malaysia attempt to depict the way growing up really happens: in a series of jumps, that you don’t even notice until you look back.

It was also important to me to include stories which varied the pacing. Literary fiction has a habit of sticking too close to the contemplative, reflective side of life and ignoring plot. Dahlia Publishing worked with me to order the stories so that every so often the reader’s grabbed by an unmistakeable, immediate happening.

Of course, not everybody reads a collection from start to finish in order. I certainly don’t! I think it’s important for a collection to have a strong start and finish, but beyond that, the selection of which stories to read will always be up to the reader. This collection is bookended by two of my very favourite stories: one which was written recently and one which is the first story I ever wrote. I certainly hadn’t planned to lay the collection out in chronological order, but these two stories finish on hopeful, forward-looking notes that, to me, summed up my writing journey.

ABOUT SUBJUNCTIVE MOODS

In Malaysia, a young girl discovers the seeds of friendship turning into love. A ghostly aunt causes more trouble than she’s worth, and a sea-monster yearns for her poolside home. Family secrets confound two widows in Northumberland, and a third turns to the sea for comfort.

The stories in Subjunctive Moods are based around those tiny moments of missed connection and of realisation: the heartbeats by which we all grow up.

Featuring CG Menon’s prize-winning writing alongside her most recent stories, Subjunctive Moods is a collection exploring the complexities of human relationships, cultural identity, and finding your way back home.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

CG Menon has won the Bare Fiction Prize, the Leicester Writes Prize, The Short Story Award, the Asian Writer Prize, The TBL Short Story Award and the Winchester Writers Festival award. She’s been shortlisted for the Fish short story prize, the Short Fiction Journal awards, as well as the Willesden Herald, Rubery and WriteIdea prizes and the Fiction Desk Newcomer award. Her work has been published in a number of anthologies and broadcast on radio. She is currently studying for a creative writing MA at City University and working on her first novel. She blogs at https://cgmenon.wordpress.com/

LAUNCH EVENT

Come and meet prize-winning author, CG Menon as she celebrates the launch of her debut short story collection, Subjunctive Moods at Waterstones Islington on 5th July 2018.

HOW TO ORDER

You can order your copy of Subjunctive Moods directly from the publisher.

Leicester Writes: Short Story Festival

SHORT STORY FESTIVAL, SATURDAY 30th JUNE 2018, 10.30 AM – 6 PM

LCB Depot, Rutland St, Leicester, LE1 1RE

Join us for a wonderful celebration of all things small and wonderful as part of this year’s Leicester Writes Festival. The day will kick off with a two-hour workshop on writing and editing short stories with writers, Divya Ghelani and Rupert Dastur. The afternoon will be packed with author talks: award winning writers Rebecca Burns and CG Menon will be sharing their experiences of putting their short story collection together, and Jon McGregor and Alison Moore will be in conversation with Mahsuda Snaith to discuss taking the leap from writing short stories to novels. The evening will end in style with our Leicester Writes Short Story Prize anthology launch, where we will be celebrating the talents of this year’s longlist.

10:30 AM – 11:30 AM – ‘The Art of the Short Story’ Workshop

ln this session, Divya Ghelani will introduce and discuss several prizewinning short stories to assess short fiction techniques that are classic as well as experimental. She’ll cover aspects of character, voice, language, and intrigue within the short story form. This workshop is perfect for anyone looking to understand how the short form works and wants to write a successful short story. This session will include a number of writing exercises.

11:30 AM – 12:30 PM – Short fiction: An Editor’s Perspective

How do editors assess short fiction submissions? What are they looking for from short stories and flash fiction?

In this session, Rupert Dastur, senior editor at The Short Story will discuss what he likes and doesn’t like to see from manuscripts. He will offer an insight into how writers can edit their stories so they are ready for publication and offer suggestions on how to manage submissions. Rupert will also share his ultimate list of who to follow and what to read so you can learn from the best. With useful tips and tricks, this session is a must for anyone looking to build their career as a writer.

1:30 – 2:30 PM – How to Publish a Short Story Collection

Join Dahlia Publishing editor, Farhana Shaikh and award winning short story writers, Rebecca Burns and CG Menon as they discuss the process of putting together a short story collection. This session will discuss the publishing process as well as how writers select, organise and write short stories for a collection. Featuring readings with both authors and a book signing.

3 PM – 4 PM In Transit: From short stories to novels

How do writers transition from writing short stories to writing a novel? What skills do they develop in the process and what is it really like to work across forms? In this session, writers share their experiences of starting their careers by writing short stories before turning their hand to novel writing.

Featuring readings from award winning writer, Jon McGregor and Man Booker prize shortlisted, Alison Moore. Chaired by debut novelist and award winning short story writer, Mahsuda Snaith.

4:30 PM – 6:00 PM Leicester Writes Short Story Prize Anthology Launch

Join us to celebrate this year’s winning short stories in our prize giving ceremony and anthology launch. With readings from some of this year’s winners. Leicester Writes Short Story Prize was launched in 2017 to celebrate original short story writing. The judging panel included writers Rebecca Burns, Jon McGregor and last year’s first prize winner, CG Menon.

Tickets: Purchase your all-day festival ticket for just £20, workshops are included in the price.

To book your ticket please visit: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/leicester-writes-short-story-festival-tickets-45782026273

For more information please contact Farhana on f.shaikh@dahliapublishing.co.uk