‘Cullopmton’s Wool Trade, Coldharbour Mill and the Walronds –
A Historical Fiction Romance and Adventure Creative Short Story Workshop’.
Thursday the 14th of September – Free Morning Workshop
(9.45am registration and a 10am start. Finish at 12 o’clock.)
To book contact: email@example.com
Your Workshop Facilitator will be Myfanwy (Vanni) Cook, who is currently the ‘New Voices’ Feature Editor for ‘The Historical Novel Society Review Magazine’ and an Associate Fellow at two Universities. She is the author of ‘Historical Fiction Writing – A practical guide and tool-kit’ and is passionate about bringing local history alive.
Thursday the 14th of September – Free Afternoon Workshop
The “Golgotha” and St. Andrew’s Church –A Historical Crime Fiction Creative Short Story Workshop
for those who enjoy the writing of Ellis Peters and Umberto Eco
(1.45pm Registration and a 2pm start. Finish at 4pm.)
To book contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Issue 3 out now! http://jottersutd.
To celebrate our new e-zine, we are pleased to announce a
SHORT STORY COMPETITION.
From the high standard of submissions we’ve received and published on Jotters United so far, we know there are lots of talented writers out there and we want you to have a go at our competition. If you win, your work will be published in issue 5 of Jotters United. The talented winner will also receive three books. Full details below.
How to enter.
The title and theme of your of your piece should be Spirit,or,
use the photo below for inspiration and create your own title.
How to submit your entry: E-mails please to email@example.com
Words: Maximum 2000.
Deadline: Saturday May 31st
Judges: The entries will be read anonymously by all four of the Jotters United management team.
We can’t wait to hear from you-so get writing!
Jotters United team x
Your story published in issue 5 of Jotters United, plus, you will win these three books:
The exciting new Edwardian crime thriller
Conversations with Sprits, (signed) by E.O. Higgins. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Conversations-Spirits-
The Trade -Karen Taylor-E-book. http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Trade-
Travelling for the hell of it-Nick Gerard -E-book http://www.amazon.co.uk/Travelling-hell-
by new editor of the Stinging Fly Thomas Morris
My attitude towards manifestos is the same as it is towards birthday parties: I like attending other people’s, but I’m not that keen on organising my own.
To carry the birthday metaphor a yard further (and a yard too far) I’ll say this: for a magazine editor, the submissions period is a bit like one long curious birthday. All the stories come tumbling in on a certain date(s), and so long as they remain unopened, each gift remains full of promise.
But this is where the metaphor comes a cropper: your stories shouldn’t be gifts especially designed for a particular editor. Your stories are something you’re giving the world (or at least the small part of the world that still reads short fiction). And while I enjoy receiving what I have asked for (a CD, a bear clad in a tweed jacket, a 2,500-word neat and tidy short story about love and loss), it’s always so much better to be blown away by a gift—some strange but perfect object—I never knew existed, but now, gleaming there in my hands, already seems utterly essential, appears to have always existed, and makes me wonder how I ever got by without it.
Of course, though, some gifts are double-edged: we give them to others because we want them for ourselves. And we need this initial excuse of the other person, the recipient, because we think to give a gift to one’s self is selfish and indulgent.
And this brings us to one of the big questions: for whom are we writing?
Which Brings Me To Two Points:
1. You have to be aware of how you’re being received (without getting hung up on it).
2. But you also have to trust your own taste. (And always be striving to broaden, improve, and surprise those tastes.)
Know Your Weapons
George Saunders compares writing a short story to trying to persuade a friend to stay, to not leave town. When you’re writing a story, Saunders asks, what weapons of persuasion do you have to keep the reader from turning away? For Saunders himself, it’s his humour and self-consciousness—he says he tries to keep his imaginary friend from boarding that train by firing out jokes and second-guessing all the reasons she might have for taking leave. For a story-writer like Mary Costello, meanwhile, the weapon of choice might be a startling insight, some stab that gets to the heart of how we all behave, of what it is her almost-departing friend really wants. For Colin Barrett, it might be a concession that, ‘Yes, friend, we’re all lonely—I’m lonely too, come back and be lonely with me…’
The artillery, then, can be as varied as the people wielding them. But as a writer, the trick is to get to know what your strengths are—and then harness them. Push them and hone them, get them working full tilt. But likewise, it’s important to know the effect of particular strategies: through emotional manipulation or melodrama, for example, you might persuade the friend to stay a while, but they’ll eventually grow tired and see your game for what it is. So, don’t talk down to them, don’t give them a half-hearted reason for staying around, and don’t spent time talking about the things that don’t matter—but likewise, suss out the mood, see what needs doing, what needs saying. Each friend and each train-station-chat requires a different approach.
Which Brings Me To Editing
Editing isn’t just cutting out a few words, or changing a few details, or re-aligning all the colours in your story for symbolic resonance. It’s about being really fucking harsh and asking if what you have on the page is the best you can do.
- Is the way you’ve told this story the best (most meaningful, most fertile, most troubling) way to tell it?
- Might it work better in the past tense?
- Do you need that first paragraph?
- What’s the latest point this story can begin?
- Is the story actually interesting? (I can’t stress this one enough.)
- Are you writing in a particular tone because you think it will afford you a certain ‘literary respect’? A tone that—were it a shirt—would be a little too tight or too baggy for you?
- Is your writing true? (Not in the sense of ‘not a lie’, but is it, as Grace Paley said, ‘acutely felt’?)
- Are the stakes high enough?
- Is this a story you really need to tell?
- And what about that ending? Are you giving the reader too much? Too little? (Every writer will at some point struggle with the problem of getting the volume of a story right—is it too loud, too obvious? Too subtle, too quiet? This is where the agonising of the words, details and the colours-as-symbolic-resonance bit is so important.)
Of course, what I’m talking about here is craft—technique, form—and the molding of form and content and theme, of having these things work in sync to carry the story’s concerns.
There are other things I could talk about, too, like stereotype and bad writing:
Men: look at your female characters—are they there merely to annoy or titillate your male characters?
Women: are your men unsympathetic voids concerned with work conferences and groping their tired partners in bed?
Everyone: are you older characters de-sexed, useless things that don’t understand technology or the world they live in?
—Is your protagonist a writer who deserves more acclaim?
— Does your character lie in bed not knowing what to do?
—Have you avoided or skipped over some detail in the narrative because it’s too fidgety and complicated? (Hint: complication is where you find verisimilitude.)
As a reader and writer of short stories, I have been to all these above towns and I can tell you they’re no good. (But, also, that there are at least twenty brilliant stories that start or situate themselves amongst the problems that rise in these locales. e.g. Kakfa’s ‘Metamorphosis’ is the best example of what to do with a character lying in bed. So, if you’re going to do any of these things, you’d better make sure the story is brilliant, that you de-trope the trope.)
But again, these problems of techniques and tropes aren’t the reason we, as readers, come to fiction. (Or are they? What do you come to fiction for? Do you want your writing to be doing the same things as the fiction you love reading? Do you even have control over what you write?) Consider why you come to stories—to read them and write them—and then hold yourself to the highest standards of those concerns. (I personally don’t care if they happen to be political, transcendental, spiritual, intellectual, aesthetic, comic, cosmic, cryptic or anything else ending in c or l — I just want (cliché alert) to read great stories.)
Some Points That Might Seem Obvious But Still Need To Be Made
- If you get bored by ‘plots’, don’t write ‘plots’.
- If you don’t like description, don’t write description.
- If you find third person annoying, don’t write in the third person.
- Don’t feel as if you have to tailor your work to fit the mould of what’s gone before.
- If your view of the world isn’t represented in fiction, it’s not because it isn’t valid—every view is valid (providing the writing is good)—so give it to us, and give it to us as best as you can make it.
I’m not an art historian, and I haven’t read the literature on how and why Picasso went from painting these:
to painting these:
(there’s that bed again)
But I’m sure that part of Picasso’s development as an artist consisted in finding a way to convey what he wanted/needed to convey (I happen to think all four paintings are rather nice). And for anyone trying to write, that search for ideal form involves taking risks, and moving into territories that may be unfamiliar, or trying out approaches you didn’t know you had, or approaches you did know you had but didn’t know you were allowed to use—and letting yourself enter the state that Donald Barthelme described as ‘Not-Knowing’.
Do The Defining Yourself, Then Share It With Us (Please)
There are as many definitions of the short story as there are writers and critics of the short story. For example:
it’s a glimpse
it’s a photograph
it’s a form devoted to loneliness
it’s a weekend break
it’s best suited to explorations of Self
it’s about moments of change
it’s about paring everything down to its element
it’s about language
it’s concerned with moments of realisation
But while there are some loads—solely because of its length—that the form might struggle to bear, a short story can be whatever the fuck you want it to be. And it can do whatever the hell you can make it do. And you shouldn’t let anyone’s definition, least of all a magazine editor’s, stop you from making of it what you want—and need—to make of it.
So please, this March and beyond, be generous and send me a present. Be thoughtful, and make it as best as you can. But be as bloody selfish as you—and most importantly, the story—demands. You owe it to yourself and you owe it to the well from which we all draw such odd and tingling pleasure.
P.S. If you care about your presents, please don’t fold them four times and stuff them into a tiny envelope. A non-fancy A4 envelope will suffice. (And yes, at present, we’re still not accepting online submissions — but please be assured that we recycle all material that doesn’t get published. You can read the submission guidelines here.)
SOLD OUT! Next edition of the Poetry Bus magazine – poems, very short short stories, flash fictions, anything smallish made out of words! – PB$ (A money special) coming soon to a planet near you!
Off the Shelf – Monday January 13th, Blacks Club, 67 Dean Street, London W1D 4QH
SHORT STORY AND THE IMAGE with Jan Woolf, Roelof Bakker with Jane Wildgoose – chaired by Carol Topolski
11am coffee for 11.30 readings then a two-course lunch with wine followed by readings from the audience
Jan Woolf will read from her short story collection Fugues on a Funny Bone (Muswell Press) – a collection of linked short stories with accompanying images from sculptures by Richard Niman.
‘Jan Woolf has a sexy, vigorous imagination and the art to realise all her good ideas.’ – Edmund White
Roelof Bakker was born in the Netherlands and has lived in London since 1984. He’s an artist-photographer and the publisher of Negative Press London, a small imprint publishing collaborations in print between visuals artists and writers. The press’s first publication Still: Short Stories Inspired by Photographs of Vacated Spaces (2012), was a collaboration with twenty-six international writers and was runner-up for Best Mixed Anthology at the Saboteur Awards 2013. His recent book, Strong Room (published 21 January 2014) is an artist book with twenty-eight photographs and two essays. Bakker teamed up with artist/writer Jane Wildgoose – and photographs of preserved human traces were used as inspiration for writing about the loss of the tangible experience in the digital world and the academic importance of paper-based archives and their potential to spark the imagination.
Jane Wildgoose lives in north London and grew up on the Sussex coast. She is an artist, writer and researcher who works with museums and collections, including Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, and the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, USA (2009-10). In 2005 she was awarded a NESTA Fellowship to develop her role as Keeper of her own collection, The Wildgoose Memorial Library, which is dedicated to memory and remembrance. During 2013 she exhibited work in progress in the Maddick Mausoleum at West Norwood Cemetery as part of Curious, a site-specific art trail curated by Jane Millar, reflecting on the role of cemeteries and burial places as ‘libraries’ or ‘archives’ of past lives.
Carol Topolski is the author of Monster Love (long listed for the Orange prize), Do No Harm and is working on a third novel about death row.
All for £30, book your place with firstname.lastname@example.org