Mind the Gap!


More of a blogette this month as, once shingles were banished ( Go ye hence forthwith and never scab my scalp again!) it’s been catch-up time with limited opportunities for reading and writing. Also much preparation involved for a combined event this week: a show entitled, amazingly enough, Mind the Gap! and the launch of my book Raw Material. Exciting itch-free times.

Gaps are what all creative writing teachers, myself included, bang on about: we chant the mantra Show, don’t tell and encourage our students to use sub text and write endings that don’t offer full closure so that their readers have to do some of the work themselves. On the other hand, we warn, if readers fall into too many gaps and are unable to haul themselves out then you run the risk of really pissing them off when they simply don’t understand what’s going on. Getting the balance right is one mark of effective story telling and luckily I did get the chance to read two great examples of this during October.

How to Measure a Cow by Margaret Forster is about identity. Tara has served a ten year prison sentence for committing a violent crime and has reinvented herself as Tara in order to start a new life in a northern town far from her roots. A fractured but compelling character, we never get to know her true self and others’ perceptions and opinions of her might well be tainted by their own prejudices. Although narrated in the third person, Forster skilfully weaves into the story a subtle multiple viewpoint. To piece together this particular jigsaw was a pleasure and reminded me why I’ve always been a fan of this writer.

Melissa Harrison’s At Hawthorn Time might first appear, not least from the design of its cover, to involve some kind of rural idyll. In fact, despite having some beautiful lyrical prose ( for example, a cuckoo’s call is described as settling lazily over the field like a pair of falling feathers ) this is a novel that is in many ways raw and visceral: ‘The Archers with bite’ as one reviewer put it. The Prologue describes a car crash on a country road: written in second person addressing a mysterious other, we will soon discover the owners of the cars involved but not who was in them at the time. We therefore start with the outcome known but with a satisfying number of gaps to fill.

Aside from the dental scenario, gaps are good.



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