The Long and Short of it


I write short stories: for me discovering a well crafted short story is a delight, like popping a delicious chocolate into one’s gob and letting it melt into loveliness. However, here this comparison immediately breaks down: whereas the after effects of the choc ( or, more realistically, several ) are sugar coated teeth and a spoilt appetite the sweet taste of a good short story is likely to resonate through the rest of the day, week or even month.

So I read a lot of them, right? As I’m always telling students, you must immerse yourself in reading similar stuff to what you write. Well, actually… In my stack of unread books it’s always the novels that get chosen first. Indeed, in the real world, as opposed to the wordy one, if time wasn’t a factor I’d always go for the long option: a bath rather than a shower, a protracted leisurely meal rather than a snack, walking rather than taking the car. But of course tempus is always doing its fugit thing so eating, washing and getting where I want to be are often rushed activities.

Yet always when I come across a collection that I love, I resolve to read more. Such was the case with Mark Haddon’s The Pier Falls, proving that his scope as a writer extends far beyond the success of Curious Incident of the Dog at Night Time. Here are stories that range from the detached documentary style of the eponymous one of the title to the quasi mythical savagery of The Island to the wonderful sixty pages of Wodwo which in essence is a modern reworking of Gawain and the Green Knight.

Looking at my shelves other crackers that I’d recommend would be Kevin Barry’s Dark Lies the Island, Sarah Hall’s The Beautiful Indifference and What Becomes by A.L Kennedy. And can I / should I recommend my own collection, Raw Material, published a few weeks ago? Hell, yes! I’m copying below what I wrote in my June 2012 blog when my first book was published because (a) it still applies and (b) I’m lazy.

The whole process reminded me of being pregnant in the way that it’s very easy to get caught up in the anticipation and planning of the event itself ( making the story selection, approving the cover and deciding on a title just as once upon a time I chose baby equipment and clothes and picked names ) without fully appreciating the long term commitment. The book and the child, once delivered, are there to be admired, scrutinised and, yes, over time -judged. Just as babies are always called beautiful, even when s/he resembles a rat, so I realise it will be difficult for me to get an honest opinion of my work. Having said that, with 15 stories there will hopefully be something there to like, thereby avoiding the embarrassment of people having to pronounce the literary equivalent of ‘ Hasn’t she got her father’s nose!’ in the absence of any other redeeming features.

Raw Material is available from Amazon or direct from Valley Press:

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