Day #10433

Adventures in Writing and Reading (An Occasional Series), Part 7

Hello readers.  More to report on, I’m afraid.  Seems to be a bit of a backlog, but I’ll try to keep it brief.  I’ve still been writing lots, just not posting things up, unsure of how to proceed so just holding on to things and letting them grow inside my creaking computer.  So this blog may be more posts about writing than posts of actual writing, for a while.  So, in today’s post… this year’s NaNoWriMo and I’ll ramble about some books I’ve read recently, and explain how some of this has any relevance to anything else, or at least try.

But before all that happened/ will happen, I was busy with the 2012 Guernsey Litfest, as I have already written about here and here.  There was so much happening, and I saw so many different writers who I probably would not have gone to see were it not for having got involved in running it.  As both a reader and a writer I found so many events completely inspirational, from listening to established poets like Carol Ann Duffy and Lynton Kwesi Johnson, to hearing the brilliant Farrago Poetry, workshopping with Chuma Nwokolo and expanding my horizons with a Bibliotheraphy session.  Anyway, I’m about a month late on writing about the litfest, and I should drag this post into the every day/ every week/ every month, the here and now and take this post to the library.

As well as being one of my favourite places to take my computer and sit and work for a few hours on a Saturday, and also a good place to curl up in the window with one of it’s many many books, the Guille Alles Library also runs a monthly reading group.  I’ve been attending on and off for a couple of years now, since I went along to a ‘short story’ themed meeting to see what people thought about, um, short stories.  I’ve been back a number of times since then, ramble-mumbling about various things – Christopher Isherwood, Philip Roth, Marjane Satrapi’s Petropolis, Where The Wild Things Are – and even going along to a filming of the Channel 4 Book Club, in which the reading group was featured, and from which I was cut (it’s ok, it was probably a good thing, I don’t think I was very positive or very coherent).  The Reading Group brings together an interesting mix of readers (all lovely people too) and I always find that there are plenty of surprises, that different people read/ interpret the same thing in so many different ways.  And sometimes I find that it makes me think differently about what I’m writing as well, kind of like pre-emptive feedback.  It makes me think about ways I want to or don’t want to write, because there is plenty I can learn from the criticism/ celebration of other people’s work.

Anyway, the topic of the next meeting is the Man Booker Prize nominees, for which I have read and digested Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse.  Having not read any of the other novels nominated for the booker prize, I cannot comment on whether THIS SHOULD DEFINITELY HAVE WON etc, however I can report on Alison Moore’s novel as it’s own thing.  So.  The Lighthouse is a very gently written, quietly portentious little piece of work in which the main character, a middle-aged man named Futh, struggles his way around a walking holiday.  First, I like the name of the main character, Futh.  It has a nice soft sound.  Futh himself is likeable but frustrating, a little inept, and the name Futh is evocative of the ineffective way he makes his circular journey, constantly prey to his introspective recollections yet unable to find any concrete solutions to his problems.  Pleasure, pain and violence are all muted, off-screen, shockingly unshocking.  I had a bit of an issue with the ending (which I am not, of course going to give away), until I realised that it was in keeping with the rest of the novel (and I can’t say much else about the ending without giving it away), and I kind of came to accept it.  I don’t think this novel would have been out of place as a winner, and I can recommend reading it.

It’s that time of year again (October), when National Novel Writing Month (November) appears on the horizon and the magic total of 1,667 words per day becomes etched in my mind.  I know that quality is more important than quantity, but I do find that the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month is beneficial nontheless – I always end it with more words than I would get down in an ordinary month, and how can that be a bad thing?  I don’t want to (and am not going to) weigh in with some kind of ‘rules for writing’ checklist, but if I did presume to proffer some such advice, pretty near the top would be to not be scared of failure.  NaNoWriMo puts the writer in a position where they are encouraged to take risks as they go along, to write down things with which they might not usually bother.  Sometimes these turn out to be better than the things the writer thinks long and hard about.  This year I’ll be cheating slightly and trying to finish last year’s novel (the rules state that it should be a new piece of work), but I’ll still be aiming for 50,000 words and I’m sure I’ll still be as panicked as ever as the days tick by faster than they do during any other month of the year.

(In Part 8 – Adam Marek and Marcel Ayme).

Raising Funds To Buy A Wall-Mounted Chicken Dispatcher

Mid-morning, the lady who usually brought him eggs came by selling homemade redcurrant jam.  He told her that he had read somewhere that it was technically illegal to re-use supermarket jars.  “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone,” he added, a little joke.  “Be sure to spend your jam fortune on those chickens of yours,” another joke as he handed her the money.  “Don’t worry, I intend to,” she told him with a smile.  Indoors, he made some toast and tested the jam, looking out of the window as he ate.  The jam was sweet and good.  The sky was clear.  Maybe he would go for a walk later.  He returned to his desk, picked up his pen and found his place on the list he was working his way through, names and addresses of Governors in the thirty three US states that still practised the death penalty.  “Dear Sir, I am writing to express my concern…”

Day #10423

Adventures in Writing and Reading (An Occasional Series), Part 6

With its horrible, garish front cover this book doesn’t look up to much.  I wonder what the publishers were thinking when they designed Sudden Fiction International to look like a business studies text book that got dressed in the dark.  Perhaps it was supposed to stand out amongst the tasteful, sensibly-designed books on the short fiction anthology shelf, its ugliness compelling the innocent browser to pick it up and have a look.  Perhaps the idea was to make it into some kind of undercover agent, a covert text that would alter readers’ perception of the short story from the inside.  Perhaps you just shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

So, judging it by it’s innards alone, this is the finest short fiction collection I have come across and when I first read it, it pretty much redefined what I thought a short story could be or do.  It has a great selection of short fiction by great writers (well-known, quite-known, not-really-known) from around the world, but in addition to that it also has a great essay-introduction as well as notes on their thinking by a number of the authors/ translators.  So perhaps designing it to look like a textbook does make sense after all.

The stories in Sudden Fiction International are all short.  Not super-super short, it’s not one of those compendiums of 50 word fiction (which occasionally throw up storytelling gems but for the most part seem to be more ‘clever’ than necessarily ‘good’), but certainly shorter than your standard short story.  You could say that they are defiantly short – sudden (hence…).  Whereas some short stories resemble novels in a shorter form (and creep towards a point where the long short story nudges into the novella, the point where you wonder why we categorise these things by length), these pieces recognise that the dynamics of short fiction are different and change tack accordingly.  The difference is defined in Charles Baxter’s introduction as, “The chances are that the story has to do with a sudden crisis, in which a character does not act so much as react.  When a character reacts, the situation is larger and more powerful than that character is.”

I don’t want to ramble on too much, so I will just do a quick scree of some favourites from this collection, starting with Fernando Sorrentino’s ‘There’s A Man In The Habit Of Hitting Me On The Head With An Umbrella’, (brilliant self-explanatory title) in which surreal circumstances lead the protaganist to be caught in a situation he is unable to react to, and in the space of four pages the author captures the  frustration of events beyond our control.  Moving on to Doris Lessing’s ‘Homage To Isaac Babel’, a subtly realised coming-of-age tale which rewards repeated reading and feels like it packs the weight of a classic novel into just five pages (as always I’m not quite writing what it is I want to express).  Panos Ioannides’ ‘Gregory’ is a taut, tense war tale about a man trying to shoot a prisoner whom he has come to know, and as he squeezes the trigger he tries to balance out decisions made and actions not taken.  And I’ve always had a bit of a thing for ‘Don’t You Blame Anyone’ by Julio Cortazar, in which a man struggles to pull on a sweater for several pages.  Brilliant.

As well as all that, the book has pieces by writers like Brautigan and Yourgrau (who I’ve written about before) and Calvino and Barthelme (who I will surely write about soon(ish)).  Basically, this is just a great primer for finding out what kind of sudden fiction pushes your buttons.  An iceberg tip – you cannot lose!  Ramble over (for now).