Wednesday 2 April 2014

So, What is Your Short Story About?

Today is the first of four sessions in the second sequence of the  Back to Basics series that Avril Joy and I are runningat Bishop Auckland Town Hall. The theme for this  sequence is 

The Short Story.

This is very timely as I’ve been buried for a month in the task of collecting together, , anthologising, revising, editing, proofing and printing twenty seven of my own short stories. These will be published in a singe edition. Some of these stories were written fifteen years ago; some were written much more recently.

In completing this rather arduous task I have discovered a lot more about myself as a writer and about the nature of the
Revising, editing,  proofing, printing
the collection.. And revising again,
proofing again ...
short story.

The collection will be published this month under the title of Forms of Flight: Twenty Seven Short Stories. The title story is about a woman, recently widowed who escapes into a second, more vibrant life in a battered old Dormobile, painted with the emblems of an aeroplane and a butterfly.

Writers at every level are often asked the impossible question What Is Your Short Story About?

You might as well ask what the moon is about? Or what is a butterfly about? This is truly mpossible to answer in a sentence.

Yet this is what I have made myself do in putting together  these twenty seven stories.   Every collection of stories must have a contents page. And in writing my contents page I have challenged myself to create a strap-line (such as you might see in a magazine) for each story.

This is because people tend not to read a short story collection as you might read a novel: they don’t read it from page one to page 200. They tend to cherry-pick from the list of stories, going backwards and forwards at will, So I created the contents page with a strap-line for each story to help in the cherry picking. A bit like pinning down butterflies, but here goes...

See the Contents Page for Forms of Flight below. How would you cherry-pick? 

(Today in the workshop we will ask ourselves What is a Short Story?. I will report back here on the inspired answers to this question…)

But first – here is the Contents Page for 

Forms of Flight: Twenty Seven Short Stories. 

1.Painting Matters: ‘ …his black hair shot up from his head and was cut oddly short at the side and. He was clutching big square parcel which he hoisted so she could see the label.  ‘Emma Unthank

2.Chaos Theory and Frost on Grass:  Lilah gets drunk and makes a new young friend…                                 

3.My Name is Christine: - Christine tries time and again to rescue herself from self-harming oblivion.


4. 1913. The Making of a Man: Rites of passage on a boy’s first day down the pit.

5.1936.  Vi’s Shifts: Stoical, humorous Vi, with her husband Ralph and a son both in the pit, and a son at school, works three shifts a day

6.Joe, Theo and the Silver Ghost: The unspoken love between Joe and his workmate Theo threatens Joe’s marriage.

7.The Story Of An Unusual Marriage: Imogen and Freddie live their own lives almost unbeknownst to each other

8.Oh Amsterdam: This would make a good start, thought Ernestine.  A short journey. A couple of nights stay. Her first,-her very own, - experiment in travel

9.The Nature Of Art: Using his phenomenal memory he painted pictures of the teaming city that were somehow drenched with the light and the movement of the ocean..


10. A Cloak with Pentacles: ‘takes the cloth from her and strokes it with a forefinger pocked with the prick of needles  as though teased by a nutmeg grater

11.Queenie and the Waterman: Queenie is a bag lady who sees angels and giants and lives an enchanted life


12. Sandy Cornell Saved My Life: A hounded adolescence saved by  the gift of friendship                                                   


13.The Paperweight:  A chance meeting with dark edges on a rainy night.      


14. Knives: A man who likes playing war with toy soldiers learns a true life-lesson about knives.                                        


15.The Glass Egg: She looked up to see a shadow looming across the glass roof-light.

16. The American. ‘Oh, really?’ The voice was American, a soft West Coast sound. ‘You people really read these things?’ He leaned across, picked up the Sylvia Plath…


17. 1946. My First London Spring:  My journey to London was a kind of pilgrimage, eager as I was to fulfil a promise to Josey Atkinson, one of the friends who had died in the cold. I still had his address, on the back of one of my drawings.


18.Turpentine. Embarrassment uncoiling in her senses, made her notice more intensely the smell of peppers in the gypsies food and the turpentine scent of the painter’s oil paints.


19.International Relations:  She brought the tales home to Patrick and they would giggle helplessly over their evening drink: Perrier water for him, gin and tonic for her.’              


20.Corn Rows:  ‘… blew her long hair dry, watching it rise away from the dryer like lifted silk ‘What beautiful hair you have, dear,’ said the old woman, looking up from her puzzle book 


21. Still Life. ‘Sometimes, without picking up a brush or pencil, the girl would sit hunched on her stool staring out of the windows.’

22. The Psych and the Poet: She sat down and faced  hi across the table. ‘‘If you’re going to do word association or show me inkblots like the last fucking shrink you can get lost.’                                                                              280


23. Letter to Emily: ‘Miss Lottie, the children!’ she said grimly. ‘According to your father you have been a little mother to your own sisters, I have seen little evidence of such qualities in my house. ‘See to your charges!’


24. Josephine’s Englishman: ‘When M’selle Josephine visited us Amalie was always on edge, uncharacteristically bad tempered. It took me some years for me to realise  that this was caused by jealousy.  


25. Forms of Flight: ‘Air Force trained him as a navigator. When he saw the land from the sky he said it fired his Romany blood


26. Spider:  ‘He has marked a column, headed  Knife Attack on Welder.  There is a photo of a handsome man in his mid thirties


27.  How I Became a Painter:  Edgar realised his friend was telling the world  This is me!  in defiance of his father who’d never been comfortable about his son’s soft habit of drawing every dratted thing he saw:                                                        


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