I’m halfway through a 10-day break from work, and as usual not getting half of what I wanted to do done. I’ve been wittering away and writing bits and pieces at the Telegraph Short Story Club. I’ve been entering writing competitions and submitting to magazines (and, gratifyingly, I’ve had a ‘you made it through to the next round of consideration’ email already, which has given me a much-needed boost). I’ve been reading a very good book (fantasy noir) which I’ll probably tell you about when I’ve reached the final page. I’ve also been reading books on writing.
Yet again, I’ve borrowed Writing Crime Fiction by Janet Laurence from my local library to try and get to grips with some technicalities for the second detective novel, which stalled in May at about 42,000 words. However, I’ve also just finished reading (also from the local library) Writers’ and Artists’ Guide to How to Write, by Harry Bingham, which is a great chunk of a book intended for novelists and writers of narrative non-fiction. While very little of it specifically deals with crime writing, most of its advice is widely applicable and it goes into various aspects of the craft in depth, some of which I haven’t seen tackled elsewhere. It’s all very readable and between How to Write, and Writing Crime Fiction, I feel like I’m equipped to tackle the stalled novel and get it back on track. We shall see.
In between all of that (and buying a new shed) I’ve dipped into a couple of short story collections, from which I’d like to recommend a few (all from the 1980s, I think, unless I’ve noted otherwise). They’re all what you’d call ‘literary’ and I hadn’t read anything by any of the authors before so I can’t say how representative they are, but if you enjoy reading a well-written (non-genre) short story they’re worth checking out, and if you’re trying to write one, they’re invaluable.
The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, is about a small group of US soldiers in Vietnam. Its central event is the death of one of this group, but it circles around it, and shows us characters and circumstances largely via lists of what each man carries with him. The lists cover tangible items, but also the intangible: bandages, and shameful memories; rations, and fear.
Bullet in the Brain, by Tobias Wolff is essentially about someone getting shot dead, but it explores the man’s surprising final memories and the contrast between his youthful potential and the man he became.
A Father’s Story, by Andre Dubus contains pages of slow, atmospheric description. What will a principled man do or forsake because of his love for his daughter, even if (especially if?) he wasn’t around as she was growing up?
A Rose for Emily, by William Faulkner (1930) has a most unexpected denouement. It’s written in such a way as to draw the reader in as part of an intimate circle and it seems like it’s going to be a straightforward, almost cosy, provincial vignette – the death of a reclusive spinster in a small town and what that reveals of her life. It takes a strange turn, though.