Tag Archives: Short story

Poetry or Short Story – What Shall I Write Today?

This weekend, Abigail Wyatt (co-editor of Poetry24) asked whether it was hard to write poetry at the same time as fiction.

This week I will be submitting several short stories to various competitions along with a short memoir, I also have several poems I’m yearning to write. Can I do both? Or is my intent on honing the final drafts of my prose the reason why I can’t get off the mark with this week’s poems?

Nuala Ni Chonchuir* believes that whilst short fiction and poetry are without doubt different things, certain aspects of each form complement the other. Poets must be concise, so too the short fiction writer. Poets watch and dream and imagine, they take notes and have a good memory, so too the short fiction writer. Poets love words, they play with words, they agonise over the use or placing of a single word but this skill is not lost on a short fiction writer. I agree that writing poetry enhances my skills as a fiction writer and, I am sure, the reverse is true.

Sometimes the hardest part of starting a poem is getting that first line – once that is established the rest flow and it is often prose (and particularly fiction) that enables that first thought. I have to imagine the poem, become the poem, live the poem – just in the way that I live my characters as I write them. Once I am inside the poem then the rest just flows and all that remains is days of reading, re-reading, experimenting with line, enjambment and cutting.

Because I am a poet I know that I can mess with prose, I can tease grammar and play with words – so long as I do it knowingly and deliberately – there is never an excuse for bad grammar but experimental prose – that’s a definite must. If my paragraph is characterised with long sentences then how about throwing in a three or four word sentence somewhere in the middle – or even a fragment? Knowing what the green line on my word processor is for is important; knowing that I can consciously ignore it is crucial.

Today I had Cleaning Instructions published. It is not my first short story but it is the first to be published. I am thrilled, it looks amazing next to the artwork (not mine), it feels professional – it is professional. How did this story differ from my others? Well that’s another Blog but, one thing I know is that I brought poetry to my prose.

I played with words and sentences and structure. And once I’d written it (and sent it to be rejected), I read it again. And I cut. More purposely this time – as I do with my poems.

Whilst it is surely hard to work on several pieces at once (each requires full attention), I do think that you can use one form to complement the other – and that’s a good thing.

  • Language and Style: A guide from a short story writer/poet in Short Circuit  Vanessa Gebbie (Ed) 2009 Salt Publishing: London
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Reading Between the Lines

I love to read between the lines. I like to write like that too – leaving something to be considered or learned – and often I worry that my work does not, that in fact I am too literal and, therefore, mundane.

Writers who read (and to write well you have to read – prolifically) will understand the feeling you get each day when you read something profound – and I do read something amazing every day. It may be a piece of poetry that is so beautifully expressed and has multiple layers (and then I worry that mine is mono-layered or predictable), it may be a short story that explores love or death or life in some way that I never even thought possible, or perhaps I’ll read a news piece that’s expressed in an eloquent language that I would never have dreamed to use. Each day I read and think, ‘Yep, I need to be so much better before I’m even halfway there.’

Roland Barthes* said that ‘writing is the destruction of every point of origin’ and it’s true. A badly written or bland piece will remain on the page, will not be destroyed but, equally, will have no effect. Yet a well written, vibrant piece will result in the ‘death of the author’ because it is the very act of reading that brings the piece to life. The reader creates the meaning – and a good piece of writing allows many meanings for many people.

As I said, I love reading between the lines. I love fiction that makes me understand myself more – or the world I live in – or my neighbour. I love fiction because good fiction helps us learn fact.

Last night I started to read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce – I’m only on page 55 so this is in no way a review or recommendation but, it has to be said, I learned something I didn’t want to learn last night – so much so that I couldn’t shake the fact from my head as I went on my morning run.

My right eye leaks, it has done for as long as I can remember (although that’s no indication of when it started to leak – who, after all, would remember that their eye didn’t water?). I’ve always thought that this was perhaps some conspiracy of the cosmetic industry. My flooding right eye results in an excessive need to reapply make-up – and not just my eye make-up – we’re talking foundation, concealer, blusher along with, of course, mascara, liner, shadow. I think my annual cosmetic bill could be halved if I could repair my eye.

Last night, I found out that this is not a major conspiracy but, apparently, proof of my rapid ageing. Ok, unlike Harold, I don’t also have stiffening joints, ringing in the ears and a shooting pain in my chest but heck – I didn’t really want to find out last night that my right eye means I’m now an old lady? And does this mean I’ll find it hard to realise my ambition of living to 115 with all my faculties and spending my days annoying the hell out of people?

Of course if Barthes is correct (and I hope that he is), this is only one interpretation of Joyce’s words and across the globe there will be thousands of others and each of them, necessarily, different to those of the author.

Long live the reader – without you every writer’s words would be dead words.

(* Image Music Text Roland Barthes (1977) Fontana Press)

Revelation Number One

I’ve been meaning to start a new Blog for some time. That’s not to say that my old Blog has died, just that after such a length of time it seemed strange reposting. I needed inspiration and, today, it came.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid number 8 is about to be published and publishers across the globe are teaming up to ensure a near simultaneous worldwide launch. The news transported me to my daydreams – Booker Prize, Costa First Book Award, Guardian Debut… they all conflate into one rose-tinted ambition. In reality my goals are far less highfalutin – give my work away, publish a letter, a poem, an article on something I discovered, a travel piece, win a small competition – even just one of these would transform me from what I am now to A WRITER.

But what am I now?

In actual fact my life changed when I decided that I am, already, a writer. Like any artist I practise every day and am very much still within my apprenticeship but I am a writer nevertheless. I write book reviews at Waterstones. I write short stories, poems, memoirs, novels, short articles, several Blogs, a newsletter. The only thing I’m lacking is that elusive badge of honour – publication.

And so it was that the diary of the aforementioned kid inspired me to start this Blog. I realised, as I made my morning cup of something hot with caffeine (I go healthy after lunch) that one of the biggest reasons for not yet being published was that I am a Wimpy Writer. Yes, I realise that my writing is not yet as polished as I hope it will be in years to come. And, yes, I still have lots more to learn but the single biggest factor in my lack of success (if success is measured via how much you have published) is my Wimpiness.

I am a Wimpy Writer.

I dare say that there are others who may identify themselves as such but I reckon my own, inherent brand of wimpiness is slightly different. I am not averse to rejection, I’ve always taken a stoic attitude to it – better to reveal yourself as you are and be rejected than put on an act and find yourself somewhere that you don’t really want to be. Thus if my poem or story or article doesn’t match the requirements of a particular editor then it does not mean I am a bad writer, just not yet equipped with the skills to write for them.

My own pernicious brand of wimping dates back long before my writing adventures. At sixteen I became an Avon lady and trudged the streets religiously several evenings a week. I had been lucky to inherit a large patch, albeit one with very few regular buyers but, with the amount of houses on the round, there was certainly the opportunity for good sales. Unless you give that round to someone with a very acute sense of not disturbing people.

I did want to be a great Avon lady. I bought samples, bought extra brochures – I had the patter if you deigned to answer the door. And, therein, lay the problem.

It was evening, perhaps people were eating their tea (I’m a Northern girl), or washing-up, or helping kids with homework, or settling in to watch television. I didn’t want to disturb them too much. And so I knocked – gently – and sometimes I might, if I felt particularly confident, knock again but still ever so lightly so as not to spoil their meal, or their reading, or their viewing.

I wasn’t particularly successful.

And so it is with my writing. I don’t mind rejection but I don’t face much of it – given that I don’t like to disturb. I know how many emails people get, how many letters, how many competition entries. And so I stall. I hang around. I knock gently.

So, here it is, my Diary of a Wimpy Writer – and I’m ready for a challenge. Each week I will update my Blog (a publication of sorts) with tales of my writing and knocking. Perhaps, with a little more determination and (hopefully) some persuasion from my readers, I can become less of a wimp and, who knows, actually get my writing out there for a larger audience.