Monday, December 22, 2014

Resisting writing into expectation

Great news yesterday that my story 'Looking for the Castle' is to be included in Unthology 7, due from Unthank Books in the summer. Editor Ashley Stokes had been deciding between two of my stories and this is the one he has finally plumped for, and I'm pleased, as it's by far the more complex of the two, another of the stories in which I've tried to do something more ambitious in the short story form than previously. ('Clarrie and You', which Unthank also published [Unthology 5] was another). One of the strange paradoxes of my writing life is that sometimes the things I've found easiest (and quickest) to write have been the easiest to publish or broadcast, and have received the most acclaim. Sometimes, I know, this is just because the thing happened to work right from the start, and the ease of conception comes out in the writing, but there's often the sneaking suspicion that the ease comes from, not exactly superficiality, but familiarity: a reliance on tried and tested short-story codes. In these instances I feel that the reason the thing was so easily accepted was because I was writing into a borrowed reality - other people's, rather than my own. Then I feel I've cheated myself and my deeper aim in writing, which is precisely to question the ready-made realities.

The short story form is famously capable of exposing ambiguity and uncertainty, but there's also a danger of using its compactness to shut things down, to present a satisfying (but ultimately stifling) take on the world. In 'Clarrie and You' I wanted to show precisely how any 'take' on the world can be mistaken, and in order to do that I had to include a convoluted plot including a secret, a real challenge for the short story form. 'Looking for the Castle' is similar, but this time it's not a secret creating a false view but the difficulties of memory and lack of understanding. It was one of the hardest of my stories to write, and I'm hugely grateful to both Gerard Donovan, who judged the 2014 Short Fiction Prize and chose it as runner-up, and now to Ashley Stokes, for seeing what I was trying to do.

Crossposted to my author blog.
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