The best place to start this blog lark is with a quick explanation of its title - why 'Scallops'?  
It came to me in a dream:  short stories are like scallops!  Similes and metaphors don't usually come to me in my sleep, I wish they did,  but on this occasion  I had watched rather too much of Hell's Kitchen before bedtime.  At some point, the wannabe chefs had competed to free perfect scallops from the gelatinous mass inside the shells. Craggy-faced Gordon was not pleased if any scallops had been spoiled in the process which, of course, most were.

A short story should also be small and perfectly formed:  it is the result of the skillful cutting down of a large, slippery concept in to a small, firm morsel of art.  As a writer still learning her craft, I know how easy it is to mutilate a good short story.  But I am hoping I'll get better with practice and - fingers crossed - that'll happen before my face turns too craggy...

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

BritWriters Award

At last the list is out.  And I'm not on it.  

There were only six on the list so I'm not too surprised.  Who knows what the judges were really looking for?  I am surprised, however, to see one finalist with a piece entitled The Short Story - if i'd have been a judge - based on the title alone - that one probably would've fallen at the first hurdle.  But that's just bitterness talking!  

No, not really.  I'm not fussed, honest.  It was my first competition and it was a huge one at that. Plus, if my stories are good enough (and they fit the criteria exactly) one of them will get published, one fine day.  

Saturday, 19 June 2010

On Leaving The Comfort Zone

To be true to my word, I am reporting back on my first writing foray into an American setting.  I am pleased to say the story, Gator Joe & The Mosquito, was at least a success with its first four American readers.  There are some minor language tweaks (here football is played in games, not matches) but there was not a sense that I'd done the literary equivalent (in reverse) of what Kevin Costner did in Robin Hood.  Despite the good reception, I was still worried the story would be, at best, fraudulent, or at worst, a betrayal.  But, with the help of a couple of real authors (not pretend, like me) I was able to kick both those insecurities into touch.  

First up - Brian Moore.  I am, in effect, self-exiled from my country of birth (where my heart is still) and it felt like high treason to depart from the British setting and sensibility, as if I had begun to abandon my heritage.  So,  it was comforting to read this by the Irish author-in-exile [my additions in brackets]:
" life in exile has forced me to become a literary chameleon.  I sometimes wonder what would have happened to me had I not left Ireland, had I continued to write based on the world I was born into...I will never know what I may have lost by self-exile...[However, if] the story is fiction[, it] can never be true, but to succeed as art it must inspire belief.   And so, for me, fiction is not the story of my life or the lives of people I have known.  It is a struggle to write [stories] which will in some way reflect my own experience through the adventures of my characters, novels which permit me to re-examine beliefs I [still hold and perhaps] no longer hold and search for some meaning in life."
In writing more expansively than about my native Britain and my own (rather limited) life experience, I may find something more universal to say.  

With regard to fraud, like many other new writers, I had taken the adage - write what you know - rather literally, I think.   But writer Hilary Mantel's opinion on this subject changed all that:  "I would say my first book shows the cramping futility of that neat little adjuration to 'write what you know'.  I'd rather say, write to find out - write to see what you know.  You may surprise yourself." 
Britain and Britishness will remain a thematic thread throughout my work as I grow as a writer, I am certain of it.  But, I am truly beginning to appreciate my separation from my roots because it has resulted in a burgeoning sense of artistic freedom.  Having finished my American tale, I have already moved onto a new story, which represents another departure: a move away from my preference for realism (often gritty) into the realm of sci-fi.  In my story Apogee, I will be attempting to move beyond Britain, beyond America and go to the Moon...  

To publication and beyond!  

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Best Laid Plans

Well.  That didn't work.  In my last post, I proclaimed I would plan my next short story before I began writing in the hope it would shorten the overall process.  

I am here to tell you, it doesn't work.  Not for me, anyway.  Oh well, I tried.

I dutifully plotted my latest story, Gator Joe & The Mosquito, scene by scene.  But the minute I began, a new character came out of nowhere and totally took over and the treatment went out the window.    The problem I found was that in finding ways to show - rather than tell - I introduced a character as a device, found I liked him and before I knew it a whole new strand of the story emerged.  

I realise now my plan was foolish because creativity doesn't flourish when it can't flow freely - a wild river's course is more interesting and beautiful than a system of canals.  I also realised I enjoy being taken by surprise by my writing and letting it carry me off down random tributaries - an appropriate analogy given that the new story is set in the Louisiana Bayou.  

Any avid readers will be surprised by this.  In a previous post I declared that all my writing was very British but I thought I would take a break from High Tea and crumpets.  I will report on the successes and failures of this new venture in a forthcoming post - at least that's the plan but don't hold you breath 'cos we now know how bad at planning I am.