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...

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!  

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