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...

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Auntie's Short Stories

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Godbless BBC Radio 4. And I'm not the religious type, but it truly is a saviour for us Brits abroad. Anyway, check out the readings of the shortlisted finalists of the National Short Story Award 2011:

I've just listened to Rag Love by MJ Hyland, a tale of two lovers with a plan to have sex on a luxury cruise liner.

As a listener, I was underwhelmed. The characters and their relationship lacked depth, their 'plan' was trite, the ticking clock didn't generate enough tension...and my biggest issue was the bland description of the luxury liner. "A perfect blue rectangle" described the pool and "two chairs and a glass coffee table" described the penthouse. There were several other examples too dull to remember. And, for something set in Australia and in the 1960s, there wasn't enough detail to justify these setting choices. My final thought is that the story didn't contain anything especially profound in the words or the theme, I thought - it had resolution but no resonance, for my taste at least.

But the esteemed panel of judges saw something in it I didn't. Unfortunately, there are no comments about the story from the judges, so I guess we'll never know what floated their boat.

p.s. 'Auntie' is the nickname of the BBC. Ain't that quaint?

Monday, 12 September 2011

How can it be September already?

This year is going too fast. I need to pick up the pace if I'm going to amount to much in 2011...

Since my last post, progress has been slow with perhaps only one new story completed and another under construction. The two are intended to be companion pieces, in fact. They are written in a way that means they can be read in isolation of each other, but the second story is also written to add a surprising twist to the first. A fun exercise, for sure, but I've not yet given a publishing strategy any thought. Do I send them off individually, or as a pair?

Also since my last post I have joined a new writing group. This one meets every two weeks and has 9 members. We each read submissions ahead of time then spend our meetings talking about the pieces purely in terms of what we liked and what could be developed. Simple. And a lot of fun. As a writer, I believe groups like this are less important for the feedback received, than for developing key critical skills. Writers who don't like to fraternise with other writers in this context are missing the point.

At the last writers' meeting, I presented a prologue and the first half of a chapter for a novel. Yes! A novel. But NO - I am not abandoning the short. I also hate people who think of shorts as merely a means to a more commercial novel-writing end. My novel is a long term project with currently no end in sight and I'll need to keep writing shorts to keep me sane as I go along. We'll see how that goes.

My job - which I wanted because it was part-time - has been full time (more or less) since I took it on last November. But last week I told my boss last week that I would be doing part-time, or she can find a full time replacement. A hard thing to do because I like my job and my boss but I need more time for writing, end of.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Avuncular Success

It's been too long. Sorry for the extended absence and shameful lack of blogging. Yes, work has been getting in the way - but that's no excuse.

I have been recently inspired to pull my finger out but none other than my very own Uncle Allan. Twenty years ago, he and his wife conceived an idea for a novel - rooted in their love of North Wales and fascination with its slate mining heritage. Today, they have written six novels in an epic saga spanning a century - from 1900 to, I think, the present.

Allan, who had never written a word of fiction before this project, began to attend a writing class a few years ago. It was funded by MIND as a way of keeping older people's grey matter active (not that Allan needed much help there) and was run by a well-meaning academic in his thirties who advised Allan that he'd get nowhere without an agent...

Well, long story short, Allan has been offered a publishing deal from a well-known publisher based in Cambridge for his second (I think) novel in the saga. As I type, he's frantically working with an editor and the company's marketing department to release the book later this year. And he has another publisher interested in the first in the series!

Hurrah! I love it when people circumvent the established order. It gives us all hope that we won't all necessarily have to pay through the nose for an agent and that, these days, talent and ideas can speak for themselves.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Piano Returns

A few blog posts ago ('Piano Envy'), I talked about a wonderful short story of a man who throws his piano into the sea. So I was delighted to see on the BBC News website this week that a grand piano had mysteriously turned up on a sand bank off the coast of Miami.

The short video showed people speculating who put the piano there but I prefer to think it's the piano from the story. It's travelled around the world on the ocean currents and it's tired, it wants to settle down, it wants to be rescued from the sand bank, restored, and to return to a family home. I'm almost tempted to reclaim it myself...if not in reality, in a sequel to the original story.

But we all know most sequels are no good. If only the writer of the original were still with us...