As a Northerner, I am not greatly given to superlatives, unless they feature sweary words, but this evening’s session on the BBC Short Story Award featured three writers – two of whom I am encountering for the first time – whose work is absolutely top dollar. These were D W Wilson, Joe Dunthorne and Krys Lee. Apart from reading powerful extracts from their work, they had some great insights to share about what makes a short story special. Stories that take a ‘left turn’ for example. Then there was D W Wilson’s observation that ‘ a good story is like the sky reflected in a puddle,’ and Krys Lee saying she was motivated by problems she experienced in the Universe (as opposed to the challenges of form or language).
DW mentioned that the difference between writing a novel and writing a short story is like building a house versus building a cabinet: they both require the same materials, but with the cabinet, there’s a greater chance of perfection. So, it seems to me, it’s like writing a symphony as compared to writing a string quartet.
My pile of early morning reading just got larger.
The second session yesterday evening featured writer Ben Okri talking about his considerable oeuvre. Interestingly, the room virtually emptied of its white audience and was replaced with a mainly black one. What does that tell us about multi-cultural Britain and our willingness, or otherwise, to listen to and learn about each other’s experiences? Hmmm.
Spending a large part of this week-end at the London Short Story Festival taking place at Waterstones, Piccadilly, London, and hosted by ‘Spread the Word’.
The event kicked off with the unveiling of the anthology ‘Best of British Short Stories 2015’, edited by Nicholas Royle and published by Salt. Readings by K J Orr, Alison Moore and Helen Simpson suggested that it’s a pretty damn strong collection this year. But oh, what an exercise in masochism! Bad enough for some of those whose work had been selected for inclusion: by what cruel criterion did some get to read their work to us while others languished in the audience? But when the chair, Nikesh Shukla, asked how many of us in the room were writers, all hands went up. We clapped like seals for the successful authors, but all of us were there sharpening our pencils and wishing fervently we were in the comfy chairs.
When questions were asked, we listened attentively for insights that would help us cross the bit of carpet that separated us. When nuggets of information were dropped, ‘I knew that,’ we chorused inwardly. ‘You should have come to me!’ And when people’s credentials were read out, we made avid notes, wondering why we hadn’t thought of this or that publisher before ourselves.
Yes, it’s a cruel business, and it feels like watching yourself undergoing surgery. Thank God, mine host, Paul McVeigh, managed to make us all laugh, but then he’s had a novel published recently, too, and can’t help grinning from ear to ear….