Moments in Literary History 1

In the late Spring of 1891, Greenbough Smith, the newly appointed literary editor of

‘The Strand’ received a submission of two handwritten manuscripts.

Forty years later he described how he reacted on that day—“I at once realized here was the greatest short story writer

since Edgar Allan Poe, I remember rushing into Mr. Noames [publisher ] room and thrusting the stories before his eyes ….

Here was a new and gifted story writer; there was no mistaking the ingenuity of the plot, the limpid clearness of the style,

the perfect art of telling a story.”

The two stories that excited Smith’s interest were ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ and ‘The Red-Headed League’

Is it Character then?

Is it the characters, then?

No, it is not.

Scenery. dialogue,

intrigue,

the machinations of plot?

No, it is not.

Really? None of the above?

Then, pray tell, what?

Far more important

than any of those,

he says,

is vivacity,

the vivacity of the prose.





* what is it you most treasure in a short story?

pic courtesy of Pixabay

You Can’t Stutter in Writing

You can’t stutter in writing,

my speech therapist said

before I had thought much about it.

Maybe that’s how it started.

I felt I could sprint in writing

while in speech I hobbled.

I was good over short distances:

haiku, poems, flash fiction,

the occasional story.

Any further I flagged,

my efforts stuttered

then stopped.

But I don’t know.

I can speak now

but I still write.

Goulash

I am reading a short story but it is not making any sense.

Call me ‘old-fashioned’ but I think a story should make sense.

Maybe it’s because it’s told in a goulash of styles.

But the writer is an accomplished writer.

Does that mean I am not an accomplished reader?

Can a writer be over-confident, cocky? If so, can a reader?

Maybe it’s my mindset.

Maybe I should loosen up like good old George, slouch around in the ungrammatic, delve in the demotic, savour the stew

  • have you read any books or seen any films that made little sense? did you continue with them anyway?
  • what makes an accomplished reader?

Jolt

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Every now and then you read a story which gives you a jolt. ‘Suicide Watch’ is one of these. In spite of its confronting title, the story is not depressing. It takes you into the teen world of social media, with its relentless pursuit of ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ and what lengths teens will go to so they can elevate their quota. The tension and uncertainty are nicely calibrated so the narrative skips along.

 

It has one of the best openings I’ve read:

 

Jill took her head out of the oven mainly because it was hot and the gas did not work independently of the pilot light. Stupid new technology! And preferring her head whole and her new auburn sew-in weave unsinged, and having no chloroform in the house, she decided she would not go out like a poet’.

 

I love the humor and desperation in this. The ending though comes with a jolt. Partly expected, partly not. The writing is an exercise in style, masterfully balanced between the vernacular and the poetic.

 

AS Adam Ant says, “Do yourself a favor’ and read it. *

 

Have you read a story recently that has given you a jolt?

 

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A Short Story is Not a Car

 

 

-45372083853575__480x360-RGB_565-205044809 At the writers’ group we were issued a list of things to check when we’re critiquing each others’ stories, things like plot, character, setting, dialogue. We’d put a tick or a cross depending whether the requirements were met. All well and good. Yet I couldn’t help thinking of the checklist that mechanics fill out when they’re servicing your car. So I said, “A short story is not a car!”

This put a brake on proceedings. They didn’t know what I was driving at. I didn’t know what I was driving at either. I just felt it was wrong. I don’t know what a short story is like but I do know it’s not like a car.

What do you think a short story is like?

Zombie

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A good book is like a good fire. You warm to it. It glows for you. When you’re not with it, out in the world, in the cold cross currents of life, you long to get back to it. It is self sustaining like good food or drink. I always like to come home at night and cuddle up with a good book.

‘Zombie’ and ‘Motherlode’, two short stories by Thomas McGuane are what I’m into now. That I’ve read them twice before doesn’t matter. They give off warmth and comfort. ‘TEOTFW’ by Charles Forsman is a short graphic novel that gives out the furious energy of a blazing fire.

 

Which books have you read that do this?

Will It Be Painless?

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Is it any good pleading? Thompson says.

For your life? Not really.

But you can’t just toss me aside like a dog carcass, not after all I’ve done for you.

You were more than serviceable, W admits. But you’ve served your purpose. You can’t argue with me.

Will it be painless?

Yes.

Well, get it over with then.

One minute, W says.

He reaches into his satchel and pulls out his laptop.

Finish your drink, W says. Out with the old and in with the new, he smiles, keyboarding fiercely.

And with that, Thompson is gone.