Recently, I’ve joined up with the ‘Get Writing’ website hosted by the BBC. It’s a nifty little site and provides a number of opportunities for improvement: feedback, chiefly, as well as written resources on structure, characterization, and other elements of fiction.
One of these resources (on style) was produced by David Mitchell. In it, he concluded that the take home message for any writer is this: do anything that makes your prose work. Be dispassionate about the weaknesses of a particular story and then set about fixing them.
I gave Britta a copy of ‘Miss Tanner’s Old School’ to read — the new version, this is — and she pointed out a few ways in which it should be improved. Now, it is always a good sign when feedback corresponds with an inkling you already have about the piece. In this case, Britta reiterated what was on my mind. The end of the story didn’t quite fit. So, in keeping with David Mitchell’s advice, I’ll being returning to the story on the morrow with one aim: to do anything necessary to make it work.
Mmm. Cash is a nice word, but not one I associate with writing 🙂
Sometimes it’s good to go over old stories and take a hard look at them. If, as a writer, you have improved steadily over the years, looking at an old story will probably be as much an exercise in forehead-slapping as anything else, but occasionally you come across a diamond in the rough.
When I was seventeen — or perhaps just after my eighteenth birthday — I submitted a story called ‘Miss Tanner’s Old School’ to a magazine entitled ‘Cornwall Today’. I remember the story well. It was the first that seemed to write itself, the first story that wasn’t just a slog to write. The characters came alive and wrested the ending from me. In the event, it was a much better ending, but it was a surprise to see the figments of my imagination turn on me and take control of the story. To my delight, ‘Cornwall Today’ accepted the story for publication. I rushed off to embark upon a novel called ‘Whirlwind’ (unpublished and deserves to remain so) and almost forgot about the magazine. Then, a few months after receiving my original letter, I wrote back. I asked, very politely, when my story might be published.
I received no reply immediately. I had to wait another six months before a letter arrived from the magazine. It had a new letterhead and new management to go with it. Alas, the new editor explained, ‘Cornwall Today’ would be re-launched on a completely different footing. The would have no use for my story.
Naturally, I was gobsmacked. I tucked the story away as something that might have been. Around 1994, when I was seventeen and lacking Internet access, I had no conception of the short fiction market and had no idea where to send the story next. So I shelved it.
Only to discover the manuscript a few weeks ago. I re-read it — with much forehead-slapping — but felt that I had let these life-like characters down. I resolved to re-write the story from scratch.
It’s a task I’ve been doing over the past two weeks. I do find it hard to write a story when I know the ending. This takes away the element of discovery that gives me the motivation to continue. But I think that I’ll finally do justice to these characters if I find them a home somewhere in a magazine or on the Internet. I’ll let you know what finally happens to the story.
Well, I had a great a time on Saturday night. It was the designated launch of the UKA Press, my publisher, and a great many of the writers who haunt UKAuthors were invited. It was an energizing — if warm! — evening, and reinforced my opinion that the spoken word has a power orders of magnitude greater than its written counterpart. I’m not sure I pulled off my own reading too successfully, but LittleRedSteve treated us to a wonderful performance of his story ‘Double Drop’. And the poets were great orators too. All in all, a great evening. Take a look at some pictures.
Unfortunately, there were no pre-order forms available for Deja Vu, but I’m not sure I would have shifted too many copies even if they had been available. The atmosphere of the bookstall was definitely one of gentle perusing and handling — without a physical copy of my own book, it would have been difficult to compete with the glorious covers (well done, PJ) of ‘The Mackerby Scandal’ and ‘A Bowl of Dry Soup’.
The evening certainly gave me lots to think about. It reminded me that promotion and marketing are essential parts of the publishing industry; but it also reminded me that, at root, the industry is about writing.
Back to work…