Making it work

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.

Cash in the Attic

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.

Other writers, other words

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…