Why rejection letters are the new Xanax

14-rules-of-storytellingI was hay making through the chaff in my inbox recently when I stumbled across a curt email from [enter not-so-prominent journal name here] informing me that my piece entitled [enter short story title] had unfortunately been rejected.

I can’t remember my precise reaction – it may have involved scratching my behind, or sucking out the remaining juice from the Tetley bag stranded at the bottom of the teapot – but it went along the lines of, ‘whatever’. Continue reading “Why rejection letters are the new Xanax”

Why aren’t more novels illustrated?

As I sit here on my unmade bed surrounded by a few years’ worth of books, I ask myself first, how I ever came to collect so many volumes of literature, and second, who the hell is going to clean up this mess?

Among the teetering towers of words are hardbacks from Dickens, collections of short stories, several Mediterranean countries’ worth of Lonely Planets, and a colossal mound of tattered and mostly unread second-hand paperbacks – tributes to my unquenchable thirst for reading. And proof of my inability to get any done.

I flick through the pages looking for stray bookmarks and loose banknotes, and something strikes me: not one of the works of fiction contains an illustration. Not a sketch. Not a squiggle. Not even a photograph. (Squashed mosquitoes and pasta sauce do not count). Continue reading “Why aren’t more novels illustrated?”

The corridor

When we arrived we were given cakes wrapped in soft paper, toothbrushes, fresh milk and lemon-scented towels.
Father spoke quietly and mother fussed with the sheets while my sister and I quarrelled over beds. There was a football; Father said I could kick it against the wall if I promised to be good, which I did for a while before my sister took a pair of scissors to it. Then a man wearing a raincoat came to drop off a box of wet books and oil paintings. “The milk’s out,” he said, like he was reading the weather. Continue reading “The corridor”

Pixar’s 22 tips for telling a ripping story

There’s a cart-load of advice out there for would-be storysmiths; everything from websites explaining how to go about self-publishing, right down to books that cover the finer points of stringing together an intelligible sentence.

But the most important and fundamental skill of fiction writing, the marrow if you will, is effective story writing. IT’S THE STORY STOOPID! And, at least in my case, it’s the most challenging.

Fortunately, once in a while you come across advice that is so so incisive that you feel inspired (and somewhat relieved) just reading through them.  You think, “Hey, you’ve just summed up in one paragraph what that other book couldn’t do in twelve chapters.” Although they’ve now been out there a good while, the collected tweets of Emma Coats, former storyboard artist at Pixar, is such advice. It’s all the wisdom she has accumulated working on major animated films and it’s essential reading for fiction writers of all persuasions… yes, even short story writers. Continue reading “Pixar’s 22 tips for telling a ripping story”

Reflections on Berlin

It’s 8:30 in the morning — a summer morning if you want to be all chipper about it.  I’m strolling up the main street in my neighbourhood, sunlight filters through the elms onto the newly laid cobblestones.

I notice a man in paint-splattered boots enjoying a breakfast beer on the park bench. His arms are covered with faded dragon tattoos — the kind that indicate age and lack of foresight. Around him, a flock of sparrows bounce to and fro like popcorn on a grill, suggesting that he or someone else occupying that bench before him had started the day with a flaky mound of dough from the bakery across the street.

Whether he has just finished work or is on his way isn’t clear, but when he rises to leave, he places his bottle neatly underneath the rubbish bin at the end of a row of empties. Someone will be along shortly to collect them for recycling money. Continue reading “Reflections on Berlin”