Short chapters inspired by my new, coming of age novel, Sandbanker, available at no bookstores near you (yet)
The bell at St Christopher’s was not a real bell, made of brass or anything, but electric — it droned, like the torpedos in River Raid. (I didn’t actually have an Atari 2600 to test the theory, and didn’t really know anyone who did, at least someone who I could ask, but that’s what I’d heard.) Whoever they’d gotten to ring the school bell on that Friday afternoon had morsed-coded ‘S-O-S S-O-S’, and everyone had a good laugh about it, but I would’ve bet a case of chocolate frogs they had no clue what it meant. Continue reading “Tales from Shelley Beach – The Bus Ride home”
Writers of every genre will recognise the scourge of familiarity; the sense of intimacy with your own work which is so great that it renders your powers of objectivity impotent. Does this story work? Have I chosen the right phrasing? What should I cut? The questions keep coming but no one answers.
When I’m working on a piece, particularly a short story in which every paragraph must count for something, I often lose all perspective. And returning to the page every day only seems to make the condition more acute; proximity threatens to destroy creativity, like a magnifying glass burning ants as it concentrates the sun’s rays. The pressure to produce and finish stories leads to unsatisfactory conclusions or improbable characters, and I think that sometimes I’m writing simply because I feel I have to and not because I want to… or can, for that matter.
So what do we do? Continue reading “Literary agnosia and the short story”
“Henrietta Saffron changed my life!” That was the one that really choked her goat. Who could have churned out something so deficient in irony than the straight-faced and loose-laced intellectuals of the seventies? Oh, but wait: “Required reading for the new age of the 80s.”
By the nineties they’d crucified the last of the scepticism and inquiry and named her the most important writer of the nineteenth century.
Talk about tossing a banana into a bus-load of monkeys.
All for a book.
The Book. Continue reading “The Book, the Machine, and the Corpse of her Values”
Writer’s block, A.K.A the bogey man
He lurks behind a milk curtain, morse-coding reprimands and insults with my own cursor. Six dots and a jarring ‘Oh!’ (The exclamation mark is implied).
“It’s you again,” he says. “Did you know that your last idea for a plot was terrible? It was worse than terrible. It gave me migraines in my stapes, and I don’t even have stapes. Where are you taking that wretched creature? That ‘character’, as you name him? Preferably somewhere to die. Because that’s where he’s headed if you start typing – right into the grave. He’ll be pushing up digital daisies before bedtime and you’ll be ten thousand words in the red. Just like I told you.” Continue reading “Writer’s block… Oh, it’s real”
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”
Introductory ‘pilot’ chapter to Orphans of the Salt – a novel in progress
“I repeat—we have arrived at Tract 16.”
Captain Dinh’s announcement was still crackling through the public intercom as Rosco Haymarket hopped three steps at a time down to the zeppelin’s observation deck, a warm bowl of aphid jelly balanced loosely in his hand. “The Royal Caucus” had spent the last six weeks flying over the New Pacific and he was eager to see something other than the curve of ocean and sky. He threw the bowl into a refuse chute and collected a set of scopes from the equipment racks. Two recovery engineers were already at the windows, their heads pressed hard against the reinforced glass. Continue reading “Orphans of the Salt”