Friday, 30 September 2011

Paraxis Library Wall

EnterCheck out this beautiful, library-themed edition of Paraxis.

There's artwork, poetry, photography; seven short stories, four essays and a biting editorial explaining why libraries matter.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

And they lived unhappily ever after...

Caribou IslandI read Caribou Island by David Vann this week. It was a timely read for me, and it came recommended by my friend, short story writer and critic, Ailsa Cox. Vann's prose is so engaging and penetrable that it's tempting to imagine that it is effortless, but there is clearly an art to his artlessness.
I'm trying to plot my novel at the moment and I'm wondering about endings. Short fictions typically resist happy, neat endings (a huge generalization, but I stand by it). Novels seem to me to be a little different; even novels that resist a happy ending require a degree of neatness, otherwise readers may resent their investment in the story.
Caribou Island does not end happily. I don't think I'm giving anything away when I write this - the opening paragraphs should prepare readers for unhappiness. Even so, the shock of the ending was bigger than I had anticipated. But then, as I reflected on it, it occurred to me that of course the novel had to end like that. Now I need to discover the of course of my novel, and some engaging, penetrable and deceptively effortless prose wouldn't go amiss either. 

Sunday, 18 September 2011


Get a notebook - That's the first thing I was told to do when I started to study creative writing. I got a nice one - purple, with coloured pages - so nice in fact that I didn't want to spoil it with my half-baked scrawl. Eventually, I got over myself and scribbled all over the thing.

I've been thinking about notebooks while I've been organising ideas for the fiction module I will be teaching this semester. Books run two rows deep on most of the bookcases in my house. A couple of days ago I rediscovered my first notebook behind a stack of short story collections. I spent an enjoyable hour reading through pages and pages of story fragments and ideas. I was surprised to realise just how many of my stories began (and continue to begin) with tiny ideas/impressions/snatches of dialogue from that notebook.

These pages of disorganised scrawl eventually morphed into this story.

Writing is a bit like going to the gym - frequent exercise can improve performance. Virginia Woolf kept a diary and found that spontaneous and casual writing often led her to discover 'diamonds of the dustheap':
'It has a slapdash and vigour and sometimes hits an unexpected bull's eye. But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye is only good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink. I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing which I attribute to my casual half hours after tea.' (Woolf, 1953, p.13)

Earlier this month, I went to see my brother in Exeter. While I was visiting, I bought a new notebook because the one I took to America is falling to pieces. I made a couple of contrasting entries in my new notebook while I was in Exeter. One is a very inadequate record of an image of my brother, sitting in an armchair with his back to me, surrounded by a cloud of smoke, crying softly to himself. Another is something my sister said as we drove from my brother's house to hers: 'There's nowhere sadder than a garden centre on Christmas Eve, full of trees that will never fulfill their Christmas destiny.' And later that evening as we unwound, she also gave me a list of rules for the humane consumption of jelly babies. I don't know whether any of these images/words will make it into my fiction, but it's reassuring to have them waiting, like an investment, ready to be withdrawn if I need them.