Friday, 2 January 2015

New Year, Fresh Inspiration

The less said about the end of last year, the better; suffice to say that I'm glad 2014 is over. I started 2015 on a positive note, partly thanks to a fabulous new book, Writing Short Stories by Courttia Newland and Tania Hershman. It has helped me to rekindle my passion for short stories - both reading and writing them.

I was excited when I first learnt that Tania Hershman was working on a book about short stories, because her first collection, The White Road, opened my eyes to new possibilities. It included short-short stories or flash fiction, which I had never read before, and the stories were all inspired by New Scientist articles. I became a fan straight away and was similarly impressed by Tania's next collection, My Mother Was an Upright Piano. I had high expectations, despite not being familiar with Courttia Newland's work, and Writing Short Stories surpassed them.

The best thing about the book is its focus on individualism. Some 'how to write' books are very prescriptive and try to persuade writers to follow certain formulae or guidelines. This may be helpful if your goal is to get a grounding in writing commercial fiction, but I'm interested in stories that simply aren't found in women's magazines. I don't mean this as a criticism to those stories - on the contrary, I wish I could write them well since the financial reward is greater than that received for being published in literary journals - they just aren't for me. Writing Short Stories encourages writers to experiment and push boundaries. It teaches us to tread our own path.

It also teaches us how to do this effectively: experimentation for the sake of being obscure or seeming 'high brow' is not something to aim for. Instead, it's essential to know when clarity is needed, how ambiguity can be useful and what effect any aspect of the story has on its whole. The authors of Writing Short Stories tackle every angle of, um, writing short stories. They use illuminating examples and explain everything clearly, illustrating their points with examples from their own experiences.

Writing Short Stories is a Writers' and Artists' Companion, so it follows their format of containing a generous midsection (much like myself!) stuffed full of advice from other short story writers. The advice encompasses a range of topics, from setting to paranoia and absence to epiphany. It adds richness to what was already an invaluable book.

I was writing a little more than I had been before I  read the book, but it has lifted me out of my dry spell.  I am inspired again and I hope the year ahead will be full of short story successes - both completing and publishing.


6 comments:

  1. Happy New Year, Hayley - wishing you health, happiness and success in 2015! That sounds like a very interesting take on short story writing - hope it inspires you to try lots of different styles.

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    1. Thanks, Rosemary, and Happy New Year to you!

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  2. Happy New Year, Hayley! Writing Short Stories sounds like a fantastic book. There is something liberating about writing without guidelines, I think it helps you grow as a writer. Enjoy yourself xx

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    1. Thanks Teresa. I will certainly try to enjoy myself!

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  3. Hello Hayley, have fun writing short stories, I look forward to hearing more about your writing.

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