Wednesday, 15 September 2010

HELP! How do hang-in-the-air endings work?

@TaniaHershman has a terrific story up on PANK Magazine today (thanks @JonPinnock for  the headsup)

I envy writers who can make these 'hang-in-the-air' stories work. If I tried one it would simply appear unfinished. I guess the secret lies in the characterization and believability - the verisimilitude  - in Tania's story, which makes it seem like a slice of real life and therefore acceptable as a snapshot of a moving target? How am I doing?

I want to understand how this works. I need to learn – fast.

All serious advice will be gratefully received and faithfully applied by this apprentice writer.

Although I can't pay, you may help yourself to virtual tea and biscuits.

But, please, do turn the lights off when you leave.

With grateful thanks in anticipation.


Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Should we infer the author from their work?

Toby Frost, popular author of the amazing Space Captain Smith series of books and secretary of Verulam Writers' Circle, recently raised on the VWC website the intriguing question of whether an author, or that author's beliefs and character, should be inferred from their work.

It is an interesting question and one to which I suspect there is no simple answer. My instinct is that it would be unreasonable to infer the author from any single piece, but perhaps if one were to look at a substantial body of work created over a significant period of time...

For instance, were anybody terminally bored enough to pick up a selection of my stories and dissect just one they might draw any number of erroneous conclusions, dependent upon which piece they chose. I would hope, however, that - taken together - they would reflect an average human male attempting to reproduce a wide variety of imaginary characters and situations for the entertainment of others.

Misinterpreted conclusions based upon a small sample can of course occur in any context. For example: at a VWC manuscript evening not so long ago I read a piece of off-the-wall Oscar-trash entitled Stitch-up. Now, I consider Stitch-up to be about as atypical of my work as any piece could be, it's poetry (of sorts) and it is somewhat sick in a tongue-in-cheek black-humour sort of way. But when I'd finished reading it a longstanding female member of VWC, whom I'd always considered to be a good friend, made it clear to me in shocked and disapproving tones that she considered me a misogynist. Ouch! I believe she really meant it, and I've not seen her since. For the record, I'm not a misogynist - far from it – I love women (Okay, not as often as I once did, perhaps, but that's another subject altogether). Neither am I a coal miner, an avenging spirit, a lesbian native American squaw, a Spitfire pilot, etc., etc... It's all only pretend.

So, from hard personal experience, I believe inferring the author from the work should be undertaken with considerable care, imagination, and a fair amount of empathy. We writers should critique, yes. But judge not...

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Brilliant Sparks in Brighton

No, not me – modesty forbids – anyway, I'm not in that trade * anymore. I'm referring to SPARKS 10.

My VWC pal Jonathan Pinnock and I trekked down to Sussex for this occasional reading and photography event last Tuesday evening.  Of all the days in the year we had to chose one when London Underground was hit by strikes, which made for an interesting and protracted return journey. That small inconvenience, though, was well rewarded.

In a theatrical review I once referred to the New End Theatre, Hampstead, as 'petite'. By that reckoning the theatre – for it is a mini-theatre – above the pub at Thirteen and Ten, Steine Street, Brighton, is positively Lilliputian. The atmosphere though is Brobdingnagian in a friendly, arty and welcoming way. So supportive indeed were the  organiser, the mesmerising Jo Mortimer, and my talented fellow readers that I almost forgot my fear of reading to a paying audience... Almost.

Aided by a little Dutch courage from the bar I made it through the performance without serious upset. People were still talking to me afterward – that must be a positive sign. I even received a generous compliment or three, which, coming from such talents as Vanessa Gebbie, Jac Cattaneo and Naomi Foyle, give me cause to hope I have survived my first hesitant step as a performance writer and reader.

Yes, I'm hooked.  I'd like to read at a SPARKS event again.

 * Strange synergy here: In 'another life' I was an electrician, Vanessa Gebbie is the editor of the excellent Short Circuit, A Guide to the Art of the Short Story, and there I am reading at an event called SPARKS. Spooky.

Pics (atmospheric) courtesy of Jon Pinnock.

Above: Me, hiding nervously behind the mic.

Above: Jon P, towering over it.