Blog: Of Words and Wings
|Posted on November 5, 2012 at 6:10 PM|
I love to write and read short stories and I am currently putting together a collection which will be published next year called 'Above the Parapet', Indigo Dreams Publishing.
Carys Bray is a contemporary short story writer and I asked her how and when she started to write. She has won many prizes, including the Scott Prize, and is someone whose writing I greatly admire so I was very pleased when she agreed to feature on my blog. Do read what she has to say.
I was nineteen and at university in America when I read ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’. I discovered it in an enormous, door-stop anthology of short fiction, poetry, drama and essays. I don’t think ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ was the first short story I ever read, but it’s the first short story I remember reading. I found it mesmerising and I felt, in the way that teenagers do, that I would be truly happy if I could write something half as good.
I wrote three short stories while I was in America. The first two were hopeless. The third was a little better. When I came home to England for the summer break I left my stories in a suitcase in the basement of the house where I’d been living, along with some clothes and dozens of my favourite books. At the end of the summer I decided to stay in England. I embarked on a completely different sort of life, one that involved children, night shifts and a tiredness so thick, it buzzed. I never retrieved my suitcase. Once or twice I tried to remember how the third story had started. I attempted to rewrite it a couple of times, but I couldnt get it right. It was ten years before I started to read short stories again. I deliberately returned to ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and then I started to borrow short story collections and anthologies from the library. The more short stories I read, the more versatile and satisfying the form appeared. Finally, after reading a lot of short fiction, I had another go at writing. I wrote a story about a suitcase and bereaved mother who worked in a handbag shop. The story won a competition and was later published in Mslexia.
It has been said that short stories are well-suited to women because we often have to squeeze our writing into the tiny gaps motherhood allows. Such statements make me bristle and think of Bic Pens for Her. And yet, I must concede that many of my stories started on post-it notes or the backs of envelopes, scribbled down as I cooked dinner or waited in the car for birthday parties and football training to finish. In those snatched moments I also read short stories. I read stories by Ali Smith, Helen Simpson, Alice Munro, Carol Shields, Adam Marek, Robert Shearman, Chris Beckett and others. I decided to have a ‘proper go’ at writing it was suddenly easier to treat it like work and to organise my time accordingly, squelching worries that I was being selfish. I wrote stories about loss, disappointment, and the comforts of home. I wrote about surreal supermarkets, babies carved out of ice and gingerbread houses. I wrote about things that made me laugh and things that made me sad – the sorts of things I like to read about.
When discussing the appeal of short stories people often refer to their brevity, but I prefer to think in terms of intensity. Every word in a short story counts; every piece of dialogue, every revelation is significant. Lorin Stein of the Paris Review maintains that, ‘Short stories bring you up short. They demand a wakeful attention; a good one keeps you thinking when it’s over. They take the subjects of the night and expose them to the bright light of day’ (read the whole piece here)
I’m working on a novel at the moment, but I still read short stories in quiet moments - I’ve just finished Adam Marek’s ‘The Stone Thrower’ and I’m now reading ‘Hitting Trees With Sticks’ by Jane Rogers. Lorin Stein is right, good stories do keep you thinking when they’re over. ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ stayed in my mind for a decade and it’s still there, creeping around my subconscious, reminding me of the power and enduring appeal of a good short story.
Carys Bray's debut collection Sweet Home is published by Salt