Tag Archives: short story

Random Bits of Paper…

ideas41200x630bbI’ve kept many notes I’ve written over the years – from stories I’ve since had published, all the way down to stories that I never even got around to writing. Not yet, at least. Frighteningly, some of these notes and ideas go back to the early nineties. It’s so long ago, people actually liked OJ Simpson.

I went through a whole pile of stuff today, all of which I wrote before I had seen any of my words in print. Some notes and ideas are documented on A4 sheets of paper, but most are written on torn promotional leaflets, or the backs of supermarket receipts, such was the urgency of my thoughts two decades ago!

It’s interesting to look back at these things, and it’s certainly an eye-opener to see just how prolific my thoughts were in those days, but while it’s reassuring to see that I took any and every opportunity to write down a thought I considered potentially useful – no matter how trivial – it’s also sadly frustrating that there have been many moments since those days when I have not been nearly as eager to… do my job.

Sure, a lot of the ideas I thought were gold then are actually complete shit now – in fact some of them were bad even then, but there are a few diamonds in the rough there… a few of which I still intend to get around to at some point. Sometimes an idea needs to breathe first and live later.

A lot of my notes from those days are no more than a few words or a single line, completely devoid of context. This obviously meant something to me when I wrote it at 17, but it means nothing as I stare at the paper at 41. Even with a little creative hindsight, the best reason I can come up with as to why I wrote WHEN THEY WAKE UP I WILL DISAPPEAR, in isolation on a slip of paper, is nothing more than an approximation.

Still, sometimes the why is the most interesting part.

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Friday Fiction Fixes #5…

The Ash-Tree by MR James – 1904

MRJames1900It’s very difficult to read stories of this vintage – even those written by a deity of the supernatural genre such as MR James – after spending any length of time with modern authors. It takes a while to acclimatise to the differences in language and the way that the story itself has been put together, but stick with it – it’s a worthwhile excursion.

In some regards it is an unfair comparison, because it’s apples and oranges. MR James was writing at a time when readers did not have the attention span of a gnat. The Ash-Tree – about an inherited English estate with a cursed history – is only 5400 words, but James, one of the most atmospheric writers of his generation, manages to pack more in to that word count than many twenty-first century authors could do with four times the length.

The Ash-Tree was published in 1904 in James’ first collection of shorts, Ghost Stories if an Antiquary, and the full text is available to read for free online here, if you want to give it a look.

Friday Fiction Fixes #3…

Motel by Ed McBain – 1978

It’s no secret: I’m a big fan of Ed McBain. I’ve read and enjoyed dozens of his novels over the years, but I want to put in a good word here for Motel – originally published in the German edition of Playboy back in 1978. It’s a timeless character study and probably the finest short story of his I have read.

Evan_Hunter_anfas

The man and the myth.

Motel is a thirty page short detailing the brief romance between Frank and Millie, the only two characters in the story. It’s set entirely in a motel room and is about how they come to terms with the stale marriages they are caught in – Frank with Mae, and Millie with Michael – while their relationship with each other changes. There is no murder, no sex, and no swearing. There’s no action of any kind. In fact, nothing really happens at all. Sounds great, right?

McBain has the keenest sense of realistic dialogue I’ve ever read in fiction, and I say that having been a huge fan of Stephen King since I was fifteen… but McBain takes it to the next level. Conversations are so simple, but beneath the surface he manages to create intrigue, depth and subtext that you just wouldn’t think possible with how basic his writing is.

And that’s not a slight on his ability – that’s genius. Prose like that is incredibly hard to write.