Wednesday 12 October 2011

Notes From A (Very) Small Island

A couple of interesting things came out of being invited to the Guernsey Literary Festival earlier this year. The first was that it prompted me to self-publish an anthology of short stories. This is something I'd never even considered doing before, and I have to say it turned out far better than I expected. In some ways the book is a CV - it's a record of (most of) my published work, things that have been placed in competitions, and a couple of pieces I felt 'fitted' nicely into the collection. Fitted is possibly the wrong word, as the stories were written for various different markets, in various different styles, so there's no overriding theme or other unifying structure to the book. Everybody who's been kind enough to comment so far has said they enjoyed this variety, but it does make it hard to answer the question, "So, what's it about?"

The second thing was that I actually had to knuckle down and come up with a workshop. I'm not a naturally outgoing person, and my assessment of my own abilities tends toward a sort of painful modesty, so the prospect of standing in front of a room full of strangers and telling them how to 'do' fiction wasn't exactly one that filled me with anything other than trepidation. However, I prepared as best I could, faced The Fear, and got the job done. People said nice things about what I did, and some, such as Martine and Ric, went as far as writing them down.

Eventually, I got invited back, and that's where I've been for the last few days. I did two smaller workshops this time, the first with Guernsey Writers' Circle and the second with a group of students at the College of Performing Arts. The former, on Thursday night, was a lively affair, with an enthusiastic group who were kind enough to listen to me prattling on about editing for an hour. I worked through an example of extreme editing, where I'd taken an 800-word flash and boiled it down to a 250-word piece of microfiction. It was an interesting exercise to go through and it generated a lot of debate about which was the "better" of the two stories, and whether the elements lost from the original to reduce the word count were compensated for by the more direct impact of the shortened version. It was great to chat to the group (three of whom I'd met at the Flash Fiction workshop), and get a sense for the enthusiasm they have for writing and the various projects the island has on at the moment.

The following day, I found myself feeling very envious of the students, nearly all of whom hadn't really done any creative writing other than assignments for school. I took a long break from writing when I was younger, and as I talked to the students about character, plot, and description, I couldn't help thinking that if I'd picked it up when I was their age I'd be a whole decade ahead of where I am now. [Oh, the possibilities!] They were a brilliant group, champing at the bit to get started on their stories and full of ideas for quirky characters and interesting situations to put them in. They were definitely making a great start and I'm sure their finished stories will be well worth reading.

Both sessions were very rewarding and filled me with enthusiasm for my own writing. I even managed to get a little bit done on a new story while I was over there, although whether it'll amount to anything, only time will tell.


Teresa Stenson said...

That all sounds great - how awesome you were invited back (I like how you say 'eventually'). The editing workshop sounds especially good. Hope you wore a crash helmet during that 'extreme editing' though.

The age thing you mention is interesting. On the one or two occasions I've been around older but established and successful writers (I don't mean you) (even though you are) they have sometimes looked at me and said things like 'You're lucky you're so young' (must note that I look younger than I am though). But more and more I think I wouldn't be able to write how I write now 10 years ago, and right now even though I would love to write a novel - maybe I'm not a novellist yet. Maybe I won't be for another ten years.

Anyway, at least you don't want to be a ballerina. You *may* have missed the boat with that one.

Dan Purdue said...

Uh, yeah, "eventually" wasn't really the word I meant to use there. It sounds tetchy, doesn't it? Sort of, "AND ABOUT TIME, TOO!" - which obviously couldn't be farther from the truth. I was thrilled they wanted me back, and it was a pleasure to go.

Regarding the age thing, I hear you in terms of it not necessary following that if we'd started writing ten years earlier we would have been where we are now ten years ago.

There's a balance, I think, between the practice of writing (i.e. just the basic mechanics of getting the right words onto the paper), which I think is a question of time spent doing it, versus the experience that's needed in order to have something to say. That's something you only gain via seeing, doing, reading, generally experiencing stuff, which is a store that fills up as you live your life.

So let's split the difference and say I should have started five years earlier, eh?

And curse you for shattering my ballerina dreams.

Dan Purdue said...


Teresa Stenson said...

Okay, if you'd started 5 years earlier you'd be headlining Swan Lake at The Met and you'd be a member of an online group of Ballerinas who get together twice a year and watch each other dance in a cottage without saying anything and then after the dance the spectators take it in turns to say what they liked and what they didn't about the performance which began with the dancer saying 'This isn't very good, but...' just as they launched into the routine.

Karen Jones said...

Ballerinas who play articulate.

Everyone starts taking writing seriosuly at different times/ages. It happens when it happens and where you are is where you were meant to be.

I think.


My tutu is chafing.

Karen Jones said...

*seriously* I blame the tutu for this error.

Patsy said...

For me, I think it's a good thing I didn't get seriously interested in writing when I was younger. I was a lot less patient then and far more sensitive, so the inevitable rejections would soon have put me off.

Unknown said...

Oh, that's great! I'm sure your readers will be happy with the new novel. I have to order reviews on books here because if the novel is interesting the review should also inspire the reader. So, I wish you creative success, and new publications!