Claire King

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Archive for July, 2010

Short stories – seducing writers and readers alike

Posted on: July 21st, 2010 by Claire - 11 Comments

I recently wrote a bio for a publication, where I described myself like this: “Claire King has an open relationship with her novel and a variety of short lovers.”

I mean this sincerely. As a writer I love my novel, I do, I do, and I want to make it work. But sometimes I just want something different. I want to let off steam, let the wind of a stubborn image blow through me until I have it down on paper. I want to use a completely different vocabulary, tackle a different theme, I want to do something dirty, or fast, or clandestine.

At the Bristol Short Story Prize ceremony last week, the writer Sarah Salway gave a great speech about short stories. About their power to pin down a writer until she has wrestled them into submission. Bertel Martin, chair of the judging panel, said that for readers, a quality of a great short story was to be able to re-read it, and read it again, and each time discover something new. A hidden depth or richness.

And that’s another wonderful thing about short stories. You can go back for seconds and it doesn’t take up a whole week of your reading.

So you choose – as a reader, your next weekend could be a wonderful, novelicious monogomy-fest or it could be a promiscuous fiesta of short fiction.

Now, what if you fancy a few dalliances, but aren’t sure where to meet short stories? Never fear. Sarah made the brilliant suggestion that we all share our recommended short story reads, and kicked off with three: Alice Elliot-Dark, Lydia Davis and of course the Bristol Prize Short Story Anthology 3!

Bertel Martin recommended La Gioconda Smile by Aldous Huxley and  Rain Darling by Merle Collins

Valerie O Riordan says this on her blog “And so, my recommendations are Nik Perring’s Not So Perfect and Denis Johnson’s Jesus Son. You’d have to be a hard-hearted crazy bastard of a person not to love Nik’s work, and I just adore Johnson.  Go and read.”

@BristolPrize has also added Amanda Davis’s collection ‘Circling the Drain’. Return to it often. Unusual, edgy, playful stuff.

Jonathan Pinnock recommends “21 Stories” by Graham Greene, “Labyrinths” by Jorge Luis Borges. “A Perfect Vacuum” by Stanislaw Lem, “Exotic Pleasures” by Peter Carey, David Gaffney’s “Sawn-Off Tales” and more! To read more on that, go and visit Jonathan’s blog!

Bristol Prize winner Valerie O’Riordan has this to say in her interview which you can read here:
f you were to read just one story, check out ‘The Ledge’, by Lawrence Sargent Hall. But bring tissues, and maybe don’t read it on your lunch-break, unless you want to go back to the office all tear-stained and emotional – it’s the saddest thing I’ve ever read.
Flannery O’Connor’s ‘Collected Stories’ never get old or dull, and ditto anything by Annie Proulx – these two ladies make tiny isolated rural American villages seem like the most fascinating places on earth. Gruesome and bleak and hilarious.
Junot Diaz’s ‘Drown’ is a stunning first book about the Dominican diaspora in New Jersey. Everybody adores his novel, ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’, but for me it’s all about the short stories.
Denis Johnson’s ‘Jesus’ Son.’ I’ve clearly got a thing for American writing, but Johnson’s work captures the elegiac in the mundane filthiness of his protagonists’ miserable lives. And he does brilliant dialogue.
‘Brief Interviews with Hideous Men’ by David Foster Wallace. Wallace shows you there’s nothing you can’t do with the short story form. This blew my mind.

And I personally would like to add Sarah Salway’s own collection, Leading the Dance. Much darker and edgier than I had expected from a lady who blogs about benches!

Finally, check out the Short Review website for plenty more recommendations.

So, dear readers, go forth and multiply, and by all means please set me up on a few blind dates by commenting below…

The Cutting Room Floor

Posted on: July 12th, 2010 by Claire - 12 Comments

The much quoted and rather brilliant Kurt Vonnegut gave us eight rules for writing fiction. I’m not a fan of rules, so I have taken them as useful suggestions. One of which is particularly resonant at editing time:

“Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action”

And so, after the first draft is written, we are supposed to set about killing our darlings. Words, sentences, paragraphs, whole swathes of narrative that may be beautifully crafted, descriptive, witty or heart stopping…but are completely extraneous to both the plot and the character.
cutting-room-floorIn the film industry, the cutting room floor is not so terminal. Scenes that didn’t make it into the finished movie are stored tidily, just in case they should ever be needed again. This appeals to the part of me that kept all my university essays for fifteen years and five house moves. To the part of me that finds it hard to discard even one of the drawings that my artistically prolific little girls produce. To the part of me that has kept letters for thirty years, bundled up in ribbons, even though the sentiments have long since faded.

And so, I confess to you here, my darlings are not dead. I couldn’t do it. Instead they are cut and pasted into their own offcuts file – “Dead Darlings” – just in case I should ever need to splice them back in.

This may seem like taking the easy way out, but who is it hurting? It gave me the courage to chop away with gay abandon at my manuscript, and it’s not like they take up any room in the attic.

July is peachy

Posted on: July 5th, 2010 by Claire - 8 Comments

I love July, especially this July. The peaches are ripe on the trees and I’m having a flurry of writerly happiness.
In the roller-coaster of writing, months like this don’t happen very often. Here’s how July looks:

Thursday July 8th my flash fiction ‘Peach’ was published at Metazen here.
Wednesday July 14th my flash fiction ‘Peach 2’ is up at Metazen here, and an interview with me is featured on the Metazen blog here.
Saturday July 17th was the launch of the Bristol Prize Short Story Anthology Volume 3, featuring my short story ‘Wine at Breakfast’. I got to meet some fabulous short story writers, including the fabulous Sarah Salway and Tania Hershman. The lovely Valerie O’Riordan took a well deserved first place. Cheers all round! You can buy the book here.
Thursday 29th July my short story ‘The Gift’ was published in Writers’ Forum magazine, winning first prize in their short story competition. It got a wonderful review from Sue Moorcroft the head judge, which made my week.

My thanks to Metazen, Bristol Prize, and Writers’ Forum for making July an amazing month. Like the peaches, something this sweet can’t last, but I’m savouring it while the season is here. And maybe I’ll freeze some for the winter.

This is one of my favourite summer recipes, fragrant, succulent and boozy:
Peaches (however many per person, I use one and a half per person)
Lavender – a few sprigs
Lemon rind – two or three chunky strips
Dessert wine – about half a bottle for a 4 person serving

Peel the peaches and halve them. Arrange prettily in a bowl with everything else, chill for 8 hours or overnight. Eat.

I hope you like the stories and/or the pudding. Do let me know!

Notes from the Engine Room

Posted on: July 3rd, 2010 by admin - 2 Comments

Scotty here, or some other equally oily minion from the sweaty boiler room.

Hold on, I’ll wipe some of this anonygrease from my hands… onto some appropriate recepticle…  like my forehead.

There, now I’m slightly less unfit to touch The Mac.

A horrifying train wreck.  Horrifying, and yet strangely amusing.  Like George W Bush.

oops

So.  It’s been a busy day hereabouts, I can tell you.  Lulled into a false sense of security by the ‘Click Here To Upgrade’ button that the Gremlins leave, all honeyed and innocent, to trap the gullible and foolish, Wifey (‘cuz that’s what we call The Boss hereabouts) Clicked There To Destroy Her Blog.

“I seem to have destroyed my blog…” she mentioned casually.  To the uninitiated, this might look like a conversational gambit.  A call to share similar blog-destroying stories around the still-glowing embers of her devastated site.  I know better.  It’s a Request To Repair.

“Have you a recent backup?” I ask.  Stupid.  Nieve.

Not only is it stupid, but also I shall no doubt be required to spell ‘naïeve’ later, when I write the whole thing up.  I hate spelling ‘naive’.  Especially with a greasy forehead.

To cut a long story short, a) because I’m getting Looks and b) because supper is ready, there wasn’t a backup – but all is fixed now.  Fixed and backed up.

To avoid the uncomfortable afternoon The Boss has had, cooking supper, keeping the kids out of my hair, all the stuff she was reduced to doing in order that I might get her baby fixed, I have taken the liberty of compiling some tips for you.  Now that its upgrade season and all.

Tip 1: Take back-ups of your site.  A lot.  ESPECIALLY take backups before doing something rash and foolhardy like trusting a ‘simple one-click upgrade’.  WordPress themselves tell you how to do that [ here ].

Tip 2: Having taken a backup, follow the instructions about upgrading your site [ here ].  In any event, disable all your plugins first.  By all means, then try the automatic update… be prepared, however, to try the manual one if it fails.

Tip 3: What with you having a backup, and all, if you end up with a dead site, you may well be able to resurrect it by applying a manual update over the failed site.

Tip 4: If all else fails, restore your previous version and go on a quest for knowledge in the WordPress Forums. (At the time of writing, the WordPress Forums are ‘temporarily unavailable’, according to the curt message.  You don’t think they… no… No, that would be too funny)

Right, I should go now.  There’s a clanking noise downstairs that makes me wonder if some sadberge has slipped into the peridontal atrium.  I ought to go and have a look.

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