Titles are hard to keep thinking of

I have a teeny bit o’ froth up at LitSnack – Wednesdays Go Like This. I think someone challenged me to write a flash with the word bilious in. Which I did.

I went to London yesterday and met up with a few writing chums. It’s a little like internet dating in that we met online and know each other through our writing but hadn’t met in real life. You get a fair idea of what someone is like through their words and fictions, but I was still nervous. No need though, they were all lovely. Phew.

Perfect first date night for writers? Lorrie Moore in conversation with John Mullan as part of the Guardian Book Club. Ah Lorrie, how I love you. She seems so unflappable, calm, wise, witty, beautiful, and oh boy is she talented.

I think a podcast of the event will be up at some point at the Guardian, and I didn’t take notes but I think she said the following:

In a short story she will write a beginning without knowing the end, then the end comes to her and she’ll write that, go back and write the middle to unite the two parts. (I find that interesting because though I may begin with only the vaguest idea of what I am doing I still plug away at it in order. I work towards an ending, but I never stop, write the end and then get the two parts to meet. I may give it a go.)

That a short story focuses in on something out of the ordinary in a character’s life – illness, death, divorce, an affair etc – and in the examination of that event we will have the “ordinary” revealed too.

In answer to the accusation that all her work is melancholic she responded by saying that all life is underpinned by the knowledge that we will die so is inevitably melancholy.

Erm, lots more, but I think it’ll have to wait for someone who actually took notes to blog it, or for the podcast.

A really long blog post about fiction, autobiography, cultural tourism and such like

I’m still chewing this over so blogging about it may be premature. The other night I mentioned to writing pals that I can’t help but write from my life. That’s usual I think, although people bury themselves in their words to a greater or lesser extent, so sometimes it is obviously a fictionalised account of personal experience (Sylvia Plath) and other times the reality is almost invisible (Ted Hughes.)
I have felt lonely, awkward, happy, and sad. I have had relationships, I have children, I have been ill etc. So when my fiction has a character that feels alone I draw on my own understanding of that emotion in order to convey it. That’s what we all do, right? But what about when I, owner of sixteen pet slugs, write a story about a slug? I draw part of my story from my own experiences, and yet the slug in my story is not my slug, and the slug owner in the story is not me. The things that happen are not real. It is a made-up story. What if my fictional woman picks up a saucepan and bangs her slug to death with it? Does that mean it is something I have done. Nope. But what about her feelings? If she is feeling desperate and angry and fizzing with violence when she flattens that slug I may call upon my own knowledge of how that feels in order to portray it.
I’m not the owner of sixteen slugs. I made that up. You know what I mean though.
My twins have special needs and I have written a story about a boy with special needs. He is not based on my boys. The mum in the story is not me. The situations that arise have not happened to us, the things said and done are all fiction. I draw on my experiences though, my knowledge. I feel okay writing about this made up boy with special needs because although my work is fiction I do have experience of how it may be, and so I feel that it is ok for me to explore.
I don’t have a pet slug. If I wrote a story about a pet slug I could research it, I could read books and articles. I could go in my garden and find a slug and force myself to touch it and write about that. Or I could just make it up. I could imagine that it would feel cool, and jelly, and squishy. That would be ok. Slugs won’t read the story and feel upset that it is inaccurate and that really they feel warm and wet. But. Hmm. I won’t write about a small African girl in a dusty village. I don’t feel that is my story to tell. I am uneasy about the cultural tourism that writers and readers so often engage in. Not my bag, man.
I have had heated debates with other writers about this. We are fiction writers and we make things up. Our imagination is the key we unlock our stories with, and we have the right to imagine anything. Yeah. But.
It was suggested by one writer I discussed this with that perhaps it was because I wasn’t talented enough as a writer that I couldn’t write these types of stories. Rude. I choose not to. I am uncomfortable with taking stories that aren’t mine.
The always awesome Kuzhali Manickavel said in a recent blog post “I am not going to ask why your story is about a Muslim Village of No Good Horrible Very Bad Things where all the girls get raped and raped and raped and raped and raped and everyone speaks some foreign Muslim language which makes them sound like they all have massive brain injuries because hey, that’s just how those crazy foreigners talk, right? I am not going to ask about this because people write this kind of stuff all the time, possibly because they believe that the chances of someone calling them on their bullshit are very slim to nil. This is why so many craptastic stories about “foreigners” get published. However. I do want to know why you would say that legions of white peacocks flooded the skies each dawn and alighted on everyone’s front lawns in the Muslim Village of No Good Horrible Very Bad Things. Legions of white peacocks? LEGIONS? FRONT LAWNS? WTF, are you on drugs? Is this sci-fi? Are you on drugs?”
And I think, she has a point, no?
I suppose what I seek is authenticity, because ultimately I look for truth in fiction. I look to fiction to supply absolute truth in a way that non-fiction sometimes fails to do. And I don’t mind at all if the truth is embedded in magical realism, or laid bare, or if it rhymes, or whatever. I don’t like sentimentality though, that almost wobbling on the brink of tears luxury of voyeuristic misery. I want to recognise, empathise and believe. I revel in the joy of feeling understood and connected in some way.
So we’re back to me writing somewhat biographically but not really.
Tania Hershman just reviewed Janice Galloway’s Collected Stories over at The Short Review. She comments:
“The next point is that where many authors cast their net far and wide and write stories set in many locations – be they cities, countries or other planets – Galloway needs no such exoticism. She is curious about the domestic and mundane; she takes a microscope, peels back the skin and probes, down to the bones, the sinews, the very atoms.”
I hadn’t noticed that, I hadn’t looked. But yes, it seems that the author who interests me the most is one who writes in the way I aspire to. She rejects the exotic and examines the everyday. Her truth shines and resonates. I wonder if that’s true for all my favourite authors, and suspect there it is: the uniting thread between Plath, Galloway, Lorrie Moore, Ali Smith, A.L Kennedy, Bukowski, Dave Eggers, Douglas Coupland.
There is a wonderful quote from Lorrie Moore in response to being asked about a story “which seemed to straddle the line between fiction and nonfiction.”
“No, it didn’t straddle a line. It was fiction. It is autobiographical, but it’s not straddling a line. Things did not happen exactly that way; I re-imagined everything. And that’s what fiction does. Fiction can come from real-life events and still be fiction. It can still have that connection, that germ. It came from something that happened to you. That doesn’t mean it’s straddling a line between nonfiction and fiction. And the whole narrative strategy is obviously fictional. It’s not a nonfiction narrative strategy.”
Brilliant. (You can read the whole interview here.) I love how she sounds kinda testy and absolutely sure of herself.
Anyway, like I say, I’m still mulling. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t write whatever you feel compelled to, but I think we all strive for a unique voice, and mine sounds a lot like me. 

I ♥ Lorrie Moore and A.L Kennedy – aka the big gushy review of Charleston

(Argh…I wrote a lengthy post for this, and then somehow lost it. Grr doesn’t cover it. This version will no doubt be far sloppier as I am running out of time. Oh well, you will just have to imagine how fabulous the previous version was, as I set about this in a hurried bullet point style.)

1. I am an out and out Lorrie Moore fan girl. I have been since I first read her debut collection of short stories back in 1985 (fux sake, 23 years ago!) Her wit, shine, talent and word play enthralled me then, and now.
2. She was making a rare UK visit to publicise her Collected works, and appearing alongside AL Kennedy at an event in Charleston yesterday. 
3. I first read AL Kennedy fairly recently, beginning with Paradise which thrilled me with its perfection. She was there to promote her latest novel Day.
4. Squeee!
5. For a more measured recording of the event you may be best served by reading Vanessa’s account.
6. OMFG Lorrie Moore is so…poised, articulate, smooth, self assured, fantastic, unflustered, intelligent and gorgeous. Plus, she had a great bag! 
7. OMFG AL Kennedy is so… warm, open, intelligent, sparky; like some genius working at a faster speed than the rest of us – trying to slow down.
8. The extracts read were wonderful, I will read both of their books gleefully and relish every word, before reading again, trying to pick them apart to see how they work, see if I can learn.
9. The conversation with Di Spiers was absorbing. Sigh. I really felt so happy sitting listening to these two women who I admire so greatly. I would like to be friends with both of them, although I would be the quiet, dull friend with nothing to offer. 
10. Both of them are funny. And very smart. 
11. They are different, entirely, and yet there is a core which is similar. They were a good pairing. 
12. The short story needs to be perfect, said AL Kennedy, there can be no room for flaws in craft, voice etc. She flicked a glass to illustrate the point that only a perfect one will sing the note. A novel on the other hand is more forgiving.
13. A novel is a place one has to stay for a long time, maybe several years. A short story is more of a quick visit, in and out, leaving a body bag said Moore.
14. Why should stories be happy when life is not? Kennedy does not “Do puppies”, and Moore said that even the luckiest of lives will end in death and so it is hard to avoid the dark.
15. Moore sung the Star Spangled Banner. That was a surprise.
16. Erm…
17. Wow.

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