Short Stories

 Imaging a book cover for Casino Café. Film archives.
Imaging a book cover for Casino Café. Film archives.

Although I had been writing on and off for several years, not counting my first discovery of this delightful pastime at the age of eleven, in the mid ninetees I decided to do a creative writing course by mail.It seemed like a no loose idea. You know the pitch? If you have not been published by the end of the course they refund your money? The catch, I discovered much later was they make it almost impossible for all but the most thick skinned, full of himself stoic to stick it out for the full time and number of assignments required.

I dont say I did not learn something but in all honesty nothing that I really could not have learned from a couple of handy little Teach Yourself books on the subject like Creative Writing by Diane Doubtfire or Writing a Novel by Nigel Watts.These two books along with The Penguin books on English Grammer and Punctuation and  The Penguin Guide to Plain English are in themselves an education for someone like myself, a passionate reader yes but having left school at fifteen to sail around on a yacht with my parents and the cat, not much formal education. Scary as all these university graduate authors can be to the un intiated, craft can be taught but style, a voice as I believe they call it, is a gift.

Monte Carlo & before sept oct 2013 207

Lily on Italian Vogue & Other Nonsense

My tutor may have had reason to be exasperated with my manuscripts labouriously written in long hand on foolscap sheets by me.Hey not everyone had a laptop or even a computer back then as hard as it may be to believe in 2014. However since I took great pains to do this as carefully as I could, respecting the wide margins and double space line rule to the best of my ability and keeping my Oxford dictionary always open at my side, errors inevitably crept in. They could not be deleated neatly or spell checked, typos errased by hitting a button and I think he was unfairly critical of what I considered a tolerably acceptable rounded hand.

However what annoyed me most was his insistance on imposing a style of writing that seemed to me to be a question of fashion, of present public taste in general to the detriment of what I considered to be my personal voice, to use that expression again. He really did not seem to get it. I was ready for constructive critisim indeed that was why I was doing the course in the first place. I was even ready to be told that I had no talent but I always had a story to tell and if not actually writing one down, made one out of nothing to recount the incidents in my life to my friends. If a writer is someone who writes published or not, then I was one. My writing style was born on its own fully formed a bit rough around the edges but it could not be contained in the short stacato sentences he seemed to favour. I was aware that a common fault of new writers is the reluctance to dispense with unneccesary details and simply get on and keep the story flowing. However cutting out wholly relevant indeed essential paragraphs which ‘showed’ and did not ‘tell’ the characters personality gave me the impression that he had not taken the trouble to really read my story. A letter enclosed with the last assignment I recieved confirmed the obvious truth that he simply skimmed through his evident backlog of work with impatience.

When I moved to India it became even more of a lengthly and disjointed process to contine this two-ing and frowing of assignments via the Indian and British postal services. The latter being on strike if the former managed to achieve the miracle despite the then non computerized postal service. I bowed beneath the weight of this negative imput and although he encouraged me to continue I stopped sending the assignments and thus never finished the course.

However I found an internet cafe  in Pondicherry and began to print the stories I had written for the course some of which I  feel are still a good read. Although they were all directed at a different public; such was the assignment to choose a publication and write for their readers, I have decided to create a portfollio here on my writing blog. Now we all inhabit cyber space maybe one or other of them will find a reader.

Getting Published. Or, Writing is the Easy Part.

I completed my first full lenght novel checking in at aproximately 100,000 words in nine months. I continued to edit for a further year, tweeking, adding, subtracting, re reading, type proofing from several bulky printouts  before  finally deciding I had to let it stand alone.  Tearing myself away from the world I had created was like the story of Swan Lake; a world so easy to flee to but so impossible to disentangle oneself from as to be potentialy fatal to ones life in the ‘real world’. An echo of the words of Robert Louis Stevenson from a biography by Claire Harman comes to mind in part;

‘…..these purely imaginative joys’ he wrote, ‘that weaken almost to the point of destruction of reality…this is buying at a price too great.’

Well I am not sure about the price if it is too great maybe he has a point but that does not alter the fact that writing for me is an obsession. Published or not I know I will continue, I just cannot help myself. I even edit my e mails, proof reading several times and thats not only before I click the send button. Yes it’s that bad.

At the beginning of 2013 I began sending my mss with required synopsis covering letters and chapters to one agent at a time paying the postage to and from France where I live waiting patiently to recieve the returned package with the rejection slip before sending off again to the next one on my short list. The letters were mostly polite, kind though brief with one exception where low and behold my writing was actually praised but unfortunatly, unable etc only a short list a small agency etc, but it was encouraging and gave me a glimmer of hope that I had only to keep on trying..Unfortunatly life interviened as it does, unavoidably sapping my energies for all but the task in hand, one fraught with emotional and heart rending experiance that made me leave my dreams on the shelf for a time.A time that will go into the fabric of who I am and that ultimatly gives you more than you loose if you are prepared to take a long hard look at yourself and your life and simply carry on.

And so,today armed with my worn 2012 copy of The Writers & Artists yearbook  and the widening scope of web sites full of clues and useful information on writers agents sensibly prefering or at least giving the option of e mail submissions, I determine once again not to give up and sent off another submission.