If I get stuck with my writing, even briefly, or if I’m about to begin a new story, chapter or scene, I like to go for a walk. A thinking walk.
Most of the time when I’m walking, a story will seem to simply unfold. Something loosens between the footsteps and the daydreaming. I’ll hear voices or picture a scene where before I was only wondering. Often, these ideas will feel as if they’ve arrived from nowhere, or from out of the trees, or from the sky. Or even from the tarmac. It’s a bit like magic.
In Nottingham, one of my favourite places to walk is Wollaton Park, especially early in the morning when only the crows and the deer are about. When I’m back in London, it’s Greenwich Park (I really like parks) because my childhood is very powerfully there. Sometimes it feels as if my small, secret writing self is waiting for me, ready to help, in Greenwich Park’s rose garden, or by the ducks.
I know I’m not alone on this one. In her essay Walking into the Story the fabulous Helen Dunmore explores the subject far more eloquently than I ever could. While in The Faith of a Writer the amazingly prolific and generally amazing Joyce Carol Oates confesses that walking doesn’t work so well for her. She runs instead.
I’m still thinking about short stories, about how they’re often neglected and about how truly stunning they can be.
For me, Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Garden Party’ is a perfect, enduring classic, while Clare Wigfall’s ‘The Loudest Sound and Nothing’ blew me away last year. Other collections I’ve loved include Salinger’s ‘For Esme – with Love and Squalor’, Nicholas Royle’s ‘Mortality’, Atwood’s ‘Bluebeard’s Egg’ and a huge amount of Ellen Gilchrist‘s fiction . . .
There are several short story champions around at the moment. Salt publishing have recently launched their dynamic Story Bank , which I’ll definitely be investigating, while I’m currently reading Laura Solomon’s dark and lively collection ‘Alternative Medicine’ (published by the ever-supportive and innovative Flame Books). For further excellent general short story information, visit http://www.theshortstory.org.uk/, where among other things, you can find Raymond Carver’s brilliant essay, ‘Principles of a Story’.
I would love to hear about the short stories you’ve enjoyed . . .
In other news –
I’m July’s ‘Guest Writer’ on John Holding’s great new Fictionfest website! If you visit the site you can read my (guess what?! another short story!) ‘On the Island’.
Plus! The book I nominated, ‘Monkey Beach’, Eden Robinson’s beautiful, layered debut novel has been included on Gary Smailes’ excellent ‘One Book’ site.