6 Comments · Posted on July 31, 2016
Thrilled to welcome the very lovely and very talented Rosy Thornton to the blog who, after a bucket load of novels, has published a collection of short stories, Sandlands. And she’s here to talk a little about that.
But that’s not all, folks because I have a signed copy to give away. All you need to do is pop your name in the comments. The winner will be announced next Monday.
Over to Rosy…
To cut a long story short…
Four years ago when I published my fifth novel, Ninepins, which weighed in at just over 97,000 words, I had never in my life attempted to write a short story. My prose style, in fiction as in the academic legal writing which is a large part of my day job as a university law lecturer, has a tendency towards the fulsome, the orotund, the meandering, the grandiloquent… (you get the picture). I once enjoyed the philosophical paradox of having a manuscript rejected by a publisher for being ‘too wordy’. Five novels, none much under 90,000 words and two of them over 120,000. How, I wondered, could anyone begin to say anything at all in less space than that?
But a novel is a major undertaking. It takes (me, at any rate) nine months to a year to write, and in that time the characters and their trials and tribulations, their hopes and dreams, their loves and losses (there I go again!) fill up an alarming amount of my emotional and imaginative headspace. Ninepins came out in 2012, and for a variety of reasons over the next couple of years (the death of my father; my mother’s encroaching dementia) I just didn’t have space in my life to embark on another piece of long fiction. But the urge to write still tingled my fingertips – so I had a go at a short story.
It was rubbish, of course, so I threw it away and wrote another. And threw that one away and tried again. Soon I had one or two I was happier with, and slowly they multiplied and evolved into the collection of sixteen linked stories published on 21st July as Sandlands.
The advantages of short stories from the point of view of the author are obvious. They represent a cheerful, no-strings-attached promiscuity compared with the committed slog of the novel. One preoccupying idea, a weekend at the keyboard, and there’s your first draft, all complete. Then you can set it aside, knowing it’s keeping warm for you until you have the time free to pick it up for a second date, this time with the editing pen.
But what of the different skills involved? How do you manage to communicate anything worthwhile in three, or five, or eight thousand words?
For me, the trick was to let go of the notion that I was trying to fill an entire canvas. A novel is like a big fat oil painting, complete in every detail – figures in a landscape, with everything coloured in, from the background forest and the clouds in the sky above to the sprigs of grass in the foreground beneath their feet. There’s all the back story, all the sub-plots, the cause and effect and the what-happened-next; the characters’ motivations are carefully layered up, pigment applied upon pigment.
A short story is completely. What is absolutely not, it seems to me, is the same compete painting, only smaller. If I say that instead I visualize it as being like a study for a larger painting, that might sound as if I think short stories are somehow unfinished or imperfect, somehow a lesser artefact than longer fiction. That’s not what I mean at all.
What a short story presents to the reader, I think, is an intensely painted middle bit – the exciting bit, the bit to which the eye would be drawn in a large work – which is complete in itself. The forest and sky behind and the grass below are nothing but a rough wash of colour, perhaps a few suggestive, sweeping lines, or maybe just empty canvas, because the point of a short story is that it allows readers a lot of blank space to fill in for themselves the what-thens and the maybe-ifs. But that middle bit needs to be precise in every detail, vividly coloured, sharply edged, expressive, just as much as in a novel or even more so. Because it’s the rich, lifelike quality of those few square inches of painted canvas which spark the imagination, enabling it to range and to create, uniquely in the mind of each reader, the detail of the forest, sky and grass.
That’s my theory anyway. So I can keep my own voice, the same rather ‘wordy’ style and love of detail that characterise my novels – it’s just that I’m applying it to a small tableau only, and leaving all the background and foreground empty of anything but a few sketchy squiggles.
Which is great, because I never could draw clouds.
From the white doe appearing through the dark wood to the blue-winged butterflies rising in a cloud as a poignant symbol of happier times, the creatures of the Suffolk landscape move through Rosy Thornton’s delicate and magical collection of stories. The enigmatic Mr Napier is feeding a fox rescued from the floods; an owl has been guarding a cache of long lost letters; a nightingale’s song echoes the sound of a loved voice; spiralling rooks recall the dogfights of wartime Spitfire pilot. Through the landscape and its creatures, the past is linked to the present, and generations of lives are intertwined.
Rosy Thornton is the author of five novels, the latest of which, ‘Ninepins’, won the East Anglian Book Awards prize for fiction in 2012. ‘Sandlands’ is her first short story collection. Rosy lectures in law at the University of Cambridge, where she is a Fellow of Emmanuel College. She divides her life between Cambridge and coastal Suffolk where ‘Sandlands’ is set.
Leave a Comment · Posted on July 15, 2016
I’ve just got home from the last of six workshops I’ve been running as a project at the brilliant Darnall library. It’s half past eight and I am tired and I’m hungry, have been a little bit ill, and I think it’s about time I blogged (or at least started one). It’s been a while and not because there’s been nothing happening, but because so much has been happening I’ve barely had time to stop.
On Monday I was back at Media City, at the BBC – it’s always a lovely thing to be invited back somewhere, and it’s especially nice to see what amazing things the people there are doing. And, for me, it’s even cooler seeing that I had a hand it that.
Before that I was in Bradford for the launch of Appleton Academy’s anthology which is the result of the really wonderful work that Nick Toczek has done there under the banner of First Story. A big mention must go to librarian Gill and Miss Boyle who are both very wonderful too.
Here’s one of the stories. I absolutely love it (I’ve loved them all). It’s one that started life in Huddersfield in January and I was thrilled to see it in there (as well as a few others).
And, while I’m talking about First Story, I’ve been doing some work for them too at Leeds West Academy (hello!) as writer in residence and I’ve enjoyed it an awful lot. Some really, really excellent writing has happened there and that makes me very happy.
And not just there because I’ve been writing too. And stuff I’m really happy with. More on that soon, I hope.
And last, for now – I received my contributor copy of A Box of Stars Beneath The Bed – this year’s National Flash Fiction Day anthology. And I’m looking forward to having a little time, soon, to read it.
And I think that must be about it for now. There are lots of other things to talk about in due course but, right now, it’s almost nine o’clock and I’m even hungrier than I was when I started this.
1 Comment · Posted on June 30, 2016
It’s been one of those weeks (months) where day names have been replaced with cities I’m in or schools or libraries or academies I’m working in. So there’s no Monday or Tuesday and certainly no day of rest. This week it was:
Might actually get some sleep.
I half wish someone’d do me a tour t-shirt, to be honest.
And it’s been fun (well, all the ones I’ve done – Darnall and the wedding, I’m still, very much looking forward to).
And, as such, and along with a fair amount of editing work, I don’t actually have the time to write anything here on the blog about what I’ve been doing and how much I’ve enjoyed it. I will. It’ll come. Be patient.
I was reminded of this the other day though (while deleting photos from my phone) and it always makes me chuckle. It’s Not So Perfect on The Poke (more here) and, yes, it made me chuckle.
Because we all need to smile. Oh, and here’s me, on a train, being pretty fed up with the absolute shower that is the referendum and its result. I don’t care what your politics are – you have a right to an informed opinion – but mine don’t agree with what’s happened one bit.
More soon. Just make sure you’re kind to each other while I’m gone. Kindness isn’t quite everything, but it’s an awfully big and important thing.
4 Comments · Posted on June 17, 2016
It’s been a while since I published a short story. I think the last one was Carmine’s Fruit, my re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood, which won the Artificium competition last year (and is available here).
So I’m very pleased to be able to tell you all that a BRAND NEW STORY OF MINE is inside the latest National Flash Fiction Day anthology, A Box of Stars Beneath the Bed, which is out today in paperback, and will be out as an Ebook very soon.
And, as ever with these National Flash Fiction Day anthologies, there is a whole book’s worth of other great stories by marvellous writers. It’s something I’d be reading even if I wasn’t a writer. Go on, folks. You know what you need to do.
2 Comments · Posted on June 9, 2016
So, I’m sitting here at silly o’clock in the morning and I have been doing emails (there is a mountain of them and, if you’re waiting for something from me – and I know many are – it won’t be long). To be fair, I’ve been doing them most of today – that and phone calls and arranging and rearranging meetings and getting June and July confused. And making sure I’m good to go for the first workshop for children I’m running at Darnall library on Friday. It proved instantly very popular (I’ve been very lucky with that of late) and sold out almost within a week I think (but I am told that, if you’re quick, there might possibly one more place up for grabs…).
And then, in the midst of it all, Google alerts gave me this. A story I may or may not have written from Freaks! read, wonderfully, by the great Asher Black a few years ago. Click here to listen. It made me happy.
There is more I could talk about and I will do soon. But I have, as always, things to do tomorrow and so I shall sign off and go to bed and at least try to be half sensible.
Leave a Comment · Posted on June 1, 2016
So I’ve not been on here, or online, all that much, mostly, because I’ve been being busy. Writing has happened and teaching has happened and all’s been good on that side of things.
A couple of weeks ago I went to a wedding and it was all the things weddings should be. A celebration and fun and filled with good people.
(This is a tired me after it – it took a good while to get there but it was definitely worth it.)
I helped out with the photography which meant that I was just on the outside of things and that suited me perfectly. It’s probably my favourite place.
And then it was my nephew’s birthday and that was good too. I bought him a lightsaber. We duelled. For over an hour and a half, and then I played football with my eldest niece and I held and made faces at my youngest niece who’s still a baby and it reminded me that, really, that’s what life’s about. It’s about sharing and it’s about joy. And lightsabers. Life should always be about lightsabers.
2 Comments · Posted on May 22, 2016
So, the panel at Bradford Literature Festival is done. And it was brilliant. (It is definitely a festival to look out for – the programme is wonderful and interesting and diverse, and it’s been organised superbly – DO check it out).
The delightful Leah Moore (who, aside from doing wonderful and good things with comics, is also doing other Very Interesting Things with Electricomics – DO have a look), Taran Matharu (NYT bestseller as of last week – huge congratulations), and me talked about new ways of writing, and how we started (and continue in the industry) and a whole manner of things I hope were interesting or helpful and it was good. A huge thank you, as ever, to those who came – it was a shame I didn’t get to have more of a chat after. I hope you were all able to take something useful away with you (and you can always drop me a line here, don’t forget). And thanks, too, to Ralph Dartford for his splendid, chairing duties.
It was fun. Meeting good people, talking to and sharing space with people who love stories and make stories and read stories has always been one of the things I love most about what I do.
And, today, I even dressed up.
And here’s us after.
I remembered, as I was on the train heading back, that the last time (I think) I was in Bradford was when I was, I think, about eighteen and on a course for work (back when I had a proper job). It was the first time I’d driven on a motorway, and it was in a left-hand drive VW Lupo. I remember my colleague being, err, a little shaky once we stopped. (Graham, I am still very sorry.)
Later, after trains and things, I went for a walk and it was really quite lovely. It was the kind of light you seem to get at this time of year, and not very often at that. See?
It’s been a bit of a weird and busy (as ever) few weeks for me. I have been writing again and that’s been good, or was good, until I managed to get an infection in my finger (cellulitis, I’ve had it before but, thanks to our brilliant NHS and their walk-in services I have medicine) which, kind of stopped me dead. Isn’t that always the way? But it’s better now and, once I’ve finished typing this I shall be picking up my pen again and making words and worlds and, hopefully, they will be good. Or good enough to be made better later. You never can tell…
1 Comment · Posted on May 20, 2016
First up, a quick reminder that I’ll be on this brilliant panel at the Bradford Literature Festival on Sunday at 2pm. I’d love to see you there – if you are coming, and fancy a quick cup of tea somewhere afterwards, do let me know. I am always happy to drink tea with nice people and I know that everyone reading this MUST be.
And, onto the order of the day…
It’s a pleasure to have the lovely Suz Korb here for a little while, revealing something very exciting. It’s definitely not anything I’ve had here before, and I can’t remember ever seeing something like this. Curious? You should be. Read on…
Leave a Comment · Posted on May 12, 2016
I have been working as a writer for many years now and over the past decade or so I’ve been lucky enough to work with many, many talented people. Collaborating with editors and publishers and writers and illustrators on books and stories, putting together charity anthologies, teaching, running workshops and groups. My longest commitment has been a writing group at the library in the town where I grew up – that’ll have been going for ten years very soon. And, from that group, lots of really interesting and really good stuff has been produced by some very lovely and very talented people.
And, as such, I’d like to point you in a few interesting directions after seeing this is this month’s issue of Writers’ News.
Jenny’s are really terrific books, and are definitely worth checking out. I think my favourite, and probably because it’s the most recent is Night Light (you can see the full list here).
And here she is talking about Why Didn’t They Listen?.
And Jenny’s aren’t the only ones I’d love to point you towards. We have Barbara Challenger’s brilliant account of working as a volunteer in Ghana, By God’s Grace.
1 Comment · Posted on May 10, 2016
I’ve been really lucky to have worked with the fine people at Sheffield Library Service a few times now, and I’ve been absolutely thrilled with the work we’ve produced. It’s been a lot of fun too. So I’m delighted to say that I am running a six week after school writing group (all the details below) at Darnall Library next month. We’ll be learning how to write good stories, from generating exciting ideas to turning them into brilliant stories which, at the end of the six weeks, we’ll turn intern actual. proper, book. Places are going very quickly so you’re probably better signing up sooner rather than later.
Do spread the word. Hope to see you there!
And you can book my contacting the library either by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone 0114 2037429