Monday, July 23, 2007

Fleeting Passions

God, how much I love the short story. Even spending a whole day talking about them, and having them analysed by academics, surely the ultimate of all passion killers, isn't enough to stem my obsession. Instead, I left Saturday's conference with a clutch of story ideas, books to try and notes I've been chuckling over ever since. Some of my scribbles seem like post-modernist story ideas in themselves. What did I mean exactly by 'Cooking pot - ideas in body?' or 'don't think and then finish it'? I'm sure it made perfect sense at the time. Luckily, I did also come away with some solid questions to ponder. Alan Wall, my fellow reader and hero of the key, posed the idea that the difference between an oral tale and a written story is that the story contained two worlds that bumped into each other, while a tale is dependent on a unified world where everyone involved understood the signifiers. You could tell a tale easily because of its simplicity, while a story had to be read in order to be understood. This led to some good discussion in the coffee breaks.

In her paper, Dr Paola Trimarco, of the Open University, looked interestingly at how the reader fills in the gaps in flash fiction. One example of hers was Graham Swift's six word story -
Funeral followed honeymoon. He was 90.
As she expected we would, we all laughed when she read it out, but our assumption that it was funny was based on the fact that the funeral followed swiftly after the honeymoon - all honeymoons will be followed by funerals of course, but hopefully years apart. Also that the 90 year old was the groom, and that the bride was young. And that it was the over-enthusiastic sex that had killed the groom. She was right, of course, and looking again at the story, it's clear that the author is expecting us to do a lot of assuming, otherwise the story is meaningless. It's made me want to try to write a story using parallel narratives of both the given statements and the story about the gaps.

And my third aha moment came with Phil Nichols from the University of Wolverhampton who presented on the adaptations of Ray Bradbury's short stories. One of the reasons Phil gave as to why these short stories had been translated into stage and film quite so often was that (as so often in SF) the landscape is the hero, and by foregrounding the landscape it could be adjusted to different forms. Again, I kept thinking about a story just using landscape - could you write one without people at all? Has it been done?

I had a great train journey home reading Dave Evans Portrait of a Playboy and other stories, a collection that ought to be much better known than it is, but as always with these conferences, there were plenty of papers I would have liked to have gone to, but just couldn't fit in. I'm still cross at missing 'Writing Gothic Fiction', because it was definitely calling me, but I compensated this morning by ordering two recommended collections, Karen Russell's St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Kelly Link's strange looking Magic For Beginners.

And, joy of joys, this morning, Philip O'Ceallaigh's Notes from A Turkish Whorehouse arrived. I wish I could remember who recommended this to thank them, because although I've just dipped in so far, it looks brilliant. A positive short story orgy ahead.

1 comment:

lcyeiser said...

I just stumbled upon your blog, read this entry, and was curious to know what Dr. Trimarco had to say about "Sparkles"?