Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Mechanics' Institute Review

I'm really proud to have one of my short stories in the upcoming issue of The Mechanics Institute Review. It's the publication from the students on the MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London, and it's a privilege to be included amongst them because I've really been enjoying reading the different voices. Cynthia Medford Langley, Thea Bennett and Gul Y Davis have stood out so far, but every time I dip in, I find someone else new to admire. Congratulations to the book's editors: Pippa Griffin, Keith Jarrett, Cynthia Langley, Philip Makatrewicz, Josh Raymond.

As the blurb on the back says,the stories include: 'a dog with an identity crisis, an accidental kidnapping, justice by encyclopaedia and an unexpected clash between academic and pirate.'

My story, Potassium Man, was one started when I was a fellow at vcca this year. I suppose its gestation was a clear example of scratching.

I was looking out of the window of my cabin in the woods and saw this:

Now I'd never seen a cardinal before and it felt to me - in my slightly jet-lagged state - as if I was in a bowl watching goldfish swim by. Then I started to think about swimming - which I was missing because I try to swim at least three times a week - and then water, and I did lots and lots of freewriting.

It still wasn't enough though. I feel strongly that most stories need two things to lean together, not least to stop them becoming just an anecdote, and luckily I remembered a chemistry teacher at school who had tried to make friends with us pupils by doing dangerous experiments. I've been wanting to write about him for ever, because I felt so sorry of him. Of course, we didn't become friends with him. In fact, the very opposite. Kids can smell when someone is trying too hard, but we didn't like how cruel he made us feel either. Maybe it is guilt that made me remember him so clearly? Unlike the character in my story, I didn't try to help him. In fact, I was one of the kids in the front row egging him on.

And then when I found my two strands, I edited, and edited, and edited... I've never forgotten hearing Ali Smith (who also has a story in The MIR) talking about short stories and saying it could feel like 'wrestling a lion down to the ground' which feels just right.

At least, I think it was her, or maybe I'm just wanting to namedrop so I can draw my attention to the fact I have my name on the front cover along with Ali Smith and Toby Litt. Oh my.


Sara said...

Gosh, I love that image of writing a short story being like wrestling a lion to the ground. It's very apt today as I struggle to edit and shape a story I love, but that just won't do what it's told!

I heard Keith J talk about The Mechanics' Institute Review at LitCamp the other day, it looks like an interesting publication. Congrats.

Sarah Salway said...

Hope you were the winner, Sara!