on the writing & reading trail

Posts tagged ‘short story’

Editing, reading, meeting

Days 66-68 (July 18-20)

Great days recently. Rain during nights, followed by cool mornings and daytime sun – a treat. Library has been quiet, conducive to concentration and good work.

Quiet here today

Editing: Steady work continues through the chapters of Present tense – about half way through. Freya has divorced, become an aunt, lost her parents, her job and then her grandmother. Set for her first placement as a humanitarian aid volunteer she endures a terrifying interruption to her flight to Nairobi. On arrival she is disappointed to find that her mission might be aborted because of escalating violence around her South Sudan destination.

A short extract from my story:

Now she was in exotic Nairobi. Nothing had prepared her for arrival in this place; not the readings, not the film or video viewings, not the avid attention to briefings, nor prolonged reflections, or any previous experiences. Everything was different, and crowded. She felt vulnerable, unready; and still a long way from her final destination.

It wasn’t only the tiredness from the flights and dramatic events. One of the short-notice vaccinations had turned her left upper arm into a red and throbbing, hot and itchy mass. Limp against her cabin backpack in a corner of the baggage claim area she waited. Freya decided that Leka was right when he’d said, ‘You have to be in a place to know it.’

The pushing and shoving was unnerving. She realised she’d forgotten how empty Australia was, even compared with Europe. Here everything felt crowded and overwhelming and aggressive. And home seemed so orderly.

As the system started to crank the miscellany of luggage on its way Freya stood back waiting until the crowd cleared. Her bag was one of the last on the turntable. It felt heavy. She told herself it was just tiredness from the long flights that had set her nerves on edge.

Then the message attached to the board held aloft as she passed through the arrivals area gate discouraged her some more; she was to make her own way to the MSF house. Backpack aboard she found a Reception Desk clerk who phoned the number recommended in the note for a taxi. It wasn’t really like her to be thrown by such a small issue. No doubt they’d given up on her because of the serial delays.

Outside, the humidity and heat magnified the smells she had expected. It was an effort not to gag as the taxi navigated wildly through the vehicles coming from all directions, the potholes, the people and the animals. The driver was being friendly, asking Freya where she had come from and what she was doing here. Even though she felt churlish she answered as briefly as possible, just wanting him to concentrate on driving.

Reading: I’ve always meant to read a Marian Keyes book but didn’t get round to it till now. I tried to stay with The brightest star in the universe, but gave up about a third of the way through.Maybe should have persevered but decided there were more engaging novels on my shelf.

Above all a story of family strength

As of last night and today I’m turning the pages of books by two Australian authors: The price of life: The true story of an Australian held to ransom for 462 days by Nigel Brennan (see more below), and Forecast:Turbulence by Janette Turner Hospital, a short story collection. You can find her reading an extract from one of the compelling stories on http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/dark-matter/story-e6frg8n6-1226168813974  I recommend it.

Author talk: Last evening there was a big turnout for Nigel Brennan’s scripted Q & A session followed by audience questions about the experiences of his family here in Australia and his own during his imprisonment with a Canadian woman colleague in a Somalian jail: a salutary tale. When Nigel was signing my copy of his book we chatted briefly. He mentioned me he’d attended writing classes by Bryce Courtenay who had rated one of the most useful tools for a writer was bum glue. No problem about that for me; as the local library staff could attest. Just need a good dose of the right kind of talent to go with the effort.  

Ready for a weekend of more reading.

Edit diary (5 April)

Day 39 (April 5)

A very good day. Feeling well and energetic again and the Queensland mid-autumn weather is perfect, although I do admit to feeling a bit nostalgic about real northern hemisphere autumn colours and the snap of coolness. Canberra was like that too, but it feels a long time since I left there early in 1992. Must look out some photographs as reminders.

Clear and wonderful blue

Goals: To work through at least three chapters of editing AND to give some thought to short story ideas.

Progress: Today’s editing went like a dream. I worked my way quickly through four chapters where it’s autumn in Scotland also; the year is 1983.  Freya’s grandmother remembers some unwelcome facts from the past while Freya is looking forward to a few weeks of leave which she intends to use preparing for her finals at the beginning of the next year.

Prolific purple blooms

Today Alexander was having a pensive time in Queensland’s spring, with the end-of-year purple blossom of the jacarandas beginning to show. And it looks as if he might find a way to end the impasse of separation from Freya, temporarily at least, although he wants to keep his ideas as a surprise. Bad move, as unexpected events are taking shape behind the scenes in Scotland.

Only the final chapter for Part One remains to be scrutinised, unless I bring forward the first chapter from Part Two – haven’t quite made up my mind about that.

My new indicative deadline for completion of the editing task for Parts One and Two, and therefore Book One, is now April 30. Possible? Maybe.

About the short stories: I think I’ve settled on two ideas, oddly both arising from a time when I worked in a UK community hospital – not sure why the long ago incidents found their way to the surface right now, but each seems to offer a seed for growing a fiction around it. One is about an old woman the other about a toddler.

So today’s goals were met.

Other: And surprisingly it’s a while before the bus is due, but not long enough to commit to a chapter. I can see the stop from my spot here in the library, so there’s time for reflection:

  • I’m thinking in my next edit sweep I need to check for writing style, to make sure that it differentiates between the characters sufficiently – I’m hoping it has happened alright as the main characters are so clear in my head
  • What is genre? And which one(s) apply for my story? The answer varies somewhat between each of the three books and contains more than a taste of a number of things: overall a family and friendship saga / a love story / there’s a mystery of sorts / a coming-of-age tale / a woman’s read probably. How do I respond to the question if I make a submission? Do I make a judgement one book at a time? Or consider the overall content of the current trilogy? And then the fourth book in the series is incubating away. It is quite different even though the characters will only have moved on around ten years – but most of the action will take place in Australia, instead of being spread between Queensland, Scotland, Europe and Africa.

More other: Pleasant surprise when I checked the Irish Fish Publishing site this evening for results of the International Short Memoir and Flash Fiction competitions – my stories, Memory rings true and Innocence lost respectively, were on the long lists.

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