Recommend these annual issues all of which are available online.
They have a tendency to lean toward the Lad/Ladette market but contain some interesting works. Especially from the film/fiction crossover area. This year’s issue also contains Nabokov’s unpublished Lolita screenplay and an essential Robert McKee interview…interesting stuff.
Amongst the more than interesting is this short story with photographs by Martin Parr ( allegedly… I cannot see the Pigs Head being in his style maybe more a late editorial decision to ‘Horse’s Head the story which unnecessary).
John Romano is a scriptwriter for TV (Hill Street Blues to his credit) and film and has a resume that includes Lincoln Lawyer (with Michael Connolly) and is an ex English Professor (Columbia) with one academic tome on Charles Dickens and Realism to his name. So no slouch and boy can he write…
Originally from Newark N.J. he lives and breathes the classic New Jersey Crime Family story and the wealth of detail is such in this short that it hard to tell if memoir or fiction or a rich mixture of both. Nothing is forced in the telling it glides as smoothly as the battered lime-green Buick Riviera which literally delivers the body-punch of the story and then its knock-out blow. I can say no more without giving the game away but please read this story. I cannot find reference to any more fiction online or otherwise and I suspect J.R. has a novel up his sleeve somewhere. This is brilliant writing in anybody’s book and would be a more worthy winner of the BBC short prize than the whole shortlist. He is presently working on a film for TV on the American Taliban about John Walker LIndh that Steve Earle sung about on Jerusalem…should be some film.
This is classic american writing at its best. There is not a word out of place and small working-class folk tales assume a menacing import only to be turned literally upside down. If I ever write something worthwhile it would have to go some to equal this.
Romano’s daughter is also a novelist/painter…..so it’s a family affair.
Interesting exercise came out of class last night. Hard to recall some of this and I genuinely cannot remember reading anything but web design manuals and music magazines for at least five years at NTU…scary..
In 'Friendship: 12 masterpieces of short fiction' for John McCarthy, Ryan Publishing Co. Ltd; First Edition edition (1990)
Also collected in:
"A Foreign Dignitary,in Best Short Stories 1989, edited by GilesGordon and David Hughes. 1989; as The Best English Short Stories 1989, 1989.
Walking the Dog and Other Stories. 1994.
A tricky one this. I have read quite a few of MacLaverty’s stories but not this one and was unprepared for this particular tale. A lot of his shorts revolve around Northern Irish themes so the sudden departure to ‘Non-Place’ as one reviewer terms it a jolt. The tale was spun in 1988 and first published in The New Statesman which is significant. It was later anthologised in a best of and the collection ‘Walking the Dog’ from 1994. In 2002 MacLaverty submitted a radio script of the story to BBC Radio Scotland. I do not know if it was aired.
1988 was two years into John McCarthy’s captivity. It was also the year Bush elder started to run for presidency, the Soviets started to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq and Iran stopped fighting. If any of these turbulent events affected the author is unknown but the fact that it selected for the ‘Friendship’ anthology and first published in New Statesman suggests it an advowedly ‘political’ fable.
I say fable because it a strange story. A ‘foreign dignitary’ of the title, whose manners suggest British rather than European background or from any ‘Western’ power, arrives in a ‘foreign’ city. He is welcomed and entertained by his male counterparts and two events take place. He is offered a ‘virgin’ as a gift for his personal pleasure and he is shown a barbaric means of imprisoning political dissenters (including children) whilst all other crimes are dealt with by reason and discussion.
A Voltaire like political fable? The offering of the child is sickeningly simplistic and believable but the incarceration of political prisoners in steel coffins that repeatedly smashed with a hammer when they disobey is a little blunt to say the least. It like a written version of a Polish animation of a boot stamping on a head ad infinitum. The message clear. Maybe it was written with the hostage situation in Lebanon in mind but MacLaverty has enough political demons closer to his actual home to fuel the tale too. The title story of ‘Walking the Dog’ concerns a man abducted in Northern Ireland.
The story is unforgettable and striking and probably a one-off in his overall career. It skilfully sets up the reader through the mild-mannered Manadarin’s charming habit of writing a letter to his wife. This gentle introduction sets up the blunt horrors to come. As for the ‘other’. The sense of a slightly all-encompassing’heathen’ nature of the barbarians is just this side of racist suggesting a kind of people ‘not like us’ …i.e. Eastern,or Islamic. Nowhere is this stated but the contrast is clear. I think if the tale had not crashed to the rapid and circling conclusion as he quietly writes a letter home as the child is tortured it would have become to complex to succeed.
A short parable that leaves the reader puzzled, sickened and possibly relieved it not longer. I felt bemused after reading.
I had the idea of reading at least one short story a day. It sort of working and I have managed three so far this week. The first on Tuesday was Ron Hansen’s ‘Funland’ from ‘Nebraska’ a collection of short stories published in 1989. I purchased it at the time because of the cover which I later found out was a photograph by Wim Wenders. No apparent connection between the two artists just a lucky graphic design intervention I guess although film does connect to this story.
The collection contains a series of historical re-inventions or ‘factions’ that whilst starting from historical certainties and research lift off into unknown territories. The collection was published after several more ‘historically’ accurate novels including the ‘Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford’ now a movie with Brad Pitt. Hansen went on to write several novels on historical themes. He is now the Gerard Manley Hopkins S.J. Professor at Santa Clara University – San Francisco. Teaching fiction and screen-writing.
‘Playland’ is a classic case in point. When first read in 1990 with no internet there was no chance of quickly and easily searching out images (see above) from the ‘real’ Playland or reading anything about its existence. Now I can,and whilst not spoiling the story (which I read first), it does provide an intriguing backdrop and filter on the writer’s intentions. The theme park started life as a dog track run by gangsters after the second world war and this adds a sheen to the tale which revolves around an ‘innocent’ post-war couple. The story is seemingly set post or during WW2 as the cast mention various ‘Talkie’ stars like Peter Lorre and Betty Grable .
The introductory pages however create a ‘paradisical’ indeed a veritable Eden from the Depression created some time after 1918. This rather strange as the story suggests it long established as the story unfolds in a vaguely 1920s to 1950s neverworld, perhaps deliberately. The real Playland was a more humdrum affair built in the 1940s and probably a place Hansen visited as a child.
The exotic and unreal nature of the tale is heightened by the landing of a seaplane (just after a pelican!) carrying the ‘evil’ and rich protagonist. It is like something straight out of The Great Gatsby. He is the female ‘lead’s’ cousin (I say lead because the whole story so ‘filmic’) who is a sexual predator and the essential ingredient in the plot’s progression and the final denouement. The atmosphere suggests Hansen playing with the dreams rather than the reality of Nebraskan lives.The imagery and lighting throughout is so dreamlike the whole story could be read as existing on a film set.
The structure is straightforward. The ending slightly open-ended and bristling with perverse sexuality. A very good short story not quite as draw-dropping as the tour-de-force ‘Wickedness’ that opens the collection and was featured in Tobias Wolf’s Picador anthology of Contemporary American Stories in 1993 but still very good.
This short is a good read and suggests that ‘reality’ can be manipulated and used as suits even if twenty years later your reader can pick apart the reality from the imagined which affects all ‘faction’. Indeed where do we draw the line on historical authenticity and fiction these days when even historians questioning such notions? Is the image above any more real because sourced from the internet. it looks real but even that could have been created by an ingenious graphic designer..maybe that is the entrance to another theme park..or hell.
A review at the time is interesting noting the precision of the writing at its best and its sloppiness at worst…but marks Playland as one of the ‘bests’
What makes the violence in these stories so powerful and disturbing is Mr. Hansen's meticulous control of his prose. The action of his tales is always carefully grounded in a welter of precise description (hens sitting on their nests ''like a dress shop's hats''; ''goldfish with tails like orange scarves''; a man who ''chews gum instead of brushing his teeth''), and the language constantly engages us by moving back and forth between the colloquial and the poetic, between the understated and the brutal.
A strange day. I was going to go to studio and write all day but I got knocked sideways by this request. Apple and Snakes and R.I.B.A. have commissioned me to write a poem on one or more of the photographs on show at RIBA from the Edwin Smith archive. A fabulous job to get ! I already honed on on the image above because of its title.
This will be shown and also recorded for the show (has to be done in the next month).
I love Edwin Smith’s work and have found the above image which amazingly was taken in Nottingham and I hope is in the show.
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters,make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world,so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. selves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
Introduction to the 1997 Fish Anthology, Dog Days & Other Stories, by Joseph O’Connor
What kind of strange creature is a short story writer? I must confess that I don’t know. A high priest or priest of art? A wounded soul who can’t understand the real world and thus feels a need to re-invent it? A moralist? A spinner of yarns? An entertainer? A prophet? Probably all of these things. Possibly none.
The single fact I can be sure about is this: writers are watchers. The one and only thing they have in common is an ability to look at the everyday world and be knocked out by it. Stopped in their tracks. Startled. Gobsmacked.
My favourite short story writer, Raymond Carver, has this to say:
Writers don’t need tricks or gimmicks, or even necessarily need to be the smartest fellows on the block. At the risk of appearing foolish, a writer sometimes needs to be able to just stand and gape at this or that thing – a sunset, or an old shoe – in absolute and simple amazement.
Another writer I love, Flannery O’Connor, put it even more strongly:
There is a certain grain of stupidity that the writer of fiction can hardly do without, and this is the quality of having to stare, of not getting the point at once.
There is only one trait that writers have in common and that’s it. They watch for the extraordinary magic that lies in the everyday. A writer is always quietly looking and thinking. Not willing inspiration but just being open to the world. This quiet looking and thinking is the imagination. It’s letting in ideas. It’s trying, I suppose, to make some sense of things.
In that sense, it is important for a writer to be always writing. Even when you’re not actually sitting with a pen in your hand. You don’t take days off. You don’t go on holiday from writing. Sometimes you don’t even go to sleep. If you’re serious about writing then you’re a writer twenty-four hours a day, in the office, in school, doing the dishes and in your dreams.
Writers have their eyes open. They keep them open all the time.
Ezra Pound said ‘fundamental accuracy of statement is the one morality of writing’. Naming things, calling things what they really are. This is all writers can do in an age where language has become debased and sterile.
James Thurber was a full-time writer. His use of his spare time is interesting:
I never quite know when I’m not writing. Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, ‘Dammit, Thurber, stop writing’. She usually catches me in the middle of a paragraph. Or my daughter will look up from the dinner table and ask, ‘Is he sick?’ ‘No’, my wife says, ‘he’s writing something’.
The short story is one of the greatest, most challenging, most infuriating forms of literature. They look so easy! That’s the thing about really good short stories. They don’t read like they were written. They read like they simply grew on the page. When we read the work of a short story maestro like Joyce or Frank O’Connor or Richard Ford or Alice Munro or Mary Lavin, we think, yes, there is just a rightness about that sentence, that image, that line of speech. But anyone who has ever tried to write a short story will know just how tough it is to hit that reverberating note, to say something – anything at all – worthwhile about the human condition, in five thousand words or less. It’s hard.
A short story is a glance at the miraculous. Joyce used a religious word. He called his stories ‘epiphanies’. A good short story is almost always about a moment of profound realization. Or a hint of that. A quiet bomb. There is a record by the American singer Tori Amos called Little Earthquakes. That’s a good metaphor for a short story. Often, a good short story will be a little earthquake.
It is a form that has all the power of the novel – some would say more – but none of the self-importance. A deftly imagined and carefully written short story like Karl Iagnemma’s Dog Days, or Frank O’Donovan’s Johnny Mok’s Universe, or Anne O’Carroll’s Flame, by concentrating on the particular, can say a whole lot about the universal.
So let us get idealistic for a second or two. V.S. pritchett’s description of a short story is ‘something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing’. And our task as short story writers is to grab that moment with both hands and invest it with all of the power and humanity and sympathy we can. To develop our skill at language and characterisation and structure and dialogue – our fundamental accuracy – for one reason. To tell the truth. That’s what all the hard work comes down to in the end.
The first fiction session last night and a shock to the Belcher system…(unecessary elipsis there) asI am not a practicing fiction writer. The samples (vignettes, prose poems) I offered for appraisal were three very old items that I happened to have. ( ellipsis attempted but stopped mid-dot….!)
I quickly understood that writing fiction feels very different to poetry…( second uneccessary elipsis).Maura Dooley’s ‘different bus’ comment from the Seren ‘How Novelists Work’ book rang true.I took heart from a John Harvey chapter in the book where he said that he used to ‘fly off the handle and over-react’ to start with when edited but learnt to live and appreciate it and shows examples. I did not have any sulky moments and the round-table criticism was careful and appreciated. I hope I gave equally good comments back.
Maura Dooley Ed. How Novelists Work – Recommended AMAZON
Because of the time lag between the examples it is hard to say why certain things are at fault. The David Belbin cardinal sin of using ‘as’ I simply never been told about before so that should be easy to correct as is ‘just'(note second deliberate use of as there hopefully correctly.(Smillie removed) These are basic errors that I need to learn and stamp out. Also The most basic of all is a lack of full stops but this may be a hangover from free verse poetry where frankly I hardly ever use punctuation. The same applies to commas so I getting my ‘Oxford Guide to Style’ out and keeping by the desk at all times. (Smillie removed)
Finally there isand perhaps a bigger worry and one that my friend Mik Godley wouldbe more than happy to see eradicated. I have spent a long time online and have picked up a lot of bad habits and lazy text-speak mannerisms. Short-hand thinking not good enough any more. A lot of this from pure lack of time and I do not have that excuse any more so self-editing and replacing missing words starts now. Even writing a ‘blog’ entry of five hundred words better than filling a text box on a social media site with garbage so I will concentrate more on entries here which acting as a reflective journal and creative diary.
I have deliberately marked up mistakes in the above text in green or by strikethroughs to remind myself to think before writing NOT afterwards which would save me a great deal of time in the future. I have spent time improving my ‘academic’ style and can cope with academic papers now but this a different type of fish…I actually hope people will read this. (Smillie removed).
I AM GOING BACK TO PEN AND PAPER
OLS= over long sentences
NO full stops
REDUND =redundant words/ repetitions.
AS = too many- delete
Also – not at start of sentence = redundant.
Adverbs – like ‘frankly’ redundant
Here links to the original unedited fragments. I will over the rest of the week re-edit them into newer versions and post links next to original links. I doubt if any will make it off the first page in future but never say never. As David said concentrate on some new stuff and I have an idea and a title ….it is a start.
One was an intro introduction to a failed ‘Great British Rural Novel’ which got tostaggered to ten pages in 1990 before going in the draw. Crow in Barley
Crow in Barley Edited
The second was a strange historical snippet inspired by a true account of a landowner in Oxfordshire and his pet monkey and also inspired by Nick Cave songs. 2003. Chalkfish and Monkey
Chalkfish and Monkey edited
The third was an aborted first draft of a non-existant Trailer Star movie or graphic novel. 2003. Moon over the Downs
Decided to concentrate on short stories to start with…my favourite poets Burnside and Carver both write short stories too….some of these I collected 20 years ago…about time I read them! Thanks to Jez Noond for some more recent additions to the que including Grace Paley and Amy Hempel.
Some obvious missing collections here..D.H.Lawrence..Richard Ford, Russell Banks, Steinbeck. This just the paperbacks.
Well that has made me think…..after a thorough trawl my entire ‘fictional prose’ output amounts to three false starts and 1500 words. That is all there is…
So maybe choosing the’fiction’option as second choice of a range of pathways on the M.A. may have been a mistake. The other option is ‘Script for film and stage’ and the more I examine my past writing especially the outcomes for the songwriting the more it seems they may fit into a transmediale kind of box…..in thinking about the course I been drawn to Willy Vlautin’s novels/songs…..Nick Cave’s Bunny Monroe App. My role in the Trailer Star CD was as writer (script-writer?) for a project that delivered by others (actors?). I have the space to choose and think I will attend the first sessions of both before making up my mind. Any transmedia project needs good writing…content is king but how one approaches that content can be different. I have written poetry for 25 years so a new area is daunting and as the following shows there been plenty of false starts…..I keep seeing this intro to ‘Trailer Star’ as a graphic novel in black and white…maybe I should draw it out…literally 🙂
Looks like the M.A. already challenging my preconceptions..good….
Trailer Star: Moon over the Downs
intro..first page…script for a graphic novel..prose poetry…flash fiction?
Each drip off the corrugated plastic sheeting made a tinny sound that he could hear from deep within the damp sleeping bag and layers of blankets where he was trying to sleep. He could picture the 1953 Coronation picture tray (each royal face worn to a rusted halo) where it lay propped against the side of the caravan under the makeshift porch. He saw each drop collect in his mind’s eye as it hovered on the broken edge and then fell from the cracked sheet. It was too cold to get up and do anything about it so he pulled the blanket back and in the dark caught a glimpse of the VHS recorder’s timer a blurry phosphorous lime green glow. 3.12. He groaned and mumbled a curse about February weather groaned again and was gone. Sliding in his dream back to the childhood garden behind the biscuit factory…crumbs of comfort on a crimson tablecloth…sugar in a bowl…iced gems…ants…blankness
The mangy mongrel from the next door caravan woke him up with a wheezing bark more like its owner’s cough at 7 a.m. From deep in the damp cocoon he could hear it dragging at its lead as the postman’s footsteps on the gravel path and the swish of his tyres trundled off to the far caravans. Some muffled words, case a banging door and silence again. The cold had seeped into his sleeping bag and through the sagging and wrinkled skin to his bones. He stayed wedged inside the dark cocoon not wanting to freeze his head even more in the brittle light. Then the old sod next door started turning over his old Rover’s engine for what seemed like eternity before it sprang into a half-life of churning rusted pistons and oil leaks. It crunched off across the gravel road and onto the tarmac road that ran by the river and was soon a faint hum on the edge of silence.
7.10 blinked repeatedly from the recorder as he finally peeped one eye out from the sleeping bag. A cloud of steam marked his breath as it rose up to cloud the inside of the frosted and dirty window above his head. God he hated February. Ice that formed on the inside of the windows would puddle on the sills before dripping in grey lines down the walls. Still sleeping in his coat for warmth he slowly shed his covers like a butterfly emerging from its caterpillar skin. He tottered half upright and half awake-half asleep on the edge of the sagging bed and fumbled instinctively for where his lighter and Rizla papers were. It took ten minutes for his frozen fingers to roll the meagre tobacco into something like a decent ‘rolly’ that crackled as lit it. Yellow fingers shook as he brought it up to his mouth. February …Jesus wept ..another winter like this and he wouldn’t see the next one and no tours, no money in the overdrawn account..he was living on borrowed time..he knew it…they’d turn up one day and find him frozen to the inside of the caravan and have to chip the ice from his eyes….maybe even carry him out stiffer than that guitar case propped against the door to stop some bastard getting in at night….he grimaced licked spit from his fingers and hacked his first clean breath of the morning deep into his lungs…so deep it hurt…