Newsletter – October 2023
Where do novels come from, and why would anyone want to write one? As I sit down to begin yet another, I am asking myself these questions. No matter how many books an author has written, it does not get any easier. Each feels like the first, a terrifying and tentative exploration of a mad impulse.
Margaret Atwood describes writing as a high wire act. Up in the air on a tightrope the writer turns cartwheels and rides a bicycle. Look down once and all will be over, the magic will vanish and the unfolding novel along with its creator will come crashing down.
Canadian short story writer Mavis Gallant has a wonderful description of the mystification all writers feel about their craft. She says, ‘I still do not know what impels anyone sound of mind to leave dry land and spend a lifetime describing people who do not exist…. How to account for the overriding wish to do just that, only that, and to consider it as rational as riding a bicycle over the Alps?’
The imagination is bold and free obeying only itself. It does not listen to the carefully ordered plans devised in the head of the writer. This liberty of the imagination is a writer’s most precious possession. Through it a novel, once it is underway, must take on a life of its own, demanding the writer take risks, pushing out in all kinds of ways, putting in complications or characters not in the original plan. Lke an aircraft taxiing down a runway, there will suddenly be lift off, the craft miraculously flying free of the earth, soaring up on its journey. The novelist too must take a leap of faith into the world the other side of the looking glass, a place more real than the reality about one.
Young writers are invariably concerned with plots, but I have found it is my characters who come to me first. They emerge as if out of a mist, and the story and plot develop from their needs and problems, their interaction with each other. As I sit down to work out a blueprint for a new book, all I have is two women. They have been living in my head for the last few years. They refuse to go away, and I am still trying to understand what they want of me, what is the story they are urging me to tell, and why have they chosen me to tell it? As always at the beginning of each new book, I am left wondering if I will have the daring and the stamina to tell their story. Only time will tell.
Newsletter – April 2023
At long last, I have collected together my Indian, short stories for publication in a volume. I call these stories, my orphans, because they have lived many years in obscurity. Every writer has things that live in the gloom at the back of a drawer, whole novels, short stories, articles, poems, that can get published long after they were written, sometimes even posthumously.
Many of my stories have been published individually, yet I have never gathered them together in a volume. You will probably ask me why, because it seems like a no-brainer, the most obvious thing to do. Yet, I have found, it is not so easy.
Publishers, especially large Western publishers, do not like short stories. Every time I offered my agent my collected stories, I was told, ‘give us a novel, and then maybe after that…’
Although short stories are easily picked up and put down, and short bursts of reading fits in with busy schedules, it seems they are difficult to sell to the reading public compared to novels. People prefer to dig themselves in for a long read, where they can experience another world for a period of time, get to know a new set of people, have exciting experiences in unknown places. In the end I gave up and thrust my stories into the darkness of a deep drawer.
So why am I taking the step right now? Because time moves on, and I do not want my stories posthumously published, so I am having another try. And in bringing these stories out into the light and reviewing them once again, I have realised how much I love the form.
The short story is deserving of the deepest respect. It is a pristine little thing, rather like a dewdrop in which the largeness of the sky is reflected. It may not use the great trundling trainload of words the novel requires, but its brevity does not mean it is easy to write. Short stories are complete miniature works of fiction with all the same devices found in a novel, plot, setting, character, conflict, and theme. At their best, they are exquisite jewels, whole worlds found in just a few pages, and as deeply rewarding and enlightening, as a great novel.