Tuesday, 26 May 2020

In praise of short stories

I do love short stories, whether published in a magazine, an anthology or a collection. I enjoy them if they're written by people I know and by authors new to me. I know (because I write them) that it takes just as much skill to write short stories as long ones, and certainly a different set of skills.

The books pictured are just a few of the short-story books I have. Amongst the others are Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories (surprisingly accessible) and a Doctor Who collection that was published to mark 50 years of the great man (pre-Jodie Whittaker). Fair to say, I think, I have varied taste.

At the moment, I'm reading Bryant & May: England's Finest by Christopher Fowler. The stories are great and the writing is amazing, of course, but I think his full-length novels featuring these two characters are better. (He'll be crying all the way to the bank.) On the other hand, Property by Lionel Shriver is every bit as good as her novels. Closer to home, my writing pal Louise Jensen, well-known for her terrific psychological thrillers and about to break into the romance market under her nom de plume Amelia Henley, has just had a short story accepted by My Weekly magazine.

Do you think an author's short stories can be an indication of that person's style as a writer of novels, and vice versa, or are they such different media as to necessitate separate appraisal?

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

You've let me down, you've let yourself down

I rarely struggle for something to write on this blog, but since my last post I've not felt inclined. I've been in a bit of a grump, and I'm sure - well, I know from what people have said - that I'm not alone.

For the last few weeks, I've almost enjoyed the lockdown: not the effects on health and the appalling statistics and the incompetence of the government, but the cleaner air, the increase in bugs and birds in my garden, the quiet and the level of courtesy that seemed to be growing. I started to think perhaps we were moving towards a kinder, gentler world.

And then BoJo spoiled everything with the ridiculous announcement about not going to work unless you had to go to work, and not using public transport unless you had to use public transport, and not being able to see your parents unless you put your house on the market and they booked a viewing. Almost overnight, something changed. People are saying 'Sod it.'

My daily walks have been restricted to places I can reach without getting into the car, because I've been following orders. People have been respecting my two-metre exclusion zone and moving out of the way with a smile, a wave and sometimes even a cheery word. On Sunday, though, we went into our nearby woodlands (the ones threatened with destruction) and there were people everywhere, not just family groups, but also gaggles of all sorts, heads down, not moving to the side, not smiling, not even acknowledging anyone else's existence.

And then there's the litter that has suddenly reappered. Why would you go to the trouble of venturing into the nearest thing we have to countryside and then leave a trail of paper and plastic? Who has been so desperate for a coffee that they've been to Starbucks, carried their cup on to the footpath and then just dropped it?

My rose-tinted specs have been consigned to the bin. I'm  disheartened. My message to the public is this: I'm very disappointed in you.

Monday, 4 May 2020

One thing leads to another

A favourite film in the Thorley household is Field of Dreams. Even if you've never watched it, you might have heard people quoting the line 'If you build it, he will come.' It's a lovely film and if you have time (!), I recommend you take a look. The film is great, but the book on which it is based is even better: Shoeless Joe by W P Kinsella. On the edition that I have there is a quote on the cover from Andrew Kaufman who says: 'The movie only captured half the magic of the book. This is a masterpiece.' Can't argue with that. It has moved on to the shortlist of titles from which I shall choose one to take with me on Desert Island Discs one day.

Anyway, author J D Salinger features in Shoeless Joe, so I was moved to read Catcher in the Rye. I've tried to do this before, but just found Holden Caulfield so irritating I couldn't get very far. This time, however, I made it to the end. Sorry, but I still don't like it.

After a quick Jack Reacher to cleanse the palate, I 've now moved on to Thomas Hardy's Return of the Native, which is mentioned in the Salinger book. I've not read this for many a long year and I'm really enjoying it. It's one of those book that needs reading word by word, if you know what I mean. It is from its pages that I've gleaned today's Word of the Day for the thread I'm running on my author Facebook page. Perhaps for the sake of continuing the connection, I should now watch the film of the book, but the only version I can find stars Catherine Zeta Jones and Clive Owen, which doesn't exactly blow my skirt up.

The question is, then, what is the next chain in this link? Any suggestions?

Thursday, 30 April 2020

What time is it?

Time is a funny old thing. One of the reasons we have station clocks is because in 1840 the Great Western Railway introduced so-called railway time to overcome the problems caused by each town in the expanding railway network having its own local mean time. The clocks showed passengers what this unified time was.

I don't know about you, but time has lost all meaning in our house. It is apparently Thursday and I gather that tomorrow it will be May. I've just had a cheese and pickle sandwich, but I couldn't tell you if it was lunch or just a little something to tide me over until the next meal, whatever that will be.

References to dates in books can lead to unintended results. In the entry for 22 March in A Sparge Bag on the Washing Line, I wrote: ‘We hear that Brexit is to be delayed. I can’t bring myself to go into details here – and anyway by the time you’re reading this it will all have been resolved and we shall be looking back on these crazy times, laughing and saying, “What were we thinking!”’

On 10 March, I was interviewed by Andy Gibney of 3P Publishing for The Writer's Hut podcasts. I mention the date because if/when you listen, you will hear Andy joking that by the time the recording goes out we will all have forgotten about coronavirus. Yeah, about that...

If you'd like to listen to the podcast in which I talk about my writing and editing life and various other bits and pieces - Andy is a great interviewer - you can find it here.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Wanted: short stories for broadcast

You know how I've read out a couple of my short stories for my publisher's podcast? Well, now 3P Publishing would like to offer this opportunity to other writers and is looking for tales that take somewhere between five and ten minutes to read aloud.

If you have a suitable story for which you own broadcasting rights, please drop a line to Caroline Snelling (caroline@3ppublishing.co.uk

Saturday, 18 April 2020

'Father, whom our founder worshipped...'

I don't know who drew the picture
I should have been at a school reunion this weekend, but obviously it's not happening. I've been thinking about my old school, though, and its motto 'Nisi Dominus Frustra', which we all translated as 'My God, I'm so frustrated!' I can still remember all the words to the school hymn - I'll spare you - and have just located my teenage face on a grainy black-and-white year-group photo. Ah, how beautiful we all were; if only we'd realised it at the time.

I've dug out an old school report book that modesty forbids I reproduce here; I was clearly a bit of a swot and phrases like 'sound performance' and 'quietly competent' are repeated. I also have what is probably my first published piece of work. It was in the school magazine and I must have been 11 or 12 when I wrote it. I have typed it out here, exactly as it appeared.

About four and a half years ago my Grandma came to live with us. She can't see very well out of one eye. Because of this she watches television a lot, especially period plays, horror films, and 'Coronation Street'. 

She is fairly musical and when she could see played the violin and piano. She sings the alto part.

Grandma is a Methodist and goes to chapel every Sunday. On Mondays she goes to the 'Bright Hour'. 

She is a very tidy person and cannot bear to see any litter, especially sweet papers, lying around. She has the annoying habit of wandering round and putting things away, and so if anything is missing or has been moved from where you left it the first person to ask is Grandma.

Very often, after she has finished speaking, she will give a little 'hmm mm'. After a while this gets on people's nerves.

Of course she does have many good points. She is nearly always stocked up with sweets and willing to play draughts.

She has a television of her own and so if one person wants to watch one programme and somebody else another, one person goes in Grandma's room to solve the problem.

I'm not sure my writing style has changed that much!

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

It's been a while

Eleven days since my last post: good grief! But I've been busy sharpening pencils, hoovering the kitchen floor, walking around the garden making plans - you know how it is.

Actually, there have been things going on. By some miracle I've picked up a couple of new editing jobs, for which much thanks. I see from the latest Martin Lewis newsletter that in a quick survey for his MSE website 25% of respondents said they expect to be financially better off because of the current situation. Well, lucky them.

Me? Well, I'm looking forward to the donation from the government to the self-employed, thank you very much. For now, I'm ticking along OK (although if you fancy buying one of my books I won't say no!). On the plus side, I received the interest on my Santander online savings account this morning: 5p. On the negative side, the shower is making a funny noise.

In other news, I've done a bit of Zooming, including an online dancetheatre class. There's nothing like wafting around the living room on your own pretending to be a tree to make you realise how daft the world is at the moment. I've also done a proper grown-up board meeting online, just in case you thought I'd completely lost all sense of reason.

We've had Easter, of course, which this year was also the occasion of our wedding anniversary: 40 years!

Another of my short stories was broadcast by the 3P team, one of the tales from Nine Lives. You can listen here, if you'd like to.

Finally, I've started to do a 'word of the day' on my @JuliaThorleyAuthor Facebook page. So far, I've done aptote, barnaby, chank, dumbledore and epinikion. Today's word will begin with F. I shall endeavour to keep it clean.