I have a brand new story up and out there. It’s the first one in a couple of years that you can read for free (if you wanted to). It’s called Sex God and it’s up at Every Day Fiction. It’s a little odd, but I like it. It feels like a good one to come back with. Hope you enjoy!
Cally Taylor is one of my favourite writers. She’s one of my favourite people too, even though, yes, she once made me cry. So I’m thrilled to have her here today to talk about it and, more importantly, about her new book which, trust me, will be excellent.
WHY I LOVE MAKING NIK PERRING CRY
On August 18th 2013 I self-published ‘Secrets and Rain’, a collection of my prizewinning and previously published short stories.
Because I wanted to make Nik Perring cry*.
I love that blog post. It was the first time someone I’d never met face-to-face admitted to crying at something I’d written. I was flattered, more than flattered, I was stunned. A twenty-something man, living up near Manchester, had cried at something I, a 30-something woman living in Brighton, had written. The words I’d put down on paper had resounded so powerfully with him they made him well up. Wow. His admission blew me away.
Since then a few people have told me that my novels have made them cry. And laugh. Although for some reason I’m less moved when people tell me I made them laugh (even though I find it harder to write ‘funny’). And now book bloggers Tishylou and KimtheBookworm have revealed that my short story collection made them cry too.
Why am I waffling on about making people cry?
Because Nik heard about my short story collection and contacted me to ask if I’d like to write a guest blog for him on the similarities and differences between writing a novel and writing short stories (and traditional and self-publishing**) and I realised that, for me, the success of both comes down to how effective they are in eliciting an emotional response in the reader.
My favourite novels and short stories are the ones that make me feel something. REALLY feel something. I want to be so scared that a creaking floorboard upstairs makes me jump. I want to feel so upset I cry. So happy I laugh out loud. So disturbed I spend the rest of the day feeling out of sorts.
Some people might argue that novels are more ‘powerful’ than short stories but I’d argue against that. Maggie O’Farrell’s ‘After You’d Gone’ let me in an emotional talespin for days but equally I can still recall the horror I felt reading Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’ for the first time (and that was five years ago). Ask me what my favourite Nik Perring short short is and I’ll immediately say ‘Shark Boy’ because it left a lasting impression on me. That ending…wow. I get goosebumps just remembering it.
Eliciting an emotional response in a reader isn’t down to the number of words you write, it’s down to the power of the words you write and the emotion the writer put into those words. I cried when I wrote the scene in ‘Heaven Can Wait’ that made Nik well up. And I laughed out loud when I wrote the passages that made him chuckle. The same with ‘Secrets and Rain’, my short story collection – ‘The Little Box of Wishes’ made the book bloggers cry, and I wrote it with an ache in my chest while ‘The Woman Who Became a Tree’ had me grinning as I tapped away at the keyboard.
I think that’s why the adage ‘write the book you want to write’ is such good advice for writers. You need to pour yourself into your words, give a little part of you away, not chase the latest fad or try and second guess the market. It doesn’t matter if some people HATE your book, at least you’re eliciting some kind of emotional response. For me the worst type of review is the ‘it was okay’ type because I know the reader didn’t make an emotional connection with my work and that makes me feel like I’ve failed as a writer.
And the difference between novels and short stories?
Typically you can only really explore one emotion in a short story, there just isn’t space to do justice to more – not without losing some of the power. And you need to set the tone in the first paragraph. You can’t have the reader snorting coffee out of their nose for the first page if you want them shaking with sobs by the end of the second (but do leave a comment if you know of a story that proves me wrong. I’d love to read it).
A novel, on the other hand, can make you run the emotional gamut – up one minute, down the next. You can live the character’s emotional arc. You’ll be fearful for them, angry with them, frustrated by them, happy for them and, in the really great books, you’ll be so emotionally connected that you’ll miss them the second you stop reading. And you might continue to miss them so much that you’ll re-read the novel over and over again until the spine cracks and the pages curl and you have to buy a new copy.
But whether it’s the lingering sense of horror from a short story or the winding punch of a heartbreaking novel there’s still an emotional impact. And that’s what all writers want really isn’t it? To make an impression on a reader – even if it’s just a wry smile or a slight moistening of the eyes – because that means our words were powerful. And that’s a hell of a feeling.
* Not really. I’m not that cruel. Much.
** Oops, ran out of space to discuss traditional verses self-publishing. Maybe another time…
I went out for dinner with a couple of friends last night (I had the tandoori – it was lovely) and we got to talking about films.
They recommended one to me and I could not believe what it was about. Basically, it had exactly the same premise as something I’d worked on (and since given up on) a couple of years ago.
Here’s the trailer.
And here’s the opening to my story.
It was too late when the couple decided they wanted a baby. Although their hearts were good and warm, their bodies were creased and tired, they were wrinkled, stiff, and worn, and when they tried it hurt.
‘There must be another way,’ said one to the other, and the other agreed. And they found one.
So they collected good things. All the good things they could think of. All that would make a child good. They collected their favourite things. They collected strong things, sweet things, pretty things and honest things. And when they were finished collecting they put them all in a pot and stirred them, together, like it was soup. They added autumn leaves (for hair colour) and they added a sprig of mint (for her eyes) and they stirred in cherry blossom and milk for her skin.
And after they stirred, they cooked.
And after they’d stirred and after they’d cooked they took what they’d made and they wrapped it in tissue paper, soft and strong, and they bound it with a green ribbon. They took their bundle, soft and sweet-smelling, out into the garden and they planted it in the good soil over by their fence, where the sun could see it and where it could reach.
And they waited.
For weeks, they waited.
For months, they waited.
They waited for years.
And as those years passed the couple grew older and bonier, weaker and more wrinkled and creased. They grew tired and they ached and they spent most of their time asleep or dozing, in front of their fire or in the kitchen, looking out over their garden – or upstairs, close, under their sheets. And they checked their garden daily, even when it was difficult. Even when their joints felt rusted and rough, even when the ground was sodden or frozen or baked. Even when the rain bit them, when the snow stung, and when the wind knifed.
One day, as they dozed and coughed in their kitchen, cups of tea cold and forgotten on the table in front of them, a cry came from the garden. It woke the old man, slowly at first. Disbelieving, at first, but soon wide-eyed and excited. He rushed, as best he could, through the door and, breathlessly, along the path, past the fish pond, through the orchard, and into the neat square of garden over-looking the lake, his joints creaking and sore. But he thought little of it.
And there she was, perfect and tiny and smooth, and he picked her up and carried her inside. Wrapped her in the softest towels he’d bought and laundered every week so they’d be ready, just in case.
He cradled the girl and he gently shook his wife to rouse her, and she was slow to wake and her eyes were slow to focus and her brain was slow to understand.
‘A girl,’ he said, and she was quick to smile then and her cheeks flushed and her joy was sudden.
She took the child from her husband and she held it in those bony old arms of hers and she said, ‘Our baby,’ and she told her husband that the love she felt for her seemed as though it had always been there.
And when she died, only weeks later, she was a happy old lady, and, for those last few weeks she seemed to forget the pain in her joints and she seemed to ignore her rasping cough and she didn’t stop smiling, not once, not even in her sleep, and that reminded her husband of nights long ago. And, after, he was left to cope.”
Now, it’s a pretty uncomplicated situation as, I’ve already said, I’d shelved my story. But if I hadn’t then I’m not sure I could have continued because, well, it wouldn’t have looked very good, would it? Crazy huh? At least I know that my ideas are up there with Disney’s. Now, wouldn’t that be a lovely omen!
For some reason (most likely me clicking something I shouldn’t have) LinkedIn, in its unfathomable wisdom, decided, it seems, to invite the whole world to connect with me over there. Now, I’m sure there are lots of pluses for a lot of people in having a LinkedIn account, however it’s something I’ve never used. So, if you’ve had an invitation from me, feel free to ignore it. And sorry to have taken up space in your inbox when I really didn’t need to.
I have been suffering (quite a bit, actually) with a summer cold and today I made the decision to have the morning off. And I’m glad I did, not only because I feel like I actually have some energy now, but because I stumbled over this (via Buzzfeed). Audrey Hepburn: utterly delightful.
An odd thing has happened, and I didn’t quite notice it. You see, for various reasons, I’ve not been submitting any of my stories anywhere – and that’s been the case for a couple of years and it’s not something I’d planned or really noticed. Aside from having books out there, and contributing to the fab 100 RPM anthology and having Weatherboy in Deck The Halls, my only output (that you could have seen) was through said books.
And, thinking about it, it does feel kind of weird not having things out there in the many wonderful places there are. So I am starting to send stuff out there (worrying, too, whether what I’ve been writing is still any good! We’ll see.).
Which brings me nicely to the point where I’m able to say that…
… on August 30th, Ever Day Fiction will publish Sex God. It’s a short, short story and is only a little bit about sex. And stars. I’m sure I’ll remind you closer to the time. For now, it’s nice to be reminded what being a writer’s really about.