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…