Well we’re more than halfway through January already – perhaps a relief to those doing Dry January, but possibly a cause of stress for those of us who planned to hit the ground running in 2023 and who’ve so far achieved very little! My partner says ‘I’m very busy!’ is my catchphrase. He was even going to buy me a desk sign which said exactly that, but £12.99 for a small piece of folded red plastic seemed a steep price to pay for a non-degradable gimmick which would end up in landfill one day. (See how January is turning me into a grump? But the environment will thank me!)
Anyway, you’ll be pleased to know that I’m going to concentrate on the positives now! I have already had some great writing news this month – a brand new short story of mine has been chosen as The Willesden Herald Story of the Month. You can read it here: https://newshortstories.wordpress.com/
And my novella, Crossing the Lines, won a book blogger award from Sue Thomas at Flopsy Brown’s Book Blog. She chose it as her ‘Short and Bittersweet’ favourite for 2022, and was kind enough to say:
“I am also dropping in the SHORT AND BITTERSWEET AWARD here, for not only a cracking little novella, but an award-winning author who needs to be more widely known, with Crossing the Lines by @troutiemcfish. Amanda’s novellas, short stories and poetry are all outstanding. Go check them out!”
Plus, a complete stranger contacted me last week via Twitter to say how much they loved my poetry on the Northern Gravy website – https://northerngravy.com/poems-by-amanda-huggins/ That means just as much to me as awards and submission success. It’s what it’s all about . . .
Speaking of accolades, If God Will Spare My Life by Mike Lewis was shortlisted in December for the Eyelands Book Awards (Historical Fiction Category). Well done to Mike – and watch this space, as Mike has a second novel coming out with Victorina Press in March 2024:
The Icarus Ascent: Ghosts of the Matterhorn
Seven men, seven stories – one mountain.
The tragic first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 as individually related by Edward Whymper’s seven-man party . . . from beyond the grave . . .
Victorina has several other new books coming out before then and I look forward to telling you more about those in due course!
In other news, Alternative Afterlives author, Chris Fielden, has bagged a coveted short story slot in the Comma Press anthology, The Book of Bristol, due to be published next month. Chris’s story is called ‘Baker’s Zodiac’ and is about two witches trying to exorcise a demon. The book contains work by authors including Asmaa Jama, Helen Dunmore, Ken Elkes, Magnus Mills, Rebecca Watts, Sanjida Kay, Shagufta K Iqbal, Tessa Hadley and Valda Jackson. You can pre-order here: https://commapress.co.uk/books/the-book-of-bristol
Here’s another brief excerpt from my course, The Heart of the Short Story. Time to think about the opening of your story . . .
In a short story there’s no time to set up a long hook, you have to pique the reader’s curiosity right from the first line. People and conflict are the two things that drive stories forward. They are all your readers care about, so you need to give them one – or both – as quickly as you can. It’s a cliché even to mention it, but discussing the weather – unless it affects how your story develops right from the start – should be left to strangers at the bus stop when they have nothing else to say.
Patricia Highsmith commented in Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction:
“I prefer a first sentence in which something moves and gives action, rather than a sentence like, ‘The moonlight lay still and liquid on the pale beach’.”
If your story does begin with a description of the landscape, then it should have a clear objective – such as containing a metaphor or symbol which reveals the theme or heart of the story.
For example, ‘Hills Like White Elephants’, one of the most famous of Hemingway’s short stories, starts with a description of the setting. The distant hills and the landscape around the station are symbolic elements in the story.
Here are a few of my favourite first lines:
“I cut my boyfriend in half; it was what we both wanted.”
(From the title story of Don’t try This at Home by Angela Readman (And Other Stories))
“‘The question is, is it negligence to place a live body in a coffin?’ I said, peering at him over my reading glasses.”
(‘Cheapside’ from the collection Cockfosters by Helen Simpson (Jonathan Cape))
“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”
(Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston)
Think about the opening paragraphs of your favourite short stories or novels. Why do you like them? Why do they draw you in? In other words, why do they work? As an exercise, look again at the opening paragraph of the story you are writing and try rewriting it in the style of one or more of your favourites.
Before I Go…
My word of the week is yugen – a Japanese word referring to a profound, mysterious sense of beauty. It is difficult to define, and its meaning can change according to context. But here is the Urban Dictionary definition:
“Yugen is at the core of the appreciation of beauty and art in Japan. It values the power to evoke, rather that the ability to state directly. The principle of Yugen show that real beauty exists when, through its suggestiveness, only a few words, or few brush strokes, can suggest what has not been said or shown, and hence awaken many inner thoughts and feelings. “a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe.”
See you next time!