Short Stories

May 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

I hated short stories. I found them unfulfilling. I was stupid and blind.

Then I did Highbrow’s short story course. They sent me one a day – The Furnished Room by O. Henry, Eveline by James Joyce – and I realised I’d just been reading the wrong short stories.

I suddenly saw how incredible they are – like a snapshot of a situation; the perfect soundbite of verisimilitude. Rich, earthy, crystalline, unctuous description.

So, recently I wrote one for myself. It turned out to be a fairly long short story but it was one none-the-less. And today, I found a proper short story I wrote years ago. What was I thinking? I hated them, didn’t I?

I read it and thought it quite good. Good enough that I’ve published it on Medium, if you’d like a peek.

Read A Dying Sun.

The Furnished Room by O. Henry

August 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

I loved The Furnished Room by O. Henry so much that I can’t not share some of it. The descriptions are so lush and vivid.

One by one, as the characters of a cryptograph become explicit, the little signs left by the furnished room’s procession of guests developed a significance. The threadbare space in the rug in front of the dresser told that lovely women had marched in the throng. Tiny finger prints on the wall spoke of little prisoners trying to feel their way to sun and air. A splattered stain, raying like the shadow of a bursting bomb, witnessed where a hurled glass or bottle had splintered with its contents against the wall. Across the pier glass had been scrawled with a diamond in staggering letters the name “Marie.” It seemed that the succession of dwellers in the furnished room had turned in fury – perhaps tempted beyond forbearance by its garish coldness – and wreaked upon it their passions. The furniture was chipped and bruised; the couch, distorted by bursting springs, seemed a horrible monster that had been slain during the stress of some grotesque convulsion. Some more potent upheaval had cloven a great slice from the marble mantel. Each plank in the floor owned its particular cant and shriek as from a separate and individual agony. It seemed incredible that all this malice and injury had been wrought upon the room by those who had called it for a time their home; and yet it may have been the cheated home instinct surviving blindly, the resentful rage at false household gods that had kindled their wrath. A hut that is our own we can sweep and adorn and cherish.

This description is exactly what Chekhov meant by ‘Don’t tell me that the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

The lodgers are no longer there; they may never have been there. The imprints the previous occupants have left behind scratch ghost memories into the fabric of the room, but they exist in full colour within our imaginations.

The point is to help the reader to see it for themselves, hint at a glimmer of beauty through sometimes sad or destructive mundanity. Suggestion sparks our minds alight.


Joyce, Poe, and Other Short Stories

August 19, 2015 § Leave a comment

…watching the evening invade the avenue.”

That’s from Eveline, a short story by James Joyce. I didn’t know that until this morning, when I read my fourth email from Highbrow, a magnificent entity that sends out bite-sized portions of its ‘courses’. My chosen subjects are great cities and short stories; the latter is working out just peachy so far.

I’ve never loved short stories. In fact, I haven’t really delighted in any since Chekhov’s, which I read when I was a teeny 10-year-old borrowing the hardest books I could find from my grandmother’s local library to alleviate the heaviness of summer in a bungalow with two siblings. I remember sitting on a hill overlooking the sea, thinking about the lady with her little dog.

My issue with modern short stories has always been that there isn’t enough beginning, middle and end. I’m left unsatisfied. They’re the one-liner of the literary world: a cheap laugh for punters with short attention spans. They just try so hard to be clever.

I’ll classify modern as post-Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl (1979). Now those are some short stories. The shortness only adds to their stark brutality – you’re left feeling like perhaps the monster is lingering still, following you to the next tale.

I’ve enjoyed every one of the short stories I’ve so far been served by Highbrow, to my surprise. It shouldn’t be a surprise, really. After all, they’re old. Poe, Joyce, de Maupassant. Some are translated, giving us that delightfully OTHER tone that manages to escape through translators’ careful fingers.

Five minutes a day of complete immersion in another time and place. It’s so blissful.

Favourite bits

They trod noiselessly upon a stair carpet that its own loom would have forsworn. It seemed to have become vegetable; to have degenerated in that rank, sunless air to lush lichen or spreading moss that grew in patches to the staircase and was viscid under the foot like organic matter.

The Furnished Room, O. Henry

The drawing-room was small, full of heavy draperies and discreetly fragrant. A large fire burned in the grate and a solitary lamp at one end of the mantelpiece threw a soft light on the two persons who were talking. She, the mistress of the house, was an old lady with white hair, but one of those old ladies whose unwrinkled skin is as smooth as the finest paper, and scented, impregnated with perfume, with the delicate essences which she had used in her bath for so many years. He was a very old friend, who had never married, a constant friend, a companion in the journey of life, but nothing more.

The Log, Guy de Maupassant

Mrs. Harding was a gentle, sad-eyed woman, lacking a left foot.

A Vine on a House, Ambrose Bierce

New words

Demirep: a woman whose chastity is considered doubtful

Fugacious: tending to disappear, fleeting

Girt: surrounded, encircled (past participle of gird)

Cilia: slender protuberances that project from a larger body (from the Latin for eyelash)


The Little Grey Sparrow

July 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

In the darkest part of a dingy, damp and echoing archway there sat a small grey sparrow. He had been born there amongst the grime and smoke and had never seen a clear morning sky, or felt the cool breeze under his wings. Just beneath his hidden perch there was a tiny jazz club, and the bird could often hear snatches of life, laughter and…music. Sad, but with a pure sweetness that tore at his little heart, though he didn’t know why.

One night the sparrow poked his head out from his perch and looked down into the street below, which was all lit up in fairground colours. The little sparrow hopped carefully to the very edge of his perch and stood there trying to make up his mind, tilting his head from one side to the other.

He thought to himself ‘That is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.’

Suddenly, he took off, flapping his wings uncertainly as the unfamiliar wind picked him up in its arms. He swooped over the lit up street and upward towards the top of the hill where he could see a glorious building, glowing against the dark sky like a fairytale castle.

He thought to himself ‘That is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.’

As he reached it, he could see still figures hiding in amongst the stone pillars, and he was afraid. But as he drew closer, he saw that these were only statues, with smooth calm faces. Laughing at his fear, he flew downwards towards a great set of doors. Swooping inside, the little sparrow gazed into a vast expanse of light and splendour. Bright colour and glints of gold delighted his sparkling eyes, and he fluttered into the huge space beyond. Soaring upwards into a great dome, the bird gasped as he saw the figure of a man dressed in white, with his arms outstretched, flanked by angels with golden halos.

He thought to himself ‘That is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.’

At the very highest part of the dome was a row of tiny windows, and out of one of these, the little sparrow fluttered, drawn by tiny pinpricks of sparkling silver. In a rush, he soared out into the night sky. Upwards and upwards in dizzying spirals. And looked down across an endless view of light. This little bird, who had seen nothing but smoke and smog all his life, looked down on a great city of streets like strands of diamonds and buildings lit up like treasure.

It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

Bird Collage Layers Textures

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