Guest Editor: Sandra Ireland
When I was four, my mother kept me quiet with pens (bad move) and paper and I quickly learned to draw horses on everything. My infant scribbles were shown off to everyone, and praise was heaped upon me and then I discovered WORDS! I could now draw pictures and write ‘horse’ on them and be showered with even more praise by doting aunties, BUT…fast-forward to age fourteen. I was still drawing. I was still writing; short stories, poems, even a fledgling novel, but they were all hidden under the bed. As a teenager the mere thought that anyone would uncover this terrible secret was enough to send me reeling into hormonal meltdown.
It occurs to me that sharing your writing with others is a lot like this. It takes a lot of courage to unearth your precious and personal scribblings and present them to strangers to be read and edited, to be judged and commented upon. That’s why a community like Shortbread is invaluable. It gives everyone, regardless of experience, a chance to put their work out there and get something back, whether that’s interesting feedback, constructive criticism or simply the knowledge that your story has brightened someone’s day. Appreciative comments can boost a writer’s confidence no end.
Isn’t it strange that writing, which is so much about communication, is such a solitary business? Our ideas begin in the dark. We scribble them down in our notebooks, on scraps of paper, on the backs of bus tickets (it has been known!). We labour alone to weave these snippets into something magical, and then we are faced with the prospect of submitting the result to…an editor, who is probably as much like your doting auntie as Matilda’s Agatha Trunchbull. (This is not the case at Shortbread, she quickly adds)
But don’t panic! There are lot of ways that you can polish your gem of a story before other human eyes are laid upon it. One of the best things you can do is read it out loud. Read it to yourself, to the scary person in the mirror, to the dog, the cat, the teddy. You will hear the rhythm of it, the sound of the words. You will see which lines are too long and clumsy, which words just don’t trip off the tongue. You will miss the words you accidently left out, and the glaring mistakes your computer speeelcheker didn’t pick up! If your story is the very best you can make it, you will feel a lot more relaxed and confident when the time comes to share it with the world.
I have selected six stories to review which I personally enjoyed, and I’m sure you will too. In each one, I will try to point out the techniques and effects that, in my opinion, make them excellent stories. ‘A Suitcase in Berlin’, by June Asquith, uses memory and flashback to create a sense of time and place. Daniel Murphy ’s ‘Three generations’ is a thoughtful take on the issues facing women today, voiced by three generations of the same family. Desmond Kelly’s ‘Life in the Freezer’ uses poetic language to paint a deeply emotional portrait of a relationship, while ‘The Tower’ by Linda Bond is a fast-paced, darkly-entertaining fantasy tale. There are two audio stories on my list: ‘Disappearing Act’ by Jenny Love, a thought-provoking narrative of one woman’s relationship with food, told very effectively in the first person, and Nicola Layzell’s ‘The Seventh Sin’, a delightfully shrewd and ‘wickedly’ funny tale of a judgement day! Hopefully, these reviews will be helpful when plotting your next work. Remember, don’t hide it under the bed, send it to Shortbread!
See the ShortbreadStories for Sandra’s picks for of the month.