Thursday, 10 December 2009

Short Circuit Blog Tour

I'd like you all to meet the lovely Vanessa Gebbie and her new book Short Circuit from Salt Publishing about writing Short Stories. Click here to buy.
You can find out all her on her blog.

Welcome to my blog, Vanessa.

Thanks! Charmed to be here, I’m sure!

Pull up a beanbag and do try one of my home made mince pies.

Mmm. Nice.

Would you have another glass of mulled wine to go with that?


It’s scrummy. Make mine a pint.

Congratulations on the publication Short Circuit, a veritable feast of thoughts and suggestions about short story writing.

Indeed, and thank you! A feast it certainly is, but cannot hold a candle to these mince pies.

Q1. I've been reading some of Alice Monroe's short stories recently and I was struck how she manages to squeeze a whole lifetime into a short story whereas some others, for example from Miranda July, are a fleeting moment. How to you think time span affects stories?


I think some stories that encompass a whole lifetime, are amazing. They make me wonder what is noteworthy, or what is ‘visible’ from our own lives, to others. Just a few spots on a page, which add up to a little blotch or two. Alice M is like that. Some people say she packs the content of a novel into the span of a short story. That’s daft. They are her version of the short story. Why does everyone keep referring to novels like they are the destination we are travelling to through the short story?

Stories that pick a closer time span, like July’s, tend to leave me with a deeper impression. I don’t know about you – it’s something to do with being hit by a flare as opposed to being exposed to bright light for longer. You remember the flare.

What do you say to people who assume (and there are many) that short stories is practice for writing a novel?

Well, I'd say sure, you can of course practice writing fiction by writing short stories, and getting your craft right and stong. So that when you are fired up enough to write that novel - when you find what it is that makes you really want to write one thing for a couple of years, you will be ready. But dont be fooled into thinking that the novel project is just a short story but longer. It isnt. The two are totally different beasts.

Its a bit like expecting a painter of miniatures done on ivory with a single-haired tiny brush to progress somehow to painting a vast mural. The skills are utterly different - allied, but different. The mural is not a 'grown up miniature' any more than a novel is a 'grown up short story'.

In a good short story, every word will earn its place. There are no loose ends, no baggy areas, It will be an intense experience to read it. You just cant approach a novel in the same way - I think you need to be far more relaxed in your writing for a start. If you weren't, you'd exhaust both you and your reader!

Nice metaphor.
Q2. I know that you have experience judging some large competitions. I am fascinated to hear about the kind of stories you receive. Once you've ploughed through the immediate no's, what is the most surprising, common problem you've identified with the ones that remain?


I’ve got a bit of experience judging comps. The largest is probably Fish One Pager. And I’ve read for larger ones – am reading for Asham next time round as a favour. I’m also final judge for The New Writer short story comp, and will get my box of stories (yum) in the New Year.

I am always always knocked sideways by the low standard of many, when I’m in at the early stages, as with Cadenza, for example. I’d think, ‘What on earth made this writer even suspect this was worth punting at a prize?’ It mad me very cross actually. Because behind it are writing groups where people are too namby pamby to be honest, and give straight feedback – just saying ‘OOO Ethel, this story is luverley!’ when it is about a dead cat, written with clichés in the ink and ends with an unflagged twist.

There are no real common threads. Apart from the usual hundreds of stories that will come in after a disaster, for example, all dealing with that disaster.

Its originality we want. Good writing plus originality.

Surprising common problems?

The lack of a good ending. Good stories that just finish, peter out.

Cliché. After cliché.

Thin characters. Writers who think a physical description is all that’s necessary when sometimes it is too much.

Writers who don’t leave room for the reader, but fill every gap.

Thanks Q3. You've a great selection of writers in your book. Were there others (dead or alive) who you would have jumped at to get them to contribute a piece and why?


Raymond Carver. I want him to talk about editing.

Calvino. I want him to talk about fighting against the publishing trend of the time.

Aesop. I want him to tell us why we think flash fiction is new.

Raymond Carver - particularly would you ask him about his relationship with his first editor/pruner Gordon Lish?

I would. Spot on. We now know that Carver kept work away from List towards the latter end of his career. And published original versions of some of the pieces Lish had cut drastically. One example is The Bath, published after Lish got his mits on a story which was far far better than this thin little piece turned out under his control. Carver republished that story later. It's called 'A Small Good Thing'. Lish had completely cut out what makes that story one of Carver's greatest. The ending, particularly. That magic ending. How COULD he!?

Calvino - I only have a vague grasp on who he is. Can you elucidate?

Of course, sorry! Italo Calvino. Stunning writer. I was introduced to his work by novelist Andrew Miller. If you only get one of his, try this: Invisible Cities. Calvino, writing in Italy after the war, was not writing what the establishment wanted. They tried to get him to change what he did, apparently. He wouldnt. Just carried on writing what he wrote best. THAT''s the message, really. To do what you know you do best, and not to listen to the rest - even if they promise squillions. . Er, well maybe have a think or two if they promise squillions... and write what you want to anyway!

Aesop - I know who he was but flash fiction? Was he that concise?

Probably not. But Aesop's Fables are told very quickly... and we now wax all wondrous and call it new, invented for the world of the screen and the snall attention span. Cobblers!!

Thanks again

Lovely. can I have another mince pie afore I go??

Thanks. Brill questions, happy writing!!!

Click here to buy.

4 comments:

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Thanks for doing this Kate - much appreciated!

whereimbloggingfrom said...

Great interview! I identify with the sense of anger felt at crappy submissions from my adventures in the slushpile. Like ... WHAT made this person think this was worth publishing? Do they not READ?!

By the way, I'm a little confused - is 'The Bath' the uncut version of 'A Small, Good Thing'?

Titus said...

Thanks, I was entertained by this and my thoughts were provoked!

Vanessa Gebbie said...

hello WhereImbloggingfrom (ggod name!) - 'The Bath' is the CUT version...