Wednesday, 14 September 2011

What we have here is a failure to communicate

This will be a ramble. Be warned. It may also be a thinly disguised attempt to get more readers for my short stories.
I note that this month a lot of people have paid out hard cash for copies of my book and then taken the time to tell me that they enjoyed it. Over a much longer period three of my short stories have been available completely free on my website and almost nobody has mentioned reading them. It could of course be a quality issue but I prefer to think it a symptom of the public’s disinterest in the short form. I too prefer to read books in place of short stories, but a short story done right can pack a powerful punch and I occasionally dip into collections, particularly Stephen King’s.
I direct you at the story ‘Locked In’ just because I was poking around my favorite book, Freefall by William Golding, and noticed some resonances that set me thinking. Don’t be misled, ‘Locked In’ is not a deep literary work, it’s a little horror tale – it has almost nothing in common with the work of Nobel laureate Golding. It does circle around locked-in syndrome though. And perhaps Golding whilst sympathizing with a man like Jean-Dominique Bauby who wrote The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, communicating the entire novel by the blinking of one eye, would have appreciated the irony that those sympathizing with Bauby are themselves profoundly locked in, albeit to a lesser degree. We are all locked in, walled inside ourselves with only the blunt weapons of word and gesture with which to batter away at our fellow men.
In Freefall Golding writes:
My darkness reaches out and fumbles at a typewriter with its tongs. Your darkness reaches out with your tongs and grasps a book. There are twenty modes of change, filter and translation between us.
Deep calls out to deep. Our communion (communication) must of needs be imperfect for we are fallen creatures, yet we must of needs make the effort.
I tick. I exist. I am poised eighteen inches over the black rivets you are reading, I am in your place. I am shut in a bone box and trying to fasten myself onto white paper. The rivets join us together and yet, for all the passion, we share nothing but our sense of division.
And that’s the business of writing right there. Whether you’re writing great things about the human condition or spinning out dark little tales to provide momentary distraction. Either way, a rich and vivid inner world wrapped in ideas and plot has got to find its way out of the writer’s head through the medium of these few dozen symbols on the keyboard and into the reader’s mind. It’s a trick that makes the rich man’s getting through the eye of that needle look easy.
Fun though.
Read my shorts. (to paraphrase Bart Simpson).


  1. I just started reading your book last night. I didn't even know you had an online presence until twenty minutes ago, how could I have read your free stories before that? ;)

    But seriously, I am loving Prince of Thorns. I can't put it down. I think I'll be finished with it tonight. When I am, I'll be sure to 'read your shorts.'


  2. Mark, have you thought about repackaging your short stories as an ebook (free or otherwise) and distributing through Smashwords or Feedbooks or even Amazon (not my favorite, but it seems to be the go-to-guy for authors)?

    I'll take a few minutes (after I get my morning tea) and read your short stories via your web site.

    The other advantage of distributing them as a short-form ebook is I can review them via GoodReads. Otherwise, it is difficult to 'get the word out' about short stories.

  3. Me again!

    I've read your stories long ago - okay, not that long but I sure you know what I mean - but how could I have mentioned them bevor? I didn't get the chance to review ...
    I love the short story with the dancing girl or was it ... something is dancing and in the end there is a grave. Hopefully you know what story I mean. This one was really great. I even had tears in my eyes as I read through it!


  4. (Warning: I usually ramble)

    Odd that I missed them with all the micro-fiction I've been writing lately. Though really, micro/flash and short stories are different beasts altogether. It has only been recently that I've really started to love short stories again(and it has a lot to do with my transition to writing them). The numerous anthologies I have been reading exposed me to a host of new, and extremely talented, authors I hadn't run across before. It also has allowed me to sample quite a bit of the horror genre in a small amount of time, which has been fantastic, as that was one of my main goals in acquiring the anthologies. This may lead me to read the respective author's novels, or not. Reading time is a valuable commodity for me anymore, and I'll get back to that point in a moment.

    I'm definitely going to find some time to read yours, now that you've pointed them out. It is especially helpful as I'm transitioning from writing micro-fiction to short stories because I am the type that learns the craft by reading and studying it. I agree with the King sentiment that they can pack a huge wallop if pulled off correctly.

    I also agree with your assessment though. I don't think quality has anything to do with the disinterest. There is, in my eyes, a rather strange disregard for the short form amongst the general readership. An attitude of "Well, if it isn't a novel then it isn't worth reading.". I find that rather odd. Modern life is rather hectic, quite often I don't have enough time to invest fully in a novel, so I've found that short stories, short-shorts, and micro-fiction(or flash, or whatever anyone wants to call it) really works better for me when I don't have the time to invest in a longer piece of fiction.

    I can get a whole story in a fraction of the time it would take to digest a novel. I see the short form as something that really should be gearing up to make a comeback to the forefront of writing for that reason. However, I still believe that there are a lot of readers who discount the form as "not good enough to be a novel", which is so far removed from the truth that the mind boggles.

    Anyway, I look forward to reading your shorts, just as soon as I find the time.