Wednesday, 27 January 2010
VANESSA GEBBIE & SHORT CIRCUIT ARE HERE TODAY!
Vanessa Gebbie, writer and editor, and author of the short fiction collection Words from a Glass Bubble is here today on her virtual tour for Short Circuit - A Guide to the Art of the Short Story. Vanessa’s short fiction has won over forty awards, including prizes at Bridport, Fish (twice), Per Contra (USA), the Daily Telegraph and the Willesden Herald. A second collection, Ed’s Wife and Other Creatures, is forthcoming.
Welcome, Vanessa, to my blog with your Salt-published guide to short story writing Short Circuit. Congrats on a really handsome and comprehensive collection of essays – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading and dipping. There are so many aspects of the short story covered in the book, I thought we’d touch on just a few things.
Firstly, as a writer and reader I am minorly obsessed with names and naming; it’s an aspect of the craft that I really enjoy. What are your own thoughts on character naming? How do you come up with names? Do you enjoy that part of the process?
Brilliant question, Nuala, and thanks for your lovely words. Thank you too for your generous and inspiring chapter – it is really marvelous.
To the question then – I am also obsessed with names, but find that part of the process very hard to pin down. I am one of those strange writers who can’t feel at ease with a character unless I know what their name is. I can write a few pages, and if the name is wrong it will be like writing in glue. But change the name, give them the right one, and the glue thins, becomes blood and ink.
How do I come up with names? That’s a hard one, really. I know what I don’t do, and that’s have a copy of a baby name book in my study like many writers seem to.
Names seem to come from nowhere, and ‘fit’ the character. My lady called Dodie, in Dodie’s Gift – I have scratched my head to see where I got this name from. I don’t know anyone called Dodie. I know a Doodie, who is totally different to my character. The only one I can think of is Dodie Smith! Maybe that name lodged in my head and became something, popping up when I needed a slightly naïve sounding name?
One of my favourite essays in the book is by Paul Magrs; I love the amount of solid advice he packs into his piece while maintaining a very down-to-earth approach. I think his advice might work best for experienced writers – novices may be scared by statements such as: ‘How come it’s only paragraph one and you are already up your own arse?’ (!)
A salient point he makes is, ‘Don’t forget to appeal to all our senses.’ (Using colour, food, sex etc. in stories.) What are your own feelings on the importance of including all things sensual in the short story?
Guardedly, V replies, it is important, obviously, to allow our reader to experience the world you create for them. But. How many pieces have I read where the senses have been a bit shoehorned in, almost as though the writer was ticking them off on their fingers as they wrote.
'The smell of the sea rose through the open window together with the raucous cries of seagulls tussling over some scraps on the pavement outside the café. The coffee this morning tasted so bitter. But it always smelled so good first – it was unfair. But then life was unfair. Hugo picked at a loose thread on his jacket sleeve – the rough tweed, browns and golds if you got close enough to it, felt rough under his fingers, like that old jacket of his father’s that used to small of tobacco and mint – his father always had Polos hidden in the pockets for the ponies…'
Blah blah blah…
I know what you mean!!
Paul Magrs also touches on procrastination when he says, of the musing writer, ‘Do I dare invent??’ And he advises: ‘JUST DO IT!’
I think all writers – even sloggers like Stephen King – must procrastinate at some point. My new baby has cut that luxury out of my life but do you find that you will procrastinate at times? If so, how does it make you feel? If not, tell us about your work ethic.
Oh God, do I procrastinate!? Yes, Nuala, I do. I find every excuse under the sun not to do what I know I ought to. My ethic is to work as much and as often, as I can, and procrastinate in little doses, all the time (!!) whilst working in little doses as well. And then, when I can, I get away from home, to a retreat where I know I WILL work harder than I ever do at home.
Vanessa, it’s been an absolute pleasure to have you here. I love your own stories in Words from a Glass Bubble (Salt, 2008) and I think you have done short story writing, reading and teaching a big service as editor of this new book. Congrats!
Readers, buy Short Circuit here. And the book has its own website here.