Category Archives: Book Festivals

On Chesil Beach, McEwan and Novellas

At the recent Cheltenham Literary Festival, author Ian McEwan declared his support for the novella against the novel, a work of more or less 25.000 words. You can read a short piece reporting his words in this Telegraph article.

In 2007, McEwan’s On Chesil Beach was nominated for a Booker prize (even if it was quite short and more a novella than a novel, so in theory not eligible).

I’ve read On Chesil Beach. I would have happily thrown it against the wall, but my love for the printed paper didn’t let me. It wasn’t the book’s fault if the story made me want to growl and roar. McEwan’s prose is elegant, fluid, a pleasure. His characters well rounded and interesting. And yet, the story felt more like a treatise on the results of untreated flaws and trauma, with an outcome which was decided from the start.

Perhaps that’s where the writing talent is, in making you hope to the last page that things may be different, and making you believe it’s possible.

In any case, I hated On Chesil Beach with a passion, which I think it’s a very good result. The worst thing that can happen to a book is to leave you indifferent.

However, I completely agree with this statement by McEwan reported in the article mentioned above: brevity is good because

“you can hold the whole thing structurally in your mind at once.”

In an era where writers have to adhere to publishing houses’ requests in terms of word count (80.000 words for a novel, 120.000 for fantasy or sci fi, etc.), where the creative challenges of flashfiction attract more and more authors and where the short story seems to have found a more permanent place, McEwan’s statement points at something different.

The relationship between writer and reader and narrative, where the reader can partake of the narrative’s form as much as its content. Brevity is not just a creative challenge, but a chance for the writer to offer a text the reader can appreciate in its full potential.

Because most readers don’t have much time, to re-read a book several times until all the nuances and subtleties of the story are made clear. Some do, but there’s nothing wrong in considering other forms apart from the novel (in my opinion, not better, just different).

I personally believe in each story needing exactly the word count it needs, whether a novel, a novella, a short story or a drabble. Many classics in diverse genres, including the literary, published a long time ago, didn’t need a word count to find a place on the bookshelves.

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Filed under Authors, Book Festivals, Fiction

Writers Event: National Flash Fiction Day

One international event for writers keen on flash fiction:

The National Flash Fiction Day: 16 May 2012

This event, organized by writer and lecturer Calum Kerr, celebrates the short story form. Check the website to know what events are being organized and where, how to get involved, competitions and more. You can also find Calum on Twitter: @calumkerr and follow National Flash Fiction Day here:  @nationalflashfd

To me, short fiction starts from the drabble – strictly 100 words only (stipulations can be made for including or excluding the title from this word count), then moving up to double or triple drabble. From 500 words upward it’s definitely flash fiction, up to the 1500/2000 words, and then we enter the realm of short stories. Others may think differently, though.

What’s your take on flash fiction and short fiction?

I want to read more in the field of short stories, but I do have one short stories collection to recommend:

love songs for the shy and cynical by Robert Shearman

I had the chance to meet Robert Shearman during my CW MA. Yes, he came with the shiny aura of being that Robert Shearman, Daleks writer extraordinaire (TV geeks unite), and also with the warmest personality and copies of his short stories collection. He signed it, I read it, I loved it. (I will review it in this blog soon).

As to flash fiction, have you written any? I have, and love it. The form is incredibly precise and restrictive, especially if you go for the strict word count, as I do. And yet, as the Oulipo theorists have shown, constraints can and do promote creativity, forcing writers to come up with innovative ways of writing. To know more about the Oulipo, you can check their website here (in French), a list of books written by Oulipo writers on the website Conversational Reading, and yes, wikipedia if you have to 😉

Do you like constraints in your writing (a fixed word count, a set theme, etc)?

 

This entry counts for MNINB April Platform Challenge Days 19, 20 and 21 (new post; editorial calendar; social media management tool)

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