Saturday, 11 September 2010

The one after the summer recess

The Severn Valley Authors were reunited once more at The Arches with new pencil cases and satchels at the ready to start the autumn term. Well, sort of. Some of us had worked most of the summer keeping the wheels of industry, health and social care oiled (if health and social care can be said to have oiled wheels). Annie (the only schoolteacher among us and thus the only one entitled to a proper Swallows and Amazons-style summer holiday) couldn't get enough of classroom pursuits and had been off to Writers Summer School (see her previous blog post).

And so it was that we gathered to discuss Linda's untitled piece. This had been entered for the Birmingham Book Festival's Short Story competition and we spent a short time licking our wounds since neither Linda, Rob or myself had been successful. It was also noted that none of the group had been successful in The Guardian Short Story Competition a few weeks earlier. This general lack of success was positively re-framed as (a) indicative of immense perseverance on the part of group members who risk repeated failure by entering competitions and (b) proof of the truism that short story judges' decisions are purely a matter of personal taste and therefore shouldn't be taken to heart.

Linda's untitled piece had been shaped into a short story for the purposes of competition entry but had originally been conceived as part of the novel-in-progress A Headful of Budgerigars. I found the piece lyrical, affectionate, humane, full of perfectly-chosen words, with musical, rhythmic sentences and poignant psychological observations. Rob described it, aptly, as elegiac. For me, it captured the atmosphere of a funeral and the unanticipated family dynamics and even unexpected humour that these situations can provoke. From a writer's point of view, it made me reflect on the differences between a short story and a short extract of fiction - not necessarily the same thing, though there are examples of short stories that went on to become the first chapters of novels.

We may not have won any competitions this month but Linda's beautifully- crafted poetic prose is, a far as I'm concerned, a successful piece of writing. As long as we continue to write and hone our craft we can't really go wrong for, to quote Richard Bach, a professional writer is really no more than "an amateur who didn't quit."

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