In ‘Selecting the right slice of life’ by Cate Kennedy, Kennedy talks about finding stories in fragments of ordinary life. It is a concept that is very familiar to me. I write to explore and discover my own meaning; I write to work life out. I have always written fragments: snippets pondered over or hastily scrawled. Kennedy says “…stories give our experiences coherence.” Snippets, I find, are quick to write ‘on the go’, they sit waiting to be developed further, or incorporated into some other piece of writing, or are simply left as they are: fragmentary, a complete moment.
Here’s one such snippet:
The door creaked open. I kept my eyes closed. I heard his feet padding softly across the carpet. Thud, thud. Perhaps he wouldn’t notice that I was awake. Perhaps he would let me lie here a little longer. He climbed quietly onto the bed and perched himself close to my face. I could feel his breath on my forehead; hair tickling my cheek and threatening to betray my pretence. Minutes passed. I could feel his conflict…should he wake me, should he retreat? Then a slight shuffle as he slid from his position and I was left in peace. With a sigh of relief I rolled over and snuggled further down beneath the doona. Sunshine streaming in beneath the curtain. Warmth and the noise of him playing happily in the next room lulled me back to blissful sleep.
I have always been fascinated by moments.
I went into a bookshop in Canada, looking for a collection of short stories by Canadian authors. The sales assistant informed me that they didn’t have any. “Short stories just don’t sell,” she told me. I was a little disheartened. But as Kennedy says, “For a time-poor population with a reading habit of a tram-trip’s length…there’s nothing like it.”
This is so true. Why then do so few of my friends read short stories? One friend told me that short stories lacked depth, she couldn’t immerse herself in the characters sufficiently before the story was over. Is this a problem with the format or an indication of the quality of the writing? Undeterred, I tried a second bookshop and was greeted with a plethora of anthologies and journals containing local Canadian short story writers from the newly emerging to the well-established. It was like finding a cave full of precious gems, each story a little treasure!
“…to write fiction that matters, fiction that engages a reader, a writer needs to also be a thinker.” says Gaylene Perry, lecturer at Deakin University, Australia. “Writers read – voraciously, widely and constantly. Good writers are also very good at the skills of observation…”
Why do I read? Partly entertainment, partly to learn about life, about myself through the observations of the writer and the characters, partly to learn about how writers write, to observe their skill.
‘Writer’ is but one role I fulfil, like teacher, mother, explorer, partner, editor, daughter, friend, cook, house-keeper, philosopher, washer-woman, musician, gardener, reader…and so the list goes; varied, different, for each writer. There are so many different types of writers, writing for a variety of purposes: to inform, the challenge, to entertain, to relate to, to extrapolate, to encapsulate, to expose, to critique, to define…
Why do you write? Apart from ‘writer’, what other roles do you fulfil?
Kennedy, C 2007, ‘Selecting the right slice of life’, Age, 6 January, p.13.
Photo credit: Hands Holding Jigsaw