Real Time Short Stories

Archive for the ‘Housekeeping’ Category

They mean me. I have been draped with no laurels, nor favoured with any stipend involving sacks of butt. There has been no sherry. I have not been contacted by “the absurd”, nor was I aware that they possessed this level of organisation. And it isn’t poetry. But I am on the flyer (below) and that tells me that I’ll be performing next Saturday in Liverpool at the Bluecoat, as part of the If Only festival. I’ll be there to find out if the person they say is the Poet Laureate of the Absurd really is me: if you’re interested in dropping by, the details are below:
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Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) makes a valid point. Humour can be highly personal, unpredictable and idiosyncratic. It might, as Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) assures Tommy, come down to “just…you know, how you tell the story.”

On Tuesday 10th April, I’ll be conducting a pair of workshops as part of the 2012 Words Festival, Leigh and Wigan’s annual literary celebration. The theme is Humorous Short Fiction and this is to let you know, if you’re in the area, that there are places available to writers of all levels interested in the fraught business of writing short stories that make readers laugh.

There are any number of examples, from O Henry to a forthcoming Reel Time Short Stories feature, Woody Allen, of writers with comic timing and turn-of-phrase but with those – and many others who may not even have intended to string together gags – what provokes the laughter is the truth in the story. However absurd, the story takes itself seriously. However comedic the characters, they feel real. In Sea Oak by George Saunders, the narrator works as a waiter-cum-stripper in a kinky fighter pilot themed bar, ‘Joysticks’, where employees are not allowed to serve up full nudity so wear outsized ‘penile stimulators’ to wave at appreciative diners, who in turn score them according to cuteness. Here’s how Saunders nails the slappable management speak and the suppresses horror of the man deemed not cute enough to continue to earn a living this way. You shudder as you laugh:

After closing we sit on the floor for Debriefing. “There are times,” Mr. Frendt says, “when one must move gracefully to the next station in life, like for example certain women in Africa or Brazil, I forget which, who either color their faces or don some kind of distinctive headdress upon achieving menopause. Are you with me? One of our ranks must now leave us. No one is an island in terms of being thought cute forever, and so today we must say good-bye to our friend Lloyd. Lloyd, stand up so we can say good-bye to you. I’m sorry We are all so very sorry”
“Oh God,” says Lloyd. “Let this not be true.”
But it’s true. Lloyd’s finished. We give him a round of applause, and Frendt gives him a Farewell Pen and the contents of his locker in a trash bag and out he goes. Poor Lloyd. He’s got a wife and two kids and a sad little duplex on Self-Storage Parkway
“It’s been a pleasure!” he shouts desperately from the doorway, trying not to burn any bridges.

Let this not be true. But it’s true. Come for the laughs and stay for the truths at either of the workshops, whose details are below and can also be found on page 6 of the Words Festival brochure:

1] Humorous Short Fiction
Wigan Cricket Club, Bull Hey, off Parsons Walk
10am until 3.30pm
Cost £5
Booking essential. 01942 723 350

2] Ashton Writers with Dinesh Allirajah
Sam’s Bar, Warrington Rd, Ashton
7.30pm – 10pm
Cost: Free

Ashton Writers are hosting an open evening for those interested in humorous writing. Refreshments provided. Free but booking is essential – 01942 723 350.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,900 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


Like the lucky Robert Pattinson, who gets to be pictured above with Sara, a “seat-filler” at some awards ceremony [edit: it has since come to my attention that this isn’t Sara. It is somebody famous filling Sara’s seat while she pays a visit to the bar. I can’t be bothered changing anything else about what I’ve written and, by this stage, would you care either way?], you get to read this post, which simply exists, like the Porter in Macbeth, to occupy space in between the important business of murdering a king and becoming a king – or, in my case, blogging about short stories and blogging about short stories. And just as the Porter’s attempt at humour is an example of dramatic irony, because we know something not very funny at all has just taken place, we have an element of dramatic irony here because what’s keeping me from pontificating on creative writing is having to pontificate on the creative writing of the University students whose work I’m marking most waking hours at the moment. There’s further irony in that the picture of Robert Pattinson will probably earn me more hits than any other post I’ve created since this blog started.

But while you’re here, you can if you wish amuse yourself in the comments section because what I want to know is this: is there a line or passage of short fiction to which you keep coming back? Or, put another way, what is the most memorable moment you’ve encountered in a short story?

When I get me some spare (real) time, I’ll be back with more of the usual…

News of two free events at which I’ll be reading this week:

This evening (Thurs 22nd Sept) sees the first in a series of monthly events, hosted by Merseyside Polonia, an organisation working to bridge the social and cultural gaps between the established local community in Liverpool and those more recently arrived from Poland. My Favourite Book will be a chance to discuss and read from world literature, with a particular emphasis on British and Polish literature in translation.

As special guest for the first event tonight, I’ll be discussing my own story, Scent, published in the 2008 Comma Press anthology, ReBerth: Stories from cities on the edge, which also featured stories by Paweł Huelle and Adam Kamiński from Gdansk. Scent deals with the settlement experience of a migrant in Liverpool, working as a toilet attendant in a waterfront bar by night, and coming home to his unfurnished flat and the dramas of the couple in the neighbouring flat.

The event is at Kensington Fire Station, Beech Street, Liverpool L7 0EU; 6.30-8.30pm.

Again in Liverpool, on Sunday 25th September, at around 1.30pm, I’ll be reading on the spoken word stage at the 2011 Bold Street Festival, which takes place over the weekend.

Most artists in Liverpool hold Bold Street dear to their hearts; for followers of my Café Shorts series, it’s long been the cornerstone of the sitting, sipping and dreaming scene; while shops like Matta’s International Foods and the brilliant News From Nowhere book shop help it to retain the identity of being a part of “our town” even as the chains and developers gobble up the rest of the city centre.

That said, I’ll be performing next to Tesco’s!

Nevertheless, if you’re in Liverpool, come along and support these events…

Oblique link between Julie's Been Working For The Drug Squad and the title of this post

I’ve instituted a Blogroll down on the right-hand side of this page. Please pay the sites listed a visit: they all help to map the landscape I’m exploring in this blog so there’s music, politics, philosophy and more represented, as well as short fiction and writing.

I aim to expand the list and will be happy to add your blog if you’d like to tell me about it here. I’ll only add to the Blogroll what I think provide relevant onward reading for anyone passing by here so please bear that in mind. A little reciprocity won’t hurt but it’s not a condition!

The new Museum of Liverpool opens today, raising a giant stone eyelid towards its neighbour, the Liver Building, as it celebrates its centenary. This is also the moment in which I become a museum piece, as a brief extract of my writing has found its way into the new building to form part of an exhibit celebrating Liverpool as a “Creative City”.

The extract, from the 2008 story, A Different Sky in the Comma Press collection, The Book Of Liverpool, is being used to soundtrack a minute-long film, directed by Lucy Armitage from Glasgow’s 55degrees production company. The passage imagines a walk around a part of Liverpool city centre and the film, which I won’t get to see until I attend one of the museum’s opening events on Thursday, seeks to provide a visual interpretation of the route and the cultures and histories mentioned in passing. In this respect, it’s an interesting sidenote to the conversations about short stories and film I hope to have here. Other Liverpool writers have had films made, based on their poetry. They are Dave Ward, Eleanor Rees, Gladys Mary Coles, Levi Tafari and Paul Farley, fine company in which to wait out eternity as an (admittedly interactive) object gathering dust in a(n admittedly very modern and probably not at all dusty) museum.

Later on today, I aim to be very much alive giving a short story reading at The Blue Cap, Sandiway, Northwich CW8 2DN, again in the company of poets including Martin Daws, Rebecca Goss, Joan Poulson and Colin Watts. The event is hosted by the Vale Royal Writers Group & Dead Good Poets Society and starts at 8pm, £3/£2.

In other news, BBC Radio 4 has announced that changes to its daytime schedule will mean its short story output will be reduced from three to one a week. I had a story broadcast in 2008 and, aside from the exposure, the professionalism, rigour and sensibility shown by the producer, Justine Potter, and reader, Gillian Kearney, made for a rewarding experience, which has helped me in further honing my craft. It’s the reduction of this interaction between different skills that I think could be the most damaging result of the change, but it also runs against what would appear to be a moment of growth and increased relevance for the short story in this country. You can register your voice about this change – find out more here: http://www.nationalshortstoryweek.org.uk/noshortstorycuts.htm

If you caught my appraisal of the Ernest Hemingway story, A Clean Well-Lighted Place in the Cafe Shorts series last month, you may be interested to know that the story is mentioned in the the latest instalment of Chris Power’s Guardian Books column, A brief survey of the short story.

Power’s piece describes Ernest Hemingway’s blend of James Joyce’s “form as content” approach, “Hemingway’s [own] journalism training and the tenets of Pound’s Imagism, [resulting in] short, simple sentences mostly comprised of nouns and verbs. Adjectives and adverbs are used sparingly…” This is extremely useful in helping us to understand the evolution of the short story within modernism. What Hemingway did with his prose had, in Power’s words, “a measurable and profound” impact on short fiction (most tellingly, on Raymond Carver) that has followed ever since. The “cup of tea exercise” I brought you recently and my earlier strictures against writing “rowlingly” stem from attitudes entwined with Hemingway’s approach.

CLIVE: I'll tell you another thing gives me the horn. DEREK: What's that? CLIVE: The word "and". DEREK: Oh, "and". CLIVE: Whenever I see the word "and" in a book ..... DEREK: You-, you've picked a favourite of mine there. CLIVE: ..... I get so fucking horny, I- DEREK: Oh, fucking "and", mate. Ohh, Jesus, .....

In acknowledging this, are we, as 21st century short story writers, indulging in some kind of auto-erotic asphyxiation of our prose styles? The debt owed to Hemingway, Carver, and other architects of the space around the words, underwrites much that is good in the prose of contemporary short story writers, but we have also an obligation to elude our influences, to make new with language. Such is the push-me, pull-me progress of this form, adhering to classic formalism and contemporary relevance within its own concise package.

Gina Rowlands (passenger) and Winona Ryder (driver) in Jim Jarmusch's "Night On Earth" (1991)

I don’t like it when somebody comes up to me the next day and says, “I really dug your message, man; I really dug your play. I cried.” I like it when people come up to me the next day, or a week later and they say, “Hey, man, I saw your play… what happened?”

In Tootsie, Bill Murray, as Jeff Slater, takes it upon himself to speak for playwrights and the relationship they wish to have with their audiences. Short story writers are also addressing “people who are alive on the planet” and we don’t mind the “what happened?” response either. Cinema resides far more squarely within the mass market where an ambiguous resolution can be a kiss of death to a work. Indeed, it’s a medium that seems much happier to have, as a resolution, a kiss. So what happens when the redemptive arcs and neat denouements of cinema collide with the unremarked-upon epiphanies and asymmetrical narrative patterns of short fiction?

Lyle Lovett in Robert Altman's "Short Cuts" (1993). Lovett's character comes from Raymond Carver's "A Small Good Thing"


Of course, this is a false dichotomy. Short stories have always found a role in the development of cinema. When the journey is from page to screen, it’s not difficult to see the value in adapting from a short story: you will generally find a strong story dynamic in the presence of a distinctive central character, relationship or setting; the plot will invariably condense narratives that may be opened up with the virtue of screen time; and the chances are you won’t be dealing with a work fixed in the canon of Great Literature and/or in the wider popular consciousness whereby liberties taken, chunks taken out and necessary compressions are guaranteed to provoke debate.

Short stories are safer ground for adaptation but they’re also instructive to film-makers. When I floated a question about the traffic between short story and film on Facebook this week, the terrific, erudite discussion (thanks to all!) threw up examples spanning the globe and the history of the medium, of films and film-makers drawing from specific short stories. This included films which expanded and substantially re-worked a short fiction original – for example, Hanif Kureishi’s melancholic father-son study, My Son The Fanatic,

Om Puri and Rachel Griffiths in Hanif Kureishi and Udayan Prasad's "My Son The Fanatic" (1997)

which he adapted for the 1997 Udayan Prasad-directed film of the same name but with greater jeopardy and more transgressive romance at the centre of the drama – and films like the Altman/Carver compendium, Short Cuts. A good proportion of the films cited came from longer works – novellas, short novels and frame narratives (by Chaucer and Boccaccio, for example, not to mention the Arabian nights tales) – and some of the stories (Angela Carter the shining example) were themselves adaptations of traditional folk tales.

This isn’t, though, a one-way street. It’s possible to find films which, in varying ways, seek to use cinematic language to compose the equivalent of short stories (if we regard the full-length feature as the equivalent of a novel). The idea is given free air miles by the steadily growing franchise of producer Emmanuel Benbihy‘s so far very patchy “I Love You” films. With Paris Je T’Aime and New York I Love You already completed and Jerusalem and Shanghai versions in production, this is cinema with the short story as the high concept, with several teams of international directors, writers and actors composing moody vignettes relating to love in the city. Comparison may be drawn with the Comma Press Cities in Short Fiction series, with titles such as the one to which I contributed, The Book Of Liverpool (which includes Clive Barker’s short story that provided the basis for the Candyman horror series). Other Comma titles like Re-Berth, Decapolis and Elsewhere, taking stories from towns and cities in different countries, could provide parallels to Night On Earth, the Jim Jarmusch quintet of vignettes taking us on a series of taxi journeys in LA, New York, Paris, Rome and Helsinki. In the cases of these films – as well as the Scorsese/Coppola/Allen triptych New York Stories, Ealing’s 1945 Dead Of Night collection of ghost stories, Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Abbas Kiorastami’s Ten and Woody Allen’s Radio Days – the device of the shorter narrative is the foundation on which the film is written and directed.

What techniques can we detect in the transition between short story and film adaptation? How does the language of the short story translate into that of the cinema? And to what extent does what is suggested or left to the imagination on the page find exposure on the screen? In the other direction, how successful is cinema when it aspires to the concentration and ambiguity common to short stories? Reel Time Short Stories joins the other occasional series, Cafe Shorts and Real Time Reads, as a platform for discussing the interface between short fiction and cinema, as we look for new ways to understand the mechanisms and mysteries that come with reading and writing short stories. If you have a particular interest in film, keep your eye out for alerts with the Reel Time Short Stories label. Your input is welcome at any time: how successfully do you think these two form interconnect and what are your favourite / least favourite examples of short stories in the cinema?

Harryhausen meets Sheherazade in Nathan Juran's "7th Voyage of Sinbad" (1958)


As listed here last month, my short stories The Prisoners & Overnight appear together as one of three titles published online by Flax/Lancaster Litfest as Flax Singles Nos. 023/024/025. The chapbooks are available to download for free HERE but the Kindle editions are also now ready and available from Amazon.

Click on tke blurb and it’ll take you to the relevant page on the Amazon UK site:

The Prisoners and Overnight Flax023 by Dinesh Allirajah
Two stories that deal with how war affects civilians in contemporary England. Within authentic and assured narratives, Dinesh Allirajah presents ordinary lives against a backdrop of world events spinning beyond our control, that still affect us in both miniscule and obsessive ways.

The Red Balloon Flax024 by Sarah Dobbs
Leah King is a woman who defends herself emotionally and physically against any potential threat. While we’re not told exactly why, small clues lead a quiet parallel path alongside her powerwalk, that is bound to cross her sooner rather than later.

Amore Mio Flax025 by Ian Seed
A deft, honest and sometime uncomfortable story of a relationship growing beyond its first blind flush. As Italy grows familiar to Englishman Martin, his girlfriend Silvana’s exoticness dulls. What attracted him initially no longer holds his heart, yet admitting this is not so easy.

I’m not a Kindle-fiddler myself so if anyone’s able to report back from the badlands of the new technology about getting hold of a copy (the price is 69p), I’d be interested to hear from you. Moreover, if anyone with a free or Amazon-bought copy of The Prisoners & Overnight would be willing to add a customer review of the chapbook on the Amazon site, the ‘my new best friend’ crown will pass to your safe keeping!


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