It’s a busy time, but the compulsion/addiction to add another posting won’t be denied. Why busy? Well, I’ve just started writing another book in the ‘Brilliant’ series, there are 3 commercial commissions (bizarrely 2 of them are on piracy – not book piracy but the real, nasty stuff at sea), and the need to keep promoting Shadow Selves. Then, of course, there’s the nagging of Stanley to deal with. He wants to know whether ‘his’ book’s selling, wants desperately for it to be successful and yet, if I tell him business is slow, he gets a sort of satisfaction out of it.
(Adding to the busy bit is the fact that carving classes have begun again and I've started on a new piece, using a wood whose grain I'd read about, yew. That's it in the picture.)
So, there are two connected but distinct things I want to talk about – both relating to writing. Some of you will have visited (and even contributed to) Anneke’s site for flash fiction, Rammenas. For those who haven’t, she’s recently been running a challenge which involves writing a story about a photograph she’d taken. The entries have been very varied and show how different people respond in different ways to a writing stimulus. One thing that struck me, though, was the fact that one submission got significantly more responses from visitors than the others. It was good, but not better than them. (In fact, for me, there were several others that were much better in terms of their use of narrative and ‘literary’ techniques and their impact on the reader.) I certainly don’t begrudge the writer the admiration his treatment got, but it made me wonder about the value of any comments – not just those directed at him, but all the others. I mean, if the commenters were genuinely appreciative of the genre, why didn’t they read and say something about some of the other stories?
The answer, apparently, is that it’s a function of a Twitter group called #fridayflash. You post your story, tell your followers about it, they retweet, etc., etc. At this point I have to admit that I don’t ‘get’ Twitter. I’m on it, I do tweet very, very, very occasionally, but I can’t imagine logging on and reading through pages of snippets, most of them about things which don’t interest me. On the other hand, another online friend, who knows what she’s talking about, insists that it’s the best way of raising one’s profile.
But my worry is that, in the end, it isn’t about writing at all. If someone reads a flash fiction story and offers a critical analysis (however short), I’d have thought that their interest in the form would extend to sampling others in the genre, especially if they were treating exactly the same subject. And, if it doesn’t, how valuable or legitimate are their reactions or opinions? It seems that they’re simply saying ‘OK, this shows I’ve read it and been nice about it, now go and read mine’.
I suppose what I’m saying is that this devalues writing. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from writing – quite the reverse. I comment on people’s stories and articles, unless I think they’re bad, in which case I’d rather say nothing than be negative. But the impulse to comment on the work of others in order to encourage them to read yours often produces false notions of the quality of the writing. Because if I read a flash fiction story which is total crap, I’m not going to say so because then that writer wouldn’t be well-disposed towards me and wouldn’t read me. Or, if he did, he’d be inclined to look for flaws, even if only to prove that I was a crap writer and therefore didn’t appreciate him. I was recently asked to review a newly published first novella and, frankly, I didn’t understand why it had been published at all.
The point needs further development but time presses, so I’ll move to the second writing-related topic. And this time it’s a book which not only definitely should have been published, but which is (in the words of another reviewer), ‘a must read for anyone who counts themselves as a member of the human race’. It’s Empty Chairs by Stacey Danson – a harrowing autobiography which chronicles the sexual abuse of the author by her mother’s ‘friends’ (from the age of three), and the trials she then has to undergo when she runs away from home and starts living on the streets. I know, I know – many of you will have the ‘Oh I hate the idea of reading that, it’s too gruesome/horrible/depressing, etc.’ reaction. That’s the way I usually respond to such subjects. But this is such a positive book, despite the evidence of how vile people can be. The narration is beautifully direct and simple (in the best sense of that word) and the combination of vulnerability and power of the central figure (Sassy-Girl is the street-name she’s given and which she lives up to), is ultimately liberating. Whatever they all throw at her, she survives and we know she’ll make it. I’ve posted my review on Amazon and it’ll appear on Booksquawk at some point. I usually tend to hold back from recommending books too heartily because that might be offensive to other books and writers I’ve mentioned, but I really do think this one ought to be read. It’s often painful but, in the end, it’s an affirmation of the human spirit.