- Email me
- Nail Your Novel: books
- FAQ: I’m a new writer: which book should I read first?
- FREE Nail Your Novel Instant Fix: 100 Tips For Fascinating Characters
- My writing process: the picture tour
- Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and how you can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence
- Reviews of Nail Your Novel
- Who’s tweeting about Nail Your Novel …
- Writing Characters Who’ll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel
- Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart: Nail Your Novel
- Who am I?
Posts Tagged short fiction
My guest this week admits she is antisocial. She likes to people-watch from behind wide sunglasses, and cocooned inside big headphones. She says her day is characterised by a constant flow of music, which has fed directly into the set of vignettes in the short fiction collection she has just published. I particularly have to thank her for introducing me to one of her special trigger tracks, by Florence + the Machine, as there’s something in it I might need for Ever Rest. And so the muse hops from mind to mind; I hope it will to yours too. She is Amanya Maloba and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.
The Self-Editing Masterclass Snapshots will resume tomorrow.
Amanya Maloba, authors, CollegeFashionista, constant flow, contemporary fiction, deepen your story, Desert Island Discs, Erykah Badu, fashion writer, fiction collection, Florence + the Machine, Frida Kahlo, Harvest, headphones, Huffington Post, literary fiction, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Outkast, Peter Tosh, playlist for writers, Q-Tip, Refinery29, Roz Morris, Shabazz Palaces, short fiction, short stories, The Undercover Soundtrack, Tyler The Creator, undercover soundtrack, Vine Leaves Press, Virginia Woolf, Women Writers, writers, writing, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing to music
My guest this week had never realised his fiction was so closely tied to music, nor how much that meant it reflected the landmarks of his own life. Through significant songs he has peeled back the years to channel aspects of his family and upbringing, to flesh out the characters in his short stories and novels. He is McStorytellers founder Brendan Gisby and he’s on the Red Blog sharing his Undercover Soundtrack
authors, Brendan Gisby, deepen your story, fiction, flesh, having ideas, how to write a novel, inspiration, landmarks, literary fiction, McStorytellers, My Memories of a Future Life, novels, publishing, Roz Morris, Scottish fiction, short fiction, short stories, The Bookie's Runner, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, upbringing, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel, writing life, Writing Plots With Drama, Depth & Heart, writing to music
(This is the first time I’ve come across a quote that put the words ‘nail’ and ‘novel’ together, so I thought it was worth a mention.)
Lawrence was talking about the influence of a story’s narrative voice, and how it has to be deployed with feints and subtlety. By coincidence, I’d just read his short story The Lovely Lady and badly wanted an excuse to talk through why I like it so much. So as the gods seem to be hinting, here we go.
(If you haven’t read it already, it’s here. It’s not that long and I’ll wait for you.)
How’s this for an opening?
The Lovely Lady is Pauline. ‘At seventy-two… sometimes mistaken, in the half-light, for thirty…. Only her big grey eyes were a tiny bit prominent… the bluish lids were heavy, as if they ached sometimes with the strain of keeping the eyes beneath them arch and bright.’
Pauline lives with her son, Robert, and her unmarried and distinctly less favoured niece Cecilia: ‘perhaps the only person in the world who …. consciously watched the eyes go haggard and old and tired….. until Robert came home. Then ping! … She really had the secret of everlasting youth… could don her youth again like an eagle.’ How interesting that she only turns this magnetism on for Robert. Never Cecilia. And how creepy.
Here we have characters we recognise by their familiar vanities – and an off-kilter situation. And it’s all accomplished through simple description. First, we’re shown Pauline (most frequently referred to as ‘the lovely lady’) in a way that lets us know how she sees herself. Then we see Cecilia’s view of her. There’s a lot of unrest here; an unstable situation that can’t last. Simple and masterful.
We don’t get Robert’s point of view. He is a mute adorer of his mother. And anyway this is going to be Cecilia’s story. Cecilia, by the way, is very quickly abbreviated to Ciss, or perhaps I should say reduced as the narrator informs us the diminutive is ‘like a cat spitting’. Tiny details that reinforce her true place. (But we want this to change.)
They all live in a house that is ‘ideal for Aunt Pauline’ – but living death for the other two. That is just as well because they don’t have the confidence to leave. Cecilia is ugly and tongue tied, and Robert, a barrister, is secretly mortified that he can’t earn more than £100 a year, in spite of his best efforts. (Notice the ‘showing’, not ‘telling’ – we don’t get a sentence saying Robert’s an underachiever. We’re shown what that means and how it makes Robert feel.) By day he is at work. When he comes home at night, the old lady keeps him in awe of her beauty and gay conversation.
It doesn’t help that Robert is ‘almost speechless’. Dwell on those words for a moment: ‘almost speechless’. They reach so much further than ‘quiet’.
The language drums out the unnatural state of this triangle. Ciss intuits that Robert is never comfortable ‘like a soul that has got into the wrong body’. The lovely lady is only seen by candlelight, when she is radiant in antique shawls. She made her fortune dealing in antiques from exotic countries. Are we treading into vampire territory here? Perhaps, but not literally; this is a psychological hold. The lovely lady steals Robert’s youth to keep up the illusion of her own. Meanwhile Ciss is always sent to bed early and can see the confusion seething in his soul.
‘Every character should want something,’ said Kurt Vonnegut. Ciss wants to marry Robert, but can’t see how to prise him away and fears her dazzling aunt will live for ever – or at least until Robert is a broken husk. Nudging the vampire idea again, but so obliquely. (And she’s Ciss now; never Cecilia. Her status is so insignificant that the narrator doesn’t use her proper name.)
This talk of the supernatural is also storytelling sleight of hand – seeding suggestions for what comes next. One day, Ciss learns something that may give her a means of escape.
From here, the old woman is no longer ‘the lovely lady’, a legendary and exquisite presence. She is Pauline. Not even Aunt Pauline. Ciss has glimpsed the reedy old woman under the brocades.
The relationships thicken
Ciss’s relationship with Robert deepens and she becomes Cecilia again – although he will not break away from his mother.
The final solution is bizarre, poignant and funny, but it works beautifully because of the structures and influences the author has been weaving while we looked the other way. The nailing that was done with the lightest touch.
Thanks for the pic Editor B
Your turn – let’s talk about The Lovely Lady – or is there another short story you’d like to give an honourable mention to?
The first edition of my newsletter is out now, including useful links and snippets about the next Nail Your Novel book! You can read it here. And you can find out more about Nail Your Novel, original flavour, here.
authors, book club, Character, characterisation, David Herbert Lawrence, deepen your story, DH Lawrence, feints, how to write a book, how to write a novel, kurt vonnegut, literary fiction, literature, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, narrative style, narrative voice, novels, off kilter, publishing, reading, Roz Morris, short fiction, short stories, storytelling English literature, The Lovely Lady, unstable situation, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel
- A plea for reviewers – can we open up a dialogue about self-published books? April 23, 2017
- Writing the perfect love triangle – guest post at Writers Helping Writers April 11, 2017
- Before Arrival: appreciating Story Of Your Life by Ted Chiang April 9, 2017
- ‘The unrelenting passage of time’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Theresa Milstein April 2, 2017
- Slow-burn books, publishing misfits and separation anxiety – interview at Henry Hyde’s blog March 21, 2017
- Dear me: how fiction authors adapt to writing memoir March 12, 2017
- The blank page – conquering your fears. And a couple of writing prompts February 26, 2017