Tag Archives: Christmas

Return of the short story

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Stories for a world on the move

It’s common practice for writers to cut their teeth on short stories. In many ways it’s understandable – take a wrong turn on a short story or give birth to a stillborn idea and you can start afresh with a minimum of time and effort down the drain. It’s not like reaching the 45,000 word point on a novel and realising you’ve hit an insurmountable wall. Little wonder shorts are seen as the novelist’s kindergarten.

There are two problems with this view. First, short stories are notoriously tricky to write. Far from being a canvass for the novice, they are the preserve of the master. There are a few to whom it comes naturally; for most it does not. It’s a world in which less is more, where every word is made to count and a single line brings a character or a scene to life.

The second problem, as any writer touting a handful of short stories quickly discovers, is publishers don’t like them. They’re hard to market, and unless an author has a loyal following, they tend not to do well. The mechanics of traditional publishing also work against the short story unless you have a neat collection the size of a novel, whilst the magazine market remains limited.

The digital revolution could change all this. It can’t do much to curb verbosity, but the technology does mean the mechanical restrictions on short stories no longer need apply. Like music, which used to be all about singles and albums – the one feeding off the other – people increasingly download the songs they like and leave the filler. We’re yet to reach the stage where a savvy reader can download an e-book minus the boring bits, but it does suggest the short story could be about to enjoy a renaissance.

Capitalising on this flexibility, Betimes Books is celebrating its first year with Gifts, our collection of Bittersweet Christmas Stories. There’s one by each author on the imprint. It’s a great way to have a look around the list, introduce yourself to some of the writers, see what you might like to explore more of.

Not only can you eliminate the hassle of choosing Christmas presents at a stroke, you can simultaneously impress your friends and family with your exquisite taste in literature…

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Something from everyone – get the limited edition paperback while you can

Gifts is available to read as a free PDF or Mobi, as an e-book for £0.79/$0.99, or as a limited edition paperback for £4.79 directly from Betimes Books.

My novel Francesca is also available there or can be purchased directly here.

 

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War is over… not quite yet

You hear it everywhere as we approach this time of year – in the shopping malls, on the radio, the optimistic crooning from John and Yoko’s classic: “War is over, if you want it”. Seems like we don’t want it, or not enough anyway.

I don’t think there’s been a time in recorded history when someone, somewhere hasn’t been fighting, killing someone else. Some months ago the British Army thought 2015 might be the first year in a century when it wouldn’t be involved in a conflict somewhere. With events in Syria, Iraq and Iran unfolding as they are, that hope looks less likely by the day.

Iraqi Freedom

Image courtesy of soldiersmediac

It’s easy to get war fatigue, to throw up one’s hands in despair and tune out of it all. For me, it’s the civilians caught up in war, especially the children, who haunt me most. Here’s an extract from my novel Francesca, shortly after the heroine’s home town of Dili, capital of East Timor, was invaded by the Indonesian army just before Christmas 1975…

“Checking for soldiers, she set off along the street. With her awkward gait and instinctive caution, progress was slow. She took the back streets, avoiding the main thoroughfares where troops were most likely to be combing through houses. Halfway down the street adjacent to hers a kampong dog, its curled tail high up in the air, stood in the middle of the road gorging on a corpse whose entrails had been ripped open by machine gun fire. Pieces of flesh flicked out from the dog’s greedy mouth and when it glanced up at her she saw its entire snout was covered in bright red gore. The dog stared her down, reluctant to abandon such a feast. Enraged, Francesca reached down, picked up a stone from the gutter and hurled it at the animal as hard as she could. The stone struck the beast square on the shoulders and it jumped with a sharp yelp, scurrying away from the corpse as Francesca reached for another stone. It was a futile symbolic gesture, she knew, the dog would return to finish off its grisly meal the moment she was gone, but she had needed to do something to take a stand against the horror unfolding all around her.
She continued her shuffle in a broad northerly direction through the routes she knew so well. There was an eerie quiet to these normally bustling back alley ways and side streets. Shops were either boarded up or spilt open, their contents looted by the invaders who could only carry so much and had discarded the rest. Where were all the inhabitants? The machine guns had kept up their sporadic firing ever since she had left her house, presumably shooting at someone. She wanted to bang on the shutters to see if anyone was inside, to find out what was going on, but she knew she couldn’t.

Eventually, she reached an alleyway that led out onto the harbour and she stopped, her heart racing in terror. An Indonesian platoon was directly in front of her, less than fifty yards away, marching at double time to the command of an NCO jogging along at the side. Rifles were shouldered, as the troops struggled to keep up the pace whilst hauling their bulky packs. Darting under a set of wooden steps, Francesca waited for the soldiers to pass, convinced she would be spotted. She tucked her head under her arms and crouched herself into a ball, desperately making herself as inconspicuous as possible, even though the stance was agony for her injured body. She heard the steady rhythm of the platoon as it pounded by almost on top of her, two dozen pairs of rubber soled boots slamming down on the dusty road overlaid by the metallic rattle of loose magazines and mess tins. So this was what invasion sounded like, this was what it meant to be embraced into the fold of mother Indonesia. Her thoughts turned to her own mother, and tears welled up from her heart. Perhaps she was looking over Francesca right now, guiding her hand, willing her to make good decisions, seeing her through to safety. Out of habit, she fingered the tiny silver crucifix around her neck, astonished now she thought of it that none of the soldiers had seen to rip it from her throat. She would keep it as a talisman, the only touchstone she had in a world gone crazy.”

Excerpt copyright 2014 Donald Finnaeus Mayo

You can buy a copy of Francesca here