Recently I’ve been trying my hand at short stories. I’m in that space between my latest book being in production and wondering what to do next. So I’ve been writing shorts and putting them in for competitions.
It’s been harder than I thought. A novel allows the characters to breathe, whereas short stories seem to be all about distilling the essence of the tale; forensically cutting out the extraneous. I’m even beginning to see the virtue of flash fiction, which requires the story to be cut to the bone.
The upside of all this activity, is that I’ve been studying the work of the various winners of last year’s competitions, so I am beginning to get an idea of what’s expected.
Writing’s like that. You start out writing freely, until you submit your work and the people in the know tell you where you’ve failed to follow the formula: like making clear what the protagonist wants in the first thirty pages of the book; introducing main players in the first third; when to bring in more conflict, etc.
My latest story is about a woman who’s arranged a meeting with a man she knew years before. She’s early, so she spends half an hour in the British Museum, one of their regular haunts when they were together. She goes to the Egyptian sculpture gallery to see her favourite statue of Sekhmet, the warrior goddess, depicted with the body of a woman and the head of a lioness – the lioness was the fiercest hunter known to the Egyptians.
The woman in the story reads the description of Sekhmet and begins to think about the past. When she returns home, after an unsatisfactory reunion lunch, she seems to have absorbed some of Sekhmet’s power, as she resolves to ‘keep hunting’.
This summer, I’m going to keep hunting for a short story prize to help me decide whether my next book’s going to be a stand-alone novel or a series of stories linked to a central theme. Only time will tell (sounds like a good title for a short).
‘Pandora’s Gift’, the third and final book in the Pandora series, will be out later this year.