It was a fun story to write. The picture of Harold, who only won his name in the story, was painted at least a month ago. When the picture went on a postcard a few weeks later, the first sentence of the story was the only message on the back. A week or so later I started to write very late one night with no idea at all where it was going. A few days before that, I read an article called The Enduring Legacy of China's Great Famine. Everything in the article was news to me.
I can certainly see that Joseph Heller, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams influenced my style.
Patrick Holland came and gave a guest lecture to my class. Here is what I learnt:
Want to be a professional writer? A novelist? No-one will publish you without an established reputation for short stories. Want to publish a collection of short stories? No chance unless you are a successful novelist. Catch-22.
So the discipline of the short story is the place to start.
Less is more. Minimalism. The Ice Berg Theory - get the 10% you can see right and let the reader fill in the 90%. Patrick returned often to the Japanese ethos and the power of simple brush strokes to paint a full picture. I have ordered a Yasunari Kawabata book as a result. He has not read Musashi though, I asked when requesting comment on the idea of writing as self discovery.
To leave something unsaid by talking around it is a skill. The writer has to allow the reader to cross the silent spaces and meet the work on their own terms.
Older, simpler words are better. They have lasted through social and geographic change. They are robust. Interesting to compare words of German and Latin origin in this regard. The German is more definite, simple, better suited to prose or poetry.
dark Old English deorc, of Germanic origin, probably distantly related to German tarnen ‘conceal.’
obscure late Middle English : from Old French obscur, from Latin obscurus ‘dark,’ from an Indo-European root meaning ‘cover.’
Compare 'the dark forest' to 'the obscure forest'.
It is undeniable that fashionable terms and slang can date very quickly.
We learnt a bit about his favourite sentence structures, before he finished with the really serious advice: TURN OFF THE INTERNET. This is necessary to write free of distraction. He mentioned JDarkroom and Zen Writer as programs worth trying, but suggested using a pen or a typewriter at least some of the time to better connect to the experience.
I really liked Patrick because he believed that his finest writing was simply the revelation of that which already existed. It was also good to hear that he gets questions about the meaning of his work all the time and honestly replies that he is not sure of the symbolism of a particular character or aspect of the story.
Later, in the tutorial we had to do a five minute exercise on the topic of either death, fear or sex. Write around the subject without mentioning it at all. I came up with one sentence: The blind groping of matter for reality while the clock ticks. For me, this covered all three.