Day 3 – Thursday
This very big day kicked off with a brilliant session called How to Read the Short Story. Here is a photo of the lovely ladies, from the UK, presenting.
Katherine Orr referred to the idea of the short story as a weir, a confinement, but with ebb and flow, a swirling of ideas, if I understood it correctly. She also emphasised that the short story is not for passive consumption.
Vanessa Gebbie, who edited the fantastic Short Circuit (a guide to the art of the short story, which happens to be lying next to my bed, back in Melbourne), discussed the importance of reading aloud and the artistry of it, including the savouring of every word.
Reading aloud is something that makes me incredible nervous, but it is something I want to improve on. Then again, I did hear that Lydia Davis wants people to read her work silently in their heads, the same way she writes it, so there is hope if I do not succeed on the reading aloud.
Next up was my new hero Tania Hershman, who discussed the process of writing for radio. Her take-away points were: Don’t pander to your audience. She also said, she doesn’t always know what her stories are about, but she can trust the reader to work it out. This was über refreshing for me (see, I picked up some German), as I often have no idea where my stories are going, especially during the process, and I thought that was a bit weird. Until now! She talked about the tingle factor as the indication that you are on the right track, and that, pretty much, is how writing works for me. Except I’d call it the bouncy leg/desk tapping factor, which can be really annoying for those around me.
The rest of the day was equally stimulating. Unfortunately, readings of creative works were on at the same time as the theoretical, and given I was here to learn, I favoured the theory, and missed some great readings.
John C Rutter‘s talk on Dark Energy and the Short Story offered an alternate perspective on the form, asking the question: What force is acting to add lasting power (or affect) to these stories? (Such as, Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro).
Then came lunch – an important part of any conference, and a group of us headed to a lovely beer garden nearby and chatted away. Sadly, a few issues with service meant we missed the next session. But I made it back in time for a ripper one on Short Story Cycles which I was another new term I learnt this week.
Moderated by the always entertaining Alan Weiss, this session kicked off with Paula McGrath who asked the question we were all thinking: “When is a short story no longer a short story?” She talked about her own process, and the difference between the novel and the short story, with the short story cycle offering the best of both world – a novelish feeling to a collection.
Neta Gordon looked at the frame. And Paul Mitchell took the Aussie bloke perspective – neatly comparing the short story cycle to the utility vehicle (or the Ute for those readers at home.) He outlined the tradition of the serial form in Australia and discussed some excellent examples by Tony Birch’s and Steven Amsterdam (shit – forgot the other one).
And Alan Weiss finished off with a lively discussion on the sociology of linked stories, looking at the economic considerations of the form throughout history. It’s easy to think we’re doing something new, but any time you stretch the surface, you usually find a rich tradition in whatever form you can think of.
After that, my brain was officially full for that day. So I took myself home and passed out at 6.30. Such rich stimulation can be extremely exhausting.
More to follow…..