Friday, 28 December 2007

Short stories

I’ve just finished the Sherlockian pastiche, ‘The Case of the Eccentric Testatrix’. With this story, as sometimes happens, there were moments when I wondered if I’d created a plot that wasn’t right for the particular group of characters I’d dreamed up, but in the end, all was well.

One advantage of a short story over a novel is this – if it all goes pear-shaped, at least you haven’t wasted half a year or more on it. But there are many much more positive reasons for enjoying the challenges that writing a short story presents.

Practising the short form tends, I think, to sharpen up skill at characterisation. Although characters in short stories don’t have to sustain the same bulk of narrative as those in a novel, they really have to work to justify their inclusion. You can’t waste words in a short story. Everything has to be effective.

Another pleasure of writing short stories is the freedom to experiment. My first few short stories featured the Liverpool lawyer Harry Devlin. The most enjoyable of these from my perspective, an early one written around 1993, was called ‘Never Walk Alone’, which centred around Liverpool Football Club. To my amazement, a year or so later, I was appointed as a legal adviser to LFC. It's proved a very interesting role over the years, although the appointment didn't come because of the story, I hasten to add.

After a while I tried my hand at other types of short mystery. Long before I published Take My Breath Away, I’d written several stories of psychological suspense – ‘Diminished Responsibility’ is one of my own favourites. I’ve dabbled in historical mysteries – in fact, my Victorian murder mystery event has its origins in a short history-mystery that I wrote some years ago for that late lamented magazine ‘Sherlock’. ‘Melusine’ was a rural mystery that was, indirectly, a precursor to the Lake District books. And a few times I’ve placed a strong emphasis on humour – or, at least, irony. The best-known example of this was ‘Test Drive’ – which was short-listed for a CWA Dagger a couple of years ago.

Oddly enough, ‘Test Drive’ was one of the easiest stories to write that I’ve ever produced. All the same, I’m not sure there’s a direct correlation between how easy a piece of fiction is to write and how good it is. Let alone how commercially successful it proves to be.

1 comment:

Bill Bennett said...

This is a nice blog. I've put yo on my blog list.