Today I’m delighted to introduce the very lovely Anne Brooke to our site. She’s here as part of a blog tour to promote her recent release The Heart’s Greater Silence which was reviewed here yesterday. Leave a comment on this post and you’ll be in the draw to win one of Anne’s backlist books or a signed cover flat and magnet, plus a chance to win the whole blog tour giveaway, the details of which are below. Good luck!
Over to you Anne.
Why the short story format
I’m a long-time supporter of the short story format, and have always enjoyed reading them, even many years before I thought about writing one myself. In many ways, they can seem from the outside like the poor relation in literary formats – in that people respect the novel (though in historical terms it’s a very recent addition to the field) and even the poem (though they might feel a bit wary about poets), but they’re not sure a short story writer really merits much praise.
After all, isn’t it simply a smaller version of the novel form and therefore doesn’t require as much effort, endurance or skill? Would that were true! Granted, it doesn’t take as long to write a short story as it does a novel but I would say it’s a far more intense experience. Much like – I imagine as, believe me, I have no direct experience here! – the difference between a sprint and a cross-country run. You need to be fit and strong for both, but the emphasis and skills needed aren’t the same.
To take another example, I really love art galleries, and enjoy admiring large paintings and tiny miniatures as well, as both give me great pleasure but for different reasons. Likewise, when reading or writing a novel, you have to stand back and get a sense of the “big picture”, whereas concentration and focus are everything in order to get the most out of a short story.
With a short story, the intensity and intimacy of the plot and characters allow the writer and reader to focus on a key event or events in the life of the people involved, and gain a full flavour of who they are from that brief glimpse. On the other hand, a novel gives you much wider scope for development and pace, and (usually) a larger character list. Interestingly, it’s easy to forget that Annie Proulx’s wonderful Brokeback Mountain is a long short story, and not a novel. Not in any sense of the word. But the theme of lost opportunities and slowly abandoned love holds the lives of the two men together and gives us a deep insight into their personalities. I wouldn’t want it to be any longer either – it’s perfect, to my mind, as a short story, but would make a rather diluted and “one track” novel, if lengthened.
As a writer of short stories and novels (though I’m mainly concentrating on the short form at the moment), I find people sometimes ask me how I know whether I’m writing a long work or a short one when I start off. It’s a very difficult question to answer, I must say – though usually there’s a sense of what the final product length will be. A “writer’s instinct” if you like. But sometimes I get it wrong. For instance, my gay thriller The Bones of Summer started out life as a short story – as the flashback scene used in the middle of the novel was once a single entity. But when I originally wrote it, I did feel there was much more story to tell. I just had no idea what it might be yet! After two or three years, I came back to it once again, took that scene and fast-forwarded the whole plot so it became simply a memory from the past of my main character, Craig. Then it seemed to work (at last!), and was much happier being a part of a novel, rather than a stand-alone story. Yes, books do have their opinions too … Or is that just me?
When it comes to it then, the characters themselves should dictate what the length of their own story should be and, as writers, we’re honour-bound to listen to them, and have a much easier life if we do – but thankfully these days there’s room for both good quality short stories and good quality novels on our real or virtual shelves – and so much more choice as well. So if you’ve not read a short story before or you think they’re “not quite for you”, push out the boundaries of your reading life and give one a go. You never know – you might find there’s a whole new reading market for your e-reader enjoyment out there! Happy browsing.
Blurb from The Heart’s Greater Silence:
Mark isn’t sure he believes in love, especially when he finds himself torn between two very different men: his reliable boyfriend, Craig, and his illicit lover and priest, Richard.
Mark knows what he should do, but he can’t bring himself to give Richard up. The sex with Richard is unlike anything he’s ever known with Craig, and he hungers for it as much as—if not more than—the truer intimacy he finds in his boyfriend’s arms.
When Craig discovers his betrayal, Mark is forced to look at his life more closely, but the path to self-knowledge is never an easy one. Richard seeks the way back to God, but Mark finds no solace there. Can he ever discover the truth of his own soul, or is he too afraid of what he will—or won’t—find inside his heart?
Excerpt from The Heart’s Greater Silence:
The door slammed shut and left me facing the darkness of painted wood. I cursed under my breath as I hunched my shoulders against the chill and pounded my fists on the door.
“Please, Craig. Let me in. I’m sorry. Please! I made a mistake, I just want to talk to you.”
No answer. I stepped back and waited. Nothing happened. Not that I really expected it to. My boyfriend’s—or rather ex-boyfriend’s—front door didn’t open an inch. I fought back tears and tried not to give in to the despair rolling round my gut.
He’d meant it. Craig thought I was nothing more than a screwed-up loser, and he’d meant it.
Jesus. He was right, too.
Taking a deep breath, I scrabbled in my pockets and flicked a cigarette into my mouth, lighting it with a hand that wasn’t quite steady. The shape of it gave purpose to my mouth. I took a deep pull, and soothing smoke entered my lungs. It tasted like freedom. As if.
I turned my back on Craig’s door and stumbled down the steps, through the broken gate and onto the street. My mind relived the accusations he’d made as I walked away, the names he’d called me—all of them true—and how I could find absolutely nothing in me to make him change his mind. God. I finished my smoke and tossed it to the side of the pavement, not bothering to crush it out. It flared for a moment in the autumn gloom before vanishing. I kept on walking, my head full only of Craig and my heart beating to a new and uncomfortable rhythm.
Around me the life of the street took on its familiar shape as the evening drew in. Jagged lines and corners of old houses turned into flats and the occasional tree. I passed the club where I’d first met up with Craig, but I didn’t go in. I didn’t even look at the entrance.
When I began crossing the river, the rain started, and a group of girls coming towards me on the bridge giggled as they reached for their umbrellas. Late-night shopping in town tonight. I’d forgotten. Craig and I had planned to go, catch the end of it and then take in a few beers, maybe even fuck. I liked doing it outdoors and there were places in this town we could go and not be seen. God, I knew them all. I wished he were here with me.
The girls passed by. One of them gave me a curious glance but didn’t press for more. They weren’t in the mood for cruising. Not that it would have done them a damn sight of good and, anyway, they were probably on their way home or off to the pub. In either case, I envied them.
Instead of heading into town as I’d thought I wanted, I paused on the bridge and leant out over the river. The air felt cool on my face and I shut my eyes for a moment. Here was where, six months ago, Craig and I had kissed for the first time. I mean really kissed. We’d met on a blind date, having hooked up over the web, and even managed a few drinks in the local gay club before he’d screwed me in the toilets. It hadn’t been very good, but I’d needed it. That, I’d thought, had been that, and we’d both started crossing the bridge on the way back to our cars when something in the water had caught my eye.
When I looked again, I saw it was a teenager, a boy, drifting down the river on some kind of dinghy. I could see him in the lights along the waterside leading to the new theatre.
“Do you think he needs help?” I asked, and was about to do God knows what, though I’m no hero, when Craig grabbed my arm.
“No,” he said, nodding towards the boy, who had already jumped out of the dinghy into the shallows and was wading to the bank. “He’s just having fun.”
“Sure,” I shrugged. “It’s warm enough. Should have known it, I suppose.”
Craig hadn’t laughed it off as I’d thought he would. Instead, he pulled me round so I was facing him, lifted up my chin, and gave half a smile.
“Sorry the sex wasn’t that great,” he said. “It’s been a while. Maybe, if I’m lucky, you might think about giving me another chance.”
Before I could form any kind of reply, he put his hands on my face and kissed me. His lips felt warm and almost tentative against mine. He tasted of beer and salt—from the crisps we’d shared, I imagined. He opened me up with his tongue but didn’t explore any further. It was up to me to draw him in and suck, but even then, he wasn’t demanding. Just easy, like all we were doing was saying hello and this was our way of doing it.
My cock tightened in my jeans, and I thought if he’d screwed me in the pub the way he was kissing me now, I might never have stopped coming.
When he drew away to breathe, I licked my lips, hoping to eke out the taste of him.
“Can you fuck me like that?” I asked him, my voice hoarse. “Slow and simple?”
He nodded. “I think so.”
“Then your second chance is granted,” I said, unable to keep the smile from my voice.
Thanks, Anne, for that very interesting insight into why the short story format appeals to you.
To qualify for the cumulative blog tour prize, which is three of Anne’s backlist books or a gift certificate, you need to answer the following three questions:
- (a) What item of his trade is Richard wearing when Mark sees him in church?
- (b) When Craig discovers Mark and Richard together, what does he do just before leaving?
- (c) What action does Mark take at the end of the story?
Don’t forget to also leave a comment to win!