Here's a bit of an oddity.
SCI-FI-LONDON, the international film festival which starts tomorrow, runs a 48-hour flash fiction challenge in association with New Scientist and Urbanfantasist.com. You can read last year's shortlisted entries and winning story here, but this is my experience of this year's challenge...
You register in advance (no fee) and just before midday on the Saturday you log in to find the elements that you must incorporate in your story. These include the title, a line of dialogue, and an optional scientific idea or theme. You then have until just after midday on the Monday to write and submit your story.
My given title was SIX WEEK SLEEP. The line of dialogue was "Did you hear something? There? Listen... it did it again." And the optional science idea? Looking back to the moment of the big bang, we see a message that says STOP NO FURTHER.
Now, I suppose some people might have been able to dedicate the entire 48-and-a-bit hours to the project (there was an infinitely harder and higher profile film-making challenge running concurrently and I'm sure they did) but I imagine I was typical of the writers: I could spare a few hours, here and there.
And that's when you realise just how difficult it is to start from scratch, rather than falling back on at least one half-idea you've had gnawing away at the back of your brain for weeks.
My first thought - 'well, ditch the optional science idea then' - was swiftly followed by 'and replace it with what, exactly, eh?' What did I have? Six-week sleep suggested suspended animation during interstellar space travel, but it suggested it so strongly it felt like a cliché. The dialogue had me thinking of that Doctor Who episode where they travel to the end of the universe and hear a knocking at the door, which I seem to remember was indeed called Listen... and then I couldn't get that out of my head either.
It was lunchtime. The family were calling. I had to seize on an idea, however corny, and - instead of packing it away to gestate/fester - just get started.
So I did, and had the first draft finished by mid-afternoon. And it was corny, and too much of a joke, and there just wasn't time to restart. Instead I sat down again on Sunday afternoon and wrote a much-revised (but not much improved) second draft. Then I left it.
Of the 2,068 people who were registered for the writing challenge on the Saturday, 418 submitted stories on the Monday, including me, with this: Six_Week_Sleep.
It probably won't be shortlisted. (In fact I've just gone and checked again and it wasn't. Bollocks.) It wasn't right and I knew it. But the exercise was definitely worth it.
Roll on next year!
I'm sure others have said this many times before, and much better, but I'm a bit slow and it has only just occurred to me.
I'm trying to select stories for my forthcoming collection and since they are all themed, and they all interact with one another in a way (in my mind, at least), the running order is absolutely critical.
And it came to me that this collection is like an LP. The stories that I'm happiest with as stand-alone stories - the ones I've submitted, entered in competitions, etc. - they're the singles. The others, the ones I'm still happy with but feel they need to be read in their correct place, feeding backwards or forwards into others, setting up resonances and contradictions... they're the album tracks of course. They don't need to stand alone; in fact they shouldn't. For one thing, they can provide some interesting shading for the so-called stand-alones. And, sometimes, they benefit from a bit more freedom, not having to carry the weight of expectations that a stand-alone story might.
Often my favourite track on an album has not been one of the obvious ones. Or if not strictly my favourite then the one I come back to time after time, perhaps because - informed by and informing the others - it's both perfect in its proper place and beautifully fragile as an orphan. I'm thinking Teenage Wildlife on Scary Monsters, although there all comparison with the ever inspiring and sorely missed David Bowie will have to end.
So, you know, I feel a bit reassured, a bit more hopeful.
Although I still can't decide on the right listing...
I've been writing for as long as I can remember (I think my first letter was a P). I got a degree writing about other people's writing and ever since then I've earned a living writing commercially, one way or another. But I never stopped writing and refining my own stuff. I just didn't do anything with it, until now.