The evolution of a short story

I don’t usually do this, as it seems a bit trumpet-blowing, but as I’ve already said, I had a story published at Beat the Dust this month. I’m very happy with it, partly because I love the site itself and partly because supporting online bookshops is something any published writer should do and any wannabe writer should consider – because if you don’t, will the bookshop be there when you’re novel/anthology/collection needs a place to be sold from?

Anyway, the excellent Stephen Fry has an equally excellent blog post about why writing is not easy, you can read it: here. And the relationship between that and today’s post is that another writer, relatively new to the craft, wrote and said he wished he could write like me. I replied that he can, and will, if he keeps going.

But it did make me stop and think about that story and the evolution of my short stories in general. The piece is called Eire and it emerged from ‘Green Thought in an Urban Shade’ a two year collaboration with artist Fion Gunn.

I wasn’t actually going to write about the statue of Eire at all – there are many statues in Dublin and most of them much better known than Eire: there’s the Tart with the Cart (Molly Malone), the Prick with the Stick (James Joyce), The Floozy in the Jacuzzi, and so on. But I was also planning a novel, based in Dublin, about a woman, Roisin, who emerges from a long period of catatonia to find the world has moved on thirty years … and because that story was largely on my mind, Eire became increasingly important because she was a personification of a place (Ireland), and I wanted Roisin to be a personification of a characteristic (innocence). I wanted, in fact, to turn Roisin from a set of characteristics into a fully rounded human being, but for the reader to see and feel the loss of innocence that this involves.

So Eire became a sketch for Roisin, and the short story that I wrote explored what happens if a person (or a statue) has one overriding idea, and acts on it. But it was never intended to be more than a sketch, while I was working out my ideas for Roisin.

The agent I was flirting with then (or perhaps she was flirting with me?) hated the whole idea of Roisin when I told her about it, so I set the Dublin novel aside and went to work on something else. But the Eire story niggled at me, because all the other statues in Dublin have nicknames, it seems, and she doesn’t. So after a while I pulled the story out again, and re-wrote it, giving Eire a chance to escape her plinth, and making that the reason that she’s never earned a familiar name.

And by that time the Green Thought exhibitions were history, and Eire went back into the drawer, until the chance to place a story at Beat the Dust came up …

Now I look at the story, leaving aside the final primping I gave it, I seem to remember at least five major revisions over the couple of years I fiddled with it, plus at least a dozen bouts of copy-editing when I wasn’t doing anything else. And that’s the moral. Not just ‘keep writing’, but keep editing and filleting and finessing your work, because you never know when the chance will come to place it, and while the blood, sweat and tears you put into it probably won’t show (and probably shouldn’t) you can always hope that the endless polishing does.

The picture of Oscar Wilde’s Dublin statue is mine own, and I always think it looks like he’s wincing from the cold rock he’s sitting on. Perhaps it’s given him piles!


  1. Lou
    7th September 2009

    congratulations! goes to show that no writing is wasted …

  2. menopausaloldbag (MOB)
    8th September 2009

    Very inspirational, this and SF’s post. Just what I need to get me cracking with gusto!

  3. Jim Murdoch
    8th September 2009

    Enjoyed the Stephen Fry. I can really relate to his “grindingly horrible” comment. It is an addiction. You know it’s horrible and it will make you miserable and you will ache from top to bottom but you can’t keep away from it. I’m talking about real writing not these piddly wee blogs we rattle off which I’ve been allowing to take over my life. I have a pang, an ache, at the moment, a real need to sit down and restart my novel but I know what that will involve. I could pretend I’ll just do an hour a day but I’ve never been very good at that. I’m actually worse that Stephen – I work best in the middle of the night.

    Oh, and yay you for the ‘Beat the Dust’ thing, just in case you think I don’t care.

  4. pierre l
    18th September 2009

    I am very obedient, so I have just order a copy of Two Tall Tales and One Short Story from the relevant bookshop. I am always pleased to be able to buy something that has one of your pieces in it.
    I will read the on-line item tonight.

  5. Kay Sexton
    20th September 2009

    Lou, you already knew that, didn’t you!

    MOB – good!

    Jim, I knew you’d feel totally in agreement with Fry on that! And thank you. Beat the Dust is a wonderful concept and I was honoured to be asked to contribute.

    Pierre l, I hope your tongue is firmly in your cheek, because I’d hate to think you bought it because I said you should! But let me know what you think, the three tales are VERY different …


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