Monday, 28 June 2010

Terrible Twins

I am always intrigued by exceptions to rules and discovered one at the weekend. The guidelines for writers, particularly writers of magazine fiction, steer us clear of clichéd, well-worn story-lines, such as tampering with car brakes or mysterious behaviour turning out to be connected with a surprise party rather than an affair etc.. They also state that narrators shouldn't be animals and that anything to do with twins should be avoided.

I went to the theatre to see Blood Brothers on Saturday and the story hinges completely on twin-ship. You probably all know it, but the story concerns the separation of twins at birth. Their mother is poor, already has a brood of children, and has been abandoned by her husband. She cleans the house of a wealthy childless wife, desperate for a baby of her own. This woman talks the poor mother into giving up one twin. As their lives unfold, they meet and become blood brothers, unaware of their true relationship. Their lives run on different tracks with tragic consequences.

I loved the performance and enjoyed the story-line. I felt truly moved at the end. It made me wonder about clichés. I guess it's a case of giving them your own voice or a unique twist. Then you might have an exception to the guidelines/rules. Sometimes I dismiss ideas for stories because they seem a bit 'used'. Sometimes I receive rejection letters that state my theme was an old one and therefore of no interest. It can be hard to decide what is a cliché and what isn't. And if you think it might be one, you sometimes feel you've put a different spin on it. In which case, you should give it a try. It might be as successful as Blood Brothers one day.

And maybe it's Blood Brothers that began the twin-cliché in the first place. That's why they can get away with it and I can't. That's perhaps why they aren't a cliché. It's a shame because I often think about stories with twins and then have to discard them. I can recall a film about twins, in which Bette Davis played both parts. The twins were very different in personality and hair-do. It may have been a clichéd film, of course. But who decides?

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Indoors, Outdoors

My eldest daughter and her boyfriend have just finished their first year at university and plan to go camping. Last night they practised in the garden. We have a peculiar garden that is not attached to our ancient cottage, but is accessed by a long path and extends into the middle of the village, ending at the war memorial and the Stirrup Cup pub. One of our cats joined them down there for the night (surprised they were sleeping in his territory) and they were woken by a raucous dawn chorus this morning.

They have now emerged in one piece, are having breakfast and planning to go a bit further afield for their next night under canvas. My daughter and I remember a book we both read years ago, Four Rode Home by Primrose Cumming. A group of people and their horses are dropped off many miles from home and make their way back, riding all day and sleeping under the stars with the trusty ponies tethered to trees. My daughter would love to ride and camp like that; living life outside and concentrating only on the journey, the daily destination, the next meal, the building of camp-fires and the care of her horse.

If I went on a trek like that, I would probably find so much to inspire my writing and my mind would surely clear itself of mundane distractions. I would focus on my imagination, fired by the beauty of the great outdoors. However, I am a terrible home-body. I crave the great indoors and home comforts as much as my daughter loves the freedom of the world outside. Even as a baby, she only slept well outside in the fresh air, tucked into the pram and protected from cats by a net in the old-fashioned way. I love nothing more than to be at the kitchen table writing. Going outside doesn't come at all naturally to me, but I'm sure I should make the effort. Perhaps I'm just lazy. Or maybe a little agoraphobic? All I know is that when I go out, I can't wait to be back inside again.

I still love reading about other people's great adventures beyond their front doors. I shall dig out Four Rode Home and enjoy the ride that way. In the meantime, I am full of joy at the sparkling eyes of my daughter following her 'night out'. She has been ill for two years, so her renewed energy is a sign that she is now stepping out on the road to recovery.

Monday, 7 June 2010

The Scenic Route

I am so pleased that one of my stories has been included on a shortlist for the Bristol Short Story Prize. All twenty stories in the shortlist will appear in the anthology. The first, second and third placings will be announced at an awards ceremony in July. I can't wait to see the book and read all the other stories.

The one I sent was quite unusual. I managed to think far outside the box when I wrote it. As Meg Rosoff said, it is helpful to place yourself on the edge of experience, allowing the outline of the story to become buckled. This warping of events can stop the reader in his tracks, turning a straightforward situation into an intriguing and unique set of circumstances.

The road I travelled during the making of this story had some odd diversions. They seemed like dead-ends at times, but then I twisted them back round and returned to the main track for a while. Then I went off at tangents again. I wasn't sure this scenic route would work, but I had an instinct that I should send the story. Fortunately, it was one of those times when instinct worked in my favour. A rare occurrence!