Very excited that my piece ‘The Smell of Her Perfume’ is first cab off the rank in this year’s The Big Issue Fiction Edition. I attended the launch yesterday where fellow contributor Miles Allinson was part of a panel alongside TBI editor Amy Hetherington and books editor Thuy On, chaired by State Library of Victoria CEO Kate Torney. At one point Miles talked about how much harder it is writing short stories than it is writing novels. At this I was nodding so voraciously and unequivocally that my head detached from my neck and rolled across the floor, resting by the stage where it continued to blink in vigorous agreement.*
Short stories are so difficult to master. I say this as someone who has in no one way mastered them. To me, novels are so much more forgiving in that they allow far more time and space to build your characters, create opportunities for them to connect with readers, and to map out their journeys and struggles and realisations. You can forgive a boring paragraph in a novel but they absolutely destroy a short story. Short stories, by their…short…nature, demand connectivity with the reader immediately and are far less merciful. Every sentence – every word – is precious and important, and can make or break the story. It is so so easy to write terrible short stories. I would know. I do know. This is one of the things I know so so well. My man friend has very clear and specific instructions on how immediately following my demise he is to destroy my large cache of failed short stories in an extremely thorough bonfire so that no one can ever set eyes on them. This is my bonfire of the vanities, if you will, though less to do with sin and more to do with my pride and literary vanity.
I feel like I need to write around ten truly terrible short stories in order to salvage one half decent one from the weary rubble of my creativity. And I can never tell at the beginning which this story will be. The one in TBI came about in a single afternoon after I gave up working on a different story that was refusing to be wrenched into existence and had been battling me for weeks. ‘The Smell of Her Perfume’ is the tiniest fraction of a real memory – my mother’s perfume as she carried me home one moonless night – spun into an entirely new beginning and middle. It is simple, raw and brief, and I’m terribly proud of it, though I’ve really no idea where it came from. And I’m terribly chuffed to see it in such a tremendous magazine.
*This actually happened. **
** No it didn’t.