Daniel Williams

Posts Tagged ‘short stories’

Music and Writing

In Essay, Miscellaneous, Writing on 07/06/2012 at 17:20

I always listen to music when I’m writing. Sometimes I can spend hours putting together a playlist before I even write a word of what I’m working on. The music I pick allows me to really think about what I want my work to feel like, and music helps shut off pesky outside thoughts.

Of course, my own musical tastes play a large part in what I listen to, which would not necessarily be what you would pick. The musicians I really like tend to be storytellers, like Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. I really love albums that are tied together with a theme. A few years ago, every time I wrote a short story I would listen to Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks. All the songs are about relationships, ups and a lot of downs, which is what I wanted to write about. It helped that some of his lyrics could serve as openings for stories: ‘Early one morning the sun was shining,/I was lying in bed,/Wondering if she’d changed at all/If her hair was still red.’ (Nerd bonus- Dylan has hinted this album was inspired by the short stories of Anton Chekhov, another great influence of mine.)

Lately, I’ve found then when I’m editing work, I listen to completely different music. I’ve been listening to the first two albums of She & Him. I find their music quite easy-going. That and my crush on Zooey Deschanel plays a part.

I imagine I’m not the only one who needs music to help write. If you write and have to have music, what do you listen to?

(In case you were wondering, the playlist I listened to while writing this is one of my short story playlists. The albums in it are: The Beach Boys- Pet Sounds, Bob Dylan- Blood On The Tracks, Frank Sinatra- In The Wee Small Hours and No One Cares, and She & Him- Volume One and Volume Two.)

Links:

Lyrics to ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ by Bob Dylan: http://www.bobdylan.com/us/home#us/songs/tangled-blue

Video of Dylan performing ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ live: http://youtu.be/YwSZvHqf9qM

‘Men Without Women’ (1927) Ernest Hemingway

In American, Essay, Literature, Writing on 09/01/2012 at 18:30

This short story collection contains two short stories that are not just my favourite Hemingway stories but two of my favourite short stories by anybody. So, this look at Men Without Women (1927) will be less of review, more in praise of Ernest Hemingway’s style and its effect on my own writing.

If you don’t know Hemingway’s style then this, his second collection of short stories, is an excellent place to start. There is a tonne of critical work and essays about Hemingway’s style that’s much more educated than this. To me, Hemingway’s style is short sentences, simple words, repetitive dialogue, and packing a hell of a punch. For me, the pinnacle of this is the story ‘Hills Like White Elephants’. I try to reread that story every couple of months just to remind me of how much I admire it.

I can remember first reading ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ some years ago for my Creative Writing class. On first reading I thought, ‘Huh?’ Then got what the story was about. I reread and it and that was it. It all fell into place. All the tension and action is under the surface and in the subtext. It’s a story about an abortion but the word ‘abortion’ is never mentioned once. That has had a great impact on me. One of the few rules I try and write by is to decide what the story is about and then try not to mention in the story. I hope that if I write well enough it should be apparent. I think I’ve achieved this twice, maybe three times. Still, I keep trying.

There are stories in the collection I think don’t quite hit the mark. I didn’t really get ‘Che Ti Dice La Patria?’ which I think realises too heavily on knowledge on the politics of Italy in the period before World War 2. That may just be me, though.

The best praise I can give the book is that as soon as I finished it I started Hemingway’s next collection of stories, Winner Take Nothing (1933). I preferred Men With Women, but Winner Take Nothing had some brilliant stories- ‘A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’ and ‘Fathers and Sons’. My copy of Hemingway’s The First Forty-Nine Stories (1938) is one of most treasured books. It was a Christmas present from a great friend and contains the majority of Hemingway’s published stories. Hemingway at his best is a great read.

Like so many others, Ernest Hemingway has been a big influence on my own writing. But the trick is to not to imitate him. Nobody can write like him. I just try to learn what I can about his techniques and apply them to my own stories. I can only hope I am successful without been derivative.

‘Perfect Lives’ (2010) Polly Samson

In Book Review, English, Literature, Review, Writing on 21/08/2011 at 12:05

Despite the glowing words of praise that cover the copy of Perfect Lives (2010) I can’t say I was impressed with it. The quotes call it funny, compelling and moving, but I thought it never gets beyond its middle-class trappings. Polly Samson seems to be lampooning the middle-classes while remaining very much a part of it, and celebrating it in the final story. The book begins with an epigram from Leonard Cohen, and on finishing Perfect Lives, I found that one quote had something more interesting to say than the stories in the book.

The prose had a tendency towards a knowing lyricism; you can almost hear the author saying ‘I am going to be poetic now’. I’m not a fan of that kind of prose. She makes some melodramatic descriptions, the worst offender been this, which I had to read three times before I realised she was been serious: “Leszeck’s eyelashes would always make every woman he met think about having his baby.” I’m sure some people think it’s marvellously poetic but it’s very silly to me.

The stories are all set in a seaside town. Not much is made of the setting, other than it’s a middle-class seaside town. Characters crossover, much like in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad (2010) by Jennifer Egan. In A Visit From… the connections between characters are never presented with a flourish, but appear casually and without comment, as connections between people do in real-life. In Perfect Lives when a character from another story turns up in another, there often is a melodramatic flourish in the reveal. The character that appears most (an unnamed amateur photographer) is sadly the least interesting and goes on no real journey other than a happy acceptance of a bourgeois life.

Unlike A Visit From… none the stories in Perfect Lives moved me. Polly Samson finds nothing insightful about the characters she presents. I think part of my trouble with reading this book was I took a dislike to it pretty early on. Taking a dislike to a book early on is like when you take a dislike to a person you just meet- no matter what they say you’ll always find it a bit irritating.

I imagine that if I spoke to Polly Samson (after she hits me for disparaging her book) I’d find little crossover between the authors we like. There seems to be a hint of the British Victorians to her prose and I really dislike British Victorian literature. I can see why people would give this book glowing quotes, but it is not things I enjoy in a book. I don’t imagine she’d think much of my stories, either.

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