Today’s short story themed post is a Q&A with author Elaine Spires. Elaine is the author of a number of books and short stories including the Singles trilogy and her Holiday Reads short story collections. Elaine kindly answered a few of my questions, focussing on the short story and novella.
1. You’ve written a collection of short stories called Holiday Reads and Holiday Reads 2. What inspired the collections? Usually do you think of a theme and then write the stories, or see what theme emerges as the stories are completed?
I wrote a short story and submitted it for inclusion in a holiday-reads anthology. It was turned down, which I found a bit disappointing, so I decided to write my own book of short stories and so Holiday Reads came into being. It was very well received and so I followed it up this year with Holiday Reads 2. Not very inspiring titles? But they do what they say on the label! You can’t sit around and wait for things to happen. I believe in making your own destiny and getting on with things.
I tend to think of the location of the story first – usually somewhere I’m familiar with. Then I perhaps remember something that happened to me while I was there, or someone I met and the story follows from there. I like to re-introduce characters from previous stories or my novels and my readers tell me they love it when I do. It’s like meeting up with an old friend.
2. What do you think is the enduring appeal of the short story?
Its length. You can read a short story while you’re waiting for the washing machine to finish, or if you’ve got a spare half-hour before doing the school-run or on the train journey home. And very often they have a quirkiness that a longer novel doesn’t.
3. You write short stories, novellas and novels. What are the major differences that you have noticed from writing these forms of fiction? Do you have to switch mindsets when you work on each type or are there writing rules that you always follow?
Obviously a novel is more work – more preparation, more detail to adhere to as you follow characters over a longer period. But because you are telling a story over a longer time you can include much more detail and go at a slower pace – but never so slow that your readers nod off! Novellas and short stories sometimes take a surprising amount of research and they also have to go at a much faster pace to tell the story in a shorter time. In a short story you can’t go off on a tangent of explanation – you have to keep it simple. At least I try to. But the rules are always the same – Make the characters and storyline interesting and believable.
4. What do you love and hate about writing a short story or novella?
I love giving them a twist. For me a story must have a twist and so I love putting that twist in. Almost every story in Holiday Reads and Holiday Reads 2 has one, and so does my Christmas novella – The Christmas Queen – and my Valentine’s novella – Weak At The Knees. I find it very satisfying when readers tell me ‘I didn’t see that coming’ then I know I’ve done my job.
5. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of writing a short story or novella?
Just do it! As a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so writing a story starts with typing the first sentence. Even if you aren’t clear about the storyline, start writing! Very often the story takes on a life of its own and you find it writes itself. And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t like you first few attempts. Read them back, ask yourself why you don’t like it, or what there is about the story that isn’t working and then make some changes. Sometimes the smallest change can bring about a huge difference to a story. But you never know until you try!
Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.
You can find out more about Elaine and her books and short stories on her website.