Monday 10 March 2008

Size doesn’t matter

What is it about the novel? How come it’s the default size and shape for people writing fiction? I’ve ranted about this before (8 January), but this time it’s urgent.

Because people send me novels, 300 pages, and some of them are very good (and if I like the first few pages, like them enough to TRUST this writer, then, if they’ve been sent as email attachments, I forward them to Lee or Barry at the local printshop to print out, because my own printer is slow and noisy, and this costs; but that’s another story), and CBe will be doing at least one of these things called novels in the next set of books, but NO ONE has sent me a novella, and only one person – OK, two – has sent me short stories. And though I don’t want to get prescriptive about this, novellas and stories and any other odd thing that automatically disqualifies itself from the mainstream publishers is one of the things that CBe is supposed to be about.

So if you’re out there and have something that’s betwixt and between, that maybe doesn’t even know what to call itself, send. You have a head start on my attention. And among the several ideas I have no need to agree with is the one that holds that a book of stories has to be, roughly, the length of a novel. Two or three fantastic stories can make, for me, a book.

I won’t rehearse the names again, the names of those writers who do what good writing can do for you without ever writing a novel, because I did that before (8 Jan, again). Just one: Grace Paley. Her publisher wanted her to write a novel and she tried, she tried, but she never did, and her stories are more than enough. She didn’t flinch from the bad stuff but, reading her, life is richer. I’ve just been sent her last book, published posthumously: poems, a kind of reckoning. (There are spaces in some of the lines below that the blogspot machinery isn't showing; if no one else does, I may have to publish this book in the UK myself.) She’s sly:

believe me I am
an unreliable
narrator no story
I’ve ever told
was true many people
have said this before
but they were lying

And she’s glorious:

then the sunshine implores
and up all of us go

we are like any
greengrowing machinery

riding the daylight route
to darkness

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