Monthly Archives: February 2024

Every Picture Tells a Story

‘Northolme’ by Michael Adams

I was going to call this Pic Fic but, on checking, found that’s already a registered title for an X -Files archive and this blog is definitely not that. I’m not sure if there’s an actual genre for stories inspired by paintings but certainly the visual arts have rippled across literary sands, occasionally making big waves as the works of a particular artist or school have popped up over the years.

Vermeer and Dutch paintings of the 17th Century became a focus in the 90s through the novels of Tracy Chevalier and Deborah Moggach. Girl with a Pearl Earring  (the title of Chevalier’s book as well as Vermeer’s painting) mixes a smidgen of fact with a rich imagining of the identity of the enigmatic subject and her relationship with her master Vermeer. It was a commercial success globally and predictably a film followed. In Moggach’s Tulip Fever  the characters are fictional but the subject is real: tulip mania, which saw the price of tulip bulbs soar until the speculative bubble market crashed. This is the backdrop to the story but Moggach’s inspiration for her tale of love, beauty and the payback for greed was a painting by a very minor 17th Century Dutch artist that she bought at auction and, in the narratives of both Chevalier and Moggach, the world of dark Dutch interiors is illuminated on so many levels.

In A.S.Byatt’s The Matisse Stories,  paintings by the great French Post-Impressionist provide inspiration for three brilliantly crafted and entertaining stories that show what it is to be human. More recently, the paintings of Edward Hopper have inspired In Sunlight or in Shadow an anthology of stories by well-known writers including Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates.

In the winter when it’s drizzly and damp, art galleries are wonderful places to escape to. Next time you visit, take a note book and start imagining. Who knows what narratives will emerge from the canvas of a Gainsborough, Rothko, Hockney, Van Gogh or whoever inspires you. The artwork at the top is a silk screen print of Northolme, a stunning location in the Seychelles. It’s now a Hilton resort but in 1958 Ian Fleming retreated there to cure his writer’s block. While he was there, he began a collection of short stories called For Your Eyes Only  – so, clearly, immersing himself in a luscious landscape worked.

We welcome all short stories, up to 2200 words, on any theme or genre to be entered by April 15th.

Jane

Walking familiar paths with freshly curious eyes

I walked for several hours today, in the surprisingly warm sunshine, because I couldn’t settle and I’d spent hours doing admin jobs and rearranging my notes. It’s been a worryingly recurrent feature of the last few months, and I’ve tried to confront it with my usual tricks (star charts, targets, treats, journaling, reading, essay writing, editing etc) but to no avail. Creatively I feel paralysed, the world overwhelming, my expectations of myself and what I should/could/ought to be writing derailing me before I begin.


I set off on my usual route but when I came to the first fork in the path, this way or that, I stopped and thought about what would make me feel better, rather than just move forward on auto pilot or along a predetermined route. None of these paths are new (sorry Robert Frost!), but today I looked for where there was more sunlight, more snowdrops. I chose woodland tracks over tarmac because I wanted to be amongst trees. I walked up a hill to get the view. As I walked I let each previous choice inform the next one and the next until, almost by accident, I left my gloom behind and felt invigorated.

Writing can be like this, I think, when we get out of our own way and let it. Sylvia Plath, in Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams: Short Stories, Prose and Diary , wrote “so many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them.” I brought curiosity to my walk today, I took time to feel. I walked forward not knowing which route I’d take home. It’s worth remembering that we don’t always need to know everything before we start writing, we could just begin and see what happens, follow where our character goes, observing her quietly and compassionately. I guarantee she’ll surprise you.

Last week, Jude recommended Tracy Fell’s wonderful ‘The Naming of Moths‘, her collection of short stories published by Fly on The Wall Press. Do read it if you haven’t already! This week I’d like to suggest you order from your library or put on your wish list Reverse Engineering Vol 1 & 11, published by Scratch Books (https://www.scratch-books.co.uk/product-page/reverse-engineering). ‘An innovative anthology revealing the inspiration, the ideals and the work involved in a great short story … brings together contemporary classic stories with their authors’ discussions of how they were written.
An essential book for everyone interested in how fiction works…’ That’s all of us isn’t it?

Our competition closes in nine weeks! Good luck and I hope you find time and space to wander/wonder as you write your stories.
Alison

Review of The Naming of Moths by Tracy Fells

Tracy Fells was the 2017 Regional Winner (Europe and Canada) for the Commondwealth Short Story Prize. Her short fiction has been widely published in print journals and online, including Granta and Brittle Star. Her debut novella-in-flash ‘Hairy on the Inside” published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2021, was shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards in 2022 and the International Rubery Book Awards.

Review

Tracy Fells has been a first reader for the Bath Short Story Award for many years, frequently selecting stories from the entries that go to to be shortlisted or to win a prize. It’s a pleasure now to write a short review of her new short story collection, The Naming of Moths. which was published by Fly on the Wall Press late last year and is available from them or from Amazon.

In their guidelines for submission Fly on the Wall Press state:

“We prefer writing with a sprinkle of social consciousness and political engagement. This encompasses terms such as social commentary or observation, as well as more overtly political storylines. We believe, sometimes, our very existence in a certain setting is political and a story can be political simply in viewpoint.”

Tracy Fells,is a writer who, I believe, exactly fits Fly on the Wall Press’s brief. Her stories are rich with social commentary and observations on how people navigate life in (usually) the present day UK, whether they were born in this country or have travelled from elsewhere. . Continue reading