As our first ever Comma Press short story course at the Lit&Phil in Newcastle, tutored by Avril Joy, kicked off this month, we thought we’d ask one of the course participants to share their experiences of taking part, encouraging them to share the highs, the lows, and – fingers crossed! – some successful and enjoyable short story writing. Writer Clay Lister took us up on the offer, so read below to get the inside scoop on what goes on in our Comma courses.
For details of our other current and upcoming short story courses, check out our website. For any Sheffield based writers, there are still a handful of places left for the course starting in February, so sign up quickly if you want a place. But for those who can’t wait for the next course to start, check out our ‘Understanding the Short Story‘ page on our website; there you can find exercises, reading lists, and information about key short story theory, all for free.
So. A six-class course on short story writing laid on by Comma Press, independent publisher of short stories, taught by Avril Joy, Costa Prize winning short story writer. Hell yes. Have me some of that. Love a story me. Read them, write them. Had a few published. Got a few more in the laptop that haven’t been. Want them to be. The chance to get them before a discerning audience? Hell yes. Learn what’s wrong with them. Tart ’em up. Get them published, too.
I don’t know about my eleven classmates, but come the evening of the first course I was pretty nervous. Which surprised me a little. This wasn’t my first writing course, I’ve been a member of writing groups, have read my stories to people I didn’t know. But all a long time ago, so maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, after all. Who was I kidding? If I’ve written stories that haven’t been published it’s because they don’t deserve to be, right? Shouldn’t be. Let ’em lie. Sorry, sorry to have wasted your time, everyone. Where’s my coat? Door!
I needn’t have worried. We are a very mixed bunch, fair to say, I think. I mean, apart from my being the only bloke and all that. At least one of us has made a living writing in a variety of forms (not me), others are looking to write their first short story. And Avril was very reassuring in sharing her experiences of classes that haven’t worked. Whatever we are each hoping to get from the course, mutual support is key. On this point she was very clear. Thank you, Avril, I will just resume my seat then, if that’s OK?
Actually (early days, of course. Jury should be out. Probably shouldn’t have gone out yet. But, honest, I am on blogging oath), the course already has met at least one expectation – and more.
Wow. How’s that, then?
In a sense, its those nerves what’s done it. I’ve said: constructive criticism is what I signed up for. The first story I intended to share is one I’ve been submitting to magazines and competitions for let’s just say awhile. So, come on, classmates, lay it on me. What’s wrong with my story? That is what I wanted, what I was going to ask of them, in just that manner. But the mere prospect of my new classmates telling me what’s wrong with it focussed my self-critical eye. Rereading it with a known audience in mind, as opposed to editors who can’t give feedback (of course they can’t. If they did, that’s all they’d do!) I believe I can improve it. Will.
Cheers, guys! And that’s just for being there.
The class’s other eye-opener for me was the exercise Avril prepared. Although down the years I have written a fair bit, I’ve never done one. Ever. (Arrogance maybe. I do not need to exercise my creativity. My juices flow freely, thank you, my dear.) Anyway, ‘Pick a picture,’ Avril said, ‘any picture.’ (Don’t know why, I went straight for the pub. Not to the pub, understand. For a picture of a pub. As said: don’t know why.) ‘And without thinking too hard at all, answer these six questions.’ I’d list them, only I didn’t write them down. I only wrote my answers, and, to be honest, looking at them again, they don’t make much sense even to me. But here’s the thing. Avril then said, ‘Right, write!’ I did, and I really liked what came out. As soon as I’m done tarting up that inveterate reject I told you about (and shared it with my classmates), man, I am on to it.
Clayton Lister is a long-time lover of the short story. Most recently, his stories have appeared in Bare Fiction, Prole Magazine and the HISSAC Winners Anthology.