Step behind the scenes of our Bradford short story course at the City Library, tutored by Mark Connors, which kicked off last month, as one of the course participants shares their experiences of taking part, sharing the highs, the lows, and – fingers crossed! – some successful and enjoyable short story writing. Writer and previous course participant Benjamin Cassidy has agreed to provide the inside scoop on what goes on during our Comma course workshops.
For details of our other current and upcoming short story courses, check out our website. New courses starting in the Autumn in Manchester, Newcastle and Bristol, details to be announced in due course.
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.

The halfway point! With two sessions behind us, and a good range of skills gained already, the results were telling. Working in groups can have its difficulties, for many reasons. Fortunately, that’s not the case here. Everyone commenting on others’ work has been asked by Mark Connors, course tutor, to show sensitivity and be constructive. As well as giving others your views, in a manner that’s encouraging and well-intended, taking feedback is also a lesson that anyone who is serious about improving as a writer must learn. Critical evaluation of your story is essential to develop it, so it can reach the potential it has. Once the feedback session was covered, Mark had exercises and activities planned.

Often successful authors say that another really great way to hone the craft of story-telling is by reading. What they don’t always mention is why; fortunately, Mark did exactly that, explaining how reading, then re-reading and thinking about stories from those writers who have not only gotten published, but also made measurable impact upon the genre, can bring positive things to your work. One such author this is certainly true of is the late, great Raymond Carver. Almost anyone writing short stories today owes something to Carver. It’s not often that a writer becomes so seminal in influence that an entire genre seems forever altered by their work, and a whole generation of writers indebted. It’s not always easy to appreciate that and understand it just by reading. Discussions are a great way to further comprehend the achievements of great authors.

One of the benefits about reading a story in a group is that you get the advantage of multiple perspectives, affording opportunities to thing about things in a way you might not ordinarily. This, in turn, leads to new ways of considering reading, another skill that does wonders for advancement your own story-telling. It’s not just reading frequently and widely that is beneficial; understanding the mechanics of a good story really only comes through close-reading and critical thinking. Doing this in a group offers a way to make sure your learning is broad, as well as deep. Though the importance of reading can never be overstated, to help you as a writer, it doesn’t actually get a story written. Mark knows all about distractions, procrastinations and the frustrations that can come with the cold, hard truth: the only way to write a story is to start.

Inspiration can come in many forms. There can never be too many prompts to have as an aspiring author. It’s good to freshen things up. With that in mind, the next exercise: to begin to write in response to the Raymond Carver Story ‘Why Don’t You Dance’, from his popular collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981). The work produced as a direct reaction to this method was well structured, fresh and original. Whilst it may not work all the time, or for everyone, it’s one more thing to have in the tank, perhaps for those times when things have dried up a little, creatively. Another example of why and how reading can never fail to help you, in lots of ways; sometimes, it happens without you even knowing.

Kim Addonizio is another author we looked at, in particular her story ‘Blown’ from her collection The Palace of Illusions (2014). The influence of Carver in her work is there, but only to an extent. Reading her gave us insight into how someone can learn from another, and go on to form their own identity as a writer, something which everyone in the group hopes for, to varying extents and in their own unique way. Mark specifically picked up on the latter point, that he’s enjoying the range of writing being produced, is very impressed by the standard and delighted at everyone showing a great attitude and desire to encourage one another. With the group inspired, applauded and directed by Mark, they’re enjoying it too. It really is hard to believe that we’re halfway through. The second half promises to be equally as enjoyable, interesting and result in all round improvement as an aspiring short-fiction author. The story continues in session four . . .

Benjamin Francis Cassidy, 36, was born in Blackpool is an aspiring author. Alumni of MMU, he writes short-fiction, poetry and contributes to music magazines and local interest/social enterprise blogs, including: Louder Than War, Haunt Manchester!, Volition Manchester (Cathedral volunteering services). His work has also been commissioned by and appeared on the Elizabeth Gaskell House website. He currently lives in Rusholme, with his cat, Lucy. 




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