Wednesday 15 July 2015

Pondering the Audience

Well, I am 50, 200 words into a manuscript of short stories. So far I have eleven stories, and I think I should add one or two more.

The stories are all tales of the supernatural. They are populated by spooks and monsters. They also all take place in Edinburgh, or to an Edinburgher. A surprising numbers of the characters go to church on Sundays, but then some of the characters are Catholics, and some of them are Protestants either married to Catholics or who lived before 1970. The Scottish Episcopalian characters, of course, think they are Catholics. Naturally if I'm going to dare to write about Anglicans, they are doing to be terribly, dizzily High.

I'm thinking of drawing a map of Edinburgh, with numbers to match all the neighbourhoods in which the ghostly horrors happen. One happens to an Edinburgher in Poland, however, so that leaves me with a design problem. Hmm. Should I mark in the airport? I think I'll just mark the hapless heroine's Bruntsfield flat.

This morning I finished typing the last handwritten story yet to be typed and sent off the file to a priest. I hope he likes this one. He found the last one I sent a bit too tame. He was hoping the hero would suffer a gruesome fate, but for once I stayed my hand. Generally I kick my characters around mercilessly, but that one reminded me too much of B.A.

"Why ghost stories?" you (and perhaps, later, editors) will ask. And the reason stares out at me from a shelf: my husband's large collection of ghost stories. In that section of the linen closet-turned-library can be found the supernatural tales of E.F, A.C. and R.H. Benson, Edith Wharton, Charles Dickens, M.R. James and a host of others. (Saki is elsewhere, beside Sir Walter Scott.)  Benedict Ambrose shares this taste for classic horror fiction with at least two others in the Schola, and my Edinburgh story-writing career began with write stories for them. Later I wrote two or three Edinburgh stories for Polish friends. One of the stories was in actual Polish; I can hardly believe I finished it: three thousand words of extremely dubious literary value.

Some stories have been more successful than others. There was one about bees that I liked, but it fell flat among the intended audience. Then the one with quite a lot of suicide in it seemed to worry the recipient, to whom I dedicated it as a birthday present. The one about a friend's future wife travelling through time to get him to stop smoking eventually caused a row. And then there are all the half-finished stories, lolling leglessly on the hard drive. "The Polish Countess," which was quite ingenious, having reversed the sexes of all my church friends and sent them back to the early 19th century, never got beyond the titular countess and her English flatmate fighting over closet space. Too bad.

Many writers talk about writing the books they would have liked to have read as children, but actually I had no shortage of books I liked to read as a child. Mostly what I like to do is get ideas onto a piece of paper and amuse myself by writing funny dialogues. However, dialogues I find funny are not necessary of interest to anyone else, and I find it much more satisfying to get other people to laugh. Or to cry. I don't know what other kinds of artists are up to, but writers are rotten little manipulators, trying to fool you into thinking that what is going on on the page is REALLY REAL. We want to make you turn pages, and to laugh, or to cry, or to shiver, and to stay up all night reading and generally be controlled by our vision.

Therefore, the wise author ponders WHO the story she is writing is FOR, and to tailor her story for her audience.

In other Art Thoughts (for it is Artistic Wednesday), last night I dreamed my parents had a party in a large apartment with a wooden floor suitable for swing-dancing. To my great excitement, Fred Astaire was present, but some socially awkward friends of my parents had commandeered the stereo equipment and would play nothing but country music. I woke up feeling deeply disappointed.

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