The Truth In Fiction
A couple or three years ago my niece flew over from San Francisco to go inter-railing. She and her two companions enjoyed a few wild weeks bathing in history, absorbing culture and sampling local alcoholic beverages in each central European city they passed through. Why wouldn’t they? At eighteen, back home in the States, they could do just about anything they wanted – join the army, carry a firearm, drive a car and smoke pot, though apparently not all at the same time. However, they could not enjoy the simple pleasures of conversation over a glass of wine until they turned twenty-one, so that was probably where Europe edged it over home. Before flying back, and to keep her out of mischief on the long flight, I gave her a book of short stories by Hemingway.
Recently, my niece came by again to check in with friends and relations, and I asked her if she had read many or any of Hemingway’s stories. She bridled a little and moaned that she’d spent too many hours being lectured by her college English teacher on the merits of short story writing: how each line had to possess its own weight and significance relative to the story, and how she was supposed to read what was going on between the lines and not just the lines as they sat on the page. In being spoon-fed, or rather force-fed, all this she had fallen out of love with the genre. Surely the fundamental reason for reading short stories, she argued, was simply to enjoy them, not necessarily to anaesthetize them, dissect them and work out how and why they are constructed. “The idea,” she concluded, “is to appreciate the beauty of the animal, not tear it to pieces simply to find out what makes it breathe.”
My niece has a point.
Many great authors have waxed long and lyrically about how to write short stories. Some quote specific rules that must be adhered to, but then hurry right along to praise those writers who are brave enough to disregard the rules. From a purely personal perspective, I like to think each short story possesses its own very individual form. To suggest there is a formula that must be applied to the writing of a short story is to suggest that one only has to queue up at the door to the short story factory in order to purchase one. That is, in my experience, not the case: we all think differently, which is why we all enjoy a variety of form.
In medieval times, a wandering minstrel would earn his board and lodging by entertaining his hosts with the union of his voice and his lyre. The Scéalaì of Ireland earn theirs in the much the same fashion, but without any musical accompaniment; they simply tell stories. Their rule is that there is no story to be told unless there is a person to listen in the first place. I like the simplicity in this logic; it is the reason why we write stories.
In The Truth in Fiction I have assembled a collection of some of the short stories I have written over the last ten years. Some are written in the first person, which permits the reader to assume the identity of the narrator, thus reading the story and appreciating what goes on through his or her eyes: others are written in the third person, which permits the reader to appreciate what goes on from a distance and therefore to interpret the events as he or she sees fit. However, if truth is the main ingredient, then fiction is the flavour conjured by the author.
In the Appendix, I have tried to pass on the origins of these stories; where they were born, if you like, why they were written and the contributions of the many people without whom this collection would never have made it into print.