The Granta Book Of The African Short Story

‘A young woman, having been brought up by her uncle and aunt in Nigeria, has been packed off to America to marry a doctor, a Nigerian himself who has not been home in eleven years. ‘What could be better?’ asks auntie Ada, and then adds ‘It’s like we won the lottery for you!’ It turns out, the doctor is not a doctor yet, and his name Ofodile has morphed into a more Western Dave.’ Read the rest of the review here.

The Granta Book Of The African Short Story

I have just finished reading this magnificent anthology and my review will be up on Bookmuch shortly – check for the link in a couple of days!

I am now starting on the latest Joseph O’Connor’s collection of short stories and a novella. I have to say, short stories have occupied my mind for the last few years much more than novels, both in reading them and in my own writing. Maybe it is because they always seem more real to me, as if their characters are people I have met here and there over the course of my life, with the fragmented way that other people’s lives make themselves known so often. It is also the punchy power of the short story that I love, its beautiful way of making a point and its sketchiness that can sometimes so suddenly become an amazingly detailed drawing.

I am very excited that so many short story collections have been published recently – hopefully, this is a trend that will keep developing.

Two days later…

So it’s been two days since I pledged to stop limiting myself with too many convenient choices. In that time, I have been to London with my family BY TRAIN, something we hadn’t ever done, and had an amazing time WALKING around London, sightseeing and even visiting The Natural History Museum. We took loads of arty photographs (arty because our digital camera has a broken screen and feels like a Diana F at the moment) and I feel so much more inspired.

I have had two nights of vivid, emotional dreams and wrote a short story today. What a difference in my life! In fact, I feel like starting a campaign in favour of limiting the control that the latest technological advancements have been having on us.

Is too much convenience inconvenient?

I have a car. I work mostly from home. I have satellite television which even allows me to watch Russian channels from the UK. I have access to fast broadband and, generally speaking, my life has lately become very well organised, at least from the convenience point of view. And yet as I feel more and more flexible in how I live my life, I also become more and more limited. I have a choice of when and where to shop. I don’t have to make any specific arrangements for transport, other than find an hour when it suits me to jump into the car and go to the store. Convenient? Or isolating? How about the fact that over the last couple of years I have gotten used to avoiding driving into the city centre because I don’t want to pay extortionate amounts for parking, which has meant that I just have not bothered to go into Manchester at all!

Of course, this is all a choice. Watching TV at night when I could be writing, or sleeping, is my choice. And driving the car to go to the gym when I live next door to the largest municipal park in Europe is also my choice. But I wonder how I got to this point, where it takes something drastic like my car needing repairs for me to realise that I have been limiting myself, and my life. And that’s the thing about all the wonderfully convenient things that we now have: we have to learn to control how much access we give these things in our life. If we watch TV and that replaces us experiencing things for ourselves – that’s too much access. When we drive the car instead of walking with our kids to school and miss out on watching them go on their bike or scooter faster than the day before – that’s too much access. When I don’t exercise on the days that my husband has the car – that’s too much control.

For a creative person, this is almost creative death. I have not been feeding my funnel and now it’s running out of  material because I have locked myself into this very convenient situation. So I am going to take action. I will only use my car when I have to, and to make that easier I might even choose to not have a car for a few months. I will watch all my favourite TV shows in one go, probably at the weekend when I want to vegetate. Knowing me, I’d probably lose interest pretty quickly anyway and go off TV completely – it has happened before!

But the most important thing is that I will consciously get myself out there, into the currently very wet world, and start filling my funnel with random rencontres, observations and, mainly, people, because let’s face it, what is art without people?

Writing for free

If I worked in a ‘normal’ job, say at a checkout or in an office, I doubt I would be getting up every morning with a burning desire to start work, only to then spend the day procrastinating and putting it off, coming up with thousands of things to do beforehand or just staring at the office building once I did managed to get my sorry arse there, and then walking away in frustration and embarrassment. No, I would probably – and I know this from experience of having a ‘normal’ job – I would probably get up in the morning, and whether I liked it or not, I would get dressed, have my breakfast, and then show up at work. Granted, I may not be very motivated on some, or most days. I would most likely grumble when faced with things I don’t particularly enjoy doing but I would still get on with them, and once I got going, knowing myself, I would find something positive and exciting about it.

The thing is, I would do all that in a job, but then I would also get paid for doing it. And maybe that’s the difference between writers who treat their writing as a job, showing up every day no matter what and getting on with the least exciting parts of writing, and those writers who don’t get paid for their writing, or at least not enough to survive on. The majority of writers have to fit their writing around their other jobs, and other responsibilities. Compare this to everyone else, who plan their lives around their working hours. No wonder so many writers become blocked and demotivated. After a day of ‘proper’ work plus commuting, children and housework, eight hours of writing seem an impossible task. And yet that’s how much time we would devote to a ‘normal’ job in an office.

Our civilisation is fast and focused on money-making. On the one hand, it’s a good thing. We are creating a world that functions 24/7, a non-stop flurry of activity that is making humankind live longer and achieve more. On the other hand, if the consequence of longer life expectancy is that we would have to stay in work even longer, and the consequence of the 24/7 culture is that we never get a chance to enjoy our lives, then are we actually going in the right direction?

What would happen if the focus shifted from constantly doing something productive to time spent thinking, contemplating, talking? What if we paid artists and writers to do their important work, instead of making them suffer and prove they are good enough first? If we accepted that instant gratification isn’t always the best thing for us?

I recently read an article about happiness. Live simply, it said, and cheaply. Spend time with friends and family, do something you enjoy regularly.  And another, about the author Kate Mosse, who said that she gets up at 3.30am and writes for eight hours a day.

I won’t try eight hours a day. I’ll go for one hour. Nor the 3.30am, since that would only give me two and a half hours of sleep every night – I’m a bit of an owl. But I’ll do the living simply thing. I’ll let you know how it goes.