I’m still buzzing after an intense and absorbing hour listening to three writers talk about the joys – and otherwise – of writing short fiction. Poet Paula Green chaired the session, uttering one beautiful observation after another about the works of Claire Keegan, Tina Makereti and Sue Orr.
Paula began by saying that she was going to have a conversation on stage and we would be eavesdropping. She spoke about each author in turn, saying that Claire Keegan ‘navigates the unexpected. She takes hold of your heart and wrenches it’; Tina Makereti’s voice ‘is dependent on an astute ear’ and Sue Orr ‘writes with exquisite clarity, rhythm and mist’.
She told the audience that she imagined writing short fiction would be like folding an A4 page into little pieces, and that there would be seams of emotion in the folds. Awww, how do you top that?
Claire Keegan read a story from Walk The Blue Fields , about a man called Stack, who lived with a goat named Josephine (sharing his life and bed), and the arrival of a woman called Margaret into the house next door. All set in the bogs of rural Ireland and told in her mesmerising, mellow Irish accent.
Tina Makereti read Kia te Aki from Once Upon A Time In Aotearoa, a tale of an elderly kuia finding a little lost boy on the side of the road, and taking him home. She uses short sentences to great impact and te reo was sprinkled throughout the story. Later she said that she didn’t provide translations, as she hoped that the story would convey the meaning – a technique that worked wonderfully.
Sue Orr read Scratchy from Under the over coat, a witty and wry tale of a grandmother’s view of her life (which includes pulling down her once-favourite grandson’s low-riding jeans with two swift tugs until ‘they were a blue puddle on the pavement’, and looking out through her ‘eyelash prisms’ to spy on her husband.
As to the question of whether short fiction is a type of apprenticeship for going on to write novels, all three writers were dismissive of the idea. While they are all working on novels, none of them would ever give away the succinct beauty of short stories.
One last Paula-ism to finish – she said that she didn’t wear perfume, but imagined that rewriting old classic short stories (as Sue Orr and Tina Makereti have done with their latest books) would be like 10 different people wearing the same perfume, but each giving out a different whiff of fragrance.