‘A Hidden Fire’ is launched on the world, after years in the making. Time now to take down the yellowing, faded notes and reminders blu-tacked above my desk and get ready for the next work in progress. It all feels a bit of a wrench, when I’ve lived with this book and these characters for such a large part of my life. But it’s time for something new, especially now that we’re all locked down again.
The questions is, what is this new project to be?
There is so much in my head, some of which has been lurking there for years, waiting perhaps to be stirred into creative life: new novels, contemporary or historical; sequels to novels long completed, returning to characters I’ve known and loved—or something completely different?
I have a little stack of notes and ideas for short stories, something I have hardly ever tried to write, or not since the 1970s, when I was runner-up in a local newspaper competition organised by Mills and Boon for Valentine’s Day. Now, in these uncertain times, when the thought of embarking on a full-length novel is more than a little daunting, short stories seem a tempting option. And what about historical short stories? Is that a realistic possibility, within a space where there is little scope for setting scenes, filling in background, familiarising the reader with a past time of which perhaps they know very little?
I’ve recently been reading a collection of short stories by a group of established historical novelists: ‘Betrayal’. I have to admit to being a little disappointed. Some are well written and engaging, but others have way too much explanatory narrative to engage the reader’s interest. And most of them seem designed to be tasters for the author’s longer works, and don’t quite stand alone as single works.
I shall seek out other historical short stories, as it’s a field I know very little, though I’ve enjoyed many contemporary and classic short stories. I firmly believe that every writer should first be a reader, no matter what genre they wish to tackle. Meanwhile, I am going to start work, experiment, put words on paper (and most likely cross them out time and time again…) and see how it goes.
I am not under any illusion that it will be easy. A short story is most definitely not easier to write than a full-length novel—on the contrary, for everything that matters has to be distilled into a tiny space, where no word is wasted.
But if nothing else, a new challenge should be good for my brain, and maybe help to distract me from the grimness of the world beyond my study.