Relentlessness.

It’s been a busy week for writers and artists in Dundee.

Last Monday, our regular Hotchpotch meeting was held aboard a 19th-century warship. More than 40 people showed up – double our usual maximum attendance – and we enjoyed a fantastic and varied night of writers reading their own work. We even made the local paper. There’s a picture of me dressed as a captain.

Then the Dundee Literary Festival began on Wednesday and ended yesterday. I attended a selection of events, including a play set in a disused jute mill, an interview with Nick Frost from Spaced and Shaun of the Dead, and an investigation into the success of Ladybird books over the last 100 years. There wasn’t an event I didn’t enjoy, but I’m not going to review any of them here. Instead, some of them have already been reviewed by students.

In the middle of the festival, I saw Benedict Cumberbatch as the eponymous Hamlet with the National Theatre. The live cinema screening was sold out, but it was well worth seeing the recording. I’m glad, however, that I read up on the story before seeing it. I found it a lot easier to follow when I heard the words than when I read them on the page.

And at the weekend, artist studios WASPS held an open house, allowing the public to see how their art is made and to buy it directly from the creator. I went along with a friend to visit artist Jennifer Robson and jeweller Genna Delaney, among others.

Unfortunately, Saturday’s session was cut short by a fire alarm apparently set off by someone using a blow torch. The building was perfectly fine, but the alarm malfunctioned and wouldn’t switch off.

And just as these finish, National Novel Writing Month begins on Sunday 1 November. I’m returning as the Dundee & Angus regional organiser for a second year, and there will be someone else helping me.

The five previous times I’ve done it, I’ve exceeded the target, sometimes by less than 100 words. But one of the messages I always give out is that there’s no shame in not reaching the 50,000 word target. I’ll keep you updated during the month.

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Long May It Last.

A couple of entries ago, I riffed upon the art of shortening the short story. But having thought a little more about it, I’ve come to realise a lot of the short stories I’m most proud of are actually longer than 2000 words. I have written novels, but they’re a different class entirely.

My longest short is called An Abundance of Apples, clocking in at around 4500 words. This tells the story of a man who trades 26 items, each beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. This was always going to be the approximate length, and it gave some room to manoeuvre when telling the story.

Another of my favourites is The Cracked Goldfish Bowl, about a man with an amazing memory but no self-confidence. The final word count was 4300 words, but that’s merely because I kept thinking of new challenges to face the main character rather than creating an overarching plan.

I tend to approach my short stories from the top downwards. Sometimes I know where I’m going to end up, but often I let the story wander as it wishes. An artist I know, Jennifer Robson, prefers the meandering approach to her sewing, as she doesn’t feel challenged if she knows what the end result will be.

I’m a strong believer in writing a proper ending to a story, whether that ending is known beforehand or not. Sadly I’ve read too many ‘two-thirds’ pieces with a great set up, and enjoyable narrative, but the writer has omitted a satisfactory conclusion, leaving it to flop out with a vague sentence or two. That final third might have made all the difference.

What I’m saying is that some stories need cut down to size, as discussed in that last entry, while others require some room to breathe. The question is which approach is the best one to take for that particular story.