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Writer’s Blog: Laurie Raye – How not to read a book

When approaching a book which contains stories it would be natural to assume that the purpose of the book is to read it. This is, after all, what most people do when faced with a book.

Edward Dimock, distinguished professor of South Asian languages, when his attempt to get access to an old and valuable Bengali text finally succeeded, discovered that all but one of the 360 pages were completely unreadable due to three centuries’ worth of worship with unguents and powders.

He only wanted to read it, but what a fool he was to think that all books were for reading.

So why ruin a good book? Because the texts themselves tell you to. Books can command their own destruction, and if you ignore their instructions you do so with the understanding that you have not experienced the book to its full potential.

“Before you read me, cover me in powder!” They say, and you do, because you want to do right by them.

When they can no longer be read, you pass it on by word of mouth. You tell your children what the book wants, long after it can tell you itself.

The oral tradition isn’t so far away from the written tradition after all. What could be more of a clear example of ergodic literature than a book that doesn’t want to be read.

Further reading on self-destructive books: Popular Buddhist Texts from Nepal: Narratives and Rituals of Newar Buddhism by Todd Lewis, The Role of Narrative in Nepalese Buddhist Vrata Literature by Laurie Raye.

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Authors/New Voices Introducing Breve New Stories Notes of Inspiration

Writer’s Blog: Trudy Duffy-Wigman – A New Language

In her last blogpost Trudy Duffy-Wigman, author of My New Best Friend published in Breve New Stories Issue Two, describes her experience on writing in her second language.

The fact that I am using a language that is not my own has a huge bearing on my writing. It brings challenges; like finding the right expression to convey a concept or an emotion. A benefit is that I am acutely aware of the workings of a language; the fact is that some words, feelings or expressions just cannot be translated. This has an effect on what you -what I- write. I find myself drawn to language that is pared down to its essential core- simple and sparse, devoid of flowery additions. Strangely enough, writing in Dutch is all but impossible nowadays. Though Dutch friends and family compliment me with the fact that I still speak Dutch without a trace of an accent and use the correct sentence structure I have found out that when I try and write something in my mother tongue, I throw it aside in disgust. Clunky and clumsy, not in tune with what I wanted to say.
Some twenty years ago I lived and worked in Russia for a while. Waiting for my part of the project to start, I filled the time with teaching Dutch conversation at the University of St Petersburg. One of the professors of Dutch of the university was incredibly accomplished in Dutch; not an easy language to learn. He had no trace of an accent whatsoever. The only way you could spot it was that he used archaic expressions; expressions not used for the last thirty years. He had never been abroad, which made it even more of an accomplishment (and indicated he had been trained by the KGB!).
It saddens me, not being able to be playful in my own language anymore. Perhaps you have to be surrounded and immersed by a language in order to be able to write in it.

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Authors/New Voices Introducing Breve New Stories Notes of Inspiration Writing/Reading

Writer’s Blog: Trudy Duffy-Wigman – Notes of Inspiration

Trudy Duffy-Wigman author of ‘My New Best Friend’ published in Breve New Stories Issue Two, talks about the authors who inspire her.

 

Being Dutch, I grew up with Simon Carmiggelt. Carmiggelt died in 1987, aged 74. He is famous in the Netherlands for his daily writings in the newspaper ‘Het Parool’. His short stories, which he signed off with ‘Kronkel’ (Kink) are observations of daily life, often melancholic, sometimes sombre but always with a great insight in the human psyche. Like few others, he was able to sketch big ideas with a minimum of words. He wrote flash fiction before the genre was invented. Some of his work is translated but I doubt whether he translates well as he is so very, very Dutch.
Another inspirational author is Godfried Bomans. Bomans died in 1971, when he was 58. Hardly any of his works – and he was a very prolific author – have been translated. He wrote short stories, essays, criticism, fairy tales and political satire. As an admirer of Charles Dickens, he founded the Haarlem branch of the Dickens Fellowship and became its president. Bomans was very media savvy and appeared regularly on (black and white) television. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that his literary peers regarded him with a measure of suspicion and disdain: he never received a literary prize, nor is he mentioned in scholarly overviews of Dutch literature, despite the fact he was widely read. Like no other he could describe what a character was about in just a few words.
A more contemporary source of inspiration is the collection of short stories written by Jhumpa Lahiri. Her work possess a quality that makes me want to stop and contemplate what I’ve just read, rather than going on to the next page. Her prose is understated, her language quiet and precise, resonating long after finishing the story.

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Writer’s Blog: Trudy Duffy-Wigman – The Idea Behind ‘My New Best Friend’

Trudy Duffy-Wigman talks about what inspired her flash fiction ‘My New Best Friend‘ published in Breve New Stories Issue Two.

Do you know that awkward moment when you hop on a bus or a train and you notice something is out of kilter? You hear the collective intake of breath by your fellow passengers and slowly realise that you are trapped – someone wants your attention, and you are going to give it, like it or not.
That is the inspiration behind this story. After decades of using public transport in every form and shape I can honestly say that overheard conversations, observations and interactions on tram, train or bus is where a lot of my ideas come from. Like the time I got on a tram in Amsterdam that happened to be full of drunken football supporters. Like the time we took the train from St Petersburg to Moscow armed with wet towels because criminals were gassing compartments to steal passengers’ credit cards. And like the time I got on a night bus in Glasgow and heard a lament from an inebriated, lonely soul.
And what do we, being sober and upright citizens, do in such situations? We don’t want to be involved. We turn away, afraid that eye contact means we are stuck with this person for the duration of the journey. We tune out the lament; blame it on the drink or the drugs. We forget this person is someone’s son, someone’s friend, a human being.
That is what the story is about. It comes not from one particular encounter; rather it is an amalgamation of several observations; I think most people will recognise it, having been in a similar situation. It is a story that needs to be told and it doesn’t need a lot of words.

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Authors/New Voices Notes of Inspiration Writing/Reading

Writer’s Blog: Michael Bloor – The Love of Reading

In his last post, Michael Bloor author of ‘The Aberdeen Kayak’ published in Breve New Stories Issue One, reflects on his love of reading and its roots.

I’ve loved reading all my life and ten years ago I found out why. The clue lay a few miles north from my home, in a building in the hamlet of Innerpeffray, in rural Perthshire. There you can find Scotland’s oldest free public library: www.innerpeffraylibrary.co.uk, founded in 1680. IMG_1630

When last I saw it, on rare warm day of early spring, the ground of the little wood beside the library was smothered in snowdrops, and the last of the winter snow could be seen clearly, glinting on the hills above Crieff. Inside the lovely old building there are many rare volumes, but the real treasure within this house of treasures is surely the Borrowers’ Register which goes back to 1747. Overwhelmingly, the readers are the rural poor: William Morrison – roadman, James Bronsler – cooper, Peter White – shoemaker, Ebenezer Clement – dyer, Peter Comrie – miller, John Drummond – mason, James McInnes – brickworks foreman, James McDiarmid – carpenter, and the rest.
Jethro Tull’s ‘Husbandry’ and Hill Burton’s ‘Emigrants Manual’ were popular items, but many borrowers seemed to read for more than self-improvement. On April 28th, 1859, Peter Comrie, the miller, borrowed ‘Fable of the Bees’ and ‘Ship of Fools;’ he was back on May 12th to borrow Scott’s ‘Witchcraft’ and Middleton’s ‘Letters;’ and he was back again on May 26th to take out Burton’s ‘Anatomy of Melancholy.’ Shortly after that he was reading a history of the French Revolution. These readers were autodidacts, snatching brief hours of leisure, peering at pages ill-lit by primitive cruisie lamps. They trekked to Innerpeffray from tenant farms and servants’ bothies to drink the sweet waters, to sample the only art and beauty that was available to them. They had fed on honey-dew and then would accept no other.
Me too, I’ve been feeding on that honeydew for sixty reading-years.

Michael Bloor

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Writer’s Blog: Michael Bloor – Notes of Inspiration

Michael Bloor, author of ‘The Aberdeen Kayak’ published in Breve New Stories Issue One, chose a few authors and stories that inspire him.

This is really tough – how can I neglect to praise Louis MacNeice’s Autumn Journal??
Nevertheless, I’m just going to mention one old inspiration and one new inspiration. BREVE-LOGOThe old favourite is William Morris’s The House of the Wolfings. Morris is my hero, just as he seems to have been a hero to everyone who knew him back then (except, possibly, his wife). The House of the Wolfings is the tale of a Gothic tribe menaced by a Roman invasion. It’s an extraordinary achievement for a Victorian gentleman, raised on the classics (at Marlborough and Oxford) and subjected to endless Imperial rhetoric on Britain as the New Rome. He contrasts the Gothic folk society with the Roman Empire, always to Rome’s disadvantage: on the one hand, the organic Gothic society, with its democracy of governance and manners, and its symbiosis of art and crafts; on the other hand, the authoritarian, war-mongering, slave-society of Rome, with a commodified art for the leisured few. Needless to say, the Goths win.
My new favourite is Island, the collected twenty short stories of Alistair MacLeod, all set in the Gaelic-speaking communities of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, where he grew up, where he returned to write every summer, and where he was buried last year. These are not heart-warming stories of an idyllic rural childhood, adorable animals and golden sunsets. They are unflinching accounts of hard lives in the fishing boats and the mines, of the divisions in families caused by education, emigration and economics. But there’s a wonderful, spare lyricism about the stories (MacLeod spoke each sentence aloud as he wrote it): they are short, graceful and simply told; adjectives are rare but always evocative – he made every word count. Like Thomas Hardy, MacLeod has memorialised a people in a landscape.

Michael Bloor

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Writer’s Blog: Barbara Stevenson – Notes of Inspiration

Barbara Stevenson author of ‘Zuri Mtu’ published in Breve New Stories Issue One, talks about the authors that inspire her.

When I was about eight a friend gave me a copy of short stories by Oscar Wilde for my birthday. This included, among others, The Happy Prince, The Gentle Giant and my favourite The Remarkable Rocket. I was enchanted by the poetic language and also the sadness. Most of the stories involved at least one death. At the time I had no idea about Oscar Wilde’s life, but being used to reading Enid Blyton, it seemed strange to enjoy a story where the hero died. I admit that nowadays in my own stories the hero doesn’t always survive to the last page.

In my late teens, early twenties, my favourite book was Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. This is an inspirational book about a seagull, which in itself says everything. Jonathan is no ordinary seagull and the author encourages the reader to be no ordinary person. It’s a short book and if you haven’t read it, I would recommend you do.

My final mention is for a book I read fairly recently by the Scottish author Michael Malone (with Bashir Saoudi) called The Guillotine Choice. This gripping story reads like a novel, but when you realise it is based on the life of Saoudi’s father, Kaci Mohand Saoudi who was wrongfully convicted of murder and sent to Devil’s Island, it makes disturbing and emotional reading. With experience as a crime novelist, Malone is able to tackle the subject with frankness and understanding, without the need for an orchestra of violins.

Barbara Stevenson

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Writer’s Blog: Michael Hampton – Notes of Inspiration

Michael Hampton author of ‘”A” Death’ published in Breve New Stories Issue Zero, talks about the authors and stories that inspire him.

The cautionary tale is as old as the hills and starts orally with your worried parents telling you not to put your hand in the fire. But the format is for grown-ups too as learning is lifelong. My short story ‘”A” death’ fits this profile, its grotesque nature identifying it as a precise literary sub-type: the conte cruel or cruel tale, a refined form that emerged from the fairy stories of Charles Perrault and Brothers Grimm, but was made explicitly modern by practitioners such as Auguste Villiers De L’isle-Adam, Guy de Maupassant and H H Munro, more generally known as “Saki”.BREVE-LOGO

De L’isle-Adam led a bohemian life, and his stories were as A W Rait notes in his 1963 introduction to Cruel Tales, “often written on dirty, crumpled scraps of paper stained with the coffee and wine of the café tables at which Villiers, generally more or less homeless, spent much of his time”, possessing titles such as ‘Flowers of Darkness’ or ‘The Apparatus for the Chemical Analysis of the Last Breath’ that hint strongly at their baroque content.

Contemporaneous with him was the short story maestro Guy de Maupassant. In ‘A Piece of String’, first published in the collection Harriet, 1884, a frugal peasant is unjustly accused of theft after being spotted picking up a bit of string off the road. The police clear him but despite the object in question (a lost wallet) being handed in, the man continues to be stigmatised by the local villagers, who suspect him of involvement come what may. Wholly innocent but unable to clear his name in the community, as a result he suffers an apoplexy and dies insane. This is classic Maupassant: a tragedy based on an impulse to which the reader is an eye-witness, but can do nothing to prevent as it unfolds in slo-mo.

The short fiction of “Saki” however can be lighter in tone, Monty Pythonesque even, but still trades on the uncanny and weird. His favoured locale is the countryside, but more especially the goings-on amongst the doomed upper classes just before the Great War: fox-hunting, card games, garden parties and Christmas gatherings often the backdrop to madness and mayhem. Ironically in “Saki” the pastoral settings are never quite what they seem. In ‘The Peace of Mowsle Barton’, 1911, a holidaying city gent discovers that the place he imagined to be the very picture of rural bliss harbours dark forces, witchcraft in fact, practised by two old women who spend their time cursing each other and everything around them. In one hilarious scene the gent watches in horror as a group of ducks drown one after the other in the village pond, while the farmhouse kettle refuses to boil as if bewitched. In the end he leaves in disgust, relieved to find himself back among the hustle and bustle of Paddington station. Relying on the odd incident rather than the quotidian ‘plotlessness’ of soap opera, the cruel tale discharges a flare into the night sky, often signalling that all is far from well in the universe. Twisted, acid and unsettling (thus sharing traits with the Edwardian English ghost story) it focuses on arbitrariness and malignant disorder, as if undisclosing the contents of a restricted police file.

Perhaps such writing is a prophylactic against insanity? But by focusing on the incident that comes out of the blue, out of nowhere, horror gets sharply etched on the reader’s disbelieving mind; so in a 24/7 news media environment suffocating in wholesale death and destruction, in end-of-the-world speculation, the trivial yet telling moment that appears to have no explicable metaphysical cause, operates as an indexical mark, generating a grim brand of humour. Once upon a time such encounters were superstitiously classified as intersection points, the workings of fate, and might still be if there was an agreed upon framework of meaning amongst human beings; but normality was the very first casualty of the World Trade Center attacks.

Michael Hampton

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Introducing Breve New Stories

So, What Happens Now? We Read, We write.

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Breve New Stories is up and running!

Last Thursday we decided it was about time to go live and let people know Breve is born. We had such a good response and we really want to thank each and every person that took some time to  have a look and signed up to our new blog and Facebook page.

So, we are doing this.  Breve is out on the hunt for the best new short stories and flash fiction.  We really look forward to get to know all the new and emerging authors out there, that share the same passion for storytelling and are ready to take the plunge. This is the opportunity to be part of a new exciting project and it is the moment to be brave.

 

While making our first steps, while waiting for you to finish editing your stories, we do what we like the most: We Read and We Write.

These are the books  inspiring Breve in these promising summer days: The Penguin Book of the Beach  and  The Penguin Book of the City, both edited by Robert Drewe. Both packed with some of the most brilliant international authors, giving us the thrills with their short stories over the themes of The City and The Beach.

If you are running out of steam or you think you deserve a treat for your hard work, these are the books you are looking for!