The Long Road to Oxford

Having been quiet on the writing front due to work commitments, it was a joy to get back into the swing of things on Saturday. First stop was the very first London Short Story Festival at Waterstones in Piccadily ably organised by Paul McVeigh and a host of volunteers. Tania Hershman hosted an hour of ‘weird writing’ with Dan Powell, Adam Marek and Rob Sherman which provided food for thought. Then it was up to the boardroom for a workshop on generating ideas with Adam Marek. As I spend a lot of time in boardrooms in my day job, it seemed a bit cruel to spend a lovely weekend day in yet another one but the workshop itself was really interesting. It confirmed some things I think I knew about how I write but also gave me lots more to think about.

Then, I headed off to Paddington aboard a tube that must have experienced the London Blitz firsthand, sprinting like a Michelin Man possessed to leap above the train to Oxford for what proved to be a four hour journey to Oxford, being thrown off at Didcot. Left to fend for ourselves and no taxis for about 30 mins, I went for the bus on the basis, I’d be moving in the right direction. How wrong I was and I arrived in Oxford a broken man having:

1. Toured round an empty industrial estate (Saturday night!!)

2. Visited the village with the most speed humps per 100m in the entire universe (can’t remember, my brain still hurts!)

3. Navigated Abingdon like a Google Maps car (sure we went down every bloody street!)

Eventually I arrived at the Albion Beatnik bookstore in Oxford  at the halftime interval for the National Flash Fiction day event hosted by Virginia Moffatt, author of Rapture and What Comes Next and a member of the Friday Flash community which encouraged me to start writing. Indeed Virginia wrote a lovely blog post about my writing by way of introduction which I really appreciate. I read a couple of stories – ‘A Room With A View’ from the Stories for Homes Anthology and ‘The Last Last Ride’ which is about going round in circles (somewhat appropriate for the evening) then enjoyed listening to some lovely stories from other writers.

Fortunately I’d decided not to travel home that evening and instead settled for a relaxing night in a hotel before hitting Blackwells in the morning (or did they hit me, I’m not entirely sure!). It was a tiring but inspiring day and I am so looking forward now to August and September which will be my writing months for 2014.

Thanks to Virginia and Paul for organising these events and helping flash and short fiction forms of writing gain the respect they deserve.

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Why the BBC is wrong to cut the short story

As more and more people come to appreciate the short story, the BBC decides to reduce its output to one story a week. This is a poor decision in itself, but what does the BBC plan to replace this with? More news and current affairs? More, really?

 

How much more news can we bear? Do we really need another 15 mins of talking heads and pointless conjecture to fill an absence of available facts? The BBC has so many news outlets that I fear for Robert Peston who must spend all his time shuttling breathlessly between studios. Is there a license payer out there out there that believes genuinely that the BBC needs yet more news? Nor do we need programmes such as Money Box Live to be longer still. How many times can people with any degree of intelligence be told to shop around for the best bargains and to check the small print?

 

It is so disappointing that the BBC seems totally incapable of recognising the immense richness and value of its short story output. On her appointment, John Plunkett described Gwyneth Williams in the Guardian as ‘a safe pair of hands on a delicate treasure.’  It is a beautiful phrase, worthy of inclusion in a short story perhaps, but its confidence seems sadly to have been misplaced.

 

Could we not do more with the treasure of the short story format than to merely choke the life out of it?   We celebrate the novel yet the short story requires both an elegance and economy in words that makes it stand out in its own right and it is the ideal format for radio and our digital age. It seems incredible that the BBC would choose to abandon the short story at a time when it has never been more popular or relevant.

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