There are lots of quotes that come to mind about story writing that feel right to me, about not knowing really what something is until you write to find out. I’m with Flannery O’Connor on this, like most writers I know. I never know the ending of a story when I sit down, I know something though, a feeling I can’t shake off, and have probably tried to ignore for a while.
‘So Few Words For Rain’ was one of those things that wouldn’t leave me alone. I wrote a poem one day and ever since something stuck with me. The poem went on to become the title poem of my Nine Arches poetry collection, The Book of Tides. It was published, and should have been over and done with, but it wasn’t. The character in the poem kept coming back to me. I knew her voice. I’d be going about my business and would imagine her take on things and the strange way she’d express it. I went out one day and even spotted the fisherman’s cottages where she lived. Though I was done with her, the character wasn’t done with me. There was nothing for it but to write a story.
It’s funny, but this has happened before. Now and then, I’ll write a poem and find I know a lot more than I wrote, I’ll realise I know people and a whole backstory that isn’t mentioned in the poem and some detail won’t leave me alone. Of course it won’t, it’s a story I never told. The poems stand alone, but it’s like a poem is an ajar door. Through it, I can see the odd detail, but once that door is there it sometimes flies open and shows a whole room. That’s the difference for me between a poem and a story, a glimpse through a crack and a door and seeing a room.
I once saw the flash fiction writer Meg Pokrass say something like, writing is being yourself, but finding a hundred different ways to do it. There’s something about this I really relate to. It fits with how I feel about ‘So Few Words For Rain’ and a lot of things I write.
I’m drawn to characters who are trying to figure something out and are at odds with their surroundings. The narrator in So few Words For Rain is such a character, she uses writing her own dictionary of what she thinks words really mean to work through what being an adult may be like, perhaps avoiding it as much as she can. It’s a world she can see glimpses of, but doesn’t want to wander into yet, like avoiding writing a story, or sending it out.
When did I know the story was finished? When do any of us know? It’s just like Raymond Carver says, when I’ve put in a comma, taken it out, and put it back in again. That, and when I can stop thinking about the character and she finally left me alone.
You can read ‘So Few Words for Rain’ in Issue Eight which may be purchased here.
Angela Readman‘s stories have won The Costa Short Story Award, The Mslexia Short Story Competition, and National Flash Fiction Competition. Her debut collection Don’t Try This at Home was shortlisted in the Edge Hill Prize and won The Rubery Book Award in 2015. In 2017 her work aired on BBC Radio 4.
© Angela Readman, 2017. Image © Jo Mazelis, 2017.