Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Still Shocking

Writers are very keen to make it new. It comes with the territory. Since the world never stays the same for more than five minutes neither should writing. New ideas, new forms, new styles. This is the life blood of the word. Readers, however, are far less keen. They like what they know. Novels with plots and conventional dialogue. Things with beginnings, middles and ends. With maybe a bit of excitement en route. They want to read novels that engage them in much the same way that well fitting shoes do. The whole of writing boiled down to five classic plots. Rise to fame, fall from grace, win love, lose it and death. Almost everything in literature can be fitted into one of those. The author of that writers’ standby, One Hundred and One Useful Plots, is exaggerating.

But newness is what writers crave, or they say they do. The relentless pursuit of the cutting edge. The late novelist B S Johnson had a book which came in a box. The chapters were not numbered and could be shuffled so that the story’s outcome was always unexpected. Novelists from the French Oulipo group created works that, for example, consisted entirely of words which did not contain the letter ‘e’ or were constructed of text found on railway stations. There have also been many attempts to create extremely short novels. Microfiction. Tales that are only two or three sentences long. Perfect for today. In fact at Twitter fiction where text has to be within 140 characters is on the rise. Here’s a typical example: “Now, piggybacking on solar emissions, my uploaded consciousness will carry his Gospel to the stars. It’s true: Jesus wants me for a sunbeam.”

In the days when answerphones were machines that contained twin cassette decks, one for outgoing messages and the other for incoming I pushed the envelope a bit. I wrote a novel that consisted of chapters that when spoken would fit onto the 30 seconds of the outgoing tape. I created new episodes weekly. My phone line was jammed with fans ringing in to hear the next episode.

Parthian’s new anthology, appropriately titled Nu – Fiction & Stuff is a 2009 example of where the new generation is heading. It’s edited by Tomos Owen from the Rhondda and contains not a single example of formal experiment or postmodernist challenge. No short stories written in text message nor impenetrable swamps of vocabulary dancing before your eyes. Instead there are straight ahead and, from a plot point of view, often refreshing new takes on old life. Susie Wild drunk while swimming. Bethan Michael rerunning Shameless in Blaenau. Alys Conran working out if Alex is gay or not. Nu costs a mere £6.99. Give the new a chance. Try now.

An earlier version of this post appeared in The Western Mail on 22 August, 2009 as The Insider

No comments: