Last week I was surprised and delighted to get a letter from the editor of ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY MAGAZINE telling me that my short story, ‘A Tour of the Tower’ has been nominated for the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Derringer Award for the Best Long Short Story. It appeared in the March/April 2010 edition.
I’ve written elsewhere on my blog about my affection for EQMM and about how much I enjoy writing short stories and the freedom that they give me to experiment with different voices and viewpoints. But one down side is that one rarely gets any feedback after they have been published. Crime novels do get reviewed, not necessarily in the broadsheets, but there will be some, particularly on web-sites that specialise in the genre. There’ll probably be feedback on Amazon. There’ll be sales figures and there be Public Lending Rights which will tell you approximately how many times your book has been taken out of British (and now Irish) libraries.
But so often with a short story it disappears into the blue and that is that. Do readers like it? Usually you have no idea, unless they make a special effort to get in touch with you. The Derringers are voted on by members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, in other words, by readers and other writers. That’s why being nominated for an award like this is so gratifying.
There were several things that I thought of blogging about today – including that fact that I have finished reading ANNA KARENINA – but in the end there is only thing to write about: the earthquake in Japan. These days many of us will know someone affected in some degree. My son’s brother-in-law lives in Tokyo with his Japanese wife and daughter and had a three hour walk home on the day of the earthquake. The son of my close friend Sue was on holiday in Hawaii with his wife and baby: they were moved to the fifth floor of their hotel and – the blessing of these days of email and Twitter and mobile phones – she knew immediately after the tsunami arrived that they were OK.
It’s only recently that the world has grown so small. Never has it been so true that no man is an island. Before the invention of the telegraph in the mid nineteenth century it would have taken weeks for news of a natural disaster so far away to have reached us – and even then how much would it have meant? How much does it mean now? The fact that thousands of people have died is hard to take it, and it tends to remain a fact until we hear about individuals: a man searching for his parents, a mother for a missing child. These we can understand and they wrench our heart.
Living out here in the sticks, I always buy the Saturday GUARDIAN, but I don’t always buy a paper every day, don’t even want to if I am busy writing. When I do, I usually buy THE INDEPENDENT and that is what I have done for the last few days. For me this is still the best medium to try to understand what has and is still happening. The reports are more detailed than those of TV, radio, and the internet and the photos somehow less voyeuristic. But even if one can grasp the scale of this suffering, what can we do, apart from holding these people in our thoughts and prayers? Is it worth sending a donation to Save the Children or Shelter Box, when the problem is not one of money, but of logistics and a damaged infrastructure? I think it is. It is the only way most of us have of showing that we care. We see from the reaction of people to the arrival of the foreign search and rescue teams how much it matters that we try to stand alongside them.
“‘Alas,’ wrote Henry Beecher Ward, ‘Where is human nature so weak as in the book store?'” Where indeed? (Unless it is while browsing on Amazon, finger hovering over ‘Buy with One Click’?) This, from an essay on second-hand book shops, is just one gem from Anne Fadiman’s delightful little book, EX LIBRIS: CONFESSIONS OF A COMMON READER.
This book, given to me by my brother, is right up my street. It is a collection of the columns that Fadiman wrote for the magazine of the Library of Congression. She married another bibliophile so that books play a big part in their marriage. I especially enjoyed ‘Marrying Libraries’ because some of the debates were all too familiar. My husband and I married libraries, too, and as my husband still had his first wife’s books (she had died a few years before I met him), and she had inherited her parents’ books, we found we had an awful lot of duplicates – or even triplicates in the case of novels by E. M. Forster, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf. Which ones to keep and where to put them all?
Fadiman’s range is wide: plagiarism, unfortunate dedications, mail order catalogues, ink. And there are some wonderful anecdotes here. Haven’t we all at some time thought of something we want to make a note of, when no pen is handy? This happened to Sir Walter Scott while he was out hunting: ‘a sentence he had been trying to compose all morning leapt into his head. Before it could fade, he shot a crow, plucked a feather, sharpened the tip, dipped it in the crow’s blood, and captured the sentence.’ That is true dedication to the writing life.
PS. If you’d like to read my hitherto unpublished ghost story, ‘A Trick of the Light,’ go to www.corridorsmagazine.org where you can read it and a whole lot more for free.
PPS. While I am blowing my own trumpet, my short story, ‘Vanishing Act’ has just been published in the March/April issue of ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE. It’s set in a hospice and was inspired by the wonderful care that my mother had in St Catherine’s Hospice in Scarborough. I am sure she would have approved.