Last week, I was asked to write this. And it was easy to do because, as I said earlier on this blog, I’d received this wonderful late/on-time birthday gift of Salinger stories, and just re-read Carpenters/Seymour – and then was asked to write about ‘my favourite book’ as a promo for the Cheltenham Literary Festival, so I did. It was also a wonderful example of how valuable it is to find the right gift at whatever time, rather than any gift at the right time!
Now, have a look at this :
“Two seemingly disparate stories, written four years apart, which together show all that is best about a story, and all that might be best about writing.”
as compared to this :
“Two seemingly disparate stories, written four years apart, which together show all that is best about story, and all that might be best about writing.”
I actually wrote the latter, the former is what was subbed and appeared online/in the paper. (Don’t worry, this isn’t an anti-subs rant, I leave that to the bloke journos – and we all know how well those things turn out!)
What interests me here is not that it was assumed I’d inadvertently left out an indefinite article, but the question of story as opposed to ‘a story’.
I was trying to say, in the above sentence that BOTH Salinger stories, taken together – which is, I assume, why the author and publisher continued to present them as a pair – show great writing and a glorious awareness of what story is all about. I don’t really mean story-telling. I don’t mean narrative. I certainly don’t mean plot. I don’t mean ‘a’ or ‘the’ story at all – I mean no article, definite or indefinite. I really mean STORY – that ephemeral thing that comes and goes (or at least comes and goes at this writer’s desk!), the very organic, very human form we latch on to as readers and as audience and as makers of work because it fits something in our brain wiring, that every culture understands (albeit often in very different forms, so different that we sometimes can’t recognise each other’s version of ‘story’), and that is the heart (spirit?) of any good ‘story’.
And story is at the heart of it all. I want to tell story. Not necessarily this story or that one, not to make a point, teach something particular, share any great wisdom/awareness I have gleaned – for me, telling story is quite often enough. Sharing/making (if it’s theatre) is sometimes the process and the end in itself. It’s why I think it’s more important that we ask ourselves what we hope the reader/audience will FEEL rather than always concentrating on what we want them to KNOW.
It isn’t always tangible, it does touch on that mystic thing I’m wary of getting too mired in (especially around questions of who gets to be a writer, who gets to be an ‘artist’), it’s something I’m constantly aware of and yet try to ignore in the actual day to day process of getting words down on to paper.
I want to let story tell itself, I want the thing I’m working on to become a vehicle for story (as a form, a sometimes changing form) tell/show/bring itself. To me, story is the underlying element/drive/pull that is where the (a?) truth is. To do that I – as the maker of the work – choose to tell ‘a’ story.
I don’t think they’re the same thing.
And I do like how many people have been in touch with me since the Times piece to say how much they too love those Salinger stories.
This chimes with me, as a writer and as the editor of The Short Review, where we interview the authors of the short story collections we review. Our standard questionnaire includes the question “What does the word ‘story’ mean to you?” I deliberately didn’t say “a story”, because that is completely different, and then people start talking about beginnings, middles, ends, plots etc.. “Story” is that intangible thing, that essence of what we do as writers, and the many different responses to this question are illuminating and often very moving and personal.