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Becoming Someone Paperback – November 23, 2018

3.6 out of 5 stars 7 ratings

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Editorial Reviews

Review

reminds us ... there is a better way to treat ourselves and each other He Writes Words

Anne Goodwin has such an observant eye for human motivation and behaviour Literary Flits

thought-provoking Books, Life and Everything
 
perceptive, sympathetic insights Our Book Reviews Online

a special ability to crack such a great punch with so few words Whispering Stories
 
incisive glimpse into life in the raw Norah Colvin

From the Author

GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS? ASSEMBLING A FIRST SHORT STORY COLLECTION

by Anne Goodwin

Many years ago, when I was carving out a space to write fiction, a creativewriting tutor recommended I begin putting a short story collectiontogether. Despite knowing very little about publishing at the time, Iwas aware that short stories are hard to sell in the UK. So I shruggedmy shoulders and continued submitting my efforts to individualmagazines.

By the time my debut novel, Sugar and Snails,was published in 2015, I had over sixty short stories in multi-authoranthologies and/or print and internet magazines. I even had a couple intranslation - Swedish and Hungarian if you're wondering - which is yetto happen with either of my novels. But I didn't consider puttingtogether a collection until my publisher at Inspired Quill suggested it. What writer isn't flattered to be asked to submit? I decided ifSara-Jayne Slack was prepared to invest time and money in a collection, I ought to delve in.

It wasn't until my second novel, Underneath, was published that I had the headspace to revisit my short fiction with a collection in mind. By then I had around ninety stories - severalalready published, some still in draft and some doing the rounds - begun over a period of fifteen years. Each having emerged from a separateseed of inspiration, it was a new experience to go back and select asample not only for their individual qualities but for how they'd fittogether as a whole. Like arranging a vase with flowers from differentseasons or furnishing a room with both contemporary pieces and antiques.

Or perhaps my stories weren't so disparate. I knew I kept returning tofamiliar themes. Perhaps my collection would be like acolour-co-ordinated bouquet. But which colour - or theme - wouldincorporate the most alluring flowers?

In conjunction with mypublisher, I settled on the theme of identity, being broad enough toencompass a range of interpretations around a coherent central idea. How do we become who we are and how that does that change across time andcircumstance? How do we manage the gap between who we are and who wewould like to be or who others feel we ought to be? How much control dowe have over our identity and is it a role bestowed on us by others orsomething that arises from within? These kinds of questions areconsistent with my background as a clinical psychologist. They're alsoexplored within my debut novel.

After drawing up a list ofpotential candidates, I set about self-editing. A major differencebetween this and preparing my novels for submission was that 70,000words of short pieces contains many more characters and plots than anovel of similar length. What if I had repeated myself? Once the stories were in a single document it was relatively simple to eliminateduplicate character names, but echoes of imagery or phrasing aretrickier to detect. Multiple reads and an eagle-eyed editor certainlyhelp.

Following submission, my publisher asked for a statement of how each story fit the theme and a little more editing of some to makethat fit tighter. This helped us both develop a stronger sense of whatthe collection is about and my personal concept of identity as a dynamic process that evolves in relationship with the self and with others.Around this point we also agreed that there was a gap in relation toreligious identity (easily filled as I already had a few storiestouching on the topic) and that, although it's inevitable that somestories would be stronger than others, one, despite perfectlyencapsulating the theme, didn't make the grade.

More detailedscrutiny from my editor followed. The stories having gone throughmultiple edits already, a few courtesy of the editors of magazines, thecollection required fewer alterations than my novels, and definitelyfewer passages to cut. On the other hand, some elements of some storiesneeded a lot more back and forth until they hit the right note. Asatisfying short story depends on nuance; some of mine benefited from afew extra words to hone the resolution while still leaving sufficientspace for the reader to draw her own conclusions.

One of thedifficulties I encountered in writing my first novel was finding theright structure for the story I wanted to tell. When it came to thecollection, while structure wasn't a problem for the individual pieces,structuring the whole required some thought. In what order should thestories appear to make for the most satisfying read? With a novel,strategically placed crises keep the reader turning the page. Butthere's no parallel for this in a collection. To end one story, like ateasing chapter, on a cliffhanger doesn't entice readers into the nexttale with new characters and setting.

Having already agreed a title change from Being Someone to Becoming Someone to reflect identity as process, my publisher suggested arranging thestories to reflect increasing confidence of the main character in theirsense of who they are. Thus the process of reading might follow theprocess of identity formation, such that the book itself becomes muchmore than the sum of its component parts. But when the stories weren'twritten to illustrate this development, and when most stories contain aprocess within themselves, it's a challenge to achieve. Have we pulledit off? That's for readers to judge.

This essay first appeared in November 2018 on the Scarborough Mysteries blog hosted by Kate Evans.

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