February Shorts Revisited

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It’s not February anymore. Thank goodness. What a truly nasty little month February 2015 turned out to be. I’m extremely glad to find myself contemplating March and the possibility that one of these days it might actually stop raining and think about becoming Spring in Belfast. In fairness, however, the horrible flu which knocked me out for most of the month also gave me ample opportunity for guilt free reading, (under the auspices of resting up), and short stories proved to be the perfect accompaniment for a flu-fuddled brain, incapable of concentrating for more than ten pages at a time.

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This year I managed to read ten books for February Shorts. I have to admit I was cheating a little as two of the ten weren’t short story collections as much as single, reasonably long, short stories, published individually. In my defence I did wade my way through three rather massive selecteds: Frank O’Connor, (which became increasingly marvellous as it moved towards his later works), Edna O’Brien, (which was in parts marvellous and in parts a little scattered), and Michael McLaverty, (which had moments of marvel but was mostly a little too much of a rural, Ulster plod for my liking). At five hundred pages or more a selected should surely count as two ordinary short story collections, so I’m going to go ahead and call February a prolific reading month.

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I revisited a couple of old friends: Raymond Carver’s sublime What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, (which undoubtedly warrants an annual read), and Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard To Find, (which is so very, very, very good that I might, under pressure, call it my favourite short story collection of all time and did, as a direct result of this month’s re-read, end up teaching a whole writing workshop on the phenomenal story, “Good Country Folk”), These books have, over the years, become religion to me and revisiting them I am always challenged to write tighter, more honest stories. I know I’ll ever write as well as Carver or O’Connor but I’m pretty sure I’m never going to give up trying. February Shorts actually provoked me into picking up my pen, (keyboard), and writing some new short stories of my own. I managed two little two thousand word stories and am about half way through a new longer short which I’m really enjoying working on. It’s good to get back to shorts after some serious long distance writing on the novel.

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My book of the month was unquestionably Mary Costello’s The China Factory. I’ve been raving about it ever since I read the first story. This is beautiful, luminous writing. Like Marilynne Robinson, Costello is so incredibly adept at bringing out the holiness in humanity, even the dark and difficult aspects of her characters. There are stories here which actually made me cry, (in a most undignified way, in Cafe Nero) and I could not stop thinking about her characters long after I finished the book. I suspect this will be a collection, like Flannery’s and Carver’s which I revisit again at some stage most years. If you’ve any sense you should go out and buy yourself a copy straight away.

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For anyone interested I’ve posted pictures of my ten February Shorts books. I hope to do this again next year. For now I’m back to novels and other slightly longer reads.

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