Autumn’s here

It’s that time of year again. I was moving wood from a delivery into the shed earlier, trug by painful trug (the weekend’s sea kayaking has broken me), and a long V of geese flew in overhead. I sometimes wonder why they talk to each other incessantly as they fly. It looks like so much effort to keep those big bodies up, wings incessantly flapping.

There was a second, smaller V, and a couple of geese broke free from this as I watched, trying to join the larger one. I imagined them worrying about directions — they’re all following Jemima, maybe they know something we don’t; maybe Steve doesn’t have a clue where he’s going and he’s going to turn left over there when he should turn right — as they beat the air furiously with those long wings, slightly akimbo in their sprint across the gap, all against a background chorus of slightly squeaky, syncopated honks I could hear before I spotted the birds and long after they had passed.

I felt the season turn a couple of weeks ago, and while I’m sad to see the back of summer, with its sunny beaches, garden barbecues, fledgling birds, wonderful flowers and hazy warm days of having every window open in this granite fridge we call a house, Autumn has always been my favourite time of year. Here in Scotland we often get the best of the year’s weather in a blissful window on the cusp where summer gives way to autumn; it’s as if the sun realises we are given short change on that front (excuse the pun) and throws an extra week or so of blue skies our way just when we think the cold rains have arrived. It’s warm, but not too warm, with cool, crisp mornings and spectacular sunsets.

It’s fungus season, too. I took this picture in Aviemore at the very end of August:

Fly agaric

Fly Agaric is so beautiful when it breaks through its hood, the red still glossy, the cap unblemished.

This one I took in Keil’s Den, Fife, a couple of weeks later.

Cluster of sulphur

These are Sulphur Tufts, named both for their colour and habit of clumping together. I love taking pictures of fungus. They can be so whimsical.

Speaking of whimsy, yet another story that was supposed to be a flash has grown arms and legs. I’m wrestling my way through thick undergrowth to the end, trusting I can cut it back to something manageable once I’m there. While I thoroughly recommend Rand’s The 10% Solution — especially if you often get comments from crit buddies along the lines of overly wordy, padded prose or over-written — sometimes the machete has to come out before the secateurs.

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When short stories aren’t

Although I’ve been putting words on paper since I could hold a pen (I shall dig out some of my earliest journals sometime), I have written purely for myself, not with a view to submitting to market. I started doing that only recently, and I’m still finding out where my strengths and weaknesses lie when writing for others.

Some of them are obvious, such as the struggle I face balancing too much exposition with confusing prose, when part of what I want to do is conjure ambiguous worlds where nothing is definite. My crit groups are invaluable for dealing with these kinds of problems.

Other problems are harder to pin down. My short stories often grow metaphorical arms and legs and tentacles, before ignoring the limitations of limbs and sprouting hyphae all over the place. I end up trapped in something like a web built by a swarm of caffeine-fuelled spiders in a memory palace the size of Hannibal Lecter’s.

If I were writing long form, this would be more useful. Is it, therefore, a good thing or a bad thing? I’m still undecided, but am going to treat it as a good thing for the time being. At the moment, I would rather be in the position of having to cut than to add, except where my crit buddies suggest I can have clarification without straying into wordiness.

A short story I started with a nominal project target of 5,000 words has reached almost 10,000 words with no sign of stopping. It has pages of research and its own Scapple folder. I came back to this piece after several months away from writing, and opened it with a notional inclination towards abandonment. I read what I’d done, and I liked it too much to give up. There’s a story here I want to tell, and whether it ends up as 15k words I cut back to 7k, or 20k I work up to a full length novel, finishing the story at whatever length it turns out to be is something I have to do.

I’ve heard it said that a story ends up the length it needs to be. We’ll call this an experiment.

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