I am the epitome of a modern reader, that scandalous human being that is the reason “the novel” is considered a dying tradition. They’re great, they’re emotional, they have so much in them, but they take me about 16 million years to read. I have too many novels I can list off the top of my head that I have begun to read and never finished. Not because I lost interest in them, but because I couldn’t find the time before another novel was being forced down my throat by my tutors, or maybe I just forgot to finish it, or maybe my holiday came to an end and I was forced back into normal society where, you know, you actually have to do things.
I suppose, I’ve been cursed with slow reader’s syndrome. But unlike many troopers who push on and finish Wuthering Heights over the space of 3 years, I move on. Mostly, because I have to. As a writer and therefore a reader, you are always being pushed to discover new things. When you meet in-laws or catch up with relatives or speak to a fellow scholar they always have a suggestion: “Oh, well have you read this, it’d interest you.”
I have a list on my BlackBerry (Yep, still a proud BB owner) of nearly 50 novels, poems or stories that people have suggested to me and I do plan to get round to them. Sometimes, I have a cheeky peak at the opening paragraphs on Amazon, using that handy “Look Inside” tool. I have become a master of BS. I can probably convince you I have read every book under the sun, just by reading a few paragraphs here and there.
When I was about 13 I started reading my first, still to this day, unfinished novel: Diana Wynne Jones The Merlin Conspiracy Trick or Treason. Now I picked the book because, quite simply, it was beautiful. I don’t even remember the plot, I remember there were two characters, two points of view and two worlds, accompanied with some rather interesting names – this in itself was my first experience of something “fantastical” and probably the reason I never attempted to read Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter (don’t kill me). I was not ever going to enjoy the world of wizards and unicorns. Not when it was so nice and wholesome and aimed at children. My wizards need to be strange, perverse and probably killed by Red Riding Hood or Cinderella with a phallic instrument before I’m even remotely interested.
My shameful list of unfinished novels include Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, I heard it had a fantastically written sex scene, I got to the sex scene in one night and was greatly disappointed and never read on, despite having enjoyed the book until then; Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood is one I want to finish but I read enough to get me through my essay and back up some points on child narrators. I was too busy writing to pick it up again; Moll Flanders – I’m alright leaving that one unfinished actually and there’s probably so many more. That was just what I’ve done in the last 4 months. Meanwhile, my total collective of finished novels in that time is one: Mary Olivier; A Life by May Sinclair. However, I think anybody who’s read that novel will understand that is a feat in itself to have read that cover to cover. I enjoyed it actually and it’s inspired me and I have since given stream of consciousness a go.
So, what was my point about Flash Fiction?
Flash is on its way in, like a pair of £2000 cut out gladiator boots with an open toe and a front zip from Versace. Which might I add were only made in size 36 and 37 and are already sold out in the 36. Yes, Flash is not for everyone, not yet anyway. And yes, a lot of people won’t let it replace the space in their hearts that the novel occupies. But flash works. A person can attain satisfaction and completion within mere moments. Whether it be on their commute, with their breakfast, before their date or booty call and even sneakily under their desk at work. Maybe I find flash easier, maybe I’m lazy? But it takes me time to write it and I feel I have achieved more if I can strike a feeling of pain, love, joy or laughter in someone with 500 words, not 500 pages.
But just for the record, Diana, great front cover. I was a sucker for it. I will forever wonder what the elephant had to do with the conspiracy.