A few weeks back, Jodi Cleghorn (awesome editor and author) presented a challenge to the readers of her blog, Writing in Black and White: ‘Beginning in earnest next week, (14th Feb) I will be committing to read one short story a day, for a year…Care to join me?’

This looked an excellent way to get through the pile of short fiction anthologies on my bookshelves so I signed up. The following is a rundown of what I read over the first week of the challenge, and the notes I jotted in my writer’s diary.

14th Feb – 16th Feb – a selection of stories from David Gaffney’s collection Aromabingo:

Art Movement – Precise word selection, excellent description of hair, great use of structure. Great example of showing the reader just enough rather than telling too much.

The Kids from Film Noir – Funny in places, great premise but the ending disappointed. Look at this again to see what went wrong for me.

This is about Dixie – P.O.V. well chosen, first person narration through the eyes of a neighbour viewing the story. Very funny in places. Understated use of great ideas, they serve the story rather than draw attention to themselves. The life of cats explored as well as the life of neighbours. Lots crammed in here.

17th Feb – The Floating Order by Erin Pringle (from her collection of the same name)

Dark and compelling voice that evokes mental illness. Great example of unreliable narrator. The ending leaves the narrator and the reader shattered. Seems to use Spanbauer’s ‘horses’ to build reader awareness of the theme, each image building tension before that ending. Not telling her, just showing, each section broken down into its parts, lots of on the body writing (sensation) allowing the reader to actively piece together the story. Need to look in more detail at how this works.

18th Feb – Into the Depths of Illuminated Seas – Jason Sanford (Interzone 226, Jan-Feb 2010)

Convincing, consistent world created here. Structure and ebb and flow of tension nicely mirrors the sailing aspect of the story. Amber is a compelling character, but the ending disappoints slightly. Part of the problem is perhaps that, by the end of the tale, Amber is no longer unique in her “afflication.’ By giving another character the same problem seems to diminish her.

19th Feb – That First Time – Christopher Coake (a set text from my Open University Advanced Creative Writing course).

Good example of use of time to guide the reader through a story. Lots of non-chronological elements with flashback used to slow the narrative when necessary. The ending seemed a little over-written in places, with everything clearly explained. Not sure how you could do it another way though. Something to look at. Knowing the ending before I started reading possibly influenced this impression, but the course materials presented these as part of the exercise.

20th Feb The Exclamation Mark – Anton Chekhov (from the Hesperus collection of his work of the same title)

Yet another reason to love Chekhov’s short fiction. A surreal story, much removed from his more realist work. The premise, a clerk haunted by visions of punctuation when he realises he cannot explain the correct usage of the exclamation mark, is inspired. Had the feeling throughout that this would make an excellent animated short. In fact, the visual action was so well drawn that I certainly saw it in my head in this manner.

Well, that was my first week. I can heartily recommend Aromabingo, The Exclamation Mark and The Floating Order collections from what I have read of them thus far. I’ll be dipping into each of them over the course of the next couple of weeks. Future posts for this challenge will appear as close to daily as I can manage.

Be sure to check out Jodi’s blog for a rundown of what she has been reading. If you are taking part in this challnege feel free to post a link to any posted reading lists. I’m eager to get some recommendations for quality short fiction not yet on my radar.

I’m off to have a look at my bookshelf and see what jumps out at me for today’s story.