So, we bumped into each other in a cafe, then emailed, and he suggested we swap a short story that we love by a published author, and meet for coffee to chat about it. Fab idea, I thought, and instantly agreed.
And that's what we did. Last Sunday.
Peter had sent me A Thread Snaps a short story by a Palestinian writer called Huzama Habayeb. It is the story of a girl carrying out domestic chores while thinking about a boy she likes who passes by her house. I sent him Darling by Padrika Tarrant, a very dark story about a woman who finds a dead dog and decides to make him new.
We met early afternoon in a cafe behind Central Library, and we got down to the business of short stories, our own writing, others writing, and in particular these two very different stories.
One of the first questions we asked was 'why did you send this particular story?' Peter seemed convinced I had chosen Darling in response to the one he sent because there of a link between the two stories. In Darling, there is a very small detail of the character snapping the thread of a necklace so she can use amber beads for her dog's new eyes.
I hadn't noticed this image (having read the stories in seperate sittings) but it did seem an interesting coincidence that both stories contained the snapping of thread, and we talked about our thoughts about the meaning of this, reading into it, I guess, because of the unusual juxtaposition of two stories that would not usually sit next to each other.
We talked about our experiences of reading each story, our interpretation, particular images that struck us, the similarities and differences, what we looked for in a short story.
Both stories have an intimacy and physicality about them, although in very different ways. I love A Thread Snaps for the way it describes the earthy physical acts of washing her dad's feet, wiping her brother's bum, feeling her own thighs. It was very grounded in real everyday detail, but with a very 'female' perspective on the body, a domestic view of love. I love Darling for the very physical detail of the dog's fur, the way his dead body is patched up with newspaper, carrier bags and tin foil, how love is shifted into a disturbed state.
Peter found Darling very disturbing. Ha. Yes, it is very dark, very scary in a way. I think he enjoyed it, how inventive it is, how beautifully written.
A Thread Snaps was a story that stayed with Peter long after he read it. Darling had a similar impact on me. We perhaps identified with these stories in some way, and so there was something special about being introduced to these stories by a writer/reader who had a personal connection with it.
We talked about point of view, first person (but detached), third person (but intimate), credible and manipulative narrators, the subjectivity of reading... how interesting it was to read two stories next to eachother, and see how this impacted on our interpretation, brought new insight, created discussion and ideas. Of course, we all bring our own personal experience, history and circumstances into the reading of a story, and that was what made talking about it, sharing the experience with someone else very exciting...
Ha, we were chattering away for about two hours, completely forgetting the time, and getting lost in talking about these stories, other stories and our own approach to writing.
I hope to do this more often with other writers...
But now, I will leave you with a little excerpt from each story.
Nuwwar rubs at the dried shit on the small underpants. He'll never learn to clean himself. He doesn't even want to learn! She scrubs the pants. The white foam gradually billows upwards, rising above the surface of the water and overflowing onto her thighs. Transparent, purple-looking hemispheres rise up like dough and fall away again almost at once, to slither down either side of her thighs in a thin trickle of water which comes to a halt at the edge of her underpants, or maybe sneaks beneath them and goes inside. Her eyelids droop: a flash of coolness, then a prolonged sensation of warmth, and at last the shit breaks up.
from 'A Thread Snaps'
A Thread Snaps by Huzama Habayeb, published in Qissat, Short Stories by Palestinian Women (ed. Jo Glanville) Telegram
When I said Good morning to my Darling the next day, I was shocked at the state of him. His fur was clotty with blood, and ti wouldn't clean up, not with shampoo, not even with bleach. Eventually, an idea struck me, and I tore up newspaper and made him a brand new skin, layered with glue. He was stiff inside his fur already, and so he didn't mind at all, having a paper skin.
Darling by Padrika Tarrant, published in Broken Things Salt Publishing