Shorts Workshop with Chris Somerville – Key Takeaways

Press Room blogger, Alex Bennetts, attended the Shorts workshop with Chris Sommerville. Here’s what he got out of it…

The short story is one of the most prevalent forms of writing in Australian literary magazines, so it’s with an ounce of “duh” that there’s a short story workshop this year at NYWF. Hosted by Chris Somerville, author of the collection We Are Not The Same Anymore and a lecturer who has taught creative writing at Griffith University, the University of Queensland and Melbourne University, the workshop was casual enough to feel immediately welcome but offered a wealth of short story advice and experience.

Somerville gave feedback to attendees who had sent in their own short story prior to the workshop, and then talked about short story writing in a broader sense. I’ll give you the micro version, because instead of detailed notes I drew little flags with words in them. Things you need in a good short story: conflict, desire, plot, voice, stakes, and a protagonist. Wow! Easy! Now you can write yourself to celebrity and riches in just three easy steps!

(This was much more eloquent and expansive in person, but there is enough How To guides about short story writing online that I’ll save you from my second-hand explanations of first-rate advice. Fine, I’ll give you one short tip I nicked: don’t start a short story with dialogue!)

Maybe it was the unintentional (but completely discernible) festival-wide theme of “funny writing with celebrities as main characters” that inspired the main workshop activity, but it was definitely more fun than trying to spin something off “it was a dark and stormy night.” Somerville gave us the cue ‘Kanye West saved from drowning’ and what emerged was a variety of styles, characters and tones from the stories. Here’s my own take on the title.

Kanye West Saved From Drowning

All my friends hate Kanye West but then all my friends are arseholes. They grew up nearby in Kanye East but when that shithole flooded the mayor of West opened his arms like it was a big gesture but really what else could he do but let them all drown. “Us Kanyes have to stick together!” or at least that’s what us school kids from West and North and East sang in chorus when we went camping together.

But then North got hammered by this huge wave and all the North families came to the border, basically the midpoint between Kanyes East and West. Some of the people in West wanted to welcome the refugees but some of them wanted the refugees to go clog up Kanye East, and it was the same situation over in East except for the other way around. Eventually we just split the refugees right down the middle, anyone whose surname started with A to M went to Kanye East and N through Z went to West. The people who had two surnames thought we’d argue over which side got them but fuck those guys.

Anyway, most of the North school camp kids that I hoped would come to West had surnames like Brown and Gibson and Bishop and Carmody and I hadn’t seen them since the tidal wave. But when the flood washed out East everyone came over the border, because it was an official border now, with trucks and men with guns making sure nobody threatened to ruin West, not even the sky or the sea. But when my camp friends arrived from East (nee-North), they looked at me differently, in the way we’d looked at the bigger kids who jumped on our sandcastle at camp.