A Writer’s Year

A Writer’s Year

Comments: Limited edition. 40 copies. Self-published and printed by Covey’s, Prospect St., Fredericton. Free to workshop participants (all four of them!) and to anyone who asked for one. I also gave away free copies of my books to all participants as a reward for having the courage to brave Covid – masked and socially distanced – and to listen to me and share my ideas.

Comment: My first publication with Cyberwit.net. A pseudo-autobiography masquerading as a memoir. The original version of On Being Welsh was awarded first place in the D. A. Richards Prose Award (WFNB, 2020). It is available online from Amazon and Cyberwit.net.

Comment: My second publication with Cyberwit.net. allison Calvern helped me select and order these poems and my thanks go out to her for all her hard work. Geoff Slater and Ginger Marcinkowski also read and commented on the poems. Stars at Elbow and Foot covers 30 years of writing poetry, 1979-2009. It took a year or more to pull those thirty years together. It is available online from Amazon and Cyberwit.net.

Comment: My third publication with Cyberwit.net. An early version of The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature placed second in the A. G. Bailey Award for a Poetry Manuscript (WFNB, 2020). I revised it during my second residency at KIRA (May-June, 2021), sharpening the vision and concentrating on the links between one creative form and another. Geoff Slater and Ginger Marcinkowski again read and commented on the poems and Geoff suggested that I write the Prelude: On Reading and Writing Poetry. It is available online from Amazon and Cyberwit.net.

Comment: My fifth book of the year, self-published and printed by Covey’s, Prospect St., Fredericton in a limited edition of 40 copies, once again given free of charge to my creative friends. Patti painted the flower on the poet-painter’s cheek and I thank her for that. Geoff Slater played a large role in my painting and drawing by persuading me that my cartoons were not worthless. John K. Sutherland has long supported my cartoon art, and he encouraged me to ‘leave tangible footprints’ and to get some of my art work into print. I couldn’t have done it without Salvador Dali, though, and that’s my version of his watch going over the waterfall.

Comment: My comments on a year’s work as a creative artist would not be complete without a mention of the Kingsbrae International Residencies for Artists that take in the summer months in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. I received an invitation to attend KIRA in May-June, 2021. I would like to thank Lucinda Flemer and the KIRA support group for their kindness in inviting me back. The creative friendships that I have made with KIRA artists over the years have just been amazing and the whole atmosphere at KIRA is not just inspiring, but awe-inspiring. Just look at this. How could a writer not be inspired.

Dawn from the Red Room at KIRA

I would also like to mention the online workshops that I have taken with Brian Henry, of Quick Brown Fox fame. I attended the Friday morning advanced writers workshops from January to March, and again from September to December. His knowledge, skills, organization, and support are second to none. I have made many wonderfully creative e-friends across e-mail and our Zoom classes. My year’s work would not be complete without a tip of the hat and a great big thank you to BH & QBF.

Final Comment: I am grateful to Jan Hull, Stoneist, for her reminder that today is Old Year’s Day and that the Roman deity, Janus, is a two-faced deity, with one face looking back towards the old year, as I have just done, and the other looking forward to the future, as I am doing right now. All in all, a busy year and a very enjoyable one. Let us hope that next year is also an enjoyable and a very creative one.

Nobody’s Child



I ordered Nobody’s Child on Monday and it arrived on Thursday, two days after A Cancer Chronicle. Two books, two days apart. Wow. Nobody’s Child is a collection of short stories and Flash Fiction that deals with some difficult topics. A couple of the shorter pieces have appeared on these pages and will be familiar to the followers of this blog. Most of the material is new, some of it, very recent. Some of the stories have been published, others have received awards and honorable mentions. A shortened version of the collection, under the same title, was given an Honorable Mention in the David Adams Richards Fiction Prize of the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick in 2016.

Let the fiction begin: “… so this is earth day and we light candles in our house and turn off the telly and the computers and sit there reading and writing, watching each other through the flicker of the candle flames, and listening to the sounds of the house, such subtle sounds, the creak of the siding, the click of a door, a blind moving in the room overhead, the tick of the grandfather clock in the hall … and the smoke rises from the candles and makes dark patterns in the stillness of the air … and yet, through the blackness, the bleakness of the candle smoke, a hand reaches out and holds me by the nape of the neck, and thrusts me back into a past which once again has come back to haunt me …”

Nobody’s Child    is available on Amazon.

Structure in the Short Story


Structure in the Short Story
Wednesday Workshop
30 November 2016
Posted: 4 December 2016.

I just attended, with one of my writers’ groups, a writing workshop offered by a guest speaker. Our speaker threw out some interesting ideas on structure in general and structure in the short story in particular. The first comment he made was “Are you sure that your novel is not a short story and vice versa?” He then suggested that often beginning writers run out of steam because their novels are not really novels but are short stories that need cutting, rather than expanding.

He followed this up by suggesting, and I made no notes so I write from a memory that fails me more often than it used to, that a short story should have a structure that runs something like this:

stasis > key occurrence > end of old world (stasis broken) > beginning of new reality (the world upside down) > quest (the search for  new balance) > climax (when all the events of the crisis come together) >  the moment of truth (when the central character is faced by a decision) > the choice (the protagonist chooses) > pay-off for protagonist (order is restored and the protagonist is changed or confirmed by his choice) > pay-off for readers (who see that change and are themselves changed by looking at the same old world through different sight and a new knowledge or insight gained).

 One of the group members circulated his notes from the workshop and summarized the idea rather more succinctly:

The first thing I remember … in any story, the main character has to be changed at the end from what s/he was in the beginning.

The other item was the list of elements in a story: Stasis, Trigger, Quest, Surprise, Critical Choice, Climax and Resolution.

            Clearly this is a theoretical structure, but many short stories follow it or versions of it. Through this structure, our speaker suggested, there often runs a leitmotiv and this can provide a thematic unity that also holds the story together. Returning to this thematic unity and writing selectively from within it, can often produce the desired change in reader and protagonist. Equally clearly, there is no length to this structure and the resulting story may be very brief or suitably enlarged.

According to our speaker, the character of the protagonist is very important and the key aspects of the protagonist’s character must be clearly drawn, right from the start. The protagonist must also go through some sort of change as the story and the protagonist’s character both develop. Place is also important and the protagonist should be linked into a place and preferably a time. The protagonist in the short story is, after all, in a dialogue with his time and his place (his chronotopos, as Bakhtin would phrase it).

This is certainly a prescription for short story writing, one of many prescriptions, I might add. A quick search turns up another definition, this time of a five-point narrative arc offered by Mark Flanagan:

“Sometime[s] simply called “arc” or “story arc,” narrative arc refers to the chronological construction of plot in a novel or story. Typically, a narrative arc looks something like a pyramid, made up of the following components: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.”

            Flanagan continues with a definition of each moment in the story. Exposition reveals the characters and the setting. Rising action is a complication that hinders the protagonist. Climax is the point of highest stress or tension. Falling action is a releasing of the pressure and the resolution ties up all the loose ends. (Taken from this site)


Lope de Vega, the Seventeenth-century Spanish playwright, suggested a simplified three-part structure: situation > complication > unfolding / dénouement. Of course, the complications may be multiple, resulting in an action that runs situation > complication > further complications > complicating the complications > even more complications > even more complicated complications > and then the final unraveling of the ‘by now very twisted’ plot. An even simpler two-part definition, also from Spain’s Seventeenth-century, offers us the dual structure of a ‘world in disorder’ > ‘a world in order’ — how the characters progress from disorder to order is up to you as a writer.

Of course, the author may decide NOT to tie up all the loose ends and re-order the world to perfection. When this happens, we may have a dystopia: the disaster continues; or we may have an open ending that prompts the reader to wonder what might happen or what might have happened. As for ‘beginning at the beginning,’ there are also stories that begin in the middle (in media res) and then go backwards in time before going forwards again. This raises the awkward question: how short is a short story? I won’t attempt to answer that one here.

Whether you describe or prescribe, there are many possibilities in the world of short story telling and it is always the story that counts. If it is good, then perceived structural flaws that go against these prescriptive methods may well become a prescriptive structure for another future writer. Interior monologue and dream, for example, linked thematically but not necessarily linked in time and space, may well distort or destroy yet another structural format, that of the three classic unities of time, place, and action. these, incidentally, are expanded into four by the great Spanish playwrights (among others, I am sure) who add unity of theme to the other three.

Robin Grindstaff, in an online article entitled “Narrative Arc: what the heck is it?”, available at


suggests yet another simplification and reshaping, of the narrative arc idea.

“Think of narrative arc as a bell curve. It starts at a point on the lower left hand side of a graph, rises in a curve to a peak, and then drops back down again. The standard narrative arc is often referred to in terms of the three-act play: a beginning, a middle, and an end.”

            This is not unlike the structure outlined by Lope de Vega, except for the fact that ‘middle’ is a rather inadequate term for the multiple complications outlined in the Lope de Vega model. This statement may be a little unfair as Robin Grindstaff goes on to outline the complications that may occur in the second act in the following fashion:

“In act two, the main character must try to overcome the conflict presented by the inciting event. The character wants something, has a goal in mind. The conflict and tension of the story rise, and obstacles are thrown in the path of the character to prevent her from achieving her goal. The character faces these obstacles on her way to overcoming the conflict. The obstacles get bigger, more difficult, and the character may be on the verge of defeat or surrender. At this point, the character must make a critical decision or a moral choice that changes the direction of the story.”

            Clearly the ‘obstacles that are thrown’ compare favorably with Lope’s consistent throwing of obstacles and ‘middle’ therefore becomes a euphemism for ‘complications.’ Act three allows for the climax and resolution of the story and this includes character change or ‘death in defeat’ and tragedy. I recommend this article very strongly, as it goes way beyond the outline I have offered thus far and clarifies many features of the narrative arc.

In fact, Grindstaff then references Nigel Watts, Write a Novel and Get It Published, and outlines an eight-point narrative arc that runs

stasis > trigger > quest > surprise > critical choice > climax > reversal > resolution.

 This runs a close parallel to the circulated list (quoted earlier) of seven elements:

 Stasis > Trigger > Quest > Surprise > Critical Choice > Climax > Resolution.

 The main difference being the insertion of a reversal between the climax and the resolution.

So, we have now established an narrative arc, or a pyramid, with 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8 steps included within it. This is all very prescriptive: do it and you will succeed. My greatest fear then becomes the gate-keepers, those anonymous figures who sit on shadowy selection committees, place ticks in appropriate boxes, and judge the quality of writing by consensus in committee. I can hear them now: “#7 is missing. There’s no reversal. Reject!” “I don’t like #5. The choice isn’t critical enough. Reject!”

As writers, we must remember that all these arcs and numbers are just theories. The most important thing is the command ‘Take up thy pen and write’! All the theory in the world does not produce a good short story or a good novel. In fact, the opposite may be true: too many rules may stifle our narratives at birth or choke them to death My advice: know your theories, then smash them into little pieces and create the new structures, the new formats, the next new great piece of writing that will lead you, as a writer, to boldly go where no writer has gone before.

 Blessings, happy writing, and follow your creative instincts.