One of the biggest dangers for any writer, at least in my opinion, is that of finding yourself on a treadmill, perhaps trapped in a formulaic type of writing. Even if it’s a winning formula, there is a real risk of becoming stale, and of losing the excitement that is so important to writing. If an author doesn’t feel excited by what he or she writes, there’s little chance that the reader will be excited, either. So it’s very important to keep fresh.
That’s one of the reasons why I like writing short stories – not only a break from writing a novel, but also an opportunity to change pace, and direction. You can take risks with a short story that may seem impossible with a novel. Many writers can’t face the prospect of writing something experimental for a year that in the end simply doesn’t work out. But experimenting with a short story means that you are only sacrificing, say, a couple of weeks’ work if the story doesn’t gell at all.
A few months ago I decided to have a crack at a type of story that has always interested me, and that I’ve never tried before. I’d been reading a book about ghost stories and I couldn’t resist having a go at a ghost story myself. Writing ‘No Flowers’ was a very enjoyable experience indeed, and once I’d finished it, I returned to my novel-in-progress refreshed.
Rather speculatively, I submitted ‘No Flowers’ to ‘Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’, and I’m delighted to report that it’s just been accepted for publication. Of course, it’s very different from my ‘usual’ brand of crime writing, but over the years, I have tried my hand at a fairly wide range of stories, and I’d like to continue doing so. It’s not because I’m dissatisfied with crime writing – on the contrary. I’m sure this approach helps me to return to, say, a Lake District Mystery with renewed vigour and enthusiasm. As to whether I’ll write more ghost stories at a future date – well, why not?