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Welcome to The Literary Pig's blog - a safe haven for all those afflicted with
the unbearable urge to write.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Short Story Masterclass with Tessa Hadley

As part of National Short Story Week the Indoor Writer attended a Masterclass on the short story run by the RSL (Royal Society of Literature). The main attraction for attending was the facilitator Tessa Hadley, the author of Sunstroke (short story collection). Here the Indoor Writer shares her experience...

I must be dedicated to the craft of writing to spend over nine hours sitting on a train to travel to Cardiff and back for this Masterclass. When I first signed up I didn't note the location, assuming it would be held in London, and only later realised I needed to get from West Sussex to Cardiff for a 10.30am start at the central library on a Saturday morning (coinciding with the rugby too!). I let the train take the strain, but this meant an overnight stay to ensure I made the class on time. Thankfully I found myself amongst eight like-minded lovers of short fiction, soon immersed in discussing why we all wrote fiction and sharing our favourite short story authors. Surprisingly I was one of the few to have actually sold stories and been published, but others had novels or scripts published and sold.

This was not a 'how to' workshop, but more an appreciation of the genre. Tessa read out a very short story (<1000 words) The Family Meadow by John Updike, which we all dissected with gusto. We all agreed the opening lines of a short story foretell the mood of the piece and that endings have to be much more powerful than in a novel. Tessa urged us all to "read our own work as a reader. Try to read a story as if you've never read it before" and advised that "cutting is one of the best tools" for a writer to employ. Many of us were already editing and cutting chunks from our first drafts - paid up members of the splicing gang. I also liked her phrase "word painting" to describe the art of the short story.

Tessa got us working on several exercises, which we all freely read aloud and received very positive and constructive feedback from everyone. This was the most valuable part of the morning and encouraging to hear what others think and to collaborate our ideas. I think we all now have several new plotlines seeded, with helpful tips from Tessa on how to progress them. I liked the exercise of writing a motif for a story, a three line summary as follows:
Something is lost.
Every effort is made to recover it.
Something different is found.

This is a technique I will definitely use in future when considering plotlines to develop. And here's one I wrote earlier, the one I developed in the class:
A husband hires an au pair.
The wife believes the girl is taking over her life.
From outside the house the wife looks in, she has no reflection and the family are content without her.

Tessa suggested I end the story almost exactly as described above and this a piece I am keen to start writing.

The three hours passed all too quickly and I found myself squashed back on the train, but fired up to keep writing short stories. I now have a long list of short story writers to read, even though I believed I was pretty well read in the first place. I have some new friends and contacts from the class to keep in touch with. One of the major benefits of attending a short workshop or Masterclass is the people you meet. Writing can be a lonely business and networking becomes a vital lifeline. To date I've not yet met a writer I didn't like!

Finally Tessa Hadley signed my own, rather battered, copy of Sunstroke wishing me good luck with my own writing. In conclusion what better way to spend a morning than in the company of writers discussing short stories ... BLISS.

RSL runs regularly events and Masterclasses, click here for upcoming list (sadly the evening on 28 November with Margaret Atwood is already fully booked)

Tessa Hadly lives in Cardiff and teaches creative writing at Bath Spa University. Published novels are:

Accidents in the home
Everything will be all right
The Master Bedroom
The London Train
Clever girl (to be published May 2013)


  1. It sounds like a great course. I haven't been on any myself. It made me laugh that you hadn't spotted that it was in Cardiff!

    1. Admittedly I did realise my mistake before payment changed hands, so I decided to travel to Cardiff. But a lesson here in always check the location first - just think where you could end up!

  2. Interesting write-up. I'm going to take on the idea of the motif before I start to write a story.

    1. It's a very simple idea and helps to focus in on the key elements. Hope it works for you Julia.