The ideal length for a short story is clearly very variable. Some short fictions can be a page long, some as little as three hundred words. Some run for over forty pages. But I would argue that the definition of a short story hangs on the relationship to the reader and the act of reading: a short story should be read in one sitting. A novel and its characters may accompany you as a reader through a period of your life, but a piece of short fiction should work like a firecracker, or a depth charge. The impact of the story should have the force of an explosion, and its aftermath, even when that explosion is subtle, muted and works slowly, should be far-reaching, lasting, like an echo that is endlessly repeated. It is this element of shock, which is often the effect of reading short fiction, which accounts for very passionate or hostile responses to the form. A good short story should be a disturbing rather than a comforting experience. Even if the story makes you laugh, a good short story should always make you think.
I wrote 'Where Sorrows End' for the BBC Radio 4 short story slot. It was therefore written for one single voice. Radio is an intimate medium and the listener has to be able to grasp the meaning of the story in one take. You can't rewind the tape. Although now, thanks to the Listen Again service on the internet, we can now catch up with programmes we missed. The tale was originally part of a series intended to dramatise moments of supernatural haunting or sinister psychic states.
Read 'Where Sorrows End' (pdf)
I wrote 'How to Murder Your Mother' for an anthology I edited with Janet Thomas for Honno, the Welsh Women's Press in 2007. Every short story has a turning point, a point of No Return. We made that point the focus of our anthology, the point where the safe world vanishes, and our title, taken from the last words of our first story celebrated precisely that moment: Safe World Gone.
I wrote this story, 'The Second Coming of Sara Montiel', for a Serpent's Tail anthology, Harlot Red (2002), edited by Carole Buchan and Kate Pullinger. This publication represented the Asham Award's third collection of Prize-winning short stories by women. The Asham Literary Trust set up a competition for short stories by women in honour of Asham House, the house in Sussex where Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived. The work by new writers is published alongside specially commissioned stories by established or published writers. These anthologies are a crucial element in the battle to promote short stories by British writers at a time when the outlets for publication are shrinking. Carmen and Pepper, the central characters in 'The Second Coming of Sara Montiel', made their first appearance in my fiction here in 2002, but they both returned for an encore in my 2006 novel, Miss Webster and Chérif. I even toyed with the idea of calling that novel Looking for Carmen, as she is the crucial missing piece of the jigsaw plot in that novel. Carmen and Pepper are both alter egos in my consciousness, which might surprise readers who would not immediately associate me with a Black Jazz singer turned foreign office spy working in the Sahara desert, or a wealthy gay Black music impresario, with his own recording label.
Patricia has a new story in Issue 6 of the Lampeter Review. 'Graven Image' is one of a sequence of stories describing apparitions of the Virgin Mary entitled The Madonna Miracles.
(Palgrave Studies in Life Writing) 1st ed. 2022 Edition Julia Novak (Editor), Caitríona Ní Dhúill (Editor)
Featuring “A Way Out of the Prison of Gender”: Interview with Novelist Patricia Duncker
Patricia Duncker’s second novel, James Miranda Barry (1999), has become a classic among biofictions of gender. The novel imagines the life and career of a distinguished British military surgeon of the nineteenth century, whose sex was reportedly revealed after his death to be female. Resurrected as an icon of gender resistance in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Barry has been claimed as both a transgressive feminist heroine – a woman who dared enter the masculine public sphere in disguise and thereby demonstrated the instability and arbitrariness of conventional gendered divisions – and as a transgender man who succeeded in living his true identity.
Obscurity and Gender Resistance in Patricia Duncker's James Miranda Barry by Jana Funke
'Here is an excellent and intelligent article on James Miranda Barry. The author has grasped the main point of my fiction - that Barry was neither man nor woman, and that my own reading of this strange courageous man (sic) was that he resisted gendered definition. I wrote the private inner life of Barry as 'I' and the public life as 'he' for he never passed through 'she' either as pronoun or as lived identity.'
View article on the Taylor and Francis website (can be downloaded as pdf)
Apollinaire's Les Fenêtres
Several years ago I was asked to respond to Guillaume Apollinaire's poem Les Fenêtres. The resulting piece formed part of an experimental translation project 'Les Fenêtres: To Guillaume Apollinaire' with six illustrations by Anne Jacobs, which was included in One Poem in Search of a Translator: Rewriting Les Fenêtres by Apollinaire Eds. Eugenia Loffredo and Manuela Perteghella (Bern: Peter Lang, 2008), pp. 262-277. ISBN 978 3 03911 408 5
I decided to use the project to work out a literary manifesto of sorts, and to think about what the imagination is and does, and how what the French describe as the 'imaginaire' could be a shared space.
This essay, which is included in Body of Work, is part of a longer project on influence and reading. The book has an autobiographical turn, rather than being a full blown memoir. I have always been somewhat suspicious of autobiographical writing so far as I am concerned, yet it gives me great pleasure to read other people's autobiographies. The most influential people in my life have been my teachers, and here is a portrait of my first English teacher, Mrs Davies, much admired and passionately remembered.
Read Choosing English (pdf)
Patricia Duncker on Reading George Eliot
This piece was originally published in New Welsh Review. I have returned to the work of George Eliot in several different contexts. My inaugural lecture as Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of Manchester addressed George Eliot. I have continued to learn a great deal about writing from her and take courage from her uncompromising intelligence. She was extraordinarily well read - in many languages.
Read A Writer's Writer (pdf)
Patricia reviewed Carol Birch's Orphans of the Carnival for the Literary Review. This is a Neo-Victorian biographical fiction about Julia Pastrana, the famous 'ape woman' of the nineteenth century..
Read the article on the Literary Review website (Issue 446, subscribers only).
Patricia Duncker on forgotten novels rediscovered
What happens to works that find their first audiences long after they were written? Writing in English is filled with Sleeping Beauties awakened hundreds of years after their creation to roars of eulogy.
Read the article on the Literary Review website (July 2014, subscribers only).
New Welsh Review Essay (Issue 93)
Patricia has an essay in New Welsh Review 93 on the work of German novelist Jenny Erpenbeck. 'Overstating the Case' is a close analysis of Erpenbeck's lastest fiction Heimsuchung translated as Visitation by Susan Bernofsky, (Portobello, 2010), and a critique of modernist methods in the construction of fiction that deals with atrocity.
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