Inspired by the success of Lydia “as mighty as Kafka, as subtle as Flaubert, as epoch-making as Proust” Davis and hoping to finally hit the literary big time, Frank composes a very, very short story…
I was interested to note that the 2013 Man Booker International Prize was awarded to Lydia Davis. She is a writer who specialises in very, very short stories – so short they make my own effusions seem like mighty epics. Could it be that the hermetic and blinkered literary world is at last opening up to the odd and the unfamiliar?
I don’t know Lydia Davis’s work, other than a small selection of stories which appeared in the print edition of the Guardian at the weekend. But I am heartened by her success. It may prompt publishers to be just a tad more adventurous and – who knows? – I might not be told (as I have been, more than once) that I have “absolutely no commercial potential whatsoever”.
To that end, and also as a way of emerging from the influenza that stilled my pen for a week or so, I thought I might have a bash at a few shorter-than-usual stories. It is clearly the way to go, given that in an accompanying piece in the weekend Guardian, someone called Ali Smith claimed Lydia Davis to be “as mighty as Kafka, as subtle as Flaubert, as epoch-making as Proust”.
By adopting Davis’s form, I do not, of course, place myself in such illustrious company. I know I am better than that. I echo Raymond Roussel, who wrote “My fame will outshine that of Victor Hugo or Napoleon”, for we have “the sacred flame of genius … Which makes the one chosen by it so arrogant That he finds the very stars in the sky pitiful Compared with the new star that burns upon his forehead”.
Anyway, here is a short, short story for you:
The Sick Fairy
According to David Attenborough on BBC Radio 4’s Tweet Of The Day earlier this week, the sound made by the storm petrel has been described as “like a fairy being sick”. Conversely, in Lands of Faerie, for example in Cottingley, where the fairies are made of paper, a fairy being sick is compared to a storm petrel.
One might find it hard to imagine a fairy, especially a paper one, vomiting. But the Land of Faerie is (mostly) invisible to (most of) us. It is a parallel world where, could we see it, much would be familiar to us, albeit skewed and distorted. So, yes, fairies are sometimes sick, just as we are sometimes sick. But what they vomit up is not the same as what we vomit up. Yes, fairies shop for groceries in supermarkets with an increasing number of self-service tills, but they buy different groceries, in supermarkets which dimly resemble our own, and the protocol for self-service tills is like something from the fourteenth century. Fairies travel on buses, but not on our buses. I could go on.
Do you want me to go on? Or would you rather I shut up, so you can put on a pair of stout walking boots, and hike out to the seaside, in hope of finding a colony of storm petrels, so you can make a tape recording of their cries, and, later, back home, play it while reading a bedtime story to your tinies, that much-loved story from your own childhood, the one about the oh so delightful fluttering paper fairy that caught a stomach bug and vomited up a mess of fairy pottage, into a fairy bucket, in a little fairy cottage in Cottingley, and they called for a doctor, and the doctor who came hurrying across the fields with his black bag was Dr Arthur Conan Doyle?