The Sand Eggs: The Inside Story
Have you ever wondered how a short story collection comes into being? Does a writer come up with a series of ideas and then write the collection? Or do they come up with a theme and write the stories around that theme? Or do they gather together some of the short stories they have written over the years and try and get them published?
To be honest I don’t know the answer. There is probably more than one and I would be interested to hear from anyone about how they got their short story collections published.
My short story collection, The Sand Eggs, came about because my publisher wanted my second novel. However, I hadn’t finished it as I had put it to one side so that I could concentrate on my poetry collection, 'Bullet Proof' (in Home Front, Bloodaxe).
I looked at how many short stories I had in my arsenal and whether they complemented each other. I was delighted to find that unintentionally the collection already had a theme. Strangely enough I often find when writing that a synergy occurs. Most of the stories were about women without a voice either because they were powerless to speak out or because they didn’t know the language surrounding them. Another theme the stories all had in common was that they were all about loss, isolation and sadness. I suppose I’m not a writer who writes about happiness!
I had about ten stories I was happy with. I had enough for a collection so I asked my publisher that instead of my novel would she like to publish a short story collection. She asked to see the stories. I sent them off and she wrote back saying that she loved them would publish them. It seemed like the ideal solution. Little did I know how much work there was still to do editing and collating the collection!
When we came to collate the stories the order of the stories was decided intuitively rather than logically. There are all sorts of instructions on the internet about ordering short story collections but I think you have to be very careful not to over-think things as you can end up in a tangle. In the end I think it is down to going with your gut and common sense. You will know what feels right when you come to do it! Between myself and my editor we decided which should be the first story and that I needed to write a final story to conclude the collection. After I had done this we interlinked the others to form a nice balance.
We, my publisher and I, thought – or I could say fought – long and hard over the title for the collection.
We wanted to choose a title of one of the stories that reflected the overriding theme of the collection but we couldn’t agree on which one. Then, when we did agree – as in the case of 'The Red Shoes' – a quick Google found that there were lots of books with that title. Nowadays, when choosing a book title it is vital to Google it first so as not to cause confusion. You want your book to be the only book with that title so that it stands out and is easily found.
I wondered if it would be better to use a phrase from one of the stories and came up with, ‘She’s not ugly, is she?’ This is a line from the story 'The Jewel of Trabzon' where the women talk about the narrator in a foreign tongue, unaware that she can understand them.
What I liked about this line was its strangeness, its slightly shocking element and that it sounded like a translation from another language: in English we'd say 'She’s quite attractive, isn’t she?' rather than 'She’s not ugly, is she?'
My publisher felt that using ‘She’s not ugly, is she?’ as a title would be too confusing, would have too many negative connotations and would pigeon-hole the collection as a women’s-only read. Intuitively, I knew it wasn’t the right title, but I hung onto it for few months, and touted it around among friends,. After a mixed response I gradually began to think about another title.
My editor then came up with the title Going Astray. This was my email response:
I've been thinking about a title.
I don't think anything using the word 'astray' works, as in modern usage it implies someone having gone off course and in these stories I feel the people have never found or been on the right course in the first place.
What I want to create is a feeling of powerlessness, something not quite understood, something not quite right, but I don't want to make it feel too morbid or sad. Looking at titles of other short story collections, either a title of one of the stories has been used, or a line from a story.
Here are some titles I have come up with:
A Fractured Web of White;
The Five Wives of the Liquorice Man; Touching in the Dark – or Darkness (the former is a song title)
; Kaleidoscope; Queens
; Anna Kare-nina;
The Sand Eggs – Which I think is the only title in the collection worthy of use. For some reason I am intuitively drawn to The Sand Eggs. I’m not sure why I haven’t thought of it before.
My publisher wrote straight back. Yes. The Sand Eggs, it is.
I remember I was touring around Crete at the time so I was both relieved and amused that we should have decided on this title whilst I was sitting by the sea. I Googled 'The Sand Eggs’ just to make sure that there was no other books with that title, there weren’t.
The Sand Eggs is a title of one of the stories: they are actually turtle eggs. I think and hope the title intrigues and gives a sense of what the stories are about.
The cover for The Sand Eggs was the first and only cover design. I liked it immediately; I thought the image worked perfectly to create a feeling of sadness and beauty.
Am I glad I got my short story collection published? Yes I am. Would I advise new and aspiring writers to put together a collection? Yes and no. Yes it is very satisfying to see all your stories within one cover but just remember – once those short stories are published you can’t use them anywhere else. Try first entering competitions or submitting to anthologies to get your name out there.
Good luck! Feel free to message me if you would like any further writing tips or publishing advice,