Hi, I’m Maureen Carter standing in – OK, sitting down – for Lynne Patrick. Lynne, who’s currently in France no doubt sampling a soupçon or two of the local wine, published my first crime novel more than a decade ago. Merci beaucoup, Lynne. Since then I’ve produced ten more books, several short stories and countless articles about – and interviews with – authors whose work I admire. I’m not blowing my professional trumpet here, just making the point that it represents a lot of words.
So I ask: Is this why (until a recent rereading) I could barely recall the content of a short story I wrote just four years back?
Dying Fall appeared in an anthology also published by Lynne, partly to showcase crime authors and partly to raise money for a breast cancer helpline. Anyway, I came across a copy of Criminal Tendencies last month while browsing a shop with a friend. Given the book has short fiction from the likes of Val McDermid, Peter James, Sophie Hannah, Andrew Taylor et al, my friend snapped it up. She read my story later that day and said how much she enjoyed it – well she would, wouldn’t she?
Either way it certainly made her laugh out loud a few times but on a rather more sobering note, I realised I couldn’t even recall its title, let alone what I’d written that amused her so much. I knew it featured my first series detective and that the story ended with a typically sardonic exchange between her and a colleague. I could actually remember the last word: pedant. But as to the preceding action? To say the least, I was hazy. OK – unlike my detective – I didn’t have a clue.
Now a fair bit of pinot noir has flowed under the pont since 2009, but surely that doesn’t lead to AA? I’m talking author amnesia – not the support group, breakdown service or airline. Equally worrying is the fact my patchy memory can also extend to what I’ve read. Occasionally I’m several chapters into a book before realising, as Rossetti wrote, I have been here before. Then again, for more years than I care to (or indeed can) remember, I’ve read around eight books a month. As I keep telling myself – no matter how memorable the prose – there’s only so much a brain can retain.
So here’s another question: I’m not the only writer and/or reader whose memory loses the occasional plot. Am I?
As for the friend, she blithely suggested I concentrate on writing short stories. She’d read somewhere or other that they’re more difficult to craft than novels. The ‘friend’ has written neither: my twelfth book is due out later this year. No matter what I said, I couldn’t convince her that in my opinion she was wrong. I bit my tongue several times. Writing short fiction requires great skill, but in my experience it doesn’t come close to writing a novel.
And so a final question: Does size matter?
In my book, it does.