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WLA moma Henri Rousseau The Dream 3

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I read Padrika Tarrant’s Broken Things recently and it’s an admirable collection. Her characters inhabit a world that is skewed according to their hallucinatory consciousness and perceptions, but she manages to bring to light what’s really at stake in her stories with an urgent clarity. Here’s an excerpt from the opening story ‘Darling’ about a character whose desire to find someone or something to love is fulfilled by a dead dog:

“When I lifted my Darling from the roadside, the utter looseness of his body shocked me so much that I all but dropped him. His head lolled at a sick angle; he seemed boneless, just a floppy mass of joints. No wonder he needed me so badly. I lowered him into my pram, and as if at some secret sign from God, it began to rain.”

Like many of her stories, it’s an unsettling and heartbreaking read. Another favourite of mine is ‘God’ in which a very peculiar manifestation of God whispers, “I’m sorry. It’s not my fault.”

So far, I have written mostly realist fiction, but after reading Tarrant’s collection, and before that ‘The Silence Room’ by Sean O’Brien, whose brilliant stories are populated by ghosts, I tried my hand at surrealism and ended up loving it. I enjoy Angela Carter’s fiction too – she’s difficult to categorise but there are surreal elements there. Neil Gaiman is another favourite and Irish writers Flann O’Brien and Neil Jordan.

Maybe you’ve tried surrealism already, but if not, it’s worth having a go as a way to make things skewed, odd, dreamlike and potentially memorable.

Strangely, writing strange fiction works best if you keep it real. That is, I find I need just as much precision and concrete detail as I would use in realist fiction to keep a reader engaged with whatever universe I’m describing and indeed Tarrant’s characters inhabit recognisably banal landscapes. Vagueness and cliché are to be avoided obviously as are descriptions of your own dreams in the hope of creating dreamlike fiction. Ever been subjected to somebody relating a ‘surreal dream’ they had last night?

Has anyone else tried writing skewed or any other new style or technique? Has it energised your work? Any tips or authors to recommend?

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