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Advice on the short and sweet

How short can a story be? That is the question that was posed at Wairarapa Word’s last event of the year, called – appropriately enough – ‘Short, Shorter’.

The event, which was held in the Carterton Events Centre last week, involved a writing workshop and an evening discussion panel with writers Jack Remiel Cottrell and Anthony Lapwood.

The discussion was moderated by local writer and editor Philippa Tucker.

Ten Acceptable Acts of Arson, Remiel Cottrell’s collection of short stories, won the 2020 Wallace Foundation Prize, and his work has been published in a vast array of publications.

As Remiel Cottrell’s website wryly states, he’s “making up for having a very long name by writing very short stories”, and he noted some of his stories are under 100 words.

He told the Times-Age he enjoys visiting places like Wairarapa to talk about writing.

“There’s a very artsy vibe to the whole area,” Remiel Cottrell said.

“I love preaching the good word of flash fiction and sucking people into the cult.”

As discussed at Short, Shorter, “flash fiction” is a genre of fiction composed of up to 500 words, designed to evoke a mood or particular feeling in its reader.

Remiel Cottrell taught a workshop at Kuranui College last year and said some very keen writers took part, while admitting that his own commitment to school might have had room for improvement.

“I wrote a lot in school because it was better than having to do chemistry,” he said.

“But mostly, I was a horrible little goblin as a child. I remember getting bored and making trouble.”

The second author taking part of the evening discussion was Anthony Lapwood, whose book of short stories Home Theatre won the Hubert Church Prize for Fiction at the 2023 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

He has been a previous recipient of a residency supported by Wairarapa non-profit Pacific Studio, and he said his time in Wairarapa was really useful in providing the luxury of time and space to write.

“Lots of people find it a struggle to find a time to write, and that’s down to the practicalities of money and life,” Lapwood said.

“It’s one of those things where doing 15 minutes a day is sometimes the practical reality but, to get the most out of something, sustained immersion is so important.

“The leaps you make are deeper and richer when you have dedicated time to it.”

During the discussion, audience members heard various readings from both authors, as well as musings on mining inspiration from real life by taking the bizarre and twisting it with reality.

Wairarapa Word coordinator Madeleine Slavick said the “season finale” discussion was wonderful and that it was the perfect way to wrap up a big year for the literary series.

“It’s been a really positive and very varied year,” Slavick said.

“People give us suggestions through events and our database, and we’ve been going for over 10 years now.”

Slavick said she loved opening the year with 2022 NZ Poet Laureate Chris Tse and that plans for next year are already in motion.

“We have a mission to keep it as fresh and as varied as possible.”

Wairarapa Word’s first event for 2024 is Welsh author and illustrator Peter Stevenson, who is scheduled to visit in February.

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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