Many visitors to Linda’s Book Bag will bewail the lack of time to read. We have such busy lives, frequently dropping off to sleep in bed, after rereading the same paragraph several nights in a row and never getting anywhere. When Helen Keeling-Marston asked me if I’d like to review her Two Hundred Very Short Stories I thought there might be a solution! I enjoyed them so much I asked Helen if she would agree to an interview about them and luckily she would.
Two Hundred Very Short Stories is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.
Two Hundred Very Short Stories
Two Hundred Very Short Stories is a collection of stories each so short that the reader can start … and finish … a whole one in one night – some even in a minute! Recognising that many people don’t have enough time for regular reading – and thus can easily lose the thread of a novel – Helen Keeling-Marston set about writing a collection of short stories.
Two Hundred Very Short Stories – Helen’s first book – features an eclectic mix of short stories and flash fiction: flash fiction being works of extreme brevity. Similar to a musical mix tape, the collection of stories aims to elicit a range of different emotions from the reader: joy, sadness, amusement, befuddlement, intrigue and fear. Be warned, however, that you’ll need to have your wits about you when reading this book, as Two Hundred Very Short Stories isn’t always a passive experience!
An Interview with Helen Keeling-Marston
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Helen. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and Two Hundred Very Short Stories in particular. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
I sure can. My name’s Helen, I’m from Hampshire, England, and I work as an analyst. When I’m not analysing things, I like to tap into my creative side and I do this by writing fiction and composing music. The other big passion in my life is sport and I run a charity in my evenings and weekends (Support through Sport UK) that is trying to both smash down the barriers that prohibit sport for all and use sport for good. When not analysing, creating or working on my charity, I like nothing better than to wind down with my husband on a mountain bike ride, walk or run. Reading this back, it occurs to me that I’m clearly someone who likes to be very busy!
(I’d say so!)
Without spoiling the read, please could you tell us a bit about Two Hundred Very Short Stories?
Two Hundred Very Short Stories is a collection of very short stories (and some really are very short – i.e. just a few words) that explores life, really. The intention was to create a mix of stories that would elicit a range of different responses from the reader: joy, amusement, sadness, fear, deep thought, befuddlement etc. which, I suppose, is very similar to the feelings that people fluctuate between in their day-to-day lives (although hopefully they mostly experience joy and amusement). I wrote the book as I got frustrated when reading in the evening as, tired from the day, I’d fall asleep five or ten minutes into a book and would really lose the thread of the story – so I wanted to create a book where the reader could read a whole story in one night and then fall asleep (and not, hopefully, because of my book).
Two Hundred Very Short Stories has a cover that suggests quite a chaotic reader to me, but one that could pick up a book at any time. What message were you hoping to convey through the book’s cover?
Just that really. This is a book that covers all sorts of topics and is written in all sorts of styles (some a bit wacky!). It’s something that I was hoping that people could dip into for a few minutes here or there: just like you could quickly dip into the various books on the cover’s bookcase.
I found quite a devilish sense of humour behind many of your pieces in Two Hundred Very Short Stories. How far is that true of you as a person as well as a writer?
This question made me laugh out loud as the people who know me best would definitely say that I have a devilish sense of humour! I don’t think I can over-state how important I think humour and laughing is.
Several of your pieces in Two Hundred Very Short Stories relate to education in various forms. Why is this a recurring theme?
That’s an interesting observation and I think it stems from a real belief I have in not discouraging children (I’ve worked with children in the past). I think that children are very impressionable and that a ‘put-down’ at a young age can lead to a knock in confidence that can sometimes stop them from going on to do great things. At the risk of getting too deep, I sort of think that about society as a whole really. If you ever dip into social media, you come across so much negativity and I think that it would be great if we could live in a world that was more positive and encouraging.
(I agree completely Helen.)
Similarly, you seem to contemplate death quite frequently too. How far do you think this type of contemplation is an essential part of the human condition.
Yes, there are a few stories about death in the book. For me, though, it’s more about pondering why we’re all here. My mind often goes off at tangents and I wonder things such as: “What if Earthlings are just counters in a big game played by aliens” (story 108!).
How did you decide the order to present your Two Hundred Very Short Stories?
I tried to mix it up as much as possible so that if, say, there was a very sad story, it would immediately be followed by a light-hearted or amusing tale.
I found I had to think quite hard for some of your pieces and I needed a mirror too on occasion. How far was it your intention to challenge as well as entertain your reader?
Yes, I really wanted to challenge people because the sorts of books that I most enjoy reading are the ones that really make me stop and think. I wanted most of the stories to be comprehensible after a bit of thought – but I wanted some to be so abstract and left field that they would leave the engaged reader pondering for a good few days. I was also really seduced by the idea of getting the reader to have to ‘participate’ in some of the stories, such as the mirror one!
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Two Hundred Very Short Stories should be their next read, what would you say?
This is a book that makes you think and, in places, hopefully makes you smile
Thank you so much for your time in answering my questions Helen.
My Review of Two Hundred Very Short Stories
When we only have 30 seconds to spare, wouldn’t it be lovely to read a whole story? Now we can.
Two Hundred Very Short Stories is a brilliant idea and I really enjoyed the eclectic mix of writing and the level of engagement I found. I’ve never needed a mirror to read a story before!
Helen Keeling-Marston manages to pack quite a punch and I found the themes of education, love, relationships, death and so on all explored with considerable depth despite the brevity of the stories. Many have quite a surprising twist and there is so much underlying humour to that I laughed aloud frequently. I won’t be using my shopping trolley quite so thoughtlessly any more!
My favourite story I think was 33, about Dafydd and the Lego because of the level of compassion displayed by Dr Praesh. I’m not sure how Helen Keeling-Marston manages to convey character and emotion so convincingly in such a brief two page story, but my heart went out to Dafydd.
Although I read Two Hundred Very Short Stories in the order they were presented, I think there would be enormous pleasure in simply dipping in and out as a story caught the eye.
Two Hundred Very Short Stories is quirky, emotional, fun and entertaining. I highly recommend it.
About Helen Keeling-Marston
Having previously worked with numbers, Helen is a sports writer and launched a sports charity, Support Through Sport. In fact, Helen loves all things sport – whether it’s writing about it, playing it or encouraging others to participate.