by Farhana Khalique
It’s always interesting to hear writers share their processes. However, the first session of Dahlia Publishing’s ‘A Brief Pause’ reading series with Amanthi Harris was so fascinating and inspiring, that it lingered long afterwards in the minds of all of those who attended. Here’s what I learned…
The award-winning writer began with readings from her novella, Lantern Evening (Gatehouse Press, 2019), and her debut novel, Beautiful Place (Salt, 2019). These extracts conveyed intriguing characters, lush descriptions and a strong sense of place. Amanthi said that her initial influences included Katherine Mansfield and Chekhov, and that she was always interested in language and place. But the question was, How can you develop plot?
Amanthi’s advice was to use ‘creative play’, citing French philosopher Gaston Bachelard as another inspiration. She said, don’t be ‘afraid’ to write about what you really want to write about, and feel like you’re taking ‘a risk’.
In terms of place, Amanthi went on to list houses, rooms, verandas and how we experience interiority as preoccupations that drove her writing. Not least of all spaces such as verandas – a place that is both inside and outside, private and public.
Soon came the first of many eager questions from the floor: How do you know if an idea is worth pursuing? Amanthi answered that this was probably intuitive, but advised us not to be ‘too rigid’. Allow yourself to work on it, and see the editing process as another way of helping you work things out.
In terms of structure, Amanthi recommended ‘boning the story’; imagining that your story is like a chicken that you have to bone. Consider how all the parts fit together (if they do), how it flows, does the language feel right. In terms of developing plot, Amanthi also recommended ‘adding something else’; not to be afraid to throw in more obstacles. She said that this ‘is not cheating’, and that it’s simply you experimenting with adding more texture and layers to your stories.
As for specific stories that she admires, Amanthi recommended the linked stories ‘Chance’, ‘Soon’ and ‘Silence’ by Alice Munro, the three-part story ‘Hema and Kaushik’ by Jhumpa Lahiri, and Katherine Mansfield’s ‘At the Bay’.
Other advice that struck us was to distil things that you know and have experienced, to help you make them more useful and interesting in fiction, and to ‘consider putting more than one story draft together with another story’. Amanthi went on to explain that the latter was partly what led to her novel, Beautiful Place.
As for the road to publication, Amanthi’s was not a linear route. However, she described finding her way with Lantern Press and Salt – independent publishers who really supported and worked with her to realise her vision.
So, whether you’re writing about place, boning a story, or colliding two or more stories together, I recommend checking out Amanthi’s writing and future workshops – you will not be disappointed.
Farhana Khalique is a writer, voiceover artist and teacher from south-west London. Her writing is forthcoming or has appeared in the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology 2021, Leicester Writes Short Story Prize Anthology 2020, The Brown Anthology, Reflex Fiction, Lighthouse Literary Journal, Litro, Popshot Quarterly and more. Farhana has been on TSS’s BIFFY50 list for 2019-2020, shortlisted for The Asian Writer Short Story Prize, and she has won a Word Factory Apprentice Award. She is also the editor of Desi Reads and a submissions editor at SmokeLong Quarterly.
A Brief Pause Reading Series takes place on the last Tuesday of the month. Book your ticket for just £5.