Article published on June 10, 2017.
I love books which take a simple idea and spin it into something truly unique and wonderful, and that is certainly the case with Jan Carson’s Postcard Stories. As the title implies, the book is a collection of (very) short stories – stories that indeed fit on a postcard. For, every day in 2015, Jan wrote a different story on the back of a postcard and sent them to friends. Instead of all 365 missives, the book gives the reader 52 (one for each week of the year) of these stories, which makes for a really great and highly readable collection.
Based in Belfast, Carson finds inspiration in the city around her and what emerges is both a snapshot of life and a sort of insight into the creative process at work. Indeed, for any would-be writers, Carson’s project is both a highly stimulating one and a relatively simple one to emulate – albeit one that requires a significant degree of commitment if followed through in its entirety to produce a story a day all year. But it is a real reminder of the inspiration that is all around us and the opportunities for story-making and -telling for those who look for them.
Carson’s mini stories themselves oftentimes show a wonderful flight of imagination, blooming out of the seemingly everyday scenes and encounters she comes across in her home town into fully formed dramas and vignettes, myths and fantasies of their own. Testament to Carson’s imagination is the range of stories and themes on offer; no two mini narratives in the book share characters or actions, each its own perfect little imaginarium that covers a whole gamut of sentiments.
Some stories will inevitably resonate with individual readers more than others, and on the whole I enjoyed the majority of the stories, but what is great is that given their brevity that even with those stories that don’t grab you as much it never feels like a chore to read and you just carry on to the next story. Amongst my favourites were a story about gingerbread men; the old woman who lived in the shoe; the walking partners a woman makes on her way to work; a mirror baby; a conversation between elderly women at a bus stop and the art of medical self-diagnosis. There are not many books that cover such ground and in such clever and interesting ways in the space of a mere few hundred words. And everything from lost love and dementia to social responsibility and old age is given a platform, again proving just how fascinating and imaginative Carson’s project turns out to be.
I must admit I’m not particularly a fan of short stories but I was too intrigued by the format to neglect this one and I’m glad I didn’t. Carson not only proves how expansive and universal the form, but also how flexible and fun. And I think it really is a great primer for any writers out there looking for something to trigger that imaginative spark, and it would be great to see what other writers come up with if they too pursued the idea. But it’s also a wonderful reappropriation of a somewhat dying tradition – of writing postcards, and I for one would be thrilled to receive a ‘postcard story’. Carson’s book therefore is not only about creating stories but encouraging communication, creating memories and sharing a love of writing and the imaginative. And if you’re still having doubts about whether this book is for you, at less than 60 pages long, including illustrations (!), it only takes a few hours or less to read it cover to cover, so no excuses.
Jade Craddock 4/-
Postcard Stories by Jan Carson
Emma Press 9781910139684 pbk May 2017