I seem to be leading my professional life backwards these days. Having gone back to writing poetry, I now seem to want to go back to writing short stories as well. But it isn't so very strange because I do think that poems and short stories seem to come from the same source of inspiration. Occasionally something will present itself as an idea for a poem but then you find that you need considerably more elbow room and it somehow turns itself into a short story. I reviewed William Trevor's recent volume of short stories, Cheating at Canasta, for the FT last year and it seemed to me as though his stories had the quality of poems - so densely layered that although they were a wonderful read they were a somewhat uncomfortable read as well. It was like throwing a pebble into a still pool, watching the ever widening rings and uneasily wondering exactly what has been stirred up there.
Then last week I went to a reading by Bernard MacLaverty who reminds me of Trevor, and not because both are Irish writers. Bernard's stories are quite different from Trevor's and very much in his own voice, but there is a quality of observation, of wisdom, of a deceptive simplicity with profound depths beneath, that is shared by both writers and which makes them both wonderfully readable.
Somebody in the audience asked him for advice about writing and he said 'Yes. Don't trust anybody who gives you advice about writing.' But he also suggested that - in pursuing your own unique voice - it is no bad thing to imitate those writers whose work you love. I agree. Too much prescriptive criticism from people who don't actually know that much about writing themselves can be very destructive to the creative impulses. But that's quite a different matter from using a fine writer like a pair of stabilisers on a bike - before you know it, you're off, peddling furiously all on your own.