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Edition de luxe: A collection of short stories

May 15, 2016

Edition de luxe: A collection of short stories inspired by our hotelsLast October, I wrote a Monday Musings post on writers-in-residence programs. The first one I listed, because I listed them alphabetically, was Accor Hotels MGallery Literary Collection. This is (or was?) a collaborative program with Melbourne’s The Wheeler Centre. Quoting what I wrote then, ‘it involved providing eight award-winning Australian writers with a short residence in one of Accor’s boutique MGallery hotels and commissioning those authors to write a short story which will be published in a book which will be “presented exclusively to guests at MGallery Hotels”.’ Well, it just so happens that this weekend we are staying in one of these hotels, and what did I find but the book of short stories titled Edition de luxe: A collection of short stories inspired by our hotels. Woo hoo!

It’s a nicely presented little book, with, for each writer, a brief bio, their short story, a brief history of the hotel plus that hotel’s special appeal, photographs, and a “memorable moment” describing something you might be able to enjoy if you stayed at the hotel. This is marketing after all, in addition to offering the treat of a bit of support to writers. The marketing bit comes to the fore when you look at the table of contents. It lists the title of the story, and the name of the hotel at (or about) which it was written, but NOT the name of the writer! Harumph. I’m always irritated when names of authors are not given due recognition in listings.

So, without further ado, I’m going to name the writers, 6 women and 2 men, who appear in the book. They are:

  • Favel Parrett (“Gold”)
  • Graeme Simsion (“Slideshow”)
  • Chris Flynn (“The prophecy, 1931”)
  • Robyn Annear (“Batman’s Hill lives”)
  • Toni Jordan (“Like a kindness”)
  • Debra Oswald (“Dog grooming”)
  • Alison Croggon (“Hello”)
  • Hannie Rayson (“Pip”)

I’ve read the stories – of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this! They are all 2-3 pages, some fiction, some not. They probably, the fiction ones anyhow, qualify as flash fiction, depending on your definition.

The first story, Favel Parrett’s “Gold”, is a little mood piece about what she sees from the balcony of her room at Mount Lofty House, “her” hotel, naturally. It’s non-fiction, and I enjoyed her description of the end of the day:

Time is measured in light. Evening shadows begin to stretch over the valley. The gold moves further and further away towards the horizon, chased by the sun going down.

Nice, peaceful.

The fiction pieces vary in tone from the poignant or sad, like Graeme Simsion’s “Slideshow”, with its little surprise ending, and Alison Croggon’s more worrying “Hello”, to the more lightly humorous, like Chris Flynn’s “The prophecy, 1931” about Walter Lindrum (set in Melbourne’s Hotel Lindrum) and Hannie Rayson’s sperm-donor-inspired final story in the collection, “Pip”. Historian Robyn Annear explores Melbourne’s Batman’s Hill, razed in the 1860s to make way for the railway, in her story “Batman’s Hill lives”, and Toni Jordan, in the Blue Mountains, recounts a chance encounter, which may or may not be real but which makes a sweet story, in “Like a kindness”. But, perhaps, though it’s hard to choose, I most liked Debra Oswald’s “Dog grooming” with its tale of subversion and catharsis.

I won’t say more. These are little pieces, perfect for reading in a hotel at the end of a busy working or travelling day. Quality writers, thoughtful stories. I wonder what, if any, feedback Sofitel/Accor and the Wheeler Centre have had, how the writers found the experience, and whether the project will be repeated.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2016 6:47 pm

    How bizarre not to list the writers. I think I would have felt short change if I’d been one of them. Do guests have to leave the book in the room?

    • May 15, 2016 7:16 pm

      I reckon I would too, Karen. And no, I believe it’s free for guests to take. Better be, as I’ve written the authors’ names in the table of contents! Sorry I’ve been silent, but will start checking blogs when I get back this week.

  2. May 16, 2016 12:09 pm

    This type of thing seems to be increasingly popular and, in my view, is of varying merit. There’s always the suspicion that the paymaster may have exercised some editorial control over the end product. Nevertheless, when done well, these can be really interesting projects.

    My first exposure to ‘writer in residence’ books was via Alain de Botton’s excellent ‘A Week At The Airport’, which was commissioned by Heathrow Airport shortly after the new Terminal 5 opened. That was a non-fiction title and the way it was sold to de Botton was: “There were still many aspects of the world that perhaps only writers could be counted on to find the right words to express,” and that: “A glossy marketing brochure, while in certain contexts a supremely effective instrument of communication, might not always convey the authenticity achievable by a single authorial voice.”

    ‘A Week At The Airport’ sold well (more than 150,000 copies) and was followed by a collection of Heathrow-inspired short fiction stories in Tony Parsons’ ‘Departures’. Meanwhile, the success of the Heathrow book prompted de Botton, with several partners, to establish the publishing project Writers In Residence, “a not-for-profit organisation devoted to recording and describing key institutions of the modern world, through the talent of some of the greatest writers on the planet.”

    The project resulted in Geoff Dyer becoming the writer in residence aboard the US aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush, and led to the book ‘Another Great Day At Sea’. Other organisations featured in the series of books include the International Monetary Fund and French technology company Alcatel-Lucent.

    Some of these titles offer a unique insight into organisations that one might never otherwise get close to, and it takes a deft hand to overcome that initial suspicion of patronage and editorial control. All of the above manage it superbly.

    From the other side of the fence, I have been commissioned to write a few of these projects myself — one for the UK National Health Service, another for a pharmaceutical company.

    One thing I noted from these experiences was that this is anathema to the way companies often communicate. This is slooooow communications — delving into their organisations, unsure of what will be uncovered, and giving form to what emerges in a way that is coherent and yet still true to its source.

    Another thing I noticed is that whose who are the subject of such interviews and stories find the process quite cathartic and untainted by the other perceived exploitations of company communications. If you tell someone you want to interview them for a web bulletin, they are usually disinterested. Tell them you want to feature them in the company magazine and they are more interested but still usually uninspired by the proposal. Suggest putting them in a company video and they sometimes run a mile, or worse, say yes and then clam up in front of the camera.

    But tell employees you are writing a book and you want to tell their story, and they almost always edge towards you, cautiously at first, before opening up and sharing the most wonderful stories with you. The best of these projects are packed with those nuggets of gold and serve to acknowledge the great things that go on behind closed doors, retelling them as great stories, while elucidating a subject for interested readers — as all good writing should.

    So, approached with caution, handled with care and edited with honesty, these can be wonderful works.

    Thanks for the list in your previous ‘musing, I’ll be looking some of those out — for both personal and professional interest.

    • May 16, 2016 12:56 pm

      Thanks for these comments Mark. All good, fair points, and I did consider pondering on the potential impact on these works, though felt in the end that the impact didn’t appear to be strong. Indeed the fact that a couple of the stories were a little dark or poignant made me think there was a free hand. I did though refer to the issue in my review a couple of years ago of Anna Funder’s sponsored Everything precious where I felt there may have been some “specs”. I enjoyed your insider’s perspective.

      • May 16, 2016 12:59 pm

        I think, usually, artistic integrity prevails anyway in these situations, otherwise I suppose the commissioner may as well have gone the way of a corporate brochure anyway. I agree with the point that it’s odd the writers aren’t credited/named though.

  3. Meg permalink
    May 16, 2016 5:32 pm

    I don’t understand it, but I gather that the authors must have been paid quite handsomely to agree to have their stories published without their names. I just read that the “Australian Book Review has increased its standard rate of payment for freelance reviewers. Critics will now be paid at least $50 per 100 words. This represents a 150% increase during the past three years”. And their articles are published with their names. Maybe it is better to be a critic than an author.

    • ian darling permalink
      May 16, 2016 6:54 pm

      An interesting post and comments that does show the advantage the short story does have in finding outlets – they don’t have to be published in magazines or anthologies.

      • May 16, 2016 8:57 pm

        Yes, good point Ian. I’d love to know how many people notice the book and read it, or even some of the stories, and whether it encourages them to then seek out the authors. But, I guess even the hotels rarely know whether people like the books.

    • May 16, 2016 8:52 pm

      Hi Meg, sorry, I hope I wasn’t too ambiguous. Their names ARE there. It’s just that they aren’t named in the table of contents, but names are against their stories in the body of the book.

      $50 per 100 words for a critic. So, you earn $250 for a 500 word article. I wonder how long it takes a critic to read a book and then write about it? I think ABR suggests that to write a good review you need to read a book more than once. I’d love to know what professional critics think about payment? Still a 150% increase must be an improvement.

  4. May 19, 2016 2:33 am

    What fun! So did you get to keep the book? I wonder if the writers felt any kind of pressure to either say something nice about the hotel or to write a story that would not reflect badly on the hotel (like no menacing staff or spy plots like Night Manager)?

    • May 19, 2016 9:50 am

      Yes, I did, Stefanie. And yes I wondered the same, but I think not, because one story was pretty dark and one was sad – the hotel stay did not lead to happily ever after.

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