Short Story Saturday review 002: ‘Dreaming not Sleeping’ by Julia Kavan

Welcome to the new Short Story Saturday review slot and the second review in this series. This week’s is of 2,500-worder ‘Dreaming Not Sleeping’ by Julia Kavan, first published by Etopia Press in January 2011.

Synopsis: A woman is tempted away from the safety of her husband’s arms by a skillful night-time visitor. But they both find nothing is what it seems…

Titles have to capture the essence of the story and ‘Dreaming Not Sleeping’ is spot on.

This is a first-person story, told predominantly from the wife’s point of view, with smaller interspersed sections from the husband, and snatched glimpses of a third character – the antagonist (who ‘speaks’ in italics). Interestingly, the wife is both protagonist and antagonist (to her husband) through her consequential actions.

I’m a big fan of inanimate objects becoming characters in themselves and here we had ‘leaves whisper conspiratorially’ which added to the already-brooding atmosphere.

Stories work well where there is more than one conflict and here we have two: the wife’s with the man in (of) her dreams and with her husband, who we can’t help but feel sorry for.

As a reader, however – and there has to be a however, this is a review – there were a couple of places where I paused; where the antagonist was referred to as a ‘he’ then an ‘it’ and then within a few words as ‘he’ again, although I can see why he could be both. A key element of any writing is ‘show don’t tell’ and one instance that leapt out at me was: ‘My dreams were frantic, fevered.’ (a good show) but it is then followed by ‘I missed him’. In the context of the story we can understand why her dreams were frantic so don’t need the ‘tell’.

Hooks are so important with any story and this has plenty of them including the intriguing ‘I’ve seen to that’. It comes just before the final scene of the story and definitely made me want to read on.

I won’t give away the ending but I did like the way it came full circle – you’ll have to read it to find out how.

The writing is very immediate, the characters convincing, pace strong, with good use of language and the steamier parts definitely engaging!

The story on paper (screen) is well laid out with asterisked paragraph spacing between point of view switches. My only observation is that these days the first paragraph of each section shouldn’t strictly be indented (get any paper book and you’re likely to find it isn’t) but a lot of what I read online is indented – I guess it’s a more relaxed format or a traditional vs self-publishing difference.

A good reviewer should be totally unbiased as to the genre that they read. Although as a teenage I used to read Stephen King books the day they came out, my tastes have since mellowed to crime and humour but Julia’s short story made me think that my choices needn’t be so narrow. 🙂

I had said this wouldn’t turn into a critique and it probably has but we’re all here to learn so I hope it’s helped.

Thank you Julia for letting me read your story.

Born in the University city of Cambridge, England, Julia Kavan has spent most of her life living in Cambridgeshire – atmospheric and the perfect inspiration for ghost stories. She has taught creative writing classes for the last ten years, whilst writing screenplays, tackling a novel and experimenting with short stories.

A true Scorpio, her tastes definitely err towards the dark side. She devoured horror stories as a teenager, including James Herbert and Stephen King in her list of favourite authors, moving on to Clive Barker and Peter Straub. As a child she would watch anything that even vaguely looked as if it may be scary… so perhaps it is only natural that this is the area her writing tends to wander into – even if she doesn’t always intend it to! Her favourite painting is Salvator Rosa’s L’Umana Fragilita. Her music collection includes Holst, Orff, 30 Seconds to Mars and Linkin Park.

You can find more about Julia and her work via her website, Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter, as well as reading our full interview (June 2011) and Julia’s poem ‘Empty’ posted here in January. ‘Dreaming Not Sleeping’ is available from (currently £0.77 so presumably $0.99 on .com).

If you’d like to submit your story (50 to 2,500 words) for review take a look here.

Next is I shall be spotlighting author Adele Cosgrove Bray then the blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with novelist and poet Rose Mary Boehm – the two hundred and eighty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords.

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