My collection of stories – a slim volume at that – has taken me forty years, so such advice as I feel able to offer is in the nature of a personal memoir.
Be a fan before you try to become a writer
Your literary heroes set a yardstick for your own efforts. In my teens I read H.M. Pulham Esq by the now largely forgotten American author, John Marquand. Henry Pulham was a stuffed shirt who led a life of quiet desperation. A man of limited imagination and achievement, unthinkingly true to his class, he barely has an original thought. A masterpiece – and a great influence.
Unless you're a genius, write about what you know
I admire writers who manage to conjure up a world they could not possibly have experienced at first hand. Kazuo Ishiguru's Remains of the Day is one example, as is David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars. Most of us lack their ability to conjure up an alien world, so write about what you know.
Discover your own authorial voice
When I wrote my stories I was drawn to write from the perspective of a naïve teenager, very unsure of himself and somewhat in awe of the stronger personalities around him. This became my 'voice', simply because I was comfortable with it.
Establish your characters and enjoy their fictional personalities
The success of most novels and short stories rests on the author's ability to invent one or two memorable central characters. In my own case I enjoyed developing a fictionalised version of my brother. Even short stories need characters who are worthy of the reader's attention.
Cultivate a leisurely pace
A novel that I re-read every few years is J.G Farrell's The Seige of Krishnapur. One of its many delights is Farrell's willingness to incorporate scenes and incidents that enable him to flesh out his characters. These vignettes do little to advance the story but they help develop our understanding of the characters and therefore to engage our sympathy as the siege develops.
The only 'truth' that matters is being true to your invented characters
Write about what you know, but there is no obligation to tell the literal truth. My 'brother' in my stories is not my brother in real life – nothing like him in fact. Fidelity to your fictionalised characters is what matters.
Exercise emotional restraint
All great writers, with the possible exception of Dickens, exercise this restraint. There is no need to shout from the roof-tops. If you can write, the reader will get the message.
Lose the adjectives
Stories need depth, but sentences do not need adjectives – the fewer the better.
Embrace the task of re-writing
First drafts are the literary equivalent of the sculptor's block of stone or wood. Never tire of re-writing; it's essential, so enjoy it.
Take care in choosing a publisher
Research the field, and be prepared to take advice if offered.