Short Stories

Short Stories #30

Congratulations if you have stuck with me through this marathon – we have today reached the final, the 30th, short story in my collection When I Am Not Writing Poetry. Welcome to ‘A Writer’s Life’.

Once I had an uncle – before he died in Africa when I was a toddler – and once he had a fiancée. This long short story – almost a novella – tells the story of neither of them: it is a fictional account of the birth of a writer: the birth of this writer. It blends fact and fiction, places with which I have been familiar throughout my life with other imagined homes, and real characters with imagined characters. It is an account that interweaves some elements of real lives with an awful lot of fiction. It is a story…

When the news reached him he was sitting at his desk and did not immediately take in the full import of what he heard. He had been constructing, if that is the right word, another version of himself that would suit the narrative he had in mind (his initial plans were rarely on paper), a version that would be him in all but name, have his history—or a version of it—but a figure from which he could distance himself in order to look down on, to judge, his actions. At once him and a remote almost alien figure. It would be a tricky balancing act. As he stared at the blank page it occurred to him that he needed the familiarity of his life but did not want his readers—would he ever have readers?—to recognise him in that history. He wondered what he was hiding from… or perhaps he was not so much hiding as disguising his need for a real life as his source. He thought that if he was to be his alter ego, he must be the writer or poet born in Wales that he had never been: perhaps a miner for a father and a teacher as his mother. A father who read avidly in the Institute every night, often returning home late—probably when they threw him out and closed up—to too little sleep before another hard day beneath the ground. It struck him as absurd that, at work, his father was often a few hundred feet directly below his mother, and he wondered if either of them had ever had the same thought.

If he was turning his father into the educated, albeit self-educated late in life, parent he wondered if too he was robbing his mother of the education that she had never pursued.

‘ A Writer’s Life’ and all the other short stories that I have introduce over the last month can be found in When I Am Not Writing Poetry – available here or on Amazon.

Short Stories

Short Stories #29

The twenty-ninth  story in my collection, When I Am Not Writing Poetry, ‘The Birth of a Story’, describes what lay behind the writing of ‘The Endless Border’, and like its parent, plays with structure and format. In the formatting I have tried to distinguish between the different voices in my head while I was writing of ‘The Endless Border’; I have played with narrative, and with time, interweaving short extracts from the story itself to indicate my progress.

He thought that the trouble was that he always wanted his writing to be memorable. And that he wanted to be known as a writer. Like … he had been going to write Dickens—the first name that came into his head. He shuddered. Ridiculous! Definitely not like Dickens. Perhaps like Durrell or maybe even Nabokov; yes, that would do. Definitely. But he was a long way from that—while he had a story line and some idea of his protagonists in his head, he was not sure how to make them truly rounded, compelling individuals who would carry the plot forward while holding his readers. He had read somewhere that there were five traits of a personality—introversion (or whatever the opposite was), agreeableness, emotional stability, conscientiousness, and the degree to which someone was open to new experiences, and that most people were average in each of these. So, he reasoned that to make a character interesting, someone who would stand out, it would be necessary to move them away from average—in either direction—in one or two traits. But he wasn’t sure that he wanted to contort his people like that. He could imagine the Reader’s indignation. Or his wife who, while she may like his representation of her as emotionally very stable, would not like to find herself thought extremely anything! But still, she was scarcely there. None of them was. Except for the Writer, of course.

Voices. They were all just voices! Faint voices. Distant, some of them.

You will have to focus.

‘The Birth of a Story’ can be found in When I Am Not Writing Poetry – available here or on Amazon.

Short Stories

Short Stories #28

The twenty-eighth  story in my collection, When I Am Not Writing Poetry, your last taste of life at sea, is ‘Such Sweet Sorrow’. I have said before that it is easier – less painful – to leave than to be left, and others have written about how navy wives have two separate lives – and it just as they are getting used to being alone, to managing life – the house, perhaps the children – alone that their lives are rudely interrupted and all of their routines turned on their head. And then some weeks later, the reverse! But, that said, it is not easy leaving either.

It is today at breakfast. We sit as we have sat so many times before. In silence. An absolute silence except for the clink of a knife or spoon on china, the splash of tea falling into a cup, the occasional stirring of coals in the Rayburn. Today is as every other day, except that it is today, except that we know it is today.

And we remember.

In silence.

The night had started early and we had slept together for the last time. I had been perhaps too keen, too assertive; she had been loving, but passive, sad. And then we had slept not quite in each other’s arms, not quite together.

Perhaps we were practising.

Today she will get into her car and drive to work. Today I shall get into my car and drive away.

‘Such Sweet Sorrow’ can be found in When I Am Not Writing Poetry – available here or on Amazon.

Short Stories

Short Stories #27

The twenty-seventh  story in my collection, When I Am Not Writing Poetry, is ‘Only Me’  – another tale of escaping from solitude!  Waking to discover normality, the very stuff of everyday life had vanished would be unnerving enough but with the grey fog hiding every vestige of outside life, the author is plunged into an Orwellian nightmare world – or into a post-apocalyptic world such as that of Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague or better, perhaps, Vaughan’s Under the Dome.

I had gone to bed late. The weather over the weekend had been poor, damp and misty, I had not been out much, I had avoided the jobs that needed my attention, had not even dusted or swept the floors, and I stayed up late reading; overall I was dissatisfied with my weekend that had achieved so very little yet left me feeling tired. Added to that general malaise was the fact that I had heard from no one—no one had telephoned or texted, the only emails had been sales pitches and spam and all had been dispatched into the waste bin unread. It seemed that my Covid isolation had become complete! It reminded me of being officer of the watch at sea when an engine failure left us adrift in dense fog mournfully sounding our fog horn as prescribed to announce our presence to shipping while our radar assured us that we were completely alone in the vast ocean! So when, eventually, I turned off the little reading lamp by my bed, it was with some satisfaction that the weekend was fading behind me, the new week had started, I was probably already in the future.

When I woke up there seemed an eerie silence…

‘Only Me’ can be found in When I Am Not Writing Poetry – available here or on Amazon.