short story


malkyRarely have I had as much fun writing a short story as I did with The Book of Malky, which goes live today over at McStorytellers.

One Sunday, I happened upon the first chapter of the book of Malachi in the Bible and its opening, which is pretty much transposed into the first sentence of the story, made me wonder about writing a modern book, telling a modern story, in a biblical style. Within a few seconds of this question entering my mind, I had a very clear image of an old Scottish down-and-out, languishing in his local bookmaker when he saw a vision of God. From that point on, the story really wrote itself. I’m not claiming much of an original idea here, but as I was writing, I was conscious that I hadn’t read a story told this way before, which made it a very exciting experience. The title calls back to the original source while managing to keep to the Scottish setting and the rhyming slang influence of its protagonist.

As I have lamented on these pages before, there really are only a few out and out Scottish markets for short fiction out there. Four rejections later, I sent it on to Brendan Gisby at McStorytellers who snapped it up.

Brendan has been a real champion of my work in the past. He’s published a few of mine in the past and showcased The Scottish Book of the Dead at the Edinburgh eBook Festival. If I’m honest, I really would have liked to see Malky in a publication that was new to me, but with those doors closed, I’m happy that it found a home so welcoming.

You can have a read of The Book of Malky by maneuvering your mouse to the following link and then clicking the left mouse button, or tapping on your tracking pad, or just by jabbing your finger at it: http://www.mcstorytellers.com/the-book-of-malky.html

Kid-on-BusAlthough it may seem unlikely to anyone who reads my movie reviews, my fiction, my poetry, or to James Franco, but I’m a cheery wee soul. Really, I am. The fact that most of my short stories are populated by lonely, isolated characters, challenged to fit their round frames in the square holes of society really is just a coincidence. Well, maybe.

Of course, that’s not all I like writing about. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m fond of a quirky voice (as seen recently in The Peculiar Incident at Otter Creek amongst others) and I very much enjoy writing what first appears to be an everyday sort of tale but when we slowly zoom out, it becomes clear that not everything is what it seems. At the start of 2013 I was able to combine these two elements with Nevergreen, a story that goes live at Menda City Review today.

The story was written during a bit of a frenetic three or four months during which I was to write the majority of my 2013 new work. To the best of my recollection, it was born after hearing someone bemoan how children are growing up too quickly these days. These words, or words like them, are said all the time but on this occasion they stuck and a few hours later, I’d pecked out the 3,000 words that I imagined were about the right amount needed to tell the story. It’s such a simple idea, I’m surprised I hadn’t thought of it before.

I really like this story. It’s one of my favourites. And as is usually the case for stories of mine that I really like, it proved to be quite a difficult sell.. As is usually the case for stories of mine that I really like, it picked up a fair number of rejections. And as is usually the case for stories of mine that I really like, it was eventually picked up by Terry Rogers at Menda City. I was about as confident as I could be that it would be a good fit for them. Thankfully, it was.

I’ve mentioned my love of Menda City Review more than once on these pages so I’m suitably chuffed that this is the venue of my first publication of 2014.

You can read about children growing up too quickly these days by clicking on this link, or by getting an eight-year-old to do it for you: http://www.mendacitypress.com/24Broom.html

hmsenduranceSince 2005, I’ve written 124 stories. That’s not a bad number but it’s by no means great. Some-teen stories a year isn’t exactly super productive. But it’s alright.

Some of the 124 are okay. A lot, especially the early ones, are terrible. When I look through the titles in my 2006 folder, I see an awful lot of Word docs that I’m scared to open. I’d like to think that most of my most recent output is decent. But then, that’s what I probably thought back in 2006 as I gazed with pride at those awful titles in that smelly old folder. Either way, there’s about a dozen or so I’m really pleased with.

Written in early 2008, The Spirit of Shackleton was to my mind the best story I’d written up to that point. I have fond memories of brainstorming the kids’ names with my colleague Ashleigh Key when we should’ve been working. Oddly for me, the title came to me at the end of the process and is, in fact, the name of a Glen Phillips song. I told him about it on The Twitter. He said cool. So it’s all kosher. Probably.

It’s a strange thing, though, that despite my giving this a high score, it proved to be pretty tricky to place. Eventually, it was picked up by Terry Rogers’ Menda City Review, a place I’ve been honored to have work a couple of times in the past. Terry is one of the best editors I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with and I was saddened when MCR closed its doors. Thankfully it was only a brief hiatus and he and his excellent journal are back. Even if you don’t read the stories, check out the photography.

Now. It’s not every magazine who accepts reprints. In fact, it’s reasonably rare. But whenever I discover a new market that’s happy to take previously published work, I always like to try them with The Spirit of Shackleton, if for no other reason than it gives me an excuse to read it again for myself, and that’s what happened when I read the Submission Guidelines for Go Read Your Lunch, an online imprint of Alternating Currents.

Five-and-a-bit years later, the proclaimed Best Thing What I’ve Ever Written has been overtaken by The Scottish Book of the Dead and a couple of other pieces I’ve written in the last few months, but I’m still very proud of it. You can see what all the fuss is about by clicking this link:

http://goreadyourlunch.blogspot.com/2013/09/thespiritofshackleton.html

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.comWhen I finish a piece of work, I always have a reasonable idea in my head of how easy or difficult a job I’m going to have finding it a home. Some of the work, a reducing number as years go by, I deem just not good enough and so I don’t even bother sending it out only to be proved right.

It’s somewhat amusing that after writing short stories and poetry for around 8 years and after being published somewhere around 70 times, I am still no closer in developing any kind of accuracy with these predictions. I find myself constantly surprised that stories I think will get accepted straight away end up picking up a dozen rejections, while stories I don’t particularly rate end up finding an accepting editor’s eye at the first time of asking.

The latest example of this – Marigolds, published today in Allegory – was written at the start of 2011. At the time of writing, I was obsessing over a couple of songs by bands with names at the quirkier end of the spectrum; Brothers on a Hotel Bed by Death Cab For Cutie and Fly From Heaven by Toad The Wet Sprocket. The former gave me the initial image as suggested by the title while the latter kinda deals with charlatan faith healers in a very biblical setting. This combination asked me what would happen to the brother of a man celebrated as a healer, what would life be like for this seemingly less important sibling. Marigolds is my attempted answer.

It’s changed significantly in a couple of places since the first draft. Things that did happen, now don’t. Things I made explicit, I’m now more cagey about. But even with these changes, I never had the sense that this was going to be a story that would be an easy sell. As part of my initiative earlier this year of submitting everything homeless, I sent it off to Allegory and raised both eyebrows when, after three months, it got a yes.

I’ve read the story again since the acceptance and I have to say, I’m more happy with it now than I was when I submitted it. Like I’ve said before on these pages, I’m all about validation.

Allegory is another new publication for me, specialising in Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy. I’m not sure which of these buckets my story fits most comfortably in. Perhaps it touches on all three.

You can read Marigolds and decide for yourself by clicking on the link below:

http://www.allegoryezine.com/

ottercreek1I’ll come clean with you.

I saw a movie a couple of days before I wrote The Peculiar Incident at Otter Creek, which goes live today over at Go Read Your Lunch. That movie, however, wasn’t Cowboys & Aliens regardless of any similarities you might spot. The movie was the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit.

I love writing stories like this, where the voice is such a vital component to the overall success (or otherwise) of the piece. In Memorising Pi to 120 Decimal Places, it was a young autistic boy. In The Scottish Book of the Dead, it was a weary old profane Scotsman. And I have a couple of other examples that are currently collecting rejections among the great and good. Here, though, it’s the strangely eloquent son of an eighteenth century pioneer which was inspired by the wonderful Mattie Ross in Charles Portis’s classic novel.

Go Read Your Lunch is a new market for me and is still in its infancy. However, among its authors, it’s already picked up work by my wife and by my friend Timothy Gager. It’s nice to share virtual pages with these guys.

You can find out just how peculiar the incident was at Otter Creek by following this link:

http://goreadyourlunch.blogspot.com/2013/06/thepeculiarincidentatottercreek.html

imageI’m jealous of writers who can see a phrase or a word as a prompt and, an hour later, have hammered out at least a rough draft of something they can then hone into a decent story or poem. My problem is, I think, once the idea has presented itself to me, I can quite quickly talk myself out of even starting to write it, thus robbing me of seeing where that seed will take me. It’s a bad habit and I’m doing my best to overcome it.

Other times, though not nearly frequently enough, I can skip the idea generation almost completely and the story appears to me fully formed. This happened back in 2011 with a story called I Fought The War (And The War Won), which was picked up by the glorious and now sadly defunct Night Train.

It happened again more recently in November 2012 with Evidence of Terrestrial Life, which has gone live today over at Writers Who Rock. No, I’m not sure why it’s accompanied with a picture of a teddy bear either.

(STOP PRESS — The teddy bear has gone. Must’ve been a mistake rather than a deliberate placement of a stuffed animal. Which is nice.)

Anyway. I’m a sucker for astronomy and while trawling the backwaters of Wikipedia on the matter, I read about a huge observatory out in the Atacama in Chile. Through following a few links, I soon stumbled upon information about the dissidents of Pinochet’s regime who had been murdered and dumped in the same location and because of the arid atmosphere, their bodies are often preserved in perfect condition to the extent that searching widows have been known to find their loved ones.

The image of all this technology out in the middle of nowhere coupled with old women seeking closure was so striking in my head that it didn’t take long to spot the comparisons about the scientists and widows both looking into the past for their own versions of evidence. Add in my favourite tropes of loneliness and isolation and the story pretty much wrote itself after that.

This was also the first story I wrote after moving from Scotland to Michigan and was the first time I’d put the figurative pen to equally figurative paper for six months. Regardless of the quality of the story, it was something of a relief to write something new and to discover that I hadn’t left my desire or ability to write back at the departures lounge in Edinburgh Airport. In the months that have followed, I think I’ve written some of my best work, both in short stories and poetry. It feels like I’m at an exciting and interesting point in my writing career.

You can have a read of Evidence of Terrestrial Life by following this link: http://www.writerswhorock.com/#/new-short-story/4573312265

In the last few minutes, the doors have opened on The 2nd Roy Wood Memorial Short Story Competition, which is being run over on The Waterhouse Review in conjunction with Alloa Writers Group.

I was an active member of Alloa Writers from 2005 to 2011, serving as secretary and treasurer in various spells. It was the first writing group I had ever been a part of and I made some great friends there, that remain so to this day. I can even remember the short story I read on my first evening. I went on to become an active member of Tillicoultry Writers and Stirling Writers and I’m now part of the MSU Creative Writing Center Group. So I’ve come a long way. No two groups are the same and I learned different things from each one. Alloa Writers will always hold a very special place in my heart.

I met Roy Wood in 2009 and instantly liked him. His Scouse sense of humour was never too far from the surface and his experience in the civil service came in very handy when it came to negotiating our way through group business meetings. In the time that I knew him, he never enjoyed the best of health and I suspect he was more ill than he ever let on to us. Despite this, his comedy and contributions to the group never faltered. When I learned of his death in the summer of 2011, I felt the loss of a special person and friend.

So it’s very much an honour for me, as fiction editor of The Waterhouse Review, to be organising the Short Story competition in his memory.

The competition is open to works of fiction of 500 words and under, has a $200 first prize along with publication in Waterhouse Review, with an entry fee of $5. The closing date for entries is July 31, 2013. More details and full T&C can be found here:

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