There was something else, something inside him. It hit him as he looked inwards.
Underneath his own bravado he sensed something faint, but devastating. It was so
fleeting that the sparrow flying past the window could have stopped and resumed the
beat of its wings, without the slightest dip in its path. It was so quiet that the lone ant
crossing the pavement could have paused and heard nothing. It was so violent that
the thoroughfares of his heart were shaken beyond recognition.
This is an extract from a short-story published in Crannog magazine. I heard a news item about a man who was imprisoned for armed robbery. He was caught because he took a shine to the woman behind the counter and returned the next day with a bunch of flowers. That’s as much explanation as I’m minded to give.
I had the idea as I was about to go to bed one night. I wrote the first draft longhand in about an hour.
The story was published by Crannog in Summer 2011 and I was invited to read an extract at the launch party in Galway: perhaps a little too far from Wolverhampton, but maybe another time. Sadly, this issue is no longer for sale.
He looks out over the city. The room looks out on the alley that runs along the side of the hotel. On the horizon, there are trees and the scaffolding around the side of a collapsed gas tank. The cathedral is somewhere in this direction, but he can’t see it. Closer to, he can see lines and corners of the shops and offices a couple of streets along. Immediately across is a pink building with an uneven roof. The aerial on the chimney is silhouetted against the ten o’clock sky. On the first floor, a pair of brown and orange curtains are parted to reveal a blue bedstead. On the ground floor a single-storey extension has a blue skylight.
To the left is a small office block. The blinds are up and he can see the desk-dividers, PCs and motivational posters that litter modern offices. One of the PCs is still on. Someone sits there. A young woman – perhaps not: it’s difficult to judge with her back to the window. Working late?
I wrote this a while back, after spending a few days in a hotel in Norwich. I spent a certain amount of time staring out of the window, which was at the back of the building and so had some interesting views into the surrounding buildings. I’m not the first person to notice that urban buildings are more interesting above street-level and side streets are more interesting than high streets. Equally, the back a of buildings can often be more interesting than the front and one of the nice things about holidaying in a city is taking the chance to watch people going about their business.
This piece is my memory of the view from the hotel room, written after I got home. I don’t imagine I’ll do anything with it.
Countries of the Mind
This story won first prize in a competition organised by the National Academy of Writing a few years ago. The theme of the competition was ‘countries of the mind’. I wrote a first draft, using free writing, which is not something I do very often. I took a few ideas from that and shaped it into the finished story.
I kidded myself that the result was quite Joycean; I was later told that a member of the judging panel said Brian Aldiss has written something similar. I couldn’t say one way or the other: if I have ever read Aldiss, it will have been when I was a teenager.
Don’t ask me what I won, either. For quite complicated reasons I never got round to collecting the prize.
Why I’m not doing a creative writing MA
I wrote this for my other blog a while back, but as this is a blog more specifically to do with writing, I thought I might as well link to it.
I dabbled in poetry for a while, before deciding I wasn’t very good at it. The highlight was a limerick that I entered into a contest run by the BBC website. Sadly the page is now gone, but I remember the limerick:
Rigsby – the man made no bones –
Was incredibly fond of Miss Jones.
He thought that he could,
If he burned the love wood,
Inflame her erogenous zones.
I composed the limerick in thirty seconds while I was washing up, agonising briefly over whether to write ‘burned’ or ‘burnt’ on line 4 and won a prize. Am I a great loss to poetry? I doubt it.
Issue 16 of the Ranfurly Review included my short story ‘To the Jubilee’. It is one of my favourite stories. I like its humour, pathos and the way it evokes how it felt to be young in 1977 (which I was).
Unusually for me, I have no memory of how I came to write this story.
My story is on page 10, but you should definitely look at the rest of the magazine while you’re at it.