GASLIGHT

This is the piece I mentioned the other day, as published. Interested if anyone has thoughts about the end.

GASLIGHT2

Simon hadn’t told his mum the whole story earlier in the week when he asked if he could stay on Friday.   Mum didn’t usually like him staying out late in winter. She said it was too dark to be lingering on the way home and eleven year olds shouldn’t be out wandering the streets at night. Just this once however, as it was a cultural event, she had agreed to let him go to the school film club.

He hadn’t lied. He had gone to the film club, but he had been a bit vague about the film that was showing. Art house production or not, she didn’t approve of horror films and would have said ‘no’ had she known. Simon wasn’t that keen on them himself if he were being honest and he had only asked because Steve had said it would be really cool to go when they wouldn’t be allowed to see it in a cinema for years yet.

The film had been worth the small subterfuge, it was much better even than Steve’s hyped billing in fact. A little too good for their tastes as it turned out, and so nerve jangling that Steve and Simon had felt the need to look away from the screen for long stretches. Both boys had been glad when the end credits rolled.

The night was very dark after the lighted precincts of the school. That had been part of the appeal in the planning of course, but in the reality of the film’s aftermath the thrill palled.

Both boys lived on the edge of town, only a few hundred yards apart, but their routes home from school lay along different roads.  Simon lived up behind the church at Walley Heys and Steve’s house was at the back of the Old Hall up on Hambleys Rise. Each had two miles to walk alone in the dark, a boring commonplace trudge on normal school nights. Now, with the memory of what they had just seen lurking in every shadow, those miles were a marathon of fear.

There was an alternative. Sometimes after school they would walk together to one of their houses and the remaining boy would then walk the short distance home alone. They took turn about being the one to walk past the Old Hall and the squalor of Bailey’s farm, but tonight, being a one off sprint of terror, they tossed a coin.

Simon lost.

Together they walked to Steve’s house, talking over loudly and being as macho as eleven year olds could. Anything to occupy their minds and stop the furtive glances at the shadows gathering as town turned to country. Their laughter became a little more brittle as they left the main road and turned off past the brick pond with its inky depths and soughing, leaf shrouded banks. They reached the driveway of Steve’s family home. Simon started one last conversation to delay the inevitable. The few hundred yards between the houses had seemed trivial outside school. Here the night seemed to swallow the road ahead in its hungry maw.

Steve trotted down the drive and Simon dragged his feet to the end of Steve’s road. Here his way led left, down the lane past the Old Hall, long deserted, and Bailey’s farm. No cars could get past the farm, the gate there remaining locked at all times. Pedestrians had a right of way through to the canal bridge and what had been the village beyond. If the brick pond and its surroundings had been gloomy, the grounds of the Old Hall and the fields around Bailey’s Farm were stygian.

The gaslights on the lane were a relic of the highpoint of the town’s nineteenth century expansion. They were supposed to have been replaced by electric lights the year before, during the summer of 1966, but council money was tight and they had received yet another year’s reprieve. Each lamp cast the feeblest of yellow glows, and Simon ran from one illuminated circle to the next, loitering in each as long as he could before darting to the next oasis of light. As he ran, shadows and flickering reflections wakened memories and ghosts of long gone splendours in the windows of the neglected Hall. Above him, the arching boughs of trees lining the lane scraped and screeched against each other where they met overhead. At last he was past the Hall and to his left front, across the canal, the lights of his own lane twinkled and beckoned. All he had to do was pass the farm, slide through the gap at the side of the gate, cross the canal bridge, and he was back on tarmac with electric street lights and the houses of living people. The things from the film that hung close on his heels and in the hedges and fields, and in each patch of darkness between the lamps could not follow there. He would be home.

Simon made a vow.

He would tell his Mum and Dad he didn’t want to go to film club again. He would do his homework before Sunday night, and he would help with the washing up and the gardening and wash the car, he promised in his head. Just as long as he got across the bridge in one piece. Fingers ran down his spine. Sweat from running between lampposts he told himself, but the hairs on his neck belied his thoughts.

He rounded the last bend before the farm. At the farm entrance he could see the gate and the pedestrian access at its side leading to the canal bridge and safety. Another gas lamp grew out of the grass verge, out of the shadows by the gap he had to walk through, out of time. From the iron cross piece, barring the way, grimly marking the transition between two worlds swung something grey and shapeless, bumping, slowly spinning at the end of a rope , a shapeshifting gatekeeper to his world beyond.

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REVISITING AN OLD FRIEND: THOUGHTS ON ‘GASLIGHT’

I was looking through some old files yesterday when I came across a few notes written for a piece of flash fiction. Notes for a piece of flash fiction might seem like a redundant exercise. Flash fiction is so short, so condensed that notes may very quickly end up longer than the finished piece. But that isn’t necessarily a problem or a waste. The tightness required of very short fiction is such that, in theory at least, every word must serve a purpose. Having a bigger picture in your head and ensuring the writing encapsulates that picture as pithily as possible is no bad thing.

With that in mind I dug out the finished piece. ‘Gaslight’ was published a couple of years ago in ‘The Tall and the Short’ an anthology of short fiction, excerpts from longer pieces and poems, by various authors.

When I looked at it again I realised that I had probably cheated. There was a requirement to keep the piece under a thousand words and I had achieved that aim. I wondered at the ending however. The reader is left hanging – appalling pun, as the piece turns on something or someone dangling at the end of a rope. As I read it again I put myself in the place of the reader. The editor had expressed doubts about the ending but I was adamant. I think I was fed up with it and I can see why from my notes. It started out as 262 very tight words from notes at least four times that long. There was a feeling that 262 words was however too short and that elements needed more explanation or better setting so it ballooned to 996. The reverse of how I like writing to go – splurge it down and then refine, although I have mentioned ad infinitum my dislike of redrafting/rewriting. Much worse to expand however, than cut. Having said that, my problem is that expanded from the original size though it may be the poor reader still has no consummation with this piece. They don’t know what happens to the protagonist or what the object of his peril really is, whether there really is any peril even. I know of course but I should perhaps at least have hinted. I still like the idea of open ended stories, particularly horror genre pieces, but I still feel a twinge of guilt at how open this piece ends.

I would alter it I think if I were to write it again from scratch. I am even tempted to expand it a little to ‘finish’ the story but that risks the ending being twee and too cosy. If anything I think I’d like to leave more possibilities of awfulness in the readers mind. I am even tempted to go back to the 262 word version, make it 300 words and leave it at that.

Of course I won’t bother. I don’t think.

The piece is published. Anything except a major rewrite into a full short story is going to end up like all those ‘Director’s cuts’ in films that end up much worse than the original. Other, much better known, authors have of course gone back and altered books, usually not for the better. Stephen King rewrote and reinstated about 400 pages of cuts in ‘The Stand’.  General critical opinion is that the editor did a great job on the first edition and there was good reason to lose those 400 pages. Four hundred! That’s chutzpah all right, putting back in 400 pages of extraneous fluff. When I get as famous as King maybe I’ll come back and tweak the ending. I doubt it would be 400 words, let alone 400 pages.

Ups and Downs

The Tall and the Short
Yesterday’s launch for ‘The Tall and the Short’ went really well. The readers, Terry Victor and Eryl Sheers, were, as one would expect of professionals, excellent, the material took on a new roseate glow with such accomplished performers reading it, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

I confess to being surprised at the turnout, we had to send out for more seats which was a surprise for us all I think, especially as it was a teetotal bash (sober book launches, whatever next!)

Books were sold and autographed in addition to the usual distribution of complementary copies, in fact at one stage there was a concern we may run out of the copies we had brought along for sale, but it turned out not to be quite that good a day!

So that was the ‘Up’ side of things and a very nice up too.

The down side was a very polite and gentle email saying thanks but no thanks on a short story I had been trying to sell. It is about a child on the autistic spectrum, high functioning but bemused, and his coming to terms with the strange world of adults and neurotypicals. Maybe this theme has been overexposed of late, but I haven’t come across too much of it and as it has a personal resonance I am disinclined to shrug my shoulders and walk away from it. More hawking of the wares required I feel. I confess that it feels like the best short story I have written, but I probably feel like that about everything I have just written. This isn’t brand new however and reading it again some months after finishing it I am still happy with it. So, anyone want to buy a short story, only 3,977 words?

The Tall and the Short is available from Carys Books HERE

Book Launch: The Tall and The Short

If anyone is in the Caldicot area next Thursday 20 November 2014, you are very welcome at the Caldicot Library. From 1400hrs Caldicot Writers Group is launching its new book ‘The Tall and The Short’.  It comprises examples of the work of members: poems, short stories, extracts from novels and family/local history.

There will be readings by actor Terry Victor and Drama teacher Eryl Sheers (mother of Owen). There will be refreshments available and a chance to meet the authors and buy the book at the special event price of £5.99.

Although the main event will last until about 1500hrs, members of the group will be present in the library until closing at 1900hrs to talk to anyone interested in joining, buying the book or just knowing a bit more about writing.

Looking forward to seeing you.

 

Tal and Short cover

If you miss us you can still buy the book direct through Carys Books:

Oh yes – I have two short stories and three poems in it – worth the price alone!

Interview-The Truth!

Anyone who listened yesterday to Art2Art will have noticed the complete absence of anything to do with WOLF! or me. The reason for this devastating omission has now been revealed. Not a conspiracy, alien intervention or management decision to pull it. Once again cock up over conspiracy wins the day.

The more perspicacious amongst you will have noticed the odd reference in the ‘What’s on?’ section to things to do with the kids during the summer holidays. This should have alerted me to the truth. Someone loaded the wrong show onto the play system and sent out a two week old show.

Ah well. My apologies again if I wasted anybody’s time.

Swindon 1055 Radio Interview Friday 30 August

There are ways to prepare for interviews. Wrestling with Tuesday evening traffic and the one way system in Bristol isn’t one of the recommended ones. We fought an honourable draw with me eventually finding a parking space within a couple of minutes walk of my destination, the Old Vic Theatre.

Fortunately I wasn’t there for an audition. I had an interview with Kim Wright for Swindon 1055 radio. Kim presents Art2Art on the station and wanted an interview about my motivation for WOLF! and my writing in general.

This was a first for me, I’ve done print interviews before but never radio, so I didn’t have many preconceptions. I think I had expected a list of questions before hand but Kim likes to keep it spontaneous so I went in with an open (blank?) mind. (I didn’t feel I had yet reached the Jeffrey Archer stage of handing him a list with a casual ‘These are the questions.’)

It felt relaxed despite not being entirely sure where we might go with it and I enjoyed the experience. Whether that is a good thing or not, I am not sure. I’ll find out how it plays after the edit when I hear the broadcast myself . I’m not in the area that receives the show but it is broadcast live on the web at swindon1055.com on Friday at 2pm and repeated on Sunday at 3pm.

So if you want to put a voice to the face and the words, now’s your chance.

swindon1055.com on Friday at 2pm and repeated on Sunday at 3pm.