My Year in Writing
Looking back I can see that I’ve completed four stories. It doesn’t sound like a huge amount, but is probably more than I’ve written in any other single year, and the fact that three of these were completed in the last couple of months of the year is testament to the success of the aforementioned resolution. The earlier part of the year was spent wrestling with a story that I had begun in 2015, but ground to a halt not long after, and which had been stalled for over a year. I wanted to make some effort to finish several incomplete stories I had sitting around, and this was the foremost of them. I set out to write something consciously ‘weird’ rather than specifically horror or supernatural, and although I always knew where the story was to end up I got to a point where I couldn’t bridge the gap between the first few pages and where I needed the story to go. By forcing myself to sit and begin writing, however, I was able to make the necessary connections and get things underway again, and bring the story (originally titled The Circumference but now La Ronde) to a conclusion. It came in at almost exactly 11,000 words, which doesn’t seem a lot when I think that it took a good while to write and redraft, but it did involve a fair amount of research, and as with quite a few of my stories for every hour I spend writing I’ll spend two researching. Or getting distracted and heading off at a tangent that sparks a completely unrelated idea. I haven’t done anything else with the story, beyond earmarking it for my own collection, and it will be a month or so until I return to it for a more objective appraisal.
Whilst I was still writing and editing La Ronde I came across the first submission call I had seen in a long time that interested me. Or, rather, I’d resisted replying to open calls from the same publisher for earlier books since I didn’t think I’d be very good at writing in the specific genre it was aimed at. I did, however, have a character that I’d been wanting to use for just such an occasion, and when the latest call appeared I dusted down a description of her that I’d done for an online creative writing course, and decided to expand it into a proper story. However, I only had a week before the deadline, and I’d only gone three or four pages before that old bugbear – word count – raised its head again. I realised that there was no way I could bring the story in at the correct length. I hesitated briefly, and then decided to simply lift the ‘character introduction’ parts out, and write a new story around it. I relocated the story from some indeterminate Scottish isle (possibly Iona) to Wiltshire, and opted for a more overtly folk horror angle with less investigation needed, and fewer characters. I think I wrote the final version in the shortest time I’ve ever written a story – three days from the initial idea to submission. And it wasn’t rejected out of hand (as so many of my efforts are), but I have yet to hear whether it makes it beyond the shortlist. The main issue was that although this is the first story to feature the character, it isn’t an introductory story. She’s already established in her own milieu, which I’ve been told might confuse readers (very true, and I’ve loosely planned for her introduction to be in the sequel to my first published story – ‘Daniel Silence, Gentleman’ – where she will arrive to investigate the murder of her guardian, much to the chagrin of Mr Silence). Of course the problem with that is that whilst it becomes her first story, it’s still a sequel to an earlier one.
(I’ve been purposefully vague both as to the title of the story, and market that I’m aiming for. This will likely be a theme when discussing stories or poems that are currently under submission. I don’t think it’s fair to publicise either at the submission stage, and I’m superstitious enough of influencing the outcome to keep somewhat quiet).
The second of my autumn stories wasn’t written for a specific market (although I have submitted it – unsuccessfully – to two), but was instead prompted by a chance occurrence on a train home from work. I gradually became aware that the woman sitting next to me was crying, quietly, with an obvious attempt to conceal her distress. Rather than breach my English reserve and actually speak to her, I took the writer’s way out and decided to base a story on the experience, and let my imagination be drawn into what might be the reasons behind it. Again, it was written quickly, with the intention that it should be more a descriptive vignette than a long drawn out narrative. I was quite pleased with it, and as one of the more overtly ‘horror’ stories I’ve written, it provides a contrast – albeit a short one – to the more subtle or supernatural stories.