So I finally went and done it.
I published a collection of short stories.
Something I’d had on the long finger for a decade thereabouts.
And the cover is a photo I took a few years ago now, on the Eastern Cape, where springboks bounded past just moments before the sun began to set. It’s one of my favourite photos, and it’s the background for my blog homepage (behind the cover of Unleashing the Pack ) and my youtube channel, as well as my personal facebook page.
And it’s part of the inspiration for the title story of the collection – 23 of them, all from various points in the places I’ve visited and lived in over the past thirty years, from home in Ireland, to Scotland, Madrid and other parts of Spain, to the USA. Of course, many could have been written anywhere you find humans.
Sometimes short stories are perhaps more prone to being analysed for signs of the writers own life and ideas. When writing a novel there’s always a little incident from life you can put in – usually only a few people pick up on them, and they’re like Easter eggs, in a way. With short stories the incident is most of the plot, and so some of these might seem like they’re just me putting down pieces of my life I considered worth recording. But they’re not. There might be a germ of an idea engendered by something that I saw or heard, but the rest is pure speculation on my part, putting my ideas into the being I created on the page, or more often, imagining what ideas such a person might have.
So I hope you enjoy them for what they are, a sketch of a growing body of prose sculpted by an amateur who aspired for self-teaching to reach pinnacles he hasn’t quite attained yet.
I have said this before, but we really are a strange species.
On the one hand, the Aboriginal Australians have stories that go back ten to fifteen thousand years, describing how their formal lands were flooded when the sea level rose after the last ice age. This made me remember an article about disposal of nuclear waste and the super intelligent nuclear physicists thinking about how to label the area so that future generations will know it’s there. The local Native American tribe told these scientists not to worry – they’d tell the future generations. It made me laugh.
But then, on the other, Yuval Noah Harari writes a book:Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind about how our species of humans becoming so powerful because we can believe stories (including complete bullshit), and thinks that the first really big impact of humans in the world was the arrival of humans in Australia, after which the megafauna of that continent disappeared from the record (a little further back than the sea-level rise in the story). The second big impact he says was when humans arrived in America and destroyed even more species of giant mammals.
In case it’s not clear, the book does not say the rise of humankind was in fact a great thing: for individual humans or for other species. He does speculate about the future, and reckons that humans will quickly evolve into some kind of new human-computer hybrid… But first, there will probably be a speciation event between the poor and the ultra -rich, the latter going on to becoming superhuman and somehow avoiding the coming problems.
One thing he seems to have missed (from the radio show I listened to), is that there are still people who live like our ancestors did, hunting and gathering, and they are, I hope, still as happy as Harari believes (and I agree) our ancestors were. I can only say that the this book is a huge reason to support NGOs like Survival International (to which 10% of the royalties of my second book in the Silver Nights Trilogy will be donated) so these people can be left alone in their happiness, and not made sad just because we are so blind to our own sadness that we think we are helping them. I can only hope that in the future, when the rest of us have evolved into whatever strange stuff will befall us, there will yet be uncontacted tribes living in the forests the way they have since they destroyed the megafauna.
I was reminded of this by a friend on facebook today in reference to my second novel, Five Days in Ballyboy Beach, just accepted by Tirgearr Publishing. It is also, sadly, appropriate from the less romantic viewpoint of the amount of rubbish swirling round in the ocean – a paper just the other days suggested that melting arctic ice would release trillions of tiny pieces of plastic back into the water.
Along the Shore
I walked along the shore
Searching for stories,
And saw from the tide line there
Was no shortage of them:
A small apple, still intact,
Discarded from a recent
Cider-pressing at a nearby orchard,
Taken by the rain down a drainage ditch;
A balloon, lost by a boy
Who stared skywards, crying
As it sailed out of sight
Inside the blue, at
The truth of his father’s words
That it would fly away if he let go
More than at the loss of his toy;
The arm and lens-less frame of
A former pair of pink, heart-shaped sunglasses
Lost from a inflatable boat
Bouncing over the Caribbean,
Bought in a stall in the resort
At two in the morning by a gentleman
After travelling from a Guangdong factory;
A piece of string – a balled up knot of
Baling twine – tied to a gate on a mountain farm
In place of a hinge that had long since rusted off
And fallen into the mossy rocks,
Until it wore through with use,
Taken by the wind to the river
There to flow towards the ocean
Entwined in twigs and tree trunks
Till they too, rotted away, then
Enticing turtles as if tentacles;
Seaweed, streams of it, several hues of
Green and brown clumps covered in sand
Some curling as they desiccate, smelling of
Sea and the denizens of the deep,
Symbolising and indicating some
Small piece of the unseen reaches beneath
The lapping waves, wondrous, dangerous
Violent and intense as any city-street.
You know the answer to that question is yes.
No, I’m not advocating actual infanticide, just literal infanticide. I only have one child while she’s not perfect, her imperfections are shared by myself, so are unimportant.
But tomorrow my first novel will be published. As such I’m like a proud parent on the night before an oldest child’s wedding: my work done, happy to see the child go off into the world. I still see a few defects, but I can only hope that the new spouse (readers) don’t spot them, or see them as charming idiosyncrasies.
Yet I can’t relax, can’t put up my feet and enjoy the moment as if I’d nothing else left to do. I don’t. I do. I have ten more little bastards at home screaming for attention.
Viewing books as children is a double-edged sword: while you can take all the credit when they are good and do well, you can’t blame the other side of the family when they turn out terrible. And some of them do. Some of them should indeed have been destroyed at birth, before they got onto a page, before they sucked the time and energy out of your life.
Now that the eldest has flown the coop, after twenty years, the rest are clamouring to get out, or at least grow up. And like children, some of them are great and some of them are just impatient. I have one that I’ve been ignoring for way too long, but it just sits there, picking its nose in the corner, waiting. Poor thing doesn’t realise it’ll probably get no attention until I’ve ceased to have any other ideas.
There are stories I can trust to be ok. They know I’m getting back to them, soon enough, and when I do, they’ll be just as good as they were when I left them. The next word will be just right there. There are a few that are grown up already and are just waiting to have somewhere to go. And of these, there are one or two that never have to leave, because Daddy loves them and if nobody else wants them, well that’s just fine. Fuck them. I wouldn’t change a thing about them. Well only minor things. A word here and there. Ok, if it’s really necessary….
But can I really spend time putting up hair, ironing dresses and shining buttons for one child when there’s one right beside her with vomit all the way down his front and no pants on? Because I have one like that. I can’t take my eyes off the fucker or he’ll just be a complete fucking mess. I’ve been spending way too much time on him, neglecting much worthier children, but if I don’t stay focused, I may as well hand him a razor blade and tell him to go play.
Oh, he was great when he was small. But then I had to go and let the bastard grow up, expand a short story into a novella. Why? Don’t ask me. Of course, it probably wasn’t that great back then, either, but it wasn’t the clusterfuck it looks like now. With this guy there’s no pride, no willingness to keep him at home, in my heart. I want that fucker out the door. Now. I am going to dress him up in shiny clothes and send him out and hope to hell he slips in under the radar and someone takes him without looking too closely, without spotting the defects. And if he ever tries to come back to me I’ll take on a pseudonym and hide. If nobody is fooled, well, it’s the basement and a life of darkness for that kid. A novella? No, never written one…
And when he is gone, either away or into a drawer, I’ll breath a sigh of relief and smile, and turn back to my other children and actually, you know, enjoy this writing lark.
By the way, for the next week or so, I’ll be reposting blog interviews I’m doing on other blogs out there, talking about Leaving the Pack, apart from my own blog post about My Writing Process (still two places left if anyone is interested).