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Friday, 5 May 2017

Writing - more background to published short stories (5)

My first published short story is featured in this fifth collection (I Celebrate Myself): ‘Hover-jack’ was based on observation, as I’d travelled on the hovercraft to the Isle of Wight and also spent a week at sea in a conventional diesel submarine. At the time, spy fiction was still in vogue. The periodical, Parade, featured several crime and adventure short stories and I was relatively successful placing seven submissions up to 1973, when their policy altered, abandoning stories. Over the years, the market for adventure stories dried up.The printing history for this collection ranges from 1971 to 2014.
            ‘I celebrate myself’ was originally going to be the start of my novel Pain Wears No Mask, featuring a female New York cop who becomes a nun. I subsequently transposed her to England, and dropped this particular beginning; she can now be found in the republished version, The Bread of Tears. The story is loosely based on an actual event in New York.
            I’ve always enjoyed writing twist stories and ‘Two birds with one stone’ was one of those; ‘Wall of conflict’, ‘Final demand’, ‘The merger’ and ‘The man who had a date with the past’ all fell into this category, too. Usually, the ending is the engine for the story, and often springs from a news item. Coincidentally, the name Torrence in ‘Two birds’ is used by another character in my psychic spy novel Mission: Prague. Some names do persist, invading the subconscious. ‘The man who…’ is the only story of mine whose title was altered by the editor. Yes, I’d reduce the frequency of ‘had’ now, and I should have shown the cat, since it was mentioned. While I think I managed the characterisation in the limited word-count reasonably well, and built up the suspense, I suspect that the ending is probably obvious. In 2011, I reworked this theme in a different setting and created a double twist ending for a longer story (‘Silence’, to be found in volume 3 of the collected stories, Visitors).
            In the 1970s I was a big fan of Alistair MacLean’s adventure novels and always fancied writing a thriller set in the arctic; I didn’t get round to that, but settled for ‘Tooth-walker’, anyway.
            I’d snorkelled in the Red Sea but never managed to take up scuba diving. However, the underwater beauty I encountered prompted the story ‘Wreck hunter’, though again with a twist.
            ‘An interrupted journey’ featured in an unpublished spy novel of mine written in the mid-1960s. Then, Adam Strong worked for an adjunct of MI6, International Enterprises, which appears in the first Tana Standish psychic spy novel, Mission: Prague. Some ideas are so tenacious, they survive.
            I wrote ‘The busker of Torrevieja’ specifically for the international writing competition held in the town. It won a prize.
            ‘The newly-weds’ was a story that gestated for a few years, attempting to create a dramatic situation out of something relatively normal.
            ‘HBT’ was written as a response the vast leaps in anti-aging that are taking place. With a twist!
            ‘Lucky with cars’ was entered in a competition where each 1,200-word story had to be based on 5 photos: a key, the words ‘emergency exit’, a ladder, a park bench and a petrol station. I opted for a humorous crime tale, and it was a runner-up and published.
            I wrote ‘The Geordie Flier’ in response to a competition; it didn’t win, but it did eventually find a home – as did the hero…
            ‘Not so bare, after all’ began as a section in the previously mentioned US-based cop-nun novel. I’m never comfortable writing in vernacular, as I reckon it’ll never be correct. I’ve left this as it appeared in the magazine, for what it’s worth; perhaps the motto should be: avoid vernacular like the plague!
            This is a short story from St Anselm’s Hostel for the Homeless, Charleston, South Carolina, which is run by an order of nuns, presided over by Sister Hannah. Two out-of-print novellas feature Sister Hannah – A Sign of Grace and Silenced in Darkness.
            Sister Hannah was my first incarnation of the nun who used to be a cop. I transposed the stories from New York and Charleston to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and London and renamed the main character Sister Rose.
            From time to time I like to set myself a writing challenge. ‘The museum of iniquity’ was a playful whodunit in 1,000 words, with apologies to Jeffrey Archer for using in the text 36 titles from his novels, short stories and plays. This was my 100th short story published.
            ‘Sleep well, my darling’ is an ‘adult’ short story due to the treatment of its sexual content. It’s strange how murder and violence are not frowned on as much as sex. In this whole book, there’s only one f-word, and it’s in this story. It found a home, appropriately, in a noir anthology.
            In my stories, invariably the villains get their comeuppance. I wanted to attempt a more conciliatory view with the stories ‘Give me a chance, will you?’ and ‘All my life’, the latter a piece of whimsy and a play on the pronunciation of Don Quixote.
            ‘The catch’ was written for a competition with the subject ‘American private eye’ and it won third place.
            ‘Bank on it’ was another competition entry which had the beginning ‘That morning I could find nowhere to park…’ I didn’t win, but it provided me with a story that found a home.
            ‘“What is suspense?”’ was a writing circle prompt and I had fun playing with this, attempting to explain what suspense in writing is, and including it in a suspense story!
            The moral here is, if you’re a writer, enter competitions, and even if you don’t win, you will have produced a piece of work that could go elsewhere; true, it might need altering to fit a suitable market; but the hard work is done.
            As a bonus, I included ‘Winter’s mourning’ – its title being a play on words. It’s a spy story with betrayal and murder at its root. I suspect it would not find a place in any current periodical, so I was indulgent in including it in this collection; forgive me.

I Celebrate Myself - Collected short stories volume 5

Available as a paperback and e-book from Amazon here

Other books in this series are:

Gifts from a Dead Race – Collected stories vol.1 (science fiction, horror, fantasy, ghost)
Nourish a Blind Life – Collected stories vol.2 (science fiction, horror, fantasy, ghost)
Visitors  Collected stories vol.3 (westerns)
Codename Gaby – Collected stories vol.4 (historical)                               

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