Why Story Time Is Dead

I don’t just write non-fiction diatribes about whatever issues pop in to my mind on any given day; I also write fiction, and rather a lot of it is for sale. The problem is that I don’t always have the time to write a complete novel – it’s much easier to find the time to spit out a thousand words in the small spaces of time I have available to me. We have to prioritise our resources, and brevity often wins.

I have written spy stories; I have written science fiction; I have written stories about the deaths of lovers; I have written stories set in abstract space, exploring the nature of the self. Everything has contained a glimpse of the magical woven in to it. Not deliberately, but because that’s where my mind seems to go when I let it wander off on its own. I wanted to do some of that on my blog, too.

It’s hard to believe that for thirty-one weeks I kept a stupidly complex story sequence going. Three strands of stories, linked by the concept of time: “The Death Of Toby Mulholland”; “Lessons In Temporal Displacement” and “A Strange Relationship With Time”. It’s perhaps harder to believe that every week I was just pulling the story out of thin air. Either way, it has ended now, incomplete.

I started writing these stories with no plan, no safety net, nothing useful to fall back on in case it all went awry. I made my decisions week by week, then wiped my brow, relieved that I had successfully made it out alive once more. I was chancing my arm and I very much knew it. But that can be a lot of fun. It’s how I like to create stories, because I’m reacting as the characters would, and that is human.

With “The Death Of Toby Mulholland” – and who might Toby Mulholland be, I ask myself, because I very much doubt that he’s the main protagonist, or even the guy who was brutally murdered in the first chapter – I would write down a list of twenty words, and use each of them as the starting point for a paragraph of three lines in length. The length of the paragraph meant more than the content.

The words were chosen without context, based purely on their ability to provoke a seed of curiosity in what came next. I would then proceed to write each paragraph, out of sequence, paying little or no heed to the content of other paragraphs; except perhaps the final five, where I might attempt to drop in the appearance of some kind of over-arching narrative meaning. Mostly I didn’t bother.

With the other two strands – “Lessons In Temporal Displacement” and “A Strange Relationship With Time” – I took a far less gung-ho attitude to story composition: in one of them I had a direction.

With “Lessons In Temporal Displacement” I wanted to revisit my childhood and address a variety of situations with the resolve of an adult. It was fun at first, shedding weight. But the scrutiny became too great, and I became self-conscious of exposing what was likely to become dirty laundry in public. I bottled it, quite simply, and ended up just writing a load of drivel. I tired very quickly of this strand, except for the times when I was able to go back to the original purpose of the story: word therapy.

With “A Strange Relationship With Time” I painted myself in to a corner almost from the get go. It was very similar to “Lessons In Temporal Displacement”, even to me, and it had no underlying point. There had been a grain of “Lessons In Temporal Displacement” in my mind for more than a decade, so I knew some of the precepts of the thing. With “A Strange Relationship With Time” I had nothing. It struck me as a fun idea to counterpoint to put one body-swap against another. It was a crap idea.

The plan had always been to combine the three strands in to one book – Ex Percundia Temporae – but I think that may be lost now. My publishing plan (whiteboard covered in multi-coloured writing, notations and random squiggles) still has it listed, along with the second editions of a load of my books. I will still release the remaining three second editions, once I build them, but not this one.

I had written two fifths of the book, and that is not enough. I always write in fifths, because I feel that it is a very human scale for a piece of writing. In the case of A Strange Charm I had five strands, but only one instance of each in each fifth of the book. Hence it only took two weeks to write. That felt too brief, so I wanted to expand upon that volume this time around. For Ex Percundia Temporae, in each fifth there were set to be five chapters for each of the strands in that book. I went too far.

The problem is that I cannot imagine Ex Percundia Temporae being solely a “The Death Of Toby Mulholland” book. It needed some of the other strand material in there to keep it grounded. If you can call a pregnant woman being body swapped in to her own teenage body grounded at all.

I may yet bring the stories back, especially if I have an idea of where I want to take them. What I will certainly do is write more fiction for Sunday nights, whenever the muse takes me. I have a strong feeling that there will be more to come from “The Death Of Toby Mulholland”, because I really enjoyed writing that, in its weird, disjointed psychosis. It was a fun thing to pull out of my mind.

Other plans afoot are a couple of stories I wrote for writing competitions at the end of last year. I wrote one – 1,000 words of Sci-Fi for a competition my local library was holding. The results will be announced in March 2019; my plan had been to publish it once I had received confirmation that I had failed. In the face of my complete impatience I am tempted to upload it here and be damned.

The other competition I entered required a 5,000 word story – by far and away the biggest post on this site, when I choose to upload it. I wrote an espionage story set in Switzerland, and I had a lot of fun pulling it together. I found that I hadn’t won by reading the winning submission on their website. It’s very good, but I prefer mine. It will appear here one Sunday night in the coming weeks. Perhaps.