My creative writing tutor at Lancaster University gave me three great pieces of advice. These were, writers write, writers read, and don’t bother writing short stories, because you’ll never get them published. And mostly I’ve taken her advice these last twenty years; but, inevitably, I have cracked now and again, especially in my early years as a writer. Short story specialists get annoyed if people say that short stories make great practise for a novel. And although I can see that it’s annoying, it’s nonetheless true.
But, now I come to think about it, several of these stories have been published. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realise that my tutor was wrong on this one. In fact, I suddenly realise that my first published short story appeared in ‘Doctor Who Monthly’ in the mid-eighties, well before I even did the creative writing course. Damn! If I could find my copy of the magazine, I’d put it up here, even though it’s a bit cringy, but I can’t, and I can’t remember which issue of the magazine it appeared in, either. Probably just as well.
She’s spot on about the other two though. Writers write, writers read. And that’s all you really need to know.
So, here are some short stories, some published, some not.
‘A Period Home’ was written at the time it is set; that is to say, about three months after Blair came to power. This one has never been published, but I did read it out at The Spotlight Club in Lancaster, probably in early 1998.
‘The Coolest Guy I Know’ was written in 1999, and is based on a real encounter. I watched ‘Steve’ squirm as he was caught on the Tube by the well-heeled couple – he was travelling alone, but clearly convinced of his invilable cool. I rejigged the story a few years ago for publication in the 2005 collection ‘From Here to Here’, which is the version I’ve posted here.
‘An Incomer’s Christmas in Wales’ really happened, and the horror that was the Kinnerton Nativity Play of 1989 will stay with me forever. This has never been published before, and is certainly the earliest bit here. In fact, I reckon I wrote it for my course at Lancaster, in 1991. Enormously astute readers will spot a gag from this story which eventually resurfaced in ‘The Longest Crawl’
‘Love It’ was published in the first Spotlight Club collection, ‘Spotlight One’, in 2000. So I must have written it a year or so before, about the time that ‘DJ Phil’ was coming round to mine – 1996? 1997? I didn’t have cable; and we didn’t watch football. We did watch golf, though. The football content dates the piece, somewhat, I realise.
This is also true of ‘Katinka’s Feast’, which was written on commission for the 2001 Abergavenny Food Festival, and published in Petits Propos Culinaires 69. I thought of changing ‘Michael Owen’ to ‘Wayne Rooney’, for the website, but realised that it wouldn’t work because of the stuff about Glenn Hoddle. Non-football fans can refresh their memories of why he was sacked from the England job via his Wikipedia entry, and understand something of Mungo’s confusion between Hoddle and Waddle by clicking here.
‘Joy’s Prayer’ was written as one of a series of monologues commisioned by Pentabus Theatre in collaboration with the BBC. In 2004, Trevor Phillips, head of The Equalities Commision said that there was a kind of ‘passive apartheid’ operating in the British countryside. Nine writers spent a wonderful week together exploring this idea at the Arvon Foundation house at The Hurst, near Clun in Shropshire, in November 2005. There was snow on the ground and laughter in the air. Eventually, seven monologues were chosen to make up White Open Spaces, which was performed at Edinburgh, in the West End, and by the National Theatre of Sweden in Stockholm. It was nominated for a South Bank Show award. My fellow writers were Francesca Beard, Sonali Bhattacharya, Kara Miller, Courttia Newland, Richard Rai O’Neill, Rommi Smith, Sonia Hughes and Yasmin Whittaker-Kahn. You can buy the playscript through my bookstore. Five of the pieces were chosen as the serial that runs at the end of Women’s Hour on Radio Four. I had to rewrite it slightly to fill a longer time slot; this is the text of the radio version. The character of Joy is based on the life of my Aunt, Joyce Field; and I guess the piece is an attempt to show that small ‘c’ conservative country people might hate racism.
Flotsam and Jetsam was co-written with my friend Rachel Francis as a community play, which was commisioned by an organisation whose remit was to raise awareness of climate change. It recieved six performances in the autumn of 2007 in Ludlow and Bishop’s Castle. We liked the piece, and the audiences were appreciative, so we rewrote it as a 45 minute radio play. A senior producer at Radio Four was impressed enough to take it into the commissioning round, where the commissioning editor said that it didn’t have enough of a plot, which is probably fair enough. I still like it though, so I’ve included the radio version here. As to who wrote what, Rachel says there are two kinds of jokes in the play; the ones that she wrote, and the ones that she can’t remember who the writer was.