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Writer’s Blog: Tom Heaton – Decline and Fall. The idea behind “The Last Roman”

Tom Heaton talks about what inspired his short Story ‘The Last Roman’ published in Breve New Stories Issue Three.

In times of great political, social and cultural upheaval, it’s vital to maintain the supply of serio-comic short stories.
In our own apocalyptic moment, I took it upon myself to shoulder that burden.
Surveying the rubble of a collapsing civilization, I thought it might be helpful to get the viewpoint of someone who had been there before. So I resurrected a Roman. A Roman, I thought, would at least have first-hand insight into declines and falls.
Unfortunately I got the wrong sort of Roman. I’d hoped for a statesman, an intellectual, someone used to the cut and thrust of politics, a meditative and observant actor in the great events of the day. Instead I got Marcellus, an insignificant centurion posted to the very edge of the empire. A self-regarding, small-minded nonentity, blind to the great changes that were happening around him, uninterested in politics: sentimental, petty, fickle. Someone it turned out, who would fit right into our contemporary crisis.
And then Marcellus took over the story. I’d thoughtlessly placed him in a world that he could not begin to comprehend. His mind was stuck on boyhood memories and love affairs from millennia ago. He was static while everything changed around him, a man adrift on time. And there were things he needed to reconcile within himself. Aspects of his character. Regrets. Even after two thousand years, Marcellus still had unfinished business. With himself.
So I failed to write the great short story that would enlighten these dark days for democracy and liberalism. I’m sorry. Instead I give you Marcellus, who will be around long after you are gone, listening to the hum of his glass case, rotating his head, watching and not comprehending.

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Writer’s Blog: Hamish McGee – Writing from History

In his last post, Hamish McGee, author of ‘Doubting Thomas‘ published in Breve New Stories Issue Two, reflects on his passion for history.

What interests me? Well, that too is easy – just about everything I study interests me. I find if I care to delve into any subject it becomes interesting, and what interests me makes for a good story. So almost everything interests me … except maybe reality television.

People and history interest me. We can learn a great deal of value by studying people who have gone before us. Some we learn to follow; others we might choose to abandon.

The events and historical backdrop to the emergence of Christianity is a period that fascinates me because the events that played out two thousand years ago reverberate to this very day and ate likely to do so for millennia yet. I have a particular perspective on those events and the characters that shaped human history so profoundly and irrevocably informed by biblical research.

This is my project, my historical novel. It excites and fills me with fear in equal measure. It will be the best or worst writing will have done. Will others understand what is so clear to me? Will I be true to the characters I seem to have come to know so well?

We’ll simply have to wait and see …

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Authors/New Voices Introducing Breve New Stories Notes of Inspiration Writing/Reading

Writer’s Blog: Trudy Duffy-Wigman – Notes of Inspiration

Trudy Duffy-Wigman author of ‘My New Best Friend’ published in Breve New Stories Issue Two, talks about the authors who inspire her.

 

Being Dutch, I grew up with Simon Carmiggelt. Carmiggelt died in 1987, aged 74. He is famous in the Netherlands for his daily writings in the newspaper ‘Het Parool’. His short stories, which he signed off with ‘Kronkel’ (Kink) are observations of daily life, often melancholic, sometimes sombre but always with a great insight in the human psyche. Like few others, he was able to sketch big ideas with a minimum of words. He wrote flash fiction before the genre was invented. Some of his work is translated but I doubt whether he translates well as he is so very, very Dutch.
Another inspirational author is Godfried Bomans. Bomans died in 1971, when he was 58. Hardly any of his works – and he was a very prolific author – have been translated. He wrote short stories, essays, criticism, fairy tales and political satire. As an admirer of Charles Dickens, he founded the Haarlem branch of the Dickens Fellowship and became its president. Bomans was very media savvy and appeared regularly on (black and white) television. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that his literary peers regarded him with a measure of suspicion and disdain: he never received a literary prize, nor is he mentioned in scholarly overviews of Dutch literature, despite the fact he was widely read. Like no other he could describe what a character was about in just a few words.
A more contemporary source of inspiration is the collection of short stories written by Jhumpa Lahiri. Her work possess a quality that makes me want to stop and contemplate what I’ve just read, rather than going on to the next page. Her prose is understated, her language quiet and precise, resonating long after finishing the story.

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Writer’s Blog: Hamish McGee – The Idea Behind “Doubting Thomas”

Hamish McGee talks about what inspired his short story ‘Doubting Thomas‘ published in Breve New Stories Issue Two.

What inspired “Doubting Thomas”? Let me think. Mmm … In fact, that’s pretty easy.

I was brought up in a small Scottish village where I met one of the most wonderful men God created. He changed my life in ways I am still discovering today. He is the inspiration. He was the village greengrocer and he did run the local Gospel Hall. He did give me my first Bible and he was truly wonderful.

When the time came for me to leave the village and make my own way in life, we corresponded throughout the years. No matter where I was, a few miles away or the other side of the world, no matter what I was doing, he was constant. Every letter I wrote him was answered promptly in his beautiful, handwritten script. I opened the envelopes slowly, prolonging the anticipation of the inner contents, reading each page so often that I could recite them from memory. Even if his descriptions of what was happening in the village were, to others, banal in the extreme, to me they were gold dust in my impoverished world, the sweetest wine in my desert life, a veritable feast sustaining and nourishing my lean existence. Every word resonated with beautiful imagery. I could all but hear that lilting accent.

Only once did he fail to reply. I knew immediately but refused to accept, that he had died. The mould was broken.

Hamish McGee

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Writer’s Blog: Michael Bloor – Notes of Inspiration

Michael Bloor, author of ‘The Aberdeen Kayak’ published in Breve New Stories Issue One, chose a few authors and stories that inspire him.

This is really tough – how can I neglect to praise Louis MacNeice’s Autumn Journal??
Nevertheless, I’m just going to mention one old inspiration and one new inspiration. BREVE-LOGOThe old favourite is William Morris’s The House of the Wolfings. Morris is my hero, just as he seems to have been a hero to everyone who knew him back then (except, possibly, his wife). The House of the Wolfings is the tale of a Gothic tribe menaced by a Roman invasion. It’s an extraordinary achievement for a Victorian gentleman, raised on the classics (at Marlborough and Oxford) and subjected to endless Imperial rhetoric on Britain as the New Rome. He contrasts the Gothic folk society with the Roman Empire, always to Rome’s disadvantage: on the one hand, the organic Gothic society, with its democracy of governance and manners, and its symbiosis of art and crafts; on the other hand, the authoritarian, war-mongering, slave-society of Rome, with a commodified art for the leisured few. Needless to say, the Goths win.
My new favourite is Island, the collected twenty short stories of Alistair MacLeod, all set in the Gaelic-speaking communities of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, where he grew up, where he returned to write every summer, and where he was buried last year. These are not heart-warming stories of an idyllic rural childhood, adorable animals and golden sunsets. They are unflinching accounts of hard lives in the fishing boats and the mines, of the divisions in families caused by education, emigration and economics. But there’s a wonderful, spare lyricism about the stories (MacLeod spoke each sentence aloud as he wrote it): they are short, graceful and simply told; adjectives are rare but always evocative – he made every word count. Like Thomas Hardy, MacLeod has memorialised a people in a landscape.

Michael Bloor

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Writer’s Blog: Barbara Stevenson – Notes of Inspiration

Barbara Stevenson author of ‘Zuri Mtu’ published in Breve New Stories Issue One, talks about the authors that inspire her.

When I was about eight a friend gave me a copy of short stories by Oscar Wilde for my birthday. This included, among others, The Happy Prince, The Gentle Giant and my favourite The Remarkable Rocket. I was enchanted by the poetic language and also the sadness. Most of the stories involved at least one death. At the time I had no idea about Oscar Wilde’s life, but being used to reading Enid Blyton, it seemed strange to enjoy a story where the hero died. I admit that nowadays in my own stories the hero doesn’t always survive to the last page.

In my late teens, early twenties, my favourite book was Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. This is an inspirational book about a seagull, which in itself says everything. Jonathan is no ordinary seagull and the author encourages the reader to be no ordinary person. It’s a short book and if you haven’t read it, I would recommend you do.

My final mention is for a book I read fairly recently by the Scottish author Michael Malone (with Bashir Saoudi) called The Guillotine Choice. This gripping story reads like a novel, but when you realise it is based on the life of Saoudi’s father, Kaci Mohand Saoudi who was wrongfully convicted of murder and sent to Devil’s Island, it makes disturbing and emotional reading. With experience as a crime novelist, Malone is able to tackle the subject with frankness and understanding, without the need for an orchestra of violins.

Barbara Stevenson

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Writer’s Blog: Michael Bloor – The Idea Behind “The Aberdeen Kayak”

Michael Bloor talks about what inspired his flash fiction ‘The Aberdeen Kayak’ published in Breve New Stories Issue One.

BREVE-LOGOThe bones of the story of the Aberdeen kayak have been rattling round in my head for forty years. But I never wrote the story until, at the beginning of 2015, I set it down as one of the course exercises in the Open University’s creative writing module.
It really is the case that Aberdeen University has in its possession an antique kayak, and it also appears to be case that an Inuit man landed it on the Aberdeenshire coast at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Indeed, he may not have been the only Inuit to have made landfall in Scotland: there are stories of mysterious ‘Finnmen’ appearing in skin canoes in Orkney waters in the seventeenth century. When I first saw the kayak in the 1970s it was part of a jumble of assegais, head-dresses, wooden idols and the like, sent back to their old university by intrepid, nineteenth-century, Scottish missionaries and colonial administrators. The kayak stood out from the crowd. I was captivated by the thought that, just as Columbus and company were sailing westward, obscure Inuit were perhaps venturing into their unknown eastern Atlantic.
The kayak was an old discovery, but flash fiction is my new one. I love it. So I’ve been dusting off old stories and editing then down mercilessly until hopefully the sentences – a few of them at least – have a stark, stand-alone quality, like lines in a prose poem.

Michael Bloor

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Writer’s Blog: Barbara Stevenson – The Idea Behind “Zuri Mtu”

Barbara Stevenson talks about what inspired her story ‘Zuri Mtu’ published in Breve New Stories Issue One.

Visiting Africa, in particular west Africa, I was intoxicated by the spirit of the people there and how in tune their lives are to their natural surroundings. I wanted to write something to bring this out. I also wanted to write about how larger decisions, often made by BREVE-LOGOgroups with no direct knowledge of or interest in the subject, affect individuals. There is often no right or wrong. In Zuri Mtu, the protestors feel they are in the right and see the result of their demonstrations as a victory, but it has a devastating effect on Kofi and to the local community. I am also concerned about how people treat the natural world, manipulating it to suit. In the story, people revere the ancient tree as the last of its kind, conveniently forgetting that they were the ones who destroyed the others. To make a point, they go over the top to ‘protect’ the tree using scientific data, but the tree is dying in its artificial environment..

I hoped to give the story the feel of a modern folk tale or fable, by implying the tree is descended from the tree of wisdom and knowledge, blown to earth on a cherry blossom breeze and by writing in a simple style. I also hoped to add a touch of humour, with the goat eating the signs and when one of the protestors asks what it does, Kofi answers seriously ‘It is a tree.’ Like all fables, it has to have a happy ending, so Kofi is rewarded for his service. This isn’t in monetary terms, but in a way that he and people like him appreciate, giving hope for the world.

Barbara Stevenson

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Writer’s Blog: Lauren Bell – The Beauty of Writing and Having Faith

In her last post, Lauren Bell author of ‘In a Land of Canaries’ published in Breve New Stories Issue Zero, talks about her passion for writing and reading.

Quite simply, I love writing. I also love reading which helps if you’re serious about writing.
For me, writing is a way to shape worlds and realities which are very different from our own, to create characters you would either love to be or have as friends, but above all to stretch one’s imagination and to entertain the impossible because the beauty of writing (in terms of fiction anyway) is that anything can happen.
I also spend a lot of time daydreaming, which isn’t very good if you’re in the middle of a work meeting, but an absolute godsend if you’re an aspiring writer and looking for snippets of inspiration to propel you put pen to paper. Anything can suffice for the opening to a story – a place, overheard (or imagined dialogue), or even a single image. But what’s most important is to write. If you want your stories to be read, you have to write them down.

BREVE-LOGO
Finally, if you are serious about writing then getting your work out there is paramount. I am fortunate enough to write for STORGY – a collaborative literary ezine, where each month I am sent an image I have to write an accompanying story for. Using pictures as writing aides is a really useful technique; you study the picture, you work out what it’s showing you on a literal level, and, most importantly, what it’s not showing you. The not showing part is great because that’s where your imagination comes in and you get free-reign to write about whatever you want (so long as it links to the story in some way, no matter how small).
Simply put: writing is all about you, your ideas, the stories you want to share with the world; and you are the only one who can tell them.

 

Lauren Bell

You can read Lauren Bell’s stories here: http://storgy.com/lauren-bell/

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Authors/New Voices Notes of Inspiration Writing/Reading

Writer’s Blog: Michael Hampton – Notes of Inspiration

Michael Hampton author of ‘”A” Death’ published in Breve New Stories Issue Zero, talks about the authors and stories that inspire him.

The cautionary tale is as old as the hills and starts orally with your worried parents telling you not to put your hand in the fire. But the format is for grown-ups too as learning is lifelong. My short story ‘”A” death’ fits this profile, its grotesque nature identifying it as a precise literary sub-type: the conte cruel or cruel tale, a refined form that emerged from the fairy stories of Charles Perrault and Brothers Grimm, but was made explicitly modern by practitioners such as Auguste Villiers De L’isle-Adam, Guy de Maupassant and H H Munro, more generally known as “Saki”.BREVE-LOGO

De L’isle-Adam led a bohemian life, and his stories were as A W Rait notes in his 1963 introduction to Cruel Tales, “often written on dirty, crumpled scraps of paper stained with the coffee and wine of the café tables at which Villiers, generally more or less homeless, spent much of his time”, possessing titles such as ‘Flowers of Darkness’ or ‘The Apparatus for the Chemical Analysis of the Last Breath’ that hint strongly at their baroque content.

Contemporaneous with him was the short story maestro Guy de Maupassant. In ‘A Piece of String’, first published in the collection Harriet, 1884, a frugal peasant is unjustly accused of theft after being spotted picking up a bit of string off the road. The police clear him but despite the object in question (a lost wallet) being handed in, the man continues to be stigmatised by the local villagers, who suspect him of involvement come what may. Wholly innocent but unable to clear his name in the community, as a result he suffers an apoplexy and dies insane. This is classic Maupassant: a tragedy based on an impulse to which the reader is an eye-witness, but can do nothing to prevent as it unfolds in slo-mo.

The short fiction of “Saki” however can be lighter in tone, Monty Pythonesque even, but still trades on the uncanny and weird. His favoured locale is the countryside, but more especially the goings-on amongst the doomed upper classes just before the Great War: fox-hunting, card games, garden parties and Christmas gatherings often the backdrop to madness and mayhem. Ironically in “Saki” the pastoral settings are never quite what they seem. In ‘The Peace of Mowsle Barton’, 1911, a holidaying city gent discovers that the place he imagined to be the very picture of rural bliss harbours dark forces, witchcraft in fact, practised by two old women who spend their time cursing each other and everything around them. In one hilarious scene the gent watches in horror as a group of ducks drown one after the other in the village pond, while the farmhouse kettle refuses to boil as if bewitched. In the end he leaves in disgust, relieved to find himself back among the hustle and bustle of Paddington station. Relying on the odd incident rather than the quotidian ‘plotlessness’ of soap opera, the cruel tale discharges a flare into the night sky, often signalling that all is far from well in the universe. Twisted, acid and unsettling (thus sharing traits with the Edwardian English ghost story) it focuses on arbitrariness and malignant disorder, as if undisclosing the contents of a restricted police file.

Perhaps such writing is a prophylactic against insanity? But by focusing on the incident that comes out of the blue, out of nowhere, horror gets sharply etched on the reader’s disbelieving mind; so in a 24/7 news media environment suffocating in wholesale death and destruction, in end-of-the-world speculation, the trivial yet telling moment that appears to have no explicable metaphysical cause, operates as an indexical mark, generating a grim brand of humour. Once upon a time such encounters were superstitiously classified as intersection points, the workings of fate, and might still be if there was an agreed upon framework of meaning amongst human beings; but normality was the very first casualty of the World Trade Center attacks.

Michael Hampton