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Authors/New Voices Tom Heaton

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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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 – Notes of Inspiration

Hamish McGee, author of ‘Doubting Thomas‘ published in Breve New Stories Issue Two , talks about the authors that inspire him.

I have known a number of inspirational individuals. Like many of you I suspect, my day and Sunday school teachers were dedicated people who shaped my love of the written and spoken word. They introduced me to the likes of Nell Harper Lee, James Leslie Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbon) and William Golding; all instantly recognisable names.

William Golding taught me the meaning of ‘fable’. “Lord of the Flies” was a revelation. A story with layers of meaning? Suddenly a whole new world opened before me, beckoning me, inviting me to saturate my intellectual senses. Others such as “The Spire”, “The Inheritors”, “Pincer Martin”, “Rites of Passage” and “Darkness Visible” all, in my opinion, great works, left an indelible mark on my psyche. Mann-Booker and Nobel prizes both well deserved.

James Leslie Mitchell’s “A Scots Quair” also made a lasting impression on me. Mitchel’s writing evokes the sometimes-suffocating, sometimes-intriguing but always extraordinary atmosphere of Scottish village life. Writing as Mitchell was about a woman’s experiences of life, I was filled with wonder that a man could have such a profound understanding of a woman’s perspective.

Similarly Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” told a great story about the darkness, frailty and resilience of human nature, while simultaneously capturing the soft undulations of the Southern accent. I defy anyone to read that book without hearing the Deep South drawl and an aching in the heart. What a shame she published so little.

Hamish McGee

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

Writer’s Blog: Trudy Duffy-Wigman – The Idea Behind ‘My New Best Friend’

Trudy Duffy-Wigman talks about what inspired her flash fiction ‘My New Best Friend‘ published in Breve New Stories Issue Two.

Do you know that awkward moment when you hop on a bus or a train and you notice something is out of kilter? You hear the collective intake of breath by your fellow passengers and slowly realise that you are trapped – someone wants your attention, and you are going to give it, like it or not.
That is the inspiration behind this story. After decades of using public transport in every form and shape I can honestly say that overheard conversations, observations and interactions on tram, train or bus is where a lot of my ideas come from. Like the time I got on a tram in Amsterdam that happened to be full of drunken football supporters. Like the time we took the train from St Petersburg to Moscow armed with wet towels because criminals were gassing compartments to steal passengers’ credit cards. And like the time I got on a night bus in Glasgow and heard a lament from an inebriated, lonely soul.
And what do we, being sober and upright citizens, do in such situations? We don’t want to be involved. We turn away, afraid that eye contact means we are stuck with this person for the duration of the journey. We tune out the lament; blame it on the drink or the drugs. We forget this person is someone’s son, someone’s friend, a human being.
That is what the story is about. It comes not from one particular encounter; rather it is an amalgamation of several observations; I think most people will recognise it, having been in a similar situation. It is a story that needs to be told and it doesn’t need a lot of words.

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

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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Authors/New Voices Notes of Inspiration Writing/Reading

Writer’s blog: Barbara Stevenson – Writing in Orkney

In her last blogpost Barbara Stevenson, author of Zuri Mtu published in Issue One, describes her life in Orkney, between history and nature.

I am lucky to live in Orkney, with the sea all around as inspiration. Not only that, there is five thousand years of history on my doorstep – from my front garden I can look down onto the neolithic village of Skara Brae. It is a natural step to imagine how the people there lived and I am currently working on a Stone Age whodunnit. With the ongoing archaeological dig at the Ness of Brodgar nearby, discoveries are constantly forcing historians to question what they knew about the time. I have been surprised at the sophistication of the artwork and decorations found there. Although the setting is important, I prefer writing stories about the people and how they deal with and overcome problems no matter where they live or what social circumstances they find themselves in.IMG_1630
Orkney has a vibrant community of writers, artists and musicians which can be a distraction from actually doing any writing, but it is also fantastic for bouncing ideas around and coming up with stories.
In my other life as a veterinary surgeon, I meet a variety of wonderful people and animals who say and do remarkable and funny things that wouldn’t be believed in fiction. Unsurprisingly this proves to be a fantastic source for creative projects. My novel, The Organist, which will be launched in February with Yolk Publishers, is about a vet living in Edinburgh just before the First World War.

 

Barbara Stevenson

 

 

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Authors/New Voices Notes of Inspiration Writing/Reading

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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Authors/New Voices Notes of Inspiration Writing/Reading

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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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

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Introducing Breve New Stories Submissions

Don’t miss the deadline: submissions close on 31 July!

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Time for procrastination is over: submissions for Breve New Stories Issue Zero close in less than two weeks!

Enter your best short story and/or flash fiction by July 31st and they might be published in the very first issue of Breve. Selected authors will also have the opportunity to write for Breve’s blog and hold printed copies of their work in September:  not a bad way to welcome autumn, hu?

For more info and guidelines click here.

Don’t forget to follow us on facebook and on brevenewstories.wordpress.com.

Good luck!