With less than a week to go before my collection of literary short stories, Old Man on the Beach, is released to the general public, I thought I’d tell you a little more about it and the inspirations behind the book.
First, here’s the blurb on the back cover:
Twenty-two short fiction stories and semi-fictional essays which individually stand alone but together takes the reader on an imaginary journey from childhood in 1980s Britain to adulthood as a teacher, to life in Bangladesh and finally to old age (and beyond) in contemporary Britain.
Separate characters, narrators and scenarios present different fictional ideas yet hidden within each is a kernel of truth, deliberately masked, about the author behind them all. Here we meet schoolboys hiding from witches, terrified teachers, dangerous school Heads, magical instruments, mysterious prisons and (extra)ordinary women – yet everything has some basis in reality. The stories explore difficult themes such as childhood innocence, abuse, sex, love, religion and death.
Some stories and essays connect together to form a chronological thread while others contradict each other or imagine alternative lives. All of them are intended to amuse or challenge the reader’s understanding of life and, if they take the time to look closely, to reveal pencil marks hidden behind the paint.
Contains some strong language and adult content.
And here’s the content list:
The Bombing Raid
Insignificant woman no. 1 – The Teacher
Into the dark woods
Insignificant woman no. 2 – The Cleaner
Terry Harvey is dead
Insignificant woman no. 3 – The Singing Girl
Insignificant woman no. 4 – The Woman in the Wheelchair
Daniel in the Den
Insignificant woman no. 5 – The Student
A Good Match
Insignificant woman no. 6 – The ayah
Her Bare, Naked Flesh
The Old Man on the Beach
The Man in the Attic
The Day I Died
So you can see from this that although all the stories are fiction, there’s an element of truth and history behind each of them – in some cases close to the surface and in others buried deeply within. I’m not going to give the game away about what’s true and what’s not but I’ll give you some clues (but shushhhh…don’t tell anyone 😉 ).
The stories mirror my own life. The Childhood stories are based around a Midlands coal mining town like the one I grew up in during the 80’s. The Adult ones mirror my experiences of growing up, leaving home and training as a teacher in Cambridge during the 90’s.
The second half is much more metaphorical and full of symbology but even so, the stories mirror life experiences. Away is based in Bangladesh where I lived or visited from 2006 to the present day. Return is set back in Britain and the characters are older, wiser, more cynical, hurt but also more accepting of life. Much of this describes my feelings since my family and I returned to live in the UK at the beginning of 2014.
Six of the stories, the “Insignificant Woman” series, I call ‘semi-fictional essays’. Part essay, part story, they deal with very real ‘ordinary’ women in my life who had extraordinary effects on who I was and am today. I have altered names, details, events and even the characters themselves are composite and altered which makes the pieces at least ‘semi-fictional’ but anyone who knew these people for real will be able to recognise them through the facade.
Another series is less obvious because I haven’t titled it. ‘The Bombing Raid’, ‘Into the Dark Woods’ and ‘Terry Harvey is dead’ are all based around the same couple of characters and need to be read in order to appreciate what I’ve tried to do. There is so much of me in these stories it actually hurts to read them.
Other stories are inspired by artistic ideas. ‘A Good Match’, for instance, is in homage to my favourite Bengali writer, Rabindranath Tagore, and is a re-imagining of one of his stories. Another, ‘Her Bare, Naked Flesh’, is as a result of my early days of learning the craft of being a writer. I took a superb writing course which taught me the tricks of the trade from which I’ve made my living ever since in a variety of different areas. Possibly the hardest exercise was to write an erotic story. I don’t read erotica as a rule (I still haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey and really need to even though I already know it is trash, simply to understand more about why so many women love that series of books/movies) so this story is my one attempt at going down that line. ‘The Pendulum’ obviously takes from Poe’s ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ although in many ways my story is perhaps the most important and relevant to my life. One day, the inspiration behind that story will be revealed and it will be a whole book in itself.
A lot of the stories are written in the first person (lots of ‘I did this or that’ rather than ‘he did this or that’) but though some of them share my first name (Ken) not all of them do and none of them are truly me. I felt it only fair to fictionalise myself if I was going to do the same to others. Some stories even cover similar ground but ‘re-imagine’ the same scenarios such as the last three stories in the Adulthood section.
My personal favourite story has to be ‘The Day I died’ even though I suspect I’m going to get into lots of trouble about that one – there’s so much room for people to think they can see themselves in it!
The hardest to write? ‘Ghost’. You’ll have to read it to find out why but even now I struggle to read it. Some things are hard to remember.
You can buy ‘The Old Man on the Beach and other stories’ from Amazon. Pre-order the kindle book now and save 20% on the price!