Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Old Factory Award: Behind-the-Scenes

The Old Factory Award has been published by the wonderful Abyss and Apex magazine who have described it as 'One of the most unusual pieces we've ever featured.'

Suffice to say that I'm really pleased with it.

So I thought I'd write about how it came about.

Let's start by saying that I'm really glad that Abyss and Apex published it now in October, when the weather turns to cold and rain because it really feels (to me, anyway) like a Winter story. If it had a colour it would be red, like carpets and wine and dying leaves.

The story first came to me a couple of years ago as a feeling. I had a 10 minute walk between the tube and my house then by a not-too-busy road with plenty of trees and a wide-open park.The whole pavement was strewn with leaves and the grass in the park would be silver. I'd walk with my hands in my pockets and my hood up and I'd retreat into a little warm burrow not just in my coat but in my head as well.

There are particular stories we like to read in Winter, there are myths and tales born from gathering close around a campfire to keep warm, ghost stories and fairy tales. They're very close and intimate stories with no huge cast or epic battles, they're stories that happen behind doors, not in front of them and the only sense we have of them is as people passing by and seeing the warmth and light spilling onto the street.

I wanted to write that kind of story, something that had a warmth and a happy feeling, a celebration of something and a feeling of an intimate event behind closed doors that hardly anyone knew of.

A friend, Conrad Mason (The Demon's Watch out in 2012), said it reminded him a little of American Gods and I'd agree with him. There's a vein of Neil Gaiman stories that aim for this same space (October in the Chair leaps to mind).

So as I walked that walk twice a day an idea began to form around that feeling.

There was a song I was listening to at the same time. I was very into Elbow then (I still am) and was listening to The Seldom Seen Kid almost daily. Now there's an entire album that feels like it's also that same rich red (in fact look at the colour of the album cover). And there's a song in there different from all the rest called The Fix which seems to be about a party in which some grand, mysterious master plan has just fallen into place and made everyone very rich. It's brilliant. You can see it in your head; plush cushions, drapes and gauze, low lamps and feather-trimmed masquerade masks.

Here it is.


So of course my story began to swirl around an equally mysterious and lavish party with dancing and laughter and extravagant figures. And so the story took shape and I had to begin writing it because an idea only gets you so far.

Now I should tell you that something else was happening in my life around that time. I'd met a girl.

We'd only been going out a few months but I was increasingly falling in love with her. She'd fallen for me because of my writing a story called Promises (appearing next year in Something Wicked) that I'd sent to her and a number of others for feedback. We'd flirted a while and then, courage bucked up, she asked me out.

I wanted to write something for her, something for a Christmas present. Cats deliver dead birds, some men deliver dead stags or briefcases of money or cars or jewellery. I wrote a story with a bit of that same sentimental heart that Promises had. It was a story I knew she'd like, was cheaper (I'm a writer) than all those other things other men get but ultimately gets me to the same place. (Yes, that place).

Details came to me as I wrote the story, little tricks and turns and characters and after a couple of weeks the story was finished. It didn't come out exactly as I'd imagined. There wasn't as much of the warmth and sentimentality I'd wanted it to. It came out a bit urban and, in a few places, a little bit dark and modern. That's entirely my fault, part of me knows that life doesn't work out how you always want it and reality creeps in wherever it can. A party will always need organising, technology will creep in if you set it in today no matter how much of a fairy take you want to write.

She loved it. And I got there. And I'm still there today.

I think A&A are right in calling it unusual. It's certainly the weirdest story I've written it. In some ways I worried it would never be published because it was too unusual. It's mostly description, hardly any dialogue and there's not a massive amount of drama. From another, bigger author it might have had a better time, I thought. It seems people are more accepting of different if you've already made a name of yourself but from a newbie? Probably not.

But here it is! A&A took it. And published it. And now anyone can read it. I can only hope they enjoy it.

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