Friday 7 May 2010

Friday Flash - The Kingmaker

I've put aside my usual forays into flash fiction to write this, The Kingmaker. It's in honour of the appalling debacle of British politics that has formed our 2010 General Election.

* * *

He sits on a sofa in a sunny corridor. He can feel himself sinking into the seat pad. He wonders how many have sat here before him, waited their turn, had such gut-wrenching decisions to make. He wrings his hands, something he has not done for several months.

"Are you nervous?" asks his assistant.

"Of course I'm nervous. I don't know what I'm doing," he replies.

He looks at the floor. He is ashamed because he does know what he's doing. He knows that what he is doing will make him unpopular. He also knows that it contradicts everything he has come to represent.

"He will see you now." An aide sticks her head into the corridor. He takes baby steps towards the doorway.

Sunlight fills the room, though nothing penetrates the air of gloomy resignation. The elder statesman sits behind his desk, his fingers wrapped in a lattice of flesh and bone. The dour atmosphere emanates from his baleful gaze.

"You've already backed the other party." The statesman omits a greeting.

"Yes, but-"

"You think that if you give them the chance to form a government, they will fail. In that situation, you can form a coalition with us."

"That's the idea, but-"

"You want to form a coalition with us anyway, but you're backing them because you want to appear fair. When they try, and they fail, you can look impartial. Though I should warn you that you've already lost supporters. The proles don't like it when you switch sides."

"Yes, but-"

"I accept your offer. We will form a coalition when the blues lose."

He squirms on the hard chair. The words that came so freely now stick in his throat. This has been easy, but it worries him that his motives appear so obvious.

"Don't take it so personally. I should thank you, really. People wanted to vote for you to keep them out, but they didn't think you stood a chance so they voted for us instead". The prime minister contorts his face into an approximation of a smile. He reaches his hand across the table.

"Welcome to politics."

Thursday 6 May 2010

Bluebeard's Egg - Margaret Atwood

As it is with so many others, it was The Handmaid's Tale that got me. A friend bought it for me for one Christmas, and I was hooked. Margaret Atwood has the kind of easy, loose style that I would sell body parts to be able to write myself, and when I found Bluebeard's Egg on sale in HMV, it was an easy purchase.

Bluebeard's Egg is a collection of short stories, mostly told in the present tense, and all revolving around the fragile and complex nature of relationships. One girl finds that her love life mirrors extreme weather conditions, while a middle-aged woman suffers apocalyptic visions during intimacy. The narrators are mostly female, while the title refers to a story one character must write for a creative writing class.

Many of the stories are set against a Canadian backdrop, which Atwood sketches in with a deft, practiced hand. I don't know that much about Atwood so I don't know how many details are gleaned from her own experience, but so many of the stories have a particular quality to them that I wonder if many are rooted in real life. Naturally, using a first person narrator often renders the narrative autobiographical, but there is a richness and depth that you wouldn't expect to find in pure fiction.

Not much actually seems to happen in the stories - some of them seem almost like flashbacks, while others take on a confessional tone. Still, Atwood is trying to capture a sensation, or a moment, and the subtext is layered to allow the reader to infuse the stories with their own experiences. Indeed, one particular story stands out for me since I can relate to the experience of floundering around in society, too entrenched in your own quirky personality to truly understand the expected patterns of behaviour.

They're all highly readable, and just the right length to communicate her point in one sitting. Perfect reading for tube journeys or lunchbreaks, I recommend Bluebeard's Egg for Atwood fans, and aspiring short story writers alike. It's like a class on short story writing in one book...

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Tuesday Serial - It Begins

I was part of a Twitter discussion last week with a collective of other writers who are all attempting web serials, and we've decided to make Tuesday our 'serial day'. Previously I'd been updating Tales from Vertigo City on Fridays, which is already #FridayFlash day, and I've often wondered if there's too much of a clash. As of today, I'll be switching to Tuesday.

Tony Noland talks about it in much more detail over on his blog, but feel free to check out our efforts using the #TuesdaySerial hashtag on Twitter. In the meantime, catch up on PJ Kaiser's WWI serial, Tony Noland's Just Enough Power, and Jodi Cleghorn's Hartog serial. Or, of course, you can go read part 12 of my own serial, The First Tale.