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How I write short pieces: ‘We Serve Beer As Cold As Your Ex’s Heart.’

10 Dec

beer

Warning: contains spoilers! (If you’d like to read the story first click here.)

Over the summer I decided to write some short pieces, mainly flash fiction with one or two short stories thrown in for fun. Oh yes, I know how to enjoy myself.

By the end of August I had seven new pieces of writing, one of which – We Serve Beer As Cold As Your Ex’s Heart – will soon be published on the Expanding Horizons website, I’m very happy to say. That piece, like any other I’ve written, went through several editing stages, and I thought it might be helpful, and hopefully interesting, to share these.

The inspiration for the story came from a sign outside a pub that I spotted in Jersey in July. It was the week when temperatures got up to 36 degrees and the pub’s owner had wisely recognised that an ice-cold beer would be on the minds of many potential punters. For me, that sign got me thinking.

One particular thought bounced around my head for a few days until I got home and switched on the laptop. I wanted my story to be about getting over an ex, so I spent a bit of time researching the usual stages of grieving for a relationship and the likely behaviour of someone going through that process. Obviously I’ve had ex’s myself, but I find research useful to back up and build on my own experiences.

My other preparation for writing had been spending the previous few weeks reading short story anthologies. I find this helps my brain get into the right mode, as I subconsciously absorb the format and particularities of the short story. Beyond that, I felt ready to write a first draft, as I had a good, simple premise. That’s not always the case; often I’ll get an idea and have to spend time mulling it over and figuring out details of plot and character.

So, I sat down at the laptop. When I’m writing a short piece, so long as I have a decent grasp on the plot I don’t find myself making a lot of conscious decisions. For Beer As Cold I was mainly thinking about the beverages which my protagonist was going to be served and the effect they’d have on him.

The first draft wasn’t bad (I’ve written far worse) but certainly one that required some polishing. So I left the story for a few days and then came back to it and tidied it up, cutting out unnecessary words where possible, checking for repetition or poor grammar. After that I decided – in my usual, slightly terrified manner – to send it to a writer friend whose opinion I trust, and who is very good at pinpointing exactly why a story isn’t working.

She pinpointed exactly why the story wasn’t working. It was a clarity issue, because I hadn’t quite conveyed what was in my head. My opening paragraph didn’t make it obvious exactly what was happening, and one or two sections needed expanding to get across what the reader needed to know. I did another edit and sent it back to her, and this time, she gave it the thumbs up.

Now that the story was ready – perhaps not in its final state, but ready enough – I looked at the bank of websites I have saved in my favourites as places to submit work to, and chose one that felt like a good match. The work was rejected, so I cheerfully noted that in my submissions spreadsheet (I love spreadsheets, I know this makes me weird and I’m perfectly happy with that). I did another edit of the piece, deciding to cut the final paragraph as I felt it was unnecessary. Then I sent it out again.

When the reply from Expanded Horizons came, it started off like any other rejection email. Except they said they wanted my story. I might have done a bit of fist pumping at that point. Then cheerfully noted it in my submissions spreadsheet.

And that is my writing (and publishing) process for short pieces.

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The post-novel void.

6 Aug

I knew it was going to be odd, not having a novel to work on any more, I knew I was going to suddenly discover oodles of time that I’d previously spent editing, but one or two things did surprise me about my post-novel void.

It’s been three months since I finished my MA and three months since I looked at the book I wrote for it. In the initial days after hand-in, I mainly went to work, celebrated, and slept. I used my suddenly abundant spare time to patch up my social life, which had been somewhat neglected in the run-up to the deadline. I basked in the fact I’d actually finished the book, and encouraged my writing brain to chill out.

After a week or two came the sadness that I was expecting: sadness at the end of a three and a half year process of learning and fretting and learning to fret less, and getting to spend time with people who cared about writing as much as I did. I still miss all of that, very much, but I’m lucky to have some excellent writer friends – both from the course and otherwise – who have massively reduced my withdrawal symptoms.

One thing I wasn’t expecting was how much writing had become a habit for me. My brain soon started craving its laptop time again and I was surprised by how quickly ideas began dropping into my head. I thought I’d need a long fallow period to recover from such an extended stint of work, that I’d be out of action for a while, and rightly so. But that was the other thing that surprised me: almost as soon as I’d handed in my MA novel, I began to feel like I should be writing something else, a sort of “okay, you’ve finished that, but what are you doing now?”.

I have a habit of putting too much pressure on myself, so I resisted this persistent little voice for a while and stubbornly stuck to having some time off from writing. I read a lot, which was just lovely, and very much helped to fill the post-MA void. Then I came up with a plan. I like plans. I dislike floating about waiting to see what happens, and plans keep me occupied and positive. My plan was to re-read the majority of the short story books that I have – more than I’d realised as it turned out – then spend some time turning the ideas that appeared in my head into short stories and flash fiction pieces.

And for the past few weeks, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. I’m lucky, I get a month off in the summer, and aside from lie-ins and reading and plenty of tea and cake with friends, I’ve been reading and writing pretty much every day. I’m not working for as many hours per week as I was on the MA, but that’s just fine with me. I am meant to be on holiday, after all. But I’m very glad that writing is still a part of my life, and that I still enjoy it so much.

Once the summer is over, it’ll be time to get out the book for another edit, and actually, I’m really excited about getting reacquainted with it. I know I’ll do a better job on this edit having had a decent break and maybe that’s really what the post-novel void is for: to recharge. To rest and read and let your enthusiasm for your work return so you can make it better. I hope so anyway…

A Nation of Lightsabres

15 Dec

This flash fiction / Wikipedia page of the future was written in response to a sign I misread. I thought I’d share it with you as ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is released this week. 

Enjoy.

 

A Nation of Lightsabres.

The UK was described as “a nation of lightsabres” by the current president of the United States after Jediism was reported to be Britain’s largest religion according to its 2021 census.

The popularity of this faith, based on the quasi-religious order of the Jedi Knights in the Star Wars films, has increased exponentially in the UK since the release of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ in December of 2015. Many of those who have become members of the Church of Jediism previously classed themselves as atheists, and may have been drawn to the religion due to its focus on ‘the Force’ rather than an all-powerful being.

Critics of Jediism claim that it is only so popular because its followers “enjoy dressing up and waving plastic lightsabres around.” Such comments are hotly disputed by followers of the Church, who complain that those outside the religion are often ignorant of its belief system. For example, Jedi do not believe that the Star Wars films are ‘real’, but often practise meditation as a way to cleanse their minds of negativity.1

UK History__________________________________________

Not that long ago, in a galaxy not that far away…

In 2001 390,127 people in the UK listed ‘Jedi’ as their religion in the national census.1 Partly in response to this, Daniel M Jones founded the Church of Jediism in Anglesea, North Wales, in September of 2007.2 By April of 2010 UK membership of the Church of Jediism had reached 3,000.3

This was followed by a dip in public awareness of the faith and in the 2011 national census only 176,632 people in the UK listed ‘Jedi’ as their religion. 4

A disturbance in the Force.

When ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ was released in the UK in December of 2015, there was a surge of interest in the older Star Wars films and in Jediism itself, with thousands of Jedi-themed blogs, Facebook accounts, YouTube videos and memes flooding the internet. Retailers failed to keep up with the demand for Jedi costumes and the most popular hairstyle of 2016 was ‘the Princess Leia’.

By June of 2016 UK membership of the Church of Jediism had reached 2,000,000. Prominent figures from other religious groups appeared on news and current affairs programmes, worrying that the growth of Jediism would lead to “a fall in moral standards in the UK that would be detrimental to traditional British values.”

In February 2017 work began on Jedi temples in all major UK cities. Protesters disrupted construction by camping out at each site, claiming that the temples were eyesores and carrying placards that said: “We’re not leaving and you can’t Force us!”. A spokesman for the British Anti-Jediism Board stated that: “Anyone who wants to worship this religion should get out of this country. We don’t want their nonsense here.”

The Force is strong with this one.

In September 2017 UK membership of the Church of Jediism reached 5,948,000. Jediism was officially recognised as a UK religion, and afforded protection under the updated UK Racial and Religious Hatred Act. Ordained Jedi Knights were now able to perform legally binding marriages as well as ceremonies to balance the Force in infants.

By April of 2018, the UK Church of Jediism had 12,173,000 members. Jedi’s were now permitted to wear robes on all occasions but could be asked to lower their hoods at the request of police or security staff.

Not everyone was happy about the continuing growth of Jediism. In October 2018 a man was arrested in Woking for allegedly using a Jedi mind trick to rob a petrol station. CCTV footage released at the time showed the man wearing a hooded robe and pressing two fingers to his forehead. The Church of Jediism released a statement insisting that Jedi mind tricks “were not real”. It was later revealed that the man had also been pointing a fully loaded 9mm at the cashier but this had been cut out of the images. Jedi followers labelled the incident as “a blatant attempt by the police to bring disrepute to the religion.”

By March 2019 the Church of Jediism had 19,526,000 members in the UK. A female accountant filed a lawsuit against her employers when they sacked her for carrying a plastic lightsabre on her belt at work. The accountant claimed that she wore the lightsabre for religious reasons and only used it for ceremonial purposes. She won her case and the court decreed that the plastic toy was only symbolic of a weapon and could not actually endanger anyone’s life.

May the Force be with you.

In January 2020 the UK Church of Jediism reached 27,369,000 members. May the 4th was re-named ‘The Festival of the Force’ and celebrated as a national holiday. Queen Elizabeth II oversaw the first ever Festival of the Force garden party, which was headlined by the best selling band of that year, Not The Droids.

The UK census of 2021 recorded Jediism as being the largest religious group in the UK.

This page was last modified on December 17th 2021 at 9:15 p.m.

Guest interview: June Taylor

16 May

Leeds-based writer June Taylor (flash fiction author and YA/New Adult novelist) discusses the frightening experience of writing about Krampus, tells us when she finally felt able to say ‘I am a writer!’ and insists that counting isn’t her strong point.

Follow June on Twitter @joonLT . June also tweets for Script Yorkshire @ScriptYorkshire

June 2

June reading ‘When Krampus Comes’ at the UK Krampus Crackers launch.

If you had to describe yourself and your writing in fifty words or less, what would you say?

I’m a writer from Leeds and very proud of my Yorkshire heritage. Like many writers, I need to write. Some days I wish I didn’t, but most days I’m glad that I can. I write mainly novels, but also plays and flash fiction. My novels are YA/New Adult crossovers. I’m interested in characters on the edge of themselves or on the edge of belonging. I’m particularly obsessed with mothers and daughters at the moment. I think you need a good plot but it’s the psychology between the characters that makes it interesting.

(That’s more than fifty words, sorry. I’m hopeless at counting.)

What made you get involved with the Krampus Crackers project and what inspired your story?

I love Tiny Owl Workshop and was involved in their Halloween flash fiction napkins a couple of years ago. They do some really innovative things. So when Vicky put the Krampus Cracker call out I couldn’t resist. And flash fiction is a great way of finding your way into bigger stories and characters. I often use it as a warm-up exercise. However, I have to confess that with my Victorian Krampus story I was totally led by Krampus himself. Really I was just his typist. It was a rather frightening experience. Then, when I was recruited as an elf to assemble the crackers I think I incurred the most paper cuts out of all the elves. It was horrific. You just don’t mess with Krampus.

What are you working on at the moment? Can you give us a sentence from your work in progress?

I’m working on my second book, ‘Two Summers’, a psychological page-turner told from a mother-daughter perspective. My agent is currently trying to sell it (see next question).

It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves.” I didn’t write this sentence, André Gide did. But it sums it up pretty well and I was told to put a clever quote on the first page.

What’s your proudest writing achievement so far?

In 2011, I was runner-up in the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition with my YA novel, ‘Lovely me Lovely You’. I got my picture in The Times newspaper and everything! It made me feel like a proper writer and able to say, finally, without shame or mumbling into my sleeve: “I AM A WRITER.” It also convinced family and friends that perhaps I’m not barking up the wrong tree after all – just a very tall one with some rather precarious branches. Anyway, I got a literary agent off the back of that success but – familiar story – although the book nearly found a major publisher, it didn’t in the end. I now have a new agent, the fabulous Shelley Instone, whose aim it is to champion Northern writers. I’m proud to be associated with Shelley. We’re a good team.

Which novel or poem etc. do you wish you’d written, and why?

Which poem …? Poetry generally doesn’t do it for me if I’m honest, unless it makes me feel something right away. If I have to search hard for its meaning then it loses its magic. I’d love to be able to write poetry/lyrics like Leonard Cohen. Music and poetry, that’s when it works best for me, I suppose. Or when it has some real relevance, like Simon Armitage’s ‘Black Roses: the killing of Sophie Lancaster’, which is an incredibly powerful use of poetry that conveys the tragic waste of a young life.

Which novel …? Perhaps a cliché in one sense, but I’d love to have written ‘Catcher in the Rye’, or ‘The Bell Jar’. I’d like to write a ‘best-friend’ book that connects with young people and stays with them through life.

Which screenplay …? ‘Thelma and Louise.’

Which radio drama …? ‘Under Milk Wood.’

Which stage play …? Anything by Shakespeare I suppose would make me look good.

If you could only have three books to read for the rest of your life, what would they be?

Well, at the risk of sounding pretentious I think Proust’s ‘A La Recherche du Temps Perdu’ because it would keep me going for life. I’ve only read one volume and there are seven to get through. (I’m assuming this counts as one choice though). Then also ‘Kes’, a book I never tire of reading. Third choice, maybe my book of fairytales I had as a child. I don’t have it any more but there were stories from all over the world in it, as well as the more well-known ones, and the illustrations were magical. It was massive. My chubby little fingers couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. But if that was never to be found again then maybe something else from my childhood, like ‘Wonderful Wizard of Oz’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Or ‘Daddy-Long-Legs’. Or ‘L-Shaped Room’… That’s actually more than three books, isn’t it? Told you I’m not very good at counting. Oh well, I’d try and smuggle the extra ones into my carrier bag.

Who said anything about a carrier bag? (I made that bit up actually. I’m good at that).

 Thanks June. I hope you got some enjoyment out of the Krampus Crackers experience. 🙂

Guest interview: Samantha Braham

25 Apr

Thanks to Sam Braham for being the latest UK Krampus Crackers author to guest on this blog, revealing the inspiration behind her flash fiction, what she has in common with Bridget Jones, and her dream of living with the Oompa-Loompas…

You can follow Sam on twitter to find out more about her work. @BrahamSamantha 

DSCN2145Sam at the Krampus Crackers launch event in Leeds.

Describe yourself in 50 words or less:

I’m a writer who doesn’t write as often as I should! I have a busy life so it’s hard to fit everything in. But I’m also a paradox – a busy person who is essentially lazy so any free time is usually spent gazing out the window or eating biscuits.

Why did you become involved in Krampus Crackers and what was the inspiration for your story?

Until about a year ago, I’d never heard of Flash Fiction and then I discovered a couple of American writers on WordPress that write Flash Fiction stories in 100 words. As I have the attention span of a gnat and fail to get beyond page 8 of anything I write, I thought this could be just the thing for me. I’d just finished writing my first ever Flash Fiction piece, Wishes, when I heard about the Krampus Crackers project. I enjoyed the challenge of writing Wishes so decided to try and write a story about Krampus, despite not having any idea who or what he was. After researching his myth and legend, I was struck by his increasing commercial popularity; in particular with chocolate-makers in Austria. I began to wonder what Krampus would make of it all and, from there, came the story.

What are you working on at the moment and can you give us a sentence from your current Work In Progress?

I’m currently working on pieces I’ve previously written. I’m rewriting/editing two pieces of Flash Fiction and a short play. I find it helps to put some distance between myself and my writing so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes. Sometimes I even surprise myself as it isn’t as bad as I originally thought! A line from my short play Lara and Liam (a working title, I’m rubbish at thinking up titles) is “If your Mam were like mine you’d understand.”

What’s your proudest writing achievement so far?

That would be the Krampus Crackers project. The whole thing was an amazing experience for a new writer like me. The opportunity to have a story I had written placed in a cracker and left in venues around Leeds for other to read and – fingers crossed – enjoy was fantastic. That would have been enough in itself but I also got to have my story illustrated, attend a fabulous launch event and have my story read by the Liars’ League in London by a professional actor. Wow, what an experience and I loved every minute of it! A big thank you to Vicky for organising and running the project. She did a tremendous job!

What novel do you wish you had written?

That’s a difficult question as there are so many I love and admire. I suppose I should say something intellectual or cool, quirky and edgy but instead I’m going to say anything by Roald Dahl. Not a novel writer but, for me, the supreme story-teller. Widely fantastic, completely original and totally anarchic! As a child, I was obsessed with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I dreamed of being one of the lucky five children who finds a Golden Ticket and is allowed inside Willy Wonka’s factory. Of course, not being a spoilt, over-indulged brat I would be the last one standing, inherit Wonka’s factory and spend the rest of my days surrounded by chocolate and Oompa-Loompas.

If you could only have 3 books for the rest of your life, which 3 would you choose?

Aaarrrggghhh! What an awful question! Ok, I’m going to make this decision on what I do read time and time again, and also on having a bit of variety in my reading if I’m only allowed to ever read three books again.

1 – Bridget Jones’ Diary – I think one of the reasons Bridget Jones is so successful is that most women can see a bit of Bridget in themselves. From dating disasters to messing-up at work, worrying about how many calories I’ve eaten, and drinking too much alcohol and smoking too many fags (I gave up fags many years ago. Can’t say the same for the booze though), I can place a huge tick next to each one and howl with laughter every time I read this book. Also, Helen Fielding’s inspiration came from Pride and Prejudice, which is another of my favourite novels. She paid homage by creating her own Mr. Darcy whilst I did the same by giving one of my daughters the middle name of Elizabeth. Sad, I know.

2 – To Kill a Mocking Bird – Despite loving English, the only book I read for my ‘O’ level English Literature (yes, I’m that old) and enjoyed was this one. Enjoyed is an understatement, it totally blew me away and I read it in two days. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read it since. This book should be on everyone’s top ten reading list.

3 – Great Expectations or The Harry Potter Series – Getting tricky now. I didn’t read Great Expectations until a few years ago. Since then I’ve read it three or four times. I was hooked from the first couple of pages but, what do you expect, it’s a Dickens. Harry Potter isn’t even in the same league, I know, but the truth is I’m a massive Harry Potter nerd. Just recently my twin daughters have developed their own Harry Potter obsessions. When we’re not reading the books or watching the films you can often find them in Gryffindor robes pretending to be Hermione or Ginny. So for the shared family experience I’m going to choose Harry Potter because it would be a shame if my children didn’t have all this wonderful magic in their lives. And I know I’m cheating because there are seven books in the Harry Potter series but I’ve always been one to bend the rules; especially if it’s to my advantage.

Thanks very much Sam, and sorry for asking difficult questions!

Guest interview: Nick Clark

8 Apr

This week, Nick Clark, one of the UK Krampus Cracker authors, answers my questions about writing, his work in progress, and the books he’d choose if he could only keep three…

Find out more about Nick by following him on twitter @ngfclark

DSCN2149Nick at the Krampus Crackers launch event in December 2014.

  • If you had to describe yourself and your writing in fifty words or less, what would you say?

I’m a Leeds-based fiction author with a long-held interest in all that is speculative, sublime and surreal. I like to work with genre fusions and subversions of traditional tropes. My roots are in myth and folklore and worlds behind wardrobes. I plan sober, write drunk, and edit hungover.

  • What made you get involved with the Krampus crackers project and what inspired your story?

The Krampus name leapt out at me when I was skimming through potential story submission opportunities. I’d written an article on mythical Christmas beings the previous winter, so I was already clued up on Krampus and his ilk. The Tiny Owl project allowed me to explore the demon through a creative response, which I really enjoyed.

Flash fiction is entirely new to me. Most of my ‘short’ stories tend to hover around the 5,000 word mark – not really ideal when the typical competition out there caps a 3,000 word limit. Still, I was eager to give flash fiction a go, especially with a theme I was interested in.

I’m a big fan of the short stories of Kelly Link, and I knew I wanted to do something that placed a similar emphasis on stylisation and stark imagery. I wrote the story, edited it, and submitted it over five days. I didn’t have especially high hopes for it because of how little time I had, so I was overjoyed when I got the good news from Vicky. It also spurred me on to develop the setting into what might become a Yule-themed fantasy novel. I love it when the writing process starts linking things together like that!

  • What are you working on at the moment? Can you give us a sentence from your work in progress?

Helwick’s tower stood in the middle of a small island, and the sea encircled it – rising up for more than a hundred feet, so high that the sky above was framed by a ragged edge of restless ocean.

This is from my current project, a YA novel set in a post-apocalyptic flooded world. I know the whole ‘water planet’ concept has been done before, but I’ve always felt it was such a rich source of ideas that hasn’t been fully explored yet. This is my own take on it, which fuses the consequences of catastrophic climate change with epic fantasy, and aims to subvert some of the typical ‘high seas adventure’ tropes. It’s about a magician who wakes up after an enchanted sleep he cast on himself wears off. He’s suffering from amnesia, so we follow his exploration of the drowned world whilst he slowly uncovers his past – not all of it to his liking.

  • What’s your proudest writing achievement so far?

Aside from Krampus Crackers (of course), it would have to be my short story Rattenkönig, a ghost story that got published in Tethered By Letters’ quarterly journal. It was my first story to win a competition, my first to get illustrated, and my first paid gig as well. Needless to say it made me outrageously happy. TBL are really generous with their cash prizes and passionate about helping new authors. They’ve recently revamped their website so take a look.

  • Which novel do you wish you’d written, and why?

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. I was sixteen when I first read it, and it completely changed my view of what fiction could achieve and where it could go. I think it represented a direction I would have liked to take my own ideas of writing – if I’d been any good at that point – so of course I was immensely jealous of someone who could set out such accomplished and thought-out storytelling. Still am.

  • If you could only have three books to read for the rest of your life, what would they be?

OK, I’m going to give you a very practical answer for this:

    • Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer – Without books my writing would get very stale so a writer’s guide of some description would be essential. This one is beautifully illustrated and full of insightful detail.

    • Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism – It’s a book I’ve had since uni that contains absolutely tons of critical theory from throughout its history. Theory often requires repeated reading to get your head round it, so there’ll be plenty of time to do just that.

    • The last A Song of Ice and Fire book by George R R Martin – Obviously.

Thanks Nick!

Guest post: Deborah Walker

2 Mar

Deborah Walker is the second of the UK Krampus cracker authors to kindly contribute a guest post to this blog. You can find out more about her on her website, where she describes herself like this: “After a twenty year period of procrastination, I started to write in autumn 2008. I’ve managed a few hundred acceptances since then. I write all types of science fiction, horror and fantasy, poetry and short stories.

Deborah’s blog post is about her love of museums and the way they inspire her.

Ideas for my stories come to me in museums, in galleries, in libraries. Find me upstairs (and it’s always quieter upstairs) in the British Museum trawling the past looking for future inspiration.

Old books, paintings, objects are part of our material heritage. Survivors of the ravages of times, sometimes cherished throughout the ages, sometimes forgotten, dug from the ground, broken and then reconstruction. Objects tell stories. Museums select and interpret these stories, grouping objects together to give a window into the past.

Museum objects are rich in concrete detail for stories. And not just for fantasy stories, set in the real or imagined past. A detail from the past can act as a springboard for a story about the future. Looking at the helmet of a 10th century Norwegian chief leads me to consider what armour a space Viking might wear (Space Vikings! Now I want to write a space Viking story). Looking at a beaten gold headdress from ancient Ur makes me wonder how the woman felt wearing such a beautiful and precious item. How did her society shape her? How will my future society shape my characters? An object in a museum will catch my attention. Why was this sword engraved with the image of a bear? And that will send me down a pathway of research.

A_Philosopher_Lecturing_with_a_Mechanical_Planetary_-_1766
A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery, by Joseph Wright, 1766 (Deby Museum and Art Gallery)

Some museums collect the finest pieces of the past, the most costly, the most cherished. Objects may be monumental, priceless and awe-inspiring. But these are not the only stories to be told. Sadly many objects from the past of the working person have been lost. Yet, you can still glimpse the lives of working folk painted as rural scenes on objects. And social museums seek to recapture a glimpse of the ordinary, the everyday.

Objects, books and paintings are material records of the stories told in the past, the stories of religion and mythology. You can read the changing nature of stories through objects. Creation stories, eschatologies, the stories of the gods as their worshippers migrate and change, stories of lovers seeking to retrieve their beloved from the underworld. Some stories are repeated through the ages. What element has gripped so many imaginations?

Musuems don’t always look backwards. In the British Museum’s African Galleries there’s a sculpture called Tree of Life (2004) constructed out of decommissioned rifles. Science museums examine the science of the past, the future and even trends for the future.

The presence of an object in a museum in a story in itself. The Parthenon Marbles, the Benin Bronzes (and others) on display in London are subject to repeated calls to be returned to their countries of origin. These objects tell stories of colonialism, empire, and war.

Though I love the massive, wealthy London museums and galleries, I’ve a fondness for the more obscure museum. After all, I used to work for one, as curator of the Royal Veterinary Museum. In London you can visit Alexander Fleming’s laboratory, or visit the Royal College of Surgeons Museum to explore the ideology that underpinned medicine for thousands of years. University are centres of research and specialism. Their collections are often open to the public by appointment. It’s worth trying a visit to a museum outside your area of interest. Volunteering to help out during my daughter’s school trip took me to the Imperial War Museum, I saw a wealth of cool spy gadgets that will no doubt work their way into some of my stories.

Ram-in-A-Thicket
Ram in a Thicket (2600-2400 BC) from Ur, in southern Iraq, British Museum

I live in London, and this article has been about London’s cultural wealth. But you can find wonderful museums everywhere. Holidays at home or abroad are opportunities to glimpse other cultures. A family wedding in Cyprus found me in a small museum examining of hundreds of votive offerings, clay figurines of a men on horseback. A collection that I couldn’t have seen anywhere else. I’m Derbyshire born and bred. Derby’s Museum has a wonderful collection of Joseph Wright of Derby’s atmospheric paintings exploring the development of modern science during the Enlightenment. A bus ride from my home town takes me to the D.H. Lawrence Museum, and to the National Trust’s Museum of Childhood. And sometimes history can’t be constrained to a building. I like the prehistoric stones ring at Arbour Low in Derbyshire that sometime in the past has been pushed over. The standing stones are fallen, nobody remembers why. There’s history everywhere.

And there’s the internet. Museums have embraced the internet seeking to widen access to their collections. It’s not, in my opinion as good as seeing the real thing. (Who can forget standing under the real-size model of the Blue Whale at the Natural History Museum?) But museum websites are a valuable resource.

And if you do take a trip to a museum, don’t forget to take a tour. Curators love to talk their collections. They have a passion for them. And curators are people who want to communicate stories. I should know; I used to be one.

••••

Two of Deborah’s stories inspired by the London’s cultural heritage are “The Bio-Documentarian of the British Library” published in Cosmos, and “Green Future” published in Nature’s Futures.