Commended 2017, Immortal Memory
I’m sure I must hold the record for the most Burns Supper speeches delivered by an Englishman. Research for the most recent one resulted in this short story, ‘Immortal Memory’. It was a huge honour to be shortlisted along with such a talented group of writers in the 2017 contest and to attend the awards dinner in Edinburgh, the city to fete Robert Burns, Scotland’s greatest bard – and the inspiration for my short story. Alexander McCall Smith was not present but I had the pleasure to meet him at Adelaide Writers’ Week in March 2018.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I’m a university professor and writer, based in Kobe, Japan, where I’ve lived since shortly after graduating from the University of Aberdeen in 1984. I’ve worked as a freelance writer and editor for Kansai Time Out, The Asahi Evening News, Gramophone Japan, Opera News, The New Internationalist etc and once made an expensive foray into publishing as the editor of a bilingual cultural magazine, Artspace.
About a decade ago, I turned to writing fiction and during a sabbatical gained an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. My short stories have appeared in The Font and East Lit and I won the 1st Writers in Kyoto Writing Contest in 2016. I’m seeking publication of my first novel Appassionata and am now working on a historical novel.
My wife and I had a double desk built specially to fit our study but we don’t work there at the same time. I have to be on my own and be able to listen to classical music and opera while I’m writing. I like being in warm water and I get many of my ideas when swimming or in the bath or shower. We are lucky to have a very beautiful and relaxing Japanese style bath. A comfortable couch is essential for napping and as a liminal space for creativity.
Excerpt from Immortal Memory
“Is that Burns, you’re reading, Mr Johnson?”
"That’s right, Mrs McCleod. Do you like Burns?”
“Yes indeed, Mr Johnson. Today’s his birthday, too.”
“Twenty-fifth of January, so it is! Not that Mrs Bullock thinks fit to honour the occasion. Though I wouldn’t fancy my chances with her haggis.”
“Definitely a risk not worth taking. I’m sure the combination of Mrs Bullock’s cooking and non-stop ‘Eastender’s is going to finish me off one day."
“What was your crime then, Mrs McCleod?”
“Corruption of the Waterworks Department. Petty Piddling of Noxious Liquids. And yours?”
“Breaking and Entering.”
“Breaking and Entering?”
“Yes, broke my hip and entered the County General Hospital.
With just one day a week at present available for writing, I have devised a routine: I start to write in the morning and during my lunch break listen to Books and Authors or Book Club podcasts on BBC Radio 4. Invariably, I find that something someone says about a book, or about how they came to write, will inspire me and trigger an idea for the afternoon.
If I get stuck, I do a crossword or Sudoku and take a nap. Not a deep sleep, just 15 or 20 minutes. I often find this helps resolve a problem and I wake up with the answer. My friend and work-shopper, the phenomenally talented poet Jessica Goodfellow (www.jessicagoodfellow.com/), has presented on the topic of ‘liminal spaces’ – those regions between physical places or states of being. She claims these are places of creativity. The time between waking and sleeping is one of them.
Of all the books on writing I’ve turned to for guidance, the one that has been the most help has been Reading Like a Writer: A guide for people who love books and for those who want to write them by Francine Prose. The appropriately-named Prose makes us look at words, paragraphs, character, dialogue and plot by examining examples from the great masters of fiction. She talks about ‘putting every word on trial for its life.’
Nowhere is this required more than in writing short stories. The restrictions of short stories appeal to me and are one of the reasons this is my preferred form.
OTHER SHORT STORIES
Sunset for Dolores – Eternal: Award Winning Short Stories (Hammond House Publishing, Dec 2017)
Vine and Gall – The Font, Oct 2016: http://thefontjournal.com/
Kimono Memories – winner of the 1st Writers in Kyoto Contest, March 2016: http://www.writersinkyoto.com/2016/04/wik-competition-winner-kimono-memories/
The Old Hibachi – Eastlit, Sept 2014: http://www.eastlit.com/eastlit-september-2014/eastlit-september-2014-content/old-hibachi/
Osaka, 2002. Still traumatized by the death of his mother six months earlier on 9/11, narrator Franz Dubois hears an astonishing performance of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata by a student at his university. Why is this particular work of such significance for him?
Everyone has a life: Franz Dubois has two.
The problem is, he doesn’t recognise which one is real.