- In many of the stories a person journeys (often by train) in an attempt to make sense of something. "Method of Loci" could have been the collection's title.
- In several of the stories ("The Big Climb", "Late", etc) one of the significant characters is absent.
- Some repetition between stories became evident when the collection was assembled. Rather than remove all the overlaps I decided to organise them so that there was a controlled daisy-chain of links between the stories.
- All the stories (except Olga which fast-forwards years at the end) have narrational durations of at most a day (often just hours) punctuated by flashbacks (which may be extensive). Tony Williams alludes to this when writes "I liked best the personal history pieces, which usually throw us into a present moment and then unspool backwards to show the narrator’s past"
- Tony Williams points out that nearly all the characters could be middle-aged men, and that they're all first-person stories. A previously published female-PoV piece and 2 non-character pieces failed to make the cut. I've tried doing kid-PoV, unsuccessfully. I've had SF published, and I got some money for a comedy piece. I do short high-art cross-genre compositions. But I suspect my sad pieces go down best.
- Jim Murdoch writes "Like all the other stories there’s humour here". Perhaps I should have kept this under more control.
Some of the uniformity of the selection is due to the editorship - there's a case for having thematic coherence in a collection. It's not supposed to be a "best-of" anthology. But at my disposal I have a restricted set of voices from certain strata of society - given the narrow range of people I meet nowadays I feel increasingly fraudulent when trying to write about the common people.
Tony Williams sorts the stories into three groups - "the artfully constructed personal histories, the metafiction-y ones, and the rest". When I submitted the long-list of stories, I accompanied them by a classification -
- Mainstream - Prague 86, The Big Climb, Late, Doors and Windows, Olga [4 others not chosen]
- Pretentious - [all 3 not chosen]
- Gloomy loner - Fractals [1 other not chosen]
- Non-realist - [all 3 not chosen]
- Comedy - [all 2 not chosen]
- Narratively challenging - Method of Loci, Definitions [2 others not chosen]
One aspect where I think I'm more flexible than many is along the transparency scale. The extremes aren't all illustrated in the book, but the stories vary along this dimension
- Words can become opaque, non-mimetic, a sequence of letters or sounds.
- People and Objects can shimmer, lose their solidity, become symbols connected to other symbols.
"Death of the Author" may have applied to my poetry pamphlet, but reviews of this book have so far tended to focus on the author and/or narrators. They make me think of the book as my "Dorian Gray" painting in the attic, a painting of misery and regret. Please don't destroy the book. Most interesting in this regard is Tony Williams' comment that "often the [Narrators] seem to be middle-aged men, so that you wonder if that’s a theme or if the narrators are all versions of the author grappling with versions of his own concerns (actually that’s probably two ways of saying the same thing)". Well, the remorselessness of the theme's the result of editorial selection, but editors can only work with what they're given. Most of the stories were written when I was middle-aged, though I'd say they deal with "what-ifs" rather than concerns.
When I write stories they often develop by slow accretion, not always starting with a character. I'm relieved whenever my attempts at character-creation come off. Jim Murdoch writes about "Late" that "really I just felt embarrassed for these two" which pleases me. Come to think of it, "The Big Climb" is a bit that way too.
I hope that within the uniformity there's sufficient variety. Jim Murdoch writes "sadness is like love, just as there are many kinds of love there are many kinds of sadness; there are at least nine kinds in this book", which is fine by me. But I should try harder to write in different ways on different themes. I think I have more trouble doing this in prose than in poetry because the effort needs to be sustained.
There's a goodreads site for the book too.