Rather than bore you, and risk crashing the internet, with extracts from all the stories I have written, this part of the website includes longer passages from two of the pieces which are currently languishing in an unpublished – or, as I like to think of it, pre-published – state. An American jurist, defending his habit of leaving judgements in a desk for a while before going public, called this waiting period ‘ageing in the wood’; and it is true that something written and then set aside can surprise you with its brilliance when looked at after an interval, or more likely shock you with the number and blatancy of its flaws. See which of these verdicts you think applies to the examples given here. The header to this page illustrates the first of the stories sampled.
The Speed of Light
A man on holiday with his wife is stricken with jealousy and suspicion but it is his behaviour that ends up under the spotlight. He is a reliable narrator without being a very likeable one, the reader’s sympathies not easily placed.
Extract (from the start of the story) Imagine this. You are standing on a tropical beach staring intently at the sea. Study how the light behaves, congealing like solder on the crest of a wave or turning its slope to porcelain. Watch as a passing cloud makes the surface as hard and dull as slate, and then how it brightens when the swell tilts upwards towards the sun. See a tired wave collapsing under its own weight then shrinking back again, the dregs leaving a spittle of foam on sand glassy with receding wetness.
Now you are in the picture. Now you know what I was doing, what I was thinking, when my wife walked out of the trees behind me with another man.
If I had extended by a few seconds this daily act of communion I would not have seen her emerge from the coconut palms that overhang the upper slope of the beach and shelter with rustling, porous shade the paths that lead to the village half a mile inland. I would only perhaps have heard her voice calling me and, turning, watched her paddle through the sand, this year’s sarong flapping loyally round her legs, the twin yolks of her yellow bikini bright against the ten-day tan. I might not even have noticed the young man heading back towards the hotel in his barman’s uniform, but in any case there would have been nothing to connect them, a local hurrying to work along the tide mark of pale driftwood and scrawny seaweed, and a woman guest rejoining her husband after a morning spent snorkelling while he, the hopeless swimmer, clung to dry land and painted.
But I chose that moment to look round. Your neck rotates a few degrees, the wrong splinters of light pierce your eye, and the whole world changes. I saw her arm outstretched, her left hand, the one with my ring on it, raised to hip-level and beginning to fall back again. I saw his arm already dropping to his side, as if he had wanted the moment to end sooner. I saw her looking at him along the axis of her brown, freestyler’s shoulder. I saw him turning away, regretfully, anxiously as they came out into the open – and maybe contemptuously as well. All of this was clear, or at least possible, in a moment so still and so saturated with meaning it was like an allegorical painting…
In this story an English geologist working in the oil industry looks up an old colleague in Spain and finds himself staying longer than expected. Many of my stories hinge on changes in the way people think about themselves and this one is no exception, the protagonist forced to confront both his future and his past. The first page or two were workshopped with the novelist Jim Crace. He cautioned against the alliteration in paragraph one and I tried removing it but could think of nothing better. Even so he was kind enough to call this ‘great writing’.
Extract (from the start of the story) Now that the bar had emptied after lunch Stephen was alone, with only his addictions for company: a fourth cigarette, lit from the stub of the third, and a second cup of coffee, bitter and bituminous. They outnumbered him, his vices. Worse, they functioned as a team, each fix craving the other.
He looked down at his feet. A gutter ran the length of the bar, shallow and tiled like a urinal. It was littered with ash and the peeled skins of prawns, dropped without looking by everyone else but in his case aimed with one eye closed and a tally kept to ward off boredom. This patter of empty husks, sheath-like and glittery, called to mind shellfish sinking to an ocean floor. He checked his watch again. Much longer here and rock would begin to form at his feet, something sedimentary that bore, in its whorls and cavities, a memory of the life forms he had munched on while waiting.
Where was Hector? It was unlike him to be so late. First-time fathers had more important things on their minds, he supposed, in this case the christening or baptism or whatever they called it here. But that was the point: coming second to these other loyalties made Stephen feel restless. The moment had arrived earlier than expected and was sure to cause disappointment, even offence. But he always obeyed his instincts in these matters, and stubbing out the cigarette before it was finished drove the point home: it was time to leave Zaragoza…