Connecting The Dots



Some of you may remember that I used to start off every volume of my short stories with a state-of-the-nation piece linking lots of different news items together. They were intended to provide a snapshot of the times in which the tales were written, the better to understand how these stories arose. For example, this page came from ‘Old Devil Moon’.

In Stockton-On-Tees, a poverty-stricken family succumbed to heroin use, and as her son died, the distraught mother went to bingo to try and win money for his gravestone. Ironically, George Bush chose her neighbourhood for a visit, and his security operation cost the British government a million pounds.
Pat Robertson, the US Christian evangelist, appeared on national television suggesting it would be a good idea for American hit squads to murder the president of Venezuela for his oil.
In London, a Big Brother house member simulated masturbation with a beer bottle on a channel subsidised for its contribution to quality television, and garnered more column inches in the national press than the US government’s final refusal to cut CO2 emissions.
In Japan, internet suicide groups were infiltrated by bogus suicidees planning to kill their fellow members for cash, which had the effect of making teenagers think twice about killing themselves in groups.
In Britain, an eleven-year-old girl was rushed to hospital suffering from a heroin overdose, while on the same day another announced she was pregnant and looking forward to being a pre-teen mum. It was revealed that half a million UK children belonged to street gangs.
In Plymouth, four mothers filmed themselves goading their toddlers into fighting each other. They did it, they said, to make their children hard and stop them from turning into ‘faggots’.
In America, where an estimated 37 million citizens live below the poverty line, one Christian Right group decided to improve the world by financing trips to locate the remains of Noah’s Ark, while another threatened to kill cinema owners for agreeing to book Brokeback Mountain into theatres.
The suicide business returned to normal in Japan, and the new year’s death toll tripled.
Endemol, the makers of Big Brother, produced a season casting mentally ill contestants in the hopes that they would humiliate themselves and hurt each other on live television. With racism shown to be endemic on the programme, public opinion finally started mobilising against them, but the producers felt that its export market had been ‘fantastically improved’ by the sight of burning effigies in India. It emerged that the show was most popular with schoolchildren.

And so on.

Yesterday, I was surfing through the London Times and started making the connections again. But there has been a sea-change in the way in which pieces are reported. Here are a few of the juxtapositions I picked up.

Most British graduates will not be able to clear their student debts in their lifetimes. Meanwhile, two champagne-swigging daughters of the rich were photographed at a Cotswolds party wearing £560 trainers, while David Cameron, the former PM whose chronic indecisiveness led to the disastrous Brexit referendum, opposed pay rises for public sector groups, labelling those who want to end austerity as ‘selfish’. The hidden agenda here is that the Times coverage of the Cotswolds party was designed to enrage readers – but why shouldn’t a rich girl wear expensive shoes?

The New York Times continued to report on deepening Brexit troubles, including the divide between black taxis, whose rigorously trained drivers are mostly white males, and super-polite Uber drivers, the workforce that’s mostly ethnic in origin and most at risk in the coming months. UK press reports across the board that Brexit voters have now swung massively in the opposite direction, with even the man who came up with the fake news NHS bus side promising an extra £360 million a week going to the NHS admitting that it was a lie and a mistake. In the book ‘Brexit, No Exit’, Denis MacShane, the former Minister of Europe who has spent more time in European capitals than in London, argues that ‘Brexit’ as the Man on the Clapham Omnibus understands it cannot happen. In January 2015 MacShane correctly predicted that the nation would vote Leave. I don’t know if he imagined it would be by such a tiny margin.

Trump is meeting Putin, rather like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man meeting Iron Man. So disdained is UK democracy now that a mooted flying visit by Trump to the UK is being kept secret to prevent protests from taking place. Most other news items on Trump are also designed to cause outrage and not worth reading, although a friend in Washington tells me that Trump shuts down policy makers in meetings by shouting ‘Boring!’ at them. It’s a mark of validity Americans accord to ‘fake news’ theories that the Seth Rich murder ‘conspiracy’ theory is now being used to sell face cream.

Over here, the Grenfell fire victims have not been rehoused by the deadline the council promised, while down at the Shard, Renzo Piano’s eyesore (except at sunset, from a great distance) is still largely empty. Five years on, the luxury flats, which were touted as an ‘easy sell’, have failed to shift. Their top prices remained pegged at £50 million. One argument from an estate agent (so take it with a pinch of salt) is that nobody wants to spend that much to live south of the river. The article is another piece of schadenfreude designed to make us tut and reassure us about our own preconceptions.

It’s why I’ve stopped writing short stories now, and no longer write such pieces – too much information is pre-digested to feed your inbuilt prejudices. BTW, my final collection of new stories, ‘Frightening’, which appeared as an e-book earlier in the year, has not garnered a single review – proving the publisher’s point that nobody reads new short fiction now.


11 comments on “Connecting The Dots”

  1. brooke says:

    “…proving the publisher’s point that nobody reads new short fiction now.”

    Rather proving that the publisher’s poor marketing and e-distribution strategy makes for a self-fulfilling idiotic dictum. You know my laments about how your works are not accessible in US.

    Congratulations on LK Fox’s new work… Twitter comments were quite nice, I thought.

  2. Adam says:

    Please don’t give up on short story writing! I personally think it is the most satisfying form of storytelling. There is no room for flabby exposition, you have to get the reader engaged quickly, and the payoff has to be worth it. From a reader’s perspective they are great for the odd 15 minutes spare time during a lunch break, on holiday, at bedtime, etc. Your story (I think it was called ‘cages’) stuck with me for a long time after reading – odd, funny and disturbing…!

  3. Chris Webb says:

    Brooke and Adam are both right of course. A short story has to be tightly written with not a single word wasted or out of place. I rarely have time to sit down and read long chunks of a book so have learned not, as a matter of principle, to buy books with more than a few hundred pages. For me long books can drag on and often give the impression they are deliberately padded out which is frankly just self-indulgent and discourteous on the part of the reader. Short stories are the ultimate exercise in conciseness, or concision, or whatever the word is!

    Perhaps there is also a perception among some people that short stories aren’t that good, and that anyone with even modest literary talent can bash one out in a day or two. And maybe a lot of people just don’t want to read a short story, preferring to get stuck in to a full novel.

    As Brooke says, publishers need to market them better but it is difficult. Should they be put on the shelves mixed up with full-length novels of the same genre? I bought London’s Glory not realising it was a collection of short stories: not a complaint at all as it is actually one of my favourite B&M books, but some people might be dischuffed. Also, what about anthologies? There aren’t enough to warrant even one set of shelves being dedicated to them so they are often given a shelf or two at the beginning where they can get overlooked.

    Going back to your opening paragraph, you need to remember that what gets into the news is by definition exceptional. We are never going to wake up to the headline “Seven Billion People Not Murdered Yesterday”.

  4. Chris Webb says:

    Sorry, meant self-indulgent and discourteous on the part of the WRITER.

  5. Wayne Mook says:

    I do like short stories and buy them all time, I get Black Static as well.

    A lot of short stories are available free on the net by all authors from the established to the not so established, so the problem is not that people are not reading them, there a lot of cheap or free mags, plus lots of websites on line, the creepy pasta and SCP Foundation are still busy.

    The problem is trying to make money from them, I guess it’s the same problem record companies are having.


  6. admin says:

    Black Static seems to have all but vanished – copies are appearing less frequently as far as I can tell. It’s a lovely magazine, as is Interzone, but has a minuscule readership. I know of no short story outlet that pays anymore, either. Writing is not a hobby for professional writers; they need to make a living.

  7. Brian Evans says:

    Years ago there used to be a rather good monthly publication called “Argosy” dedicated to short stories. It was available on all bookstalls. It was a handy stepping stone for new writers. Sadly it packed up , I think, in the 1970s

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Professionals need to make a living. That is true in all professions, but there is this other side of the arts where people indulge in their “spare time”. Doctors don’t heal as a hobby, but there are so many other things that have been reduced to spare time activities. Actors. There were always local amateur groups who “put on plays” for the entertainment of themselves and their friends, but now there are few places where people who have trained and worked and qualified can be paid for their work. They mix with amateurs until you can hardly tell the difference. People won’t take out a union card because it limits where you can appear and that kills a career, but not being paid does too. People even teach for free, organise community libraries for free, take part in mountain rescues on an unpaid basis, do pro bono legal work, and manage a neighbourhood garden for free.
    It used to be that a stretch of unpaid work would open up job opportunities, get your name and work known, and at least lead somewhere. Now it just leads to more of the same. Everyone wants professional work done for free.

  9. admin says:

    Thrilled to hear from publisher Andy Cox that Black Static is alive and well, and still operating as the finest purveyor of short horror fiction in the UK, and possibly the world. Subscribe from and help to ensure that this fine literary institution stays fighting fit.

  10. Wayne Mook says:

    They are also available in e-form as well, and both Interzone & Black Static have a round up of film & books in their respective genres.


  11. Matt says:

    I just downloaded Frightening from Amazon, I will review it for you once I have read it. However I can no longer do that from the device itself so its more difficult to do than it once was. Maybe thats a reason no one has reviewed it. I like short stories in volumes such as you create. I will miss them.

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