And so, this is what I’m working on in those times when the novel seems to suck all the words from my brainpan: Sourdough and Other Stories. The original Sourdough story appeared in Tartarus Press’ Strange Tales II in 2007. Sister, Sister will appear in Strange Tales III later this year.
I am amusing myself by writing a series of thirteen discrete but connected tales set in and around my as-yet-unnamed cathedral city. All the stories are told in first person, but by thirteen different narrators. So the challenge I’ve set myself is to give each narrator a distinct voice. As my clever friend Kate says ‘You won’t know if it works until you finish’. Yay?
The table of contents and a couple of extracts are below, for anyone who’s bored …
- The Shadow Tree
- The History of Ink
- Lost Things
- A Porcelain Soul
- The Bones Remember Everything
- A Good Husband
- Sister, Sister
- Under the Mountain
The Shadow Tree
I wonder if perhaps my time has passed and I can return. In hope, I touch the mirror, feel it cool under my fingertips, wish that I could travel through it, through the doors between worlds, back to my own place. My exile isn’t yet done. The surface remains hard, unbroken, impenetrable. The cat makes a soft noise, like sympathy. I bury my face in her fur.
I am woken by the scuffling and snuffling at the base of my tree. There is a low growl and I can hear claws determinedly trying to reach my perch.
But I am up too high, and the shadowy thing with flashing eyes is not fitted for climbing thus. It has my scent though. I try to peer into the darkness, to discern what waits so impatiently. There is only the glow of eyes; more than one pair, a forest of red glares up at me.
One by one, the owners of those eyes begin to sing. It starts as a howling, but soon enough the chorus melds and twines into a tapestry of sweet voices, the unalloyed joy of children. They embroider a folk song, a fairytale set to music, so the ideas dance in my mind, sugar-pink girls and bold little boys, hand in hand moving through the woods. There is nothing else to be done, so I let them sing me to sleep.
My father did not know that my mother knew about his other wives, but she did.
It didn’t seem to bother her, perhaps because, of them all, she had the greater independence and a measure of prosperity that was all her own. Perhaps that’s why he loved her best. Mother baked very fine bread, black and brown for the poor and shining white for the affluent. We were by no means rich, but we had more than those around us, and there was enough money spare for occasional gifts: a book for George, a toy train for Artor, and a thin silver ring for me, engraved with flowers and vines.
The Bones Remember Everything
A girl sits by a window, spinning. The thread is long and fine, flax entwined with strands of her own dark hair – she has been at the work for some time. Every so often she pricks her finger and the blood wells, then soaks into the thread as she continues, caressing the filaments with something like love, something like hate. The blood doesn’t bother her, for she is spinning her own life, the skeins will stitched to a canvas made of her own skin and mounted on a frame of her bones. Then she will be a tale, her own tale of blood and flesh and bone and she will endure for the bones remember everything. And the bones will call.