Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Universe At Gun Point

I recently received my contributor copy of an anthology titled “The First Book of Classical Horror Stories” edited by DF Lewis containing my story “The Universe At Gun Point”. The remit for submissions was that the stories had to reference classical music or a specific composer, and the result is a collection of 21 stories including contributions from Rhys Hughes, Stephen Bacon, Aliya Whiteley, Rachel Kendall, Mark Valentine and others.

An anthology containing music-themed stories isn’t a new concept, of course. I’m aware of two previous UK independent press anthologies in a similar vein. One of which I published, and the other I appeared in. In 2006, when I was running Elastic Press, I published “Extended Play: The Elastic Book of Music” edited by Gary Couzens, which won a British Fantasy Award for Best Anthology. The remit being that each story had to have some kind of musical connection, a springboard for the story. The fiction was counterbalanced by non-fiction from musicians about how literature influenced their songwriting, with contributions from Gary Lightbody (Snow Patrol), Chris Stein (Blondie), Lene Lovich and an introduction from JJ Burnel of The Stranglers amongst others. In 2010, my short story, “Blue Sky World”, appeared in the anthology “Music For Another World” (Mutation Press). Again, a book where music provided the impetus for the fiction.

Of course, the clue as to where “The First Classical Book of Horror Stories” differs from those books is in the title. Classical music isn’t my first listening preference, but having been published in previous books edited by DF Lewis I thought I’d give it a go. I just had to decide which composer I wanted to use within my story. But considering my punk sensibilities, who did I know well enough to go for? Almost unbidden, Erik Satie popped into my head. I remembered that Dave Greenfield, the keyboard player from The Stranglers, had referenced Erik Satie in a piece of music on a solo outing called “Fire and Water”, and I’d always been intrigued about the composer without knowing anything about him. Yet, to show how fallible memory is, googling indicated the song wasn’t about Satie at all (it’s titled “Trois Pedophiles Pour Erik Sabyr”). Nevertheless, with the connection already made in my head I decided to go for Erik Satie regardless.

Researching Satie I quickly realised I was familiar with his music which I’d often heard without attributing to the composer. Wikipedia also threw up some facts that I knew would be perfect for the story (he maintained a collection of ‘imaginary buildings’, enjoyed elaborate hoaxes, had contact with both Dadaists and Surrealists, and had become fixated by a woman with ‘gentle hands and tiny feet’). I already had a title I’d been meaning to use for sometime, “The Universe At Gun Point”, which I had read as a line in the novel Mystery In Spiderville by James Hartley Williams. From these things, the story developed naturally. As stories tend to do.

I guess the purpose of this post is to demonstrate the process by which a new piece of writing can be created. From seeing the call for submissions, to the theme itself, to an accident of memory over the name of a composer, to elements from that composer’s life, to a title drawn from another source, to the finished product that was written whilst listening to and drawing inspiration from Erik Satie’s music. A story that didn’t exist in any way, shape or form until all those elements came together in a serendipitous act. Sometimes the creative process just has to be loved.

As a teaser taster, here’s a bit from the story:

I wandered London with Satie in my ears. A soulful accompaniment to the everyday. I watched escalators ascend and descend with the surety of his arpeggios, the spaces between the musical notes echoing the gaps between Underground trains and platforms, the quiet behind the music obfuscating the hustle and bustle of the twenty-first century: the hard rolling thunder of skateboards in concrete jungles, the incesssant babble of mobile phone conversations, the stream of traffic like abandoned shopping trolleys being swept over waterfalls.

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