I wanted to write about middle age, because it’s a less explored territory. What happens when two people who’ve been together a long time still love each other, but their paths diverge? What happens when you split up, despite still loving each other if not being in love any more, and how do you make sense of that? There’s a melancholic thread running throughout the story of Ella and William, plateauing in their respective careers, and it’s about how successful lives can become hollow when the bottom falls out of a relationship.
The story takes place over an extended period of time and to telegraph that in a short space I came up with the device of giving them pets – their cats and dog age and die and this gives a sense of time passing without having to flag up lines like ‘Two years later’.
Like several of the stories in my collection Doppelgangers the inspiration came from travel. Being in an unfamiliar place cannot help generating ideas. Seeing someone smoking out of a window and wondering what their life is like. Watching a couple argue in the street and guessing how they got to where they are now. The unfamiliarity of the everyday – where does this bus go, what’s behind that door, why can’t I find the hole in this postbox?
This particular story is a mix of Berlin and Hamburg; wandering along the canals and finding gleaming steel and glass offices springing up like android mushrooms, incongruous against old brick warehouses. Who works inside a building like that, what happens behind the closed doors?
My story ‘The Thief’, also recently published on The Lonely Crowd online, emerged from a single image – the word Huelga! that I saw graffitied on several walls in Seville city centre. It was always beautifully written, the loops of the ‘g’ and the exclamation mark as carefully italicised as the rest of the word. I wanted to know what it meant, and when I found out it meant Strike!, a story was born. The imagination can get stimulated in remarkable ways when you drop yourself into unknown situations.
Short stories were my first literary love and I suspect they always will be. There’s a resurgence of the story at the moment and the Celtic countries are prominent in this, with The Stinging Fly in Ireland and both Seren and Parthian in Wales producing impressive bodies of work from short story writers – and, of course, The Lonely Crowd. I hope this reborn love of the story inspires more of us whose shelves are full of plenty of novels, but would love to read more stories.
Mark is a winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, longlisted for the National Poetry Competition and a National Slam Finalist. Signed and numbered first edition copies of Mark’s new book Doppelgangers, published by Parthian, are available at www.markblayney.weebly.com/doppelgangers.
Photos © Jo Mazelis, 2015.