I had the kernel idea for this short story a while ago, not long after finishing the promo for my debut story collection The Art of Contraception, and I certainly think it fits in that ilk of my writing – quirky or eccentric people in fairly mundane or lonely daily life situations.
It began with the opening image. I usually start stories or poems with an image, a line or a character. I’m a visual learner, an introvert observer of others. Knowing I’d agreed to write this piece I’ve been racking my brain and notebooks for the seed that planted the first page. I think it was a dream of a woman with an umbrella, walking, the image merged with a photograph of a goth on a sunny beach under another umbrella. And so it starts:
The woman walks down the street with her umbrella open and held aloft. It is not raining and some people look at her strangely. They think that she is strange. They look at her not just in the way they would when the sky pours but then stops and the woman simply does not notice, but in the way they would when they think someone is unhinged and about to flap about. Or they look at her and wonder if perhaps it is they who have missed something, that maybe the woman knows something that they do not. They scrutinise the sky and try to decide if it looks like rain.
On reflection there are a number of other possible influences. Where else do we see a woman with an open umbrella and no rain? There’s Mary Poppins, a childhood favourite, and though she wasn’t front of my mind when I wrote the first page, my character would probably have benefitted from the bottomless, weightless carpet bag. Of course, in Travers’ books Mary was a much darker woman than that portrayed in the Disney film: ‘There was something strange and extraordinary about her – something that was frightening and at the same time most exciting,’.
Love can be most exciting. ‘Looks Like Rain’ is at its core, a love story. It’s sweet, for me, optimistic even. I know readers have berated me for being too cruel to my characters in the past, but you mustn’t see this as a change of tack, I just felt like writing something cuter, for a change. The lead character, whose name is mentioned only twice in the story, is a hapless woman who is afraid of the weather and often caught in thunderstorms wearing flip flops. I was conscious that the story would probably fail the Bechdel test but I don’t feel she is saved by a man, here. Instead she could choose her future, choose life.
I have redrafted considerably, something I do these days far more than in the past. I’m not sure if that is down to also working as an editor, to experience, or to the way I write now… grabbed fits and bursts between jobs and life. I carry poems and stories with me, in my head, mulling them over pulling them to the surface, pushing them back to the unconscious. It is a slower process, but it allows me to work on a number at once and wherever I may be. It could also be due to the regular workshopping my poetry gets these days, as I work towards my first collection.
I’m still fascinated by people, our foibles and failings, our relationships with ourselves and each other. Place is becoming more and more important though, certainly in newer stories-in-progress, and also science and myth. The lead character in ‘Looks Like Rain’ takes her name from Japanese folklore. I’d stumbled upon her in 2014 following the instructions of an online poetry prompt: to find a character and write a poem from a list of legendary creatures from Japan. I chose Ameonna. In the list she was described as a ‘rain-making female spirit’ but there are many interpretations including an unlucky person jinxed to have the rain follow them wherever they go. Living in Wales, I think it was quite natural that she called to me in some way, and she fit the opening image I had for the story. It started to come together after that.
When the woman was a girl she was afraid of the weather. The girl decided that when she grew up – and was better able to reach towards the sun and catch it – she would be a meteorologist so that she would always know how her days were going to pan out. Ameonna obsessed over this career plan – reading books, trying to learn facts. Yet it turned out that she didn’t have much of a head for science or learning. Instead her father would find her hiding under the bed on cloudless nights. She was frightened of the booms and the flashes. The flaming forks.
Like the writers Nicola Barker, Roald Dahl, Lydia Davis, Dan Rhodes and Lorrie Moore, I love absurd stories. I’m also quixotic, hopelessly romantic for life is short and I want to stay open to the best parts of it, not the worst. With that in mind, I gave Ameonna a chance to make a life with more sunshine than downpours and disasters, a chance to be a little braver and in charge of her own destiny, but will she take it?
Susie Wild is the author of The Art of Contraception and Arrivals. She lives in Cardiff and has been performing her words in dives and dance halls since 2006. She’s been on the bill at Green Man, Dinefwr, Glastonbury Festival, Hay Festival, The Laugharne Weekend, The Dylan Weekend, Hay Poetry Jamboree, Birmingham Literature Festival, The Absurd and many more. Her poetry has been published on websites, in anthologies, magazines and even on cake (Rising, Nu2, Bugged, Spilt Milk, Square, Poetry Digest, Leaf Writers’ Magazine etc). @soozerama
You can read ‘Looks Like Rain’ in the new issue of The Lonely Crowd, which can be bought here.
Copyright © Susie Wild, 2016. Banner image © Jo Mazelis, 2016.