Writing ‘Janet Norbury’
I work part-time in a university library, stacking shelves, and ‘Janet Norbury’ was inspired – as they say – by ‘actual events’; I saw a name on the door of an empty office. So prompted, it didn’t take long for the themes of the story to present themselves. Like most people I know I am disturbed by the way in which our library service – and by extension a whole culture of knowledge gathering and sharing – is effectively being killed. What traces, I wondered, what presences might this culture leave behind?
At first I toyed with the idea of writing a ghost story that was an elegy, a lament. Political too. Then I realised that there was often more to ghosts than meets the eye, that they exist as manifestations of more complex fears and a less obvious sense of loss than such a story could suggest. And so ‘Janet Norbury’ became – in part at least – a story about folk history and delusion, and the way in which we manufacture the past to suit the narratives we create for our present.
As for the story’s prose, dry was wrong but so was jazz. I needed to include sentences that were slightly old-fashioned in their construction. I wanted the text to strain a little, to hint at the difficulty we have reconciling the way things are now with the way we imagine them to have sometime been.
Charlie Hill is the author of two novels – Books and The Space Between Things – that have been favourably reviewed in the LRB, the Times, the Observer, the FT and the Morning Star (and ‘sympathetically’ in the Guardian). His short stories have been widely published and in 2015 one was used to complement the summer exhibition of Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery. A short novella – Stuff – is due out in September.
You can read ‘Janet Norbury’ in the new spring issue of The Lonely Crowd, which is available here.
Copyright © Charlie Hill, 2016. Banner image © Jo Mazelis, 2016.