On Writing ‘The Words He Said’ / Elizabeth Baines

Elizabeth Baines reads an extract from her short story, ‘The Words He Said’, published in Issue Twelve. See the site tomorrow for Elizabeth’s short essay on the composition of the story. Listen to Elizabeth read an extract from the story here.

‘The Words He Said’ is a story about the years-long consequences of a single moment, a pivotal conversation between two lovers. This is a theme that’s been obsessing me for some time and which ran through my last collection, Used to Be: the differing choices that people can make according to alternative interpretations of a situation, and the different futures that can result.

In particular, this story is about communication and non-communication. It’s also about another of my long-recurring themes: the ways that our perceptions of situations and of others can stem from our fears (or fantasies), and the effects that in some circumstances this can have on both our own lives and those of others. In this story, the male lover’s appearance seems to shift for the woman, along with her shifting understanding of his motives and of the situation between them, and in turn those changing perceptions impel her actions and decisions.

As I write my way into a story I’m quickly conscious of its theme, but most often it will have been sparked by an image – in this case a train of trucks crawling laboriously up the hill in the distance. I don’t think very consciously about my images and settings, I just let them come, and it’s usually only afterwards that I can see rationally that they are symbolic of the situations and themes. I guess I was immediately well aware that that particular image of the trucks echoed the woman’s emotional difficulty in the situation, the sense of the impossibility of the relationship, and of its stuttering to a stop, but the symbolic nature of other images was only clear to me afterwards. Only afterwards could I see rationally that the mountain range which comes to divide the lovers geographically is symbolic of the more emotional and familial barriers constraining their relationship, and the barriers they consequently set up between them. Those haunting endless moors where they meet are, I see, symbolic of the psychological space, unanchored from the rest of their lives, in which they must conduct their forbidden relationship. Even the reservoir, overspilling its barrier, is a symbol, I see now: of the way that their need for each other can’t be contained by the boundaries they set up for themselves.

This story has more of a ‘twist’ at the end than most of mine, since it ends on a revelation about the original pivotal moment, but the consequences of that revelation remain open, which is how I like to leave my stories – with an opening out of  possibilities.

Image by Jo Mazelis.