Openings by Lucy Caldwell

She was an innocent-faced porcelain doll in the window of a junk shop, with beautiful hair that you felt a strange compulsion to brush – but as you brushed, she sucked up your vital spirit, growing larger, then coming to life, to carry out her evil plans. I can’t remember her name, or the children’s book she was in, but she fascinated and terrified me – and when she surfaced halfway through a story I was writing, called (ironically?) “Something’s Coming”, I could feel, untampered by the years, her malicious glee.

            Where do stories come from?

            Chekhov was asked that once by Vladimir Korolenko, who relates that he glanced around, took hold of the first object he saw – an ashtray – and said, “If you want it, you’ll have a story tomorrow. It will be called “The Ash Tray”.” You could already see, Korolenko says, that “certain indefinite situations, adventures which had not yet found concrete form, were already beginning to crystallise about the ash tray.”

            Henry James says something similar in his great essay on writing, “The Art of Fiction”, describing a writer as someone who can “convert the very pulses of the air into fiction”.  It’s part natural instinct, and also a large part practise, or habit.  Sometimes – yes! – you can take an object, a prompt, and, a bit like a magician with a hat, pull something from it.

            I was texting a writer-friend one day, despondent, in the throes of a year-long writer’s block, from the particular hell of a busy soft-play on a torrentially rainy half-term day. He replied, You sound like you’re in one of your own stories, and a moment later, You should write it!  Challenge accepted: the next morning I began what became the title story of this collection.  Suddenly the Persephone myth I loved as a teenager was there, as was a friend’s mother who would turn up at university to fill her mini-fridge with home-made curries, and a rainy walk through London discussing Sufism with another writer-friend… It felt as if I’d gone to pull a single handkerchief from a pocket and the bunting miraculously kept coming. You start off, sometimes, in a somewhat stilted or artificial way, but once you’ve made that opening, the magic flows. 

            And sometimes the flow happens without your say-so – you’re just overcome by it, like that evil doll and the subterranean, nefarious way she appeared in a story that also contains Tamagotchis, the place I was when I heard that Princess Diana was dead, my brother-in-law’s trainers, and an eco-cottage in Donegal.  What connects such things – what binds them?  These random scraps of kindling, things that lie – like that doll – in the rag and bone shop of the heart for years, decades, maybe, before suddenly coming together and combusting, brief flares in the darkness that, if you’re lucky, might illuminate something, for you, or for others. Henry James again: “A writer should be someone on whom nothing is lost.” What a joy, what a privilege to live like that, as if everything is, could be, significant! There are thirteen stories in Openings, drawn variously from the widest, the wildest, the most quotidian, the most intimate of places. I can’t wait to hear what they evince in readers.

You can now pre-order Openings on our website.

Leave a Reply

Site Footer

Sliding Sidebar

Recent Comments