* Picked by Nicholas Royle
A man is sitting in a summer room. It is only mid-April, but he has sat on the settee in the summer room on six separate occasions during the last three weeks. We all know and, dare I say, love that feeling: the promise of summer while the calendar still says spring. The description of the room – for instance, the relative dimensions of the window frame and the newspaper the man is holding – is minutely, obsessively detailed and repetitive, recalling the similar approach of Christine Brooke-Rose in her story ‘Red Rubber Gloves’ in Tales of Unease (1966, ed John Burke) and of Alain Robbe-Grillet in the stories that make up his short collection Instantanés (1962, translated as Snapshots). Tension builds over the four pages of Gordon’s story and a sudden movement provides release. I wish the last sentence had not made the final edit, as it feels unnecessary.
First published in Pictures From an Exhibition, Allison & Busby, 1970
* Nicholas Royle is the author of seven novels, two novellas and three volumes of short fiction. He is Reader in Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University and head judge of the Manchester Fiction Prize. He runs Nightjar Press and is an editor for Salt Publishing. You can read his own Personal Anthology, plus other occasional contributions, here.
Chosen by Nicholas Royle
In this three-page story by the late experimental novelist, short story writer, anthologist and agent, who would have been 80 this May, baby comes first, sitting unclaimed in the middle of a room full of women, wearing a nappy. The story proceeds to look for the baby’s mother, allocating that role to a young woman, an unhappy and unmarried company director, who then needs to be found a man. It is 1978, after all. The story is included in Gordon’s third collection, published in that same year. My copy contains a handwritten set of notes. Referring to the present story, the reader writes, ‘Does the inability to have “a single decent relationship with anyone” prevent one from having an identity?’
Published in The Illusionist and other fictions, Harvester, 1978
Nicholas Royle is the author of seven novels and three volumes of short fiction. He has edited twenty anthologies and is series editor of Best British Short Stories (Salt). Reader in Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Met, he also runs Nightjar Press and is head judge of the Manchester Fiction Prize. You can read his full Personal Anthology and other selections here.
I’m always slightly thrown by bi-monthly publications when it comes to year’s end. This issue – is it December 1974 or January 1974? And if it is January 1974, as seems most logical (it is confirmed on the contents page – ‘December 1973/January 1974’), doesn’t that make December/January 1974 inaccurate, or, at best, ungrammatical? This is the kind of conundrum about which you might imagine Giles Gordon having written a whole story. Gordon, a highly regarded literary agent and co-editor with David Hughes of ten volumes of Best Short Stories, was also a novelist and short story writer. Much – though not all – of his fiction was experimental. The short pieces that make up ‘Fingers’ – there are six of them here, though this number had increased to twenty when the ‘story’ was reprinted in Gordon’s second collection, Farewell, Fond Dreams (Hutchinson), in 1975 – would today be tagged ‘flash fiction’. In one, a man walks down the street wearing his new cufflinks, despite being, as it’s finally revealed, completely naked; in another, a man goes to the top of a hill to throw away some of his words, but they return to him ‘boomerang-like’. If you are curious, there doesn’t appear to be any of Gordon’s work online, but stories pop up in old anthologies, and copies of his own collections can still be acquired from online dealers, though in low numbers.
(London Magazine, December/January 1974)