‘In Winter The Sky’ by Jon McGregor

In this story of love and remorse spanning out through time, Joanna and George, who are young lovers at the beginning of the story, are haunted by choices made after a tragic accident, their opportunities and plans thwarted as a consequence. There is a hypnotic quality to the writing which the experimental structure only seems to enhance—fragments of poetry or poetic meditations about time, memory, and the history of the land interpolated with the prose. Half-deletions/strikethroughs, never full redactions, suggest absences; things partly hidden and uncovered, mistakes that refuse to be forgotten. Also, it feels to me, the structure creates a sensation of space paralleling the huge sky dominating the rural Norfolk landscape where the story is set. Indeed, the setting and the changeable mood of the sky—as signposted by the title—feel at least as much, if not more, a presence in the story as the two main characters.

First published in Granta, January 2012, and available to read here; collected in This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You, Bloomsbury 2012

‘That Colour’ by Jon McGregor

Chosen by Grahame Williams
I don’t want to write too much about this story because the story is so short itself (it will take you just about as long to read as it will to read this). A man does the dishes while his wife tries to describe the turning colour of the trees outside their house. It reminds me of the love my Dad showed my Mum when he used to reach out and squeeze her hand whilst he was driving: a reflection of deep, long-lived love. I have a copy of the story framed next to my front door. I don’t read it or even properly notice it every time I leave the house, but I really ought to. 

First published as a broadside by Jon McGregor, and in his story collection This Isn’t the Sort of Things That Happens to Someone Like You, Bloomsbury, 2012
Grahame Williams is a fiction writer from County Down and his work has appeared in the Stinging Fly, the Lonely Crowd and, most recently, on BBC Radio 4.

‘What the Sky Sees’ by Jon McGregor

In an attempt to solve the taxing problem of how to write whilst working for a living, I imagined I’d be able to combine the two if I taught. Shortly after the publication of my third book then, and thirty years after I left school with next-to-no qualifications, I parlayed my publishing history into a degree and began an MA in Creative Writing. Exposure to life within Higher Education gave me a few pointers about my new career goal and I quickly decided I’d rather punch myself in the face than teach the arts at university; on the plus side I was finally made to read some Jon McGregor, whose work I think is superb.

First published by Granta 78: Bad Company, 2012. Collected in This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You, Bloomsbury, 2012. Read it online here in a version that includes a later iteration, ‘In Winter the Sky’.

‘Which Reminded Her Later’ by Jon McGregor

Several of the stories from this outstanding collection by Jon McGregor got under my skin. This is a quietly disquieting story about a mysterious woman who comes to stay with a vicar and his wife but doesn’t give much away about what she is doing—not even her name. Michael (the vicar) is nonchalant about the whole thing whilst the narrator (his wife) becomes more and more spooked.

From This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You, Bloomsbury, 2012. Read it here

‘She Was Looking for This Coat’ by Jon McGregor

In case you thought this would be a list of short stories written by women, let me subvert your expectations. This is another very short story that on the surface has hardly anything going on at all – a woman goes to Lost Property to ask about a coat – but is so full of emotions, so full of loss, that for me it is only just on right side of unbearable. It’s beautifully understated, and told from the point of view of the person running the Lost Property office, making it is also about what can happen between two strangers, what we see when we really look and listen to someone else.

First published in This Isn’t The Sort of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You (Bloomsbury, 2012), available to read online here

‘If It Keeps On Raining’ by Jon McGregor

This story was the first thing I read by Jon McGregor; I have loved his work ever since. I always used to think that the sense of otherworldliness that I loved in fiction was simply a by-product of reading SF and fantasy. When I felt that same sense of otherworldliness from McGregor’s (decidedly non-fantastic) work, I had to think again.

‘If It Keeps On Raining’ depicts a man who spends his time watching the fishermen on the other side of the river and the boats that go past. He also works on his raft and treehouse, preparation for the flood that he believes is coming. Only gradually does it become apparent that this man was a police officer at Hillsborough, who subsequently left the force because of the psychological scars he still bears.

It’s the layers of language that make a McGregor story for me. In this case, the character experiences the present through the shadow of the past: debris “gets swept along like small children in a crowd, like what happens in a football match if there are too many people in not enough space and something happens to make everyone rush…”

Whenever I write about Jon McGregor’s work, I always feel like quoting it at length. That’s the kind of writer he is.

(Read and first published in the BBC National Short Story Award 2010 anthology, Comma Press. Available in the collection This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You, Bloomsbury, 2012)

‘Wires’ by Jon McGregor

‘Wires’ was the runner-up in the BBC Short Story Competition in 2011. In my opinion it should have won. Listening to it on the radio I was so struck by the opening image of the sugar beet heading straight for the narrator’s car windscreen. McGregor ratchets up the tension through the story as, apparently safe after the sugar beet does not cause her to crash, the narrator gradually realises the greater threat now facing her from her so-say helpers. And, woven through skilfully, all the thoughts that go through her head about what she should be doing and plans to do afterwards. I think a lot of the power of McGregor’s writing comes from its rhythm and cadences, and also connection with specific locations, which makes it zing off the page. There are links to some of the other stories from his collection on his website.

(In This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You, Bloomsbury, 2012)