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’.
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
“We’ve come a long way from where we began
Oh I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again” – Wiz Khalifa
Collected in This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to People Like You, Bloomsbury, 2012; read it online here
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
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’ 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)