On the writing of THE PARTS WE PLAY, his new collection of short stories from PS Publishing
So this is a blog about a book I don’t want to tell you anything about.
Why? Because it’s a collection, and I like stories in a collection to just creep up on you, unspoilt, unannounced and unfettered by preparatory drivel.
The other thing is this. It’s not a “themed” collection. Not deliberately themed anyway. So what do I have to say?
Some authors plan a collection like a symphony, or a play in twelve acts, and their voice is more or less the same throughout. The stories might all occur in basically the same world, at the same time and place, more or less. Stand out example being Joel Lane, whose THE ANNIVERSARY OF NEVER I just read, and it’s outstanding. Or Paul Meloy’s ISLINGTON CROCODILES – brilliant.
But I’m not that kind of writer.
I love to write short stories that are in and of themselves, told with a voice that’s appropriate to that story and no other.
That’s part of the joy of it to me. Finding the way to tell each one, because each one speaks differently. You can’t tell a nasty satire about office politics (‘The Arse-Licker’) the same way as you would a Professor Challenger pastiche (‘The Shug Monkey’).
Sometimes the characters tell you how. Sometimes the setting does. And sometimes they don’t. In such cases that elusive missing jigsaw piece means the kernel, however good, sits in your IDEAS folder for months, sometimes years.
Case in point: ‘Wrong’ (a story reprinted in this volume, originally written for THE 2ND SPECTRAL BOOK OF HORROR STORIES, ed. Mark Morris) was a story idea I had ages ago, based on something someone told me, and I knew there was a germ there I wanted to explore. Damned if I knew whose point of view to tell it from, though. Then, when I had the notion to combine it with my memories of being an art student, it all clicked and I was able to write it, almost effortlessly.
But, my main point is, I like the variety in a collection. I don’t want them joined together, self-referencing or inter-related.
I like to have a Victorian ripping yarn butting up against a vicious tale of the unexpected, or a character study about trauma, then the palate-cleanser of another traditional or period tale before a modern ghost story, or something eerily Aickmanesque.
They all came about in different ways, after all – usually from different impulses. Sometimes born out of requests from editors for anthologies, which is always a great catalyst – and sometimes that way you come up with ideas you didn’t even know you had (such as ‘Bless’).
Each story has a story, of course – how they came about, and in the book I’ve appended Story Notes, for those who might be interested in such things. (I won’t be offended if you’re not. Why should you be?)
Oh, and in his introduction the amazing Nathan Ballingrud has penned a humbling analysis of what I am trying to do with my fiction. I couldn’t have wished for a more cogent and generous appraisal. (In fact, it knocked my socks off.) Amongst other things, to my astonishment, he says: “Stephen Volk is one of my favourite writers of fiction today – horror or otherwise.”
So now I’m going to butt out, probably having said too much already.
I guess the stories convey and betray me in their different, insidious ways. Showing facets of myself inevitably, as all authors do via their work, whether they intend to or not.
So maybe THE PARTS WE PLAY is not only the sum of its parts, but the sum of different parts of me, as well.
I hope you enjoy it.
Watch Stephen’s book trailer for THE PARTS WE PLAY