The Windmills of His Mind: An Introduction to THE BEST OF T.M. WRIGHT by Steven Savile
There’s a reason Stephen King described Terry Wright as a rare and blazing talent, and a reason why, the last time we spoke, Terry said he hated that epitaph. There’s no getting away from the fact it’s true. Terry really was a rare talent. I’m tempted to call him a writer’s writer, because, when you know just how difficult some of the stuff he attempted to do with his prose was, the more you appreciate the sheer skill and down-beat power of those words he conjured with. But that King line was a millstone around his neck, too, because it was a false bill of goods. It got you thinking ‘ah, I’m getting another Big Steve’ here and became the kind of praise that’s impossible to live up to when your main aim, again and again, is to subvert expectation and deliver something new whilst at the same time exploring the familiar themes of death and loss of self.
‘But for me, Terry had more hits than misses.’
I never tired of reading his stories or his emails.
Now, there’s something vaguely melancholic about knowing we’ve reached this point, me writing the last few words that take us to the turn of the last page. After the final story in this book, ‘Otto’s Conundrum’, there are no more lost T.M. Wright stories waiting to be discovered. This is it, right here, in this collection, the rarest thing, the last original and previously unpublished T.M. Wright story.
Indeed, the fact you’re actually able to read it is nothing short of a miracle of a lazy mind, to be honest, and a thank-you to my email provider for hanging onto an archive of hundreds of thousands of emails dating back about fifteen years.
‘A little story for you before we get to the story itself.’
Many years ago now—and when I say many, it’s more than a decade and then some—I was sitting in a café in Stockholm when one of those bright shining thunderbolts of inspiration struck and I wrote the pitch document for something called ‘Monster Noir’, which was a shared world concept where all of those monsters grew up loving were real, and had been hidden away in an enclosure in the Nevada desert, victims of the Monster Alienation Act passed by Nixon, and so on. Terry wrote ‘Otto’s Conundrum’ specifically for this book that never was, with us trading a good forty or fifty emails about his ideas for the world, possible storylines and characters he imagined living in it. He wanted to be sure everything he came up with gelled with the world as I saw it, and together try to find out how to best make it fit in smoothly. He had a wonderful habit of sending snippets he was excited about while he was working, just the odd paragraph, a few lines of a description or a turn of phrase that he’d particularly enjoyed during that day’s work which made any sort of collaboration with him a lot of fun. Indeed, so many emails were filled with enthusiasm over Nyxon, our fictional town and its inhabitants and what might become of them, so in the slump that followed the failure to publish, we were both very down about everything.
‘We’d invested a lot emotionally in the project and suddenly there was nothing.’
It probably sat on our respective hard-drives for a year or more before we even discussed it again, but when we did, it was Terry broaching the idea of us working together on a follow-up piece talking about what happened after the last lines of Otto’s story, making it something bigger. Maybe a two-part story, or a short novel, or the illusive ‘something’.
That was a big deal to me—not least because A MANHATTAN GHOST STORY was one of those ten books that made me want to be a writer, and the idea that Terry didn’t just like my work enough to write that glorious introduction to Temple: Incarnations of Immortality where he half-jokingly called me a mad man who had clearly consorted with devils . . . but that he liked my work enough to want to fuse it with his own.
So, after maybe a year with less contact than there had been for a good three or four years, there was suddenly a mad flurry of emails, ideas building into ‘something’ and it looked like we were beginning to get there with the story of the Sheriff. Terry actually mailed to say he was starting work on it that day, but when I woke up the next day (thanks to the time zone shift between us) expecting a little sample of Otto’s return, instead there was a bullet point outline for something else entirely, a brand new idea that had gripped him as he sat down, a sort of crime noir horror, Sally Pinup. The story had taken root inside his head, unplanned, he explained, and had gripped him madly. Would it be okay if he saw where it would go before we got back to Otto?
I remember my response, it was the typically sanguine, ‘No worries mate, we’ve got loads of time, we’ll come back to it. I’ve got plenty to be getting on with.’
Only of course we didn’t have loads of time, and neither of us realised how little, to be fair. But, the joy for us is that he got to finish that last novella, Sally Pinup, while he was still on the top of his game, and it’s included here as a rarity along with his better-known short stories.
‘Terry didn’t write much in the way of short fiction, and often what he did was little more than hallucinatory fragments.’
So the fact we have something complete, and traditional in terms of story, that explores all of his familiar themes, is a wonderfully unexpected gift from my old friend.
And boy did we get lucky. Terry worked on an old computer—which even in 2008 was ancient. He used to joke that it was a brick even then . . . I seem to remember it was a Pentium, which dates it. During his final months in hospice care that machine, along with all of the digital copies of his old manuscripts and work in progress gave up the ghost and went to silicon heaven. I’ll be honest. I thought Otto was gone forever, lost in the crashes, because it hadn’t survived the several digital migrations my own files had gone through over the intervening decade. Why would it? Monster Noir was never happening. It wasn’t my work. It was only when a friend emailed asking if I had a copy of his submission lurking in my email by any chance because he’d lost his that I thought, hmm, you know, I might . . . I’m terrible. I never clear the online storage (there are about 400,000 emails still on the server) and just pay increased fees every year to add gigabytes to the account. I found Terry’s original emails, hundreds of them, spanning about six years, a real treasure trove of my dead friend’s thoughts and words, which were vital in completing work on what became MALLAM CROSS, and, deep in the pile, several revised versions of the manuscript for ‘Otto’s Conundrum’. Terry was a tweaker. He’d send a finished story, then two days later a version with a couple of changed sentences would arrive; then a week later along came another version with a few words changed; and so on until what you had on paper was exactly how he wanted to read.
‘I’ve explained what happened next in the introduction to Mallam Cross . . .’
. . . and how as a fan of his work Peter Crowther stepped in and volunteered the excellent PS Publishing to make these two books a reality. He’s a champion. But Terry has another champion in David Niall Wilson, who not only came to my aid sourcing digital versions of some of these old stories but with his Crossroads Press has kept Terry’s words alive for a new generation of readers. These two gentlemen have, I’m sure, never met, but came together to make this last book possible and for that I will be forever grateful.
Sometimes, just sometimes, it feels like it’s not luck at all . . . but then, Terry did spend most of his life writing about how our world and the next interplay, so maybe he had a little hand in this stuff not remaining lost.
Now let’s close with Steve once more with a short nod from his twenty-six hundred word Afterword to MALLAM CROSS . . .
In the months before his death Terry tried to bring that city of ghosts to life. Too sick to write, blind now, he dictated the ideas as they came to him, spitballing a big grand confusing city and its inhabitants and histories, but with no real connective tissue. He created a cast of if not hundreds, probably close to a hundred, with snatches of thoughts and bits of backstory, but it was all very disparate. Roxane, Terry’s wife, transcribed all of it. Around 50,000 words of these little histories. But it was a race against time he was never going to win, and as his own grasp of reality slipped deeper into the dementia consuming it, it became harder and harder for him to connect with his creation and, full of frustration and anger at his inability to get the words out and shape the ideas as he saw them in his mind he gave up working on this and realized he’d never get to tell the stories of these last imaginary people living inside him.
Now available for pre-order. Buy either the BEST OF collection (£30) or MALLAM CROSS (£18) or better still, pick up both books in an illustrated slipcase (just 200 copies with a signature from Steve) priced at £50.