But it was well worth the wait. David Mitchell is one of my favourite authors, and Cloud Atlas one of my all-time favourite books. (It’s worth noting he wrote Cloud Atlas at the same age I am now. Makes one sick, frankly.) I like it not only due to its sheer ambition, scope and myriad of genres and themes, but also because it’s essentially six short stories, artfully meshed together. A real genre-bender, and gripping tales to boot.
I’ve always wondered what it must be like as an author to have your work given new, independent treatment. Mitchell himself, in the preface of the re-issued Cloud Atlas, puts it well. If I may borrow his words briefly:
... First off, there’s a primal kick to be had from seeing and hearing your word made flesh... before your very eyes, actors are speaking dialogue you wrote in your back bedroom years ago... all these non-existent people are now real... they find flashes of humour and menace which you never spotted...
However, there was more to come. Rob from The Fiction Desk sent a copy of the book to the Berko Speakeasy, a Berkhamsted-based theatre/literary group who put on “short story cabarets”. They were looking for stories to perform at their event on the 6th March, and soon identified my tale as one which would work well as a performance piece. I had an email from them. Was it OK to use my story?
Too right it was.
Completely inadvertently, I had become a playwright. (Well OK, not exactly, but I like the phrase “inadvertent playwright”, so I’m sticking with it).
And what an evening it was. Taking place in the Greene Room of the Kings Arms Hotel in Berkhamsted, the room had been decorated according to the themes of the stories; tiger print tablecloths, flies, a severed hand hanging by the bar. Even the tables had little trinkets related to each tale. (These included dog biscuits, paper flies, pairs of swimming goggles and a tiny pairs of metal handcuffs). For the next couple of hours, the audience of approximately a hundred people were treated to enthusiastic and vividly interpreted tales by Guy de Maupassant, Rajesh Parameswaran, Carys Davies, Toby Litt and Miranda July.
My story was on last. Huge kudos to the actor Will Harrison-Wallace for – huzzah! – dressing the part: he’d actually attired himself in silver clothes, donned sunglasses and painted his face. All because of me. Top marks, that man.
He strode on, sat on a chair (as per the police station setting of my story), then started to read all those words very, very familiar to me, an experience both surreal and wonderful at the same time. Just like David Mitchell had said: I was seeing and hearing my words made flesh; the non-existent person made real. I’ve heard of writing characters which “leap off the page”. Here, I was literally seeing it happen.
So, huge thanks to Julie Mayhew and Ian Skillicorn from the Berko Speakeasy, Will Harrison-Wallace for being such a convincing and engaging “robot” (click here to see "Boss Boot Camp", a brilliant short film he was in!), and also thanks again to Rob Redman from the Fiction Desk for publishing it in the first place.
Postscript: the very evening following the Berko Speakeasy, I found out that another of my short stories, “True Colours”, has been selected from hundreds of entries to make the shortlist of the 2012 Ink Tears Short Story Competition. What an excellent week!