New story alert: the tip-top fellas at STORGY magazine (who published my weird Shakespearean tale 'Pentameter' in their Shallow Creek collection last year) have stuck up a story of mine on their awesome website. It's called 'A Panda Appeared on Our Street' and its a tale of realness and weirdness, of the local and the global, of Britain and its people, all orbiting a core of pandas.
This tale was inspired by true events. Well, a real and inconsequential thing that happened: a toy panda did genuinely appear on a fence outside my house a few years ago and stayed there for a good couple of weeks, unclaimed. Turns out it was actually a fluffy slipper in the shape of a panda and its partner slipper was nowhere to be seen. If I remember rightly, my other half removed it eventually and it ended up in our bin. Nevertheless, it sparked something in my brain.
We're back in those fateful years of 2016/17 here when all this Brexit nonsense was in its first full wave of terror (remember those halcyon days?). There was a sudden uprush of Britishness and patriotism in our collective faces that didn't quite have the atmosphere that we'd started to come accustomed to. During my teenage years and most of my twenties there was a sense, I think, of Britain slowly shrugging off its old, imperialist empire-skin to reveal the multicultural, forward-thinking broadly liberal beating heart beneath. But then bubbles popped and out came Brexit in all its ugly, shambling undead revenge. And now look at us, if you dare.
Panda was written in the early stages of this when it suddenly felt right to be evoking Union Jacks in a discomforting way again. I began to be bothered by the rift that comes from local thinking and global thinking and my own local neighbourhood became a microcosmic way to explore that. The panda then becomes a symbol of the more global thinking, but also oscillates between being a symbol (which I'm always trying to resist in my animal stories) and being painfully, bloodily real.
The result was a curious story that, much like the titular panda, wriggled around a bit before I could really get it to sit still. In the end, I had to lean into an 'Alan Bennett' style voice to make it tow its own weird line properly. Also, curiously enough, it took so long for this one to get finished and accepted for publication that the prince/princess duo in the second half switched from Wills & Kate to Harry & Meghan.
Fitting, perhaps. The Harry/Meghan union is one that, for blindingly racist reasons, has not sat well with the right-wing press who are now vilifying her at every turn. Four years on from writing this story and our country has only got weirder, sicker, more pained, and more baffling. Who are we now? Who lives on our street? And where do we want to put our pandas?
My unstoppable father, who refuses to let retirement slow him down, has just published a new collection of inter-linked short stories: Strictly Done Dancing. I've not had chance to read them yet but the premise is typically alluring: dead celebrities are paired up for competitive dancing. Head over to his Amazon page to pick up the e-book.
There have been a lot of excellent sounds in my ears of late while I've been zipping up and down the country for various reasons. But the one track I keep coming back to, utterly allured by it, is 'Shred 08' by Skee Mask. Headphones and closed eyes recommended for this one: