The line lands noiselessly between the waves. Arthur hasn’t got long – a great grandfather’s absence at a christening for any length of time is bound to cause concern. He has not gone far – the music is still faintly audible down here on the darkling pier.
Arthur’s fingers never used to hurt when he spun for mackerel. His hands didn’t used to look like this, either – thick-knuckled and eel-veined.
‘…a sentence or a passage is rhythmical if, when said aloud, it falls naturally into groups of words, each well fitted by length and intonation for its place in the whole and its relation to its neighbours. If you’re writing prose, the best guide is to cultivate an instinct for the difference between what sounds right and what sounds wrong, a syllable-by-syllable attention to sound, a feel for rhyme and breath.’
Despite the incontrovertible fact that reading about writing inevitably (in the short term at least) makes one less productive, it is a habit I frequently fall into. Whether it is writing whilst standing up (Hemingway) or scribbling to the smell of rotten apples (Schiller) it is tempting to believe that if we change one or two writing rituals we will find ourselves blessed with inspiration or writing for sixteen hour stretches. So it was that I added ‘How to Write Like Tolstoy’ to a modest collection including Strunk and White’s ‘Elements of Style’ and Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’.
One could always identify them from their determined stare into the middle distance, from their hunched shoulders as they stood in the rain despite the cover afforded elsewhere. Black or dull browns to avoid attention. Waterproofs up around their necks to avoid rainwater running down. If Martin’s training hadn’t blocked the impulse, he might have smiled at his young rival.
Leaps forward in science necessitate risk. Whether the leap justifies the risk is a judgement for the scientist. All of which self-satisfied claptrap didn’t help Greg much as he lay in his hospital bed, waiting for doctors’ rounds to alleviate his boredom.
Above the beeping of IV bags requiring attention and the intermittent ringing of a telephone at reception, Greg could hear a pair of doctors discussing the x-ray of a fellow patient. Consumed by a minor argument over whether a fracture was greenstick or oblique, the medics had no perception of what it was they held in their hands, and more importantly the cost by which it was obtained. Marie Curie had died in acquiring the knowledge that allowed their petty argument to commence. The ability to look inside someone’s body was so valuable, so undreamt of, that Curie had deemed it worthy of her life and health. Such knowledge carried with it a value entirely because it was so dearly bought. So much was taken for granted.
Politicians, particularly those approaching the end of their time in power, tend to focus on legacy. The Monroe Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the Third Way are all examples of attempts to leave behind something tangible. They are the fenceposts to which administrations and existences can be tethered, held fast by a conviction that time and lives were spent in the service of something greater than themselves.
It is more difficult to look up at the sky than it is down at the floor. This is why, when we are feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed, we look at our toes. It is why those at the top of their field can comprehend those below them whilst the less well-informed can only fumble and grasp at the musings of their betters. So it is with my endeavour.
I’m delighted to have another short story published in Literally Stories. ‘The Ragged Frenchman’ was written last Christmas and involved a little bit of historical research. As such, it really was a labour of love and I was pleased with how it turned out.
One of the most evocative chapters of history is Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in 1812. A few critically misjudged decisions by Bonaparte saw the French army depart Moscow too late in the year and retreating along the same route that they had used to thrust deep into Russia. Consequently, the land had been stripped bare of resources. Harried by marauding Cossacks and dogged by rapidly dropping temperatures, army discipline disintegrated and men became feral with cold and hunger. Horses were set upon for meat after stumbling on the wintry ground, and officers wandered off from their men to end their misery rather than march on.
Hopefully I’ve managed to capture some of the chaos and desperation of the retreat, along with a healthy dollop of the supernatural.
Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Near to the Knuckle, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, and Shooter magazine. He is a PhD student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father.