It's About Time
The story that changed me as a writer and a reader
Is the time invested in reading short fiction worth it?
Can they really give you ‘story satisfaction’?
Aren’t they just questions with no answers?
Don’t the endings leave you wondering what actually happened?
This used to be me.
I thought of short fiction as lacking the calories of those nutritious meals I called novels.
n.b. I did not actually eat books, unlike one fan of Where the Wild Things Are.
I found reading shorts like nibbling a square of chocolate and leaving the rest of the bar. And the chocolate was 95% cocoa solids — intense and bitter.
Then, in 2016, I read this story.
I think about it at least once a month.
It lives in my brain.
It made me question everything I know about narrative chronology and time.
I started reading more short fiction.
I give up milk chocolate, and switched to the pure stuff.
An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge was written by American Civil War veteran Ambrose Bierce. It was published in 1890.
For me, it’s a groundbreaking story in the way it handles time.
The story follows Peyton Farquhar, a confederate sympathiser condemned to death by hanging.
In its three sections, time goes forward and back, speeds up and slows down, and at one point stops entirely.
There are many creative uses of time in novels too, but this is the kind of narrative that doesn’t fit into a longer form. It really exploded my idea of what a story can do and kindled my interest in what time actually is.
I’d like to write a story about time, I thought.
It turned into several stories. Fifteen Brief Moments in Time was born.
I am thrilled to announce my debut novella-in-flash will be published in the UK by V Press. (Spring/Summer 2022 release)
David Eagleman, neuroscientist at Stanford and New York Times bestselling author, described the novella as “A book of unexpected insights and extraordinary grace, rippling with loveliness, sorrow, and finesse. All taking place in one room, bound by a single unraveling ribbon of time."
I’ll keep you all updated on the official release date, and how to order a copy.
My recommendations for the month are all linked to the theme of time:
Read: Axolotl by Julio Cortazar
Axolotl follows an unnamed first-person narrator who becomes obsessed with observing the axolotls in the aquarium exhibit of the zoo at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Time becomes malleable and the line between reality and fiction blurs.
Watch: this great low budget short film of Ray Bradbury’s time travel story, The Sound of Thunder.
Listen: Paper Lantern by Stuart Dybek - read and discussed on The New Yorker Fiction Podcast. This multi-layered story about love and fire cleverly uses images to seamlessly transport the reader from one time to another. It truly is story alchemy.
Bonus: SUM: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman is a beautiful short book of forty mutually exclusive visions of what happens when we die. He describes himself as a ‘possibilist’. In fact he is a very clever neuroscientist.
Thanks for reading.