Thursday, 16th May 2013. There are 3 Comments.
James Benmore’s first novel, Dodger, features the return of the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist. Last month, he wrote for us about the appeal of the Dodger and why he chose to bring him back. This month, he talks about creating the voice of Dodger, and how the character might have come to write a book in the first place.
Whenever Charles Dickens wrote in the first-person, he tended to employ a particular type of narrator. These are often virtuous, seemingly middle-class voices who begin their own stories with an account of an impoverished upbringing blighted by some atrocious adult. This can be a cruel step-father perhaps, or a bullying older sister, and this dark parent-figure makes their very childhood, and often the first few chapters of the book, a bit of a misery.
Such hard luck stories — or what Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye bluntly described as “all that David Copperfield kind of crap” — invariably mark the start of a rags-to-riches plot. The narrator describes how, through hearty Victorian resilience, honest labour and a few well-timed coincidences, they manage to escape from this unfortunate start in life and enter into a higher, more genteel social spectrum form which they are now writing their own history.
Often the narrator will be a stand-in for Dickens himself, like the semi-autobiographical Copperfield who shares many of his author’s life experiences as well as his reversed initials, or Pip from Great Expectations whose descriptions of his own youthful snobbery and self-centeredness can sometimes be read as though Dickens is taking himself to task.
Occasionally Dickens may adopt the voice of someone very different from himself, such as the modest, female perspective of Esther Summerson in Bleak House. But all his major narrators have something in common: they are all, at their hearts, morally pure. They possess flaws certainly but it is impossible to conceive of Dickens handing the bulk of any novel over to a scheming, unrepentant rotter to narrate. He may give a rough criminal like Magwitch a few pages of contained narration nested within Great Expectations but even Magwitch doesn’t seem so bad by that point in the story.
No, if we want to read a novel narrated by a classic Dickensian villain then we just have to write it ourselves.
This is the main idea behind my novel Dodger. I tried to write the book that I wanted to read: one in which Jack Dawkins, a very different type of character from the Dickens canon, is allowed to put pen to paper and tell the story of his own life with as much freedom as David, Pip or Esther would. I was interested in what such a book would sound like, in what dialect would be employed and what different moral perspective Dawkins could bring to the familiar Victorian surroundings.
I did not want Dodger to spend much time relating his own account of the events of Oliver Twist and this was largely because as a character he is present at too few of its key scenes. Instead I wanted him to tell us about what happened to him next, after he was transported to Australia, and to describe his discovery at what fate befell Fagin and company upon his return six years later. Unlike those other narrators I did not imagine that Dawkins would be inclined to present his early childhood as a sob story. In fact, I suspected that he would look back upon his old life with Fagin and his large gang of boy pickpockets as having been a very happy time, a perversely idyllic childhood, and one that was rudely interrupted by the cruelty of the law.
The principal challenge in writing any first-person novel lies in getting the voice right, and casting Dawkins in such a role presented immediate difficulties. How literate would someone from his background even be? Dickens shows that the criminal contingent of Oliver Twist are all avid readers of The Newgate Calendar, a cheap periodical that detailed the arrests and executions of various villains throughout the capital, so we can safely assume that Dawkins possesses a decent enough level of literacy to build upon. He then spends six years in an Australian penal colony where, I like to imagine, he would have been given access to a large enough library that could have inspired a love of words and storytelling within him. Dawkins is a thief in all things and he is someone who, when he encounters the possessions of rich men, itches to take them for his own. This compulsion would extend itself to reading — or so I reasoned — to the books, stories and words of wealthy society as much as to their valuables.
This of course does not mean that he would speak in the same pure-bred English that Pip masters after his years of education away from the forge. Nor do I truly think that Dodger would want to speak like that. Instead the voice that I developed when I began writing the first chapter is a mixture of the sort of literary language that I feel he would have met in fashionable novels, the archaic slang of Victorian London and a persistent bad grammar that he would wear as a badge of his class.
Dawkins the narrator is perfectly capable of mimicking the language of the middle-class when writing their dialogue so it follows that his own use of cockney could be a deliberate choice he is making. I have always known that the Artful Dodger is someone who covets the comforts, possessions and privileges of the high-born Englishman, but that doesn’t mean that he wants to be one himself. He does not aspire to be accepted into their world in the same way that David Copperfield or Pip do. Dodger just wants to steal what rich people have and keep it for himself, and I needed him to speak in a voice that communicates that difference.
Another aspect of writing this first-person novel that concerned me was the question of why exactly the Artful Dodger would be scribbling all this down in the first place. Throughout my book and its upcoming sequel he admits to all sorts of pickpocketing, burgling and other shameful behaviour and there is hardly any of the usual contrition in his narrative voice that you might associate with a reformed sinner like Moll Flanders. Dodger isn’t sorry for his crimes at all, in fact he’s boasting about them.
I often imagined when writing the book that Dawkins the narrator wasn’t much older than the Dawkins in the story, as if he’s composing his autobiography just a few short years later in his mid-twenties and not wanting to apologise for any of it. I never have Dawkins explain in the novel why he would be writing a book that could incriminate himself so disastrously because I want the reader to wonder about that themselves. But one thing is certain; this is not a work he can ever publish within his own lifetime.
But why should that stop him? Sometimes people write just for the joy of it or because they have a story in them that needs to come out. And just because Dawkins is barred from enjoying any real literary success while alive does not mean he isn’t subject to that same storytelling impulse that we find in those other Dickens creations like David Copperfield or Pip. Perhaps Dawkins, despite occupying a very different moral space from those other characters, has as much as in common with his creator as they do.
— James Benmore
Read James’s first post about writing Dodger here.
Dodger is out now, published by Heron Books and available in hardback from all good bookshops, as well as the usual range of ebook formats. (Read the first chapter on Amazon.) James Benmore is already working on a sequel.
You can also read James’s award-winning story ‘Jaggers & Crown’ in our anthology All These Little Worlds.
Here’s Colin Corrigan writing about the origins of his story ‘Wonders of the Universe’, which appears in our latest anthology, Crying Just Like Anybody.
Some day a real rain will come…
Travis Bickle said it. Noah said it. All over the world, people have been saying it since storytelling began. There’s something religious about a flood that will rinse away all evil, and leave us with a fresh start. A clean world, hoping to forget its past…
About eighteen months ago, my house was flooded, my living room, kitchen and bathroom submerged under nearly three feet of sewage-stained water. It really wasn’t the end of the world for me — I rent, so the repair costs were borne by my landlord, and my housemates lifted most of our valuables out of the way before they were claimed by the waterline — but it felt dramatic, even momentous, all that rain, nature’s power reaching up at us through our very floorboards. It was probably inevitable that I would one day soon try to shove the experience into a story.
‘Wonders of the Universe’ began, though, as a story about science, not religion. Kevin and Edel start watching a DVD box set of Brian Cox’s popular BBC series, after they are advised by their marriage counsellor to do more things together, and the experience encourages them to analyse their own lives, and try to deduct what they really want from the world.
Science is a thing we humans have been doing for a while now, to try to understand phenomena that had previously only been explained by myths, legends, and religious doctrines. We’ve managed to figure out why the sun rises, why the sky is blue, why the earth sometimes quakes. We’ve discovered cells, molecules, atoms, subatomic particles, and made all sorts of technological advances.
Lately, though, it’s all gotten a bit out of hand. There’s a story about a reporter who approached a Professor Eddington of Cambridge, who had translated Einstein’s work, and asked him if it were true that apart from Einstein himself only two people could understand his Theory of Relativity. Professor Eddington looked at the reporter and said, “I wonder who the third person is.” Fast forward another century or so and we’ve got string theory, wave-particle duality, dark matter and hidden dimensions. It has gone far past the point of making the world easier to understand. It’s made the task damn near impossible.
So I’m writing the story, it’s getting longer and longer and more and more complicated, and things are just getting worse for Kevin and Edel. It’s becoming obvious that bringing the Wonders of the Universe into their living room was a really bad idea to begin with.
Because the Universe is, unfortunately, like Brian Cox, and your options are limited.
Like Kevin, you can weigh yourself against his knowledge, his achievements, his rockstar lifestyle, and understand that your own life is embarrassingly insignificant and underwhelming.
Or, like Edel, you can fall for his mellifluous, Mancunian whispers, his soft, floppy hairdo, his sheer goddamned enthusiasm, but then realise that he’s unattainable.
Or, like me, you can eject the DVD, flick back to the Bible Channel for a moment, and wash all my characters’ troubles away with a flood scene at the end.
Some critics, like Hollywood scriptdoctors and Aristotle, would accuse me of lazy storytelling, argue that I should construct my plots through a chain of causes and effects towards a conclusion where my protagonist earns his resolution through his own decision making and actions. And maybe they’re right.
But in my defence, Aristotle didn’t know about entropy. And: sometimes these things really do happen, interventions of fate or coincidence that change the direction of our lives. And: sometimes it just rains so much the sewers can’t take it. And: sometimes that’s all we can hope for.
— Colin Corrigan
‘Wonders of the Universe’ appears in our latest anthology, Crying Just Like Anybody, available in paperback and ebook editions. We published another of Colin’s stories, ‘The Romantic’, in All These Little Worlds Read Colin’s thoughts on writing ‘The Romantic’ here.
Monday, 15th April 2013. There is 1 Comment.
This month we’re celebrating the publication of the first novel from Fiction Desk favourite James Benmore. Dodger (published by Heron Books) revisits the character of the Artful Dodger from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, seeing him return to a much-changed London six years after transportation to Australia. But he’s not yet a free man…
Dodger is a hugely entertaining book, combining 21st century storytelling with a genuine passion for the original books. In the first of two posts for The Fiction Desk, James Benmore writes here about how he was drawn to the Artful Dodger in the first place, and why he feels there is more to say about the character.
I’ve always envied Dickens’ earliest readers. The ones that discovered him back in the early 1830s when he was still writing journalism and sketches under the pseudonym of Boz. The ones who read The Pickwick Papers in a time when it was first being published in shilling instalments — not because it was written by some grand old man of literature but because it was fresh and funny and someone fashionable had recommended it to them.
Those hip metropolitans who would have been dropping the name of Charles Dickens — the sparkling young author who you simply must read — all over town and quoting his choicest bits to each other while their less literate friends listened on glumly because they weren’t getting any of the references to Sam Weller, Joe the Fat Boy or Dingley Dell. I’m talking about the long-time fans, the ones who were there at the the start and liked him even before he went all mainstream with The Old Curiosity Shop a few years later. Because, lets face it, if you didn’t know who Charles Dickens was back in 1836 then you probably weren’t someone worth talking to. You were, not to point too fine a point upon it, a bit tragic.
For these early readers — the first Dickensians we’ll call them — then the summer of love must have taken place between the February of 1837 through to the November of that same year. This was the magic period when Dickens, still only 25, was serialising his first two novels simultaneously as the final instalments of Pickwick overlapped with the opening chapters of Oliver Twist. These two novels could not be more starkly contrasted, the first being all lightness and comic fizz while the second is an angry, murderous melodrama, and they must have struck the first Dickensians as a stunning one-two punch.
One of the great pleasures of reading early Dickens is the wonderful show-offery on display: it’s as though the new author is even impressing himself with how talented and wide-ranging a storyteller he can be, and by what brilliant things he can make words do. Neither is a perfect book — Pickwick keeps spinning off down random narrative byways and Dickens is clearly making the plot of Twist up as he goes — but there is a joyous free-wheeling energy to both and this is something that fades a little in his subsequent work. Literary scholars may correctly identify later novels such as Bleak House and Great Expectations as more technically accomplished, important and mature but, as any first Dickensian will tell you, there is just something cool about the early stuff.
Which brings me to Jack Dawkins, or the Artful Dodger as the criminal community insist on calling him. For me, Dawkins is the very epitome of everything that is great about early Dickens. He makes his first appearance in chapter eight of Oliver Twist, right in the middle of that golden period, and in just a few short pages he steals the whole scene out from under Oliver’s virtuous nose. He is the very voice and swagger of a young urban London with his cockney slang and streetwise savvy and he is not someone I can imagine the author creating later in his career. Dickens went on to present his readership with an array of criminal grotesques and middle-class bounders but the Dodger represents something not commonly found elsewhere in the Dickens canon: attractive lower-class rebellion.
We aren’t invited to be disgusted by Dawkins in quite the same way that we are with Fagin and Noah Claypole; in fact there are aspects of his character that we even find ourselves drawn to. After all, what reader hasn’t fantasised about how they would fare if Dawkins was to take them out on a pickpocketing spree as he does with Oliver. About how artful we would prove ourselves to be, and whether or not Dodger would like us.
Dickens seems to have been inspired to create the character back when he was working as a court reporter. He had already written a non-fiction scene which can be found in the ‘Criminal Courts’ chapter of Sketches by Boz in which a lad of thirteen is shown being tried at the Old Bailey and proceeds to creates chaos in court with his accusations of police corruption, unlikely alibis and calls for imaginary witnesses. This clearly inspired Dodger’s final scene in Oliver Twist, when he is himself sentenced for stealing a silver snuff box from an unnamed gentleman.
Like his real-life model from ‘Criminal Courts’, Dawkins doesn’t sniffle in the stand and beg to be spared: he’s far too mischievous and unrepentant a character for that. Instead he performs for the benefit of the spectators and grins in the faces of the officers who drag him away for transportation. And it is this irrepressible comic spirit which makes Dawkins such a light relief in an otherwise dark novel. He isn’t punished for his criminality as severely as Fagin, Bill or Nancy are. Neither does he undergo an unconvincing change of heart like his friend Charley Bates does when he suddenly informs on Bill Sikes in the final act. Dodger is just allowed to be Dodger and — by mid-Victorian standards — he pretty much gets away with it.
Except of course he doesn’t, and all because of that sticky snuff box. After his sentence Dodger is removed from the action of Oliver Twist just before things turn really nasty for the criminal contingent. Perhaps this is because Dickens wanted to spare the child from the bloody end he had in store for the rest of them, or maybe it was because he didn’t want Dawkins upstaging Twist any further. Either way, I think most of Dickens’ readers — be they first Dickensians or those of us who have read the book 170 years later — must have felt disappointed that Dawkins is never mentioned again.
There’s a real sense that there was more fun to be had with the boy thief if only Dickens had wanted to have it, and I’ve often wished that the Artful Dodger could have been like Falstaff: a disgraceful yet lovable recurring character. I like to imagine him crossing over from the pages of Oliver Twist and into those of the author’s other novels, especially The Pickwick Papers during that time when they were both still running. Imagine what a surprise it would have been for those first Dickensians if he had suddenly appeared picking Mr Pickwick’s pocket in an installment of that book and then was next seen back in Oliver Twist being tried for that very crime, before continuing to show up at some point in every other Dickens novel that followed. It would have blown their Victorian minds.
And it was this thought that inspired me to write my first novel Dodger, in which Dawkins narrates what happened to him next in his own crooked, unapologetic voice and even interacts with people from other Dickens works. I wanted him to be our guide around the fascinating city to which he returns six years after his transportation, the world we are still calling Dickensian London. I don’t know if literary scholars will like my book; in fact I very much doubt it. But then I don’t think I really wrote it for them. I like to think that I wrote the book for the real fans, the ones who were there at the start. I like to think that I wrote the book for the first Dickensians.
— James Benmore
Dodger is out now, published by Heron Books and available in hardback from all good bookshops, as well as the usual range of ebook formats. (Read the first chapter on Amazon.) James Benmore is already working on a sequel. The novels are written in the first person, and in another post on our blog, James talks about reconstructing the voice of Dodger himself.
You can also read James’s award-winning story ‘Jaggers & Crown’ in our anthology All These Little Worlds.
I was delighted to hear that Fiction Desk favourite Charles Lambert has secured publishers for not one but three new books.
It’s been almost three years since the publication of Lambert’s last novel, Any Human Face, making him the author equivalent of a city bus (you wait years for one, and then…).
Two of the new books are thrillers, which will be published by Exhibit A, the crime imprint of Angry Robot Books. This is exciting news in itself: Angry Robot are a terrific publisher, and I’m a fan of Robot Trading Company, through which they sell ebooks direct to readers.
The other book, described in The Bookseller as ‘a series of 120-word texts, arranged by theme, adding up to a picture of one man’s life,’ will be published by Scott Pack at The Friday Project. I know Scott’s a fan of Charles Lambert, so this intriguing book is in safe hands.
Good news all round, then!
Plans for a summer apartment/cat-sitter situation in Madrid went awry and I wound up basically a squatter in a rough neighborhood, with African temperatures, no electricity, cold water, a mattress on the floor and a cement table out in the overgrown abandoned garden.
Luckily, being comfortable isn’t the best circumstance for getting stories written.
The stories I like to read usually induce discomfort, unless they’re also the funny, sort of dirty kind I like even better. Disturbing ideas came fast and furious, one of them about a diabolical machine that allows newborn infants to speak. That story, written in a weirdo inteview form, got published nearly right away. This one, I held onto for a long, long time.
Long ago, while uncomfortably between jobs in New York, wandering around in search of something to do in order to not feel even more completely useless, drawn by carefree childish laughter perhaps, I strayed onto a school playground. The school cop, instead of getting busy with pistol or cuffs, escorted me into the handsome-but-delapidated building and upstairs to a classroom, where a harried young lady somewhat desperately had over forty kids spellbound over an esoteric point of geography. The interruption brought a shower of regard: who is this guy? The looks made me wonder too: who is this guy I supposedly am? The same fellow these happy, curious, hopeful kids might like me to be? Which led to ten years as a volunteer teacher. Grade school became writing school for a scribbler who’d pretty much given up.
Story Day became a once-a-month feature for the whole class.
The teacher who took me in had a problem with two girls who were stealing stuff, a classic means of getting attention when things are so bad that even the negative kind seems desirable. Teacher didn’t want troubled kids to get stuck with a larceny rapsheet, was also leery about alerting their parents, who were notoriously of the I’ll-beat-some-sense-into-your-thieving-little-head school. She asked me to deal with the situation.
Best I could come up with was a story about a non-gender-specific Kid who steals things because it’s oh so shockingly easy, feels bad about the new career in crime, discovers that repairing mistakes is difficult but definitely possible and worth the trouble. A free candy bar is the pay-off, a present.
The kids asked if I’d ever stolen anything. They didn’t want to hear hoary adages about amateurs who borrow. I confessed, spilled my guts on childhood heists. Maybe I felt better about the criminal past.
Another story, they wanted to know whence came the idea for a kid who kicks a girl in the ass because he’s secretly in love with her and she plainly doesn’t feel the same.
Think about it for about two seconds, I said. They got it.
One of the boys in the class was also a sixty-year-old woman named Esmé. He shared this slightly spooky metaphysical info with his classmates on Story Day in a delightful, totally matter-of-fact style. Because he felt he really was a divided soul. A little girl who was born in South Africa wrote about prenatal surgery she underwent. She said she remembered the hole in her heart, and the pain.
Can’t make this kind of stuff up, according to the old truth-is-stranger-than-fiction trope. The truth is, strange fiction’s usually based on something equally strange or even stranger that happened for real.
‘Across the Kinderhook’ is the most painful story I ever wrote. And I didn’t make it all up.
My gypsyish parents got jobs in a small college town in the northeastern USA. Another, more settled, professorial couple invited them for a kindness-to-new-people dinner. My mother, a sort of flesh-and-blood maternal machine, bonded with the couple’s daughter, whom she didn’t know was practically locked-in autistic. For some reason, the little girl responded to the woman who acted naturally. But their communication only lasted a few weeks, or until the little girl became aware my mother knew something was wrong with her. Maybe. Nothing’s terribly clear, in such cases.
The disturbed girl became an artist. She draws faint, gnomically complex geometric worlds and washes dishes in restaurants to support herself. She seems to enjoy her work.
Quite a few narrators in my stuff find jobs washing dishes. They claim to like it too. I was a pro dishwasher, for a happy while, in a hamburger-suffused jazz joint on Broadway. The chef had a sideline dealing psychotically strong weed. We all got along great.
It used to bother me that practically everyone I knew had careers, lived in houses, enjoyed family life. Always felt I’d missed some ineffable signal or opportunity to begin the real business of life. Didn’t occur to me that there were hideous downsides to most of life’s nice, normal stuff. Then, when it was more or less too late to change courses, it was driven home that it’s not even possible to miss out on real life’s nightmarish aspects by not participating. I guess that’s where this story came from. I felt particularly uncomfortable while I scribbled it down, and it wasn’t because the bench at the cement table was so hard, or that it was so incredibly hot there in Madrid that summer.
— Matthew Licht
I always wonder why so many people are scared of dolls. Not dolls in general, but more specifically old ones, the type made of porcelain or wax, with glass eyes and human hair wigs. Maybe it’s the unfamiliarity of the old — you fear what is alien — even though I’d argue that modern children’s toys are every bit as surreal and creepy as antique ones: just look at Teletubbies! Maybe it’s the use of human parts, although nobody seems particularly scared of hair extensions! Maybe it’s the fact that old dolls are proportioned more like people, not like today’s large-eyed, tiny-waisted cartoons made solid: they were just too ‘real’.
‘Phantoms’ started off as a vague notion to update the old horror trope, the Creepy Doll. On various visits to museums and stately homes I’d seen my fair share of toys, and also of figures that weren’t quite dolls but were still human representations. The idea that they were not for play struck me as making them at once a little more potentially sinister. Obstetric phantoms are still used (as far as I know) for training purposes today, but historically were often made using real foetal skeletons as their framework. Well, Dead Babies has to rank right up there alongside Ghost Children and Creepy Dolls as an all-time horror classic. The artists’ lay figure at Packwood House also impressed me — a life-sized dressing-up doll that wasn’t quite a doll would be sure to give readers the shivers.
Now I had my basic inspiration I fully intended to write a horror story about the effect that irrational fear has on people: there is clearly nothing supernatural about these artefacts — they can’t even move — yet they can terrorise people all the same. It didn’t turn out like that, though. I set the story in a curio shop, where these items could feasibly cross paths, and the rest of the tale grew from there. I’m very interested in stories where the obvious ‘villain’ of a piece gains the reader sympathy. It’s too easy to see ‘the monster’ as automatically bad and I much prefer tales where that assumption is turned on its head. Therefore in ‘Phantoms’, the phantom and the lay figure become young Anna’s allies in a fight against her real enemy, school bully Beth. At school, I was always considered strange for my interest in old things, so that’s translated into the story. I decided that the protagonists would be little girls because, as Margaret Atwood shows so effectively in Cat’s Eye, little girls can often be the cruellest and most inventive bullies.
When Anna is bullied, her choice is to ignore or retaliate. Boosted by the new power to terrorise she has through access to the phantom, she chooses to fight back. But is there a point at which self-defence becomes attack and retaliation becomes bullying in its own right? Just as, when rendered familiar, the phantom and the lay figure lose their horror, so an enemy once conquered loses their mystery and power and instead instils a kind of disgusted pity. Beth becomes, like the phantom, broken, and the shine is taken off Anna’s final victory. But at least through conquering her enemy, Anna finally conquers her fears.
— Die Booth
We’ve just launched a new writing competition: while the last one was about finding shorter stories than we usually publish, this one is about looking for stories in a genre we don’t see much of here at The Fiction Desk: the ghost story.
The top prize in this competition is £500, and the deadline for entries is May 31st; for more information about the competition, what we’re looking for, and how to enter, visit the competition page here.
Judging our first writing competition has been a real challenge. It’s a cliché to say that the standard of entries was high, but it was: there were some terrific stories in there.
Finally, though, we have our winners.
The finalists are:
- Gavin Cameron, with ‘A Big Leap’
- James Collett, with ‘The Clever Skeleton’
- Damon King, with ‘Simmo!’
- Paul Lenehan, with ‘For Joy’
- Matt Plass, with ‘Invisible Them’
- Ian Shine, with ‘Love Stops at Ten Metres’
And the overall winner is:
- Tania Hershman, with ‘A Call to Arms’
All of the above stories will appear in our next anthology, which will be along this spring.
I’ll be in touch with all of the winners over the next few days. In the meantime, congratulations to all of you, and thank you to everybody who took part in the competition.
I’ll be posting some more thoughts on the contest and our new experience with flash fiction in general around the time of publication.
Tuesday, 19th February 2013. There is 1 Comment.
It’s that time again, when I get to announce the winner of the Fiction Desk Writer’s Award for our latest volume. Up today is the winner for volume 4, Crying Just Like Anybody.
The Writer’s Award is judged by the contributors to the volume, each contributor getting two votes, and the writer with the most votes wins.
Without further ado, then, the winner of the Writer’s Award is — well, you’ve already seen his photo over there on the right — S R Mastrantone, with his story ‘Just Kids’. Congratulations S R!
‘Just Kids’ should be a popular choice: as well as walking away with the most votes in the Writer’s Award, it’s also been singled out for praise in reviews by Bookmunch (‘a dryly humorous and adroit consideration of modern society’) and Casual Debris. You can also read the author’s blog post about the background to his story here.
So if you’ve not yet read Crying Just Like Anybody, pick up your copy today and check out S R’s story – prices start at just £1.99 for Kindle and epub editions. Meanwhile, we’ll be working on the next volume, which will include among other stories, the winners of our flash fiction competition (to be announced next week).
‘Carolina Carioca’ is about a middle-class Englishman who falls in love with a working-class Brazilian woman, brings her home and realises how different they are. It’s about how love across cultures burns brightly, and often fizzles out.
I’m originally from Rio de Janeiro, but I moved to London with my family when I was a child. Growing up, I started to notice that young men were particularly intrigued when I told them I was from Brazil. Many would tell me about the romances they’d had with Brazilian women, and how superior they were to British girls – both in looks and demeanour.
I’ve heard it thousands of times: Brazilian women are the most beautiful in the world. This stereotype is extremely uncomfortable for me; not just because of the fear of falling short (I’m often told I don’t “look Brazilian”), but because this fetish is inevitably focused on dark-skinned, working-class women. It’s not just about beauty; it’s about power.
My protagonist, Adam, isn’t a sex tourist. He’s not one of those old white Americans you see walking down Ipanema beach at sundown, hand-in-hand with teenage prostitutes. But Carolina’s ‘otherness’ is still very enticing to him. He’s an amalgamation of many different men I’ve met over the years, who have brought Brazilian women to the UK. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t – and of course many of these relationships are fruitful and genuine, particularly when the man hasn’t gone to Brazil in search of a sexual cliché.
Carolina was inspired by a girl I met many years ago. She started a relationship with a much older gringo, who was travelling around Brazil. She was infatuated with him, and he thought she was beautiful; he was as exotic to her as she was to him. He took her home to a small English town, where she spent months in depressed isolation before returning to Brazil. Carolina, at least, gets to go to London!
I toyed with the idea of writing the story from Carolina’s point-of-view, but it felt right to do it in the second-person, from Adam’s perspective – hopefully, it captures his self-absorption and the romance he creates around her. It reads like a love letter, but between the lines, he treats her pretty badly. He doesn’t appreciate how lonely and far from home she is, and that she has her own story to tell – she’s not just part of his gap-year narrative.
I like to think that, while Adam is miserable on the tube, pining for the past, Carolina is in Rio, happily married and working in a decent job. I hope she laughs every time she thinks about Adam; looking back fondly, but not with longing.
— Luiza Sauma