Eloise ShepherdHere’s Eloise Shepherd to talk about her story ‘Journeyman’, which features in our anthology New Ghost Stories.

I wanted to write a ghost story about failure. Not high stakes failure, but a long defeat. Boxers carry failure so openly, when a boxer loses it’s written through cuts, gashes and broken bones. To lose a fight is to be taken apart, on a well-lit stage with a crowd baying for your blood. So many boxers in this country (the so called ‘Journeymen’ of the title) go in to lose, and this story started with my fascination with that long, conscious failure.

I have boxed competitively for a few years now. It isn’t my natural world but it has been startling. A quick introduction to the level of violence inside yourself.

The story itself, the initial moment with the bath, came from a boxer I used to train with. He was the king of journeymen, almost every week he went into the ring and lost. He is probably also one of the best boxers I’ve ever worked with (and I have worked with boxers without a defeat on their records and with nice shiny belts on their walls).

New Ghost Stories coverHe was generous enough to let me use that image and I made a different person around that idea of going in and getting beaten up for a living. And the more profound and relatable failure was a man unable to connect to his sons, losing them and himself with fear closing in. But, that whole time, trying really hard. I’m more scared of that than any dead thing.

For this story, all that work boxing for all these years was great research. A little transformation, taking ‘being hit’ into ‘being creative’. Before you go in to box you wrap your hands. You take a few metres of soft, slightly stretchy cloth and encase your knuckles before you even get to putting on gloves. You do this because, physiologically, hands are meant not for hitting, but to hold.

I can’t imagine this will be the last story about boxing I write. It’s a process that takes me to what scares me, in and outside myself.

— Eloise Shepherd