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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been reading The Classic Short Story 1870-1925, by Florence Goyet. It puts forward some interesting, and perhaps contentious ideas about the form, but what it started me thinking about, was how you define that ‘classic’. It’s a word that in popular usage can be vague, variable even, in meaning,. We can have classic cars, classic movies, classic clothes, and even classic curries, but I wanted to know what made a short story ‘classic’.

My wife trained, and worked, for several years as a textile designer, so I asked her for a definition. Classic, she told me, implied a design that contained elements that had never gone out of fashion; that were used over and over again, being adapted and renewed continuously, but never losing their connection with the origin. The ‘classic’ element of a design does not disguise, hide or deny its heritage, but proclaims it. Yet such elements would be regarded as neither ‘retro’, nor ‘old fashioned’, though logically they might be both.

The classic short story then, must carry elements of previous short stories, elements that are still valued, even though they are recognised to be unoriginal, because, in fact, they are unoriginal. So where do the origins lie of Ms Goyet’s Classics of 1870-1925? I pose the question because it crossed my mind that when we use the term, with its dates, we are perhaps intending it to be understood that the stories of those dates are the origin of what becomes classic when copied in later periods, rather than being examples of stories that themselves copied from earlier designs.

Ms Goyet’s study was based on a study of a thousand short stories. I can’t match that. I have only read – in English originals or in translation – a thousand, but in them have sensed elements that to me are ‘classic’ over almost a thousand years of writing. Boccaccio, among others, in his Decameron, was producing stories that seemed to me to read very much as modern short stories might, in both structure and content. And some of the seventeenth and eighteenth century stories I have written about in this blog seem quite contemporary. Are the elements that make them so ‘classic’ elements?

Or does the term move on in some way, like a torch beam with a ‘classic-coloured’ filter sweeping across the time-line of past stories, with Ms Goyet’s generation – whichever that might be – illuminating that particular late nineteenth century period in its beam? With which colourful metaphor I’ll leave you to speculate on’t.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou’ll sometimes read in small press magazines the heartfelt cry that if everyone who submitted to the magazine bought one copy, the problems of circulation would be solved.

Back in the nineteen seventies, when I briefly ran a small poetry magazine, that was the bleat of the Indie proprietor-editor.

We’ve got used to a publishing model where a few write, and a myriad read. In earlier generations it wasn’t that clear-cut. Few may have written, but far fewer read, and even a century after the development of steam presses churning out copy for the masses, a successful literary author might be expected, might need to, subsidize the publication of his work, rather than draw an income from it.

Since World War Two we in the UK have had Arts Council subsidy on what clearly is perceived as being as economically unviable in much the same way. What has changed is that different notions of what should be supported, and how, are in place – notions that are in the minds of Civil Servants, rather than Patrons. There’s an interesting discussion of this towards the end of ‘War Like A Wasp’, Andrew Sinclair’s 1989 study of Fitzrovia in the Forties.

More people write nowadays– or at least o it seems –than ever before, and the internet has made it, quite suddenly, economically viable to write, and to be published, without needing subsidy, or a vast readership. The high input, high output, mass market, celebrity publishing model is under threat. Suddenly the role of the ‘gateguards’ – a term I first heard in this context whilst doing my M.Litt – is brought into sharp focus, and into question.

The gateguards keep the mob out (or in, depending on where you think the mob is). They keep up standards – an interesting idea in the Arts, where one generation’s rubbish might be another’s gems, going forwards, or back! They delineate norms, perhaps even prescribe them, and in the internet publishing age, may be regarded as obsolete. This is a disaster, some would have us believe.

The commercial model, even with its subsidies – which render it a spurious sort of commerce – has led to an assumption that more is better. A writer who sells a million books must be better than one who sells a hundred, all things being equal. Translate this into another form, and we get the baked bean and the white sliced loaf as the pinnacle of the culinary art; the home-made, hand-made, artisan loaf or delicacy as the nadir.

We like to believe that a great writer is a rarity, and that might be the case; but the very, very good, and the very good, and the good, and the competent, might they be, in fact, the norm?

What if, as Philip K.Dick exhorted us to ask – well, Wow! What if! to be precise – there was a very, very good writer in every ten thousand of us? What if, one among every thousand? Wow! What if, among every hundred? What if, every tribe – of 75 to 150 before it splits – produced a couple?

What if, in fact, like singing, writing, or its sibling, story-making were an inherent part of being human, and not some scarce, arcane skill that the few practise for the benefit of the many? What if it were a cultural activity that we might all engage in, with pleasure and reward, something that the many put their efforts and resources into, rather than the few taking a harvest out of?

There’s an old Chinese saying – or was it from the Black Country? – that ‘The Gateguards are richly accoutred, and well fed: they will fight long and hard to preserve their empty keeps.’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReading L.A.G.Strong’s collection, Travellers, I’m struck by how many of the stories are narrated in, or have characters who speak with Irish voices.

Strong, H.E.Bates tells us (in The Modern Short Story), was ‘part’ Irish. Wikipedia says his father was half Irish, his mother wholly so, so some ‘part’! It also says he was born in Devon. What accent did he have I wonder. As a director of Methuen for twenty years, did he have a boardroom class accent too? We all have several voices, sometimes referred to as register. The telephone voice is perhaps the most famous, and despised, yet to match our voices to those we speak with might not be an act of parody or condescension so much as one of sensitivity. Serving petrol for pocket money in the days before Health & Safety, I’d change my register to fit the drivers I was serving.

As a writer I voice my stories in different accents, quite apart from those I give my characters. Is it patronising, or disrespectful, or even evidence of stereotyping, to do so? The idea that there is a Scottish accent (or an English, Irish or whatever one), rather than that there are Scottish accents seems to me to lie at the heart of the answer we might give.

In storytelling it’s credibility, rather than authenticity, that counts, especially when that authenticity is spurious. Voices belong to individuals, and might sound alike where regional, national or ethnic groups are concerned, but they will remain individual. That’s how we we can tell them apart, on the telephone for example. Imagine how difficult it would be to listen to radio plays if we couldn’t tell one Englishman from another, nor any two Scotsmen apart?

The imagined purity of accents (and genetics I would venture) is a political fiction, and when an author gives his narrator, or characters a particular type of accent, a particular voice, it’s the voice of the individual he is creating, not a template for all similar voices. The further we are from those voices, in terms of hearing them regularly, the harder it might be for us to distinguish between them: familiarity, in this case, breeds discrimination – in the older meaning of the word.

A friend of mine had lived in Glasgow all his adult life, and to me sounded like a native of the city, but he’d learned his English in his home town of Coventry, and I often wondered if the Glaswegians caught a whiff of his Midland vowels from time to time, as they would mine. As writers we write not only as we speak, but as we hear, and that, surely, is part of the witness that, as writers, we must bear.

Perhaps the more interesting, and more difficult question, is what we think the differing voices bring to our stories. Why is it that this tale, or that, seems more convincing in this, or that accent? What do they add to the tale? And what might we do as an alternative to them?

In the contemporary world more language than ever is generated in print, not necessarily on paper. Does that, will that, do away with the regional accent, replace it with a global voice? And if it does, if it is doing, what will be the markers of individuality that we then distinguish between, in our stories, and in our lives?

spinestripphotoA Conversion ‘ is the penultimate story in Arthur Morrison’s collection ‘Tales of Mean Streets‘ The story’s title, not without irony, is the correct one for the tin. Scuddy Lond is a petty criminal who time after times mitigates his crimes with protestations of repentance, and of having been led astray. I worked in the criminal justice system for a few years – long enough to witness the process that Morrison so forensically describes. It carries people no worse than myself down very different roads.

‘Temptation had prevailed against him.’ ‘…the villainy of older boys had prompted him to sin…’  ‘Betting, he protested, was this time the author of his fall.’ ‘Strong Drink, he declared with deep emotion, had been his ruin.’

Society, in Arthur’s time (of which more later), as now, connives with him in avoiding the truth, and foils the solution, of his actions. ‘because the real cause was always hunger,or thirst, or betting, or a sudden temptation, or something quite exceptional – never anything like real, hardened,unblushing wickedness.’

Scuddy spirals down – or up if you prefer -into greater crimes, and then one day is drawn into an evangelical meeting where he experiences that eponymous conversion. What has interested me about Arthur Morrison’s short stories, which I only recently discovered, is not only the gritty realism of their content,  but the spare, simple, and enduring clarity of the form.

The scene in the mission hall is an extended and lightly veiled metaphor:

‘with passion, and pain…’    ‘his throat swelled and convulsed’ ‘with gasps and groans and sobs…’ ‘a tide of grievous sensation…’  ‘a chorus of ejaculations…’ ‘a debauch of emotion…’

Over nearly two pages of description the converts are called to ‘Come-come!’    ‘….Only-only come!’  Scuddy rises and joins in with the other penintents in ‘standing forth who had found grace that night.’  Arthur Morrison leaves us in no doubt as to what we should be imagining:

‘His emotional orgasm was spent, and in its place was a numb calm,’

The ending of the story is delicious,and I’ll leave it for you, if you can find a copy. What surprises me about Morrison’s story is that it was written and first published in the late nineteenth century. The collection was first published in 1901, more than a decade before James Joyce’s Dubliners. I read ‘A Conversion‘ in Tales of Mean Streets‘ by Arthur Morrison, The Boydell Press,1983.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe name L.A.G.Strong was vaguely familiar to me, though I couldn’t properly place it, and I still can’t, but I did drop on a copy of his short story collection Travellers, which was published in 1945, and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction in that year.

My first inclination – a fault of upbringing or heritage – was to ‘place’ him, but I could not, so I began reading the stories instead. It’s said that short stories have no characterisation in them; that such intricacies are the stuff of novels, but I hadn’t read far into Strong before I realised I was dealing with a writer who was no mere thumbnail sketcher.

The lead story of this collection is The English Captain, told retrospectively by man looking back into his own youth, during the summer of 1914, and remembering the fortnight during which he knew the eponymous officer. Set in the year Joyce published Dubliners, I thought of Joyce several times as I read. Strong was of Irish parentage, though born in Devon, and his narrator here is an Irish protestant, living in Dublin and hanging out with a group of schoolboys in the charge of an Catholic priest.

The forty foot hole, and Howth, and Rathmines, were all names (words might be a better description) familiar to me from reading Joyce, and came with that jolt of recognition where disparate fictions meet at a common reality. If there was an undercurrent of Joyce, and the question raised of whether or not Strong was merely writing about the same country, and people, and time, or whether he was writing conscioulsy in the shadow of the man who had written before him, there were other undercurrents too. The English Captain knows that the war is coming, and he knows too that the boys he tries to befriend, by the swimming pool, are ambiguous in their treatment of him. One in particular will go on, it is implied, to fight and die in the Easter uprising, and we know, long before the first person narrator realises it, that the Captain forsees his own death in the near future, and is in effect enjoying the last fortnight of freedom, and human contact that he will know.

If there is an undercurrent of Irish and European politics, there is also too an undercurrent of homo-eroticism. The boys are naked or nearly so throughout, and there are no girls in this story. This is a story about men and boys reaching out for each other, and one told with no sense of potential abuse, but only the possibility of a ‘man to man’ love that we would have to see in the light of its time. Yet, with Strong’s book being published in 1945, the setting could be as retrospective for him as it is for his narrator. Other stories carry similar undercurrents, and have that recreation of the immature young man’s widening and deepening understanding of the world around him, and of its mortalities.

In The Rook the eponymous bird is shot, but dies slowly. Structurally it is a complex tale, one that I felt shouldn’t really have worked, though it undoubtedly does! Split into quite different phases, the first is the story of an old man protecting his garden, by shooting the rook. The second, told from the rook’s perspective – though by the same third person narrator – deals with its flight and eventual falling to the ground. The third, switches perspective again, this time to an elderly priest in a nearby schoolroom, whose young assistant goes out, humanely, to despatch the wounded creature, off-stage, with a pointed stick. The old priest, watching from the schoolroom has a revelation, about himself, and mortality. I found this story profoundly moving, even as I thought that it shouldn’t be! And it carried for me a similar potency to A.E.Coppard’s Arabesque-The Mouse.

There is a strong Irish voice in the first few stories of the collection, and Coppard hovered in my thoughts as I read them, for he too chose to tell his tales in an Irish idiom from time to time. The rural and the poor here too are neither patronised nor misrepresented. They are certainly not viewed through floral spectacles. In Storm the unreasonable anger of a man towards his lover is picked apart pitilessly, and shown against the background of the eponymous precipitation -OK, that’s the last eponymous, I promise! But the fact that there are so many of n them perhaps tells us something about the way this writer uses his titles.

In The Gates, an elderly railway crossing keeper oversleeps, allowing the 7.01 to ‘foul’ the gates (that the story is named after, perhaps). But the story is about the changes that this oversight wreaks upon his character. In Prongs two young brothers fight, and are drawn into an arrangement with a group of men who, having intervened without thinking, are fearful of the brothers’ violent father. Strong’s world is not benign; yet it is never empty of love.

In Travellers, the story after which the collection is named, another young man witnesses something of the lives of the ‘gomachs’ in what I might call ‘the sticks’ – or ‘the boonies’ if I were feeling international – and hears a fading opera singer present a tour-de-force.

Having read the first handful of stories, Strong placed himself, for me, alongside writers like Pritchett, Bates and Coppard, of whom he was a writing contemporary. Perfunctory research showed that he was indeed closer in age to the first two than to the older Coppard, and that he was heavily influenced by the writers of his ancestors’ land, notably Yeats and George Moore. I can see something of The Untilled Field in his ‘gomachs’ and his priests, but I can see too the Ireland of Claire Keegan’s Walk The Blue Fields.

The Gurnet, which I shall leave you to find and read, ‘suggested a caricature of humanity’. ‘he was a figure not without dignity’. And the story of what happens to him is perhaps a comment too upon the fate of such figures.

Frank Swinnerton provided an interesting Preface to the collection, having some pertinent comments to make about the short story form, as well as about this particular writer’s use of it. One quotation will give fat enough to chew upon, I think, for those of us interested in such things:


‘..unless we have decided what a short story should be, how can we say whether a short story is a good short story, or otherwise?’

mildredWriting about writing C.S.Lewis complained that poor readers ‘flood wretched material’ with their own imaginations, and go away thinking that what they have read is great literature [C.S.Lewis, ‘On Stories’ in Of Other Worlds, Bles,1966).

It’s one of those remarks that I come back to again and again, not only because it carries more than an element of truth, but also because as I write more I become more aware of the fact that it is not only the limitations of the writer that impinge on the experience of the reader.

There surely can be no doubt that we all have our limitations as readers. We bring our own agendas to what we read, which predispose us to look for structures and contents that re-inforce what we already believe, and want to believe about the fictional worlds we are presented with, and the real worlds to which we imagine they refer. We probably also believe absolutely, that though that may be true of other readers, thankfully, we are not afflicted with such delusions. A case of motes and beams I suspect.

As writers, one of the biggest problems we have to overcome is the failure to read our own work objectively. We read what we expect to read, and that expectation has more to do with what we intended to put on the page than with what we actually have put there. Reading other people’s work, it is suggested, doesn’t present us with this problem: we have no expectations, because we had no intentions for the writing. We come clean to it, because we know nothing about it, other that what we actually sit down and read.

What is surprising about Lewis’s rant is that he is not criticising our lack of sensitivty to the writings of others. He is not carping about what we miss that might be there, but about what we generate in our own heads and superimpose on what we are reading. His criticism comes as part of a wider observation about what he calls the ‘unliterary man’. He is interested, but unable to ascertain, ‘whether a story is piercing to the unliterary reader’s deeper imagination or only exciting his emotions.’ Even reading the stories will not help you here, for ‘the more imagination the reader has, being an untrained reader, the more he will do for himself.’

This inferior lifeform is discussed at some length, and some interesting remarks are made about it. He deals with an ‘uneducated and immature’ young person’s enjoyment of reading ‘sensational stories’, pointing out that we cannot know the nature of that enjoynent.


‘If he were capable of analysing his own experiences (……) he would be neither uneducated nor immature.’


‘….something of which the educated can receive from poetry can reach the masses through stories of adventure,’


These cogitations carry Lewis for a paragrpah or two, and throw up interesting side lights. One, worthy of further exploration but not here, is that cinema, presumably by requiring observation rather than imagination, ought not to ‘replace popular written fiction’. Another is that the ‘re-reading’ of stories is crucial to our undestanding of how ‘literary’ we are. (And perhaps the same might be said of whether or not we re-watch our movies.) ‘An unliterary man’ Lewis says, ‘may be defined as one who reads books once only.’ ‘There is hope for a man who has never read’ Lewis says, quoting several titles, but ‘what can you do’, he asks, ‘with a man who says he “has read” them, meaning he has read them once, and thinks that this settles the matter?’

The second reading, he avers, loses ‘excitement’, but it does not lose something else, and that is the quality that pierces the ‘deeper imagination’, the quality, which Lewis has told us, that educated readers get from poetry. There is something else here, which he does not point up, but which strikes me as being particularly relevant to this great children’s writer, and that is how children react to stories. The reader of popular romances, Lewis tells us ‘goes back to his old favourites again and again’, and however uneducated he or she may be, that return is ‘pretty good evidence that they are to him a sort of poetry.’ Children, I recall, go back and back to their old favourites too, and woe betide the parent that tries to skip a page or two so they can finish in time for the Archers, or whatever…. The child is no longer seeking surprise either, nor the excitement of finding out what happens next, but that deeper piercing, which Lewis goes on to describe as the ‘quality‘ of unexpectedness. You cannot have an old favourite if you have forgotten it.


Back to the beginning though. We are still left with the conundrum of what, as readers,we bring to stories, and what we find in them, and to what extent our own limitations deepen, or mitigate, the limitations of the writer. Whatever the answer, it might serve to remind us that reading and writing are not comnnected in a mechanical way. There are degrees of success in the writing, and in the reading, and they may take us a long way from the original intentions behind the writing, and a long way from the original expectations behind the reading.




OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was reading Stephen King’s On Writing that first put me on to the issue of whether I was a ‘putter in’ or ‘taker out’. I hadn’t been all that conscious of it before then, and the assumption I’d made, I suspect, was that I ought to be a taker out, and probably wasn’t taking enough out.

In fact, once I started to take notice, I soon realised I was a putter in. I do take out as well. Most of us, I suspect, do both, but most of us, I suspect too, do one significantly more often, and probably at different stages in the process, than the other.

I’ve run workshops on self-editing, and they have been based, when I think back, on ideas about what you should look for to take out: unnecessary repetitions, authorial haverings – ‘almosts’, ‘nearlies’, ‘not quites’ and similar litter my first drafts – reassuring explanations of what I’m not convinced I made plain in the words they’ve been added to. But there could be parallel puttings in: repetitions that create an effect, for example, or explanations that signal or imply doubt.

Are the potential puttings in simply mirror-images of the takings out? It’s difficult to workshop self-editing for putters in. With takers out you can simply take a piece (I use my own to avoid the problems of offence, or of workshop members knowing the piece too well to be fooled) and mess it up. You have to chose a piece, of course, that you have good reason to believe is effective as it stands. When I have done this there has been a pleasing conformity about what the workshop members have chosen to remove.

Taking bits out of such a piece, and expecting them to put them back in is, perhaps – that’s the sort of havering I meant – is certainly asking more than asking them to detect superfluous rubbish and remove it!

I suspect that, until our attention is drawn to it, we don’t think about putting in quite as much as we do about taking out. reading about other writers we find far more references to what has been excised, than what has been grafted on. Most of us have heard about the cutting out of Carver’s work; many of the first thirty or so pages of Lord of the Flies being removed, but where are the examples of those vital accretions that made a dull story sing?

What do we put in, if we are putters in?

Well, in my case, it mostly seems to be what I might call ‘manoeuvring’ material: phrases, sentences, paragraphs even, that point up, or prepare the ground for something that is already there, but which seems to lack the punch it ought to have. There’s an old physics experiment, done for young children: three bowls of water, one hot, one warm, one cold. You know the idea. Plunge your hands into the hot, and the warm, by comparison, seems cold afterwards. Plunge them into the cold, and the warm seems hot. Context is all, and nowhere more so when we are telling stories.

I put in contexts that heighten the impacts of the revelations they precede.

Sometimes takers out may be doing exactly the same thing. And there is a third way worth considering that involves neither putting nor taking, but which is simply that of re-ordering what is already there. This too can work at the phrase, sentence or paragraph level; can work, as might the other two, even at the level of individual words.

As with any other technique we become aware that we are using, we can learn to use it better. Or at least, we are likely to find ourselves using it more often and more fully. I have recently been working on a story that I couldn’t get right. Re-titled, re-written about four or five times, its original version was just over one thousand words, the latest, just under two thousand. And when you consider that I must have edited out maybe five hundred as well, that leaves a core story of something like a quarter of the finished product! A definite case of putting-in I’d say!

So, in September 2014 Carlisle will host its own literary festival: Borderlines – Carlisle’s Festival of Reading & Writing

In The Writers Quarter, in the old city, north of the Market Square, on Saturday 6th, there will be a day of writing and reading events at various venues, including Carlisle Cathedral, Tullie House Museum, Carlisle Library, and Merienda cafe/bar. If you follow this blog, I’ll post more details as they become available.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA    We are still looking for venues, and for events – so, if you have something to offer check out The Writers Quarter page and use the contact form to let me know.

The Writers Quarter is sponsored by LITCAFF

Followers of the blog will know that I have been reading  stories from the nineteenth century and earlier.

Why would we read stories by long dead authors? As living writers we want people to read us while we are alive. Does it matter to us that we might be read after our death? The sculptor, Andy Goldsworthy makes sculptures that might last only long enough for them to be photographed. Are the works of dead writers merely dead stories?

Norman Nicholson, the Cumberland poet whose centenary is being celebrated this year, told me once that he wanted his poems to be like a pot – you could put it on a shelf and it would stand up on its own. Performance by the writer, he said, emphasised the personal, with winks and nudges and nods, and tone of voice. Without the writer, there is only the writing and the reading.

The pot analogy is worth pursuing, and not just for poetry. Short stories too can be that pot. Those of us who have heard our work read aloud by others know how different it can sound when it is truly outside our own heads, how different it can actually be. There are obvious elements to this: tone of voice can nuance meaning, tempo and volume will change what is actually heard. Listening to our own words in someone else’s mouth can show us qualities within it that we were previously unaware of.

It would be absurd, I think, to suggest that when the creator of a pot died we should destroy or stop using the pot. The pot outlives the author, and so does the story, whether he intends it to or not, but like the pottery, the words are likely to deteriorate over time. A pot may chip or crack. The glaze may craze, mould may get in behind it; patinas will come and go, precious metal plating might break down and wear away. In words it is meaning which loses its precision, or its potency, a nice distinction. Words themselves may become tainted by subsequent users, by current usages, random! Wicked even. Meaning leaks away. Birds might have tweeted in Dickens’ time, but not in the way they could do today. Metaphors decay the fastest of all, I suspect, needing us to know the qualities and nuances of both sides of the comparison to be effective.

Some pots and some short stories age better than others. They wear well or ill. And, as is the case with our pots, we probably don’t know, or even think about, whether the writers of the stories we read are dead or alive, unless we restrict ourselves to following the fashions laid down for us by the publishers and reviewers of new books, in whatever format.

If Norman’s pot is the right metaphor for the poem, and for the short story, then it is a vessel for the reader’s imagination, and for so long as the pot survives we may choose to drink from it, and as long as the story holds meaning, we may chose to read it, which is to fill it with our imaginations and understandings and to drink of that. Here’s why it is irrelevant how long ago the stories were made, irrelevant when the writers lived, or if they still live, or how long ago they died. Here’s why we would read the ‘old, old’ stories.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe took a trip to Caldbeck, d’ye ken? last night, to the Caldbeck Film Club, a flicks-in-the-sticks set up, where you can watch a movie in the comfort of the village hall without the schlep of being bombarded by advertising, and in the company of like minded folk – at least as far as films are concerned!


The film in the frame was Moonrise Kingdom. I had no idea what to expect, and had to think hard afterwards about what I’d experienced! It was introduced with the remark that Bruce Willis, who more or less stars, doesn’t smirk once, and it’s true. Worth watching for that alone, I’d say.

This film is often described as ‘quirky’, which seems to be shorthand for saying that whoever’s using the term doesn’t know how to call it either. It had the quality of a cartoon in some places, that of a graphic novel in others. Montages and set piece shots looked like the frames in a comic book. The incongruity of the scissors, hanging on a wall in the opening trans-interior pan of the Bishop household was not lost on this viewer, and I’m no eagle-eyed observer. And there was a shot near the climax that was almost a photo-still, where four of the main adult characters are head-and-shouldered in the hatchway onto the church roof.

The two leads, a boy of twelve called Sam, and the undisguisedly older Suzy would, in real-world UK – I know nothing of the New England legal system – end up on both the at risk, and sex offenders registers! Both would be well placed too, to arraign each other for sexual misconduct during their twilight years.

There’s violence too. A dog gets it in the neck, which the RSPCA would take a dim view of, and there are various human assaults causing actual, if not grievous, bodily harm by blade and pellet. Most of which, but not all, is adroitly ignored after the moment of action, by the storyteller. This is quite a profound film in some ways, but it is not profoundly realistic.

By turns it reminded me of Swallows & Amazons, Deliverance, and The Blue Lagoon, with a haunting echo of a C17th century play I saw on TV about four decades ago, starring Peter Jeffries and in which two misfits embark on a course of revenge, and love. I can’t remember the name of it, and am too old (or proud?) to look for it on the net!

Behind the innocence of their sexual encounter – Sam: It’s hard. Suzy: I like it. – there lies at the heart of this film the adult longing for sexual innocence. This is neither a film for, nor about children. At Caldbeck we were a mature audience – none of us I think as young as any but two relatively minor characters in the film. That may have accounted for, after a single aborted clap, the silence which greeted the end of the film. There had been chuckles throughout – intriguingly, not at the same time and from different parts of the crowd – so that silence wasn’t about not having enjoyed the film. Was it, I wondered, that we were pondering the adult sub-texts of this ostensibly childlike film? The last time I experienced such a post-projection silence was after a viewing of The Elephant Man!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


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