OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you’re passing through Hong Kong tomorrow (Monday 25th May), you could pop into the Liars League event, and hear a story by BHD! He’s had almost as many stories performed by Liars League HK as he has had published in Cumbria, and it’s a source of continued surprise, and great pleasure, to him that it is so: that people on the other side of the world to him, are yet interested in hearing the tales that he has written. What compounds both the surprise and the pleasure with this story is that it was written as one of those literary experiments that short story obsessives like BHD are wont to engage in from time to time.

It is, in fact, a re-imagining of a story first written in the seventeenth century, and attributed to L’Abbe Bourdelot. BHD came across it, in translation, in that twenty volume Hammerton collection from the early nineteen twenties of ‘The World’s Thousand Best Stories’, which he has been reading, and occasionally re-working for a couple of years now. When a tale comes from so long ago, and from so far away, you can be sure that much of its content, that was once current, relevant and existent, will have changed beyond recognition. Yet, there will be also much that is still recognisable, perhaps familiar, and even unchanged, human nature, for example.

For ‘Henry and Mr Oufle’, the title of BHD’s story, the starting point was a story called simply, ‘Monsieur Oufle.’ BHD’s story soon lost touch with that of the good Abbe, which revolves, in a slapstick sort of way, around the eponymous gentleman, who falls asleep, having taken a little too much to drink, in his chair, while dressed in a fancy dress bear suit. Planning to frighten his wife – without malice it should be said – Mr Oufle awakes to see his own reflection in a mirror, and panic, and chaos ensue. BHD’s story has a bear suit too, but it also has a pizza restaurant, which the original did not, and a circus, and a car-park……

Re-writing, or rather, re-imagining stories from long ago and far away can be a useful exercise for the tale-teller and short story writer. It’s not simply a matter of bringing them into the here and now, or even of transposing them into your own narrative voice and habit. But re-imagining a tale that has caught and held your attention, has entertained you after such a gap of time and distance, can seem like having a conversation with the original writer – telling him, or her, something about your world, and about what of theirs still lives on in it.

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