I was talking to my friends, BHDandMe recently, and they were in two minds about something. The writer, Frank O’Connor came into view, metaphorically speaking, and something he wrote while having a several page carp about Kipling took our attention.

Now O’Connor’s carp was about the short story The Gardener, one of more than two rather exceptional stories in the collection Debits and Credits of 1926 – latish in Kipling’s canon. In that piece O’Connor makes what seems to me to be an astonishing statement, which is this: ‘I have found myself rewriting the story as it might have been written by Chekhov or Maupassant…’

While BHDandMe admired the hutzpah of such an assertion (t)he(y) was also shocked by the temerity of making it. Perhaps if t(he)y had written a story as powerful as, say Guests of the Nation, it might have been different. But BHD, I know for a fact, has re-written several stories by authors from the past (though none, to my knowledge, by authors from the future!).

His motives in doing this were perhaps similar to those of O’Connor’s – to find out a little bit more about the original story (‘to see what would happen’ O’Connor says). But BHD was also interested in finding out if the ‘feel’ of the story, its emotional impact on him as a reader, could be recreated or at least echoed by a story written from his own perspective in time and place. Me, it should be pointed out, would never dream of pulling such a stunt with a poem (or an essay, come to that). O’Connor’s analysis of his version of the story, by the way, seems to have, as Me was told once when writing about a poem of his, ‘missed the fucking point.’ –(Glad you pointed that out, BHDandMe).

BHD’s attempts, with stories by, among others, Alphonse Daudet, (Les Etoiles & La Chevre de Monsieur Seguin), L’Abbe Bourdelot (Monsieur Oufle) and Paul Arene (Uncle Sambuq’s Fortune), have been transpositions rather than replicas, and have met with mixed success, as stories and as explorations. Henri & Monsieur Oufle, a riff on the good Abbe’s farce involving a ‘bear suit’, translated to a modern-day Pizza restaurant, worked well enough to be picked out for performance at Liars League’s Hong Kong Branch, and can be found online. Les Etoiles became Shooting Stars, moving from a Luberon shepherd’s bothy in the nineteenth century, to a 1970s film-set in the English Lake District.

In none of these though, did BHD ever imagine he was writing ‘as it might have been’ by a Chekhov, Maupassant, or even a Daudet, Arene, or Bordelot. He was just doing his best as a BHD!

The practice is instructive though, as well as being fun. When there’s something you ‘get’ out of a story that you can, or can’t get out of a rewrite it clarifies something – not necessarily the same thing – about the original writer and your response to him or her, and about yourself, and your own writing.

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