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A Waltz through the Dark Wood

My father was a voracious reader, and introduced me to writers like Guy de Maupassant and Ernest Hemingway. I was particularly struck with Maupassant, whose short stories are masterpieces of character and detail.

His classic tale of snobbery and manipulation, Boule de Suif, is my favourite. Set during the Franco-Prussian War, it tells the tale of a French prostitute who attempts to escape the approaching Prussian army by travelling in a coach that’s occupied by members of the town’s elite, who are also fleeing.

Maupassant describes the bigotry and hypocrisy of the townsfolk, but avoids stereotyping by making them all too human, victims of a desperate situation for which they seek the most practical solution. The eponymous heroine, Boule de Suif, is expertly drawn, and earns the reader’s sympathy as the journey unfolds.

However, always aiming for realism, like his contemporary, Zola, Maupassant doesn’t attempt a whitewash, and gives us an ending that’s both tragic and inevitable. We’re left with an insight into humanity, and in the process are confronted with our own frailties.

My volume of short stories, A Waltz through the Dark Wood, explores a diverse range of subjects, from an unexpected pregnancy, to the 21st century’s most profound act of terrorism

My intention was to depict human nature as it is, with all its flaws and complexities, without losing the essential spark that unites us all. In spite of the sometimes harrowing subject matter, I completed the twelve stories with a sense of optimism and the feeling that I’d gained a valuable education.

Having spent years working on the long and laborious process of writing novels, these ‘vignettes ‘ provided a distraction. But they were much more than that. I found myself immersed in the locations, the characters, and walked round in a daze, eager to tell friends of my inadvertent good fortune.

The short story has fallen out of favour since its heyday in Maupassant’s time. That’s a shame – not because I’ve decided to try my hand, but because of the richness and variety of the medium, an almost limitless source of material to be found in books, newspaper articles and of course from recent world events.

And more than ever, I’m reminded of the significant debt we owe the writers of previous eras, who’ve preserved and illuminated moments of history in such brilliant and inventive ways.

A Waltz through the Dark Wood will be published in June 2023.

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