Sunday, 17 November 2019

A Guest Post About Nothing: Nancy Schumann

On 29th November, we’re having a belated birthday party for Nothing, an anthology of short stories I edited for Hic Dragones (writing as Hannah Kate). In the run-up to our not-quite-a-launch party, I’ve invited some of the authors whose work is included in the book to tell me a bit about their story.

Today’s guest is Nancy Schumann, author of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Square’, one of the stories in Nothing.

How do get your ideas?

Every writer gets asked that question. It’s common that people want to know where the ideas for stories come from. The truth is that ideas are everywhere. Ideas are the easy part. Turning the idea into a story is what makes writers writers.

Publishers make things interesting by putting out calls for stories on occasion. So what you get is a short brief for a themed collection that doesn’t exist yet. It’s a tantalising challenge asking you to come with a story that fits under that theme (while also fitting a more or less specified format).

I love those, not the format specs, the themes. Hic Dragones have come up with a few great ones. None more so than this recent collection: Nothing.

What a marvellous title for a book. What a great title for a story. A word literally describing the absence of anything opens endless possibilities for what that story could contain. I read that title for the collection and immediately started thinking ‘nothing’ for days.

In my head ‘Nothing’ was the title of my story, but there wasn’t a story yet. There was just this beautiful word dancing around in my head waiting, trying to make contact. Because ideas are easy. Writing is not. So ‘Nothing’ existed as an idea long before it was a story.

Now, my story that is now in the anthology Nothing has a different title. It’s called ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Square’. One, and possible the only real reason, for that is that, well, Hic Dragones had chosen Nothing to be name of the book. Can’t very well steal that title for a story within that book then. And I really did want to have a story in this anthology both because of its beautiful title and because of the lovely people that are Hic Dragones.

So how did that nebulous idea turn into a story? Well, I went on a little holiday. I stayed in a very nice hotel. The bathroom of our room had an interesting design. It was a bit like stepping into a very stylish disco. The walls and floor had black tiles that sparkled is if there was a disco ball spinning from the ceiling. There was no disco ball, just to be clear on that point. The effect looked quite stunning to be fair. It was also kind of irritating. Wherever I looked in that bathroom things were sparkly. Also, the wall and floor tiles looked the same. I had to really concentrate on stepping out of the bath carefully to not fall over, to not feel dizzy.

You may have guessed from that pretty long paragraph about a hotel bathroom that those tiles did take their toll on me. All that pretty sparkliness kept me entertained for days. And on one of those days there was one particular sparkle on one particular tile. I expect it was nothing but the position of the light in relation to the position of myself, really, but that little sparkle kept sparkling right at me. As if it was trying to communicate. Of course it wasn’t. Not really. It couldn’t. It’s just a bit of silver in a black tile. It’s nothing.

Nothing. There it was. Right there, ‘Nothing’ turned into a story. Well, I didn’t know where the story would take me yet but I did know where it started. So I got out my trusty laptop and started to write about that little, sparkly spot in the bathroom. Much to the amusement and irritation of the friends I was with, who couldn’t help but observe that I’d started writing. Well, yes, I am a writer. It’s kind of what I do. I was furiously typing on, not letting the conversation interrupt me. I didn’t react when the furious typing was commented on. The conversation continued, as the next observation followed, that clearly an idea must have struck me just prior to my starting to write. At this point, I started to threaten dire consequences to my mood for the rest of the day should I not be left alone to finish my writing.

Well, my threat was never realised. We are still friends and the story was finished, albeit not all in one sitting in that hotel room. Once the idea found words, the story flowed onto the page without so much as making conscious contact with my mind. I just told it until it was finished. And then, then, I spent a really long time trying to come up with a name for it that was not ‘Nothing’. That, in the end, was probably the hardest part, all things considered. It was the last thing I finished before the submission deadline. It was the thing I definitely expected I’d be asked to change about the story if it was accepted. But there you are, the story did get accepted and the title wasn’t changed. It’s one of my favourite stories that I’ve written, because of its odd creation story and because I really like what became of it. I’m happy and proud to be a part of the finished anthology that now is Nothing. Happy belated book birthday!

In addition to academic texts on female vampires, Nancy Schumann enjoys writing fiction in both German and English. A number of poems have been published in a variety of books and magazines, such as the Frankfurter Bibliothek des zeitgenössischen Gedichts, annual German poetry collection from 2000 to present, and Gothic II and III. Short stories include ‘The Hostel’, published by Hic Dragones in the Impossible Spaces anthology, and Fanged Flowers (available for Kindle). Nancy also does translations between German and English.

The Belated Birthday Party for Nothing is on Friday 29th November, 7pm, at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Cambridge Street, Manchester. It’s a free event, with readers from the authors and launch party discount on the books. For more information, or to book a ticket, please click here.

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