Story and Sugar
A guest blog from Escalator Winner James Ferron Anderson

James Ferron Anderson won a place on our 2006-2007 Escalator Literature Scheme and a TLC Free Read in 2011.  His novel, The River and the Sea, was published by Rethink Press in 2012, after winning the Rethink Press New Novel Award.

27eec07a09dd5fcace16ea3e62e9da37.jpgOf course: we live by story. I want bread… and there’s a story there of me having the desire for bread, having no bread, planning to get bread. Not the most complex story. It goes on. What kind of bread? Will the shop have bread? Will this story have a happy ending? Well, it’s got a few layers. I tell myself stories of my hopes, fears, loves, hatreds, miseries, pleasures, and then buy into them.

This is the platitude that we…I, rather… understand and misunderstand our worlds through story. That realization came early, and that to explore these stories and the motivation behind them would be to understand the world better, and Jesus knows I needed that, sharpish.

But there was another level to which it could be taken: stories constructed with no illusion that what was being made had reality, that nebulous thing. The intentionally-made story, about people who never existed, doing things I usually had no experience of in places I probably had never been. An amalgam of the experienced and the read about. And unlike the story of the bread, and the few thousand other stories I’d tell myself every day, these I might choose to exhibit.

One of the first short stories I sent off anywhere, The Bog Menagerie, won the Bryan McMahon Short Story Award in Listowel, County Kerry and 2000 euro. When the letter came I phoned up a friend and read it to him. Is this a hoax? Think about those words in the letter… really carefully… I’ll read it again… Is this a fraud of some kind? I was shaking. I was shaking because if it was real somebody else had valued my plaything, my toy, my tool for trying to figure out what the hell was going on around me.

I never knew affirmation mattered until I got it.

I had a novel underway. It had been underway for four or five years. A novel is a heavy-duty JCB-tooled project in the world of story-telling construction. I submitted it for an Escalator Award. I got it. I remember being asked by Leila Telford to write a few words about how it felt. I said the affirmation mattered, the money mattered, the mentor mattered, the class on ‘Reading in Public’ mattered, the sometime company of the other winners mattered, the kudos for applying to an agent mattered. What part of it didn’t matter?

Yet I didn’t need Escalator to keep me working with words, incidents, relationships, consequences: the making-up of stuff. I wrote because the act of writing, even when frustrating, was always better than not writing. But what this award did was a magnified version of the Listowel and other awards: it took me out of the back room and kept the idea of making connections with readers via the page and its contents foregrounded. Of course writers benefit from sugar lumps that in various ways keep the pony trotting. My Escalator Award was more than a sugar lump (or a loaf of bread) in keeping me on the road that linked my images to the minds of others and not galloping off across the bogs and mires of solipsism. We can only thrive, if that is the word, for so long on neglect. We can only thrive so long in isolation. When I did take a slump in motivation a couple of years later a TLC Free Read Award shoved me back up onto my particular road.

I went on to write The River and The Sea. It won the Rethink Press New Novels Award, and was published in November 2012. It’s a wonderful book, and I’m very pleased. I’m currently working on the provisionally titled Terminal City, a rather noir love story set in Vancouver in 1940 and 1959. It’s going slowly but it’s going. Long may the pony trot.

More About James

I was born in Northern Ireland where I worked as a weaver, glassblower and soldier. I moved to Norwich, partly to study but mostly to get my children away from the violence that was Northern Ireland in those years. I began to write in different forms, including poetry, short stories, plays and, more recently, novels. One of my first short stories, The Bog Menagerie, won the Bryan MacMahon Short Story Award and 2000 euro in my native Ireland. ‘All The Whole Wide World’, another short story, was broadcast on Short Story Radio. The River and The Sea won the Rethink Press New Novels Award in 2012, and was published soon after.

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