The incredibly talented Ms. Janet Skeslien Charles featured me on her wonderful blog in an author interview and one of the things we talked about was the Friday night writing class we met at – over a decade ago in Paris at the British Institute.

Four of the stories in Triumph started life in that class. Here’s a behind the scenes look at how one story: “Skye-Ingrid-Leo” was written.

Firstly, I handwrote. I used to be obsessed with Jordi Labanda notebooks for their lavish covers and the spectrum of colors on the side so you could pick yellow for one project, blue for another, etc.

And these notebook covers were as good as going out and buying LV travel cases… and substantially more economical.

We wrote stories on assignment in the British Institute class – and “Skye-Ingrid-Leo”‘s assignment was inspired by how Life of Pi has a specific shape (100 chapters, 3 parts, the unreliable narrator – or is he?). Our assignment was to write something with a predesigned shape or theme, eg. a short story in sections. To let the reader breathe. I took that literally and made a character unable to breathe.

“Skye-Ingrid-Leo” was written on October 28, 2003. Its predesigned shape was the three sections, each from a different character’s point-of-view, so you get one kid’s memory, then the next, then the next. You realize that kid B pushed kid C off a balcony and the general concensus from the dad is, “Let’s not tell mum about this” thus their memories of the event get warped because they never speak of it afterwards.

Coming from a family of seven kids, I twigged in the mid ’80s that we all have our version of events. There isn’t a single occasion we would all have the same memory of including the time we 3 little kids pulled a Turkish rug out of the lounge and into the swimming pool.

I think my sister convinced my brother and I that the rug would fly like Aladdin’s rug if it got wet. Why wet??? We were really guillable. She also convinced me it was okay to sharpen my pinky finger in a pencil sharpener. Thank God it was a manual, not one of those deluxe electric classroom models. Blood happened.

I’ll bet my sister would say that we believed our Turkish rug could fly from seeing something similar on TV. And my brother would remember he did most of the lugging. I have no idea how we got that thing out the sliding door because it was huge.

A sizeable chunk submerged with shocking speed (and was consequently ruined – Mum had to rearrange the furniture to disguise it up because the blues, reds and purples ran). We teetered poolside, halfway between lowering the rug in and yanking the rug out as it dawned on us we’d be sucked in with its ridiculous weight (think Titanic going down and the whirlpool of displaced water) – when out came Mum.

Wooden spoon. Three whacks – one each – right on our rumps. That’s the only time I remember getting the wooden spoon. But we all know what an unreliable narrator I am.

Now, my sister would tell that whole story completely differently, using ages and stating exact whereabouts of everyone in the family at the precise moment of the rug’s accidental swim. My brother would recall what we ate for lunch that day and which TV show blared in the background – he has food recall like a school friend had wardrobe recall: she could recite what anyone wore on any given occasion. The friend became a costume designer. My brother is a great cook. My sister could be a forensic policeperson. I take the temperature of the room. That rug incident was a hot day not because the sun came out but because it all ended in tears.

So back to “Skye-Ingrid-Leo” my handwritten draft shows precious little changed between the moment I wrote it and how it appears in Triumph because that Friday night class at the British Institute had us fully immersed (as immersed as that corner of the Turkish rug) in one key aspect to a literary masterpiece before silently churning out the assignment in class. Ah, except the names changed. Protection of the innocent, and all that.

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Read the full interview here:

2 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes look at Editing

  1. I’m so impressed! With the story and behind-the-scenes, yes, but also that you handwrote it. If I handwrite anything more than a check, my hand starts to cramp. I’m so out of practice!

  2. Well that was in 2003… I don’t handwrite stories anymore but now I write lists of words and grammar to double check while I’m editing so I fill pages that way… and my handwriting changes massively depending on my coffee consumption that day and how much sleep I’ve gotten…!

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