I have submitted to the Stroud Short Stories event several times before without success. I heard on the grapevine that my stories had impressed the judges, but just missed out on the final list. When the November event was announced as an Eerie Evening of Short Stories, just after Halloween I was in two minds about entering at all, as I just don’t write that kind of piece.
Anyway, I looked through my potential ideas and decided to revisit an old attempt at a story, something I have played with over the years without ever managing to get quite right. ‘Suddenly the Snow’ describes the final moments of an Arctic explorer, a member of the ill-fated Franklin expedition seeking a Northwest Passage in mid-Victorian times. Far from home, facing the horror of his starving comrades, his dying brain conjures up images of a wedding that will not now take place. The story narrates a bizarre wedding in a sun-baked London (Queen Victoria running the service), while implying that the traveller is actually dying in great pain, lost somewhere on the Polar ice cap.
Part of the inspiration came from Ambrose Bierce’s wonderful Civil War story, ‘Incident at Owl Creek Bridge’, in which a captured Confederate officer, a noose tied round his neck, believes himself to escape execution only to encounter a series of bizarre sights and events as he travels back to his home. When he does so, a terrible pain builds in his neck… and we return to the bridge, where the officer hangs dead, the entire story of his escape and adventures conjured up by his nervous system in the fractions of a second it takes for his neck to snap.
I gave the story a polish and submitted it to my fellow-writers at Somewhere Else in Cirencester. A chastening but useful experience! While they liked some of the imagery, most had little idea what the story was actually about – not helped by me titling it ‘The Chemical Wedding’, in an attempt to add some mysticism: this only confused them into thinking my traveller was indulging in illicit substances.
I decided to add more context, so in its final version, half the story is the explorer’s visions of his wedding, the other half his comments on the explorers’ doomed mission, as they drag their boats across the ice cap in the vain hope of reaching civilisation. It also gained a new title: ‘A Midwinter Wedding’.
I was quite pleased with how the story ended up and nervously submitted it to Stroud Short Stories back in September, finally hearing I had been successful last week. So now all I have to worry about is practicing reading the thing aloud: following major surgery on my jaw three years ago, my voice is not what it was…