Friday, January 20, 2012

The Writer - Clayton Stealback

Some beautifully written passages and nice touches of domestic detail make this a convincing little tale. It's a study of obsession, sliding into psychosis, all undermined by a magnificently unreliable narrator.


"It is a cracker though. Really, it is."


"...with the suggestion of somnething more sinister and conceptually daring in the background." (Black Static #25 - TTA Press)


For several weeks Steven has been wrestling with a short story he wants to submit to a horror anthology called Dark Heights. He just can’t seem to finish his story, he constantly redrafts, reedits, rewrites, changing paragraphs around, polishing sentences- the story is going nowhere and it is driving him crazy. His wife Alice is getting fed up with the routine. Every night when Steven crawls up into his attic to hack away at his story, she sits alone on the sofa downstairs, nodding off to the news of financial collapse on TV. Strange things begin to happen. They must not be revealed here, though they involve elements of Steven’s narrative bleeding into the reality of the story. There are some great one liners of internal rationalizing here, and I was smiling to myself all the way through this story. It was genuinely scary as well. I was reminded somehow of Ash from the Evil Dead films, suddenly confronting surreal and horrific forces. But is it real? Are the manifestations a result of Steven’s imagination? You have to read the story to find out.


This is one of those stories that keeps you guessing right up to the end. The worlds of fiction and reality start to meld into each other as author Steve struggles to finish writing a short story. This is a very good story. That manages to be a fresh take on this sort of tale.


In several of the stories, the process of writing itself is evoked in all its arduousness – the anxiety, the growing sense of purposelessness and the sheer bloody-minded determination to define the indefinable, half aware that, in the very act of creating, the author destroys the very thing he is trying to perfect, the beauty of the idea submitted to the harsh and sometimes ugly reality of ink and paper. Oh the horror! “The Writer” by Clayton Steelback draws on this creative struggle. The story gradually assumes an uncomfortable presence in the writer’s life, becoming ever more concrete until an evil character breaks through into real life. The horror of nightmares becoming flesh crops up in several of the stories. As authors perhaps we are more than usually susceptible to this illusion or delusion, perhaps because we are always striving to model characters from real life. I’m surely not the only author to feel confused as to whether a memory of an incident is from real-life or one I imagined for some self-created literary world.  Perhaps it’s the first sign of madness.  [...] In other stories plants poison or become symbols of annihilation as in “Flowers of the Sea”. In “The Writer”, a vase is transformed into a multi-stemmed plant that scatters its spores and invokes a state of madness. 


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