“The Christians.” A story that broke a lot of ground for me. My first polemical or actively satirical story. It made me realise that the short story can get much further than a magazine article or essay in exploring a political issue.
“Snow.” It amazes me how frankly I wrote about sex back then, even though I must have known hardly anything about it. I was very brave and much braver than I am now. I suppose that this is, however, more a story about pornography than about lovemaking.
“Drinking with the Insects.” I like to write stories about parties in Edinburgh tenements and the chaos and exhilaration of these meetings. They have generally the same place in my fiction as the fights in an action movie.
“Annihilation.” A very grand and silly story with some republican seriousness beneath the obvious juvenalia. There is a microbe of King Lear wriggling in it somewhere.
“Unmann’d by Folly.” A sprightly story that is set in the Pentlands and that introduces the Stewarts and their still-ongoing, witchcraft-themed subplot.
“The Agency Workers (8) – featuring Jack Potato.” “The Agency Workers” was a loose series about exploitation and working conditions in Edinburgh’s “gig” economy. I had worried that it was too comic up front and too subtle back-of-house, a kind of pastoral genre in which the agency workers came across as cheerful peasants.
“Fishface.” The stories from this period were written quickly and carelessly, and a lot of time was taken up afterwards rewriting the prose and trying to make it read smoother. On the plus side, these pieces were usually more businesslike in their storytelling than they are today. I like the pocket size of “Fishface” and its anecdotal freshness.
“The Weathercock.” I wish I could write more stories like this. “The Weathercock” is structured like a joke and there is a clean snap at the end. In this, it probably reflects the influence on me of E.F. Benson’s “The Bus Conductor” (1906).
“Revenge Play.” A lot of horror and humour are squashed in together in this busy story. At the time I had admired the engineering of this story and I had thought it was the best thing that I had ever written. Today it seems a bit too cartoonish to be tasteful. Maybe Ricardo should have been also allowed to disappear quietly. Killing him off in such a way makes the website feel rather like a soap opera.
“The House Across the Street.” A lady at my work named Mae had once told me that she had dreamt of a baby that had opened its mouth and shown her rows of perfect teeth. Mae had woken with a start. This whole story grew out of that tiny seed.
“(3D) Printing Error.” A blithe story and some cheerful abuse of a new technology.
“A Reported Sighting of the Krampus.” I always think that I can never write horror because my joking soon trickles in and poisons it. This story is actually pretty scary though.
“Letter from the Man in the Moon (3).” I love the Man in the Moon and every few years he writes to me, much as he had once done to Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. This story expresses more scepticism towards nationalism in general and Scottish nationalism in particular.
“On the Road with National Collective.” I don’t think that I’ve ever hated anything in politics so much as National Collective, a Blairite lobbying organisation that had pretended to be an arts movement. They had duly tried to prostitute the arts in Scotland as part of a campaigning strategy for Scottish independence. My hatred had led to this bloodcurdling story which had in turn led to a Twitterstorm. It was pretty unedifying for everybody and I had later added hypocrisy to my swinishness, when taking up the challenge of writing conscious propaganda for Michael Lightfoot’s Artists for Brexit. Of course, I regret nothing – this story is hilarious.
“A Tale from the Borneo Rainforest (At Tea).” Whimsically, I had decided to write a series of short stories that were set in Borneo. I think that I had wanted to see how freely I could write about a place that I had never visited and done zero research into.
“Tori’s Story (A Dean Village Horror).” It was a great time for series, this period. Exhausted after the Scottish independence referendum, I had gone to Lisbon, where I had written a kind of Agatha Christie mystery that was set in a country house. The best stories from this series are standalone ones, when the series has paused and stories are being told around the fire.
“The Named Person Mysteries: The Case of the Teetotal Teenager.” One problem with my satirical fiction is that the targets that it chooses are soon gone with the wind and no longer part of the common understanding. Whatever happened to the domestic 3D printer? Whatever happened to National Collective? Whatever happened to the Named Person?
“The Story of the Trapdoor.” If anything could be Tychyesque, this would be Tychyesque. The nostalgia is a little sickeningly sweet.
“The Paradox of a Revolutionary Cup of Coffee.” This story is having a lot of fun and it gets quite far in what it is doing, despite courting universal unpopularity by mocking coffee drinking.
“In the Banshee Labyrinth.” If the last story had mocked coffee, this one goes for drugs. Some clear-eyed observational writing about amphetamines in Edinburgh.
“The Odyssey of the Boy Detective.” Amir is the character in Tychy fiction who is on the greatest journey. He is also the most melancholic character. In this story he awakens sexually. This story also features Donald Trump.
“Sundive.” Anybody who has lived in Edinburgh will recognise what this story is about.
“The Train.” This story was inspired by a bizarre miniature railway that runs in Earlham Park in Norwich. By now I had learned that the supernatural should be never at the forefront of a story and that it is always better glimpsed out of the corner of the eye.
“A Story While My Phone Charges.” Another story that deploys the supernatural with exquisite sparseness, so that almost no flavour of it is apparent. Although it has otherwise nothing in common with “The Train,” they feel somehow like companion pieces.
“Shut Your Pan!” I don’t know how well this story has aged. It describes the sheer shock of COVID-19 arriving in early 2020.
“Undo.” This story is like a Christmas holiday in the genre of historical romance. I am always wary of this genre – so many writers have made such fools of themselves in it.
“A Silly Story.” This is a luxuriously playful story and one that was generously accepted for publication by the Glasgow arts magazine The Drouth. I am still not convinced that its usage of a comic dwarf is entirely modern or tasteful, though people have reassured me that Marco is foremostly a comic character and only a dwarf a long way behind. I had also written “Infancy,” vaguely a kind of thriller, for The Drouth.
“The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.” I like the canniness with which this story is structured. Nonetheless, I never know whether it is at heart a frivolous, cheeky monkey or a wise owl.