A Very Bad Year – The Story Behind The Stories


So, in a previous post I had gone through the first six stories in ‘A Very Bad Year’, and just offered a little bit of insight into how the stories came about and what thought processes I went through during their creation. This sort of stuff isn’t for everybody, so please feel free to stop reading! Possible spoilers though – you have been warned.

July: I always had in mind to do a ‘Lads’ Holiday’ story – it was just a case of which month to fit it in. I thought about the idea of hangovers, and someone missing all the daytime because they were stuck in bed. What would their day involve? Would there be any routine? I thought that the only constant might be a maid, doing the same thing each day, same time, same order. That then made me think of the well-worn notion of ghosts who haunt in the same place at a certain time… I put those things together and I had our senorita.

August: I have been a teacher for over twenty years, so the month of August is unique, and welcome! I have though, on a number of occasions, thought about what might happen if a teacher didn’t see a single person between the last day of term and the first day of the next one – literally had no life beyond the school. What would they do? This lingered in the back of my mind for years. Then, in recent times, as a large number of homes have acquired intelligent speakers / devices that you can have conversations with, I thought that our lonely teacher would have a companion after all. But of course, there would have to be consequences…

September: As we’ve all these stories the first thought is often what do we associate with this month? That meant my first thoughts were of a new school year starting and a new pupil in the ranks. But then I’d kind of covered that in Peter’s Day so I didn’t want to repeat an idea. I was also conscious that I hadn’t led with many female characters, so I thought about mums on the first day of school. That’s where the obligatory first day photo came to mind and the fact that in today’s social media world they always get shared. But of course you don’t know who sees it, not really. And a story idea was born. As for the ending, in the first draft the mum was going to stay at home, and helplessly receive updates through her phone. It felt a bit flat. I think it was better to get her there and into the action.

October: I hope you got all the nods to Macbeth? The title, the witches’ names… I had the idea of Mrs Secret, Black and Midnight being dinner ladies about 10 years ago, and worked it into a modern reworking of Macbeth we performed in school. Then, a few years ago, I decided to try it as Secret and Black being well-established witches, but they’re on the hunt for their Midnight to make up the coven. I started a novel, with Melissa Knight being much older, seventeen. I didn’t take it beyond three chapters, but the idea still stuck with me; I was convinced it had legs. It meant I was more than happy to revive it here. Another note: despite being the shortest story, this was probably the longest to write, and I think that was down to the uncomfortable nature of Melissa’s family problems. I hope I got that right. As for Secret, Black and Midnight, now they’ve found each other I think they might make a comeback in the future.

November: Thanksgiving or Bonfire Night? Being English, I had to go with what I know. I remember being a kid around the collection of ‘bommie wood’ and the issues that often involved. Rival groups would come and steal the wood, so it was often a tense time on the estates. I also remember – and nobody else knows this apart from the other two involved – being grabbed by some unruly youths and being held above a camp fire. I feared that they might drop me on it and bring about my end, so did a lot of screaming. Once they’d had their laugh they righted me then let go. I fled and never returned to that part of the estate. That memory was also going to feature somewhere in the story. One more thing: as I was writing I had no idea that the main character would turn out to be a bad guy. It was only when I got to that last sequence and I thought: as a kid he wanted to be up the ranks in the gang. Why would that change as an adult? I adjusted my stance accordingly.

December: There are lots of Christmas stories so this one took a long time to come up with, but once I had the idea it flew. It ended up twice as long as I expected; it was going to end with Declan being unwrapped as the last present. But then I thought that if this is going to be the last story in the collection I wanted a little more optimism for the reader to be left with. So I decided he would get out. That led to the false ending in the middle and the question of what would you do if you were writing this story? Other things worth a mention: DECk the halls with boughs of HOLLY. Names sorted.

And that’s that. Hope that offered a little bit of insight, or at least a couple of minutes of distraction. Thoughts always welcome.

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