In late 1994, I was making an unhurried transition from practising medicine to writing full-time. (Inside I was hurrying, but outside there were still groceries to buy and a mortgage to pay, so some kind of regular income seemed smart.) I’d found the ideal job to bridge the two – I was the part-time continuing medical education editor for Medical Observer, a national magazine for GPs.
For the 1994 Christmas edition, they asked me for something different. They wanted me to write fiction – something connected to Christmas (however loosely) and to medicine. For no reason I can recall, I settled on a Christmas caught up in a patient’s psychosis. It’s possible I was already developing ideas for a story, and realised I could slip the Christmas reference in in a way no one would expect. There are far too many ways to write a cliched Christmas story, and I really didn’t want to do that.
I thought back to the kinds of stories some psychotic patients had told me at long-term psych facilities when I was a student, along with the persecutory, grandiose or simply bizarre interpretations they gave to mundane events. On rare occasions, the logic of it all was elaborate and internally consistent (though all the rest of us get by through agreeing on a different interpretation of the same events). I wanted to write a story where I built a sort-of logical but impossible world a bit like those I’d been given a glimpse of.
I was trying to find my way in when I drove past – and mis-read – a poster advertising an upcoming show by They Might Be Giants. The poster was torn and I came away thinking something about lions. There must be lions. And I thought: maybe I can use that in my story. Here’s someone who is able to interpret a whole range of things as evidence of the presence of lions. And I’m going to try to get into their head and that logic, and see how it plays itself out. And somehow I’ve got to link Christmas in too. Christmas and lions … Christmas and lions … The solution to that that came along surprised me, but all the better.
Off the story went, and in that incarnation I think it was called There Must Be Lions. It made another couple of appearances in the 90s (including in Headgames, not surprisingly) and then slipped quietly away. But, as 2012 has shown me, these new-fangled e-reading gizmos are a great chance to breathe life back into old stories.
So it’s back. For Christmas. In the Kindle Store and called Christmas Inside.
And, having written it years ago, it’s been around in my life so long I’d forgotten how odd it is. How ‘creepy/surreal’ to quote my publisher. But we need at least one Christmas story that goes there, don’t we? They can’t all end with ‘Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus’.
And, while I’m at it, we’ve just put out another new/old story as well.
In 1997, when the world was younger and the internet was still a little bit exotic, someone showed me what a chat room looked like. It was called the Palace and you had to avatar up to go there. What a great crazy non-geographic place, I thought. I bet I’ll come back here all the time. And then I didn’t. I had work to attend to, and a life, so I never quite got as hooked on the Palace in the way I thought I might.
But I figured one of my characters could, and I wondered how that might play out. And along came Nights at the Palace. At the time I dared to think there was something edgy about a chat room story. Now that feels as edgy as a story featuring a rotary-dial telephone, or a vehicle with an internal combustion engine. But it’s a story about people, and how they behave, even if the tech world has moved on a little (as has George Clooney’s hair, which rates a mention in the story).
So, two slices of the 90s, for anyone who’s game. We’re making them available on Amazon worldwide for prices in region of 99c each.
And while I’m talking Amazon, a big thanks to everyone who’s bought Perfect Skin there over the past couple of days. A rush of sales on Friday pushed it into the #100 spot in the Kindle Store. Okay, so it only held the spot for an hour, but there are 1,771,394 other books in the store. A big moment for me and for Exciting Press.