Nowadays I consider myself more of a poet than a prose writer, but the first thing I ever got published in print was in fact a (very strange) short story called ‘Fang Town’. I recently discovered that it’s available on JSTOR, so I thought I’d share the piece and how it came about.
In ‘Fang Town’, I wanted to look at the way children respond to chaos, and question how much of what we perceive as ‘resilience’ is actually desensitisation. I initially came up with the idea after reading Katherine Mansfield’s short story, ‘Prelude’. In one section, a young girl is momentarily appalled by her first experience of death – the sight of a duck getting its head chopped off – then is immediately distracted by the axeman’s shiny earrings. I wondered what a modern or futuristic version of that story might look like, and how middle class suburban children used to seeing violence on TV and computer screens, would respond to real-life chaos. Although I loosely based the fictional ‘Blackett Street’ on a street in my hometown, I deliberately did not specify an exact setting or time period for the story. Protests, riot police and an embassy building all have strongly political connotations, but I wanted to avoid drawing comparisons to any particular historical event, and instead place focus on the four children and their response to the situation.
I’m not sure the story delivers any meaningful message, and there’s plenty I’d change about it now, but looking back, I’m still proud of some of the images and the way I manoeuvre several characters from place to place without too much clunkiness. And of course, the piece will always have a sentimental value to me; its publication was a serious moment of validation for me in my quest to become a Proper Grownup Writer.