I'm making an appearance today on Chris Fielden's excellent blog on all things writing. I give my take on story-aimed competitions, and share what I think is a methodical approach to a haphazard enterprise, and am also passing on some (hopefully) useful advice detected from the judges of the V S Pritchett Short Story Award - their honorable discretion had to be negotiated! - and sharing some rather shocking statistics on the long-and-shortlisting process. I discuss how I set about preparing my V S Pritchett runner-up story, Traffic, and supply an extract from it and a link to it, on the Unthank Books site.
I was out walking in the City of London today and passed a place that used to be a lunchtime cafe back in the mid-70s when I used to work near there. It's now friggin Starbucks, or something. ANYway, one lunchtime back in the day, I went there with a colleague, and at the counter I pointed to some kind of meat, and asked the guy behind the counter, "What's that?"
He said, "It's veal."
Almost without a pause, I said, "Okay. I'll have a cheese and pickle sandwich, please."
My colleague roared laughing, nudged me, said, "Classic!" and the guy behind the counter was all annoyed.
So one thought I was trying to amuse him - a bit of the Two Ronnies, maybe - and the other thought I was trying to offend him, but in fact it was only me mentally processing that I didn't want veal, and thought I'd stick with cheese, but without revealing it to my audience. I remember feeling a bit embarrassed, and, once I'd seen that I'd annoyed him, apologising to the man behind the counter. I'd not yet worked in catering...but somehow knew not to offend anybody in a place I went to regularly!
I was in west London once in the 80s and a guy approached me on the street and just started speaking to me in some language I couldn't understand. It was utterly puzzling. He made no attempt to see if I spoke his language, nor any to try a few words of broken English, just kept up this spiel. It may have been Portuguese. I just had to tell him I wasn't about to learn a whole new language just to learn what he was saying, even if it was fascinating.
Years ago I used to go into a Caffe Nero near Oxford Circus, where I worked. The baristas were all young, and either Italian or Polish. They did the usual fantastic job, and all with competence and good humour. One of them, an Italian girl, would always ask customers who didn't present a loyalty card to be stamped, "Do you have-a theese-a one?" and would point to the new cards.
I thought if it was quiet there one day I'd correct her discreetly, tell her what she was trying to say was, "Do you have one of these?" But she was always very kind to me, and to all the other harassed people in and out for their caffeine fix, and maybe saying that might have hurt her feelings.
And anyway, that's just never been my habit. London is full of people speaking the most appalling English - I include Londoners in that - and for my whole life I've always worked out what people have been trying to say, noted it, and answered accordingly.
Thirdly, it's kind of rude to correct people if you understand them. I had a rather annoying Polish friend for a while when I lived over in Warsaw, and he would say, "Please correct my English for me," and firstly I thought, 'Well, I'm not a free English lesson,' and secondly, if I'd done that he'd have barely been able to speak for more than a minute or two, as his English was fairly crap - it didn't matter: I could understand it, so there was no problem.
But I think the main reason I didn't correct the Caffe Nero barista was that I just enjoyed the way she said it: it was beautiful, and there is no reason why we should all speak any language in exactly the same way.
Kent-based musician with Clash covers band Clashback, among others. Writer of novels, short stories and pastiche Balkan tunes. My five longest works are Laikonik Express, The Exploding Elephant, A Blue Coast Mystery, Almost Solved, The Émigré Engineer and Cleopatra's Script. My stories are all over the place... in a good way!