James’s Blog: Origin Story.

It’s nearly a year ago that Lioness Publishing first agreed to take on The Listening Book, but it’s been in the pipeline for a lot longer, obviously. The oldest story in the collection (Death) was written over fifteen years ago, while even the most recent stories only exist because those past fifteen years gave me something worth writing about.

A couple of posts ago I shared a watershed moment, the one where I was challenged to actually do something with the gift that God had given me. This was way back in 2007, and I responded by resuming an Interactive Fiction project that I had shelved. A Fine Day for Reaping went on to win the XYZZY Award for Best Story in 2007. That sentence will make no sense to most of you.

Around the same time, however, I also began playing with parables. I was working for ‘The Mat Exchange’, which was a small business that Cornerstone ran. We rented door mats to shops, and my job was to drive around, exchange the dirty mats for clean ones and then go and wash them. There was a reasonable amount of time to think in this job and, one day, I was reflecting on the idea of faith, and how often I met people with an ‘inherited’ creed, beliefs that they’d just copied from others, without thinking through the consequences or really owning them themselves. I had previously read about the idea of how photocopying a photocopy decreased the quality of the image, and that had stuck with me over the years. As I drove along the mean streets of Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia, The Soul Painting was born, and by the time I had finished my shift that day I was able to sit down and write the story. Over the next few months I wrote a couple more, including Knock and the Door Shall be Opened, and By the Riverbank but I didn’t really do anything with them.

Fast forward to 2013. Now I was dean of the Cornerstone campus at Canowindra. No more mat washing for me!  Instead I got to do farm and vineyard work.  There can be some thinking time there too, at least when you’re not being shouted at.  One day, while picking watermelons, I thought that it would do me good to set myself a challenge. The challenge would be to start a blog, and post a short story every week. At first this worked fine, as I was finally able to use the stories that I had accumulated over the years. The real goal, however, was to force myself to come up with new material, and that’s what I did. Watermelon time was occasionally fruitful (pun intended). I remember concocting The Boy who Held God during one beautiful sunny day while picking watermelons (to be fair, it was almost always a beautiful sunny day during watermelon season). I soon found that one a week was an unrealistic pace, so I knocked it back to one every two weeks and just got on with it. When you write under pressure like that what you produce could charitably be called ‘a mixed bag’. Some of the stuff that I put up was fairly horrible, but all of the material that ended up in The Listening Book first appeared on my blog: ‘Storycatcher’ (“Don’t look for it; it’s not there anymore” Marty DiBergi).

The feedback was encouraging, so in the months before we returned to the UK, I put together the first draft of The Listening Book and sent it off to a publisher, who promptly rejected it. Well, not promptly.  It took him ages.  And then that was that, until we returned home and a random conversation between Elsa the Publisher and my wife started the ball rolling.  I like to think of it as a large, heavy glittery ball – something nice to look at, but with some weight to it.  Perhaps a disco ball that’s been made out of concrete?

And the rest is, as they say, history.