I am immensely excited to share this today. Flash fiction master, David Gaffney, has a new collection of stories More Sawn-off Tales, coming out in May 2013 (Salt Publishing). He is giving Hub readers a sneak preview of some extracts from the book.
In his forth collection of short stories, Gaffney reprises the format of his critically acclaimed sawn off tales; a brand new set of pieces exactly 150 words long, each aiming to contain the breadth and depth of an epic.
In stories that are laugh out loud funny, cringingly weird and desperately sad, Gaffney introduces the possibility of momentary actions that change everything; a swimming man sees a hundred glass eyes at the bottom of a river; a broken vase causes a couple to re-examine their relationship with the universe; a zoo with only three animals makes a man reconsider his relationship to his surrounding; and a comedian decides to express himself through the medium of smell.
Relationships begin, stutter, then crash to earth, each mundane transaction peeling away the everyday to reveal a canyon of emotion.
His characters are awkward, often disconnected, yet they are also profoundly sympathetic. With great empathy and generosity he reveals the idiosyncrasies, vulnerability, yearning, and twisted systems that govern our lives. In More Sawn Off Tales Gaffney creates a deliriously lonely, yet lovely universe where strangers hand you their watch and an estranged couple try to communicate through paint colour. An expert miniaturist with the ability to stuff an elephant inside a flea without the insect noticing, Gaffney is like David Shrigley meets Curb your enthusiasm.
Here is a preview! Enjoy!
The zoo with three animals
My mother told me about the zoo with three animals. It was called Preston Pleasure Gardens and there was a baboon, a monkey and an ostrich. I thought it was a shame that the baboon and monkey were almost the same type of animal as it made it appear that the zoo had only two animals.
But really it had three.
I used to walk around the zoo at Chester wishing I was at Preston Pleasure Gardens looking at the three animals. I would spend an hour with each, just staring at it, contemplating.
Now I have my own children and when I take them to the zoo I instruct them to look at three animals only; they can choose which.
‘But a family ticket cost forty-five pounds’ they say. ‘How much is that per animal?’ and this makes me think about unit costing and the disagreement with their mother over condoms.
She wore a dress with skulls on it and a black rose in her hair and Simon walked past her every day at exactly the same place.
One morning he smiled at her and when she smiled back he pursed his lips, changing his expression as fluidly as an organist shifting to a wistful minor.
Simon imagined them in cities like Oslo laughing about The-Exchange-of-Smiles-Day.
With her it would always be cities.
The girl’s journey was so punctual that it could be calibrated to the second and one day Simon stopped her.
‘Look,’ he said, and tore off his wristwatch and threw it into a bin.
She stared at him, and because she had no timepiece to discard, Simon unclipped the rose from her hair and tossed it into the road.
He hasn’t see her since and hasn’t replaced his wristwatch, preferring to tell the time by peering into cars.
It was the first time they’d spent an evening in together and Francesca was watching the darts while Ian pretended to read a book about the Korean famine.
Ian didn’t know that Francesca liked watching darts.
She admired a player called Wolfy who was as calm as a boulder. When Wolfy checked out with a double sixteen he would wag a stiff index finger at the audience and nod his head, unsmiling.
A tungsten dart weighs twenty-three grams.
The oche is the loneliest place in the world.
Darts is where romance and engineering intersect.
These were the facts Francesca liked about darts.
‘Are you ok?’ Ian called over. ‘With us sitting and not speaking like this?’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I’m fine.’
‘I’m fine too,’ he said.
Seventeen minutes passed and he called over again.
‘It’s good isn’t it? Being together but doing separate things?’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘It’s all right.’
Hidden Obvious Typical
I piled all the cards we’d ever exchanged on top of my bedclothes and every night slept underneath them.
It reminded me.
But after a while the cards seemed to be multiplying as if someone was adding to them as I slept so I took them to the railway station where I’d met her.
It wasn’t long before they found the case, and the blast was like a stifled sob.
I looked down the tracks. There’s a sense of endless possibility about trains; you can change your life profoundly by stepping into a carriage. But nothing is random, nothing is unexpected. Everything about a train is predictable. Every train is on a track and every track connects to every other track, and every person on every train is connected to every other person on every other train and all things are certain.
I’m not sure you can control an explosion.
It happens inside
Sheila was a radiologist and she liked to steal things from her neighbour’s flat and x-ray them at work.
The first thing she took was his stuffed pheasant because she was interested in how the bird was held together.
She discovered that metal rods stood in for bones and there was something solid like a marble at the centre of its cranium. Next she x-rayed his nose-hair trimmers and his porcelain model of a VW van.
An invisible world was inside these objects, a secret universe. Once she had seen inside all of his things, she knew him better than anyone. That’s when she decided to knock on his door and tell him all about it.
She had a folder with the x-rays in it and knew he would be fascinated by the images.
In his bedroom she would tell him everything about the insides of his pillows.
David Gaffney is from Manchester. He is the author of Sawn Off Tales (Salt 2006), Aromabingo (Salt 2007), Never Never (Tindal Street 2008), The Half Life of Songs (Salt 2011) Buildings Crying Out a story using lost cat posters (Lancaster litfest 2009), 23 Stops To Hull stories about junctions on the M62 (Humbermouth festival 2009) Rivers Take Them a set of short operas with composer Ailis Ni Riain (BBC Radio Three 2008.) and Destroy PowerPoint, stories in PowerPoint format (Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2009) The Poole Confessions, short stories based on the confessions of people from Poole delivered in a mobile confessional box (Poole Literature Festival, 2010) and Errata Slips, a guerrilla text project (Cornerhouse Manchester 2011) His has also written articles for the Guardian, the Sunday Times and is one half of experimental text and sound project Les Malheureux , with Sarah-Clare Conlon. More Sawn Off Tales is out in May 2013 on Salt. www.davidgaffney.org
‘evanescent moments of connection and happiness. One hundred and fifty words by Gaffney are more worthwhile than novels by a good many others. Nicolas Clee, The Guardian
‘Loaded with potent charges, insidious and cumulative in their effects, in Gaffney’s fiction thoughts take physical form, and the material world has a surreal vitality. The stories are sometimes haunting, and sometimes comic. The half-life is an appropriate metaphor for the lingering effect they have on the reader. ‘ The Times Literary Supplement