Telling a story (Prague)

23 Sep

I once wrote a short story called Telling a Story , which is about a person who goes to Prague and wants to impress at  an expatriate poetry and short story reading. The only feedback I ever got (from a writer whose opinion I respected) was that it read too much like real memoirs, not enough like actual fiction. I suppose I should have been flattered; that was the idea, but on closer look, I realised that with a few tweaks here and there, it could be memoirs, but there’d have to be a host of other things to add.

Telling a Story remains a personal favourite. No, it’s not a winner of competitions or awards, but  maybe because it is closer to what I was thinking at the time, I can look back at it with real affection. Prague in  the 1990’s was not such an easy place place to live in,  but it had charm and real character. It was still the beautiful, slightly shabby older woman rather than the young fashionista that it has become.  Besides, the city in its various guises has been so well written about by Kafka, Kundera, Klima, Skvorecky et al . It had the effect on me like the effect of Greece on John Fowles, of being impossible to write about while you were there, you had to go away before you could even attempt to write about it. So, while I was there, I wrote about Greece, about England, took notes on Prague and took lots of photographs, but made no attempt to fictionalise a place which was asking you to flirt with combinations of fantasy and social realism, except for the embryonic version of  ‘Telling a story’, which is now the middle section of the story, a story within a story. I read it out to Beef Stew – which was what the poetry and short story reading sessions were called – at FX Radost, and was pleased when I raised a laugh or two.

It was only after I left that I tackled the whole thing with relish. The result – a novel from the short story that became Telling a Story was too episodic, and I have had to take a long, deep breath of more than ten years before returning to it. That is, when I’ve finished my novel about the ex- priest, set in Poland, and made a few tweaks to another set in Sicily.  So it’ll probably ferment for a while longer, a little like a Pilsner which is looking for its body.

The trouble is, Prague has changed so much since the mid-nineties, it might be hard on a revisit there to jog my memory of the atmosphere, unless of course, we are in the business of making comparisons.

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