Welcome to another installment of If My Book, the Monkeybicycle feature in which authors shed light on their recently released books by comparing them to weird things. This week Helen McClory writes about On the Edges of Vision, her debut story collection just published by Queen’s Ferry Press.
If On the Edges of Vision were a whisky, it wouldn’t be one whisky but forty. This is because there are forty stories, all with the same basic ingredients, but each with their own character, influenced by a handful of factors in a hundred thousand combinations.
I was a member of the whisky tasting society at university. I liked it because there were always long tables laid out in some elegant, echoing room, and the settings at each place were always six full-to-brimming drams of whisky. Admission was cheap, far cheaper than even one shot would have been outside those rooms. At the front there was always a representative of some distillery or other, always a man as far as I can recall, and always neat and kilted, there with a presentation on the whiskies before us. Ten-year-old, twelve, eighteen. Special casks. He’d click his remote and a new slide would project a bright black stream going down a hillside. Or a field of barley, speckled red with poppies. A hunk of peat on a spade, a dark plate on which was placed three star anise, a piece of honeycomb, raisins. Click. Another room of a different sort, dim and with endless rows of barrels retreating into this dusk. This is where I learned that the buildings where they store whisky to mature have a definitive appearance – sooty with the evaporating alcohols that have escaped the casks. The loss is famously called “the angel’s share,” which is a phrase almost too on point to be of any use outside tourist brochures and the names of pubs.
Back in those days, I’d throw the shot back to the pleasant drone of this lecture, and, almost unable to bear the taste, be racked by fiery shudders. This is where I learned the complexity of repulsion. Closed eyes: and what did I see when I drank? A memory of the images overlaid with crunching, electrical amber lines that went rushing through me, from my eyes down the back of the throat and through my body.
And in a second or two after the glow and half-vile sting of it faded, there was another to lift and drink down.
So what is a flash fiction but a liquid sort of prose that induces, at its best, bright shudders of infinite variety. The shudder of a tree as the lightning strikes it. The shudder of a small, hidden animal running through long grass. The bodily tremor when skin brushes against skin—contact perhaps wanted, perhaps unexpected, but a disruption, not destruction. In the best of all possible worlds, reading a story from On the Edges of Vision should feel in some way like this. And (if, if, if) after you’ve finished, the hot chill should die away, but an intoxication remain, your skin steaming with it. So that something, some dark vapour—call it what you like—passes outwards from you, outwards like freed smoke into the wide, raw air.
Helen McClory is a writer from Scotland. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of New South Wales. There is a moor and a cold sea in her heart. Find out more at www.schietree.wordpress.com or follow her on Twitter at @HelenMcClory.