Robin Thomas’s novella-in- flash fragments, Margot and The Strange Objects is available from our short fiction press, Ad Hoc Fction on pre-order at a 25% discount on the cover price until this coming Friday, 25th March, when our small press is publishing it, along with David Rhymes’ novella in flash, The Last Days of the Union also available for pre-order on discount and Flash Fiction Festival Anthology, Vol. Four, (more details on this anthology coming soon). A great trio of books for the Spring. Here, Robin tells us more about his novella, the process of writing it and more about one of the other absurdist novellas he has been writing in the last months It’s really heartening to know how creative writers have been in the lockdown period and how many different styles of very shortfiction are illustrated in these three books. We love the cover of Robin’s book, shown here. It was designed by Ad Hoc Fiction and we think perfectly conveys the odd and intriguing characters and relationships in this unusual novella.
- At Ad Hoc Fiction, we’ve described your novella, Margot and The Strange Objects as in the absurdist tradition and Michael Loveday, in his cover endorsement, suggests its style is in the same arena as the writings of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. Can you give a synopsis of the story lines and characters? And did that style of writing influence you?
Margot has been left a peculiar collection of ‘strange objects’ by her aunt and is on a quest to find out something about them. Helping or hindering her or engaged on some other project entirely are: two men with a burden called Nimrod, a group of children in search of sardines and ice-cream, a taciturn man with a mysterious hat, a schoolboy who’s good at asking questions, a small dinosaur, a brace of giraffes, an August Personage, George the Oak Tree (a Portuguese-speaking arboreal author), a talking building, a camel, an interfering author and Nobody. Each of these has his, her or their own story line which make minimal contact with each other until the last few pages when they all come together.
I have always enjoyed all kinds of the absurd and surreal – Lear and Carroll certainly but also surrealist painters like Magritte, the writings of Beckett and Borges, the films of Bunuel etc. I think all these and many others influenced me but mostly unconsciously. I think I probably have absurdity in my soul.
- What motivated you to write your novella?
This is very interesting – a few years ago my wife and I were watching a tv programme about Phillip Pulman. On hearing that he aimed at writing a certain number of words a day Mary, my wife turned to me and suggested I do the same. I ended up writing 400 words a day for several months. After a while it looked like it was turning into a story. And that, with many changes, deletions, additions and many helpful comments by others, became Margot.
- Margot and the Strange Objects is a novella in flash-fiction fragments, rather than in stand-alone chapters of flash fictions. Some of the individual pieces are just a couple of sentences long. How did you go about building it and arriving at the final structure?
My unconscious must take much of the responsibility for the content. Consciously, I had to make sure that each of the story lines made ’sense’ in its own right, made contact with the other story lines at appropriate moments and played its own part, being neither dominant nor subservient. An important stage was adding titles to each ‘fragment’ which really helped me ensure that the structure was properly balanced. I had to do quite a bit of work to bring it all together at the end. This involved a lot of trial and error and a lot of checking that no loose ends had been left.
- What were the most challenging and the most satisfying parts of this process?
he most satisfying part was undoubtedly the writing of the 400 word fragments every day. In this phase of things I tried not to look back too far so that each fragment had a chance to develop by itself. Most challenging was the need to delete some parts that I thought worked in their own right but didn’t fit the emerging whole. Checking for inconsistencies, red herrings, things that just didn’t sound right and as I mentioned, pulling it all together at the end of the novella was also very challenging and time and energy consuming.
- You have had several collections of poetry published. Can you tell us more about them?
I’ve had four collections of poetry published now. I like to write about history, family, paintings, music, especially jazz and like to mix up the serious and the less serious with quite a few excursions into the absurd. My last book Cafferty’s Truck, published last year, is a kind of shaggy dog story with one leg in the absurd, the other in the diurnal. Cafferty himself never speaks, the action centring on his truck which goes ‘from here to there and there to here’. It shares some genes with Margot.
- What are you working on at the moment?
Apart from poetry, which I work on every day I have a number of novellas in flash or fragments on the go: there is Lord Merrichip’s Foray which is most advanced and which has something of a similar structure to Margot. It involves a literature and philosophy loving elderly military man and lord of the manor, his gardener cum butler with exemplary knowledge of philosophy, a pair of commoners, Pontius Pilates who habitually speaks in verse and Maid Mary-Anne who speaks in down to earth prose, her mother, who thinks she is rather posh and whose means of advertising it is to speak in Franglais, Mary-Anne’s dad, who has been working in China and who has become an expert on Confucius, Jenny Renne, an inventor responsible for No.17 which is a bad-tempered electric logic chopping machine, Ralph, a vegetarian lion and victim of a category mistake who speaks mainly Cow and whose best friend is indeed a cow – Bets-y-Coed, ducks, sheep, a tram which rides the old Spice route and others. Then there is an absurd novella about the doings of society and club members on the memorable ’Societies Day’ in suburban Loughton in Essex and a novella about Peter, whose soul is in for its yearly service. There are and one or two other novellas in very much an early stage.
Robin Thomas completed the MA in Writing Poetry at Kingston University in 2012. His poems have appeared in many poetry anthologies. He has published four poetry books with Eyewear, Cinnamon and Dempsey and Windle. Margot and the Strange Objects is his first novella-in-flash. He currently has two more simmering away.