Short stories are my favourite fiction, reading and writing. It is still, after 40 years as an author and several millions words in print, a great thrill to me when a fresh idea for a tale jumps into my head. The excitement following inspiration never fails to electrify me into looking forward to sitting down at my computer and getting into that white heat mode that produces a short story. I can still recall some of those moments of inspiration and why and how they came.
The title story hit me forcibly when I was reading an article in a magazine, I think it was Current Archaeology (my wife Annette's favourite pastime and her journal, not mine) which told the story of the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls in a cave containing sealed jars by a young Arab shepherd boy named Muhammad-the-Wolf. (What a great name for a start! I think I would have sold twice as many copies of my books with a name like that on the cover.) The article said the scrolls were not fashioned from paper or reeds but from animal hide. Immediately I had a picture of a strange creature in my head, a magical beast, which had been skinned and its hide used to record these holy, and otherwise, texts from so long ago. The rest of the story followed.
'Murders in the White Garden' came when I was visiting a friend in Dresden, who took me to the baroque garden of a German equivalent of a National Trust stately home, which was littered with statues of Greek gods and, this was the catalyst, a band of angels playing musical instruments. It was the latter which fired my enthusiasm for a story - silent music! I love the thought - yet in the end it was the Greek statues which formed the main characters in the story's plot.
'Spice'. Ah, I recall that moment vividly. Singapore has always been one of my favourite cities. I spent years there as a youth and more years there when my daughter's family were in residence. The Lion City. It has sparked more than one story. On this occasion Annette and I were visiting an old area of the city - much of it is now flash and modern - and we were walking down a certain street when I saw a sign which said that this was The Street of the Dead, the small crippled-looking dwellings dedicated to those who were dying and did not wish to bring bad luck on their family homes by ending their lives within, so they came to one of these houses in Sago Street to end their days. What? Who could ignore such a great lead-in to a tale of ghouls that sat in the rafters of those dwellings and waited for the unfortunate dying to yield up their dead flesh?
So, these are a few of the sparks that lit my fires. The Anglo-Saxon tales came from Sutton Hoo, where I am a volunteer steward and read a lot of literature in order to answer visitors' questions. 'The Human's Child' was written for Chester Zoo, to raise awareness for Asian elephants. 'Out Back' came while on a walk over the lonely marshes east of Iken village. 'Sacrificial Anode' (funnily enough) while on a tour of the local nuclear power station. (They use them to take the corrosive elements out of the coolant sea water). 'Moretta' on a walk on the cliffs above the sea-covered town of Dunwich. 'Stalking Moon' while pondering on a theme I love - reversals. You need to read the story to get my meaning. 'Atlantic Crossing', my favourite in the whole collection, while contemplating the waves off Felixstowe one day and wondering if that fellow who walked on the waters of Galilea had a trick we could all learn if we put our minds to it.
'The Fabulous Beast' a collection of short horror, fantasy and science fiction stories by Garry Kilworth.