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Another (almost) True Story

Tony Ballantyne is the author of the Penrose and Recursion series of novels as well as many acclaimed short stories that have appeared in magazines and anthologies around the world. He has been nominated for the BSFA and Philip K. Dick awards.

Dream Paris, a follow up to the critically acclaimed Dream London, was published in September 2015.
Tony is writing in third person, present tense. He knows this sort of self referential stream of consciousness is the sort of thing that they teach in writing schools, that it can be mistaken as clever writing by those who value style over content. Hell yeah, check the word count, nine hundred more words of this and Tony can send it to some flash fiction web site. Ninety dollars, kerching!
But you pause. Maybe second person would be better? Hey, that's different. You know there aren't many stories written in second person. You wonder if that's because not many people know about it, or because it can come across as awkward and pretentious. You think you know the answer....
Barbara walks in the room. She reads over your shoulder for a while, and you look up. You can tell by the expression on her face that she's annoyed.
"What's the matter?" you ask.
"You're writing in the second person, present tense, again," she says. "Why are you doing that when it irritates you so much?"
She glares at you. Barbara's been married to you for 22 years. She graduated in Chemistry, worked in retail and then retrained as a teacher. She loves camping, cooking, and dancing.
"Now you're doing that U.S. writing school potted biography thing!"
"I can't help it! I'm all confused!"
You're often confused these days.
She looks so annoyed that I switch to first person.
"You're right," I say. "You know what to do. I should listen to you more often, rather than getting tangled up in my male need to always be right."
She stares at me. She's not the sort of woman you tangle with.
"And you can stop that, too," she says. "I hate that male apologist style of writing. Women aren't perfect and neither are men. It sounds creepy when people write like that."
"Okay."
"That's better."
"What's better?"
"This way of writing."
"Which of us is speaking now? I can't tell anymore."
"Nor can I? Which of us is talking now?"
"It's the Hilary Mantel thing. Call everyone Thomas and don't indicate who has spoken. That's arty."
- So is it me saying this, or is it you?
- Look, the speech marks have gone now. We're like Cormac McCarthy
- Or Roddy Doyle
Put the speech marks back in right now
"I mean it."
"Okay," you say. She can have the speech marks but you're bloody well keeping the second person. You gaze at her, challenging her to understand your genius.
"Yes I do understand your genius," she says. "And now you can understand mine. I've edited you for years. Take my advice and just write the damned story."
You pause.
"That's it," you say. "I'm going out to see my friends Ethel, Po-Yuk, and Charles Okoye"
"For heaven's sake!" she exclaims. "Those aren't your friends."
"Yes, they are!"
"No, they're not. Your friends are called Steve and Chris, and they're both balding white middle-aged men, just like you. You're just pretending to have a diverse range of friends so that it looks good to all the Virtue Signalers on Twitter."
You give a sardonic laugh. What does she know? You're the writer. You're going to write the story the way you want it. The way it needs to be written.
Barbara picked up Tony's story. She took the pen from bedside table and settled herself back to begin editing. Tony always forgot about this. He could write what he liked, but sooner or later he'd give her the story to edit....
She couldn't help but smile to herself. It was time, she thought, for a little omniscient narration.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, August 1st, 2016


The above story is 100% true (almost).

- Tony Ballantyne

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