See the Timescope page
November 2009 Past; Tense published
The result of over eighteen months of submissions to the Youwriteon peer review website; each story has run the gauntlet of reviews by aspiring writers. The end result is a compilation of what are, I hope, a finely-tuned presentation of my storytelling style. By virtue of the scores awarded them, three of the collected stories featured in the site’s Book of the Year awards.
Check for yourself. Click here to read one of the winning stories, ‘Diminuendo’.
Search Inside Timescope 1/2/2010Search inside function now active on Timescope. Enables readers to browse extract directly from Amazon website.Buy Timescope From Amazon
Search Inside Past; Tense 16/2/2010
Search inside function now active on Past; Tense. Enables readers to browse extract directly from Amazon website
22/2/2010 Feb 2010. Ringing the changes for my regular readers. In place of ‘Aiming for the Heart’ I have uploaded, ‘The sweet smell of revenge.’
11/3/2010 in time for Mother’s Day. Check out a poem on the poetry page
March 2011: Author review by Peter Hassebroek of Past:Tense
By Peter Hassebroek on March 14, 2011
I can’t say I fully grasp why the title Past; Tense was chosen for the second story, let alone the entire collection. A double-, triple-, or even quadruple-entendre I imagine, involving grammatical tenses, emotional tension, and chronology. Its phonetic awkwardness does foreshadow Joe Harding’s collection as literary fiction; yet these ten well-written, well-edited stories, narrated in ten unique voices, are surprisingly accessible.
Take one of my favourite pieces, the meta-fictional story, Come in, please. It dramatizes the inner struggle writers face from characters possessing a will of their own. The writer invites a bewildered character into his house. The character, a desperate man who has turned to thievery to support his family, is suspicious at first but then glad for a non- judgmental ear and willing to reveal himself.
Don’t start snivelling. I don’t feel sorry for you, even if you do. So when the money ran tight, you had to find money from other sources?
“She hadn’t even got a nice dress. We’d never been to a hotel together, not even for a night. I got the money and we had a weekend away from this hole—that was when that picture was taken. Chrissy gave up a lot for me. I just wanted her to have nice things now and then.”
Then I take it your employer didn’t find out right away who had their hand in the till?
“And then Darren was born. Nappies, a new washing machine, baby food. Chrissy’s Mum, stuck-up cow, no help from there. Chrissy off work. My Dad did what he could but he’s got emphysema.”
So you helped yourself?
“Yes. I helped myself, dammit! We never had nothing new. Who are you to sit there judging me? You’d have done the same.”
Good, you’re filling out your motives. You’ve justified yourself to yourself. That makes you exceptionally dangerous. Tell me about Darren.
The depth of the poor thief’s character contrasting the self-serving but objective writer is what makes this piece for me. This is no throwaway protagonist invented solely for meta-fictional effect; we have a genuine and enticing conflict. In the end, the reader is left to wonder about the thief himself, as well as what the writer will make of him. The technique is used again in a later story but in a different way.
Another of my favourites is The Skeleton in the Cupboard, told in the voice of a young girl who is unaware her father is an alcoholic. Her ignorance increases the pathos.
Dad forgot to pick me up from school again today, so Mrs Jackson had to bring me home, and when Dad came in he was ever so funny. He kept on pretending to fall over me, and he was talking all slow so that I couldn’t understand him. Then he fell asleep on the settee with the telly on and I cuddled up to him. He was nice, though he smelt all smoky and his breath was like overripe plums we get in Granddad’s orchard. Mum went mad when she came in though Dad kept on trying to hug her. Then he started crying so I guess he was sad that he didn’t have a job.
I sat on the third stair and listened to them both shouting. When Mum shouts at Dad it’s like a pirate film I saw once. The pirates fired lots of horrible things at the other ship; they stuffed bits of metal, chains and things in their cannons and blasted them at the enemy. Mum does that to Dad. Sometimes she says little sharp things to hurt him, then great big bad things so that Dad walks out and slams the door.
The writing is sophisticated throughout and these stories have been refined through strong editing. Credit is given to a website called Youwriteon.com at which some of these stories have been peer reviewed. It’s impossible to gauge the actual effect this had—and I imagine the author wouldn’t be able to remember either—but I suspect it’s a hybridizing one. The stories have been smoothed out, but perhaps a bit too much in some cases. As if collaboration sanitized the end product, making for an easier read, but at the cost of daring. It’s only a feeling I had and it’s hard for me to back that up with examples. It’s entirely possible too that this is a mature author still developing a style.
My only qualm is that all but two of the stories are written in first-person point of view. The variance in these intimate voices can make for a jarring transition when reading stories back-to-back. What is commendable is the variety. It’s a grab bag of styles, lengths, tenses, voices, and subjects; a fine exhibit of the author’s obvious abilities. One story ends and the reader has no clue what the next will be about. While there are recurring themes, such as music, this does produce a lack of cohesiveness. Not necessarily a drawback, as it allows the flexibility of reading the stories—all of which are worthwhile, some of which are gems—out of order.