One evening in Crete, a couple of years ago, I saw something that made a lasting impression on me. A small boy, maybe eight or nine years old, sitting in front of a large green rubbish bin, with an accordion in his hands and a mournful-looking dog by his side. He wasn’t playing the accordion, but just holding it and gazing at nothing in particular.
I felt compassion, of course. But I also felt that the scene had been highly orchestrated to produce exactly that response. I felt sorry for the boy and also angry at whoever had put him there, late in the evening for a boy so small, to beg from passing strangers.
In the end, nothing much happened. I dropped a few coins in the tin and moved on. But what if something else had happened? What if I had truly engaged with the boy, asked him questions, tried to help him? What would his response have been? What might it feel like to be him, and what might it feel like to be the adult who put him there, the person against whom I felt so much anger?
I thought about all of this every now and then over the past couple of years, and then I sat down to write a story about it. As with all stories, it then took on a life of its own. I have no idea whether the thoughts and feelings of the character I created bear any resemblance to those of the boy I saw. They are entirely different people. But in the process of writing the story, in the process of putting myself in the shoes of people very different from me, I think I developed my capacity for empathy, which is perhaps the most important thing we need with the world as it is right now. I hope that readers will enjoy it and perhaps gain something from it.
At least one reader has enjoyed it: Heidi Cox of In Short Publishing in Melbourne, who plans to publish it as a chapbook early next year. If you haven’t come across In Short Publishing yet, you might want to take a look. They publish single short stories in well-made pocket-sized books, printed on 100% recycled paper.
A great short story, that’s what we’re about. No downloads or squinted eyes on bright screens, no anthologies or magazines. Just a single short story on its own. And at In Short Publishing Co. we think that’s pretty special.
I find that this kind of “What If?” moment is a great way of sparking story ideas. If you’re a writer or aspiring writer, why not give it a try? Take an event from your own life and ask yourself: What if things had happened slightly differently? What if the same thing had happened to someone else, whose response was different from mine? Follow the train of thought, and see what you come up with. I’d love to hear what you come up with, so please leave a comment below!