About William Ottoway’s Utopia by Christopher Griffith:
‘Come, Manou, this is superstitious clap.’ So says William Ottoway to his island’s priest, for the modern world has surely extinguished any notion of the supernatural? But some who have lived before our technological revolution hold grave concerns about this new reality which has all but supplanted the numinous element of human existence. Despite warning from his best friend’s mother against attempting to replicate paradise, William puts faith alone in idealism to create a utopian society in the tropics. All seems well, until his serpent brother appears with temptation…
William Ottoway’s Utopia concerns the dream of a man who seeks to escape stresses of everyday life for promised ease in this world’s tropics; to his dismay, he is unable to flee influence of the one appliance which has arguably shaped all our experience in the last half century, the humble television set! William is a good man, but will he be ravaged and ruined by his brother Tom who brings discord and disharmony to his island paradise?
Rick With A (Bipolar) View details the experience of a young man suffering from bipolar disorder who wants to be a professional DJ. Unsure whether or not the repetitive beats of electronic music and his obsession with trance and techno may be the cause of his illness, he nevertheless accepts offer of a Friday night gig and ‘takes the roof off’ the nightclub, coming down back at home in glow and reflection of his achievement.
If all this sounds too intense then do please head over to Break Out the Bubbly!!, a comic piece set in a supermarket whose Manager is acting in very strange manner indeed. The initial boredom felt by our hero Emily is quickly shattered by Carol’s arrival and subsequent farce as she seems intent on closing the shop during opening hours to conduct inquisitions in the boardroom! The champagne keeps going missing, you see, and she needs to find the culprit. Is he, or she, a little closer to home than everyone thinks?
Fantasy for the next story, Saman’s Revenge, in which our titular hero is seriously miffed with the Earth-goddess Thera; she’s punished him an aeon ago for misdemeanour which he firmly believes really wasn’t his fault at all. Anyway, when you’re immortal and old as the hills themselves it doesn’t bother you too much to wait a few millennia before exacting your revenge on modern day teenagers Jack, Roxie, her boyfriend Mark and his brother Norman. But what is the young people’s relation to Thera, and temple ruins on top of the village hill, Shadyridge?
Which leaves Young Shakespeare, my imaginative retelling of some of Will’s ‘lost years’ when he reached London; after all, who wouldn’t want to fall in love with Anne, listen in awe to Sir Walter Raleigh’s perorations on, well who knows, meet his future friend and rival Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe, then cogitate at length upon the Reformation against whose profound change the budding writer begins to conclude he might wish to work?
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I had always done well in English at school, and without the first clue what I wanted to do with the rest of my life I decided to play to this strength of mine and applied to study English at university!
In addition, I had always found English Language something of a bind (too dry and analytical for me, I concluded sagely…) so the course I settled on was straight English Literature; of course, the serious study of poetry and prose proved also to be dry and analytical so that one day early in my second year I found myself in the university library writing the opening paragraph of what would become my first novel – Saman’s Revenge.
Strangely, this new urge to create instead of critically analysing texts coincided with a descent into mental ill health, serious enough condition that I was forced to convalesce at home where I found time enough to finish writing Saman’s Revenge; and from that point on, the creative well within me simply would not stop springing and spurting forth new characters with new stories to tell.
Over the next couple of years I wrote three more full-length novels, Rick With A View, WilliamOttoway’s Utopia and then what at the time I concluded was my masterpiece; this last, however, completely emptied my reserves of energy, its effort draining that very well I had naively thought would always flow freely, leaving me at completion to cling on to the one element I had always found easy to produce in my composition – dialogue.
I had started writing poetry at the same time as prose, much of it acting as therapy to help heal my illness, so I took this medicine of mine and alongside it began to write stage plays, surmising naively that this would be a more comfortable task, an easy job to ascend the mountain top of none other than one William Shakespeare! But I would have to read too, I realised, the oxygen of books and more formidable tomes allowing me to gain wisdom and intellect enough to reach that very same peak.
Under such delusion, I returned to university – surely it was no coincidence that a glut of talented writers I had been reading about had all taken the MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, and if that course was necessary possession to reach the heights my hero had then I would have to apply for and hopefully gain place upon it, even if I lived a hundred miles away and would still have to work my day job to make ends meet?!
Somehow, I managed it. I didn’t score highly on my units but I passed, just as I had been disappointed not to rate better in my undergraduate effort, but I had now been to two strong universities (the other one Bristol), I was still reading widely, I had written four novels, and the poetry I produced continued to regularly burst over the banks of my subconscious. Now was the time, I knew, that I would make my name as the next famous playwright; so I gave up writing plays and returned to scripting novels!
And here’s the thing -without the illogicality of that decision, there would be no Break Out The Bubbly!! or Young Shakespeare in this collection, for it was these two full-length novels I proceeded to compose before making decision to convert them, along with the first three novels I had written, into short stories. And the rest, as they say, is present. I had done with the novel that had almost had done with me, taking the remaining five which due to my erratic wanderings in writing were now mix of prose, poetry and play, shaping and editing them into the collection I present to you here.
I hope this information goes some way towards explaining the rather unique writing style you will find in the stories, ranging from short, bare sentences to more substantial prose paragraphs; it may take some getting used to as you read through, but I can assure you that there is method behind it and I have thought deeply not just about every story included here but about every sentence, phrase and indeed word within their worlds. My training at Bristol and UEA taught me to pay attention so whilst the length of time I have been writing, some twenty years, instructed me likewise but from different angle, most acutely through the words of those characters who speak to each other, and to you, in these pages!