Read our in depth interview with Brindley at the bottom of this page....

Brindley Hallam Dennis

Brindley Hallam Dennis


BHD Writes short stories. Many have been published & performed - often by Liars League, in London, New York & Hong Kong. He has won several prizes and awards. His novella 'A Penny Spitfire' was published in 2011 by Pewter Rose Press, and a collection of short stories, 'Talking To Owls' followed in 2012. In 2010 Unbound Press published 'That's What Ya Get! Kowalski's Assertions'. Writing as Mike Smith, he has published poetry, plays and critical essays - the latter mostly for Thresholds, the International Short Story Forum. Pewter Rose Press has a collection of his essays on the short story form in preparation. He blogs at www.Bhdandme.wordpress.com and his stories appear on Vimeo at BHDandMe. He tweets @BHDandMe. He has recently experimented with self-publishing for Kindle?amazon, producing several short story collections, including, Departures, The Man Who Found A Barrel Full of Beer, Other Stories & Rosie Wreay and, in collaboration with fellow CUT writer Marilyn Messenger, Ambiguous Encounters.

Credentials


Brindley Hallam Dennis in 60 seconds

When did you start writing?

1967 Burton Upon Trent

What do you love about Short Stories?

Brevity. Their gem-like quality.Their cutting facets, their sharpness, their sparkle, their durability. They last for centuries and still make you laugh, or cry, or even both!

Do you write in other forms?

Yes, but not as BHD. Mike Smith, my alter ego, writes poetry, plays, and essays - sheesh!

What distracts you from writing?

Necessity (and BBG)

Outside of writing, what are your other passions?

I have an unhealthy relationship with a big, black electric fretless bass guitar, that I call BBG.

What is your favourite book?

Weep Not My Wanton by A.E.Coppard. (or The Little Farm, by H.E.Bates)

Who are your favourite writers?

V.S.Pritchett - Try his story 'The Fall' , Lewis Grassic Gibbons - it's his use of language, and in particular of punctuation, which I love. and James Joyce - for the novel Ulysses, but also for short story, 'The Dead.'

Where is your dream location?

When I was young I loved remote places, but as I get older, I value people more and more.

What one item would you put into Room 101?

Probably me, on reflection....

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Try something else....I wish I could do better than this, but it does seem like good advice. I'm surprised I thought of it. Another might be, don't value the writers, but the individual writings, and don't look to be valued yourself, but want it for your writing. Care about the writing more than about the responses to it. I'm a romantic. Sorry about that.

ebooks by Brindley Hallam Dennis:

Contributory Culpability
Brindley Hallam Dennis
£0.99 Added
Morning walks, an irrational fear, and a story of past, lethal transgression revealed. "A few years ago I took a cottage in West Cumbria for a week to get some peace and quiet while I worked my way through a large number of documents. I'd been called in as a specialist by the legal team of a multi-national that was defending itself against a negligence claim. Finding the smallest shred of evidence to suggest that the so-called victims have contributed to the disaster can save you thousands in damages, tens of thousands, millions even, if it's a class action. The cottage was one of three old quarrymen's cottages sitting on a hillside beyond Rowrah in the back of end of nowhere, where the remains of old railway lines wind their way between the rounded foothills of the English Lake District. I worked long hours that week, breaking off for a sandwich at lunchtime, and driving down to the local pub for supper, and then doing another couple of hours before I turned in. One treat I allowed myself was a brisk walk in the mornings, after dawn, but before the sun had crested the curved summit of the hill behind the cottage..."
Dawn Chorus
Brindley Hallam Dennis
£1.99 Added
On the road, escaping from a confrontation a young man unexpectedly returns home, but when his friend retells the story, does he get it right? "Billy and Geoff had gone down to London, with a few of the others. They were staying over in somebody’s house, so they were on their best behaviour. But the folk they were staying with turned out to be OK. Because no-one had eaten yet they all went down the local pub, which served chicken in a basket which was all the rage in those days. Now, Billy was having difficulties with his woman at that time, and Geoff was fooling around with anyone, on account of having comprehensively fallen out with his own woman a few weeks before. So, what with the drinks, they were getting on each other’s tits. Then Geoff started giving Billy hard beans about the way he was treating Sam – that was Billy’s woman – and saying that if he wasn’t careful somebody else would do the Doctor John on her, somebody else will, you know? So Billy told him he could effing well have her, and he took himself off into the night..."
Final Accounts
Brindley Hallam Dennis
£1.99 Added
Ten flash fictions of last words, last actions, and last loves...... "Wilson didn’t know he had only one week to live, whereas Seymour had been warned that he would die within the year. He was already too ill to drive, so he asked Wilson to take him to see her. Wilson was reluctant, but they had been friends for decades. Take a week’s leave, Seymour said. Wilson’s wife, knew the value of friendship, and she told him to get on with it. You never knew what they meant by ‘within the year’. Why, it might happen the next week, who could tell?"
Personal Calls
Brindley Hallam Dennis
£1.29 Added
A mobile phone in the wrong hands, can lead to who knows what messages in the wrong ears....
B Movie
Brindley Hallam Dennis
£0.99 Added
It was the Head Gardener’s fault. There was an aggressive man. ...
Out of the Wood
Brindley Hallam Dennis
£0.99 Added
The stranger walked into the bar-room just after six. Bernard didn't usually talk to strangers. He rarely spoke to anyone.
A Feast of Flash Fictions
Brindley Hallam Dennis
£0.99 Added
Ten Flash Fictions, from 449, to 96 words short...illicit affairs and railroad crashes, murderous spouses and vengeful neighbours.
The Cover Story
Brindley Hallam Dennis
£0.99 Added
Apparently, this story was going to be 'disqualified with merit' from an Earlyworks Press competition...but that was too ridiculous...so they gave it Second Prize! It's on of the stories in Talking To Owls (Pewter Rose Press) and you can hear it read on Vimeo.
The Turkey Cock
Brindley Hallam Dennis
£0.99 Added
This story is about proportionality: The taxi rank was tucked against the wall downhill from the station......

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CUT chats with Brindley Hallam Dennis....

 

CUT: When you write, is it to music, silence or perhaps some other kind of personal soundtrack?

BHD: I write to silence. I maybe didn’t a long time ago but certainly do now. I may well play the guitar for a bit beforehand or go on YouTube and listen to something like Alex Harvey to wind me up but while I’m actually writing it’s just me and the screen or me and the notebook. And yes, silence is important. Anything else would be distracting. I don’t think it was true when I was younger but it’s certainly true now. Whether that’s progress or deterioration I cannot say!

 

CUT: How often do you write? Do you schedule time to write or is it more of a spontaneous, ‘as and when’ matter?

BHD: I write every day in some form. I don’t do it as a regime though. Also, occasionally, every now and then, I try not to write for as long I can. I think that’s very helpful sometimes. It’s a good one, that is! I think sometimes you can actually write too much. I think sometimes you need a head of steam and I think sometimes you need to be desperate. And not doing it will lead to that…                    

No, but I do write every day, though it’s not always anything that you would describe as useful or creative or good but I carry a notebook with me almost everywhere and it’s very rare that there’ll be a day when something doesn’t go down in it. I still write a lot in fountain pen and what goes into the notebook then makes its way onto the computer and is edited in the process, and worked on more there but most stuff starts in the notebook. I mainly use it in free moments that I grab when I can. I’m a great believer in V.S. Pritchett’s line about short stories “springing from a poetic impulse” rather than a prosaic one. I think short stories come out of a moment of perception. You hear something or see something and you think, that’s part of a story. And when that happens it’s a good idea to have the notebook to hand and to whip it out and write it down. Late at night is another good time. At home, I’m often the last one up, jotting down something that has been churning in my head. When I write on the computer it tends to be copying up these notes and thoughts. I also sometimes go back and look at things that haven’t been copied up and often find I’m surprised by something I had forgotten I’d written. The notebooks are key and I’m currently on notebook 83 since I started counting which was about ten years ago. I keep meaning to go back through them, right to the beginning but I’ve got so many of the bloody things now it’d take me about six months! I guess they are my great unused resource. But when it gets desperate I can always go and take a look for inspiration.

 

CUT: Do you know the ending before you start or does it reveal itself along the way?

BHD: I start with the end and work out how I’ll get there. It’s like a fell walk, if I want to take you to this view, I want to have you approach it in such a way that you don’t see until you get there. Now I know where it is, I’ve been the other way! But I’m going to try and take you there in a way that surprises you. There’s a wonderful quote by C.S. Lewis where he talks about “the quality of surprisingness”. Our favourite stories are not the ones we’ve forgotten, they’re the ones we remember. So we don’t read to find out what’s going to happen next, we read for the method in which it’s revealed. Kids are the same, the stories they want to hear again and again are the ones they know bloody word by word. They know every beat and if you try to cut corners or leave out part of it so you can nip off to the pub they’re on to you. What I like is the way you take the reader to where you’re going, the story’s destination. I think that short stories in particular are all about getting to this particular place and when you get to there you have to recognise it. It can’t be something new that you’ve never seen before, otherwise it wouldn’t mean anything. It’s something you know, but what you didn’t know is that last little connection that joins it to the rest of the story. Again, going back to what C.S. Lewis said about “surprisingness”, you can read or see something again and again so it’s actually not a surprise anymore, you know what you’re going to see but it still has an impact. And even with stories or films you experience for the first time, you can anticipate what’s going to happen next. You can know what’s about to occur and still savour it when it happens. I think short stories and films are very similar in that way.

 

CUT: Where do you go for feedback or constructive criticism on your work? Why?

BHD: I have a few writing buddies. One is a fellow called Kurt Tidmore who never sends his stuff off but he’s a great writer and a great critic. I’ve only met him once as he doesn’t live near me but he’s a friend of a friend and most of the useful feedback I get is from him. In fact, with that in mind, I’m also very taken with Stephen King’s book “On Writing” and I think you’d be hard put to find a better book about the process. There’s a particular section when he talks about writing with the door closed and the door open; about when it’s appropriate to show something to someone and why you’re showing them and what sort of feedback you want. It also links in with why you think you’re writing and who you’re writing for, and things like that.

 

CUT: Most of what you have published on CUT is flash fiction and we very much enjoy the controlled economy of your work. It’s been said that the art of good short fiction (and longer for that matter) lies in knowing what to leave out more than what to put in. Do you agree and if so how do you decide on what to include and what to leave out?

BHD: Well I’m glad you said there’s an economy to the stories because by nature I’m a putter in and not a taker out. I do take out as well, but I tend to add more often. I don’t feel that flash fiction is fundamentally different from short stories but I do think short stories are fundamentally different from novels. I suppose my stories start very thin and sparse and if I feel that I’ve made the journey to the end of the story in as little as 500 words then that will be enough but if I feel that I haven’t got you there the right way then I’ll start adding. It’s very rare that I’ll add to the beginning or the end but I tend to add to the middle.

I have a theory, for what it’s worth, about short stories; it’s a construction of re-contextualised information. Every bit added to it re-contextualises the bits you’ve already read and creates the context in which you read the bit you read next. This context builds up and builds and builds up until it gets you to a place, and this is my idea I suppose, but when you get there you know where it is but you have no idea of how you got to it. You weren’t expecting to arrive there when you arrived, you were expecting to arrive somewhere else… That’s my ideal short story; you’ve been taken to a place but the connection between the end and the rest of the story is not what you expected. It’s all about that turning moment. That’s what’s in the back of my mind, so I’m tending to add as I write, to build up that context and to make that context stronger. It doesn’t always work, mind, but that’s the theory!

In terms of length I think we all have a creative pulse, like how long you can run without taking a breather or how long you can sing without needing to take a breath and I think mine tends to be about 700 to 1,200 words maybe. And when I have longer stories they tend to fall into the same rhythm, the same pattern. Even the novel I wrote, which I think was about 54,000 words, started out as a 6,000 word story. And then it was packed with more stuff and grew progressively. But they’re all like the little squares in a patchwork quilt… disparate visions, if you like, that slowly connect to reveal something about the characters. So even when I’m writing quite a long piece they start off as little chunks.

 

CUT: In your collection “A Feast of Flash Fictions” the stories hinge on moments of tension and the banality of everyday life, with teeth or a dark cloud never far away. Do you think that unspoken conflict is a significant part of life?

I have this feeling, often in the back of my mind really, that there’s actually something quite heroic about just getting through your ordinary life. You don’t have to be pulling people out of burning buildings or charging across deserts; there’s something heroic about just doing what you need to do next. I sometimes look around and I’m often surprised that more of us aren’t… going beserk ha ha… I don’t think life is that easy for a lot of people despite living in a world that often tells us the opposite. Yet despite the all the dissatisfactions, most people don’t fall down and weep or murder their neighbours with an axe, you just get on with your life, even though many times you can’t see the point. And we’re decent about it. I think people are essentially decent… mostly, when there are plenty of reasons not to be. And I find that… astonishing ha ha!

And narrative is so important to our lives. How we make sense of everything. The death of loved ones, disease, having a job you hate… the best happy ending if you really think about it is to tell your story and pass it on. Hmmm this has all got quite serious now! But to sum up there’s so much that isn’t said but it’s there, under the surface, for all of us.

 

CUT: Your stories feature hotel cleaners, gardeners, pilfering factory workers, characters in working class/blue collar jobs. What draws you to tell stories about these people? Have you done many jobs like this and do the experiences influence your writing?

BHD: I’ve never been a pilfering factory worker! Actually, I’ve never worked in factory at all. My dad ran a petrol station when I was growing up. I’ve also worked in a hotel. A very posh one; full of millionaires and people who had saved up. And surprisingly enough, often the millionaires were nicer! It fits ill though, we don’t want to think that of them, that they’re nice people ha ha!

What else…? I was a teacher.  I also worked in a probation hostel for about 5 years, which was pretty gruelling. And some of the violence in the stories comes from that. When you work in that environment, you come up against the hard fact that, if you’re on duty, anything that happens - and anything could happen – then you’re responsible for sorting it out within the rules. But all the guys who are living there, they don’t feel bound by doing anything within the rules if it doesn’t suit them. It was challenging to be in that environment and know that when whatever shit hit whatever fan, your actions are going to be scrutinised and no one’s going to stick up for you and say, “well, he’s under stress… etc” So that was a very interesting environment. I came from an educational background and I wanted to help people make decisions that were right while the system I was working in was more interested in imposing behaviours that were right. It was fascinating… and a lot of stories have come out of that.

I also worked in a job creation scheme, as a second hand bookseller. And you met interesting people. I’ve been a lecturer in creative writing at a local university. So… it’s been varied! I tend to stick to the old idea that you write what you know so I tend to draw on the different milieus I’ve been involved in.

 

CUT: There is an undercurrent of violence in your work, the hotel cleaners in “Out of Season” find bloody handkerchiefs, a man fronts up to a bully in “The Turkey Cock”, a gardener snaps while he happens to be holding a sharp tool in “B Movie”, a crossed neighbour contemplates revenge in “A Dish of Gazpacho”… what do you find so compelling about violence or the threat of violence?

Good question. I’m not sure I have an answer for that. I suppose I’m aware of it. I mean it’s all around us, isn’t it? I think it’s fair to say that all my violent stories tend to show that the violence isn’t achieving anything. In one of my stories the character fantasises about how he’ll escape the situation he’s got himself into but realises he’s kidding himself and it’s not possible. In “Turkey Cock” there’s a character who is told he’s so clever he can talk his way out of anything but… he isn’t. He goes too far and moves past the stage where he is the victim and instead becomes the aggressor. So I think the violence in my stories is always self-defeating.

When I sold books I sold military books and read a lot of them. In fact, I hardly read any fiction for about 20 years. I read military history and memoirs mostly. And I never ever found one, not one -despite the intentions of some - that made a convincing case for saying that the violence had worked. Even Colin Powell, the former U.S. Secretary of State, went on record as saying no one ever got anything out of a protracted war. And it’s true. What violence tends to do, is change the problem. The act of violence changes our perception of what we’re trying to solve. It shifts the focus, so we concentrate on the symptoms rather than the root cause. So, I’m not a fan of it…

 

 

CUT: Much of this violence is very much implied rather than described. Does this come from personal taste or is it a stylistic decision?

I think the threat of things is always greater than the actuality... certainly in fiction. If you can make your readers imagine something and evoke their own personal fears with a threat, that will always be more potent than anything you can come up with in words. As a kid I saw an old horror film called “The Trollenberg Terror” about some beastie up in the mountains that was killing people, tearing them limb from limb and I remember cowering behind the sofa and being utterly terrified… until I saw the monster, which was sort of made of blancmange and drinking straws… and you fall about laughing! And I think I may have elevated “The Trollenberg Terror” to a theory of writing; it doesn’t matter what you do, but when you reveal the monster, so to speak, it’s just not as scary as what the reader is imagining and you can’t match that. So with that in mind, the implication is much more interesting and effective. And the threat is also going to be more evocative of specific feelings in the reader than of specific explanation. And I think it works across other genres as well.

 

CUT: In your profile you say you love the “brevity” of short stories yet you say James Joyce is one of your favourite authors. Do you ever like to let loose, abandon the economy of your style and let whatever is in your head spill out onto the page?

Every now and then! There was one which, talking of the poetic impulse I mentioned earlier, was inspired by a Scotsman saying that his favourite sound in the world was that of bagpipes landing in a skip… on top of a piano accordion, ha ha. And when he said it, all the other Scotsmen in the room laughed and I thought, I’m going to write a story about that. It was about a piper who arrives on a Scottish island to entertain the tourists and two local residents plot to get rid of him. I remember sending it off and the editor, at Chapman’s, said well, you’re very controlled… I think you really need to cut loose at the end of this story. So she sent it back and I sat on it for about a year and then I thought, yeah she’s right, it’s got to be absolutely apocalyptic at the end. So I did what she suggested, I let loose. In fact I’m putting together a collection of stories that are all over 2,000 words, just to show that I do do them sometimes! But yeah, I do enjoy cutting loose once in a while.

 

CUT: What makes you rate someone’s writing?

BHD: Well I think it goes back to what I said earlier about the ending of stories. The ones where you get to the end and you gasp even though when you look back you can’t see any other way it could have ended. That always blows me away. I think it’s tremendous. And what I especially like is when the ending is the last word. There’s a wonderful introduction to the Folio Society’s book of short stories, though I can’t remember who it’s by but it says that when you read Emile Zola’s “The Attack on the Mill” you will never forget the last two words. And it’s absolutely right. I couldn’t really tell you any details about it, just a rough outline, but by gosh I’ve never forgotten those last two words. And I know why, it’s because of the fantastic weight they carry in telling you what the story’s about. The whole meaning of the story pours out when you get to those two words. “The Coup de Grace” by Ambrose Bierce is another one. It’s only the last few words of it that give the game away. It’s wonderful if you can do that. The whole story is suddenly thrown into a new light. And that’s what I like about the genre. If an author can pull that off two or three times in their career… they’ve done well!

 

CUT: Do you have a favourite short story?

It’s hard to pick just one... but if pushed I might go for A.E. Coppard’s “Weep Not My Wanton” which has just been republished. It’s only about four pages long, but it’s a gem. There’s a movement in the middle that you just don’t see coming and you just gasp, like someone’s just punched you in the guts! It just takes you by surprise… but it isn’t the ending. Which is interesting… the ending is actually a lot more gentle, and therein lies the truth of what the story’s about. “The Little Farm” by H.E. Bates, which is a bit longer and bit more obvious, runs it close. It’s about as poignant a story as you’ll ever read. Yeah… I get very excited about short stories!

 

CUT: And do you have a favourite among your own work or are you too kind a parent?

BHD: I have several favourites... ones that seem to me to have done what I was trying to do... well, there’s two that are on the CUT site. “The Turkey Cock” is one, because it works. That one’s great fun to read to an audience, because you get these sort of laughs at the start, then they become a little uneasy, then eventually you get a pin-drop silence when it turns nasty. Yeah, that’s great! “The Cover Story” is another, because it makes me laugh. I tend to prefer my comic stories, whereas I think the world has preferred my violent ones.  Favourites are the ones that have come out something like what I wanted to do. And I think if you don’t have favourites, it suggests that you’re not sure of what you’re trying to do. For me, all stories fail to different extents and in different ways… not from the reader’s perspective but from the author’s… but there are those that fail less than others! You may like some of them, but the favourites are those where you’re trying to pull something off… and you achieve it.

 

CUT: Great. Thank you so much Brindley. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you.

BHD: You’re welcome. Thank you.

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