I am often asked where the inspiration for my work comes from, and, as a writer primarily of non-fiction, I give the name of some little-known-outside-of-their-literary-field investigative journalists, much to the questioner’s disappointment.
Names like Michael Herr, Gordon Burn and Marie Helvin don’t have quite the same magical effect of those of novelists, but I was recently asked the question again and was able to give a different answer, in relation to my new book, Bank Notes, an anthology of fictional short stories.
For some time now, I have wanted to write a collection of short stories, and bring together a handful of existing ones. As I approached the tenth anniversary of the publication of my first book, My Only Boro, I also wanted to create something in the vein of the anthologies and authors, filmmakers and artists that have inspired my own work. Bank Notes is as much influenced by Round The Twist, Tales of the Unexpected, and The Twilight Zone, for example, as it is by Robert Aickman, Shirley Jackson and Stephen King. In fact, like many of the stories in the book, the lines between film, TV, literature, and indeed, real life, are often blurred, and here are stirred into a curious melting pot of mystery, occasional malevolence, and detached body parts.
The seeds of imagination that were planted some thirty years ago, and longer, by the aforementioned influences, and have since sprouted into the verdant garden that is Bank Notes. As I write this, The Green Knight, a film adaptation of the legend of Gawain and the Green Knight, has received the big screen treatment, but I vividly recall being mesmerised by the tale in primary school. Around the same time, I was given a copy of Rhoda Blumberg’s ‘The First Travel Guide To The Moon’. The book was a then-fanciful account of civilian space travel and interplanetary package holidays that I have built on, albeit with a much darker take, in ‘Come To Kepler’. As in real life, some of the world’s most annoying billionaires float around Outer Space like litter on the breeze. It feels more prescient than ever.
As my reading tastes matured, I have since recoiled in horror at Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’ and howled with laughter at Mark Twain’s travel writing. Despite this supposed literary maturity, a recent YouTube rewatch of the ‘Spaghetti Pig Out’ episode of the aforementioned Round The Twist, written by Paul Jennings, saw me quickly revert back to my ten year old self. I hope then, that the collection will be enjoyed, revisited, and of course, made into blockbuster movies and television programmes, as much as those that influenced me.
Of all of the stories featured, it is perhaps ‘The Cat And The Cake Tin’ that chimes loudest in the bracing Teesside air. It is a tale that may force the reader to rethink the origins of a provincial northern town, thereafter known as ‘Middlesbrough’, describing as it does a rumoured wager between two of the area’s founding fathers; Henry Bolckow and John Vaughan. I expect it will draw the interest of local historians, in the hope that they may be able to shed light on a most remarkable event that seems to have alluded the history books entirely.
Elements and traits of the area, and its surrounds, are dotted throughout the book, intently or otherwise, be they references to plain-speaking Yorkshire jargon, or fully-formed characters based on everyday folk.
Light-fingered opportunism runs like a seam of Eston iron ore through ‘The Médecin Men,’ an account of real events that you would never conceive of from the title alone, and that will likely be of interest to the local constabulary, and/or Interpol.
A road trip ‘down South’ culminating in a visit to a vicar, in search of a peculiar piece of British history, goes catastrophically wrong in ‘The Headhunters.’
‘Goin’ Back To Prestwick’ is the tale of an identity crisis of sorts, in which a man no longer knows who he is, only who he has become, and will surely be recognisable to a certain Teesside audience.
In ‘The Bergstrom Case’, I witness first hand perhaps one of the most remarkable gambles of all time, in downtown Las Vegas, the details of which are returned to the forefront of my mind by the Dragonara Hotel.
These, and other strange tales, form this anthology of the arcane as my short stories are collected together for the first time. Journey with me, where little is as it seems, as you are drawn in to the vague reality that is Bank Notes.
Bank Notes by Will Nett is out in paperback and eBook on Saturday 4th December 2021.