Commentary: The Stoat

I nearly didn’t write this one. Had no intention of lowering myself with a ‘spooky tale’ for a competition, even at the suggestion of a friend and fellow writer. I was serious, literary and uncompromising, right? But then I finished work for the festive period in December 2013, relaxed a little, and early one morning woke before everyone else in the house with an idea, or the start of one.

The narrator of The Stoat has a little in common with me. We both enjoy pubs and beer, and I once had a girlfriend like Fiona. Like him, I moved to Beverley after a rural youth in another part of the country, but I have never owned a dog.

In what will no doubt become a recurring theme in these commentary postings, one of the pubs in The Stoat is no longer in existence. Soon after I wrote the story, the Oddfellows Arms became a residential development. The others are still there, although I haven’t been to the Sun Inn for a while – supposedly Beverley’s oldest pub, and my local for my first 15 years in Beverley.

But I have never been to the Stoat, because it isn’t real. Or at least it only existed in my imagination until the story was told. For years, my wife and I shared a standing joke about how we had moved to the town just too late to enjoy a warm welcome and foaming ales at a disused old property a mile or so outside the town centre, which we fancied would have made a great location for a pub. Its name didn’t come right away, and I’m not sure whether I can really remember how it became the Stoat, but that’s what we used to call it.

So there I was, downstairs in the kitchen before it was light, chain-drinking cups of tea and writing furiously on sheets from a narrow-ruled WH Smith A4 pad. I came down alone in the cold early morning with an idea about how our unreal pub might have got its name.

The end result differs from the rest of my work, but there are similarities, too. The pubs, the beer, the broken relationships and communications from the Beyond. Wherever that might be. By this time I had a second novel to write, and more short stories linked to both of the longer works. But the following year I wrote another seasonal tale based in Beverley, which I shall post here in December.