Guest Post: Sally Emerson on the themes and inspiration for her new book, ‘Perfect, Stories of the Impossible’.

Back in 2017, Shiny editor Harriet reviewed a reprint of one of Sally Emerson’s novels, Separation, first published in 1992 – describing it as ‘a novel of immense subtlety and perceptiveness.’

Quadrant books were behind the reprints of several of Sally’s novels. Now, they have published a new book of her short stories, and we’re delighted to be leading off the blog tour with a guest post by Sally on the themes and inspirations behind this book, Perfect, Stories of the Impossible. In these stories she digs deep into the underbelly of everyday life to expose the gaps between reality and unreality. Here’s what other authors are saying about her stories:

‘Sally Emerson’s wonderful stories being in calmly bourgeois settings, but soon reveal Gothic shadows of menace and desire…Love, sex and stormy weather threaten or imprison the unwary.’ John Walsh

‘So original and exquisitely drawn, Sally Emerson’s stories are full of gripping twists and acute insights into emotional dilemmas. They’re uncanny, and quite unlike anything else you’ll read’. Jane Thynne

Now let us hand you over to Sally...


I have always loved short stories and found writing ‘Perfect, Stories of the Impossible’, giddy and rewarding fun. Short stories are not poems but can startle and create a sense of wonder in a short space the way that poems can.

In life I hate to bore people so I love the speed of short stories, especially in these fast-track days when we have no time to waste. The writer has to go straight to the set up, keep the reader guessing throughout the twists in the main story, then make sure that the ending is unexpected and that it gives the story a new perspective; it is one story as you read it, and another when you reach the end and look back, two tales in one. The reader does not have to invest too much time in any one story but the writer aims to create something that lasts and resonates as much as a whole novel. In my longer story ‘Fairy Tales’, as in a Roald Dahl tale, the charming and concerned landlady is not as pleasant as she first seems, but it is not until the end that we fully understand her and her past.

There is enough ordinary life in ordinary life and what I long for in fiction is a dash of something else, for mundane life to continue then suddenly be disrupted from something outside. In most of the stories in ‘Perfect’ the uncanny upsets the everyday pattern. In one a young woman in a register office, oppressed by a father with Alzheimers, receives death certificates dated in the future and resolves to try to save the victims. As she battles against time, she discovers her own heroism. It’s a love story but a very strange one.

In another tale a woman clones her beloved husband against his wishes. The form can contain the outrageous partly because it is brief; the reader is kept in the unnerving other world only a relatively little time.

The main theme of ‘Perfect, Stories of the Impossible’ is how quickly life can change, and how the ordinary can shift into the extraordinary. An exhausted mother is given herbal pills at a health shop that make her lust after every man she meets, and her careful suburban marriage is in jeopardy.

My inspiration is partly the form. Edgar Allan Poe pushed the limits when he wrote ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, Borges created condensed miracles, parables and stories which are like Dr Who’s Tardis, small on the outside but containing universes within. Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Happy Prince’ is one of the world’s most moving tales, and the ending always makes me cry as novels seldom do. The short story can hold the emotions without interruption because of its length, making it easier in some ways to deliver an emotional punch.

I love to play with the unknown all around us and relished penning these, as I relished ‘Fire Child’, the third of my six novels, in which a boy and a girl scribble increasingly disturbing diaries until we realise how dangerous each of them is, and that they are going to meet and fall in love. The ending is demonic.

Creativity should be reckless, funny, full of wonder, like the best lives. The stories engulfed me at a difficult time. But once I was in the safety of my unsafe stories I was fine. I was in control. I was fighting demons and winning. And I have.

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Find out more about Sally at her website HERE.

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