A Bit About Briar Day and the Years Best Australian Fantasy and Horror

The  final line-up of the second volume of The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror got announced this week. It contains 32 fantastic stories and poems first published in 2011, from New Zealand’s and Australia’s fantasy and horror writers. I’m somewhat late to the party, so I’m not going to re-post the list here, but there’s plenty of details at the link above and pre-orders are all pre-ordery over at the IndieBooksOnline site.

I am going to talk a little about the story of mine they selected for inclusion, though. Trying to pick the stories that people will like is generally a mugs game. I’ve produced stories that I thought were okay that have captured people’s attention. I’ve produced stories I thought were great that…well, kinda fizzled.

And then there was Briar Day, which first saw the light of day in Ben Payne’s Moonlight Tuber magazine.

Briar Day was always a bit of an odd beast. It’s a story where a character tells a story, and on one level that means all the action revolves around a protagonist drinking beer and banging on. On another level there are flashbacks, bits of the story that are told like an actual story, but still in the protagonist’s voice. And on a third level, it’s the story of the person hearing the story. Three levels is probably more than you really need, given the length of the story, but it was something of an experiment – I’d seen other writers use the technique and do interesting things with it, so I figured I’d have a crack at it. I do that sometimes, just to figure out if I can.

Briar Day’s also…well, one of those stories where I’m processing stuff. All my stories are like that really, but there’s only a handful that are personal in the sense that I steal elements of my own life rather than layering it beneath metaphor after metaphor. It was a really personal story for a lot of reasons, and they’re generally the ones I find hardest to tell whether they’re working or not.

For a long time Briar Day was a problem story. One of those pieces that would get great feedback from editors, but missed that final thing that made people want to publish it. I thought about rewriting it a half-dozen times, about cutting out the framing story altogether, or expanding it out. I’m kinda glad I didn’t. Briar Day may a story that only a handful of people like in its current form, but it’s also one of the few stories I’ve written that I really liked. It was long, and quiet, and occasionally a little too on-the-nose for its own good, but I was pulling an idea apart and I didn’t particularly want to pussy-foot around that.

And so it found its way to Moonlight Tuber, and Ben Payne liked the story enough to publish in its current form as well.  That probably shouldn’t have a surprise me – Ben’s had a history of liking bits of my work that I’d written off as being slightly too odd. He’s probably published more of my work than any other editor as a result of that, and I’m enormously grateful that he’s routinely given my slightly odder pieces a home (and, it must be said, I’m slightly sad he doesn’t publish a zine anymore for much the same reason).

Of all the stories I’ve written, Briar Day is the one I thought least likely to get republished anywhere. I find myself kinda glad it’s getting a second crack at finding an audience. Thanks Ben, for publishing it first, and Liz Grzyb for picking it up for the Years Best.

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