I am now embarking on a new short story. As with some of my other work, it’s unfolding as I write, i.e. I don’t have a true end in mind. I have a theme. The theme is family and, yes, I know how commonplace this theme is. But it is a theme I have selected because of the market it is being written for: the readers of The People’s Friend.

My knowledge of The People’s Friend extends to having seen it on shopping shelves and dental surgery waiting rooms. I do not say this to disparage it, just to explain my unfamiliarity with it. So why write for it?

The challenge. I have the firm belief that any writing at all will help hone my skills. Short stories seem to me a good way to take this on as I can experiment with different genres quite quickly. I can even take the same setting – with the same people even – and spin it into a completely separate story. With this theme of “family”, I’m having an older man teach his grandson how to play chess. It will, I hope, prove a heartwarming tale where both bond and their relationship has improved by the end of the story.

I could take this setting, and these two characters, into a thriller simply by changing their reason for playing. What if they’re hostages, passing the time? What if the game has some very real stakes? What if grandfather and grandson hate each other? Any of these variations tell an entirely different story and it could happen with the same central feature – a chess match.

You know what? I just might try it. Put it in an entirely different magazine and see who notices. It could build to an anthology. I may have to change the characters if I wanted to turn it into a romance, or make the pieces sentient if I wanted to turn it into a political satire (or horror story), or stuff the story with innuendo and slapstick and go for low-brow humour. An old man breaking wind and following through never gets old, after all.

So then – who’d buy an anthology of stories about one chess match where there is no cohesive genre? I can see it flying off the shelves…

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