The Amazing Arnolfini and His Wife
The Amazing Arnolfini and His Wife was originally written for Task Two of the 2007-8 SlingInk Eurofiction Competition. The prompt used was "Write a story about trust". Under its original title of The Great Gandolfini and His Wife, it was placed 31st equal out of a total field of 57. The (unnamed) judge, while generally positive, commented that the opening felt a little stumbling.
After a change of title to avoid images of large American actors swaying on tightropes, The Amazing Arnolfini and His Wife came second equal in the 2008 City of Derby Writing Competition, judged by Alex Keegan.
The Amazing Arnolfini and His Wife was subsequently chosen as one of the three stories to be broadcast by BBC Radio 4 as part of the 2010 Opening Lines season. The producer was Gemma Jenkins and the reader was Laurel Lefkow.
The Amazing Arnolfini and His Wife was made available in November 2010 as a paid download on the Ether app.
The Amazing Arnolfini and His Wife was given a (completely unsanctioned) live reading in January 2013 as part of the Naked Girls Reading Joins the Circus event by Naked Girls Reading in New York. I literally have no idea whatsoever what to make of this.
I think if you're going to write a story about trust, you can't really go far wrong with a tightrope walking couple as the protagonists. Not only have you immediately amplified the need for absolute trust in their relationship, but you also have an opportunity to create a situation in which the reader is bound to feel uneasy.
I did more research on this story than almost any other that I've written, in that I did actually do some. In the course of this, I came to the conclusion that there are a lot of exceptionally bonkers people around. The most important aspect of the research was to pick up one or two crucial technical aspects, such as the concept of a "magic box" and the importance of the big toe. These were sufficient to con the audience into thinking I was an expert, rather than someone who'd spent a couple of hours on Google. I'm not a fan of the Dan Brown school of research which states that you should use every goddamn bit of research you do, even if it means you end up pausing in mid-chase in Seville to explain the origins of marmalade (which actually happens in Digital Fortress).
I'm slightly disappointed with the change of the husband's name from The Great Gandolfini to The Amazing Arnolfini. I should have thought a bit harder about this, frankly, because naming someone after a gallery in Bristol isn't a lot better than naming them after an overweight American actor. The origins of the names of the two banksmen (a term I invented, incidentally) may be of interest. Fentiman is named after the eponymous brand of designer beverages, while Upshaw is named after Dawn Upshaw the soprano (of Gorecki's third symphony fame). It's only just occurred to me that if I'd stuck with The Great Gandolfini as the title, I would have ended up with two Sopranos in the story.
The ending of this story was originally a lot more clear cut, but when - prior to submitting it to Eurofiction - I read it out to my friends at the Verulam Writers' Circle, they suggested that I make it more ambiguous. I took their advice and what's interesting is that Alex Keegan thought it was a murder story, whereas Gemma Jenkins and Laurel Lefkow both thought it was suicide. I'd love to know whether there's a male/female split on this. Either way, writing it taught me a valuable lesson in leaving a bit of the story for the reader to add themselves, thus permitting them to take ownership.
This blog post provides some detailed insights into what happened between that 31st out of 57 SlingInk Eurofiction result and getting accepted by the BBC. It may surprise you.