+12 Phil Collins released Both Sides of the Story in October 1993. It was a catchy song, but I remember it more for the music video. Scenes of homelessness, domestic violence, military patrols on streets and a ghetto kid mugging a white man, juxtaposed with Collins crooning, "We need to hear both sides of the story."
In February 1994, I started working on a short story for the Ian St James Awards. It was my third submission to the annual awards, the UK's biggest fiction prize for unpublished writers (Thanks, Ian St James Awards - June 2018). The deadline for my 5,000-plus-word short story was 28th February.
Yes, I know, I should have started sooner, but I had the good fortune of my wife being away for two weeks in February on work trips. And, we were childless back then. I had no responsibilities outside of my nine-five job, and I spent every other waking hour writing.
The First Draft
The idea for my story came to me while working out in a gym. The news at the time was full of stories about people for whom the public (including me) had little sympathy. I watched Phil Collins' music video on the gym TV, and it set me thinking: could I show both sides of a story in my short story?
My 1994 diary records I finally began writing on Sunday 13th February:
Set up computer downstairs to write my Ian St James story, but only managed to jot down an outline. Had an early night and sought inspiration in a short story about a Jewish matchmaker. Great characterisation.
Obviously, I was going to have to work harder on my writing. And I did over the next week while juggling my nine-to-five job, as I noted in my diary (Monday 14th to Friday 18th February):
Home from work as soon as possible to spend late nights banging words into my computer. Kept up a good pace, writing a scene a night, each averaging 1,000 words. Amazed how some scenes developed. They seemed create their own twists and turns, guiding my fingers over the keyboard. And somehow the endings fell into place, generally when I needed them, as I neared my midnight time limit. Felt great to be writing again. And to be alone, so I could devote myself totally to the task.
By the weekend I was exhausted. However, I still had a final scene to write, the one that would pull together and make sense of the four vignettes I had written. And then I had to print and edit the first draft.
Edits and More Edits
My wife returned home from her first week of work travels and left the next day for another week away. It sounds mean, but I was grateful for the quick turnaround because I needed the week on my own for edits and revisions, as I wrote in my diary (Monday 21st to Friday 25th February):
More late nights working on the story, including a ridiculous 2 AM on Thursday. Editing not as much fun as banging in words, though of course, necessary. Focused on weekend deadline and the thought that all the time I'd spent on the story would be wasted if I didn't polish and post it by midday Sunday.
These were the glory days of the British Royal Mail, where post collected on a Sunday would be delivered the next day. In my case, that was the deadline date, Monday 28th February. Which meant I still had the whole of Saturday and some of Sunday to finish the short story. But it proved difficult:
Struggling with ending of the story. Pivotal last scene is in danger of sounding trite. Printed off penultimate draft for proofreading and opinion [from my wife]. Nervous wait for comments. And another late night making last minute changes.
The next day I was even more on edge, but thankfully my trusty dot matrix printer didn't let me down:
Noon deadline loomed as the printer chugged out letter quality copy of Both Sides of the Story. Posted it with less than thirty minutes to spare.
The following Wednesday 2nd March, I received confirmation in the post from the Ian St James Awards that my short story had arrived. (Bless the Royal Mail!) Now I just had to wait for the first round judge's critique. When it arrived, his feedback was mixed:
A well written, ambitious and impressive piece of writing. The author's flair for language is considerable. But I think, plot-wise, this entertaining story exceeds both the limits and rules of the genre. This, I feel, would be better suited for a novel and as a short story, it isn't quite self-contained enough.
My "well written, ambitious and impressive piece of writing" had failed to progress past the first round of judging. And so I filed it away with my other failed writing from that period.
25 Years On
I re-read the short story recently, and I'm still proud of it. The protagonists in the four vignettes remain unsympathetic characters, as they would be portrayed in news items. But in my humble opinion, I have imagined and conveyed through my writing insight into their side of the story. And the fifth part of the piece resolves the stories as I had planned. As well as paying homage to Collins' song.
So, twenty-five years and ten months after I wrote it, I decided to share and showcase my Both Sides of the Story on Tall And True, as a five-part series: Westminster, Bosnia, A Council Flat, and The Gym are the vignettes. The fifth and final part that links and resolves these stories will be published shortly.
In October 2019, Phil Collins completed the last leg of his three-year, worldwide Not Dead Yet Tour, twenty-five years after releasing Both Sides of the Story. I should have gone to the Sydney concert, to say thanks to Collins for the inspiration to write my short story.
© 2019 Robert Fairhead
Sydney, NSW, Australia.
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert is the Founding Editor and a writer for Tall And True and blogs at RobertFairhead.com. He enjoys reading, writing, playing the guitar, walking his dog, and watching Aussie Rules Footy with his son. Robert has worked as an electrician, sales and marketing rep, computer programmer, dog trainer and (wanna-be) writer. He also had a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.