Short Stories 366:336 — “By Chance, in the Dark,” by Matthew Bright

coverI’m sure by now it’s no secret that I love retellings of holiday tales, and this one, from Matthew Bright’s Stories to Sing in the Dark, is a favourite of mine. It’s also no secret I love Matthew Bright’s work, so putting both together? It’s like Christmas just for me!

Or, well, it’s a retelling of A Christmas Carol. And it’s not just for me, if you grab yourself a copy. Told though a gay lens, this version of the tale’s iteration of the ghosts of Christmas had me grinning and smiling from their first appearance.

You got a love snappy gay icons ghosting out and telling Scrooge to get his head on straight. Or, not straight. You know what I mean. Either way, the ghosts are a highlight for me, and then what comes after is the queer cheery on top.

As a fair warning, “By Chance, in the Dark” isn’t as happy a tale as A Christmas Carol, but the tangle of why Scrooge is so cold to everyone, most especially his son, Tim (that’s right, his son Tim) is freaking sweet. Tim’s friend Robert (yeah, “friend”) is the bone of true contention, but as the ghosts play out Scrooge’s life, the reader starts to see the reasons behind the reasons, and in Bright’s wonderful mix of humour and snark, the reveal is a lovely one.

Also, I was lucky enough to grab Matt for a quick “Where did this one come from?” chat, and here we go:

I wrote this story at Christmas at a writer’s retreat in a haunted house. The owner’s instructions were arcane — drive past the roman burial ground and turn left at the oak grove –but we made it just as dark drew in. At the door, the key was not in its promised location and our phones had no reception. “Let’s split up,” we said, as one traditionally does in these situations. “One of us can go knock on the door of that creepy cottage up there on the hill…” Which was how we came to convince ourselves the house was haunted before we’d even stepped through the door, and we only got giddier with it through the weekend. The straight men amongst our group sensibly claimed their rooms and got to work, whilst the rest of us claimed a dormitory room that we immediately christened the ‘gay annexe’. We got to telling ghost stories until late in the night, but when the house was dark in the small hours and the door started opening by itself, unease crept in on ghostly feet.

At some point we also wrote some stuff, and By Chance, In The Dark is the story I limped through. And I do mean limped; writing it was like pulling teeth and I’ve never hated the writing process more. When I finished it I absolutely despised it, suffering badly from the classic writer-trap of sizing up a story against the perfect specimen you’d imagined in your head before you set pen to paper. For ages it was by far my least favourite story I’d ever written, until I reread it while compiling this collection and discovered, having now totally forgotten whatever I had intended the story to be originally, that I was actually rather taken with it after all.

— Matthew Bright

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