I can’t think of a good picture to head this post, so you get Kate Bush instead. Pretty good compromise, I’d say.

I’m working on this collection of short stories. My reference points are:

  • Roald Dahl’s Kiss Kiss, for the twistedness.
  • Stephen King’s Night Shift for the unbridled horror.
  • Martin Amis’s London Fields for the humour within the squalor.
  • Patrick Hamilton’s Hangover Square for the gloom.

Of course, these are lofty aspirations, but nothing good comes from being half-assed.

Most of my stories are inspired by the last ten years in London. As I am slowly making my way through them – from idea, to draft, to (endless) revision, to final piece – I have noticed some overlap. Not in the way the stories are similar, but in the characters. For example, I have one called Fashion Rules (CoS reference there, for all you early noughties electroclash stragglers). It’s a nasty little tale about the vicious world fashion and how badly all the unpaid interns are treated. Sort of like Devil Wears Prada, but with more cocaine and people being skinned alive. The villainess of the piece is a designer called Molly Molyneaux.

Now, I loved writing Molly, and 5,000 words really wasn’t enough (although an entire novel would’ve been stretching the joke). So yesterday, I was writing a party scene for another story and I thought Let’s whack Molly in it and interlink the stories.

And then something wonderful happened – I realised I could do something similar to pretty much every story. Recurring drug dealers. Recurring band managers. That dick at the party who keeps telling you about his crap job and how well he’s doing in life (SPOILER ALERT: he dies). Connect them all together, sometimes loosely, sometimes obviously.

The end result would be a cohesive collection of short stories that also work individually. A bit like a concept album. A gestalt.

I love continuity.

If you’re a Stephen King Constant Reader, you’ll get a kick out of most of his novels at some point where he makes a reference from a previous tale. From the obvious connection of Alan Pangborn as a major player in both The Dark Half and Needful Things to Sheriff George Bannerman’s bit-parts in The Dead Zone and Cujo.

No longer are these individual stories, but they exist together in this strange parallel universe.

And so yesterday, I realised I had my own little Castle Rock. Except mine’s a squalid little square of London where tower blocks have barbwire perimeters and it is always winter.

Linking the stories this way makes the whole experience seem a more complete. And it’s really satisfying to write, because when you add a character from a previous tale into a new one, you already know them and their little quirks. It can bring a stale scene alive.

I think I’ll be leaving London in about a year (although I’ve been saying that every January since 2009). This collection feels like my parting kiss to a city I love and loathe in equal measure.

Anyway, tell me about you… Do you guys link your stories together? Are there recurring characters or settings you use?



  1. I thrive on doing things like this with all my works…my friends call me Pixar for doing it. I’ve always LOVED Stephen King’s use of characters to make it all relatable. Good luck with penning and compilations your stories!

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  2. I have extremely lofty goals of launching two sperate series of books as well as a single book which could all stand on their own, but at least one character will tie them all together until the final book brings all the surviving characters together for a final confrontation between good and evil. Five of what I hope will be 12 books are written, they just need to be fleshed out and edited. I have very big dreams and very little time…

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  3. I did have a character once tell a blatantly transparent lie about working a circus in a short story set in Spain, only to use the same lie in a novel – this time as an apocryphal tale – about a circus in Lithunia. So it sort of became a fiction within a fiction within a fiction. But who’s counting?

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  4. I love fiction within a fiction within a fiction, and linking characters – in my short story collection ‘The Journey & Other Short Stories’, there’s a little tale of future dystopia about a man named Gideon (it’s called ‘Gideon’s Road’) – and ‘Gideon’s Road’ is a TV show in which one of the characters from my forthcoming novel ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ appears in… and my next novel will feature one of the other characters in ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ … sort of a continuation of that character’s story. It gives me the same buzz I used to get writing fanfic with characters from two different shows – like ‘Doctor Who meets (for instance) Gerry Anderson’s ‘UFO’…. you see it all the time in crime fiction, where secondary characters from a series of novels become popular with the readers, and end up with their own series of books. I love it!

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