I’m always interested in the use of present tense in fiction. Why did you choose the present tense to tell this story?
It wasn’t a conscious choice. It only came into play during the editing process. The story was written in the past tense, but an editor pointed out that it would read better this way, and voila, the story came to be the way it presently is.
The two metaphors used for the illness in this story are a fruit and a boulder. Why did you choose those? Were there any others you considered?
I really love this question. But I am not sure if the answer to why I chose those metaphors in particular is so clear cut. I wrote this story as a pure stream of consciousness, making it up as I went along. But the idea of fruit has always intrigued me. Fruit can be good or bad; it can be sweet or it can be sour. So, it can be ominous in that way; you aren’t exactly sure of what you will get until you bite into it.
In this story, I wanted to play around with that duplicitous nature of fruit but present it as a choice that the boy in the story had to make. You cannot decide what kind of fruit you get when it finally ripens, but how do you plan to react to what you get? How will you manage the joy or the grief that might come eventually?
As far as the boulder goes; I think it is connected to the third metaphor in the story, which is the river. The boulder obstructs the easy, seamless flow in the life that the boy in the story might have been used to. I found these two metaphors sufficient to represent the effect the illness had on the boy’s life and stopped at those three. Didn’t want it to get crowded in the story!
What do you think were the advantages of telling this story in the flash form instead of, say, a longer story?
There is less room for fluff in the flash form. Every sentence that doesn’t serve a real function in the story stands out very clearly, so it has to be struck out. This presents a challenge, there is less room to fiddle around with your intentions for the story, but thankfully, it doesn’t limit the capacity for nuance.
Flash has many of the qualities of a good poem because of this. It forces you to say what you mean, as directly as possible, even when you’re using metaphors.
The boy seems to be taking the news of his illness with much wisdom. As the writer of the story, how do you think all this wisdom came to him at such a young age?
Is it wisdom? I wonder if it is. There is something about children and being very young that makes you a lot less afraid, a lot more brave than you would be otherwise, because all of the hard realities about how life can be are still relatively unknown to you.
You haven’t been hurt or disappointed as much, and so the decisions you make are a lot more optimistic, a lot more hopeful. And perhaps because there is no hurt blinding your judgment, you get to look at the world in the clear-eyed way the boy did, seeing both its capacity for dying, and for living again.
It isn’t true for everyone. But I do remember I was a lot more open-hearted about the world when I was a lot younger. Because of this, I often try to take a look at the world from that viewpoint from time to time, and not see it as a rigged game (even if it feels like that sometimes!). I suppose there is something to be learnt from our younger selves. And I decided to write that something into the boy’s story.
What was the last great book you read?
I am in a bit of a slump when it comes to reading right now. Nothing seems to catch my fancy for very long, I find this to be quite annoying though.
But, I’ve been re-reading Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. It still holds up and it holds up beautifully.