In a BfK Authorgraph (September 2001), Aidan Chambers says, ‘You have to risk dealing with the material inside yourself you’d rather not face or, certainly, not have other people face. Only in the act of writing do I declare myself.’ That comment is exemplified, you might well think, in this collection of short stories and brief dramatic dialogues. Some are published for the first time, others are gathered from anthologies or magazines over the last 20 or more years. The last piece in the book, begun when Chambers was 15 and two more years in the crafting, reflects a mind already using the experience of his grandfather’s death to search himself: ‘There was nothing about me at that moment that I did not know. And the knowledge was an unbearable pain.’
Such self-awareness and the pain that goes with it recur in this collection, even on the rare occasions when the register is comic – a tale told by a girl doing a summer job in a kangaroo suit at an amusement park, for example, or in some of the park-bench conversation playlets. It is because Chambers has never lost that adolescent vulnerability and openness that, now in his seventies, he still writes stories in which reflective adolescents will surely discover themselves. He is not concerned with the surface stuff of some teenage fiction – the aps and i-pods and wha’evers – though he is happy enough to have one female narrator record a lengthy spell in the cosmetics section of a department store having her first make-up make-over. He has always been concerned with outside-of-time matters; with tentative relationships, emerging sexuality, lack of confidence, trust and betrayal, violence and tenderness. Any of these might provoke sudden insights about the mess of living which disturb but move you on to somewhere else whether you like it or not. His publisher says that the experiences explored here are ‘unique to the teenage years’. But for Chambers, one may feel, that is not so. For him, ironically, such continuing awareness is itself evidence of a kind of maturity, of still being alive; and thus, ‘only in the act of writing do I declare myself’.