Tag Archives: Stroud

Going Local

In 1990, having struggled to make a living as a writer (that hasn’t changed) I wrote an accessible biography of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The book was published, sold a few and I moved on …. as you do! barbed-wire-fbban

Then along came the internet and, yes (don’t judge me) I checked on Google to see how it was doing. I noticed that quite a few academics were recommending it as a good introduction to the life and literature of Dostoyevsky, so I thought maybe I should take another look at it. I queried whether the publisher would republish it, but they were not keen so I got the copyright back and went round again.


This time I went local. Amberley Publishing is my local publisher, specialising in local history, general history and biography. They took a look and asked for an additional thirty-thousand words; the book is quite definitely new and improved. The first version was researched in the British Library Reading Room, the old one (the round one in the British Museum). But the advent of the internet allowed access to greater research material, more time to read through the journals and the new translations, which enabled a more measured approach to this sometimes daunting writer.

In addition, a lot has happened since then. Yes, I know that Dostoyevsky has been dead for well over a hundred years, but his influence and his impact on modern media has become increasingly powerful. There’s plenty in the book about how Crime and Punishment, Notes from the Underground and The Brothers Karamazov have been reinterpreted and re-enacted in modern film and media. dostmemeObviously film and TV has dramatised his work, almost from the beginning, including Albert Camus’s staging of The Devils (the story of a terrorist cell, not a supernatural horror story) in 1959, at the cost of 30 million francs (production costs were queried at the time). There are the direct retellings, who can forget John Hurt as Raskolnikov in the BBC’s Crime and Punishment in 1970? Much more recently Jesse Eisenberg has starred in Richard Ayoade’s version of The Double and Jake Gyllenhaal in Enemy (dir. Denis Villeneuve, 2013), a less direct retelling of that story. Other films and media indirectly approach the stories and the characters; a recent independent horror movie It Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell, 2014), quotes Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot throughout. The references to Myshkin (the protagonist of The Idiot) are a clue to one of the characters, and the sinister entity that clings to the unfortunate teenagers has the aura of The Double.

Dostoyevsky created characters who wandered the streets of an urban landscape. He dealt with the plight of those who experienced poverty; people who had work but not enough pay and there was a housing crisis in St Petersburg. People  shared apartments divided by curtains, or lived in cupboards – sound familiar? Like Dickens and his portraits of London, Dostoyevsky mapped the streets of his beloved St Petersburg and populated it with his characters; some were disturbingly real, others fantastical, some likeable, some 14597372418_f558ae00da_oredemptive, some dark and unredeemed with a hint of David Brent. I could go on  – and I do, in the book. I don’t speak Russian and I have not yet been there, although this year I did get to stand in front of the only portrait painted of Dostoyevsky in his lifetime. The portrait by Vasily Perov, was lent to the National Portrait Gallery for a short time in 2016, by the Tretyakov Gallery, where it is housed. He was accompanied on either side by Tolstoy and Turgenev whose novels of the Russian landscape, were precisely that, epic sagas of the landed gentry, while Dostoyevsky got down and dirty in the chiaroscuro of his own urban noir.

Meanwhile going local is to be recommended. I have done some legwork, introducing myself as a local author to local bookshops and this has been received well. Dostoyevsky: A Life of Contradiction is in the window of my local bookshop!

Stroud Bookshop

Stroud Bookshop window!


The launch at Meme Cafe Bar in Stroud.

Independent booksellers appreciate independent publishers, and while Amazon marches on, independent booksellers work through local distribution, or suppliers like Bertram Books. Amberley has been working on my behalf  sending out review copies and meanwhile I  have set up a Facebook page, a Pinterest page, I have tweeted and I have learned the difference between “Boost Post” and “Create Ad” on Facebook (I went with boost post, hopefully that was the right decision). I even created my own Dostoyevsky meme! I threw my own launch party to celebrate the book’s publication, at local Cafe Bar Meme and, because they were local, some of Amberley’s senior staff paid a visit. Amberley publishes a decent number of books and mine is just one, but a little effort on my part has proved positive for both aspects of marketing – mine and theirs. Our local listing magazine, Good On Paper, boosted my local publicity with an extract on their site, and before Christmas I shall do a little local radio with Corinium Radio; while after Christmas, well, then it will be emails to academic institutions offering lectures and visits.

Marketing is as much the role of the author as is the writing and Dostoyevsky knew that too; for when he and his wife sold copies of The Devils from his apartment door, the maid feared she had become part of some kind of devils’ coven. Local publishing is as alive now as it was then, but local publishers need to survive, and a well marketed author is the life-blood of their work as well as the author’s. Local links do not always need to be the history of local bridges or local heroes, just a good book and local ambition works well for all; and in this day and age access is far beyond local once it’s out there and it is…. Dostoyevsky: A Life of Contradiction, is available in all good bookshops (especially local) and on Amazon …click here!


Images: Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Antique print 1899.(©Georgios Kollidas | Dreamstime.com)
Flickr Creative Commons

A Stroud Short Story

ssstorieseerieThis was a first for me, an opportunity to read a story written by me in front of an audience that had actually paid to be there! Admittedly they had paid to hear a selection of delightfully scary short stories, not just mine, at Stroud Short Stories Eerie Evening. But, just in case you were there and want a repeat or if you weren’t there and would like to read the story, it is blogged below.



L204 was not a particularly prepossessing classroom. It was separate from the rest of the IT block, it had been the first wired classroom, an early adopter, but now a smart new block dominated the school, filled with clean and well attached PCs.It was a cold classroom, damp and a little smelly. Paul could not quite define the smell, although he had discovered that the collective smells of Lynx and female hairspray, did not quite cover that nagging hint of decay in L204. He opened cupboards looking for the source of the odd odour. It emanated, he thought, from one particular terminal, the one next to the printer, someone had scratched “Mr Evan is a wanker” into the plastic desktop, now more had been added. The original had been struck through and some wag had written “See me Peters”. Paul chuckled. Mr Evan had been a bit of a tartar. Paul knew little of him, except his tragic end and his penchant for a tidy classroom.

* * *

‘Peters? Oh Peters is dead, hit and run, and good riddance to bad rubbish, I’d have run him over myself given half a chance! After what he did!’ Mr Roberts, doodled on his iPad as they suffered a fruitless training day. Paul had spent some of the day trying to exorcise the smell and remove the ever increasing repetition of the name Peters from various desktops, keyboards, chairs and, for some reason, the floor under his desk.

‘What did he do?’

‘Peters? Nasty little git, he made accusations, did it at parents evening. Started sobbing at the table, in front of everyone, said Evan had fiddled with him during detention. Evan always came in for it from the kids, he was not that great in the classroom

‘And did he?’

‘Did he what…. Oh that God no, he made the mistake of detaining Peters on his own that day, but we have cameras, precisely for that reason, nothing went on, looked like Peters was asleep for most of it. Father believed him though, clambered over the desk that evening and thumped Evan, knocked a tooth out! I s’pose that’s why the poor sod hung himself in his shed. All nice and tidy. He always was tidy, left a note so everyone was clear.’

‘What did it say?’

‘It just said “Don’t teach” can’t argue there – at least in his case.”

* * *

‘Pozlaski, Peters ….. Peters?’ he had a received a reply for every name except Peters, ‘Peters?’

‘He’s not here’ someone said.

The penny dropped for Paul ‘Oh shit!’ he thought he had muttered it, but the class heard and a collective ‘oh’ growled out from them accompanied by banging on desks. ‘All right, enough!’ to his satisfaction they stopped immediately. ‘Still got it’ he thought.

* * *


Subject: Unmarked Register

There are several missing marks on your register for the week beginning 06.12. Please amend. 

A machine bred reproach, typical! Paul phoned again. ‘Lloyd I am forwarding the email that is telling me I have not done my register for Peters, please can you remove his name.’

‘Well I am looking at the register now and I can’t see it.’

* * *

‘Are you gay sir?’

‘What’s it to you?’

‘Well you might be bit weird sir, like Mr Evan.’ The conversation was designed to distract from the task of entering data into Excel. Paul had some sympathy, it wasn’t quite the IT syllabus he had hoped to teach. ‘Yes I am normal and I am gay’. Silence. ‘As for Mr Evan, he was not weird either, he was maligned, viciously maligned and what happened was tragic.’

‘It’s on Facebook’ someone ventured.

‘What is?’

‘That you’re gay, it’s on all our walls.’

‘Well we’d better find out who put it there, my private life is private, not for Facebook.’

‘You did sir.’


‘It says you did sir, there’s a picture of you look!’ Again, there was sniggering as other pupils produced their phones and held up the picture, a very private picture of himself and Andrew, not pornographic, just a self taken phone picture of them in bed, happy, a private picture. He was very rigorous with his privacy settings, this was not a profile picture.


Me reading my story!

* * *

‘Snail mail, Mr Bennett, snail mail, you should try it some time.’ The Head commented after he apologised for the picture and gave up trying to explain how it might have happened.

* * *

He liked the Year 7s they were both easy to scare and easy to please. ‘Settle down, settle down, remember the rules of this room, no one switches on until we are seated and tidied. Bags under the table, phones off and in bags, thank you Georgia, now please! Thank you. Everybody ready? Good, okay start up, but don’t open anything until I say, turn and face the smartboard when you’re ready.’

He was not prepared for, the screaming, the tears, or the terrible, terrible image. On every screen around the room, on the smartboard above, was the grizzled, hanging form of the half decayed Mr Evan, a slideshow of gore for 7E. He panicked. He didn’t know what to do, he forgot how to switch anything off, he was transfixed by the images, appalled and fascinated, unable to move until Sophie Linnet fainted.

* * *

‘The machines are not networked, the internet is switched off, the only way, that could have happened is if someone got in and went round every computer and applied that screensaver.’

‘Or you did it,’ site management was defensive.

‘Well we can review the tapes’ suggested the Head.

‘No we can’t, camera’s broke. I just checked.’

‘Oh you are kidding!’ Paul was exasperated. ‘Doesn’t that tell you anything?’

‘It is suspicious, I agree but you are in the frame Paul, if not in my mind then, in the class of Year 7 and their parents.’

* * *

The smell was oppressive. It covered him as he set up the camera, connected the router, tested it, switched it on, left the classroom spic and span, locked up, took the key and went home to watch telly.

Nothing happened. He poured another glass of wine. He sat down, tore off a piece of pizza and drank some more. The lights went on. ‘Shit I knew it! I bloody knew it! Someone on a campaign, a relative, some kid, some friend of Peters…or the Head?’  He dismissed the idea.. the wine. ’Where are you though? The lights are on but nobody’s home.’ The camera scoured the room but it didn’t cover everywhere. He crept closer looking for hints of movement: papers moving; lights on the computers; screens coming on. He got right up close to the screen, investigating each inch.

Suddenly 42 inches high in his face was a face! Angry! He screamed and leapt back, spilling his drink, scattering his pizza. He looked again, nothing there. ‘Oh that’s just a joke! That’s just one of those stupid internet scarers, oh we can do better than that surely.’ He looked again, this time the figure was evident in the classroom, an adult, not a student, someone wearing a suit. He was switching on the computer, the one by the printer, the one near the smell. He grabbed his coat, the car keys and, unwisely, took one more swig of wine. He raged as he drove. He crashed open the door, the alarm screamed, secrecy and stealth seemed irrelevant, the idiot knew he was watching, surely he would either wait for a confrontation or scarper. He reached the classroom, the lights were off again. He struggled with the keys and as he did so, a slight sense of uneasy recognition entered his soul, that face, the face on the screen, wasn’t that….?. The key turned in the door he hesitated. Was this wise? Probably not. He switched on the lights. Nothing. No one. ‘Bugger!’ The classroom was as it always was, cold, smelly, normal. Never mind, he had the evidence, evidence on the computer. He felt cold and suddenly stupid, he had been duped, he turned to leave but the computer by the printer kicked into life. A remote switch on?. The screen lit up and tempted him closer, it was typing, repeating text. The printer whirred into action, it made him jump. The words grew bigger on the screen, animated like a tag cloud, two words, two words he knew. He peered closer, the words danced, demanding, the printer started to print. That face again! Sudden, filling the screen, angry malevolent as never before. This had gone too far, it wasn’t just a bad joke, it was some form of stalker, a stalker who looked like the decayed vision of… Whatever, time to end it,  time to switch off the computer and report it all to the police.

He reached out to the PC to shut it down…it was live .. it shunted him full of 240 volts, he was gripped by it, contorted into a helpless scream. The printer printed. The paper spat out and floated to the body, still contorted, still twitching

…..and on the paper

… in capitals




Copyright © All rights reserved by Judith Gunn 2015