I have the pleasure of sharing a guest post from Mark Stewart with you all today…..
The short story as literary ark – a safe haven for fictional animals
“I’ve enjoyed and admired the stories of Mark Stewart that I have read: they strike me as fine bonsai pieces, strong in their structure and dense in their grain, full of surprising drama.” Robert Macfarlane (Author of “The Wild Places”, and “Landmarks”)
Not long ago we adopted a young Dutch rabbit as a companion to our existing lop-eared bunny, thus giving a home to another creature in need. “So what?” many people might ask? “It’s only a rabbit.” And, after all, rabbits (amongst the most defenceless of all animals) have been trapped, shot, skinned and eaten by humans for centuries.
True enough, it is only a rabbit. But, at the very least, and among many other similarities, it is also a fellow mammal. It therefore has a central nervous system much like our own. This in turn means it can feel pain. And as anyone who has ever kept a rabbit will know, these sensitive animals can experience familiar emotions such as fear and anxiety. They also make it very clear when they are happy!
This small companion was the inspiration for my first short story “A Summer Sky.” I owe a huge creative debt to this one particular member of the Leporidae family; so much so that my first collection of published stories was dedicated, in part at least, to an animal which my now adult son refers to as his little brother.
The human-centric notion that small animals simply don’t count is not only a failure of ethical reasoning (for surely all life counts); it also paves the way for saying that no animal is worthy of humane treatment. Big or small, all creatures matter. The alternative is a world in which thoughtless cruelty is commonplace, a world in which animals are kept in cages and used for experimentation and vivisection, or put on display for “entertainment.” Or simply neglected and left to die in isolation. A world in which animals are farmed under the most appalling conditions. A world in fact identical to our own. These animals have featured in several of my short stories including “The Crate”, “The Water Meadow” and “A Shaft of Sunlight.” Those stories were hard to write and I have been told that they are hard to read from an emotional point of view. Just as there is nowhere for a writer to hide on the printed page, so too there is nowhere for a reader to retreat to if the theme of a story is hard to bear. I challenge anyone to read these stories without shedding a tear.
So it matters whether a rabbit has a hutch and a run to live and play in, and that it enjoys a social environment with others of the same species. Just as it matters that the mega-fauna – the creatures that are edging ever closer to extinction, such as the elephant and the rhino – have similar freedoms and, dare one say, rights. Take away those freedoms and rights and animals simply become commodities, units to be bought and sold and profited from. And how can such profiteering not make the world a darker, colder place? The desperate plight of the elephant and the rhino have featured in two more of my stories, “The Winnowing” and “The Watering Hole.”
On a recent business trip undertaken by rail I found myself staring at the countryside from a train window, looking at empty fields and wondering where all the animals had gone. I realised with a shudder that the majority were being kept in captivity away from human eyes, in industrialised sheds and barns where they were living an existence defined by captivity, pain and an early death. And all this was being done in my name as a member of a modern consumer society, as someone who shops at a supermarket for meat, milk and eggs. It was not long after this that I became a vegan. I will never again put meat on my fork.
Too often the last thing an animal sees is a human being in a white coat or a worker on a farm or in an abattoir. What must they think of us, their captors and abusers? One day they may look at us without fear in their eyes, without flinching from us. But that day can only come when all the cages are empty and all the abattoirs are closed. On a world which understands the value of all animals, big and small.
Mark Stewart is the author of two collections of short stories designed to highlight the plight of captive, endangered and mistreated animals. His first collection (“The Screaming Planet”) can be found online here:
The second collection (“The Absence of Wings”), which has consistently attracted five star reviews, is available on Amazon.
A third collection of short stories (“The Fire Trees”) is due out in June 2017.
Mark can be followed on Twitter @pendragonmist
Publisher: Independently published (23rd January 2017)
“The Absence of Wings” is a collection of short stories intended to show the world through the eyes of some of the Earth’s most endangered and persecuted animals. The collection is an ark of sorts, offering a literary refuge for creatures that may one day exist only in story books, fables and myths. Here you will find, among other stories: • A mariner snatched from the deck of his ship by a sea wraith • The lament of a whale dragged onto the killing deck of a harpoon ship • A caged polar bear whose only taste of freedom comes from a racial memory of the arctic tundra • A shark that can swim into the sleeping minds of human beings • And a dolphin whose only chance of returning to open water lies in the movement of the tides on one particular night of the year These are stories that will change the way you look at the natural world. “I’ve enjoyed and admired the stories of Mark Stewart that I have read: they strike me as fine bonsai pieces, strong in their structure and dense in their grain, full of surprising drama.” Robert Macfarlane (Author of “The Wild Places”, and “Landmarks”)
Buy your copy…..
About the author…..
Mark Stewart was born in 1962 in London. He is the author of two collections of short stories: “The Screaming Planet” and “The Absence of Wings.”
The seven stories which comprise “The Screaming Planet” are available online here:
He also co-authored and co-edited the biography “Arthur C. Clarke – A Life Remembered.”
In 2014 he won the Sir Patrick Moore Medal for services to the British Interplanetary Society where he founded and edited the e-magazine, “Odyssey”, for two and a half years.
His articles and essays have been published in “Spaceflight”, “Astronomy Now”, “Foundation” magazine, and the journal of the British Astronomical Association.
He now lives in the Surrey hills; members of his non-human family include rabbits, horses, foxes and hedgehogs.
“I’ve enjoyed and admired the stories of Mark Stewart that I have read: they strike me as fine bonsai pieces, strong in their structure and dense in their grain, full of surprising drama.”
(Author of “The Wild Places”, and “Landmarks”)
“The Infinitesimals” – “A curious, interesting, strange, raging and intense story. I liked particularly the notion of reflection and connection between the miniscule and the galactic, and the sense that even the most mundane or ‘common’ things can reflect far more than we may realise.”
(Author of “Common Ground”)
“Mark Stewart looks at the world and our place in it from unusual standpoints. His deeply moving stories, at once poetic and analytic, take the reader on a reflective journey through space and time, making us step back from the world we think we know and see it afresh through the unclouded eyes of an outsider. He writes beautifully and elegiacally, in wonder at what we humans have been given by nature, and in sorrow for how recklessly we gamble our fragile inheritance.”
(Author of “A Scientific Romance” and “A Short History of Progress”)
“The Dreaming Spires” – “To be truthful, I found it almost impossible to read, it is so poignant.”
Sir David Attenborough