Uncanny by Paul Jennings Hi-Lo Short Stories

Uncanny book cover showing boy with gas mask on searching with flash light

Uncanny is a hi-lo short story collection by Australian author Paul Jennings, first published 1988.

The original ‘uncanny’ stories were by British writer May Sinclair (1863 – 1946). I read a collection of Sinclair’s uncanny short stories (1923) a few years ago and wasn’t really moved by them. This is because so many writers have emulated Sinclair’s work that hers no longer feel all that original! Sinclair was a heavy influence on H.P. Lovecraft. Now, I wager you’ve heard of him, even if you haven’t heard of her.

Unfortunately, the influence of May Sinclair remains little known. Plus, her writing career was cut short with the onset of Parkinson’s disease in the late 1920s.

The Uncanny May Sinclair stories have plots like this:

  • Two lovers are doomed to repeat their empty affair for the rest of eternity.
  • A female telepath is forced to face the consequences of her actions.
  • The victim of a violent murder has the last laugh on his assailant.
  • An amateur philosopher discovers that there is more to Heaven than meets the eye.

Likewise, Jennings writes ‘circular’ stories in which stories end on the note that this weird thing will continue on forever. Characters in Paul Jennings stories are forced to face the consequences of their actions. Underdogs (victims) get the last laugh against their opponents. The stories are set in apparent utopias, where there is more to ordinary life than meets the eye.

Whether directly or indirectly, May Sinclair had an impact on Paul Jennings, across all of his short fiction, and not just in this particular title. Continue reading “Uncanny by Paul Jennings Hi-Lo Short Stories”

Poof and the Piglet

Poof and the Piglet is a homemade picture book written and illustrated by a 10-year-old who was given the title as inspiration. The 10-year-old has also been taught universal story structure.

Poof is the star of an entire series of books. Sometimes she has a sidekick called Worm-hoop (an English owl). This time Worm-hoop is replaced by a pig. I think she may have been influenced by the Elephant and Piggie series.

She has played with lettering on the front cover, understanding that one of the stand out features of pigs is their curly tails.

Inciting incident. Continue reading “Poof and the Piglet”

Flowering Judas by Katherine Anne Porter

flowering judas

“Flowering Judas” is the standout short story by Pulizer Prize winning Katherine Anne Porter, included in a collection published 1930 when Porter was 40. This short story reminds me of “A Dill Pickle” by Katherine Mansfield. Both stories are clearly about the way in which women are socially acculturated into providing emotional labour for men, but written in a time before such language existed to described the phenomenon. Instead, female short story writers showed it by dramatising such relationships in fiction. Continue reading “Flowering Judas by Katherine Anne Porter”

The Gift Of The Magi by O. Henry

gift of the magi

See, “The Gift Of The Magi” (1905) is why we don’t buy secret gifts. Aren’t we always told in relationships that communication is key? Yes, yes it is. Either buy your own presents, or drop strong hints in the lead up to gift giving season.

Wait, that’s not what I’m meant to take away from this story, is it. For the likes of me, reading the story a century later, O. Henry does a Charles Perrault and tells us exactly what we’re supposed to takeaway in a dedicated paragraph at the end — that sacrificially giving gifts is excellent for human relationships.

O. Henry was the pen name of William Sydney Porter. Continue reading “The Gift Of The Magi by O. Henry”

Unmentionable by Paul Jennings

Unmentionable Paul Jennings

Unmentionable (1991) is a collection of 9 hi-lo short stories by iconic Australian author Paul Jennings.

STORY STRUCTURE OF “ICE MAIDEN”

In “Ice Maiden”, a boy falls in love with an ice statue, but he gets over his love for the ice once he meets a real girl.

I have some sympathy for the phenomenon whereby adolescents lust after (hopefully) safe targets — celebrities, cartoon characters, teachers, coaches. These objects feel safe because they will never reciprocate our nascent lust.

“Ice Maiden” is about the humiliation sometimes felt when lusting after someone — or something — utterly unattainable.

There are strong echoes of Pygmalion in any story with a plot like this. Jennings has rewritten Pygmalion knowingly, with mention of a Greek statue. I’ve written about Pygmalion previously. The Greek myth is inherently sexist. When writing this humorous retelling for kids, Paul Jennings didn’t manage to subvert that aspect at all. I don’t believe he manages any subversion in “Ice Maiden”.

The image of the beautiful frozen girl is also inside a glass case, which has echoes of fairytales such as Snow White. Continue reading “Unmentionable by Paul Jennings”

Unbelievable by Paul Jennings Hi-lo Short Fiction

Unbelievable Paul Jennings

Unbelievable is a short story collection by Australian author Paul Jennings, copyrighted 1986. These are tall tales for eight-year-olds. Australia has a long history of tall tales, and Jennings very successfully adapted the techniques for a child audience. The 1980s was the decade of the irreverent male children’s author. Roald Dahl was the stand-out giant in this field, after starting out writing stories for adults. These days we have David Walliams and various other male authors. This genre of story continues to be a masculine domain, even though children’s literature is an industry full of women. This is carried over in Jennings’ stories for children. Continue reading “Unbelievable by Paul Jennings Hi-lo Short Fiction”

Unreal by Paul Jennings Hi-lo Short Fiction

Unreal Paul Jennings

Unreal is a collection of 8 short stories, first published 1985. This was the book that really kicked-off Jennings’ career as a children’s author. Though it wasn’t called that at the time, these books are excellent examples of hi-lo literature.

I am revisiting the work of Paul Jennings with the benefit of 2019 hindsight. I’d like to clarify what writing lessons I can learn from Paul Jennings, against what to throw out. Continue reading “Unreal by Paul Jennings Hi-lo Short Fiction”

The Murders In The Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe

rue morgue

“The Murders In The Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allan Poe (1841) is thought to be the first modern detective story. (Oedipus is sometimes considered the first one on record.)

For me there is little interesting about this story, except for its influence on the crime genre. That in itself makes it worth reading. As I read, I tried to put myself in the mid of a mid-nineteenth century reader. Unlike us, these readers were not bombarded daily by one nasty crime after another. We’re now at a point where it’s necessary for your mental health and happiness to limit exposure to your newsfeed, but “The Murders In The Rue Morgue” was written long before the notion of ‘serial killer’ existed. I imagine this story was gripping. Continue reading “The Murders In The Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe”

What is a detective story?

The Mystery of the Fire Dragon detective story

A detective story is a type of mystery told through the eyes of law enforcers. Crime stories, in contrast, are often told through the eyes of the criminal. An example of a crime story is The Sopranos.

Detective stories relate the solving of a crime, usually one or more murders, by a main character who may or may not be a professional investigator. This large, popular genre has many subgenres, reflecting differences in tone, character. It always contains criminal and detective settings.

Though a typical audience probably doesn’t have a firm idea of the differences, from a writer’s point of view detective, crime and thriller are three very different forms and structures. Detective stories are often marketed as mysteries, perhaps with mystery in the title.

Detective stories are super popular. The detective story, specifically the police procedural, is far more popular than crime, worldwide. Continue reading “What is a detective story?”