Friday 20 September 2019

"Between the Lines" by Matthew Bright and Christopher Black

By Matthew Bright

Between The Lines (I realised only when I sat down to write this post) was originally written ten years ago. It was the penultimate project of my Creative Writing undergraduate degree, and the theme was 'writing for publication.' It was a collaborative project, and so my classmate (and housemate) Chris Black and I decide to produce our project together, reasoning that surely this would be easier (it was not). In preparation we toured a printing press, which gave us an unnecessarily thorough understanding of CMYK colour matching and not much else, but what it did spark was the idea that we wanted to create something that could only work when published in print. 

Then naturally, we let the six weeks we had to produce the piece go by, until the deadline loomed a mere week away. We were proud of ourselves for getting to work so ahead of schedule.

Over four long, long nights – working on two computers and somehow patching the whole thing together with a pirate copy of Powerpoint – we pulled together what would become Between The Lines. We hit on the idea of two books on a shelf whose stories bled into each other, and extrapolated from there. It begins as two separate stories: a Victorian gentleman unhappy with his social lot, and a contemporary student negotiating drugs, drink and ennui. They begin to exchange messages across time and, as the book continues, the stories begin to literally merge on the page, eventually becoming one single story. Contrary to expectation (Chris being mainly renowned for his drinking skills, and me being known for a fondness for top hats, bow ties and Victoriana), Chris laboured on the story of Mr Dashby, and I wrote the story of his modern counterpart, Bex. But of course, it wasn't that simple—writing something of this nature was complex for all the usual reasons writing is complex, but also in numerous practical ways. To make the stories work, we had to inch through each one slowly, keeping them moving at the same pace, mirroring each other. Sometimes we had to write character, and make it work for the layout; sometimes we had to write for layout, and make it work for character. Of everything I wrote in my three years of undergraduate work, Between The Lines taught me more about the intricate workings of text than anything else.

And somehow, by 9am Friday, bleary-eyed but proud, we had Between The Lines complete.

Years later we came back to re-read it. That's normally a pretty horrifying experience, returning to writing and finding it's now juvenilia, but we were delighted to discover that Between The Lines still stood up. The version now released in the Stretto Fiction series of Roman Books is largely the same as the original version; there's some cleaning, some softening, some polishing—it turned out Mr Dashby drank a lot of tea; it was symbolic tea-drinking, but nonetheless, some of it really had to go—but otherwise this was the Bex and Mr Dashby that first came to life in a small back bedroom of a student house in Leicester. And now it's the Bex and Mr Dashby who are out in the world for everyone else to discover—this strange, unusual book that we created. We hope you love it as much as we do.

You can see more about the book here

You can read a review of the book here

About the authors

Christopher Black is a relentless optimist despite a total lack of success or recognition. He works as a Data Manager for clinical studies specialising in oncology and makes music with dated rock outfit Rhyn. 

Matthew Bright is a writer, editor and designer who’s never too sure what order those come in. He is the editor of several anthologies and his fiction has appeared in various publications. His short story collection, Stories To Tell In The Dark, is out from Lethe Press this October.

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