BackStory: Five Questions with KM Elkes
Author of Two by Two
What inspired you to write “Two by Two”?
I was on a staycation, sitting at home listening to rain hammering down outside and wondering why I wasn’t somewhere warmer, and drier. I started reading about the origins of the flood narrative (it began in Mesopotamia and the oldest written text dates from about 1600 BCE) and found out what happened to Noah after the flood. More generally, I’m interested in how Biblical stories blend epic narratives, contradictions, mix up other earlier stories and rely to some extent on intertextuality, which is something of interest to me in the short fiction collection I’m working on.
Who are your favourite historical fiction writers (flash or otherwise) and why?
Alice Munro is not a historical fiction author as such, but ability to seamlessly create a recent historical world in many of her stories is something that attracts me as both reader and writer. Her remarkable ability to create an immersive experience in the short story format works really well when she writes stories which have the feel of the past about them. Generally my focus is less on specific historical fiction authors and more on specific works. The People’s Act of Love by James Meek; Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders, Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sula by Toni Morrison, Regeneration by Pat Barker – all these books and more are admirable not just for the way they wear their historical setting without being heavy-handed or over-expository, but also because these books go beyond history, to something more universal about the human experience.
If you could live for one year in any historical period, when and where would it be, and why?
Just the one? I’m going to cheat and have six months in Jerusalem, circa 33AD – not particularly for religious reasons, but to see and understand a little more about the confluence of the Roman empire and Judaism, the birth of a religion, social history and living conditions, all of which have had a ongoing effect on the world today.
Then I would go forward to spend six months in Edwardian Britain. It’s always seemed to me like this is a period of contradictions – a time of increasing status for women and rising political power for the lower classes, rubbing up against a nostalgic view of England as a sun-dappled idyll where the social order is accepted and the sun never sets on the Empire. I’d travel around Britain see what it was really like.
What, if anything, do you have in common with your main character?
I like a good red wine. I also have an unhealthy fascination with changeable weather.
KM Elkes has won the Fish Publishing flash prize, been shortlisted four times for the Bridport Prize and won or been placed in a number of other short fiction competitions. His work has been published in more than 20 anthologies and he is a Best Short Fictions nominee for 2018. KM Elkes can be found online at www.kmelkes.co.uk and on Twitter @mysmalltales.
Engraving of Noah by P. Troschel, from Johann Michael Dilherr, Tugendschaz, Und Lasterplaz. Das ist: Christliche Anweisung zu Gottseliger Betrachtung Des Lebens und Wandels der heiligen Erzvätter, dapferer Helden, und fürtreflicher Königen Alten Testaments, Nürnberg, Christoph Gerhard, (1659).