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Back to School Podcast - classroom blackboard

Back to School Podcast

  12+   Last year, I launched the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast featuring my short stories, and in April (2021), I chose a story I wrote thirty years ago for Episode 18. However, some of my short stories are longer than they are short, and Back to School is an example of a longer story.

In an earlier blog post on the Three Minute Microfiction Podcast, I wrote that my goal for the length of each podcast episode is a maximum of four to six minutes. This equates to three to four minutes of narration and about two minutes of writer's insight for a 500-word short story.

But the longer, multi-part stories A Moving Sculpture and The Cat in the Trunk (Episodes 2 and 5) were ten and sixteen minutes long.

Back to School is also a multi-part short story, and at 3500 words, I estimated it would need at least eighteen minutes of narration. Add the writer's insight, and this episode wouldn't be a *short read*.

Six Chapter Instalments

Given its length, I decided to release Back to School in six instalments on Tall And True Short Reads, one per chapter. This would honour my podcast goal with each chapter being five to seven minutes long and help my voice, as I wouldn't have to narrate an eighteen-minute take!

But, on the day I set aside to record chapter one, I sounded distinctly croaky.

In his autobiography, Just Williams (1985), Kenneth Williams revealed how he regretted the voice he chose to play Judge Burke in the Carry On Cowboy film. It required him to slide his jaw at an odd angle when speaking, and Williams wrote that his jaw soon became swollen and ached. But because he'd used the voice for filming on day one, he was stuck with it and a sore jaw.

I realised I was in a similar situation with my croaky voice. However, as I wanted consistency in the audio for the story parts of the podcast, I had no choice but to narrate the six chapters in one day, though over several takes.

Fortunately, I could record the chapter intros and insights separately. And thankfully, my voice sounds more like its "authoritive" self in these sections (and not like a croaky Judge Burke!).

Revisions and More Revisions

George Saunders asserts in his short story masterclass book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain (Amazon affiliate link):

There are two things that separate writers who go on to publish from those who don't: first, a willingness to revise; second, the extent to which the writer has learned to make causality.

I wrote the original version of Back to School when I lived in England in 1992. In the handwritten draft, the working title for the story was A Second Chance, but when I typed it up on my old Amstrad PC, I changed the title to Another Chance. And when I shared the story on Tall And True in 2017, I renamed it for a third time to Back to School.

In addition to title changes, there were many revisions across the various drafts of the story. I even made edits when transcribing it to a script for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast, including rewording the last sentence!

Without giving any spoilers, here are five details that have "evolved" in the 30 years since I first wrote Back to School:

  • The sixteen-year-old schoolboy Charlie Edwards started life in the story as Charlie Adams.
  • The headmaster was initially named Roger Hampton but became Hamilton and then Heavy-Handed Hamilton.
  • After his dream in the original version, Charlie waited two days before visiting the headmaster's office because he needed to buy a school uniform.
  • It was the adult Charlie's elderly mother (cut from the story), not his daughter, who reminded him to make a wish when blowing out the candles on his birthday cake.
  • We followed young Charlie for two weeks after he visited the headmaster's office. During this time, he studied hard for the series of tests set by Hamilton.

At the end of Chapter Six on Tall And True and Tall And True Short Reads, I give more insight into the writing process, including why and how I wrote Back to School.

As for Saunders' second point on writers, I'll let you decide whether I achieved causality in writing this short story.

Final Thoughts 

One personal aside, adult Charlie was forty in the Amstrad draft of Back to School. That seemed "old" when I wrote the story in 1992. But I was in my mid-fifties when I shared it on Tall And True in 2017, and for some reason, forty now sounded young to me!

Another interesting point is that, according to Google, Back to School is one of the most clicked-on short stories on the Tall And True. Diving deeper into the search terms, "caning" rates highly for this story. Perhaps this is why Hamilton is known as Heavy-Handed Hamilton?

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I hope you enjoy Chapters One to Six of Back to School on Tall And True Short Reads or your favourite podcast app. 

And don't forget to tell your family and friends about the Tall And True Short Reads podcast and the Tall And True writers' website. 

© 2021 Robert Fairhead

Thanks to Linda Toman from Pixabay for the Back to School blackboard image.

N.B. You might like to read another blog post, Introducing Tall And True Short Reads.

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Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.

Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story. In 2021, Robert published his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months, and in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months. And in 2023, he published an anthology of his microfiction, Tall And True Microfiction.

Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.

He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. ~ Maya Angelou

Tall And True showcases the writing — fiction, nonfiction and reviews — of a dad and dog owner, writer and podcaster, Robert Fairhead. Guest Writers are also invited to share and showcase their writing on the website.

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