The idea for Mud Angels came from a visit to Florence at the end of 2016. A few months earlier was the fiftieth anniversary of a devastating flood there. Photos and information about the flood and its aftermath were posted around the city. Online you’ll find staggering images from the 1966 flood. That information formed a backdrop to my visit, and fertile ground for story-making.
The first thing I imagined was Emily, a young newlywed in 1966. I imagined her reacting to things I was seeing as I visited museums and other sites, places I believe are largely unchanged since 1966. Her husband Charles was, I initially thought, going to be a bit of a stuffed shirt. But, as the characters developed, they surprised me.
I’d written a little over the years, but I feel I really began writing in 2016. Writing my story Graceland (much-edited version published in 2020 in Prairie Fire magazine Vol. 41 No. 2) felt like I was rewiring my brain. But I didn’t have writing experience or craft skills (and five years later, they’re still very much a work in progress).
“But I didn’t have writing experience or craft skills (and five years later, they’re still very much a work in progress).”
Mud Angels is my second story. I wanted to set it before the flood, and have the reader know the flood’s coming (though not when), while the characters don’t know. Having a story take place in the context of things that haven’t happened yet was a challenge. The first draft had a kind of prologue at the beginning, like a newspaper article, with the story of the flood. Ultimately, I dropped the prologue and brought the information about the flood into the body of the story.
You could say the evolution of Mud Angels maps to my learning path as a writer. In 2018 I had the opportunity to work with John Metcalf as a mentor through The Humber School for Writers Graduate Certificate Program. The first draft of Mud Angels was the first work we discussed, and through it I learned a tremendous amount. In 2019 I received valuable input workshopping it in Dennis Bock’s Short Story Masterclass at U of T. In 2020, I worked with mentor Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, who helped me push further into the characters and the story. Finally, after it was accepted by The New Quarterly, I had the chance to work with Editor Pamela Mulloy to bring it to the version you see in print. I’m grateful to all these people who, in the course of working with me on the story, taught me so much about writing.
It was fantastic to have Mud Angels appear in TNQ’s Vol 160. The theme, ‘The In-between Time’ captured important aspects of the story. Not only is Emily’s honeymoon a kind of interlude before her married life begins, but she seems very confident about how things are going to go, while the reader knows events may not unfold as she expects.
The story had a long journey. I’m so glad it found its home in TNQ!
Alison Stevenson’s work has appeared in Prairie Fire and The New Quarterly, was longlisted for the CBC and TNQ/Peter Hinchcliffe prizes, a finalist in the Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story and was selected for the Eden Mills Festival Fringe Stage. She has attended The Humber School for Writers, U of T School of Continuing Studies and Iowa Writers’ Workshop summer workshop. She is working on a collection. alisonstevensonwriter.com