Cowboys and Croquet: How I Wrote ‘The Kid’

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(Photo by Katie Burkhart on Unsplash)

It began, as it often does, with a newspaper article. In 2010 a collector found a photograph that he believed showed Billy the Kid playing croquet with members of his gang. If true (and the jury is still out, I think) this would have been only the second authenticated photograph of The Kid. Even if it’s not him, I was struck by the fact that this game, which I’d always thought was only played by English people on immaculate lawns, was also popular in nineteenth-century America.

It’s these kinds of unexpected juxtapositions that often spark stories for me. I knew very little about Billy, and even less about American croquet, and I’d also never written a piece of historical fiction before, but I couldn’t get the image out of my head.

So I did some research. There’s not much historical information about croquet in America but it seems it was a reasonably popular game in the 1870s, including among poorer households and Native Americans. I found an interview with an artist who painted images of that period, including one of a Native American holding a croquet mallet. One thing I did discover was that Americans call the croquet hoops ‘wickets’.

There is of course a lot of information about Billy the Kid. His story has been told so many times already, including in the Young Guns film, that I wanted to try and find a different angle. I discovered that he had a younger brother called Joe, and I became interested in that dynamic – what did Joe think of his elder brother? If Billy was ‘the Kid’, what did that make his kid brother?

The story was beginning to come together, but it wasn’t until I found out that Billy had been employed by an English ranch owner that the final piece of the puzzle was in place. It was the murder of this Englishman by a rival gang that precipitated the sequence of bloody events that made Billy infamous (and led to his own death), so what if I set my story before all that kicked off, in the lull before that storm? And how would this upper-middle-class Englishman react to the notion of croquet being played by poor farmers in New Mexico, without a manicured lawn in sight?

It’s Joe’s story, really. It’s about the real kid and his mixed feelings regarding his elder brother, who has already killed a man. What does Joe want to do with his life? Does he want to stay and milk cows on a farm, or go off and lead a potentially much more exhilarating, but risky existence with his brother? This dilemma became the heart of the story.

You can read ‘The Kid’ here.

 

 

The Kid

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(Image by Donna H from Pixabay)

Back in 2017 when I plucked up the courage to start writing and submitting short stories again after a 14-year hiatus, Storgy were the first literary magazine to take something by me (‘Mr DIY’). So I’m really pleased to have a new story published by them – and after a lifetime of writing contemporary stories, it’s my first piece of historical fiction. ‘The Kid’ is set in New Mexico, 1877, and you can read it here.

Reading ‘Stub’

Over on Twitter, the writing community has created a great new initiative to get writers reading out their work while we’re all stuck at home, under the hashtag #FlashFamily. This gave me the opportunity to read my story ‘Stub’, published earlier this year in Lucent Dreaming.  So if you’d like to see me trying really hard not to stumble over my words, here it is:

A Couple of Reviews

The London Bus Theory also applies to reviews – it’s been a while since I’ve done one, but then along come two in quick succession.

For the Sunday Times, I reviewed James Mumford’s book about new political tribes, Vexed. You can find the review here.

I reviewed Philip Hensher’s new novel, A Small Revolution in Germany, for the Literary Review, and that review can be found here.