The Story Behind ‘Old Man Red Gum’

I’ve mentioned in this blog previously how much I love reading about the inspiration behind stories I’ve enjoyed reading — Stephen King is especially good at this.

Since my flash fiction piece ‘Old Man Red Gum’ has just been published in Midnight Echo #12, I thought I’d do the same.

** Spoiler warning **

‘Old Man Red Gum’ was the first story I wrote when I started taking the art seriously, about seven years ago.

I had recently taken an adult education course on creative writing, and our teacher had given the class an exercise — pick five random things and incorporate them into a piece of writing.

I remember ditching my first attempt as utter rubbish. But then I enlisted my five year old daughter to help find five fresh objects.

Reading back through one of my early drafts it’s fairly obvious the objects she helped me pick were: piano, flower, rocket, tree and monster.

The combination of monster and tree struck a chord.

The title ‘Old Man Red Gum’ came quite literally from a moment of pure inspiration — I was staring out the window at the eucalypts across the street when it popped, in its entirety, into my head.

And with that title, my monster tree took a form.

The story was rejected four times before I decided to rework it.

My protagonist was always a young boy, living with an extended family in an Aussie bush homestead. And he was always trying to escape the clutches of the tree.

But my original villain was a bit too insipid.

So, I rewrote the whole story with Old Man Red Gum now intent upon the entire family — the protagonist mentioning a litany of injuries upon the generations living in the house.

The idea of a vampiric tree was almost a last minute addition — something that emerged in later edits while trying to find a climax.

I entered ‘Old Man Red Gum’ into the Australasian Horror Writers Association’s Flash Fiction Competition for 2016.

As luck would have it, the story struck a chord with some of the judges, too, winning an Honourable Mention.

Then, when Midnight Echo announced it would be relaunching, I knew I’d found the market for the story.

I am so stoked to have my work nested among some of the best of my Australasian contemporaries.

As with all my stories, music played a huge part in getting me in the right headspace to create in the world of Old Man Red Gum.

I made a small Spotify playlist for an extra short story.

See my music page for the songs that helped inspire Old Man Red Gum.

All images from Pixabay and AHWA

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