BLOG Mari Ellis Dunning

NWR Issue 102

A Snow Goose and Other Utopian Stories

On a bitterly cold evening in November, Aberystwyth Art Centre bookshop was buzzing with old friends, scholars and staff. In among the organised display of titles, chapped hands held wine glasses and sought refuge from the cold. I went to listen to Jim Perrin read from his first collection of fiction, A Snow Goose and Other Utopian Stories.

Somebody who has written so bravely for so long has taken on a new genre; Perrin is best known as a climber and travel writer. In his newest offering, Perrin uses his experiences to place his fiction in chilly, wintry countries and utopian communities.

Perrin read a small chunk from each of his four stories with powerful impact. At times, his voice rose to a shout, echoing in the otherwise silent book shop; at others, he spoke with a gentle whisper, softly recounting tales of love and loss.

The title story ‘A Snow Goose’ is a reimagining of the Franklin expedition, detailing the story of Perrin’s fictionalised survivors. ‘The men looked at Inuits as savages during the expedition,’ Perrin explained, ‘when learning from the Inuits may have ensured their survival.’ Perrin’s story is that of survivors who were able to merge with the Inuits, and came to marry their women and subsequently conceive children. On this, Perrin remarked, ‘There’s a difference between fiction and factual writing. In fiction, you can make anything up and it will be true.’

‘After the Fall’ tells the story of two mountaineers, Moss and Rigby, who find themselves in a valley inhabited by a tribe of Yeti. Taking its cue from HG Wells’ story, ‘Into the Country of the Blind.’ Perrin’s subversive characters see much more clearly than the individuals of Western society. In this story in particular, the author’s knowledge of mountaineering and exploring fosters the icy cold backdrop as his characters climb to the unknown. ‘Each method allowed Moss… to clip in a karabiner, attach a tape stirrup and teeter up until at full stretch another slight depression or cluster of crystals offered itself up to malleable copper and precise hammer-blows.’

Each story begins with a small excerpt of poetry or prose from the likes of Christina Rosetti, HG Wells, Percy Byshe Shelley and Cormac McCarthy. The insight to Perrin’s mind and inspirations which are revealed through these extracts are fascinating.

Throughout the collection, Perrin foregrounds the spiritual values which derive from the landscape. ‘The people who purport to be saving the planet are the people responsible for damaging the planet,’ he claims. Each of his four stories has a strong visual landscape, ranging from icy lands on the brink of abstraction to Welsh sea-cliffs. One story is centred on a Peregrine, a bird known to Perrin from his many expeditions.

This collection is not for the fainthearted, rife as it is with sex, rape, mutilation and murder. ‘In fiction, you can reveal all your psychopathic yearnings without concern for consequence,’ Perrin told the group of avid listeners, laughing. The Preface reads, ‘There may be fashions but there are no inviolable rules in story telling’ – a statement Perrin sticks to throughout his writing. Published by the small, independent publishing house, Cinnamon Press, A Snow Goose and Other Utopian Stories is certainly worth a read.

Mari Ellis Dunning is a blogger, NWR online contributor and Creative Writing student at Aberystwyth University.

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