Will Buckingham is a novelist, philosopher and children’s writer who is interested in the places where philosophical stories meet with story-like philosophies. His first novel, Cargo Fever (Tindal Street Press, 2007), set in the outer islands of Indonesia, explores the often uncertain boundaries between ancestors, strangers, gods, humans and animals. His second novel, The Descent of the Lyre (Roman Books, 2012), moves between Bulgaria and Paris, looking again at some of these same boundaries in the unsettling figure of Ivan Gelski: a nineteenth century Bulgarian bandit, guitarist and, eventually, saint.
Will is currently researching a novel-of-sorts called A Book of Changes, based around the ancient Chinese divinatory text, the Yijing (I ching). After a period of intensively learning Chinese language in 2010, he was awarded a British Academy grant to carry out research for the novel in China. He is currently senior lecturer in Creative Writing at De Montfort University.
Precious Treasure Chicken
It was mid-morning. I was alone in King Coffee, in the city of Baoji. In front of me were a cappuccino, a map, and a piece of cheesecake. I was studying the map carefully, translating what I could, trying to work out where to go and what to do. I knew nothing about the place I was staying, other than its name: Baoji. Precious Treasure Chicken. From the map, I could trace a line of the hills to the north, a river to the south.
It was good to feel the caffeine working on my system. This was my first coffee in days. I had been sleeping badly over the last few nights, waking each morning with a kind of exhaustion hanging over me. It was muggy, and storms were predicted.
In my peripheral vision, I noticed a man sit down at the table to my left. I was the only other customer and the intrusion seemed unreasonable. The new arrival lit up a cigarette and started to slurp noisily as he sucked an iced latte through a straw. I folded my map and swallowed the rest of my coffee.
"Hello," he said. I looked up. He switched into Chinese. "Where are you from?"
He was slight, with a shaven, domed head, and was looking at me earnestly. "England," I told him. "And you?"
"I am a stranger."
This seemed curiously evasive. I put my map in my bag ready to leave, but he leaned forward and took my arm. "I am from space," he said, pointing towards the sky. "From elsewhere."
"Yes," he said, gripping my arm even harder. Then he leaned towards me and whispered, “U.F.O. ...”
The extract above is from my short story, ‘Precious Treasure Chicken’, which was published in the 2012 Lowestoft Chronicle anthology, Far-Flung and Foreign. It was written as a part of my current work in progress, my novel based upon the Yijing. The novel is an attempt to use the Yijing as a kind of story-engine, a machine for generating new tales and possibilities, crossing between languages and cultures whilst spinning a series of sixty-four interlinked tales.
‘Precious Treasure Chicken’ was drafted in 2010, in the city of Baoji in China, and is—more or less—written exactly as it happened: sometimes you have to go hunting for stories, sometimes you need a lot of patience, and sometimes they just fall into your lap.
Writing, for me, is a kind of rootlessness: it is more about restlessness than it is about homecoming; and the places I write about are almost exclusively elsewhere. The German writer Walter Benjamin once said that there were two tribes of storytellers: those who go wandering, and those who stay put. My writing—about journeys in China, Bulgaria, Indonesia and beyond—puts me firmly within the latter tribe.
This rootlessness is perhaps part of the reason that I have found my way, eventually, to live in Leicester: a city where, more than any other in the United Kingdom, multiple histories, languages and cultures collide, commingle and co-exist.
The Descent of the Lyre. Roman Books, 2012. ISBN: 978-9380905075
The Snorgh and the Sailor (with Thomas Docherty). Alison Green Books, 2012. ISBN: 978-1407116525
Finding Our Sea-Legs: Ethics, Experience and the Ocean of Stories. Kingston University Press, 2012. ISBN: 978-1899999484
Cargo Fever. Tindal Street Press, 2007. ISBN: 978-0955138423
Short Stories and Creative Non-Fiction
‘The Lake’ in Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud, ed. Jonathan Taylor. Salt Publishing, 2012. ISBN: 978-1907773266
‘The Trouble with Happiness’ in Utopia, ed. Ross Bradshaw. Five Leaves Publications. 2012. ISBN: 978-1907869501
‘Precious Treasure Chicken’ in Far-Flung and Foreign, ed. Nicholas Litchfield, Lowestoft Chronicle Press. 2012.