Short Story Weekends - Bright Silver Nothing

A difficult decision today – whether to put up this post or not. I wanted to share a great story with you, but at the same time I’m aware that very few of you – if any – will be able to read it for yourselves. I’ve decided to go ahead, because there is a move on the part of a number of small publishers to find the best out-of-print work and bring it to a new readership. I hope that I’m making a small contribution by writing about an author I’d like to see in print.

A Wind from Nowhere is a book of quirky and magical short stories by Nicholas Stuart Gray. I can’t tell you much about him (his short Wikipedia entry has little information, except to list several significant authors, including Gaiman, who cite him as an influence); he didn’t write very many books, and mostly what remains available is his plays rather than his novels. The Stone Cage, which I’d love to read if only I could find an affordable copy, is a re-telling of Rapunzel from the cat’s point of view, and I can tell you, Gray does good cats.

My current favourite story from the collection (which I am reading in a leisurely fashion), "Bright Silver Nothing", takes the form of a lecture to a group of students by a senior demon. His subject is sorcerors – their general untrustworthiness, their annoying human foibles, their occasional slipperiness when it comes to striking deals:
Get this into your silly heads: sorcerors are not always easy game. You must handle them with care, and not fool about. It takes practice to deal with the creatures_and you’re an ignorant bunch. Even clever demons can come unstuck, if they rush in without thinking seriously.
The demon, whose preferred name is Trilloby (though he has answered to Astaroth, Belial, and so on) relates the story of how he was summoned by the sorceror Sillifant to help a prince to marry the lady of his dreams. Not surprisingly, since dark magic is involved, things don’t go entirely to plan and some of Trilloby’s actions are a surprise ti him.

The demon Trilloby reminds me a lot of Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus – this collection was published in 1978, so it’s possible that the young Stroud might have come across it and been inspired. Certainly the ways in which Gray, in all his stories, uses humour and different viewpoints to subvert the traditional format of the fairy story, are very much of a recent generation of writers; there are definite echoes in Garth Nix’s Mogget and the Disreputable Dog, as well as those I think I see in Stroud.

If you are fortunate enough to happen across Gray in the sort of library that hasn’t thrown out any book printed before 2007, or have the luck to find a copy in a secondhand bookshop, snap it up, it’s a small treasure. Rather nice cover, too.


  1. well sure.. go and make me want to read a short story (something I really don't like to do) and then make it a book impossible to find!!! You couldn't have described the story better to make me want it!!!
    I love, love, love Bartimaeus and totally enjoyed Mogget..!!! ARGH!!

  2. Oh no! Too tempting. And echo Deslily. Mogget and The Disreputable Dog has got to be some of my favourite characters, human, animal or demon...

  3. DesLily, I sympathise with your feelings about short stories, so I feel bad that these are so good. I've been trying to find out about the author, but there's not much to find. Bartimaeus is wonderful, isn't he?

    Masha, I read another of the stories last night, and the cat in it reminded me of Mogget again - yes, my favourites, too.

  4. There are four of his books in the Rhode Island library system--I'll add them to my list!

  5. Oh Charlotte, you are lucky! The only other one I've been able to read recently was Grimbold's Other World, and I loved it.

  6. Well, one of his books in the RI library system is a 22 page picture not to thrilling. But I've just requested The Apple Stone: "Five children find an odd-looking apple that speaks and has the power to "animate the inanimate."

    I have to confess that I am a tad doubtful. Talking fruit is not really my thing....:)

  7. Okay, a picture book is perhaps not demanding, but the description - if I'm thinking of the right one - sounded interesting, and I'd like to read The Apple Stone, but the only copies I can find are pretty expensive (one "special" book or 10 ordinary ones? hard decision...)

  8. Hey if you go to the Abebooks website I bet they'll have cheap copies of The Stone Cage. I often get out of print books from there for about ten quid plus shipping. I've got to recommend this book to Earhart (my sister blogger) she's OBSESSED with Gaiman.

  9. Oh dear, Alcott, you've done it now. The last time I searched I couldn't find anything reasonable, but of course when I read your comment I just had to go and have another look. And yes, I did find a copy, but now I am consumed with guilt at buying yet another book this month, and for slightly more than my (unofficial) limit. I suppose it will have to be a wicked pleasure to read, so it had better live up to expectations!

  10. Sounds like a fascinating author. It is too bad that his work isn't as easy to track down. Hopefully enough people will start talking about him again and that will change.


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