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The Method: and Other Stories (Salt Modern Fiction) [Paperback]

Tom Vowler
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Vowler is not afraid to be new, to be dangerous with it and flaunt his talent. Composed beautifully and saturated with insight and compassion. (The Short Review)


Emotionally powerful. (Susie Macguire, author of The Short Hello and Furthermore)


I admired the sheer style of the writing, as well as the wryness and authority of the narrative voice. I kept reading out of admiration for the prose (particularly the dialogue). (Will Atkins MacMillan New Writing)

About the Author

Tom lives in south-west England, on the edge of a moor, where he moved to finish a novel set there. His blog about the experience received 9,000 hits in its first year. In 2007 he completed an MA in creative writing, and since then his short stories have appeared widely. A chapter from his first novel came in the top ten of the Richard & Judy ‘How to Get Published’ competition, which received 46,000 entries. Tom is the assistant editor of the literary journal Short Fiction.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Method

I’d read about those actors, the purists who immersed themselves in roles for months, sometimes years, collecting all the experiences, the essence of characters in order to portray them better. If they wanted insight into how being the middleweight champion of the world felt, they’d seek it in the ring from the end of someone’s fists.

My own approach to research had never been this committed; if I wanted to write about something, I’d read about it. I’d Google the hell out of it and then use my imagination to make notes and diagrams, charts with lines linking characters, the complex worlds they occupied, their beliefs, histories, idiosyncrasies, what I thought they ate, how they voted. I’d construct their lives, give them voices, breathe life into them. I thought that was enough. But then, at a meeting with my publisher, the issue of authenticity arose.

‘I’m not sure we believe in Will,’ said Gillian.

‘In what way do you not believe in him?’

‘He doesn’t seem … organic.’

‘He’s not a root vegetable.’

‘The voice slips at times and I’m not really sure what he’s feeling when he, you know …’

‘Sleeps with large women?’

‘Yes. Why do they need to be so big?’

‘It’s a childhood thing.’

‘And the drug-taking sections … they sound contrived.’

‘What do you suggest?’

‘We like the novel per se. Joff was raving about its filmic potential.’

‘I’m not really …’

‘We do need to airbrush this … what’s he called?’


‘Yes. He doesn’t resonate. Parts of him feel made up.’

‘They are.’

‘Yes, yes of course. It doesn’t feel as if you know him well enough. Is he essential?’

‘To what?

‘The story.’

‘It’s called Will’s Island.’

‘Yes, I wanted to talk to you about the title.’

Once home I got out my notes on Will. Five-eight, early forties, loss adjuster turned journalist turned would-be novelist. I conjured the image of him into my mind, walked around my office talking like him – actual lines of dialogue from the early chapters. I sat down and sketched his face, pinning it above my monitor next to the list of onomatopoeic verbs I made one grey Tuesday afternoon. I began a conversation with him in the mirror, introduced him to Rapunzel, whom he meets in Chapter Fourteen anyway before her violent end sixteen pages later. I liked him.

I emailed Gillian: WILL STAYS.

As Will had done, I typed ‘dating large women’ into Google, and as Will did, I signed up for three of the sites. I looked at some profiles but none of their creators looked big enough. Will’s thing, you see, is losing himself, almost literally, in women. Their arms and legs, their breasts, have to engulf him. He lets them crush him like he were a written-off car.

Elaine, 37, from Bath, looked the largest of them, so I emailed her. Two weeks and three dates later I was beneath her lolling stomach as it slapped hard onto mine like a trawler landing its catch.

‘Can you just lie on me, really still?’ I said, which is what he gets them to do.

‘Oh, Will’ she moaned.

Diane, 39, from Exeter, had bigger thighs and arms but said I wasn’t her type. I told her she wasn’t mine either and that it didn’t matter. She didn’t finish her drink. A couple more objected to me talking into my dictaphone as they came. Furthermore, none of them matched for mass those I’d described in the latter chapters. There were sites dedicated to bigger women, but their purpose was merely two-dimensional; there was no scope to meet them. Others implied a financial exchange, but as Will doesn’t do this, I was reluctant to. Instead I considered the relativity of size.

In the meantime I turned my mind to other parts of his life. Will had worked on a national but I had to start somewhere. The editor at the Herald explained that their trainee journalists were usually straight from college, an English or media degree behind them, some post-grad study to boot. But he’d heard of one of my novels – the one they dramatised badly – and said to go in for a chat.

‘Bit late for a career move, isn’t it?’

‘I think reporting’s in my bones.’

‘Might be a bit dry for you: council meetings, petty crime …’

‘Dry’s good.’

‘Send some articles in and we’ll see.’

My largely embellished CV meant I had to learn quickly. Sleeping three or four hours a night, I studied contempt of court and local authorities and was up to seventy words a minute shorthand in a fortnight. I spent two whole days in the library reading every piece in every Herald from the last five years. There was such a depressingly formulaic structure that I wondered how Will had coped with it. Three weeks after meeting the editor, I walked around the town interviewing its dreary cohorts as they went about their newsworthy business. I sent in three disparate stories and a week later I was a trainee journalist on twelve grand.

If I couldn’t make the women bigger …

Calories became my nemesis; I could tell you how many were found in almost any food. I cut down to six hundred a day, then four hundred. I jogged to and from work and used the paper’s gym in my ‘lunch’ hour. I hadn’t exercised since my twenties and my body let me know it. Initially, the changing room was the only place I drew attention.

‘Shit, mate. You lose any more weight, you’ll be able to fax yourself to work.’

I got breakfast down to an apple. Lunch was a banana, dinner a tin of tuna.

I grew a beard; reading my notes and the early chapters again, I found no reference to Will’s, beyond that he had one. His clothes were easier to mimic, though I needed ever smaller ones.

Now there was less of me, I joined some more sites.

‘Shit,’ said Caroline, 42, from Clevedon, as I took off my shirt.
‘Your spine, I can see all along it.’

I told her I had cancer and was on one final pilgrimage of fornication.

‘I must be three times your weight.’

‘More, I hope.’

The mention of illness backfired, got her thinking about STDs, so in the end I went for honesty.

‘I need to know what it feels like,’ I said.

She wouldn’t have sex but was solicitous enough to roll about naked on top of me, my frail body barely able to support her.

I emailed Gillian the new chapters.
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