Short Story: The Unravelling of Walter Sinos

Getting 2020 off to a pretty flying start, I’m delighted to say that literary journal Short Fiction chose my short story, “The Unravelling of Walter Sinos” for their January Feature.

“He was unremarkable, an elderly man in a greatcoat worn to skeleton threads, and a pair of leather shoes that creaked with newness. He wore woollen gloves with the fingertips cut off, threads trailing like capillaries, leaking life. His eyes were yellowed, the irises a shock of blue. When he spoke, it was as if every word were being plucked from a box that was almost empty.”


“The Unravelling of Walter Sinos” is a rather strange piece, and one that I agonised over a bit; it’s quite different in style to my usual writing. Also – though this sounds like a cliche – it started out as a dream. I actually dreamed almost the entire thing, including the name “Walter Sinos” and saw the process of his unravelling. It didn’t fade on waking either, and so I felt I had no choice but to try and capture in words the sensations that had seemed so evident and crystalline and strange when I was dreaming.

I finished this short story back in August last year and wasn’t at all sure what to do with it. Genre-wise it sits somewhere between literary and magical realism; not genre enough for SFF magazines, perhaps too speculative for mainstream literary ones. So – after a few rejections – I am delighted that it found a home with Short Fiction. Overall, I don’t know if I’ve succeeded in capturing Mr Sinos’s unravelling, but I’m glad I tried.

There are passages in the short story that attempt to describe the sound of Walter Sinos’ work, which – to my mind – is on the musique concrète end of things. Obviously, this made it particularly challenging to describe. Luckily, I have a resident sound designer on hand to help (thanks Nick), who recommended a few books and resources that were incredibly useful as I attempted to describe the soundscape of Sinos’ world.

The one I used most was Ocean of Sound by David Toop: ambient sound and radical listening in the age of communication. It’s described as a sonic history of ambient music, stretching from the 1889 Paris Exposition to the present. I highly recommend it, especially the new edition which has a foreword by Michel Faber.

Another big inspiration, and another recommendation was the music of Iannis Xenakis; the Greek-French composer who fought with the resistance in Athens during WWII and was subsequently blinded in the left eye when shrapnel exploded in his face during an armed conflict. He was later forced to flee to France after the right-wing government sentenced him to death for his part in the resistance activities.

For years I was tormented by guilt at having left the country for which I’d fought. I left my friends — some were in prison, others were dead, some managed to escape. I felt I was in debt to them and that I had to repay that debt. And I felt I had a mission. I had to do something important to regain the right to live. It wasn’t just a question of music — it was something much more significant.” – Iannis Xenakis

His pictoral scores are like nothing I’ve ever seen; the music itself is deeply unsettling, nerve-shaking. It was – and still is – ground-breaking work that asks demanding questions of what it is to experience music.

You can read “The Unravelling of Walter Sinos” for free over on the Short Fiction site, and while you’re there, please do consider donating a little their way, so they can continue to run the journal as they have been since 2006.

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