Once upon a time, on a distant and dark Christmas Eve, my family and I were gathered around a roaring fire (there was no fire), glasses of sherry in hand (I’m not actually sure about the sherry, but there definitely was some kind of alcohol) and listening to my father read to us from a collected book of victorian ghost stories. This had become something of a tradition, as my brother and sister and I returned en-masse to the family home, to eschew the bright lights of the television for an older, more traditional form of entertainment. After my father had been reading a while, we agreed that Victorian ghost stories were, on the whole, not really that good. Much better were the stories of MR James, redolent as they were of the Edwardian Oxford don, and evoking exactly the kind of the cosy nostalgic atmosphere that our family gatherings were attempting to recapture. “Wouldn’t it be jolly,” said my sister. “If we wrote our own ghost stories?”
Christmas passed, and as the bright revelery faded into January grey, the family group experienced the traditional ennui of late winter. I had just finished University, where my mathematics degree had left the creative half of my brain unsated, despite my involvement in the University drama club. I dabbled in writing, completing a script for a play that was only half satisfying and which I never shared with my fellow amateur dramatic enthusiasts. I started writing a novel full of bright ideas that slowly ground to a halt. My brother in his turn had taken up writing for a number of websites and was prosletysing about the benefits of a deadline. My father spoke about his wish to be more creative, but seemed to be suffering from the same general malaise. The family seemed to need a collective purpose around which to focus ourselves.
It was in a far too infrequent conversation with Mum that the various seeds that had been planted germinated. “What if,” we said. “Each month someone chose a topic, and the rest of the family provided a response to it?” We agreed that in deference to the range of our artistic interests this response could take whatever form we chose. And in deference to the competing asks of our various work and social lives, a submission would have no formal time limit, nor even be required.
And so The Preston Papers was born, as a Yahoo group in the early 21st century. Topics were chosen at whim, taking inspiration from books we had read or shows we had seen, emotions we felt and those little points of poetry that we experience as isolated points in our lives. The main medium of response was usually the short story, but poetry, paintings and even one glorious papier maché scuplture (the photos of which have sadly been lost) was also produced. Every Christmas a ghost story was written by each of us, to be read out in front of the flickering fire (there still isn’t a fire) once the newest members of the family have gone to bed.
Life sometimes gets in the way, and our output had slowed even before Yahoo Groups finally was demised. Quality control was also sometimes a concern; not everything that we rushed out in response to some of the diverse topics chosen met with approval from our own critical inner eyes (it was nearly always the author who felt disheartened as the execution fell short of the conception). However, there were also works produced that we felt justifiably proud of and the need for creative outlets has not disapated over time. This website collects the best of our early work, and will have new work added to it, as and when the mood strikes us.