Reading Readit: What awesome stories are hiding in old sepia photos?

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How long would it take to read all the books published by author Alexander McCall Smith?

Mma Precious Ramotswe and her No 1 Ladies Detective Agency alone is currently standing at 15 novels; then you have 44 Scotland Street, The Sunday Philosophy Club, and Corduroy Mansions series – around 23 in total. Add the stand-alone novels: another 12 or so. I used the qualifiers “about” and “or so” because it is highly likely that the number has risen as I type. Hmmm, 50 novels and still writing – perhaps 12 months of continual reading?

Chance DevelopmentsMost recently I decided to read a standalone novel and found such a treasure – Chance Developments: Unexpected Love Stories. Taking a number of photographs, all from days long gone, so there is no chance that the people are still living, he has constructed a love story for each photo. The photos are different in feel and composition – “some are formal in setting with a sepia tone, some are hazy family snaps. Every one of these images is powerful and intriguing in its own way”.

Do you love short stories? I never thought they were my genre, yet the more I read, the more I appreciate them – I’m a convert. How could you not love the collections of short stories written by Alice Munro, Maeve Binchy, Jeffery Archer and Alexander McCall Smith? (Totally off the point isn’t this a wonderful name? It conjures such a picture of the man.)

Following is a thumbnail of the histories constructed for three “orphan” photos. The first is a woman standing in a shaft of light which illuminates her and throws the background into mysterious relief. The story is entitled Sister Flora’s First Day of Freedom and tells the story of a woman who leaves her life as a nun and decides to join the world. She wants a man in her life but reasons that at her age, finding a man may need turning Protestant – what delight awaits you as she solves this dilemma!

Did you ever want to join the circus? One of my aunts was a trick horse rider performing bareback, but her skills never settled on any other family members. In Dear Ventriloquist, we see a photo of a man sitting on a woman’s lap and we meet a young man whose only dream is to be “something” in the circus. He has an amazing facility for magic tricks but is disillusioned when his first job is collecting tickets at the door. As a sideline, he reads palms and predicts good fortune for the Human Cannonball and the Lady Ventriloquist, but it’s a disastrous fire which brings his prediction to fruition.

He Wanted to Believe in Tenderness is based on a photo of a man and woman, the man in uniform about to sail from Melbourne to Malaya. “Two people – a young man and a young woman – were looking at a photograph. Two people of their own age looked back at them.” The young woman wondered how the soldiers could smile, and the young man points out how the smile of the woman is different “Is it because women know the young man queries.

They return to the picture and the young woman says “… what really fascinates me is the question of how people got to where they are at the moment the photo is taken. Who are they? How did they come to be where they are?” As the man in the photograph is the young man’s grandfather we then learn the wonderful story of one man who came to call Australia Home.

This question is, of course, what the author attempts to answer in this collection of love stories with a twist. I thoroughly recommend them to anyone who enjoy short stories, or to someone discovering the genre for the first time.

Chance Developments: Unexpected Love Stories is available now from Dymocks.

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