Last year, I launched the Tall And True Short Reads podcast featuring my short stories. And in April (2021), I chose a story I wrote thirty years ago for episode 18 of the podcast. However, some of my short stories are longer than they are short. And Back to School (on Tall And True) is one example.

In an earlier blog post on the Three Minute Microfiction Podcast, I wrote how my goal for the length of each episode is four to six minutes. And this equates to about three to four minutes of narration and around two minutes of writer’s insight for a 500-word short story.

However, the longer, multi-part stories A Moving Sculpture and The Cat in the Trunk (podcast episodes 2 and 5) were ten and sixteen minutes long.

Back to School is also a multi-part short story, and at 3500 words, I estimated it needed at least eighteen minutes of narration. Add on the writer’s insight, and this episode wasn’t going to be a *short read*.

Six Chapter Instalments

Given the length, I decided to release Back to School on Tall And True Short Reads in six instalments, one per chapter. It would honour my podcast goal, with each chapter being five to seven minutes in duration. And help my voice, as I wouldn’t have to narrate an eighteen-minute take!

But, on the day I set aside to record chapter one, I sounded distinctly croaky.

In his autobiography, Just Williams (1985), Kenneth Williams revealed how he regretted the voice he chose to play Judge Burke in the Carry On Cowboy film. It required him to slide his jaw at an odd angle when speaking. And Williams wrote that his jaw soon became swollen and ached. But because he’d used the voice for filming on day one, he was stuck with it and a sore jaw.

I realised I was in a similar situation with my croaky voice. And as I wanted consistency in the audio for the story parts of the podcast, I had no choice but to narrate the six chapters in one day, though over several takes.

Fortunately, I could record the chapter intros and insights separately. And thankfully, my voice sounds more like its “authoritive” self in these sections (and not like a croaky Judge Burke!).

 Back to School podcast on Acast

Revisions and More Revisions

George Saunders asserts in his short story masterclass book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain (Amazon affiliate link):

There are two things that separate writers who go on to publish from those who don’t: first, a willingness to revise; second, the extent to which the writer has learned to make causality.

I wrote the original version of Back to School when I lived in England in 1992. In the handwritten draft, the working title for the story was A Second Chance. But when I typed it up on my old Amstrad PC, I changed the title to Another Chance. And when I shared the story on Tall And True in 2017, I renamed it for a third time to Back to School.

In addition to title changes, there were many revisions across the various drafts of the story. I even made edits when transcribing it to a script for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast, including rewording the last sentence!

Without giving any spoilers, here are five details that have “evovled” in the 30 years since I first wrote Back to School:

  • The sixteen-year-old schoolboy Charlie Edwards started life in the story as Charlie Adams.
  • The headmaster was initially named Roger Hampton but became Hamilton and then Heavy-Handed Hamilton.
  • Charlie waited two days before visiting the headmaster’s office after his dream in the original version because he needed to buy a school uniform.
  • It was the adult Charlie’s elderly mother (cut from the story), not his daughter, who reminded him to make a wish when blowing out the candles on his birthday cake.
  • We followed young Charlie for two weeks after he visited the headmaster’s office, during which time he studied hard for the series of tests set by Hamilton.

At the end of Chapter Six on Tall And True (and the podcast), I give more insight into the writing process, including why and how I wrote Back to School.

As for Saunders’ second point on writers, I’ll let you decide whether I achieved causality in writing this short story.

Final Thoughts

One personal aside, the adult Charlie was forty in the Amstrad draft of Back to School. That seemed “old” when I wrote the story in 1992. But I was in my mid-fifties when I shared it on Tall And True in 2017, and for some reason, forty now sounded young to me!

And an interesting fact, according to Google, Back to School is one of the most clicked on short stories on the Tall And True writers’ website. Diving deeper into the search terms, “caning” rates highly for this story. Perhaps this is why Hamilton is known as Heavy-Handed Hamilton?

Share Your Writing on

I hope you enjoyed this background blog post into the recording of Back to School for Tall And True Short Reads. And that you enjoy listening to Chapters One to Six (Acast website link). As I say at the end of each episode, please follow or subscribe to the podcast and rate and review it via your favourite listening app.

And don’t forget to tell your family and friends about the Tall And True Short Reads podcast and the Tall And True writers’ website.

© 2021 Robert Fairhead

With thanks to Linda Toman from Pixabay for the Back to School blackboard image.

N.B. You might like to read another post on the podcast, Introducing Tall And True Short Reads.

Note: This post originally appeared on the Tall And True writers’ website.

This post was proofread by Grammarly


Welcome to the blog posts and selected writing of Robert Fairhead. A writer and editor at the Tall And True writers' website, Robert also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast. In addition, his book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media, and he's published several collections of short stories. Please see Robert's profile for further details.


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