Hayley Jackson Will Not Be Drinking This Evening came about because I was experimenting with using future tense to tell a story. It’s not something I’ve seen done before (although I’m sure there are plenty of examples out there somewhere), and I kept it quite short in an attempt to avoid letting it get too gimmicky. I’m pleased with how it turned out, and very happy it’s found a home at such a lovingly curated site. Please do check them out.
The fiction editor, Claire King (who has an impressive writing CV herself), asked whether I would consider removing a couple of lines from the end of the story, leaving the outcome more ambiguous. This is the second time an editor has wanted to remove some of the certainty from one of my stories (the previous occasion was Counterfeit Confetti at Fiction At Work - a site which sadly no longer seems to exist). I recognise that I do have a tendency to attempt to wrap up each and every loose end, and I try not to be precious about my work, so I was happy to make the cut.
It’s made me curious, though, about how people perceive the story now. In the original, I left no doubt as to what would happen to Hayley, my protagonist. Without the “definitive” ending, there’s room for speculation. Are the sections in future tense true? Does Hayley manage to break the cycle? Or, are they just her good intentions, which will ultimately pave the way to another night of disappointment and regret? I’m interested to know what people think, and whether ambiguity is something you appreciate in a story, or whether you get annoyed at the thought the writer couldn’t make up his or her mind about what actually happened.
I suppose when I read a story I’m looking for something in between. The ending where they all lived happily ever after (or not) is too childish, too convenient, but if everything just stops without any resolution I’m left with the impression that the writer got bored or chickened out of finishing the story properly. The best endings are those where I feel that, although how things turn out isn’t explicitly stated, the author – through the twinkle of a metaphorical eye – has let me in on the secret of what really happens. I like to feel I’ve worked out the hidden puzzle, that I’ve picked up the clues the writer has carefully sprinkled between the lines.
In the published version of the story, both options for what happens to Hayley are equally plausible. But only one of them is the truth. Which do you think it is?