About Painlessness by Kirstyn McDermott

Ask any writer to describe where their stories come from, and you'll likely get thrown some pretty little metaphor by way of response. Writers love metaphors. They're a way to tell those truths that slip too easily from the grasp of plain, workaday language.

When I think about my own work, and where it originates, I picture a kind of endless junkyard. A place littered with half-formed ideas, cast-off thoughts and discarded, distorted dreams--not to mention nightmares. My visits are usually unintentional and almost always aimless. Wandering through the flotsam and jetsam, I'll pick up anything that looks interesting, dust it off and turn it over in my hands. If it shows promise, I'll put it in my pocket for later. Otherwise, I'll toss it back down on the ground--someone else might find a use for it.

Eventually, I'll find enough pieces that fit together in just the right way to form a story. Enough of a story to start construction at least. A beginning, an ending. Some scraps of wire and horsehair to hold them together. This isn't a science, you realise. Often, the pieces end up looking quite different to how I pictured them assembled. Sometimes the ending isn't the ending after all, and I need to go back to the junkyard to find another one. Sometimes I have parts left over. That's all right; we're not shopping at Ikea.

"Painlessness" was one of those stories that took a long, long time to come together. I carried around two jagged hunks of scrap for years, two apparently unrelated ideas which reflected some minor obsessions of mine. Despite being unable to find an ending--or a beginning--for either of them, I refused to throw them back. I can be stubborn that way. And I'm glad, because it took just one tiny, glittering shard--a documentary about drug abuse and addiction--to show me how both pieces actually belonged to the same story, that they were the beginning and the end. Okay, so an Ikea instruction manual might be helpful on occasion--but where would be the fun in that?

I'm not going to tell you what those two original ideas were, because that would give away the story. And you're going to read it, right? Of course you are--go, download the free PDF now before you get distracted. What I will tell you is that "Painlessness" is about abuse and addiction--though not necessarily of the narcotic variety--and pain. All kinds of pain, and the ways we devise to live with it and around it. It's not what you would call a nice story, but maybe that's why it's still one of my favourites. Unusually, the two central characters--Mara and Faith--are still very much with me. Especially Faith; I have a feeling that girl has more stories to tell. If she decides to whisper in my ear, I'll be sure to pass them on.

In the meantime, I'll keep going back to the junkyard. I'm not the only one who wanders there. I see footprints from time to time, and marks to show where others have been digging around. That's fine--as I said, the place is kind of endless. I couldn't find a use for all that stuff in a hundred lifetimes. And that's the really amazing part. In all the infinite clutter, that vast subconscious accumulation, I never get lost. And I always, always find the pieces that I need.


Kirstyn McDermott won the Aurealis, Ditmar and Chronos Awards for "Painlessness" and the story has been listed as an Honorable Mention in the Best Horror of the Year (2008), edited by Ellen Datlow.

Website: www.kirstynmcdermott.com