Available: Sleepers Almanac No. 6 (available September 1st)
Dan Ducrou is in my writing group, but I have never met him.
He took a break at about the time I joined. He has a book out now and he appears every now and then, like a literary shooting star.
I really like his stories. His writing reads as though it's effortlessly constructed but I know a lot of work goes into making something as complex as a short story look “effortless.”
His latest work appears in The Sleepers Almanac No. 6 and finishes off what, on the whole, is an excellent collection of stories. I’m proud to have my own story The Punch included alongside Jon Bauer and Ruby J Murray, Ryan O'Neill, Kalinda Ashton and Steven Amsterdam, and I’m over the moon to have my work immediately preceding Cate Kennedy’s. She’s kind of a hero of mine.
An eleven and a half year old boy sells Cancer Council products to raise money, having lost his dad to testicular cancer three-and-a-half years ago. His mum is dating again and the boy spends Saturdays with his grandpa.
His grandpa's worried about the boy; he doesn’t have many friends his age. There’s a talent quest coming up, and the boy’s grandpa thinks he should enter. The boy shows him a Youtube video of new dance “the Melbourne Shuffle” and in doing so inadvertently introduces his grandpa to the internet. Needless to say, grandpa is hooked.
A plan springs into action. The boy has dancing lessons with instructor TonyG and Grandpa joins in when he can. He promises to donate an absolute fortune to the Cancer Council if the boy wins.
The day of the contest draws ever closer. But why are the boy’s grandpa and grandpa’s friend Maddog saving up all their painkillers? And how come Grandpa has taken to wearing suits and a new fedora hat?
Why it sticks
The Sleepers Almanac has always managed to surprise the reader in its scope and variety. From Max Barry’s werewolf baby in The Sleepers Almanac No. 4 to Craig Silvey’s lunatic Finn Again: A Time to Rejoice in The Sleepers Almanac: 2007, The Sleepers Almanac has become known for presenting the very best in all forms of short fiction.
I emphasise this because, as stated by The Age on the front of Almanac No. 6, Sleepers’ role really is intrinsic in Australian literary diversity. While other journals publish short fiction, more original perspectives can get lost in the pursuit of safe, bankable stories. It’s just my opinion, but to me there is nothing more exciting than short stories that are willing to take risks in both style and format.
Grandpa does the Melbourne Shuffle well and truly falls into this category. It is willing to slow us down to a more relaxing pace and take us on an emotional journey of function rather than dysfunction. It’s a world where harsh realities are met with kinder eyes, and characters look to connect rather than divide.
In the boy’s Grandpa, Ducrou has created a believable, distinct and utterly lovable old man. The story itself is allowed room to unfold and the relationship between grandfather and grandson is beautifully told in all its complexity.
The Sleepers Almanac No. 6 really is a standout edition, and Ducrou’s story is one of many reasons you should check it out (I also recommend reading Ryan O’Neill’s The Beginning of the Sentence and Jack Cassidy’s Grey Sky Morning). Personally, I suggest you start or finish with Grandpa (it's the last story in the almanac) and then let the book take you where it will... because you never know what you'll find when you dip into a Sleepers.
Dan Ducrou is in my writing group. I have never met him, but I’ve read his stories. For now, that’s more than enough to keep me hopeful, smiling, and inspired.