Twists and Turns

by Alison Stedman
The twist. Is it merely a cheap ploy of paperback detective novels that sit, crumbling, in secondhand book shops? I confess that I read these, eagerly, wondering who the villain is, never disappointed when it comes as a complete shock to me. I have noticed, however, that the young couple in love are never torn apart by the revelation that one is a murderer, unless there is a suitable alternative waiting, ready to scoop up the distressed heroine in his decent, law-abiding way. Likewise, the person who looks guilty at the beginning is never the villain at the end. Of course, I exaggerate—the twist is not always this straightforward, and I would be telling a lie if I argued that twists are a simple or cheap feature to write into a novel. In fact, those twists that succeed in shocking us yet not disappointing us, that fulfill the story rather than turn it upside down, are probably one of the most difficult devices to use when writing fiction.

I’ve always thought of Roald Dahl, in his short stories for adults, as the master of the twist. Stories such as “Lamb to the Slaughter” would be chillingly delightful even without their clever endings, but the twist, which I obviously cannot tell you, leaves me in such a state of glee that the story is no longer a story but almost like one of those urban legends we pass around—“Did you hear about the man who…”  Others, like “Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat” or “Bitch”, leave me amused, while the more unnerving short stories such as “The Landlady” or “The Way Up to Heaven” tell the reader just enough to imagine the horrible fate in store for some unfortunate character, lodging themselves in my brain for at least several hours after reading. Who needs to watch horror films or jump out of planes? Roald Dahl’s twists are adrenaline enough for me, written with such skill that even a second, third or fourth reading leaves me shocked and satisfied.

We at Halfway Down the Stairs hope, in this issue, to provide you with some satisfying surprises. However, we chose another aspect of the twist to highlight in this issue. Twists—of fate. While the literary twist is a device normally confined to literature, it seems likely that all of us must experience the twistings and turnings of fate in our lives at some point. Moments before which everything was proceeding towards some logical goal, and after which nothing is the same. They are not always a single moment, but can be an irony of fate repeating itself in some twisted way we did not expect. Often traumatic, sometimes a change for the better, these twists of fate are scattered throughout literature just as the device of a plot twist has been, as numerous authors explore what it feels like when everything changes. Related but not precisely the same, we have chosen to join the two concepts together for this, our eighth, issue of Halfway Down the Stairs.

We would like to thank you for returning to read our selection of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, interviews and reviews. We must also thank, as always, our guest authors. I personally would like to thank all the other editors for the work they put into this e-zine. We all hope you enjoy this issue, and will return in the future!
Alison Stedman is a senior editor at Halfway Down the Stairs. For staff biographies, click here.

© 2009, Alison Stedman