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Editor

02
May

Results

We’re happy to announce this year’s winning stories for the inaugural Leicester Writes Short Story Prize 2017. The winning stories were chosen by our esteemed judging panel, which includes writers Rebecca Burns, Divya Ghelani, Nina Stibbe, and Grace Haddon as well as bookseller, Debbie James.

The winning stories in this year’s competition are:

1st prize: Aunty by C. G. Menon

2nd prize: Switching Off the Metronome by Siobhan Logan

3rd prize: We Went There by Debz Hobbs-Wyatt

Highly commended: Five by Lynne E. Blackwood

Over 100 entries were received from across the UK in the first year of the Leicester Writes Short Story prize, open to published and unpublished writers, for a short story of up to 3000 words on any theme or subject. All entries were judged anonymously.

On selecting Menon’s story Aunty as the winner, Chair of judges, Rebcca Burns said. ‘The story felt so real to me – I couldn’t see the seams where one scene moved into another, and the pacing was perfect.’

The judges remarked on the quality of writing, the range of styles and ideas, as well as how much they each enjoyed reading the longlist. The Kibworth Bookshop owner, Debbie James said. ‘What an absolute pleasure it has been to read these stories. I have been blown away by the quality of ideas and writing.’

Twenty short stories which featured on the longlist will be published in an anthology by Dahlia Publishing and launched during the annual Leicester Writes Festival of New Writing in June.

1st prize winner (Aunty)

C. G. Menon has won The Asian Writer prize, The Short Story award and the Winchester Writers Festival short story prize. She’s been shortlisted for a number of others, including the Fish short story award. Her work has been broadcast on radio and published in a number of anthologies. She is currently studying for an MA in creative writing at City University. See: https://cgmenon.wordpress.com/

2nd prize winner (Switching Off the Metronome)

Siobhan Logan‘s poetry & prose collections Firebridge to Skyshore and Mad, Hopeless and Possible are both published by Original Plus Press. They have been performed at Ledbury Poetry Festival, the British Science Museum, National Space Centre and British Science Festival. A hypertext narrative Philae’s Book of Hours was published by the European Space Agency in 2016. Her short fiction appears in anthologies Lost & Found, A Tale of 3 Cities and the forthcoming Mrs. Rochester’s Attic. Her story Bodywrapped was choreographed by Belgian dance company Retina. Logan lectures in Creative Writing at De Montfort University, Leicester and blogs at: http://siobhanlogan.blogspot.co.uk/

3rd prize winner (We Went There)

Debz Hobbs-Wyatt lives and works in Essex as a full-time writer and editor. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bangor University and has had over twenty short stories published in various collections. She has also been shortlisted in a number of writing competitions, including being nominated for the prestigious US Pushcart Prize 2013, one of two UK writers on the short list of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2013 and winner of the inaugural Bath Short Story Award 2013. While No One Was Watching her debut novel was published by Parthian Books.  She sees herself as a writer, above all else, and writes every morning. In the afternoons she dons her editor’s hat and critiques and edits professionally. As well as private clients, she also critiques and mentors for Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. See http://www.debzhobbs-wyatt.co.uk

Highly commended (Five)

Lynne E Blackwood is in receipt of a second Arts Council grant to complete a short story collection based on her Anglo-Indian family history. She appears in the Closure Anthology alongside well-established authors. Her character-driven crime novel set in contemporary Republic of Georgia is in submission and she is on the INSCRIBE programme, developing her poetry for a chapbook. Apart from writing and editing, Lynne is learning to play the piano and panders to the needs of two cats and one granddaughter. Lynne recently visited Andalusia and explored wheelchair Flamenco for further performances of her work at festivals and events.

24
Apr

Shortlist

We’re delighted to announce this year’s shortlist for the inaugural Leicester Writes Short Story Prize 2017. The shortlist was chosen from 20 long-listed stories by our esteemed judging panel, which includes writers Rebecca Burns, Divya Ghelani, Nina Stibbe, and Grace Haddon as well as bookseller, Debbie James.

Stories on this year’s shortlist include (in alphabetical order):

  1. Aunty by C. G. Menon
  2. Death and Biscuits by Bev Haddon
  3. Five by Lynne E. Blackwood
  4. Sans Lingua Franca by Thomas Welsh
  5. Suicide Vending Machine by Thomas Welsh
  6. Switching off the Metronome by Siobhan Logan
  7. The Man Who Wasn’t by Karl Quiqley
  8. We Went There by Debz Hobbs-Wyatt

On selecting the shortlist, the judges remarked on the quality of writing, the range of styles and ideas, as well as how much they each enjoyed reading the longlist. James, who owns The Kibworth Bookshop said. ‘What an absolute pleasure it has been to read these stories. I have been blown away by the quality of ideas and writing.’

The short-listed stories will now go through to the final round of judging. The winner will be announced on May 1st 2017.

10
Apr

Longlist

We’re thrilled to announce this year’s longlist of 20 stories for The Leicester Writes Short Story Prize 2017. The longlist was chosen from 102 submissions received during our inaugural campaign.

Stories on this year’s longlist include (in alphabetical order):

  1. A Peculiar Circle by Matthew Rhodes
  2. An Evening Out by Asha Krishna
  3. Aunty by C. G. Menon
  4. Blackbird by Maureen Cullen
  5. Cinnamon Fletcher by Jon Wilkins
  6. Deadly by Simon Bland
  7. Death and Biscuits by Bev Haddon
  8. Five by Lynne E. Blackwood
  9. Inside out by Farrah Yusuf
  10. L’ile des Somnambules by Chad Bentley
  11. Metropolis by Marianne Whiting
  12. Real Love by Jack Wedgbury
  13. Suicide Vending Machine by Thomas Welsh
  14. Switching off the Metronome by Siobhan Logan
  15. The Chase by Amy Bell
  16. The Child Kingdom by Andrew Moffat
  17. The Man Who Wasn’t by Karl Quiqley
  18. The Pink Feather Boa Incident by Katherine Hetzel
  19. We Went There by Debz Hobbs-Wyatt
  20. Where to Stay, What to Do by Lindsey Fairweather

All the stories featured on our longlist will be published in our prize anthology. A shortlist will now be selected by our esteemed judging panel, including writers Rebecca Burns, Divya Ghelani, Nina Stibbe, and Grace Haddon as well as bookseller, Debbie James.

We aim to make our shortlist announcement on April 24, 2017.

18
Jan

Rules

These are the full terms and conditions for The Leicester Writes Short Story Competition 2017.

1. The Leicester Writes Short Story Competition 2017 is open to all ages and nationalities across the world. Both published and unpublished writers are invited to submit. The prize aims to encourage new writing.

2. All entries must be original unpublished prose, on any theme and no more than 3,000 words. The entry must not have been submitted or published the work elsewhere including other competitions.

3. Entries cannot be extracts from longer works or unfinished at the time of entry. We will not allow entries to be amended at a later date so please submit completed stories only.

4. Writers may submit more than one entry. Payment is per entry. Max. three. Payment must be made before submitting. The entry fee is £7 and £3 for those with a Leicestershire postcode.

5. Winners will be notified at the email address stated in their entry. You can follow updates on our website at www.leicesterwrites.co.uk, on Twitter (@leicesterwrites) and our Facebook page (Leicester Writes)

6. All entrants must complete the entry form online. This will help to verify your email address and payment. If you are entering more than once, please only use a single entry form. Short stories must be submitted via email to prize@leicesterwrites.co.uk with the subject heading: The Leicester Writes Short Story Competition 2017. Please include your email address and other contact details in the body of the email along with the title of your entry. Your entry must be sent as an email attachment with the title of the story only. Do not put your name anywhere on the entry. Please ensure your entry is sent in a Word document format. No other formats including wps, txt, or pdf will be accepted.

7. Your entry must be submitted before midnight on 3rd April 2017. Entries will not be accepted after this date. Please don’t leave it til midnight to submit your entry.

8. By submitting, the entrant grants Dahlia Publishing the right to publish their entry on The Leicester Writes website and in a published collection in the event of their work being longlisted and/or winning the competition. The copyright of the works will remain with individual authors.

9. Dahlia Publishing cannot accept responsibility for entries which are not received or which are received after the closing date due to technical failure or for any other reason.

10. Winners agree to participate in publicity events in connection with the competition.

11. Dahlia Publishing and the winners may enter into agreements which will grant Dahlia Publishing the publishing, broadcasting, serial and electronic rights in the longlisted and winning entries.

12. Dahlia Publishing reserves the right to change the rules of this competition without notice.

13. The winner of the competition will be notified in May 2017.

14. Any prizes offered must be taken within 30 days and is subject to availability.

15. The decision of the competition judges will be final and no correspondence will be entered into.

16. Employees of Dahlia Publishing, and members of their immediate family, are excluded from participating in the competition.

17. We may, from time to time, inform you of new books and special offers that we think will be of interest.

18. Please send direct competition queries to f.shaikh@dahliapublishing.co.uk 

Do not send queries in the comments box on our website as these will be unanswered.

18
Jan

Meet the Judges

Rebecca Burns

Rebecca Burns is writer of short stories and fiction. Her work has been published in over thirty online and print journals, including The London Magazine, Words With Jam, Per Contra, and Controlled Burn. She has won or been placed in many competitions: Fowey Festival of Words and Music Short Story Competition, 2013 (winner and runner-up in 2014), Black Pear Press Short Story Competition (2014, winner), University of Sunderland Short Story Award (2016, longlisted), Evesham Festival Story Competition (2016, shortlisted) and Chipping Norton Short Story Award (2016, shortlisted). Her debut collection of short stories, Catching the Barrmundi, was published by Odyssey Books in 2012 and was longlisted for the Edge Hill Award, the UK’s only prize for short story collections. Her second collection, The Settling Earth (2014) was also longlisted for the Edge Hill.

She sits on the Steering Committee of the Grace Dieu Writer’s Group in Coalville. She has been profiled by the University’s Grassroutes Project as one of the 50 best transcultural writers in the county. She lives in Leicestershire with her husband and young family. Her debut novel, The Bishop’s Girl, was published by Odyssey Books in 2016.

Rebecca Burns will act as our chair of judges.

Divya Ghelani

Divya Ghelani is a writer from Loughborough, Leicestershire. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia and an MPhil in Literary Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She pens stories every day and has published in Litro: India, The Times, The Bookseller, BareLit, among others. Divya’s unpublished manuscript has been longlisted for the 2016 Deborah Rogers Writers’ Award, the 2016 SI Leeds Literary Prize and also received an Honorary Commendation in the Harry Bowling Prize for New Writing. Divya is the recipient of a Writing East Midlands Apprenticeship, a Literary Consultancy Mentorship. She is currently an Apprentice with London’s premier short story salon, The Word Factory and will be a 2017 Word Factory Writer in Residence at Waterstone’s Piccadilly.

Grace Haddon

Grace Haddon is a Leicester writer of fantasy fiction. She is currently in her final year of a creative writing degree at the University of Nottingham, where she was the editor of the class anthology, Vices and Virtues. In 2015 she won Malorie Blackman’s Project Remix competition, and has since been shortlisted for the HG Wells Short Story Competition. She is on the writing team of The Big Care Write-Up, a Leicester writing initiative which produces ebooks for charity. Her story Zenith was included in Dahlia Publishing’s Lost and Found anthology.

Debbie James

Debbie James graduated with a Bachelors and Masters in music from the university of Leeds and the conservatoire in Weimar, Germany before teaching and freelancing on orchestral percussion and drum kit. In 2007 she moved to Leicestershire to work for Premier Drum Company before deciding on a career as a bookseller. She opened The Bookshop Kibworth in 2009 and the shop has since won Regional Independent Bookshop of the Year, Vintage Independent Bookshop of the Year, Caboodle Bookshop of the Month and three James Patterson Awards for its work promoting children’s books. In August 2016 the shop doubled in size, moving into a second storey upstairs. Debbie has run the Kibworth Book Festival since 2013, been a judge on the East Midlands Book Award and is currently Leicestershire’s ambassador for the Booksellers Association’s Bookseller Network and sits on their Independent Booksellers Forum panel.

 

Nina Stibbe

Nina Stibbe was born in Leicester. Her first book, Love, Nina, was shortlisted for the Waterstones Book of the Year Award and won Non-Fiction Book of the Year at the 2014 National Book Awards, and was made into a television series for BBC1 and broadcast last year. Her massively acclaimed novel Man at the Helm, was shortlisted for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. Her third book, Paradise Lodge comes out in paperback in March 2017. She lives in Cornwall.

 

26
Oct

Deep Beneath The Surface Lies Peace by Tony R Cox

The escalator was drawing him forward. He could see the top, but only in blurred flashes of steel and black as travellers rushed around. There was a dark suit and there was a red dress, but mostly it was just a kaleidoscope of quickly moving shapes and colours. All he knew right now was that he hated them, every single one as they obscured his view of the top of the escalator.

None of them had any idea of how he felt. They didn’t understand the demons in his head who were constantly hammering away with no rhythm like drunken toffee hammers, and it had been getting worse.

He was there; he could touch the top of the handrail, and he stepped forward. Should he stand, and let fate take him sedately and without stopping to what awaited, or should he step out and join the others as they hurriedly walked down the escalator to what he knew would be the certainty of death and perhaps peace?

*

The day had started so well. Was it nearly 24 hours ago that he’d got out of bed and shuffled down to the kitchen in his dressing gown, tightly wrapping it around his torso just in case the curtains hadn’t been drawn? He didn’t want the neighbours seeing his nakedness, nor any flesh at all, not at his age and shape.

The newspaper was already lying by the front door, so he picked it up and carried it to the kitchen. The headline was bleak – a hospital bombed and almost obliterated in Syria. He stifled a laugh. It wasn’t the headline and story, that was horrible, it was the incongruity of such sorrow on a day when he was about to experience total love and the promise of years of rest and peace.

Breakfast was an unthinking ritual. Tea, to wake himself up, cereal with berries, defrosted because they weren’t in season, and then, after he’d showered and dressed, a strong, black Americano. No suit today, but old habits die hard so Bill had opted for a pair of dark trousers,  a blue-striped shirt and a tie. He smiled as he saw the redundant jackets on hangers and then extracted a dark blue cardigan.

The morning passed in a blur of activity. He read the paper and started the Quick Crossword then carried it through to the living room from the kitchen. The laptop remained off, as he’d promised himself, and Radio 4 was just a blur of noise as he washed up the breakfast dishes and wiped down all the surfaces, including the top of the hob and that stubborn, stewed apple stain. The vacuuming took a good hour, as it always did when he’d summoned up the mental strength to tackle it. Bill looked at the staircase and saw the dust gathered around each of the balustrades. Damn, he said to himself and walked into the dining room, which was more of a library and office now, and ran his finger along the top of the large, framed print by Renoir over the fireplace. There was a thick smear of greasy dust on top of the frame, as there always was when he did that; probably because it was over the open fire and the heat, when the logs were burning, sent greasy, black specks of almost invisible dust upwards to settle on every surface.

Bill sat in the chair and felt a tear escape from his eye. This is a bloody celebration, he said as he shook his head. Abi’s coming round tomorrow, she can’t see him crying, she’ll get the wrong message. He stopped. I just called her Abi, he said to himself, and then, out loud: “Your name’s Abigail my girl and don’t you forget it. In this house you’ll always be Abigail. Just because those friends of yours can’t handle anything more than two syllables doesn’t mean you’ve got to have a different name.”

She’d reacted then as she always had these last ten years or so: a kiss on the cheek and a loving pat on the head as she stroked his thinning grey hair.

Bill laughed at the memory and sprung back to his feet. Today’s going to be a day to remember, he said soundlessly and carried on cleaning, dusting the surfaces just in case he had visitors that day.

About midday Bill felt a pang of hunger and thought about making himself a sandwich. He only wanted a light lunch, but then he slipped on his North Face jacket – bought with every intention of walking the length of Hadrian’s Wall and only used properly once when he was on a barge holiday in Norfolk and had to walk to a shop in a rainstorm. He strode up the hill, passed the field where the old horse munched and stayed oblivious to any human activity, to the centre of the large village. The cafe was buzzing and some were even sat outside, muffled against the single-figure temperatures, but as he walked by there was a tap on the window and Mrs Groesmann waved and pointed down to an empty chair.

She was a nice old soul and it was really naughty of the schoolkids to call her ‘Mrs Fatty’, a sort of play on words of part of her surname. She was a little overweight, but nothing serious and she had the most welcoming smile. They chatted over lunch, a sort of Italian bread sandwich with a bit of meat, but mostly green salad leaves. He wasn’t really listening as she gave him all the Methodist Church gossip, he wasn’t a churchgoer of any sort, but he nodded politely. A chat with Mrs Groesmann was always good when you had little to say: she took centre stage and said it all herself, so there was no need for a true conversation.

“How’s that beautiful daughter of yours? Is she enjoying London?” The voice cut through Bill’s private train of thought. “Oh yes, Brenda,” he said and smiled. “She seems to be doing well. I’m still not keen on the sort of friends she’s got, waifs and strays most of them if you ask me, but that’s what she’s like. If anybody needs a shoulder to cry on my Abigail’s got it.”

Yes, he thought, blocking out the woman’s monologue as she carried on speaking, having not heard or at least responded to his answer, Abigail was doing fine, but that was Abigail’s response to every question about her private life. She was in a low paid job, and he helped her out with a few hundred pounds every month or so, and she was sharing a flat in a rundown area well outside the centre. She was nearly 30 and should have settled down, he thought, but he knew better than to voice such an opinion. She just seemed to be drifting with no ambition.

Bill kissed Brenda’s cheek, responding to her statement, ‘isn’t it nice to have a chat’ with a wan smile and he left the cafe feeling full, even though he’d only eaten the Italian sandwich thing and a piece of cake, which Mrs Groesmann had insisted on, and yet empty at the same time. His stomach was full, but the emptiness was in his head. He could feel a headache coming on and hoped it wasn’t a migraine. The comment about Abigail, and his own unstated worries about her, were nagging him.

Back home he picked up the paper and within a few minutes was asleep in his favourite armchair. He awoke with a start. He’d been feeling drowsy in the afternoons for years, but he’d never slept until it was dark. He glanced at the digital clock by the TV, it was three o’clock, or about that, so he’d only been asleep for a few minutes, an hour at most, but the sun had moved round and was no longer streaming in the window, leaving the light level lower, as if it was evening. Bill settled back in his chair and picked up the newspaper again. At half four he made himself another mug of tea and prepared the meal. It was early, but he had to get changed for the evening party, and so he got the pasta and the shop-brand sauce out. By five Bill had finished, by five fifteen he’d washed up and put everything away, by six he was back downstairs, showered, shaved and dressed all in black over a white shirt. Two items were needed to complete the look: the thick, black, quiffed wig, and Abigail’s old acoustic guitar.

Bill looked at himself in the hall mirror and swung the guitar from left to right. Abigail had learned a bit, but she’d lost interest; Bill flexed his fingers and almost automatically strummed an A, then a C and a D chord. “Yes,” he shouted as his right hand crashed out the rhythm, “the rock star is back in town.”

At half seven the taxi dropped him at the Golden Horseshoe and he made his way surreptitiously round the side to the ballroom annexe. Two work colleagues he’d met in passing were outside smoking. One stubbed his cigarette out and hurried back in as soon as Bill hove into sight; the other stuck out a hand.

“You alright then Bill? Big day for you. I’ve got your calendar; I hope that’s OK,” he said. Bill smiled and nodded. He couldn’t remember the young man’s name, but the Dilbert calendar was no problem. There were only two months of the year left.

Bill walked into the ballroom. ‘Happy Retirement Bill Jenkins’ was emblazoned on a large banner that stretched out over the stage. The clapping began and became louder and more rhythmical as he approached the stage, a pathway clearing before him as Marilyn Monroe – with a beard no less – and Buddy Holly guided him to the stage. He walked slowly up the steps, turned and looked out: there must have been over a hundred people on the floor below. It was supposed to be a 1950s theme fancy dress party. He thought he was stretching it with Johnny Cash, who was in the US Air Force when he’d been born, but most of the guests obviously had a date problem. There were the Beatles, in full 1968 flower power clothes, a lot of Teddy Boys and the women had gone for flared skirts and tight blouses, a la rock ‘n roll. The couple from Finance, and they were a couple in more ways than just working together as everyone knew, were Bonnie and Clyde, which Bill found slightly amusing.

This was the time he feared as he saw Mr Simpson approach. It was going to be awful having to call him Cedric in front of all these now ex-colleagues, and he was dreading a long, boring speech about how much he’d be missed when he knew that they hadn’t even bothered to replace him as Chief Overseas Procurement Officer. The room hushed. Bill was on the stage, in the centre on his own as Cedric Simpson walked up, a fixed smile stuck on his face, a sheaf of papers in his left hand. That was when Bill noticed the flashing blue lights appear outside.

Bill sat in the kitchen at the pub. A policewoman had commandeered the kettle and made tea for four of them: Bill, her, a younger colleague of hers and a tall, middle-aged man in a cap emblazoned with silver epaulettes. They all looked far too young to Bill.

A woman fitting Abigail’s description had been found at Shepherds Bush, the policeman said. “That’s a long way from Abigail’s Leytonstone flat,” Bill replied. They thought she’d fallen on the live rail and been electrocuted, and she had been taken to the hospital.

They took Bill home. He refused all the offers of someone staying with him and he’d flatly turned down asking someone from the village to stay. The retirement party was a distant memory: they could have still held it as far as he was concerned, He may have been the reason for it, but he was never going to be the star, even before he left in the police car: that was down to the youngsters and their revelries.

Alone in his three-bedroom semi Bill tried to sleep. The migraine hadn’t appeared, he knew what that was like and he’d been dreading it, but this was worse: this was a blackness that enveloped his whole body. They didn’t know for sure that it was Abigail they’d found. The description was her, down to her tattoos and body piercings, but they couldn’t be sure. Perhaps it wasn’t his beloved girl at all; perhaps she’d walk back in right now with a boyfriend or even a girlfriend; perhaps this was just a nightmare and it would be over soon. Then he looked on the bedside table and there was the card the police inspector had given him.

He screwed up his eyes, but the tears, the relief and outpouring of grief wouldn’t come. He was adrift. His life had lost all meaning and direction. Abigail was his reason for living. She wasn’t perfect, but then nobody was. Now that he’d left work to enjoy retirement he didn’t even have the regimentation of a daily journey to work in Dunstable from the village outside Potters Bar. Loneliness fell on him like the fresh earth on a lowered casket. What had Churchill called it? His ‘Black Dog’? Well, this wasn’t like that: the blanket of earth that flooded him was almost comforting in its finality.

*

Bill reached the end of the escalator and stepped out through a short, tiled archway onto the platform. He relaxed, his arms dropping down to his sides as he saw the tracks. He blinked his eyes purposefully and walked slowly forward, staring at the shining silver of the live rail.

“Mr Jenkins. Thank you for coming today,” the female voice said as he felt his arm being taken gently by the elbow. “We could have picked you up from your home, but we’re pleased to meet you here as you asked. We’ll accompany you to the hospital together. All we will be doing is asking you to identify the person whom we believe to be your daughter.”

26
Oct

Dreams by Paul Rudman

 

“Trust in dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity”

Khalil Gibran

 

George.

She awoke with his name on her lips.

They had been walking on a beach, in the hot sun. Her toes could still feel the warmth of the sand, her breath the salty air, her hand in his.

Egypt. Yes, she remembered, it was Egypt. Yellow sand stretching to the distance, clear blue water, and him.

George. Who are you?

 

A journey of a thousand miles begins with but one Google

Jenny opened her eyes. The warmth faded into steamy breath, hot toes to cold nose.

The frost fairy had been busy over night. She must have squeezed through the window frame to do her work – patterns from millennia past, a white and silver frost-paint. A flutter of wings and a flicker of frost on the glass – whitened beauty.

Jenny reached across the cold pillow for her phone and woke it with the flick of a finger. Wednesday, five-thirty. The screen showed her sister Jill, and Tom, in the park that Sunday morning, baby beginning to show, careers in full flow. Happy people.

She pulled the duvet up. She was the eldest. She was supposed to be the first, not the one on her own, in a rented flat, with broken heating.

Where is Egypt anyway?

She typed “Egypt” into Google. There was a map, and a weather forecast, and an advert for cheap flights. It was a long way away, bottom-right of the med. But warm, and sunny.

She tapped on the advert.

“Where would you like to fly to?”

She thought may as well look. She typed in “Egypt”. It offered “Hurghada”.

Back to Google. Hurghada. Images. Sun sparkling on ocean, palm tree shadows on sand, footprints by the water.

Back to flights. It wouldn’t hurt to imagine. Pretend it was holiday, not work day.

A flight today, nine forty-five, down the road at Gatwick. She could stay a few days and come back at the weekend. Two hundred pounds return, plus a few nights in a hotel.

Jenny sighed. Why do adventures only happen in her dreams, in her imaginings?

The “Purchase” button sat there on the screen, hopeful, patient.

This morning’s dream was fading, and the picture from the screen was taking its place, but she still remembered the feeling, and his name.

She could phone in sick.

She hovered her finger over the button.

It was just a dream. Dreams don’t come true.

Two full days in the sun. She breathed out slowly, watching her breath take form briefly as it shivered in the cold air.

She tapped “Purchase”.

Of course, she assumed there would be something more, an “Are you sure you wish to buy”, or “Please confirm your card number”.

No. She had a flight to Hurghada, leaving in four hours.

Jenny stared at the phone. She felt her heart beating. Seriously? She had just spent two hundred pounds on a flight to the middle of nowhere. On her own?

In the sun. Sipping a cocktail. Maybe she would find new friends, happy people, not the miserable ones at work.

Two hundred pounds though. She should phone the airline, tell them it was a mistake, cancel the booking.

She closed the airline app and selected the phone. Then the text. It’s so easy to lie by text.

“Sarah. Bin throwing up all nite feeling terrible wont make itt in today. Think I hav flu. Jenny”

 

“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust”

J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

In part, she is laying in bed watching her breath meet the cold air. In part she is walking on hot sand, feeling the ocean’s breeze on her skin. In part she is cargo, strapped in her place with tamed air forced over her. The plane is a strange unreality, like watching her life on television.

Beside her, a window looks down on the real world, a whiteness of snow and ice. Tiny dots of white trees, lines of roads reclaimed from winter’s white. She is the frost fairy, flitting across the patterned cold on borrowed wings.

She wriggles her toes in their boots, remembering the feeling of sand and sea, and the warm hope of her dream, the dream where life is good, where home has love, where she can wake in the morning with a reason to throw back the duvet, to sing in the shower, to smile in the rain.

Ten years of work compress to a memory. Jenny, the corporate hunter, searching her prey with the flick of a mouse, conquering the made-up world of accounts and emails behind her computer screen. A game she can pause. Or exit.

A child cries. She looks around. The man next to her pulls a laptop from under the seat in front. He’s wearing a black suit. Tie. Polished shoes. Smart. A young executive. Corporate. Everything she wants to get away from.

 

A good day to die

 

She is falling. And screaming. Cups and bags and people are floating in the air. Screams hit her from all sides. The sky is falling, and with it her world – out of the television and into reality.

She breathes too fast to scream now. Just hold on tight. What is she doing here? Chasing a dream? What’s wrong with her?

And then it stops. Bags land on people, people on things, everything seems mixed up.

Children are crying around her, and some adults.

“Are you ok?”

It’s the man. She turns to him. He has blue eyes.

“Uhuh”

He looks down at the armrest. She follows his gaze.

She’s holding his hand.

“Oh. I…”

“It’s all right. Everyone was scared.”

He smiles. She lets go his hand.

“What happened?”

“Wind shear. There’s a storm nearby. Don’t worry, we’re fine now.”

He seems so sure.

“Are you a pilot?”

He laughs. Easily.

Only the children are crying now.

“I’m an artist. I draw people. But I fly a lot. Don’t worry, everything’s fine.”

“Do you work in Egypt?”

“I have an exhibition in Hurghada.”

“I thought. I mean, I only booked the flight this morning. I wanted to get away. I thought…”

She looks in his eyes again. They are the colour of the ocean, the one in the picture.

“What are you getting away from?”

A simple question. A lifetime of answers.

“Life.” She smiles, and laughs, and cries. An unexpected mixture. She looks for her bag, for a handkerchief. He pulls a linen one from his pocket and offers. It looks new.

“Thanks.”

The captain’s making an announcement. She doesn’t listen, but catches something about injuries and turning back. They’ll land soon. She holds on to the handkerchief and looks at him again.

“I thought you were an Egyptian company man.”

She smiles. He laughs. She looks at his hand. She wants to hold it again.

“No. I’m from Crawley.”

“Me too.”

They laugh.

“Well, we’re on our way back there. With this storm I’d say Egypt will have to wait until tomorrow.”

“Maybe I won’t go. I should be at work. Maybe this is a sign.”

“You don’t like your work.”

He’s right. She wonders if it’s a question. Or maybe he knows. It’s strange, because she only just realised.

“No. I don’t.”

There’s a pause, but neither of them notice.

“When we land, perhaps I could buy you lunch.”

She takes a quick breath. She hadn’t expected this. It was a day of un-expectations.

“Thank you.”

He smiles. “I didn’t get your name”

“Jenny”

He takes her hand. “George.”

21
Sep

Alison Moore

Q. Death and the Seaside is an intriguing novel, one that explores the relationship between reader and writer, as well as the act of writing itself. What inspired you to write it?

I’d been thinking for some time about writing a story about control and manipulation, so that’s one point of origin. Then a couple of years ago I wrote a short story called ‘The Harvestman’http://nightjarpress.weebly.com/the-harvestman.html and liked the idea of bringing the world of that short story into the novel I had started to write, drawing on the setting and the feel of that story, although the main character and the story are different.

 

Q. When Slyvia is reading Bonnie’s short story she comes away with a different interpretation and meaning than Bonnie had intended. Does it surprise you to read reviews about your own work, that bear little or no resemblance to what you had set out to do?

When I’m writing, there’s a certain amount of just trusting my instincts, and then I have to step back to see just why something – which just felt right – works, and sometimes that’s something I discover in conversation with readers. It’s not so much that an interpretation doesn’t resemble my intentions, but that the reading and discussion of the book helps me to see more clearly all the connections.

 

Q. The writer in me found those bits rather comical. Were you poking fun at academics and literary criticism?

I think the critical response to a story you’ve written can influence the way you feel and think about it. Bonnie as the writer is supposed to be in charge of her story, but here’s Sylvia deconstructing it and interpreting it before Bonnie’s even finished it. So in more ways than one, Sylvia is influencing Bonnie’s story.

 

Q. Which character did you have the most fun creating? Did she turn out the way you imagined?

Part of me wants to say Sylvia, because she surprised me – when I started writing her, I had no idea what she’d been up to. But at the same time, she wouldn’t work without Bonnie – it’s all about the dynamic between them.

 

Q. Although the novel is fairly short, you leave the reader with plenty to think about – there’s lots of psychological theory to get your head round. Was it challenging to explore the themes of mind control and free will, hallucination and manipulation amongst others without losing the reader? How did you balance the two?

It seems like it was fun, but it might be like childbirth where you forget the pain. Hopefully the theory is sufficiently woven into the narrative, supporting it rather than getting in the way.

 

Q. As the person who was ultimately in control, what was going on in the world and in your mind while you were writing?

‘The Harvestman’ came directly from a visit to Seaton in Devon in 2014. Having decided to use the same setting in my novel, I made another trip there in 2015 – we made it a family holiday, staying in a caravan for a week – to secure some further details. I was also reading or rereading the various books and stories whose depictions of the seaside have shaped Bonnie’s sense of what the seaside represents.

 

Q. Does your writing ever take a direction which surprises you?

All the time! It’s the loveliest thing, that sense of just starting somewhere – in what feels like a good place to start – and seeing what happens.

 

Q. There’s plenty going on in the space of what is a relatively short novel. Are you ever tempted to write something longer?

If the story I was writing wanted to be longer, I would absolutely press on. Perhaps this is the natural length for me, but it’s only dictated by the story and by when the story’s been told.

 

Q. Bonnie struggles to write the ending for her short story. Which do you find most challenging to write: the beginning or the ending?

I don’t start writing until I have a sense of where I can start, so there’s never a struggle to begin as such, but each stage has its own difficulties as well as its pleasures. With the beginning, the pleasure is the freedom you have when you’re beginning a novel, but it comes with the possibility that what you’re embarking on just might not work; the ending is informed by everything that’s gone before, so ideally it will just feel right, but some stories don’t give up their endings so easily – ‘The Harvestman’ didn’t until the second or third attempt, and Death and the Seaside made me work harder to find the ending than my previous two novels did.

 

Q. Finally, what advice would you give to Bonnie (and anyone else) working on a short story?

You have to get it down – often you have to write it to find it – and then stand back and see if it feels right, or what feels wrong. Let it rest for a while before looking at it again.
Alison Moore‘s first novel, The Lighthouse, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Awards (New Writer of the Year), winning the McKitterick Prize. Both The Lighthouse and her second novel, He Wants, were Observer Books of the Year. Her short fiction has been included in Best British Short Stories and Best British Horror anthologies, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra and collected in The Pre-War House and Other Stories. Born in Manchester in 1971, she lives near Nottingham with her husband Dan and son Arthur.

13
Jun

Shibani Lal

Shibani Lal was born in Bombay and moved to the UK in 2000. After a brief stint in Singapore and Paris, she currently lives in London, and works in the City. Shibani writes poetry and short stories. Her story “A Cup of Tea” was adjudged runner-up in the 2015 Asian Writer Prize.
Many of her stories draw upon her own experiences of cross-cultural relationships, family ties as well as exploring themes of love, loss and displacement.

13
Jun

Radhika Kapur

Radhika Kapur When she’s not writing fiction, Radhika works in advertising and her work has won accolades at advertising festivals such as Cannes, One Show, Clio and Asia-Pacific Adfest. Her writing has been published by The Pioneer and the Feminist Review, amongst others. She recently won third place at a European screenwriting competition and is currently working on a feature film script.