Bristol Short Story Prize

I am ridiculously pleased to announce that my story The Standing Still has been shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize.  The BSSP is an international short story competition which culminates in an anthology and an awards ceremony in late October.

Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 19.08.42

Thank you to Rach and to Lee for giving me valuable feedback on this story – I doubt it would have got far without their input.

Notes On The Confession Of

Your lips crossed as you tried to change the batteries in your stereo, drunk.

You were fumbling with the cover and then you were trying to get some purchase on the batteries to prise them out, using the thumb on your right hand, the nail of which you had spent all evening picking at with the fingers of your left hand so that it was now a soft, rubbery, useless thing.  You were not an angry drunk but you were becoming frustrated at being unable to complete this simple task and had it taken any longer perhaps you would have thrown the radio against the wall or to the floor.  But the batteries sprung from the cavity at the back of the stereo just before you lost your temper.  You threw them up in the air – whee – and they landed on the floor, a rattle of hailstone bombs.  You had some new batteries ready to go, but inserting these into the stereo also caused you trouble because you put them in the wrong way round and when you tried to turn on the stereo you couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t work.  And when you tried to get the batteries back out so you could put them in the other way round, you had the initial problem all over again.  Having your head down, bent over the stereo, was making you feel just a little sick but you wait until tomorrow morning, then you’ll know about feeling sick.

I didn’t have all night.  I needed to tell you what I needed to tell you and telling you when you were like that made it easier – you might forget all about it or you might think it was something you imagined.  But still, once I had told you, that was it – it meant that I had told you.  That was my thinking, and it should be clear at this point that maybe I was a little bit drunk as well.  It was a good time to tell you that I found a cassette tape, and the tape I found was a recording of a conversation we had nine years ago.  You didn’t know I was recording it, I didn’t know I was recording it.  It was recorded by accident nine years ago and I found it today, by accident.  When I found the tape, I put it in my stereo and pressed play and then I was getting on with something else whilst it began to play and what it started playing was some other mess-around recording from probably about six or seven years ago.  But then that recording cut dead and that was when I heard the conversation from nine years ago, which was there underneath the recording from six or seven years ago, like history piled on top of prehistory, like layers of rock beneath our feet.

The fact that it got recorded in the first place was an unlikely thing, and the fact that I happened to find it nine years later was also unlikely.  These chance occurrences and long shots had grown and multiplied to become an event that was extremely unlikely, and now I had introduced a new element of chance by letting you hear it when you were drunk, an activity that had only occurred to me because I was drunk as well.  I would not have thought it was a good idea to play you the recording, but I happened to be drunk, you happened to be drunk, I happened to have the tape to hand.  I thought it was worth seeing what happened with all these probabilities adding up.  It was possible that you would be able to make the stereo work and, if that happened and we actually managed to play the tape tonight, it was possible that you might listen to the recording and that you might remember what you heard the next day.  And then if you did get the stereo to work, and you did manage to play the tape, and you did listen, and you did remember…

Your lips crossed as you tried to change the batteries in your stereo, drunk.

Day #10685

Adventures in Reading and Writing, Part 15

Everybody knows that books make good presents (and whilst it’s good to receive a book you’ve asked for, it’s even better to receive a book you’ve never heard of which then turns out to be wonderful) because they are personal, quite easily postable, last a long time and it is a bit like saying to someone, “I like you and I liked this book, I think there may be a place for it in your brain too.”  So this week I thought I would write about some novels I have received as presents from friends, all in the name of celebrating the goodness of books.


ANTAL SZERB: Journey By Moonlight

I’ll start with the most recent from those selected – this is a Hungarian novel from the 1930s which my good friend Lee gave me as a present last Christmas, which I read between Christmas and New Year, and to which my thoughts kept returning for months afterwards.

It is a book packed with story, there’s a lot to take in.  The main character, Mihaly, is a man whose nostalgia for his teenage years seems to both weigh him down and keep him alive.  As he embarks on what seems to be a largely accidental adventure (though adventure may be too strong a word), he is haunted by his old friends and the reader is left with the impression that nothing that happens to Mihaly is of his own devising.  Also, the ending manages to be brilliantly constructed, hilarious and touching – and I’m a reader who doesn’t really care much for endings.  This is just a beautifully made novel.


And the birthday before last, my friend Helen in Scotland sent me a copy of Ghost World by Daniel Clowes.  Drawn in black and green ink, Ghost World is a comic which paints small town teenage life through the eyes of two best friends who live in one another’s pockets (not literally).  Their lives are populated with strange characters, whose oddities may be nothing more than overinventive embellishments on the part of the two girls, their world views feeding back off one another until they blow up.

The two friends’ fragile relationship evolves as the story progresses, their differences becoming more important than their similarities as they grow older.  Daniel Clowe’s style of drawing lends pretty much all of his characters an air of creepiness, which is in keeping with his characters’ appetite for the kitsch and the weird.

SHANE JONES: Lightboxes

This was a present a few Christmasses ago from my wonderful girlfriend Rachel (sorry if that made anyone vomit, but me being nice about people is kind of intrinsic to the spirit of this post!).  The kind of books I like to receive as presents are ones that I have not heard of but which look interesting.  I try not to dismiss books which have uninspiring covers, but I do get excited by books which have covers which are beautiful and/ or intriguing.

Lightboxes’ cover and diminutive size suit the story well.  I wouldn’t describe it as being dreamlike, it is more toylike (like a story constructed by someone playing with toys on their bedroom floor – is that a description that makes any sense?).  Which isn’t to say that it is childlike – it’s one of those books that has a childlike simplicity but still paints a world that is daunting and complex.  It is the tale of a resistance movement set up to defy the priests who impose increasingly strict rules at the command of the mysterious February, which sounds like a plot that won’t make any sense unless you read the book – so I suppose that is what you’ll have to do.