Friday story: 9) Underneath the Stars

This is a little story which I started in Italy in May, in the wonderful flash fiction course with Kathy Fish, Nancy Stohlman and a bunch of other talented writers. Here’s the beautiful soundtrack which inspired it and from which it takes its title:

Underneath the Stars

Cath Barton

He still looks for her at the tail end of the day, our old grey cat, Merlin. Sitting at the top of the steps, outside our front door. Watching the bend in the road. Watching and waiting for her battered old Ford Fiesta to appear round the bend, her tooting and waving to tell us she’s home and calling out to me to put the kettle on because:

‘I’m dying for a cup of tea!’

That was Marie-Louise. She was greedy for life.

She brought cakes, always a little sweet something. But now the days of our feasting are done and it’s quiet day and night in Silverdale, in the quicksilver light of the moon and the rarely-now-golden light of the sun.

For they closed the road off.

Marie-Louise would not have wanted that, would have insisted that the va-et-vient should continue. For she loved the rush and fall of things.

Merlin’s still sitting looking, still hopeful, as the silvery sheen of his coat merges into the dusk. I call him and we go together into the back garden. We sit by side, noses twitching to catch the sinuous waft of night scents as, above us, the map of the heavens unrolls. There’s the whoosh of a train down in the cutting but Merlin doesn’t stir.

I point. ‘She’s up there,’ I whisper in his ear.

It’s a blind hope. I can’t read the night sky any more than I could read her mind or understand her crazy impulses.

Merlin’s ears prick now and he darts after some little creature invisible to me in the fading light. Something snuffles near the railway tracks. A fox maybe, or a badger. I call Merlin back from danger. He comes and he sits, quietly, close by me. And I nuzzle his soft back.

 

NEWS!  I’m going to include this story in a collection of short fiction and photographs which I’m putting together with my husband and fellow writer, Oliver Barton. It’s called Candyfloss III. Yes, it’s the third in a series, though there’s been a bit of a gap since the last one. You can still buy Candyfloss II here.

We hope to have Candyfloss III out in January. All profits will go to local charities where we live in Abergavenny. And it will be available to buy directly from us. You’ll hear about it here first.

 

 

Friday story: Competition winner

Thanks to all who entered my story competition. The entries were anonymised before I judged them, so knowing me did not benefit or disbenefit anyone!

I enjoyed all the different ways you used the prompt. On another day, with a different judge, any of you might have won.

I chose Samuel Dodson’s story as the winner because of the way it goes beyondindividuals. And it has a thought-provoking ending. Congratulations to Sam! Check him out on twitter at @instantidealism and find out what else he’s up to in the writing world.

I’ll run another competition before Christmas, so look out for that.

Here is the winning story:

The Gap

Samuel Dodson 

There is a gap that runs through the town. A bisecting line that divides the residents. It is small – smaller than you’d think; and almost un-noticeable. Yet it is impossible to cross.

The two tribes on either side inhabit separate worlds, though they all pretend not to. It only really becomes apparent when people from each side start to approach it. You can watch them – go on. See how they pause, look around; turn away. To cross the gap would be to acknowledge it.

There are, however, cracks. They spread out on either side. They started to appear not too long ago, when the mayor of the town forgot such a gap existed, and tried to ask the town-folk what he thought was a simple question:

“Are you content with where you are?”

The mayor thought the answer to this question was obvious. After all, he himself was exceedingly content. He lived in a big house in one half of town. He had a big garden with a stylish wooden hut where he could sit and write ideas he had. His wife wore expensive dresses and he never needed to worry. People even brought things to his house! There were fancy dinner parties. He never even needed to go into town – so forgot all about the gap that neither he nor anybody he knew would cross.

He couldn’t figure out what to do when the people in the town said they were not content. He hid in his little hut and didn’t come out.

The cracks in the streets are widening the gap.

Soon, the people will have to notice.

Some already have.

Every town has a gap like this.

 

Author pic. Sam Dodson
Author photo copyright Samuel Dodson

 

 

Coming next: FlashNano!

 

 

My writing week

Here’s my writing plan for the week:

Monday: Draft my ‘homework’ for Writing Group tomorrow. Prompt is ‘intolerable’ or ‘workload’ or both! It’ll be a flash fiction, though there’s always the possibility it could be the start of something longer. I’ll gather a couple of random words to help me on the way.

Finish a first read of the Flash Fiction Festival anthology which I’m due to review for Sabotage Reviews. 

Scribble first thoughts for a novelette for Lucent Dreaming contest.

Tuesday: Read through/revise my homework. Writing Group.

Wednesday: Go for a hill walk – great for clearing the head as well as essential exercise.

Thursday: Coffee with a friend – lots of chat about books.

Concert in Cardiff: pianist Llyr Williams  

Friday: Read submissions to my story competition, select a winner and publish!

Write review of Llyr Williams’ concert for Wales Arts Review

Saturday: Writing group in Pontypool.

Write review of Flash Fiction Festival anthology.

Sunday: Get going on the novelette!

What I’m reading this week: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

DSCF4049.JPG
Photo copyright Cath Barton

 

 

 

More thoughts about literary prizes: The Booker

So, this was a surprise – joint winners of The Booker Prizer 2019. The organisers might have been shocked, but I think a lot of people have welcomed the decision of the judges to flout the rules and award the prize jointly to Margaret Atwood for The Testaments and Bernadine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other. Seeing the way the two authors have responded to the decision is no less than inspiring: visibly supporting one another, plus Margaret Atwood is gifting her share of the prize money (£25,000) to the Canadian Indigenous charity, Indspire, which invests in the education of Indigenous people. 

I’m rather shocked that the Booker organisers are apparently so angry about the judges’ decision that they are threatening to withhold their fees. That seems very small-minded.

Who could not be pleased to see the warmth between Atwood and Evaristo? I’m looking forward to reading both their books.

Booker prize winners 2019

 

 

 

Coming soon: The return of the Friday story

 

 

 

Some thoughts about literary prizes/ The Not the Booker Prize

Not the Booker shortlist 2019
The Not the Booker shortlist 2019

 

For the past two years I’ve taken a close interest in The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize. In 2018 I decided to read all six books on the shortlist and was invited to be a member of the judging panel. There are five votes that decide the winner: two go to the book which wins the public vote and the three members of the judging panel have one each. So if just one member of the judging panel goes with the public’s choice, that book is the winner. (You can read more about the longlisting and shortlisting processes and the full rules on the link.)

Both last year and again this year (with a different judging panel) the prize has gone to a book which was not only not the public’s favourite but actually received few votes in that process. Both times that has provoked some people to cry ‘Foul!’ and curses upon the heads of the judges, who have been called an elite (and worse things which get deleted from The Guardian’s website).

I know from my personal experience that last year the final voting process was fair. There was no discussion between the judges prior to the judging meeting. I have no reason to think things were different this year.

Whether or not there are lobbies for particular books that influence the public voting, one thing is for sure: no-one taking part in the public vote has to have read any book on the shortlist other than the one they are voting for, or give more than a few lines of review about their chosen book. To be on the panel you must have read at least three of the six and commented on them in some detail during the weeks leading up to the vote. In practice panel members will have read most if not all of the six.

The debate has little to do with the value of the prize (a Guardian mug – though of course it is something for the winning writer’s CV). It is more about how people see their opinions being regarded or disregarded, and about how some will hold to the belief so brilliantly delineated in Orwell’s Animal Farm that ‘all animals are equal but some are more equal than others’, whether or not it is really so.

 

The 2019 Not the Booker prize was won by Lara Williams for her debut novel Supper Club.

 

Coming soon: Thoughts about The Booker Prize – and the return of the Friday story…