Last year I was publishing one of my stories here every other Friday. Then other things took over. But now the Friday story is back! Here’s one that took second place in the Zeroflash competition in March 2016.
In a Barren World
After the woman had gone to prepare for the journey I sat alone in the old chapel, watching the fire flickering. Watching as the heat retreated and the coals glowed, red pinpoints in the enveloping darkness. Watching as they faded. Watching until all colour was extinguished from them and the cold and the dark were the victors once more.
I walked to the western wall and held my ear to the granite. It seemed to hold the crackle of a half-remembered song from the time before. I closed my eyes and remembered laughter and wine, glasses raised to firelight and hope dancing in our hearts. If I had held a glass in my hand now I would have smashed it to the ground. But our drinking days were over, things were already broken and all any of us could do was seek shelter from the storm of the barren world.
The woman and I had thrown our lot in with one another after our dear ones had been taken. Some said by wolves though I thought that fanciful, even in the strangeness of these times. And there was no evidence that wolves had survived. Yet the seas had advanced as had been foretold, there was no denying that.
The chapel stood on a headland, too high for the seas to sweep it away. We had found it, she and I. It was ours alone and each day we tumbled down the grassy cliffs and swam in a blue bay with dolphins, while all we needed was provided for us. Miraculous, yes, but in these times there is but a short space between apocalypse and miracle.
When the dolphins left we knew our idyll to be over. Tonight we will draw warmth from one another. Tomorrow we face the cold again.
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.
It’s been an exciting week. Last Tuesday the news went public that I have signed a contract with Louise Walters Books for my second novella. It is as yet untitled, but is written and I’m looking forward to working with Louise on the editing process. Publication is scheduled for September 2020.
Here’s what Louise said about the story in her press release, which was picked up by both Bookbrunch and The Bookseller:
The lyrical, warm-hearted tale explores marriage, love, and longing, set against the unexpectedly majestic backdrop of Morecambe Bay, the faded glamour of the Midland Hotel, and the dance halls of Blackpool.
Cath sent me this short, bitter-sweet novel and I was captivated from the opening pages. Ted and Rene, the long-married couple at the centre of the story, tug at the heart strings in a quite extraordinary way. I can’t wait to start working with Cath.
The news provoked a bit of a twitter-storm and it was lovely to get so much support from fellow writers.
Here’s a little story that I wrote a couple of years back for Zeroflash.
He appears in front of me, between two blinks of an eye. I see his feet first. Clown’s feet in big shoes. They flap as he walks towards me. His white mouth stretches into a grimace and he holds out a hand. He’s shaking and I feel his fear. I take his hand and it’s stone cold. I want to say how cold it is and that I can give him gloves, but he shakes his head and glitter falls from his curly hair, falls onto his feet and onto my feet. And then we’re running together, hand in hand, his shoes slapping on the ground, and we dodge the people who turn and stare and – I’m glad about this – his hand is warming up.
We’ve run into the castle grounds and I know where he’ll be safe. I lead him there, my sad clown. I’m thinking about how I’ll cover him with dry leaves while I go and fetch a blanket. But he’s shaking his head again, he’s reading my thoughts and he waggles a finger back and forth. I want to say he needs a blanket, but he snuggles into the leaves and I can see that he doesn’t. I try to pull the gate closed but it’s so old and rusted it won’t budge. It’s getting dark now and I tell him I have to go home.
People are shouting in the streets but I ignore them. I go to bed but I can’t sleep. I’m thinking about my clown and about how cold his hand had been.
In the morning I go back. There are sticks, broken sticks thrown over the leaves. They look like broken bones. I blink and he’s standing there, just for a moment. Glitter lands on my shoes. I blink. He’s gone.