Congratulations to Janine Amos and John Holmes, the winner and runner-up in my competition. I am delighted to be able to share their stories.
Janine will also receive a copy of my novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, which has been kindly donated by my published, Louise Walters.
A Stranger Finds Her Voice
by Janine Amos
I stand at the hotel window, looking out over the bay: white foam horses riding a grey, greasy sea. I dig my knuckles into the window-sill and take two deep, slow breaths in – and –out, in a vain attempt to still my fiercely-beating heart. What I am about to do may rile the mob for I am a stranger here. A gull dives past, shrieking its yellow warning and is carried away on the wind.
“Miss Davis, it is time.” A timid tap on the door and in pops Rosemary Jones the tweeny, sent up by Cook no doubt, who can’t stand the sight of me. The little maid bobs a curtsey, reaches for my pot from under the bed, and scuttles away with it down the back stairs. Her trembling figure gives me heart as I must give heart to other women and girls the land over.
I leave the sea view and make my way down two flights of stairs to the front of the building. A faint smell of boiled cabbage pervades the air; my stomach lurches as memories of Holloway rise to my throat like bile. I swallow. The tread of the carpet is bare in parts; this is a seedy, run-down sort of place notwithstanding its genteel façade. My legs are shaking so that I stumble and must take hold of the banister. I am all alone, despite Miss Richardson’s assertion that she would be by my side, alone and vulnerable just as I was in my prison cell. I force myself to attend to the business in hand.
A constable waits at the french doors and I am guided on to the balcony. A gust of wind catches the brim of my hat and threatens to carry it away, but it settles and I look out at a different sea: a sea of gentlemen’s boaters. A large crowd has gathered just below me, nearly all gentlemen but some ladies too, their hats bedecked with ribbons and roses. I am an amusement to most of them, no doubt, a curiosity to help them while away a summer morning in a seaside town, but some will heed my call. If I can change but one mind, I will have done my job.
“Get on with it!” The first heckle comes from the front of the pack, before I have even begun to speak.
A rotten egg smacks onto the wooden board in front of me, spilling out its contents. Cabbages, carrots, an array of vegetable scrapings follow.
“Please – “a stick, smeared in some foul-smelling substance flies past my face and hits the door-frame behind me. I quake. The horrors of prison return: the stench, the horrific snake of the rubber feeding tube.
Then, wobbling along the road on a bicycle is Miss Richardson; a friendly face at last. The sight of her gives me the courage I need to continue and, keeping my eyes fixed upon her, I begin my speech again.
“I am a Suffragette!”
Janine Amos worked as a children’s commissioning editor in London, Bath, Berlin and Chicago before beginning her career as a children’s writer and tutor. She is the author of more than sixty ‘special issue’ information and ‘faction’ books for children, on topics such as bullying, divorce, anger and self-esteem. She has been published in fourteen languages. Janine takes her writing into schools and works with small groups of children to help them make stories of their own.
Janine has recently returned to live in Wales, to the beautiful town of Usk, where she lives with her husband andtwo unruly cats. She is currently writing her first historical novel for adults, set in Monmouthshire.
by John Holmes
The sound of perfection.
Bicycle chains and bikers’ breathing, oiled gears and smooth tyres. Finely tuned harmonies rising from the choreographed band, accompanying the flashes of colour, backed-up with its own wind.
Individuals working in unison, all waiting to orchestrate a solo break.
As they zip by, they create their own live stream.
I cheer loudly as they pass, but internally I worry that wheels will touch, carbon will snap and we’ll be only left with a choir of human cries.
The notes are carried away to the new, appreciative audience, waiting further down along the sweeping bay. Necks stretched, eyes wide and ears open. Cold fingers attentively hovering over the record buttons on their phones. The musical movement is heading their way.
Leaning back against my firm cushion, I allow myself to soak in the new silence, which is suddenly broken by the far off cry of a single, black-headed gull. I throw my dark memories up there – force them to grow wings and fly away. As always, some of them are just too powerful to take off. That day my bike screeched across the tarmac, like the call of that single bird, is still my private, permanent tinnitus.
My attempts to turn the wheels are fruitless. I’ve sunk deep into the muddy verge. A cheerful spectator registers my difficulty, gives me a firm push on to the path and I’m on my way.
‘Watch the pot…’ he shouts, as my front, right wheel bounces into a hole.
‘Too late,’ he adds with a laugh.
My chair rattles violently over the uneven paving, fighting the gaps and cracks.
No beautiful music escaping from my transport. It performs only one tune.
The sound of reality.
John Holmes, based in the North East of England, is a writer of short fiction. ( JohnHolmesWriter.com )
He is a previous winner of the The Times Short Crime Fiction Story prize.
In the last 12 months his work has appeared in Paragraph Planet, 101 Words, Fragmented Voices, Pen to Print, Glittery Literature, Globe Soup, Drabble, Cross The Tees, Bag of Bones and Ellipsis Zine.
John is the co-author of Rough Rides, a mountain biking guide book (ISBN 0861901894 9780861901890).
When he isn’t writing, he’s out onhis bike, exploring new routes.
I’ve been writing, and I’ve completed the draft of a sequel/prequel (what do you call that – a sprequel , maybe?) to In the Sweep of the Bay. It’s currently with beta readers.
Bay has been doing well, I’m pleased to say, and was shortlisted for Best Novella in the Saboteur Awards2021 It’s still available to buy from my lovely publisher, Louise Walters Books or from your local bookshop. Several book groups have chosen to read it and Louise offers a deal on purchases for book groups.
I’m working on another novella-length story – one I started last year and put aside. It’s currently rather baggy and has some significant holes in it. Like an old jumper, but not comfortable like that! I’m hoping to pull it into shape very soon.
Meanwhile I’ve had minor successes – some flashes published, a few longlistings and shortlistings, and one win! I’ll be updating my Stories page with these very shortly.
I’ve also been reviewing for Lunate – reading critically is, I think, an important skill for writers to develop.
So, on this Midsummer’s Day I give you roses from our garden, and wish you sunnier times.
Covid-19 has changed all our lives. Book launches have not been possible in the traditional way. This is the writer Laura Besley’s experience:
We thought we’d timed it to perfection; my debut flash fiction collection, The Almost Mothers, would launch on Saturday 21st March at the States of Independence festival in Leicester, conveniently one day before Mother’s Day in the UK. Best laid plans, however, were not to be. The festival was cancelled, along with all other scheduled events due to UK lockdown which was enforced from 23rd March. Now what?
When I first heard that the festival was cancelled I was disappointed, obviously, but it was overshadowed somewhat by the excitement of holding an actual copy of my book in my hands. In lots of ways, I’ve been lucky. Getting The Almost Mothers published has been quick in “book years”. About half of the pieces were written in 2018 during #FlashNaNo (write a piece of flash fiction every day for the month of November). I realised early on that the pieces were all relating to the theme of motherhood. In December I polished them and put them, along with some older pieces, into a collection, which I submitted to a competition and was overjoyed when it long listed.
In April 2019 I saw a call for submissions from Dahlia Books (run by editor/publisher Farhana Shaikh). I sent a DM and I got a full manuscript request. Over the moon, I sent it in. By July I was losing hope, so checked the website and read that Farhana doesn’t read new manuscripts over the summer, so decided to leave it another couple of months. In September she sent an email asking to meet and after chatting about it, she offered me a contract. We decided early on that we wanted to launch in March to tie in with the festival and Mother’s Day, which would be quite tight, but we both thought it was the right thing to do.
Fast forward to March 2020 and after a lot of hard work, my book was ready. I met Farhana to pick up my copies and sign the pre-ordered copies, my hand trembling a little as I triple-checked how to spell people’s names. (Aside: I had conveniently heard in the Honest Authors podcast that week not to sign books with the same signature as on your bank card. Good point.) I have to admit I was a little relieved at not having to do a public reading and answer questions on a panel. As with all silver linings, though, there was a big black cloud: how would we get my book to sell now?
I don’t think anyone knew in March just how hard lockdown would be (in fact, continues to be) and how hard book sales, especially those of independent booksellers and publishers, would be hit. Again, I feel very lucky. People have bought my books. To be honest, I sometimes wonder whether more people have bought my book because of lockdown. Generally people are reading more, but above that there seems to be a genuine shift to support small(er) businesses and therefore indie presses. Amongst authors, especially the ones I’m friends with on Twitter, there is a huge amount of support for which I’m extremely grateful. I’ve also made a lot of new connections recently and again that could be because of the current situation. It’s hard to say. What I can say is that when someone contacts you to tell you they’ve bought your book, or read it, or even loved it, that totally makes my day.
Laura Besley writes short fiction in the precious moments that her children are asleep. Her fiction has appeared online, as well as in print and in various anthologies. Her flash fiction collection, The Almost Mothers, was published in March 2020. She tweets @laurabesley