Short Story Extract – ‘The Tribe’ by Jaki McCarrick

This extract is from Jaki McCarrick’s short story ‘The Tribe’ which is featured in her Edge Hill-shortlisted collection, The Scattering.

The main character’s rationale is unnerving and extreme – yet may hold some resonance with the situation we find ourselves in at the moment.

Jaki will be joining us for a special Q&A as part of the Seren Stay-at-Home Series tomorrow night at 6:30pm where she will be discussing her fiction and plays which include the award-winning Belfast Girls. Tickets are only £5 and are available here*.

 

A stranger from another time trespasses in an ancient landscape, where a primitive tribe live their modest lives. He has a dark yet necessary mission – but will he manage to complete it?

 

The Tribe

The American Dream has run out of gas.The car has stopped.
It no longer supplies the world with its images, its dreams, its
fantasies. It’s over. It supplies the world with its nightmares
now: the Kennedy assassination,Watergate,Vietnam. J.G. BALLARD

The images that came up on the screen were of a cold, forested environment. Beside me the lake was iced over and wide as a sea. There were trees all around frozen ponds and up and down mountainsides. I wondered if there was human life here at all. Nothing stirred outside, except for the unmistakable shape of an owl flying across the almost-full moon. I wrapped up in my boots and Gore-Tex and kept my gun close. Into a compartment of my backpack I placed another, more lethal gun and clasped the bag to my front. I secured my mask and hood then exited the POD (shorthand for the small machine that had brought me here, with its state-of-the-art Personal Odyssey Drive® system).
Outside, it was freezing. I’d never known cold like it. Not even on the coldest days in New York. In fact, it was not like any cold I’d ever experienced on the earth, anywhere (including the Northwest Territories where I had prepared for this trip).Yet it was so clean, so newly clean. I could distinctly smell pine, and the ice had a fragrant quality, close to mint. I knew that the tundra that covered the earth at this time had beneath it a multitude of flowers and plants, and it was as if the air now was full of the possibility of them. The season, of course, was spring.
​        I had begun to ascend the mountain when I saw what appeared to be a light. At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. (I wasn’t hungry but I was tired and had considered returning to the POD, though it would have been dawn before I got there.) I thought perhaps the moon reflected off the snow, but the light was orange. Within a few steps I saw that a fire burned just beyond a redwood copse. (The snow on the trees’ laden branches made the copse seem like some outlandish installation, like those I’d seen years before in galleries in the Village.) My first instinct was to rush towards it. It had to signify human life – no animal as far as we knew had learned how to make fire. But what kind of beings had made this one? And what would they make of me? If they were the beings we sought, that I had hoped to find here, then could they speak? (We had presumed, perhaps conservatively, that I might encounter at best a protolanguage, and not, at this point, actual lexical structure.) I suddenly became afraid of what I might find, though I could feel the gun against my thigh, and it felt warm, as all security is warm, and that I was so quick to think of the weapons I’d brought with me gave me quite a jolt.
​        I gathered myself and tried to remember my purpose here. I checked that the vial was where I had packed it. It was. Cold and deadly as the modernity that had made it.

*

I saw them sitting around the fire, their backs against a circle of high stones. Some of their young ran from caves and were followed by females who evidently disapproved of them out in the cold air. I could smell something roasting on the fire and saw within the flames a long slim-headed beast. Suddenly, the group rose to their feet.They began to make sounds out of the back of their throats which reverberated throughout the hills. The sounds seemed to pass from being to being in a perfect choreography of polyrhythms; it was quite like what I’d heard of Flamenco music. They were covered from head to toe in taupe, grey and dark-red furs, which looked to be the pelts of rabbits, some kind of arctic-like fox, and bears. The group sang its song to the fire, to the beast roasting on the spit, and to the moon and icy expanse – and though I could not understand a word (in so far as their song was composed of words), I felt, somehow, that this was a song of praise, perhaps, even, of welcoming the spring.
​        After a while, one of the older males loosened the beast from the two thin poles it hung from and set it down on a long flat slab. He cut furiously into it with a hand-axe made of what seemed in the moonlight to be quartz or river-flint. He made many piles of meat, and only when he gestured did the group gather around the slab to eat. They were talking. The sound was unmistakable: laughter, grunts, jesting, the aural characteristics of human engagement, all the sounds that one might hear in any modern crowd. These hominids were clearly enjoying their food. It was then I realised that other than the energy biscuits and apples in my backpack, I’d no further supplies until I returned to the POD. The POD itself had enough food for a few more days of my explorations here; the rest held in reserve for the journey home (if I would, indeed, return). I slowly unclasped the pack and squatted down beside it. I was so hungry I devoured two of the three biscuits and washed them down with a small bottle of chemical-tasting water.
​        Within a few minutes I could hear a commotion. I stood up and saw a fight break out between two males, between them, a young female clinging tightly to a rock.The smaller of the two males was eventually trounced by the other and stole off like a honey badger into the woods. The tall, rangier male brought the female towards two older females who laughed as they walked her back to the caves. Quickly, the peace returned. After the meal, the taller male quenched the fire and moved the stragglers along. There was something civilised and quite authoritative, I thought, about this creature hanging back to tidy up the remains of his tribe’s revels.
​        As I would need daylight in order to proceed with my task, I decided to remain where I was. Below me nothing stirred except three or four brindled dogs that looked like small wolves gathering in the centre of the valley to finish off the meat.There seemed also to be a constant rumbling sound, which I supposed was a distant ice storm (perhaps signifying some kind of metamorphic activity in the region). It was as I found an over-leaning bank of earth, under which I planned to sleep, that I heard the other sound. It was terrible and gurgling and instantly recognisable. I looked down and saw that the tall authoritative tribe-member stood in the empty valley below, a pole pierced through his chest, pinning him to the white earth. The others began to emerge from their caves and the sides of the valley. The young female and the group she had been with ran to him. They screamed and cried and pulled the pole from the tall male, at which he dropped to the ground. I heard a sound, if not an actual word, repeated again and again by one of the older females. ‘Orvey! Orvey! Orvey!’ she seemed to cry, as she continually tried to wake him. And I knew, somewhere in the depths of my being, that the sound – for how could I call it a word when I was yet to be convinced that this tribe was in possession of what could feasibly be called language? – meant: child.

*

This is an extract, read the full story on the Seren website

*All ticket holders for the Seren Stay-at-Home Series get an exclusive 30% discount code to use on the Seren website. Get your tickets here.

Short Story of the Month | ‘The Visit’, Jaki McCarrick

The Visit Jaki McCarrick Short Story of the Month

May’s Short Story of the Month is ‘The Visit’ by Jaki McCarrick, an award-winning writer of plays, poetry and fiction.

the scatteringMcCarrick won the 2010 Papatango New Writing Prize for her play, Leopoldville, and her play Belfast Girls, developed at the National Theatre London, was shortlisted for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the 2014 BBC Tony Doyle Award. The Scattering, from which ‘The Visit’ is taken, was shortlisted for the Edge Hill Prize.

‘The Visit’ takes place against the backdrop of Bill Clinton’s visit to the border town of Dundalk in Ireland – a visit that was very much a part of the Peace Process. 

 

The Visit

This is an extract. Read the full short story for free on the Seren website.

It had been a day of weather: snow and wind, sunshine and rain.
Water dripped from the overhanging hedges in the drive and
the path was thick with pine needles. Brendan made a mental
note to sweep them up once Pat had gone. He stopped before
the gates and pulled his trousers up by their creases to check
his shoes and thought that maybe he should’ve worn his boots.
He walked on. Pat would make him forget. Pat could make you
forget all kinds of silly woes. He glanced over at Coogan’s and
noticed the stars and stripes flag, still and wet on the pole.
After McCaughey’s he looked over at Joy Callan’s neat line of
laundry crowning her raised side lawn: a small satin-rimmed
blanket, black stockings, two blue ballroom gowns, a pair of
orange nylon pillowcases. As he approached her house he saw
her in the yard, bright and chic in pink slacks and a tight white
jumper. She was raking up leaves. He watched her part the
dresses then yank the wet leaves into a pile. It made him smile;
she might have hung the gowns out after she’d raked, but Joy
always seemed to do things differently from others. And anyway,
he was glad, because she made the task so mesmerising. He
recalled how after her husband had gone she had kept body and
soul together by moonlighting, rather originally he thought, as
a mushroom picker in Clones. Otherwise, as a relief teacher
she had taught both his children in the Friary, though she had
not been popular. He waved and wondered would she be at
the Square tomorrow. He made a mental note to call in one
of these evenings with the picture of Sean’s wedding in the
paper.
Walking on, his thoughts returned to Pat. He looked forward
to seeing him. There would be much talk of the ‘great
adventures’ as Brendan called them, the London times, the days
of the Black Lion where he had been manager for nearly a
decade and where Pat had been its most notorious barfly. He
was proud to think he’d organised some of London’s most
celebrated lock-ins, booked musicians from Dublin and Doolin
and Donegal, and had the likes of David Bailey and Donovan
in attendance. Soon he and Pat would be reminiscing about
those times, about the dog races at Hackney and White City,
the times they’d played poker in Holland Park with Jack Doyle.
He walked up the cobbled lane towards the station. He could
see clearly on the cold day the sprawl of the town towards the
hills. The trees by the church were draped in ropes of white
lights, and a flurry of flags hung from Carroll’s Apartments. He
was amazed to think that here, in this small dot on the face of
the globe, he and Pat would stand together tomorrow evening
and see the President of America.
The big station clock said ten to three. He had a few minutes
yet to gather his thoughts, stare over at the glass wall of the
brewery. He sat outside on the iron seat. The gulls hovered
above him, filling the air with their cries. The sweet wort’s more
pungent today, he thought, as his gaze fixed on the huge copper
kettle glistening through the glass. It had been his first job in
the brewery to wash the kettle out once the sweet wort had been
siphoned off. He would then prepare it for the following
morning’s shipment of hops and grain. He had spent the best
part of five years inside that copper drum, up to his ankles in
the remnants of fresh hops, proteins and sticky clumps of
caramelised sugar. It had given him time to think; to put into
perspective all that had happened in ’74.
There was a rumble on the tracks. He turned and saw the
sleek green body of the Enterprise stack up like a metallic snake
along platform two. He walked over and watched from the
ticket office. The doors of the carriages swung open. Women
with pull-up trolleys, young men in dishevelled suits, Mrs Little
and her daughter, Edel. As the crowds dispersed he saw a ghost,
the tall, hulking frame of Pat Coleman standing stock-still on
the busy platform. The springy hair was all white, the once firm
chest now visibly lax. Brendan watched his friend remove a
cigarette from behind his ear, ask a girl for a light, then take
three or four concentrated puffs before flicking the stub behind
him onto the tracks. Pat’s short-sleeved shirt seemed frowsy
and unironed; the thick brown arms with their blue tattoos
recalled to Brendan Pat’s nickname on the sites: Popeye. Popeye
Pat had had the strength of ten men, and once, in a drunken
rage, Brendan had seen him flatten as many.
He followed Pat’s gaze. Up to the pale, elusive sky of the
North; out to the striking sweep of the white-capped hills, the
green spire of the Protestant church peeping up against them.
He began to feel unfamiliar pangs of pride for the town, as if
through Pat’s languorous impression, he, too, was glimpsing
it for the first time. The town was his wife’s town, and he had
always found it hard to appreciate its people with their
wariness, their industrious, practical approach to things. His
wife had been right; he had put up a resistance. She had
accused him often of hiding away in the brewery kettle like a
genie. But the friendships he had formed here had been
without the closeness of his London bonds. The men he knew
from the town were nothing like that famous man on platform
two.

Continue reading ‘The Visit’ for free here.

 

Short Story of the Month | ‘Spoiled’ by Jaki McCarrick

Short Story Spoiled by Jaki McCarrick

January’s Short Story of the Month is ‘Spoiled’ by Jaki McCarrick, an award-winning writer of plays, poetry and fiction – including The Scattering, one of our best-selling short story collections. ‘Spoiled’ takes us to Paris, where we see a troubled woman adrift, and an enigmatic priest whose sermons she attends.

 

Spoiled

This is an extract. Read the full short story for free on our website.

 

He had quoted from one of the Narnia chronicles, something she could clearly remember reading once, from Prince Caspian, in which Lucy, faced with a difficult river journey, asks Aslan to promise she will be safe and Aslan cannot promise. The priest had said that this was the meaning of faith: to go forth without a promise of anything. Mary had been astonished by him and by what she was listening to in the small bright chapel in Paris. During the week she had thought of his sermon often. And of how she had been encouraged by it not to dwell on the thing she had done, that ‘sin’ for which she knew she was truly sorry. She had cried in the church, but was somehow able to choke back the tears so that Susan and Yves and the children would not see. Though Tristan, Susan’s oldest, had seen.
Mary had not wanted to go to the service at all. For what kind of Catholic was she? Beyond lapsed, that was certain. Nonetheless, she went again with Susan and family on the following Sunday. This time she did not like the homily: something about St. Paul and the Jews which she hated because it smacked of anti-Semitism and she felt uncomfortable listening to it and had wanted to walk out. Tristan also saw this reaction in her, her face reddening with rage at the words spoken by the pompous-sounding reader who’d come up to the altar, and her nephew had nudged her, playfully. But then when he began to speak, Father Cal astonished her again. It was not what he said, but how. A couple and their children had been making noise in the front row and though people were openly telling them to hush, they continued. Rather than raise his voice above the rattle of the children and their equally distracted parents, Father Cal did the opposite: his voice quietened, so that Mary began to hear birdsong from outside in the courtyard, and it became the job of those amassed in the chapel to hear Father Cal and not his to reach out to them.
But then, Father Calum O’Neil had been always astonishing. A brilliant student, he shocked his family in his late-teens by declaring his vocation to God. The journey from seminary to curate in a small town in Tyrone to this Paris posting had taken him a mere fifteen years. Fluent in several languages, he had almost completed a PhD at Aberystwyth University and had published several papers, two books. He pursued brilliance and it, seemingly, had pursued him. He would only be in the city for a few months, had broken off his PhD studies to cover for the elderly chaplain whose brethren were this group of mostly Irish ex-pats, some of whom lived in the suburbs but who travelled all the way in by car or train each Sunday to attend the English-language mass in Trinite d’Estienne d’Orvres in the 9th arrondissement.
On the third Sunday, Susan decided they should all stay for the after-service tea and cake. The tea was from home and the cake was a freshly baked tea-brack. (Each Sunday an army of mostly middle-aged women – African, Irish, French – who worked voluntarily for the Church, would swan into the courtyard at the commencement of the service and silently dress and set the table, so that when the worshippers emerged a glorious spread would be ready for them as if by magic.)
Tristan nudged Mary as the priest finally appeared, his white and golden robes now gone in favour of a pale-blue short-sleeved shirt and dog-collar. He walked purposefully towards the congregation of thirty or so people gathered about the long table beneath the metal and glass awning of the chapel. Mary was about to chastise her nephew for teasing her yet again when Father Cal sidled up to them and stuck out his hand. She met Father Cal’s hand with hers and flashed a look up at him. She quietened the nervous movement of her mouth by biting her teeth together, even though she knew this action made her look old.
‘Susan’s sister?’ Father Cal said.
‘Yes,’ Mary answered.
‘Bonjour, Père Cal,’ Tristan said.
‘Bonjour, Tristan,’ the priest said, and smiled. He ran his hand through the boy’s hair in a rough but playful manner. Tristan laughed and ran towards another boy who was kicking a white football by a large pink-flowered chestnut tree at the back of the courtyard.
‘I’m Mary,’ Mary said.
‘How long are you in Paris for?’ he asked. She shuffled uncomfortably as she was not sure for how long she would continue to be in the city – but knew her sister’s invitation to have a change, forget about what had happened at home, was certainly not an open one. At most, Mary thought, they will only be able to stick me another month.

Continue reading ‘Spoiled’ for free here

 

 

Happy St Patrick’s Day 2016

st patricks day 2016

Happy St Patrick’s Day to every one of you, far and wide.

St Patrick's Day 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s our bookish Irish flag in honour of the day, pieced together using just a few of our green, white and orange books.

Here is the full list of titles featured in our St Patrick’s Day ‘flag’:

Poetry and Privacy: Questioning Public Interpretations of Contemporary British and Irish Poetry;
The Ivy Hides the Fig-Ripe Duchess;

The Scattering;
The Dragon and the Crescent;
Crossing Over;
Masculine Happiness;
Bilbao – New York – Bilbao;
The Woman at the Window;
All the Souls;
The Hitting Game;
Dirt Roads;
Big Low Tide;
Zen-Cymru;
Christmas in Wales;
The Shop;
If You Fall I Will Catch You;
Midas’ Daughter;
Eros Proposes a Toast;
The Visitations;
Playing House;
Midnight, Dhaka;
Daniel’s Beetles.

We have been lucky enough to add some great Irish and Ireland-based authors to our list over the years who have written some gorgeous books.

Of special mention (and visible in the ‘flag’, above) is Jaki McCarrick’s The Scattering, a collection of nineteen stories, many of which are set on the Irish border. One of the stories ‘The Visit’ won the Wasafiri Prize for new fiction, and many have been published to much acclaim in literary magazines.

Another Irish voice that has recently appeared is Helen Blackhurst. Her debut novel Swimming on Dry Land, which follows a family’s quest for a new life in the Australian outback (as well as their search for missing 4-year-old daughter Georgie), was released just before Christmas.

In Liam Carson’s family memoir Call Mother a Lonely Field, the author’s Irish-speaking, West Belfast childhood is described through still-present echoes of the Second World War, dystopian science fiction, American comic books and punk rock. The memoir was shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2013.

We hope you enjoy St Patrick’s Day!

st patricks day patrick flag ireland irish

 

 

Jaki McCarrick Longlisted for the Irish Laureate Award

The Scattering author, Jacki McCarrick has been longlisted for the first Irish Laureate Award. Jaki is one of thirty four Irish writers to be nominated for the award and she sits on the longlist alongside names such as Anne Enright, Roddy Doyle, Donal Ryan and Eimear McBride

Launched by the Arts Council in summer 2014, the €150,000 award aims to find a writer who has made a significant contribution to Irish literature and with an internationally recognised body of work.

Jaki is an award winning playwright and short story writer. Her first collection of short stories, The Scattering, a series of skillfully crafted stories focusing on borders, was shortlisted for the Edge Hill award. Her plays have won numerous awards including SCDA National playwriting competition and the Papatango New Writers Award.

Nominations were made by 119 organisations and individuals, with each providing a reason for their selection. Nominations came from book clubs, bookshops, arts organisations, poets, playwrights and libraries.

The first Irish Laureate for Fiction will be announced in January 2015 and the recipient is expected to be an author that has had “a considerably positive impact on readers” and “demonstrated commitment to engaging with the public, the media and the literary sector”.