Short Story of the Month – ‘All Through the Night’ by Angela Graham

Our new short story of the month is ‘All Through the Night’ by Angela Graham from her debut short story collection A City Burning.

A man looks back to the night his marriage reached its tipping-point on a cliff-top in west Wales.

A city burns in a crisis − because the status quo has collapsed and change must come. Every value, relationship and belief is shaken and the future is uncertain.

In the twenty-six stories in A City Burning, set in Wales, Northern Ireland and Italy, children and adults face, in the flames of personal tragedy, moments of potential transformation. On the threshold of their futures each must make a choice: how to live in this new ‘now’. 

The story ‘All Through the Night’ was first published in the Irish journal Crannóg which nominated it for the prestigious Pushcart Prize in 2019. 

This is an excerpt, read the full story for FREE on the Seren website here.

All Through the Night

I look back now with a kind of dread, yet dread is about the future, about what’s going to happen, not what has already happened. So I dread…? The memory of pain.
          I never thought of myself as a man given to gestures. Imagination I do have, but I tend to keep it to myself.
          I remember the road: the little road under the starlight that summer. It was the year Mam and Dad sold the farm. I didn’t want it. They kept the farmhouse and the little bwthyn that had been the kernel of the homestead. You and I had used it for years already for holidays with the kids. They loved its thick walls and deep window-ledges.
          At Clogwyn Uchel, on the very edge of Wales, the roads are dark (some of them are tracks, really) and the stars sort of spread themselves out overhead, display themselves, with a careless glamour; or like something much more homely, like sugar spilt across a slate, but up there, up above. A sprinkling of sugar overhead. Very confusing if you thought about it too much. And higher into the sky – it’s hard to describe! – there’s a hazy cloud of them.  Growing up at Clogwyn Uchel and I never bothered to learn much about them. Anyway, the stars do what they do whether we notice them or not. They’re not waiting for our attention.
          On a clear night like that one they shed enough light to see your way and the chalky ground of the lane helps. It’s a glimmering path up to the bwthyn, reflecting light from far, far above. Sometimes it even seems to me as though a bit of the sky has dropped to earth because the little white stones are like a rough and tumble Milky Way between the hedges.
          You walked ahead of me, Mari. Blindly, I thought. Or like someone who’d been dazzled by something. Your feet took you.
          Your mind? Numbed.
          Probably. We all have to do so much guess-work about each other! What is she feeling?  What will she do next? What does she want?
          “Do you love him?” I called out. But you didn’t stop, or look back, or speak. I’m sure you heard me. You went on, into the little house.
          I couldn’t. I walked around it to where the sea suddenly presents itself. A shock! Always. Always that shiver at finding yourself on the edge of a cliff. Acres of water ahead in a dark mass. The endlessness of the sea. It doesn’t stop. It goes about its business, rushing and crushing, floating boats, flexing itself. That night it was shuddering.
          The stars. Some flung themselves down the sky. Mad bastards. Most looked on in a dignified way, blinking mildly at this recklessness.  And I thought of the song. Its beautiful tune.
          Holl amrantau’r sêr ddywedant
          Ar hyd y nos.

          Ar hyd y nos. All through the night.
          Nothing like the crappy English version.  Sickly-sweet, that.  And boring. “Soft the drowsy hours are creeping… visions of delight revealing… hill and vale in slumber steeping”. And the stars don’t get a look-in! Not a mention. You pointed that out to me. When you were learning Welsh. “How come…?” you asked. You were always asking that. “Why is the verb here? Why do I have to say…?” Whatever.
          And I’d say, “It just is, Mari. I don’t know why. Ask your teacher, cariad.  Gwyn knows all that stuff.”
          Yes, he did, didn’t he?

Finish reading ‘All Through the Night’ on the Seren website here.

A City Burning is available on the Seren website £9.99

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An interview with Angela Graham

Ahead of the launch of her debut short story collection A City Burning, we interview Angela Graham to find out more about the book and what inspires her.

In the twenty-six stories in A City Burning, set in Wales, Northern Ireland and Italy, children and adults face, in the flames of personal tragedy, moments of potential transformation. On the threshold of their futures each must make a choice: how to live in this new ‘now’. With a virtuoso control of tone, by turns elegiac, comic, lyrical, philosophical, A City Burning examines power of all types. The result is a deeply human book full of hauntingly memorable characters and narratives.

What is the meaning behind the title A City Burning?

In the opening story, ‘The Road’, a young girl witnesses her city blazing. She understands that this is a sign of the collapse of the status quo, of all the usual certainties. She is confronted with the need to react to this new situation. What values should guide her in this choice? I realised that this story encapsulates the theme of many stories in the collection – witnessing major change and having to work out a response. It seemed a fitting title for the book.

There is a theme of change in this collection, what, if anything, do you hope the reader can take away from this underlying message?

I haven’t thought in terms of such a message – at least, not while I was writing the stories. It wasn’t until late in the day that I saw that facing change was a link between them, and it took someone else, an editor, to point that out. In an important sense, I had to understand my own work from a more objective perspective. I’d like readers to recognise that ‘the given’ (whether positive or negative) can break down in very noticeable and in very subtle ways. One person sees a city burning, another sees some detail in a single photograph that opens their eyes. Usually, I believe few such opportunities for perception appear out of the blue. We have usually been sensitized to a shift in circumstances but we may be unwilling or unable to respond at an earlier point.

I’ve just looked up the etymology of ‘catastrophe’. The word comes from kata- ‘down’ + strophē ‘turning’. I imagine that as the point at which a wheel, goes into its irreversible downward momentum. We have watched the wheel move upwards and we know something has to give but we are not always prepared for it.

Words Flowering at Ty Newydd

There are a lot of different settings and ideas conveyed in these stories. Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Anywhere that’ll have me! To give an example, the story, ‘Life-Task’ which is set in northern Italy at the end of the Second World War came to me because a person who had just retuned from Italy recounted a story she’d been told by someone who’d had it from someone who’d heard it from the actual protagonist. It must have been brilliantly told originally to be so vivid (after passing through several tellings in this way) for it to reach me so powerfully that I could see the events as the story was shared with me. I went home and wrote it down. Of course, it helped that I had, for completely other reasons, been doing research into post-war Italy, had read Italian novels on the subject, and taken a particular interest in what happened in northern Italy when the Germans (the allies of the Italians) had been defeated. And, in writing a story, one has to aim for a satisfying balance between all the elements. This may introduce material which is not part of ‘the original’.

Do any of the stories draw on personal experience?

This is a book of fiction. It’s not memoir or autobiography. It’s all made up. But it’s true to experience, my own and that of many others.

Coasteering near Dunluce Castle, Co. Antrim

You engage with a number of different languages in the book including Ulster Scots in the story ‘Coasteering’. Why was it important for you to foreground these languages in the collection?

I have always been interested in languages and I’ve worked in Wales for a long time, a country where two languages are in use alongside each other. I learned Welsh as soon as I moved to Wales when I married a Welshman. In Northern Ireland I had much experience of the link between language and identity; even nuances of accent, in a city such as Belfast, are sifted for meaning. Whenever a chance has presented itself to get involved with a language I’ve tried to take it. For example, I did a crash-course in Romanian as part of the writing of a screenplay set in that country and it made a big difference, when I was researching there, that I could follow what people were saying. I learned Italian by ear when I was a teenager and, again, I wrote a screenplay, set in Puglia. Most of the time, people are pleased that one has made an effort to allow them to stay in the language in which they are most comfortable, most ‘themselves’.

In regards to Ulster Scots, that fascinates me. I have written the first draft of a novel in which two major characters are Ulster Scots-speakers and language, including Irish, is key to the book. Clashes over language and culture are deep-rooted in Northern Ireland but there is also great potential to overcome seeing language as an obstacle. I’ve worked with a number of Ulster Scots writers. My father’s family are Ulster Scots. It’s important to me that Ulster Scots takes its place in contemporary literary fiction.

Words from Ulster Scots displayed at the Seamus Heaney Centre, Bellaghy

What is your favourite story and why?

The Road. In its 800-or-so words I’d like to think it pushes that wheel up out of catastrophe; gives it a push into an upward turn.

You’ve added some new stories based on the pandemic in the last few months. Why did you decide to write about it and were they hard to write?

They were not hard to write in that I was fuelled by indignation at the plight of low-paid workers whose interests were not given proper consideration. I have personal experience of the ‘worlds’ of both stories and I felt able to depict them forcefully. I checked out facts, naturally, but the internal impetus was immediate. Once again, it seemed to me, the people who are considered ‘least’ in our society − least important, least powerful − were receiving least attention, whereas if their needs were a priority we’d have a better balanced society in which to live.

You turned to writing full time a few years ago. How did you first get into writing and what has it been like working up to publication of your debut collection during the pandemic?

I committed solely to writing because I was busy with media work and I felt the need to sharpen my focus. Writing is what I have always done, since I was about six years old. My first poem was published in a mainstream magazine when I was seven and I wasn’t one bit surprised at the time. I knew that was what magazines were for – publishing stuff. I had a very child-like view of things. Of course. Very naïve. It’s by no means easy to get work published. And that’s a good sign – there are so many exceptionally talented writers.

I’ve always written but usually for the screen. I’ve done journalism and radio work and non-fiction tv tie-in work and poetry. A City Burning is my first chance to pull a substantial amount of fictional material together into a coherent whole.

Once I’d negotiated the early days of the pandemic – the practicalities − the pandemic (because I was lucky to stay well) made no great difference to the practice of writing at a desk. There were fewer distractions. But there was no access to libraries and I had planned to do an in situ major piece of writing for a month and the restrictions made that impossible. I had to re-invent the form of the work. It’s a book on my childhood in Belfast, partially supported by a Support for the Individual Artist Programme award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the National Lottery.

Acquiring a cover photo was hard in the circumstances. It would have been lovely to have had the launch I had been hoping for in Belfast’s No Alibis bookstore and I would have had a small one in Ballycastle, County Antrim which is where I’ve spent lockdown. Ballycastle Library is accepting a copy of the book, I’m pleased to say. Filming and editing a promotional video had to be done by ingenious means by my director husband, John Geraint. Sending paper proofs back and forth was interesting because of blips in the postal service. But the attention from Seren’s staff has been the key thing and that was undiminished.

Angela Graham on Ballycastle Beach, Co. Antrim

A City Burning is available on the Seren website £9.99

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Join us tonight for the virtual launch of A City Burning which starts at 7pm. Angela will be in conversation with Phil George and there will be readings from the book by Viviana Fiorentino, Liam Logan and Geraint Lewis.

Short Story of the Month | ‘Flowers’, Emma Timpany

Flowers Short Story Emma Timpany

It’s World Book Day today and we have a new story for you to enjoy – Emma Timpany’s ‘Flowers’ is our Short Story of the Month.

‘This is the place: four fields in the shape of a rough parallelogram…’

Searching for a space to plant the seeds of her flowers and, indirectly, her future, a woman forges a subtle bond with a man undergoing his own struggle.

Emma Timpany grew up in Dunedin, in the far south of New Zealand, and now lives in Cornwall. She has a lifelong love of short story form. Her first collection, The Lost of Syros, was published in 2015. Her short stories have won three awards, including the Society of Authors’ Tom-Gallon Trust Award, and have been published in literary journals in England, New Zealand and Australia. She is co-editor of Cornish Short Stories: A Collection of Contemporary Cornish Writing and author of the novella Travelling in the Dark.

 

Flowers

This is the place: four fields in the shape of a rough parallelogram. On her left, one part of the closest field is enclosed behind wire mesh. A path runs through long, wet grass towards a gate in the fence. Ahead of her is an open-fronted barn with a caravan parked inside it, a chimney rising from its roof.
She cannot see anyone. She is about to leave when, looking again, she notices a figure kneeling inside the fencing.
She walks over but he does not seem to know she is there. He wears a suit, some kind of woollen weave, not tweed.
Hello.
Hello.
He is young, younger than her. He stands and wipes his hands on his clothes. His hair is flat and yellowish. Despite his smile, his face is the wrong kind of white. He has been ill. Is still ill, perhaps.
Rachel said you wanted someone to grow flowers.
Yes. He shakes his head as if confused. I only just woke up. I still have to sleep a lot. But I remember now.
She doesn’t know what to say. She doesn’t know what she was expecting but it was not this.
Are you cold? he says. It’s cold today.
And bleak, she does not say, this place is bleak.
Let’s have some tea.
The barn smells of dirt and straw, the caravan of damp. His bed is a heap of sleeping bags and blankets; the cups are stained with a thick layer of tannin. Roll-up butts huddle, crushed together in a jar lid.
Sit down. Here. He moves a pile of books from a seat. Rachel said you were a florist.
Well, yes. Sort of. I never meant to be. It wasn’t what I wanted.
He lights the camp stove, rolls a cigarette.
My family were. Florists, I mean. My grandfather lost his job in the Great Depression. Five kids and nothing to eat. So my grandmother started growing flowers. She doesn’t know why she is telling him this. She doesn’t tell anyone this. She shakes her head.
I don’t have any biscuits.
It doesn’t matter.
I only have goat’s milk. Is that okay?
Yes. She has never drunk goat’s milk. That’s okay.

 

It is raining. In her mind the earth has a red tint but now she sees that, under the rain, the soil is deep brown, black, almost. He has laid out some beds within the wire mesh, six rectangles of soil. The fence is to keep out the rabbits which will otherwise eat everything.
Look. He points to a line of feathery green leaves. I planted them in December and they’re up already.
Are they a type that grows in winter?
No. I was late putting them in because I was in hospital. All this should have been done earlier, in the autumn. This soil must be good soil.
It looks like good soil but she will not know until she starts to work it. The rain is heavy now, too heavy for her to begin.
In the shelter of the barn, he shows her rows of tools. Most are old but some are new, their dull, silver light an oddity amongst the rest, the well-used and the worn.

 

The next time, there is no sign of him, though she scans the field for a crouched figure in suit. Inside the barn, still air that could mistakenly be called warm but is only the cessation of wind. Through the caravan window, she sees him curled up on his side, blankets heaped around him, holes in the bottom of his socks.
She climbs over the rabbit fence and puts a bin bag, filled with bags of bulbs and packets of seeds, down by the side of the bed of freshly dug earth he indicated, last time, that she could plant. Returns to the barn for tools along the path of beaten grass. Begins to mark out a row.
The rows of vegetables in the neighbouring beds are all perfectly straight. By contrast, the trench she has made wavers. She goes back to her row and tries to even it up, mentally making a list of the things she will need – bamboo poles, string.
The soil smells slightly of iron, of leaves. Small stones appear occasionally but it has a lightness to it. She opens a packet of bulbs – tulips – and looks at them in the dim light. It is three months past the optimum time to plant them. She bought them cheaply from a local discount store but they look in good condition, a bright brown, shiny sheath on the outside of the pure white bulb. Plant at twice the depth of bulb. She lays them out fifteen centimetres apart then covers them.
The beds are larger than she thought. She adds sawdust to the list in her head. The last seeds she plants are poppies. Light, tiny, they are indistinguishable from the soil as soon as she sows them.
You’ve been busy. He is wearing an old oilskin over his suit.
Yes.
What have you been planting?
Bulbs, she says. Seeds. She fumbles for the packets and hands them to him. Her jeans are soaked from where she has been kneeling.
These are nice. He holds the empty poppy packet.
They were free. I wouldn’t have bought them. Because the flowers only last a day or so. Still, I can use the seed heads.
That’s a shame. About the flowers.
It’s often the way. The most beautiful don’t last.
He is looking at her rows.
I should have made them straight. Next time I’ll bring some string.
I’ve got some. Poles and string. Didn’t you see them in the barn?
No.
Before he got ill, he tells her, he was a set designer. Now he works on the field. The quiet here, the growing things. It is his way of making himself better.
Look, peregrine.
She does not want to look but, raising her head, she follows his finger to where the bird flies through veils of rain.
We should go in. Shelter from this. Do you want tea?
No, thanks. I’m soaked. She is cold now, having been still for so long. The thought of sitting in the caravan is not a pleasant one. I’ll be back next week.
She knocks mud off the spade and fork and carries them back to the barn. He opens the caravan door; warmth from the camp stove drifts out. Condensation fogs the windows. He is smiling at her, and she wonders what he is going to say.
Could you bring some milk when you come next time? I can’t have dairy. Goat’s milk. Or soya.
Sure, she says.
Back at the car she takes off her gumboots, her soaking coat, and loads them in the boot. Strips off her jeans and wraps her lower half in a blanket. Drives home that way.

 

From the highest point, where she now stands, and the high point opposite her, the land creases down, as if it has been folded on the diagonal, into the corner farthest from her. Because he is working near the bottom of the crease, it is hard to make out what he is doing.
She has forgotten the milk.
It has already started to bother her that it is his soil, his earth, his rules. That she is merely scratching, borrowing a few centimetres of surface. And yet she cannot imagine belonging to this place, it being hers. It is not what she would choose for herself. It is too high, too exposed. The jumbled boulders of the carn seem, at times, a reflection of her confusion. And then there is the cold, a deep earth-and-stone cold, the kind that gets in your bones. She wonders again what is wrong with him, what was wrong with him.
The quiet, though, also has a way of its own. In the way her life is away from this place, it feels like nourishment. Every action she initiates proceeds, un-thwarted, until it is complete. No-one else to consider except for the too-thin man she sees out of the corner of her eye.
She is planting Liatris spicata. The bulbs are dark, knobbly, a light hair of old, dried roots on their bases. Their hairiness reminds her of sea potatoes, found on the nearby beaches at low-tide. When she looks up she notices two parallel rows of bamboo canes, joined at their apex, stand in one of the beds.  Supports for beans, perhaps, or peas. Everything he does out here, in the beds, is so neat. But it is not neat in the barn or in the caravan.
No rain today but it is cold. Smoky-yellow light crouches at the edges of the sky. Next, she plants a row of Camassia leicthinii, a cultivar of quamash. The bulbs are white and smooth, small green shoots already sprouting from their apical points. It is far too late to be planting them. She tries to think of May, when these bulbs will produce long, straight, green stems, and then star-shaped flowers, blue and cream.
She hears the soft sound of his boots on the grass.  As she turns, reluctant to stop her work, she briefly wonders what he thinks of her. Her neck aches, so she rubs it.
More bulbs.
Yes. Look at these. She lifts an Eremurus stenophyllus tuber from brown paper, holding towards him the flat disc with leggy roots, like the dried limbs of a once fleshy spider.
And they’ll stay in the soil? Or will you lift them?
No. They’ll stay. They form clumps. Bulbs like these, perennials, reproduce themselves asexually. Clone themselves, basically. So you get more flowers year on year.
This seems to surprise him. She has no idea what he knows or doesn’t know about flowers.

 

The next time there are lots of people at the field. It takes her a while to find him. People talk to her, seem interested in what she is doing. They tell her things about the man who owns the field, assuming she knows more than she does. Without her prompting, his secrets spill out on the grass. They all seem excited by the fact that their friend has this surfeit of space. Many of them live on boats, in vans and caravans squeezed into corners of fields, fringes of towns and villages.
She sees him in the distance, reassesses his age down a notch and then down again. How aged he is by illness, by the experience of illness. It makes him more like her; it is the bridge that links her on one side and his friends on the other.
She has found out, quite recently, that her brother has been lying to her. For years, he has stolen from her, from the joint assets left to them by their parents. He calls what he did an act of love. It is not love. There is a chance that she will lose her house, lose everything she has worked for.
The friends start dragging dead wood into a circle. Some-one sets light to it. Bottles appear and a keg of beer. She plants Nectaroscordum siculum, an onion-paper fine sheath over its bulbs, which will one day be a handful of purple and green striped bells dangling from a wiggly stem. By the time she finishes, darkness is come. She looks over to the circle of light. The flames give his face the colour it normally lacks. She catches a glimpse of how he must have looked and how he might, perhaps, look again one day.

 

In the weak sunlight, the green tips of the first bulbs she planted poke through the earth, cast tiny purple shadows on the soil, and she sees what he has described to her but she has never really believed. There is a view of the sea. Distant, complex with lines of trees and land in the foreground and further back a skewed triangle of mint green water, a violet horizon.
Tomorrow, February tips into March. In the soil she finds a lime green grub, curled and sleeping. More seeds have broken through the earth; tiny as watercress, they tremble as if exhausted by the division of their first leaf into two. In the hearts of the hyacinths, flower spikes push upwards.
She knocks on the caravan door. No reply. She opens it, pulls a pint of goat’s milk from her pocket, leaving it on the floor where she hopes he will see it.
The goat’s milk was fresh today 28/2. See you next week?
She is annoyed that she brought him milk and he isn’t here. But she is also pleased. Words have stopped, are trapped inside her. She does not want to talk. She wants to plant flowers, row and rows of flowers, and wait and watch and tend them as they grow.

 

Thank you for the milk.
I didn’t bring any today.
What are you planting?
Lavender. She has bought plug plants and potted them on, hardened them off in her courtyard garden; against the vastness of the field, they seem tiny. She plants them through a layer of weed matting, cutting crosses and slotting one plant into each gap.
How long will they last for?
They’ll grow and get bigger for about ten years or so. And then they’ll die off.
As the day ends, she hears the sound of cars, footsteps and voices echoing down the track, the clink of bottles. The friends build a fire with new, dry boughs. They distract him, keep him busy, talking. In the fading light, he shifts from old to young, young to old.
Her back aches. She tidies her things and looks at what she has achieved. There is little to see; the bulk of her labour lies beneath the surface of the soil.
The sky is a serious blue, which means darkness is not far away. Through the still air she hears the sharp crackle of flames and smells dry wood burning.

 

Today she plants the last of the bulbs, some alliums, the Triteleia laxa, and the sweet pea seeds, pre-scored. The poppies and the cornflowers are through. The love-lies-bleeding. The soil is warming. The irises have produced grey, strap-fine leaves. A violet ground beetle scuttles away under her hand. An idea, a question, a friend of a friend – all of these things have led her here. Now, the hyacinths are opening. As she cuts through their thick, sappy stems, washes the dirt off the leaves and lower flowers, the few open bells release a clean, sweet scent.
He has also been planning and planting. She has helped him to lift off turf and peel it back, in preparation for a second row of beds.
The weeds have started to grow; the perennial buttercup, its net-like roots spread horizontally, is particularly hard to shift. She tracks the white roots of dandelions, zigzags of light in the dark soil, their wounds leaking a milky sap.

 

He digs for a while and then he stops and coughs. Whatever is wrong with him is taking its time to give up its hold.
He has gone to drink water, hand resting on the tap until the coughing eases. His clothes still hang on him like the clothes on a scarecrow. When was he last well? When did he last live in a house? She considers this coldness, rising from the earth, his enemy. She thinks he does not do enough to protect himself against it. How can he become better if he is not warm?
How will he get better if he drinks from filthy mugs?
He has seen her looking at him and now he beckons her. She climbs over the fence, her shoulders tense.
He points to a new ridge of earth by the side of the barn. From here she can see thin sticks are planted in it.
Willows, he says.
They’ll grow big.
I know.
Why here?
Because this is where the house will go.
You’re building a house?
One day.
To live in?
Isn’t that why most people build houses?
I thought…But she doesn’t know what she had thought.
He begins talking about dwelling rights, planning permission. The house will be built out of straw bales, with wool as insulation.

 

She cuts the Camassia leicthinii ‘Alba’, secures five stems with a rubber band and drops them in a bucket. The alliums are ready, tall Gladiator and the squat lavender starburst of Allium christophii. Once they are all cut and bunched, she moves them into the shade. Dahlia tubers lie in the trench. She covers them with soil, then plants sedum around the edges of the bed, a type with purple-black leaves and, come September, small, hard, ruby flowers.
She is beginning to realise that he did not think she would plant anything permanent. He expected that she would grow flowers from seed and harvest them, an annual crop. There has been this miscommunication right from the beginning, probably the result of her reluctance to talk, his assumption that flowers were grown in the same way as vegetables.
She tells herself it does not matter. Everything she plants, with a couple of exceptions, can be dug up again and moved. Like people, flowers travel: transplanted with care, they usually manage to re-establish themselves, to put down new roots.
Twice in her life she has tried to run away from flowers, the first time from her family’s floristry business, the second time when, out of necessity, she worked as a florist in London. Yet here she is, back among them. They follow her, it seems. Or she, unwittingly, unwillingly, follows them. They present themselves to her as opportunities, the only options.
She knows their common and Latin names. Some have been her companions since earliest childhood, their names learnt alongside her own; they have always been amongst the most important inhabitants of her world. The flowers she grows, that line up wonkily behind her back like a beautiful army, are not as delicate as they look. They are survivors.
She is ready to go. She walks over to where he is working, beside the willow bank.
Goodbye, she says.
I’m going to get a digger in, to grade the earth flat for the house, he says. I’ll get them to scoop out a pond while they’re here.

 

I brought you some milk, she says.
Come and see the pond, he says.
A shallow basin has been scraped out below the flower beds, the excess soil tipped at the southerly edge, building it up into a bank; the effect is pleasing, as if the far lip of the pond were somehow floating above the lower parts of the field.
In her childhood garden, there was a stream, dividing the formal beds around the house from the secret spaces of a stand of native bush. A simple bridge, arch-backed, connected the two worlds. She remembers what it was to paddle in that stream, the little beach of pale gold gravel it left before it exited the property, edged by a rustling screen of bamboo.
So water, yes.
Nothing exists without water.

 

So many things are flowering: Liatris spicata, Eryngium planum, nigella, cornflowers, sweet peas. She comes early to cut the flowers, weeds a little, covers the soil in mulch to stop it losing moisture to the sun and is ready to leave by midday.
When she hears the caravan door open she looks up, expecting to see him, but a woman emerges and walks towards the standpipe to fill the kettle.
Hello.
Who are you? the woman says.
I’m the one who grows the flowers.
He comes out of the caravan, rubbing his hair.
When you’re finished, can you give Jo a lift back to town? he says. Are you finished?
Yes. Pretty much. Just tidying up.
We haven’t had breakfast yet, Jo says. We haven’t even had a cup of tea.
You can have breakfast when you get home.
Are you trying to get rid of me, Jo says, before I’ve had a cup of tea?
Of course not, he says. I’ll make you some tea. Would you like tea?
No, thanks, she says. I’m going soon. But I brought some milk.
As she carries the flowers to the edge of the track, Jo sits on one of the benches by the fire circle and talks to her. The things Jo says are funny in a pithy kind of way. She’s pretty, too.
He brings out two mugs of tea.
I’m off now.
Do you mind giving Jo a lift?
Not at all.
I think I’ll spend the day here, Jo says, stretching and looking around. It’s going to be a beautiful day.
Do what you like, he says. But you should know I’ve got work to do.
Don’t mind me. Jo lies back on the boards, folding her hands over her ribs, shutting her eyes. I’ll be just fine.

 

The pond water is pale bronze, the suspended particles of soil in it yet to settle. He is wading, thigh deep, forearms immersed, planting marginals below the surface. The scent of water is softly mineral, a note of freshness amongst the dry grass and the dust.
Flower buds form on the tiny lavender bushes; the leaves of the sedum are dark as wine. What is winter? Its memory lies in the earth, beneath the bark of the shrubs, the trees. It lies in leaves which tremble in the light. It lies in pollen, gold and grey, the bees collect and carry with them from flower to flower.
When she looks over to the pond again she sees him floating on his back, arms and legs splayed out, five-pointed as a fallen star.

 

Years later, on the day she comes to dig up the last of the flowers, he is not there. He has gone to work in Greece for a while, Jo tells her. On a sustainable building project.
Jo stands in the doorway of the house made of straw. I’ve got a flat in a proper house again, she says. I’m moving on, too.
The wool they’d used as insulation had been full of moth larvae. They’d had a massive infestation, as well as trouble with mice.
What sort of trouble with mice?
They were falling out of the ceiling onto my face, Jo says, while I was asleep.
What can be done?
Jo shrugs. Perhaps the moths have got into the straw. Perhaps the house will have to be torn down, and they’ll start again somehow. He’s gone away to have time to think things through.
Time to think. She had had it, in the hours that she spent here on her knees, eyes on the ground, hands in the good earth.
The willows he grew from sticks reach above her head. The lavenders have filled out from tiny plugs to dense, thick pads. They will remain, along with some other plants that are difficult to shift. Though she tries to lift them carefully, she is bound to miss some bulbs. After she is gone, they will put up their heads each spring, aiming for the light.
Will he think of them as a nuisance?
Or a gift?
Five years on she has managed to reclaim most of what was lost. Now she is moving to a new house with a garden big enough to hold all these flowers.
She walks over to the pond. On its green-grey surface, water lilies float, white and cream and copper-red,  stands of sedge and flag iris softening its edges, and she feels it, as she felt it when she was a child, flowers all around her: a sense of dissolution between here and now and whatever lies just out of reach.
Here.
All that has filtered down into the darkness has given life to flowers that open like a hand; in the centre of each a deepening of colour, which she can hear as if it were a sound.

Nothing exists without water.

She thinks of him and knows that he is well.

 

 

View the Short Story of the Month archive here

 

 

Short Story of the Month | ‘Beginning Again’, Candy Neubert

Short Story Beginning Again Candy Neubert

Our Short Story of the Month for March is ‘Beginning Again’ by Candy Neubert.

Cornish Short Stories

The story will shortly be published in Cornish Short Stories: A Collection of Contemporary Cornish Writing (The History Press).

Candy Neubert lives in Cornwall but maintains strong ties with South Africa where she lived from 1990–1996. She has received numerous literary awards, including the Bridport Prize. She is the author of Foreign Bodies (Seren, 2009) and Big Low Tide (Seren, 2012).

 

Beginning Again

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

 

She was coming straight up the beach towards him.
Through half-closed eyes, his head propped up against his rucksack, he watched her come. In silhouette at first, the kind of shape you just knew wasn’t English, couldn’t be English, but you couldn’t say why. Hair plastered back slick and wet off her face.
She came right up and stood over him, flicking water over his hot skin. Hey, he laughed. She lifted her towel, shaking it out like a sheet over a bed, lying down with a grunt.
He felt the cool coming from her, saw tiny droplets drying on her neck—Sonya, his mate, his life’s woman.
“Mm … now I’m hungry,” she said, not opening her eyes. He was, too. He sat up slowly, sun dizzy, and reached into the rucksack. Here it was, the container she always filled to the brim—he raised a corner of the lid and out came the smell of food, olives and onion and … just then he woke up, as the small figure of the boy crossed his line of vision, still quite far off, heading his way.

        The path went straight up from Porthcurno and he took it two steps at a time. Not really steps but boulders and cliff straight up from the car park, just the way to get going on a cool morning. They’d soon be warm and the mist would clear; it was only a sea mist. He positively sprang all the way, pretty fit for a business man, an office chap.

        When the path levelled out, he waited for Daniel. It was an inviting path, gorse on either side, beaten earth sprinkled with rabbit droppings, gulls laughing overhead. But he kept still and waited patiently. He was so effing patient. But Daniel wasn’t in sight.

        Finally.

        If shoulders could talk.

        If shoulders could talk, the rucksack on Daniel’s back would shrivel up and die. As if towels were heavy. Bulky, yes, but not heavy. He should try the picnic, if he wanted heavy.

        Also, Fuller had the surfboard, which was fair enough; his arms were longer. But Daniel was young and strong. They did sports training at school, didn’t they?

        The boy climbed the last bit and came to a halt five yards away, his eyes fixed on his shoes.

        Patience, mind. Fuller held his tongue and set off again. A fresh scent came from the pink flowers in the grass under the gorse, while the mist ripped back off the cliffs before his eyes—what luck, when it might have come in thick and spoiled everything.

        They did sports training and next year Mandarin, of all things. He asked Daniel about it yesterday, about the new school. The boy made a face, sticking his tongue over his front teeth. They’re all tossers, he said. He’d wanted to go to a school in Devon where they taught tractor driving.

        But they were going to have a day today, a great day. They were here, damn it. The sun was coming out and everything was sorted.

        A kestrel rose and hung in the air, over to the right. Fuller put his fingers in his mouth and whistled, and the boy raised his head.

        ‘What?’ he yelled.

        ‘Kestrel!’

        ‘Uh.’

        Now, five hundred yards ahead, a gate—it had to be the right place, the path veering off towards the cliff edge, dipping at the end, there! He stood, breathing hard. Sheer drop on one side and at his feet, far down, two perfect golden discs of sand divided by a bar of pale green water, just like the photo in the brochure. He’d found it. His chest was big and warm and happy. Daniel came up behind him.

        ‘There it is—great, eh? Looks like the Caribbean. And the sun’s out. Got all my cards in one shoe, boy.’

        ‘What?’

        ‘Y’know—got everything I want, all in one place.’

        ‘Whatever.’

        He was twelve.

        ‘Go careful now. Very careful. Watch it.’

        They did have to be careful; it was a real rabbit path, hard on the knees. Fuller couldn’t be sure that this sluggish figure was truly his son; maybe he’d dart ahead the way he always had. He put out a warning arm. Sheer drop. Careful.

        The body board was a nuisance. Glancing at the sand below, he saw people down there already. Damn. Not to worry, live and let live, hey.

        ‘I’ll let the board drop,’ he called. Please let it not break, he said to himself as it slithered from his hand, pivoted on one edge and shot out of sight. Fuller turned around to take the last slope of rock backwards.

        ‘Turn around,’ he called up.

        The boy would figure it out. Let him find out for himself, let him learn from something a bit tough.

        All the nooks and crannies and shady spots were taken. Fuller walked the whole beach and back to where the boy had stopped, his bag dumped on the sand. Every cleft and shadow already occupied. A middle-aged couple were sauntering from one of these nooks, and something about them had the boy transfixed. Fuller looked. Not a stitch. Starkers. Perfect mahogany tans all over, their buttocks going concave as they walked, the brown flesh in shallow folds. The man had a hat on.

        ‘Well, what is the world coming to?’

        ‘Where are we going?’ asked Daniel.

        ‘Here’s as good as anywhere, I guess.’

        Fuller began to unpack the stuff. He was sure he’d brought everything: shorts, food, sun lotion, you name it, he’d got it. He flipped a ball in the boy’s direction, and it rolled a way off.

        ‘Bring your water bottle?’

        Daniel looked at him.

        ‘You didn’t, did you? You forgot, didn’t you? Didn’t I say: bring your water bottle?’

        ‘Well I didn’t, did I?’

        ‘We’ll be short. Good job I brought mine, but we’ll be short.’

        ‘What you doing?’

        ‘Getting the towels out.’

        ‘That’s my bag.’

        ‘I’m getting the towels out of your bag, okay? Please Daniel, may I get the towels out?’

        No reply. The boy sat down, yanked his cap further over his eyes, and looked at the sea. Fuller pulled his own shirt off and wrapped a towel tight around his waist. Still warm and happy; that sea was calling.

        ‘Coming?’

        He and his son, racing down the sand.

        ‘Coming?’

Continue reading ‘Beginning Again’ for free here.

 

 

 

Short Story of the Month | ‘Swimming’ by Katie Munnik

Katie Munnik Swimming Short Story

July’s featured Short Story of the Month is ‘Swimming’ by Katie Munnik. Katie is a Canadian writer living in Cardiff whose prose, poetry, creative non-fiction and reviews have appeared in several magazines and anthologies; her first collection of short fiction will be published by Wild Goose this autumn. In ‘Swimming’ she paints a vivid picture of a hot day on the beach, a suggestion of something sinister hidden by the calmness of the sea.

 

Swimming

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

 

Light and water and sand and warmth. Peace on the way here, too, which can’t be guaranteed these days. Seems of late we’re getting slammed doors and tears every day, and then I stand in the kitchen, taking long, deep breaths. It’s not as if I can’t remember what it’s like to be her age, but try convincing her of that. In such a rush to grow up. She doesn’t see how soon it will all be coming her way; how few years we have left before she’ll be leaving. We could almost count it out in months.

But not today.

Today, she is relaxed. Stretched out on a beach towel, her pale skin courting that perfect, golden glow and her nose already freckling. Long-limbed and lovely. She’s lying on her belly, reading a paperback from the library and chewing on a pencil. From time to time, she underlines something or scribbles in the margin. I’m only watching out the corner of my eye and I wonder what she’s adding to the story, but I don’t ask.

We left her dad at home, working on the new cedar deck. He’ll be sunburnt and spent when we get home, his skin covered in sawdust. He’ll be happy.

This beach is a favourite of mine. It’s not far from the city – only half an hour in the car – and we usually have the place to ourselves. My mum loved it here and used to bring us along on the bus, with a travelling rug and a thermos in the tote bag and her long hair tied back in a scarf. I’d steal her sunglasses and pull faces, pretending to be a bug, and she’d take them back and set them on top of her head, then straighten my pigtails and tell me to go collect some shells. She looked like a movie star, my mum. She’d like to be here now, I’m sure. I’d like that, too.

The sun is already hot on the sand and my skin feels tight. ‘You okay here?’ I ask, ‘I was thinking of going in for a swim.’

‘Fine, Mum.’ She doesn’t look up from the page and her voice is soft and distracted.

The sand is warm and dry under my feet. A breeze blows gently. Not enough to turn the pages of a book. The horizon looks hazy, and I wonder if it’s the heat. Does heat do that over water? I’m wondering about this when I hear a call from the dunes, so I turn to look back and there’s my daughter looking up from her book. Then I hear the crow call again. I smile, catching my mistake, and my daughter waves her hand and lets out an echoing caw. I wave back and turn again to the sea.

The water is cold, but it always is and I don’t hesitate. Step after step after step until I can lower myself in and let the water catch my weight. Long strokes pushing out, the water deepens under me. Further along the coast, there are rocky stretches and cliffs, too, but this bay is gentle and so is the sea. Everything is quiet. The birds must be further out, fishing where the water is deeper or tucked away on their cliffs to watch the world. All I can hear is the sea’s song, lapping and rippling around me.

I swim out a hundred strokes, counting with each breath.

A wave catches me with my eyes closed, mouth open, and I flip onto my back, full of sea. I spit out my breath and taste my heart in my mouth, wondering how a wave caught me unaware like that. I’m blinking now and everything shatters into reflected light as I find the surface again and try to balance, but another wave is coming, so I take a breath and tuck myself safely under the surface. The strength of the running water somersaults me and I can’t fight it. Surfacing again, I look for the next wave, but there isn’t one. The sea is flat…

 

Continue reading ‘Swimming’ for free here.

 

 

Free extracts from our favourite Halloween books: read them if you dare…

read these free extracts from our favourite Halloween books

Get yourself in the Halloween spirit – read these chilling extracts from our favourite spine-tingling stories.

trick or treat: happy Halloween from Seren

Ritual, 1969 by Jo MazelisRitual 1969 by Jo Mazelis
From ‘The Twice Pricked Heart’:

 

When Margaret returned to the cottage she saw that her father and stepmother had retired to bed, though it was not yet night.
She put Esmerelda in a chair and the child settled down to sleep as she sang softly to her. The light in the room was made strange by the dark sky and glittering snow. The quiet of the house seemed to swell with each passing second. Margaret sat upon the settle and took up the workbasket and began to mend her father’s shirt. It was torn under the arm and this she made good before turning it over to inspect it for other signs of wear. She froze at what she saw, for there on the chest where it lay over his heart she found a small puncture hole, the edges of which were stained in a halo of what must be dried blood. She gasped to see this for to her mind such a wound was unlikely to strike the same place twice.
A chill crept over her flesh and looking up she saw that the sun was at the lowest point in the sky and shadows filled the room. Then while she looked about her she saw a movement in the darkest corner of the room that she likened to a moving cloth, such as a woman’s cloak, for there was a sort of fluttering wavelike movement to it. Never had she perceived the like before and there was nothing in the room to cast such a shadow.
She kept to her place too terrified to move or make a sound, then just at the moment when she had made up her mind to gather Esmerelda in her arms and flee the house, she heard a step upon the stair and there was the sailor’s eldest daughter, dressed in her shift and a wrap, her cheeks aglow, her eyes bright and her lips red and wet and swollen.
‘Bring me cheese,’ she said, ‘and bread and wine.’

Want to keep reading? Buy your copy of Ritual, 1969 now: £8.99

 

Sugar Hall Tiffany Murrayfrom Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray:

 

His cry echoed in the empty shed, his breath coming out in puffs of white. Dieter thought about London: he thought of the broken buildings and the cracks, he thought of the wide spaces and the rubble, and he thought of all those adventures he was missing. He gazed up at the dust dancing and the cobwebs pulsing, and Dieter heard a noise.

‘Pop!’ it said. Then,‘Pap!’

There were sparks and a shimmer that had to settle. Then, by the window and the filthy crates, there was a boy’s face.

The face was moving as if the boy was already standing up, but there was no body beneath it.

The Cheshire Cat, Dieter thought, as the face moved towards him. He gripped his pa’s crisp shirt tight, he stopped breathing, but he was determined that this time he wouldn’t run away.

The face was making a strange noise, as if tiny wings were fluttering in its throat. Dieter felt the balloon’s skin crackle beneath him; there was electricity: a crackle beneath his bottom and a crackle in the air.

He’s not a duppy, Cyn, Dieter thought, he won’t hurt me.

‘I – I brought you this shirt, these trousers,’ Dieter said. ‘I thought you’d be cold.’

Then Dieter wondered how the boy could use the shirt if he didn’t have a body.

A hot breeze of golden sparks cut through the freezing air and suddenly the boy was all there: his chest, his arms and legs, his neck and around that a silver collar. The boy shook himself and stretched up: Dieter had never seen anyone so naked, not even himself. The boy walked from those filthy storage chests and it was soundless, but Dieter watched the pitpat, pitpat of his footprints in the dust. Pitpat, pitpat; like steps in the sand and no one there.

The boy was thin. He was small, but Dieter couldn’t tell how old he was.

The boy hunched over and bent into a squat. His arms dropped, hands palmup and circling in the dust like little fish. The golden sparks were gone and Dieter saw the boy was pale for all his blackness.

Want to keep reading? Buy your copy of Sugar Hall now: £8.99

 

Masque by Bethany W PopeFrom Masque by Bethany Pope:

 

It was my job to see that she was properly dressed for company, to escort her to the room to meet her lover and the other admiring gentlemen, and then to change the subject any way I could when her natural whimsy took a turn for the disgusting as it often might.

One night, while De Changy was speaking to his managers (this was, you remember, two sets of managers back) she started speaking to a tall, nearly skeletal man who had appeared, dressed in a cloak and dinner jacket, a fine fedora aslant, shadowing a face as bland and unlined as a new-born baby’s. Her laughter had grown its most dangerous edge, the short hairs on my neck, cheeks, and arms rose in fear. La Sorelli was sweet, and she had a good heart, but her tongue could suddenly become impolitic and there were many investors present there this evening.

Annie and the stranger were standing at the point where the glorious stairs that make the Palais Garner famous intersect and form an enormous marble Y, glittering in the light refracted in a thousand tear-shaped crystals that drip from the tremendous chandeliers and gaslight torches. Whoever he was, he stood terribly erect, his gloved hands hidden behind his narrow waist, clutching a fine ebony stick. My friend, who I was meant to be watching, was sloppily drunk, spreading her barely covered breasts against the wide, pink-veined bannister. I could not read his face as he looked at her, his features were oddly stiff, expressionless, but the arch of his body signalled contempt. I rushed to her side, a quickly as I could, pleased that my new silk shoes did not slap against the carved stone stairs, pleased that I did not slip and crack my skull against the pavement…

Want to keep reading? Buy your copy of Masque now: £9.99

 

Bonus: download Jaki McCarrick’s short story, ‘Blood’, for free!
‘Blood’ from The Scattering by Jaki McCarrickShabby academic Fred Plunkett, working alone in his aunt’s Victorian house, has his peace disturbed by a sleek intruder with matt red lipstick, a lampblack dress and high, plastic heels. Lara claims to be researching vampires and the theory that Dracula fled his native Transylvania to take refuge in the Cooley Mountains of Ireland, in Fred’s home town. But when she smiles, submerged thoughts of blood and desire begin to wake in Fred’s mind…

Download ‘Blood’ for free from amazon.co.uk

‘Blood’ is one of nineteen stories in Jaki McCarrick’s critically acclaimed short story collection, The Scattering, available from the Seren website: £8.99

 

 

Win a signed and numbered copy of Ritual, 1969

win a copy of ritual, 1969 by jo mazelis

Enter our giveaway to win a signed and numbered copy of Ritual, 1969, the haunting new collection of short stories by Jo Mazelis!

To enter, simply sign up to the Seren newsletter before 1st June:
https://www.serenbooks.com/newsletter/signup

win a copy of ritual, 1969

Ritual, 1969 is a darkly gothic collection of stories by Jerwood Prize-winner Jo Mazelis that explores the unsettling borderland between reality and the supernatural. Ranging from early twentieth-century France to 1960s South Wales and contemporary Europe, Jo Mazelis’ singular vision and poetic language creates characters caught up in events and feelings they do not fully understand or control, giving the book its uncanny focus. Not all is as it seems in a world where first impressions may only conceal disguises and false trails – and there’s no going back.

The winner will be chosen at random from all our email newsletter subscribers on 1st June 2016, so if you haven’t already, hurry and sign up for our newsletter before the end of the month if you want it to be you!

 

Short Story of the Month | ‘A Bird Becomes A Stone’ by Jo Mazelis

Our January Short Story of the Month, still available to read, is ‘A Bird Becomes A Stone’ by Jo Mazelis, which features in her beautiful new collection Ritual, 1969, due to be published April 2016.

A Bird Becomes A Stone from Ritual, 1969 by Jo Mazelis

This, her third collection, welcomes you to a darkly disquieting world of make-believe and performance, where nothing is quite as it seems and first impressions may only lead to further disguises and false trails. Twins, circus acts, playground games and play-acting, the path from the schoolyard to adulthood is beset with misunderstandings, missed dates and traps for the unwary.

Awarded a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize for her debut novel Significance, Jo has also had numerous short stories in anthologies and listed for awards, including five short-listings for the Rhys Davies short-story prize. Several of her stories have been broadcast on Radio 4.


A Bird Becomes A Stone

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

The film Sarah had volunteered to act in was written and directed by a Welsh girl called Catrin, who was at college in Bristol. She’d brought a crew of other students to Wales, one to do sound, another was a cameraman. There was also a sulky girl with bad skin called Morgana whose role was not explained. They drove in a grubby white VW van up to the Brecon Beacons, careering and bumping along narrow tracks in search of good locations. The cameraman drove and the girl with bad skin sat up front because she claimed she’d get carsick otherwise. So the other three had to suffer in the back, wedged in among the film equipment and two plastic sacks of what seemed to be dirty laundry but turned out to be props and costume.

Sarah played the main role. According to the storyboard a lot of footage would consist of her running through woods, along a shoreline (brooding clouds and crashing waves in the background) and along treacherous mountain paths. The schedule demanded that they shoot with her for three days, then on the fourth and fifth days another actor would join them. He was to play a man who had molested her as a child. The chief premise of the film was that every impression in the early sequences led the audience to believe she was being chased, but actually it emerged that her character was the pursuer. The hunted becomes the hunter.

They parked at a lay-by above a stream. The day was still and unusually warm, white puffs of cumulus clouds moved lazily across a yawning blue sky.

‘This weather is crap,’ Catrin said.

The girl with the bad skin sat on a rock and stared hatefully at the rest of them as they unloaded the van.

From eleven o’clock until almost two, Sarah helped Catrin and the sound man scatter torn white sheets along the side of the stream while the cameraman shouted directions at them. At two they stopped for a lunch made by Catrin’s mother. Sandwiches with cheap white bread, some sort of meat that might have been pork or possibly turkey, hard-boiled eggs, crisps and an assortment of chocolate-covered biscuits which were warm and sticky and reminded her too much of long journeys in the back of her parents’ car; of her loneliness as an only child.

After lunch Sarah climbed into the back of the van and struggled into the costume they had brought for her; a grubby, ivory-coloured floor length dress. It had a plunging front and tied behind her neck leaving her back bare. It was made of artificial satin and the rough skin on her hands caught on it like tiny barbs.

In this scene she was meant to wander along by the stream charting a course between one discarded rag and another. Catrin showed Sarah some photographs taken after a battle; women searching for their menfolk in a field littered with the corpses of soldiers, explaining that this was the atmosphere she wanted to convey.

Sarah set off barefoot; in places mud oozed between her toes. The dress was thin, she shivered as the sun began to drop behind the mountains, but she persevered.

That night Sarah dreamt that she was filming the scene over and over, but her dream was invaded by the war photograph and as she stared at each flung-down rag, the torn scraps came to life turning into dreadful ghosts with scarred and half-flayed skin who moaned and tried to touch her.

The next day Catrin was overjoyed as weighty blue-grey cumulonimbus began to gather behind the mountains threatening an approaching storm.

‘We’re going further north today, then as far as Dolgellau on Thursday.’

There was little time wasted on the second day; they parked on a bleak mountain with a ribbon-like road running through it. Plynlimon hunkered under dark skies to the north.

‘Now just run towards the camera but look beyond it, not directly at it.’

She ran. Barefoot in wet grass peppered with shiny black sheep droppings, her long dress saturated up to her thighs. A few times she fell but pulled herself up and stumbled on.

‘That was brilliant! It looks so real when you fall,’ Catrin said.

‘Hey,’ the sound guy said, touching her arm gently. ‘Is that blood? Did you hurt yourself?’

She looked down; the dress was torn over her right knee, bright crimson blood mixed with muddy grey stains. She lifted her dress, her knee was grazed and in one place a small cut sent a trickle of red coursing down her leg and over the arch of her foot.

Continue reading ‘A Bird Becomes A Stone’ here.

 

Jo Mazelis’ new collection, Ritual, 1969, will be published by Seren in April 2016. More information coming soon to the Seren website.

Santa Baby, Slip a Story Under the Tree

Christmas is on its way, and we have some recommendations for you whether you’re looking for a present for someone else, or you’re looking for something to ask Santa for this Christmas!

santagif

For Thriller Lovers:

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If you or someone you know loves a good crime story, why not try Jo Mazelis’ Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize-winning Significance, or Anne Lauppe-Dunbar’s debut Dark Mermaids?

For Historical Fiction Lovers:

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Francesca Rhydderch’s debut, The Rice Paper Diaries, which won the 2014 Wales Book of the Year Award and Tiffany Murray’s chilling Sugar Hall are perfect for readers who like their stories old school. So old school they’re practically history.

For Sci-Fi/Fantasy Lovers:

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If you’re after something weird and wonderful for you or a friend this festive season, then you can’t go wrong with one of our New Stories from The Mabinogion; The Meat Tree is a brilliantly bizarre sci-fi retelling of the Blodeuwedd myth, perfect for readers who love stories that are literally out of this world. But if you’re after something a little closer to home, why not pick up a copy of Mary-Ann Constantine’s fable-esque debut, Star-Shot? This novel is a real treat for readers who are familiar with Cardiff.

For Short Story Lovers:

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For lovers of the oft forgotten art form that is the short story, why not pick up New Welsh Short Stories, an anthology featuring a wide range of Welsh authors from Carys Davies to Jo Mazelis, or Graham Mort’s latest collection, Terroir. These two look quite charming together, so if I were you I’d get both.

eldoradogif

For Non-Fiction Lovers:

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Jasmine Donahaye’s memoir, Losing Israel, has been stunning readers since its publication earlier this year; part memoir, part travel writing, part nature writing, it’s the perfect gift for any non-fiction connoisseur. Mike Rees’ Men Who Played the Game is the ideal book for any sports fan, and as we commemorate one hundred years since the First World War there’s no better time to read it than right now.

For Poetry Lovers:

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Here at Seren we’d be nothing without our poetry, so why not pick up a copy of Kim Moore’s hugely popular debut collection, The Art of Falling, or Jonathan Edwards’ Costa Award-winning debut collection, My Family and Other Superheroes – we promise they won’t disappoint you! Or if someone you know likes to keep on top of the latest poetry, a subscription to Poetry Wales magazine would make for a fine Christmas present, if you ask me. And I suppose you must be asking me if you’re reading this…

You can find all these books and more on our website, so treat the readers you know to some well-chosen words this Christmas!

homealone

 

Why Short Stories Are Worth Reading

In the publishing world, there’s one thing that’s almost always guaranteed: short stories don’t sell. But why?

Short stories are the first stories we’re ever introduced to, they’re our stepping stone into the world of storytelling. Whether they were told around campfires, painted on cave walls or sewn into tapestries, short stories have been passed down throughout the generations for as long as we’ve been able to tell them. From the Brothers Grimm to the Mabinogion to the many voices that make up the 1001 Nights, the short tales and fables our ancestors leave us are some of our first teachers: lessons such as ‘don’t stray off the path’ and ‘slow and steady wins the race’ are the product of short stories, not epic novels.

As adults we don’t need these kinds of stories – or so we might like to tell ourselves – we move on, quite literally, to bigger things, and yet nowhere does it say that short stories are only meant for children. After all, the Grimm’s Fairy Tales were initially meant for everyone, not just younger readers. To tell a story both well and concisely takes real skill, which is one of the many reasons why short story collections are so worth reading. Here at Seren we’ve published several collections, from Mary-Ann Constantine’s haunting All the Souls to Graham Mort’s upcoming Terroir, and they’re an ideal way to get a taste of an author’s style before you dip into their longer fiction.

Short story anthologies can be even better. With the recent publication of New Welsh Short Stories, we released a collection of stories by both new and established Welsh authors such as Jo Mazelis, Robert Minhinnick, and Stevie Davies just to name a few. Anthologies are the perfect way to read widely within one book, to try out new authors or revisit old favourites, meaning there’s always a story for everyone. They might even teach us the odd lesson or two.

By limiting ourselves to novels we miss out not only on some of the world’s most finely crafted fiction, but on the chance to discover new authors we may never have stumbled upon otherwise.

Order New Welsh Short Stories from our website.