Iain Rowan, author of ‘One of Us’, Free Culture Research Seminar

New Approaches To Storytelling In The Digital Age

From poetry on Instagram to Twitter short stories, moving graphic novels on Vine and seeing who reads your guerilla stories…social media offers new opportunities to get your prose, poetry and other work in front of new readers. This workshop will explore the possibilities and get you creating.

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Free event but please email sarah.dobbs@sunderland.ac.uk to register interest.

Iain Rowan is the author of One of Us and the director of the creative writing strand of the Sunderland Literature and Creative Writing Festival.

http://iainrowan.com

When: February 10th, 2017, 12pm-1pm

Where: Priestman Building, 115

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Life Support (how to fight oppression with stories)

I’m developing a new project called Life Support, which has a very Waltonsesque pay-it-forward notion of empowering us all to impact change, feel useful, understand our own power to invest in our own and others’ lives, in a myriad of ways. It’s always struck me that narratives can create conrete actions, but in quite a dislocated and disenchanted world, this can feel impossible.

But I’ve noticed lots of people wanting to do good, such as writers like AJ Ashworth, Vanessa Gebbie, Paul McVeigh. And yesterday I watched A Streetcat Named Bob and again was struck by people’s fundamental generosity and kindness and desire to better themselves in the face of extremely difficult situations. I suppose this is where Blake’s Auguries of Innocence and Experience actually start to make sense. We can see the best of people and ourselves in the darkest of situations. Last time I checked, 2016 is a pretty dark situation.

So how can we make actually just make stuff a bit better with words?

 

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My suggestion is we share a link to a story / pic / poem, or record your words as I’ve done, about something or someone that’s dear to you, use the hashtag #LifeSupport, tag a charity / interest of your choice & what you’ve done e.g. I donated. I retweeted. I favourited. All of it matters.

Here’s mine: Steven https://youtu.be/MI5DkVItUoE  @mariecurieuk I donated #LifeSupport

Yours could simply be: #LifeSupport – I retweeted

Or: My friend’s art site @evwellsart #LifeSupport – I shared

 

It’s not particularly about the money, but a gathering sense of force. You can do something incredible with a simple retweet – you never know who’s paying attention. Buy someone a hot drink, or just simply be a bit nicer to people. Give your time. Collectively, who knows…

 

I sort of hope in the long run the project will enable people to share stories about loved ones or the things in life we’d like to change. It would be nice if we could all feel, even fleetingly, more connected to people and the idea that we can make life better for each other (whatever your skill might be) as well as raising awareness of the inspirational people who already do this everyday. So why not be one of those people?

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A Housecat Named Beau

 

Drumroll please…Announcing the winners of our first University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Short Story Award 2016

And here are our winners…

Thanks again to all entrants and attendees and everyone who supported our first University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Award. We will be in touch with all winners and highly commended entrants shortly to transfer prizes and vouchers. There will also be lots of pictures from our wonderful photographer David K Newton. If you have any from the event yourself, please feel free to share! (And PS we open for submissions again in January…)

Adults – Winners
DRD Bruton
1st prize
in the University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Short Story Award, 2016 with Lust for Life.

Alex Barr
2nd prize
in the University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Short Story Award, 2016 with The Hills of Ffostrasol.

KL Jefford
3rd prize
in the University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Short Story Award, 2016 with Paul Newman Eyes.

Adults – Highly Commended shortlisted (regional)
Pam Plumb
in the University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Short Story Award, 2016 with Clem.

Kristien Potgieter – Highly Commended shortlisted
in the University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Short Story Award, 2016 with Dead Man Walking.

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Photography David K Newton

Under 17’s – Winners
Megan Hill
1st prize
in the under 17’s category of the University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Short Story Award, 2016 with One Last Time.

Jenny Hurnell
2nd prize
in the under 17’s category of the University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Short Story Award, 2016 with Two Lives as One.

Ruby Eastwood
3rd prize (joint)
in the under 17’s category of the University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Short Story Award, 2016 with A glimpse through Blue Glass.

Claudia Jeffers
3rd prize (joint)
in the under 17’s category of the University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Short Story Award, 2016 with The Beauties of War.

Highly Commended shortlisted
Rowan Mathilda Todd
in the under 17’s category of the University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Short Story Award, 2016 with The Unusual Princess Story.

Harry Anderson Highly Commended shortlisted (regional)
in the under 17’s category of the University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Short Story Award, 2016 with The Witherhorn.

The End book launch at the Sunderland Literature and Creative Writing Festival

Last Thursday I was privileged to be able to take part in the Sunderland launch of The End collection, published by Unthank Books and inspired by artwork rom Nicolas Ruston. Launches are funny things, I think. And I’ve somewhat noticed that not many people are that enthused by them unless there is the opportunity to have their own small moment of glory, which makes sense and is all fair and fine.

I read from Burning the Ants, Andrea Ashworth from Harbour Lights and Ailsa Cox from Coup d’etat. There was a time when reading terrified me, but now it is mostly a pleasure and the best part can be that discussion and thought about the literature afterwards. They’re places where you get to explore your process’s and sometimes this will resonate with other people, sometimes it will be completely different.

We were asked essentially how much truth is in the writing and I’ve been exploring thoughts about the stories before and after the event. It was interesting to read Ailsa’s interview on the publishers website about how that moment where you take the leap from fact to fiction, the story then becomes something else. While it might have started closely to you, it becomes about the family in the fiction you create,the loss if their dog, whilst retaining the notions and explorations of love and mortality that Ailsa indicated she had wanted to explore. Equally, Andrea talks about the moment she encountered a very poetic, Gallic man in a fish and chip shop and the questions as to how and why he was there triggered a emotional story of life and love, a relationship that contained so much yet was cut brutally short.

I cant now imagine not having written Burning the Ants. I wonder if other writers feel that the stories they have written contribute to how they recognise themselves, that without this particular piece, I would not now feel quite so whole. Something would be missing. Because I would not have thought about my reasons for writing the story and it would still be swirling within me, untethered and unprocessed. I am stronger with it.

Burning the Ants is Joanie and Emma’s story, twin sisters, 17, one of their lives is stopped by a horrible motorbike accident that leaves Emma, the bolder twin, with locked in syndrome. Joanie is left to try and finally live her own life, but is also faced with that awful question, who are you without your other? This story started from an obvious point, my own brothers cancer and the question he asked, because he did not want to die in the pain he did, and our guilt for not being able to carry out that wish. The thing is, the way my brother wanted his life to end changed throughout his illness and this is why the debate of assisted suicide I think will continue to rage, and it was interesting to watch Me before You, as it explored similar issues in an emotional but perhaps fairly sanitised way. I don’t know the answer, I never expected to be faced with the question but it is a question we need to continue to have as a society.

In the story, the suggestion is that Joanie does end Emmas life and this piece is their story, but it also allowed me to consider mine. Very interesting that the launch provoked such questions and I feel resolved, from the process of writing this fiction, to get involved in that debate more.

So thanks to everyone who made this collection happen.

And those we struggled to let go of, the Highly commended…

As promised, here are the stories that very nearly made our shortlist. Please remember (once again!) that there are various judges working on this prize and our final lists will be the result of what resonates with these judges. That’s a small handful individuals with individual perspectives, trying to come to some sort of unanimous and overall decision about work that resonates with them. These stories that were highly commended are strong pieces of fiction that said something interesting but perhaps did not resonate quite so strongly with the readers as those that progressed. We know plenty of cases were work that has been submitted to other prizes and rejected can end up being  a winner.

Well done again and thanks to everyone who entered.

 

Highly Commended:

 

Overs

A Random Act of Kindness – Robert Bage

Blackbirds and Broccoli – Joanna Bales

Resolutions – Simon Holloway

On this Day – Aaron Wright

The Woman who Shrank in the Wash – Glenda Young

 

Unders

Memories – Sianna Hughes

I Cried a River for You – Shannon Pack

 

The Shortlist – University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Short Story Award

The shortlist is here! As with the longlist, focusing the names down and down to a much smaller list was both rewarding but very challenging and it was very hard to let some stories that felt very dear – go. When you hear other competitions say, the quality of stories was so high… it often seems a bit fluffy, but it honestly was.

Congratulations to those listed, to those who missed out – firstly, please try again next year! but also, think about those little tweaks you could have made. In some cases, it was simply that in a competition as opposed to an editorial, you don’t have the relationship with the writer to say, ‘that ending feels forced’ and so on. Here, the writer might be asked to redraft and resubmit but with a competition (note to self, we could all learn from this!) we’re looking for the absolute finished product. So that thing we already know – one extra draft – is something to keep in mind.

Well done everyone and the final results will be announced during the Sunderland Literature and Creative Writing festival at the end of October.

Overs
A Child of Dust – Sandra Morgan
A Clump of Nsenene – Farah Ahamed
A Technical Hitch – Felicity King
Aubergine – Jennifer Harvey
Big Bones – Harriett Springbett
Bottled Up – Richard Lakin
Clem – Pam Plumb
Collar’d – Helen Bridgett
Dead Man Walking – Kristien Potgieter
Embarrassment of Riches – Dan Brotzel
From Hull to the Hooghly – Sally Jubb
Grandmother’s Footsteps – Julie Hayman
His Dead Wife – Frances Gapper
In Chamonix – Sally Jubb
Intimations – Padraic Walsh
Lust for Life – DRD Bruton
Morphine – Ann Butler Rowlands
Paul Newman Eyes – KL Jefford
Silent Retreat – Alan McCormick
The Hills of Ffostrasol – Alex Barr
The Last Firework – Philippa Holloway
This Time – Elizabeth Ottoson
Unders
A glimpse through Blue Glass – Ruby Eastwood
The Tiny Big Difference – Helena Sinai
The Beauties of War – Claudia Jeffers
If Only – Nupur Doshi
Crimson Downpour – Amelia Chadwick
The Unusual Princess Story – Rowan Mathilda
The Witherhorn – Harry Anderson
Two Lives as One – Jenny Hurnell
Vanilla – Amber Slade
Letter from a Brother – Lu Jia Li
One Last Time – Megan Hill
————————
Keep checking here for news of the festival and for our Honourable Mentions – those stories that didn’t quite make the shortlist but were exceptionally hard to let go.

Finding Muna / Static

Today’s Waterstones, coffee-imbibed, writer does the café thing draftage.

Have finally got over a little bit of inertia with the novel. Deadlines help. The Waterstones in Newcastle has such a lovely café – like things are a little bit different and fresh and cute. All highly important instruments to have to hand when writing.

Anyway, this is what I’ve been doing lately. The novel (still can’t decide on the name is coming to a close, returning to an opening, an echoing refrain maybe). I possibly don’t want to finish it, which is my excuse for the 4 year wait on the second novel. It’ll be a while longer yet, too. Argh!

****************************************************************************

I play Einaudi’s Nuvole Bianchi into the night – he composes such simple and beautiful pieces. Any hack could play them. They’re the soundtrack to every suburban aspiration. I bend into the arpeggios and wonder what romance is, the music seems to know, and why I still need David to want me. Why him? What does it, what would it, even prove?

*

My wife is sitting across from another man in a very cool coffee shop that she’s just a bit too old for. But Clare has that thing about her, the little web of complexity that makes it okay. Whatever.

I know this guy too. Fucker.

The effort of getting here was immense and it intrigued me, in the same way a problem would at work. A knot of tests and results to order and get passed. What’s he want from her?

I see the middle age slough from Clare as she’s sat in front of this dude. That toughening of the face just half a stone does to a woman. And there’s the illusion of girlishness again. I can just see it; like a prism of light refracting through glass. Poppy is in the back of the car being good. Poppy is always good. Poppy is a straightforward loving child. She’s like me. And that’s probably why I hate her. Who wants to look at themselves and be repulsed every damn day? She’s chewing her hair. Maybe I would always love Muna more because she was so extraordinary, so curious and thoughtful. It was a borrowed glow and we both knew it had all really come from Clare anyway.

They’ve gone to the fucking seaside. Like it’s a holiday.

The wipers claw and stop, claw and stop.

‘When – when -’ Poppy is sucking her hair, she spits it out and pats it like a cat. ‘When can we build hamcastles, daddy?’

‘Sandcastles, Poppy. I was only joking.’

A beat.

‘When – When can sancastles, daddy?’

I rub my knee. Stuffing it into a car and sitting in it for hours is doubtfully what the physio would recommend (when you shattered it jumping off a bridge, you dick).

‘It’s raining.’

‘But – but – so why are – want to play hamcastles.’

I rolled my eyes. The journalist is handing Clare some material. She leans in a little too close. There is a look; I remember that look. Maybe she just likes to complicate things, yeah? Maybe she just likes men she can’t have (fucking idiot). I think of all the non-affairs I’ve had over the years. The bit of fun. The don’t counts cos I don’t feel owt. There are always slippery young women looking up with big eyes and playing their roles. All I want is for my wife to look at me like that again. Like I counted for something.

‘Daddy!’

‘Jesus, Poppy! Shut – up.’

She frowns at me before the sobs shake her little chest. I unclip and grab her from the back. She is instantly quiet – that good girl thing that Clare likes so much. For me I’m thinking, no football-injuries here. She’s not milking it, just happy.

Just happy, what’s that like.

I flick another glance to my wife and the man who is supposedly going to help us, finally, discover what happened to our dead child. Praise be, hallelujah, man. What a fucking caht-up line. He’s got up in a flourish to get her sugar. He’s got that floppy, sweet glasses schtick that women like. You know, corduroy jacket. Blazer. Whatever. I loved that about her. The sugar thing. No weird sweetener complan only beige foods on Thursdays eating disorder bullshit that you have to navigate with so many women. And that’s the thing that ticks me off most; him liking the same things about her. That can’t be right. The repetition. It being a thing between them. Or something.

Something is hot and loud in my gut.

‘Let’s go and play hamcastles, Poppy.’

And this kid that’s somehow mine sucks up all the breath in the car and is staring up at me with big eyes, checking. I’ve barely said much to her since she was born except, don’t do that, not now Pops, daddy has a headache, Clare can you do this? I don’t know her favourite books, I can’t remember reading to her in the way I would with Muna who always had questions questions. And yet here she is, with all her hair frothy as surf, boggly blue eyes that are sometimes crazy but are now still and looking at me with pure hope and – okay I’ve seen this on young women around the office but you know, obviously, in a different way – with absolute adulation. Because of hamcastles?

‘Really, daddy? Even in the rain?’

It’s odd but I’m grinning and that feels – well it just feels. As opposed to all the blankness.

I swing the car around, draw an ever-increasing gap between my wife and the man who is supposedly going to help us find Mina.

Yeah. Like fuck.

*

(section from Poppy)

*

*

There is a theory that physicists have, of the universe and its expansion. How it will eventually collapse in on itself. Apparently, they’ve found dark energy to suggest that this might already be happening.

David has just announced this as I let myself in. I hate his voice these days. The assuredness he had when we met that made me raise an eyebrow, to appraise him, all this has been weakened like a bike chain that must be replaced. Now I just catch myself thinking, too often – cock. Where’s your 60 mile cycles now? Cock. Get out of the house. Fix yourself. But he’s been couched in the darkness by the French doors, the blinds drawn, the garden’s shadow leaking in, since what we’re calling an accident, it would seem.

‘Hello to you too,’ I mutter, hitching upstairs.

‘You what?’

‘Dying for the loo!’

My stamped footsteps. My hand on the small bathroom door, as if he was going to try and push it open. As if he ever moved. That quick slick of heat across my forehead. Is this how you felt, David? when you were doing this to me? Anger spills and grins inside me; darkens the lick of lust as I remember what I’ve done today. I remember that thing I did today. I remember what I let someone do today. I remember what I invited – today, in that place that is David’s and mine, that should not be violated. I used to be so black and white, so this is good, this is bad. So moralistic. But there has been so much pain, who really cares anymore, what does it matter? And this memory – it is delicious flickering sunshine over closed eyelids.

Even now, I want to tell David what we’ve discovered from the phone records. He will always be the person I want to share the news with. He should know what we have found out about Muna.

I snag tissue. What was he on about anyway, universe folding in on itself? I think of space in the only way I can – black, confusing, saturated with maths and mystery. And if the world collapsed, would it all just gather and trigger and begin again? So, could Muna begin again?

*

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Well because she’s at nursery. I’m due to pick her up in 45 minutes.’

‘I’m sorry, you mean Poppy? What do you mean she’s not there? How can she not be there? But I’m picking her up, so. I’m sorry, I – ’

‘Okay.’

‘Okay.’

‘Yes, yes I’ll come right now. We’re coming.’

*

When we’re sat in a police station, the second time in our lives, yet 14 years apart, with another missing daughter, I think of David’s announcement.

There is a theory that physicists have, of the universe and its expansion. How it will eventually collapse in on itself. Apparently, they’ve found dark energy to suggest that this might already be happening.

It’s as if he knew.
*

University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Short Story Award 2016 – longlist

Phew! As you can see we have a very very long long-list for the adults. It was incredibly difficult distilling all of the entries into these groups. If you don’t see your name below, please don’t be put off. Remember, all readers will have different perspectives. You may have written an incredible story but perhaps the ending didn’t quite hit the right note. There were some stories here that I thought, if only you’d done that… and given such a strong field there were stories that we reluctantly put to one side for such reasons. So a ‘no’ is really a case for a redraft,a rethink and a re-submission. As is the case with all writing.

Thanks to everyone who participated. It’s been a pleasure and congratulations to those on the long-list.

The shortlist will be out at the end of August.

(technical-formal-jargonry: Please note, due to the sheer volume of submissions we cannot comment on work on an individual basis, as much as we would like to)

 

Overs

Taking Control – Tony Oswick

A Child of Dust – Sandra Morgan

A Clump of Nsenene – Farah Ahmed

A Fate that’s Fallen – Hannah Smith

A Kiss – Maeve Henry

A Random Act of Kindness – Robert Bage

A Short Timeline of Enemies and Friends – Shirley Day

A Technical Hitch – Felicity King

A Thirst for Freedom – Anne O’Connor

After the Butcher – Rob Walton

All the Young Dudes – Glenda Young

Anyone Can Explode – Pia Ghosh-Roy

Aubergine – Jennifer Harvey

Available Data – Natalie Poyser

Big Bones – Harriett Springbett

Blackbirds and Broccoli – Joanne Bales

Blackie Boy – Janet H Swinney

Box Boy – Martin Nathan

Bottled Up – Richard Lakin

Can you Smell Chips, Mam? – Debz Hobbs-Wyatt

Clean Slate – Hilary Slade

Clem – Pam Plumb

Collar’d – Helen Bridgett

Daddy – Ann Butler-Rowland

Dead Man Walking – Kristien Potgieter

Dear Me – Rob Keeley

Death Calls – Stephanie Gallon

Der Zug – Samuel Marlow-Stevens

The Diary of Amil Nazaar – JRJ Richmond

Difficult Feet – Paul Attmere

Embarrassment of Riches – Dan Brotzel

Epilogues – Dave Wakeley

Everybody Wants Baby Girls – Kate Jefford

Feathers – Fiona Ritchie-Walker

From Hull to the Hooghly – Sally Jubb

Grandmother’s Footsteps – Julie Hayman

Hero – RV Jones

His Dead Wife – Frances Gapper

Iris Nilson – I Once Remember a Story

In Chamonix – Sally Jubb

Intimations – Padraic Walsh

The Architect – James Hodgson

Killing Coldplay – Marc Owen Jones

Lust for Life – DRD Bruton

Magical Mood Swings – Dan Brotzel

The Moor – Mark Hillsdon

Matador – Melanie Whipman

Mermaids – Catherine Edmunds

Morpheus’ World – Maria Fotiadou

Morphine – Ann Butler Rowlands

My father was a lighthouse keeper – Martin Nathan

No Good Deed – James Whitman

Not Because we Will – Evan Guildford-Blake

On the Seventh Day – Lynne Voyce

On this Day – Aaron Wright

Paul Newman Eyes – KL Jefford

Plane-spotting – Dan Brotzel

Pun and Mrs Why – Cath Nichols

Resolutions – Simon Holloway

Rita’s Decision – Lisa Reily

Second Sight – Heather Parry

Silent Retreat – Alan McCormick

Someone Else’s Shoes – Lyndsey Darcy

Sonnets of the Broken Girl – David R Ford

Four Runny Fried Eggs – Anne Colledge

Simmer on the Ward – Rebecca Burns

Milan’s Box – Karen Alderman

Performance – Viccy Adams

The Hills of Ffostrasol – Alex Barr

The Lost Boys Club – Stephen Howard

The Luna Council – Lynn Voyce

The Neverborn – Ray Hopkins

The Night I Killed a Man – Sarah Evans

The Romance of Scorpions – Katherine Orton

The Songs of Selby Twigg – Kathy Hoyle

The Woman who Shrank in the Wash – Glenda Young

The Last Firework – Philippa Holloway

Thin Air – Ingrid Jendrzejewski

This Time – Elizabeth Ottoson

To be a pill, grim – Dan Brotzel

Tombstoning – Emily Bullock

Twenty-Seven Masks – Laura Steven

Two Sentences of Turkish – Shirley Muir

Victim Impact – Marilyn Appleby

 

Unders

A glimpse through Blue Grass – Ruby Eastwood

The Tiny Big Difference – Helena Sinai

Ensnared – Leah Palmer

Fighting for Freedom – Abby Moore

I Cried a River for You – Shannon Pack

The Beauties of War – Claudia Jeffers

If Only – Nupur Doshi

Memories – Sianna Hughes

Red Knight – Savinay Pavneet Sood

Returning – Josie Astin

Speechless – Emily Tubbs

Crimson Downpour – Amelia Chadwick

The Unusual Princess Story – Rowan Mathilda

The Witherhorn – Harry Anderson

Two Lives as One – Jenny Hurnell

Vanilla – Amber Slade

Letter from a Brother – Lu Jia Lee

One Last Time – Megan Hill

More in progress… ‘Finding Muna’

Been to Scotland to hoop masterclass, been on my bike, been up Arthur’s Seat which makes me think of David Nicholls’ lovely novel, One Day. Such a good, accessible, well-written book. And all about the notion of the Death Day (I think). That we should not live with the notion of one day one day, it’s now that matters (and other hippy starry-eyed notions). Is true though. Been writing too. It’s all a little messy at the moment but making a little progress with the pathway of this novel. I know where I want to end up. David and Clare have sort of come full circle, after Muna’s disappearance. They have another child and they should be alright. So I’m playing with why they’re not (and whether I want them to ever be).

*

‘Daddy,’ Muna said one day when she was helping me in the garden.

So hot you’d think the paint’d blister from the fences. I was digging a pond. I could hear neighbours being actual families. The clink of ice cubes and couple-whispers about projected DIY or when the kids’re in bed shall we – . Kind of thing.

Clare as usual was sequestered in the study with her students. She would emerge at times, oh-so weary. The reality is; did we need the money? Nah. Clare needed her brain to tick over and I couldn’t do that. Never liked that feeling, there being something I couldn’t provide. She loved my bigness, the blokeness, the fact there was a brain in there somewhere. I was self-sufficient. She admired me for that. The company. But we both knew there was a part of her brain that I couldn’t peek at. And I think that’s why I was always cheating.

‘Are you happy?’ Muna said one day.

‘Are you?’ I rested on a shovel. She straightened out a worm. There were 5 lined up. ‘What’re you going to do with them?’

She angled her head like a puppy hoping for walkies. I was expecting a serious worm-related answer. ‘Mummy knows you’re not, ya know. You went through such a lot to get to each other. I see all you two in colours. Good colours and bad colours, but,’ one of the worms is tucking into itself and she picks it up and dangles it long again. ‘They’re always fighting with each other.’

‘What are?’

‘The colours.’

Sweat needles my upper lip. I flash hot. ‘Your yellow and mummy’s yellow could go together but you put yourself in little plastic bags and tie a bow.’ She wipes worm-yuck on her dungarees. ‘It’s really childish.’

Emotion thickens my throat. I love Muna more than Clare sometimes. Are you supposed to feel bad about that too?

Then she says, ‘You need to be a bit more gooder, daddy.’

*

He always says it’s work. When he’s burrowed in a corner with the screen away from me. When surprise brightens his face and he quashes a smile. And after, I always get a kiss on the head. Or something more amorous. I want to say, why do you need that, David? Why aren’t enough? But I feel enough, I don’t think anyone would ever understand that. His vulnerability, this little need he kept upholstering, which frayed when uncared for, it made me love him more. It made him human.

*

Poppy is not that bright. I know this. It’s okay. But I love her like you love a wriggly  puppy, all bambi-eyed and sloppy. (Is this mean?) The one that’s the runt of the litter. She has allergies. We had tests done. There was a long list. Things I must protect her from.

Grass

Milk

Wheat…

When she must take medicine, I deliver it with importance, she accepts with relish.

She has an inhaler that needs to be taken three times a day. We are trying to expand her lungs.

Poppy has none of the still intelligence that characterised Muna. She is all warmth and love and no questions. Quiet. She likes having her hair brushed. She always slept through the night, whereas Muna exhausted us for years. David does not enjoy her. I know that too.

He scythes through the kitchen and my warm and yellow breakfast time with Poppy, boots on and heavy.

‘You going already?’

‘Meeting at ten.’

‘Isn’t it only about seven?’

Poppy is sat at the table, crunching on her coco puffs. She has a game with herself to see how many she can stuff into her cheeks without swallowing. She looks like a little hamster. All fluff and blonde.

My mother would have called her a buffoon. My father would have adored her.

There is some truth to the former – is that a terrible thing to admit? But her development is fine. We’ve – I’ve – had that checked too.

David leaves.

‘Stay there, Pops.’

My little hamster nods her head.

I grab David’s wrist and stall him at the doorstep. ‘Not today you don’t.’

‘I’ll be late.’

‘So?’

He sort of folds. I imagine him putting his cards on the table in our little poker game. Waiting to see my next move. ‘Look at us.’ I flap my arms and know I must look ridiculous. But this pall, this thing we live under, it’s gone on for too long. ‘We should be happy, David. After everything, didn’t we get each other back? Don’t we get this new chance? Our little girl.’

‘Our little girl is dead.’

He slams the door and a splinter of wood prickles my nose. My hair, that has rushed back, settled around me.

‘Jesus.’ I whisper to the wood, heart fast. A sheen of sweat fastens the space between my shoulders.

*

When I was a girl I did a module about the holocaust. Well, I would have been at uni but that is another lifetime now. So I do feel girlish and embryonic in that memory. We looked at Primo Levi, we looked at art designed to mimic the gas chamber, to incite cultural and collective memory – generations that will not, have not, forgotten. We looked at Maus, the dark unfunny comic strip. We heard accounts of those who survived such trials, such fear, such trauma. Where the sheer desire to live got them through the daily nightmare. And then, when the war closed and the sun shone and life returned to them, they took their life. I think of my husband and his interminable grief. If he ever speaks to me now it’s in conditionals: if only this…then that.

*

Biology

Had a biology/careers teacher (teachers, you know that feeling) who I mentioned I wanted to be a writer to. She said, what are you interested in? I said, writing. She said, if you want to be a writer you have to be interested in everything. I suspected she was right way back when in Hawkley Hall science lab but did nothing real about it until the last year.

Having a facebook brownout at the moment and really enjoying my own company. I get a bit sick and tired of being nice about other people’s suggestions/organisation/planning and there is that bit of me screaming, but I just want to be free! But I do this: Oh yeah that sounds ace (I don’t want to do it) and when do you want picking up? I’m sure I’ll get sick of myself soon enough (though possibly not, think am awesome 🙂 ). Been spending a lot of time with my mum and dad. We’ve got a mountain to climb with my brother’s friend, Peter (in Wales, not being metaphoric) and there is a sneaky part of me trying to resist taking off on my own to do it. It will be a nice day. Need to ‘master’ a salchow (skating jump) and there is an intensive circus training thing in August I need to do. Also, buy a spinning pole (quit job and teach this??!) whilst trying not to let students see any of the pictures (this is an unusually monumental effort)

A couple of summers ago I took piano lessons for a few months, just to have a little window of time that was purely mine. I was shit. So I bought a digital one this Christmas and played a bit everyday and it’s like a little anchor. You get to think through puzzles and all the hours blur (I have told my new neighbours to hammer if they get frustrated). I used to need to be amazing at anything I would attempt but all that has diffused. I just want to enjoy myself, to progress, to feel. And it all trickles into your life in intriguing ways.

So here is a little snippet of what I have been enjoying. Like I say, loads of mistakes,  have figured out what the pedal does, but it’s fun and it’s a good feeling not to ignore my careers/biology teacher’s advice…