Prolitzer Prize for prose writing
Prolitzer Prize for Prose Writing, 2016
Winner, £200 and publication: Janos, by Kaori Crawford
Runner Up, £50 and publication: Fingerprint, by Marina Hatsopoulos
Runner up, £50 and publication: The Wind Calling, by Deirdre Shanahan
They said that he had been in prison. They said that he was born in Europe. They said that he had Maori friends and went to their meetings. He smelled of fish and sweat, dirt, and the smoke from his cigarettes.
He sat on the wharf all day, by the broken-down ferries, and fished. He threw the fish into a bucket by his side.
I stood on the wharf, after school, and watched.
Eventually, after a couple of days of this, he turned round.
‘I just wanted to ask.’
‘Have you ever killed anyone?’
‘There’s always a first.’
He took the knife from his pocket and threw a fish-head at my skirt where it left a red stain, like the red rag of my hair, which the other kids sometimes tried to pull. It left a red stain. The knife had a silver smile and the strip of neck at the back of his head was deep brown, the kind of brown you get when you’ve been burned and the sun stays soaked in your skin, and the air smelled of fish, and the sea, and the wet wood and barnacles of the pylons under the wharf.
In the distance, the dead volcano on the horizon, which had always oppressed me, lay stretched in the harbour like something heavy across the day.
His hair was shaved in places and long in others, as if he had tried to cut it himself, with his knife and a razor.
Finally he said: ‘Your mum owns the milk bar, right?’
‘Since my dad left. But people like cafes better, these days.’
Janos took a drink from the can by his side.
‘Evidence for the opposition.’
He had a ring like a silver skull, with diamond eyes, and black crescents under his nails and his nails were broken and different lengths, as if he had tried to cut them, too, with the knife.
That day, he let me carry the bucket of fish up to his shack on the hill. Two cats, one moon-white and one grey, slithered out of the bushes and ribboned around his legs.
‘Can’t get rid of them,’ Janos said.
He threw them a couple of fish and they bounded off with them in their mouths, which suggested one reason for this situation.
He sat down on the white plastic chair outside, moving as if suddenly older, and strained, and told me to put the bucket of fish in the ice box by the door. He would sell them, tomorrow, he said. Till then, they would keep; it wasn’t that hot.
He drank beer and offered me a smoke. I said kids didn’t smoke and he laughed.
‘Can I have your knife?’
He hesitated, then shrugged.
‘Are you going to kill someone?’
‘There’s always a first.’
The sun burned on the clearing and the wind shivered the leaves, rattling them like the milk bottle tops in our back garden, like silver coins growing on trees in a fairy tale. I thought of throwing the knife at a tree but thought he might take it off me then, so I lay down on the leaves on the ground and he drank.
‘I should get a radio up here,’ he said. ‘Or something.’
‘How do you say your name?’
‘Janos,’ he said, like Yah-nosh. ‘But you can say it however you like.’
He closed his eyes.
‘It’s a free country,’ he said, as if half-asleep. ‘So some people say.’
When I got back, my mother was sitting outside in the deck chair.
‘What’s up with you?’ she said. ‘You look like you’ve got a secret.’
It was late afternoon and she had closed the milk bar. She was having a cigarette and the smoke hung around her head like a distillation of the yellow air, gathering at the ends of her yellow hair, like frosting. The deck chair was faded from multiple summers and my mother’s hair seemed to have faded too, since my father had gone. He lived in Hamilton, it was said. Her legs were bare and they looked sharpened, or pared, as she stretched them out in front of her, in jandals, humming to something old on the radio. The occasional car, passing along the main street, sent up suggestions of activity, like ripples.
‘I don’t have a secret.’
When I went to school, the other children raced around me. I walked between them with my hands behind my back, as if on elastic. When Miles Morrison, after turning a cartwheel, ran up and tried to pull my hair, I put my hand on his face and pushed him politely away. He ran off whooping. I walked on with a smile at the corners of my mouth, then suddenly raced to the end of the playground and back. During interval, on other days, I went and sat on the hill above the school buildings, where, when I was younger, I had thought there were lions in the long yellow grass. I sat in the long grass and felt the wind brush my skin, and the blades blew against my arms and legs like manes.
After school I sat on the wharf while he fished. The ferries carried passengers across the harbour to the city and the islands out of sight. The black slope of the old volcano lay on the horizon like a guardian stretched across the path to the sea. Some sort of taniwha.
Sometimes Janos wore a green tiki which reminded me of those stories about taniwha and Maui fishing the North Island out of the sea, and sometimes he wore a necklace with a shark’s tooth. After fishing he let me carry the fish up to the hut, and sometimes the cats – Polly and Malka – let me play with them before trying to scratch me and wandering away. He said that Malka – the one who was most inclined to scratch – was named after one of his aunts, the sister of his father. She was the dappled white one. Sometimes he wore a paua necklace, with the paua in chips, like it was a fringe or a collar. Janos rolled the cats around over his feet with his shoes off; he said he couldn’t feel anything, even when they scratched him and hatched the marks and scars on his feet.
In the evening, when I went back, I would sometimes sit outside in the tree by my window and look at the sky, listening to the slight sounds of the village by night. My mother sat downstairs in the kitchen behind the milk bar, listening to the radio and playing cards. Sometimes she sat in the living room, with the television.
One day I asked Janos if he had caught the shark.
He stroked his neck.
‘That’s not the only way of ending up with a shark’s tooth.’
One night he came to the house after I was in bed. I heard the voices and climbed down the tree to the back garden and watched. I saw them there, dancing in the kitchen. They were dancing slowly to the radio and my mother wore a faded pink dress.
After they had left the kitchen I ran up the hill to the hut. The cats were nowhere in sight, probably hunting somewhere, and the moon lay in stretches across the dark clearing. I found the bucket of fish and when I came back to the house, the lights were out above the milk bar.
I stood in the street outside the building and threw a fish at the door where it slithered down onto the step so that the next person to come out, perhaps in the morning, might step on it.
Perhaps they would fall over.
Then I ran down to the wharf, past the far-flung streetlights, and stood in the dark by the sea. The waves slapped against the wharf in the silence. There were no ships to be seen.
I suddenly jumped up and down. The moonlight lay across the water and, underneath it, the sea was dark. The sea was dark and blood-warm, and the currents moved under it, like muscles, like something stirring. Like something stirring, and about to wake up.
After denying myself a gelato on economic grounds, I approached one of the phone booths that still spotted the streets of Rome. Stepping out of the booth was a guy with a straight nose and curly hair who looked like one of those marble statues out by the fountains. When I saw his Knicks t-shirt, I gave him a thumbs-up, but he seemed confused and asked me a question in Italian.
After a series of gestures, mangled words and misunderstandings, I finally came to learn that this guy—who looked like a David to me, because Michelangelo clearly grasped the essence of the Italian man—could help me make a free international phone call. This was great, since my parents had cut off my cell coverage after they found out about me dropping out of MIT. Same kind of tough love they served their subordinates on Wall Street. They were happy to let me embrace my Italian heritage as long as I didn’t give up my Manhattan aspirations, but I wasn’t going to get a Math degree just because I could. Certainly not to please the people who had lied to me my entire life.
The David beside me—the one made of flesh—gestured with his oversized fingers for me to enter the phone booth. It was a preserved relic—a connection to the past, just like the Colosseum and all the other archaeological novelties in Rome. I stepped out of the moonlight and into the booth, where David’s intoxicating smell infiltrated the air, and we were squeezed in so tight that his Florentine leather squeaked against mine. With some adjustments, our bodies fit like puzzle pieces into the cramped space. David pulled a paperclip out of his pocket, bent it, and fit the tip into one of the tiny holes in the receiver, then jiggled it around. After a click, he hung up, careful to keep the paperclip in the hole. Then he counted—uno, due, tre—and lifted the receiver. We waited a few seconds, and when we heard the dial tone he handed me the phone.
I punched in the number and got a clear connection. The long bell-ringing of the American phone line made me home-sick; it was nothing like the snappy buzz of calls within Europe. The Roman beside me never questioned why I was calling a football player across the ocean. It wasn’t Brad Carmichael’s trite handsomeness—quarterback shoulders, blond hair, flat belly, and the aura of an All-American athlete—because these superficialities were wasted on me. My attraction to him had grown from his understanding of why I’d lied to my parents—allowing them to believe I was at MIT while I was in Italy, until my advisor called them—and his strength in calling me out on it before exposing his own vulnerabilities. He understood my rage at their mentioning the lost tuition when my identity was at stake. He always knew when to use words and when to use his powerful arms to hold me in silence.
When Brad’s voicemail picked up, I tried calling his room instead. I imagined the electrons swimming down through the metal cable of the phone box and underground for miles under the ocean, then overhead on poles until reaching the MIT frat house.
I’d met Brad in the library the prior Spring while I was researching my family tree and learned that I’d been adopted from an Italian orphanage at 18 months. I didn’t believe it until I called my parents a few moments later, and their response was silence. Although I was just a stranger in tears that day, Brad asked questions and consoled me about my discovery. I was stuck on this image of having spent my first birthday without a family, and Brad promised I’d never spend another birthday alone. It was a silly vow he couldn’t possibly keep, but it led to margaritas and jazz in Central Square. This was followed several months later by a Summer internship with him in the magnetics research lab at MIT, which was accepted by my parents as a legitimate excuse not to return to New York. I held the paperclip in place as the ringing continued, but I waited because I needed to speak in complete sentences and engage in a relationship beyond the ordering of food. I was tired of being the outsider.
Before Brad, I drank my way through the boredom of weekends, but it was the flicker of his disapproval about my behavior that drove me to get serious about Math. During our first snow that Fall, I’d struggled on a problem in Differential Geometry, yearning for understanding until the symbols magically transformed into a picture language which allowed me to see the connections that led to the answer. After scrawling the proof on the back of Brad’s practice schedule, I proudly admired its simple beauty. I was about to call my parents when it struck me that my math brain hadn’t come from them, but was from the coalescing genes of two random people living in Italy. That’s when I bought my ticket to Rome and flew away. Four months later, Christmas and New Year spent alone in barren cafés, my cash was dwindling.
“Hello?” I imagined, but all I heard was ringing. Maybe Brad had a game. The blisters behind my heels throbbed as the ring of the phone repeated its dull chorus. I longed for his grip on my waist. At the airport, when I had stood up to board he clung to my hand so our arms were outstretched and only our intertwined fingers were touching. He was so dejected and beautiful, allowing his face to expose how anxious he was about my leaving. He said he’d be lost without me, but we all need pain, or else how can we tell when we’re happy?
Leaning against David, while the phone continued ringing, I slid off my sandals to relieve my blisters on the cool metal floor. I didn’t pay attention to a woman who stood outside the booth glaring at us, except to note that she had a square face and was about the right age to be my mother. I wondered if my mother was on the lookout for me, the way I was always on the lookout for her. Garlic from Alfredo’s Restaurant wafted into the booth as a reminder that I couldn’t survive on cappuccino, even if it was the cheapest escape from hunger. I thought of telling David it was my birthday, but I couldn’t remember the word for “birthday” in Italian. It was almost over, anyway; my watch gave it another four minutes. I pushed my index finger against the fog on the glass, leaving my print—the unique identifier that connected me to two parents I still hadn’t found. I’d been fingerprinted at my Saturday banking job last fall, and I noted again how much easier it is to see our fingerprints through the image created by our touch, as opposed to just looking straight at the source.
The phone rang on and on. We ignored the woman with the square face knocking on the plexiglass window, whose hair, I noticed, was flat and thin, unlike my disobedient mass. The problem was that Brad’s complex inner life—always searching for the answer—was hidden in a package that was alluring to anyone, including that slut, Serena, who couldn’t tell the difference between his mind and that of any other player out on the field. She and the others were posting photos of all their togetherness. Meanwhile, Brad’s brief emails made me wonder if there was an implicit expiration date to the words, “I love you.”
The woman outside the booth finally walked away, exasperated, as I rubbed my scratchy eyes. After my invincible state during the process of falling in love, how could I now feel so vulnerable? It was wrenching. I just needed to hear Brad’s voice. Screw this quest. I still hadn’t found the people who abandoned me. The orphanage hadn’t given me any information and I was all out of leads. These people were a fiction; Brad was reality. I didn’t want to know who I was; I wanted to know who we were. He would never forget my birthday, but it was already early evening back home and I still hadn’t heard from him. In three minutes, it would be over. Sure, he couldn’t call, but there were other ways to communicate.
The ringing wailed on as a gypsy in a tattered dress approached with a baby clutched in her arms. She put out her hand, so I reached into the pocket of my jeans for change, but I felt nothing. The woman’s hair was dirty and she looked hungry. She had nothing for her baby except the tactile embrace of her arms. She leaned forward, pleading, so I reached further down into my pocket, until, at the very bottom, I felt my key from the pensione. I tried my other pocket, where I found a quarter, but it had no value here. Brad would’ve said there was no point in giving her money anyway; it wasn’t solving anything. He was always reaching conclusions, always predicting the end of the movie instead of watching it unfold. The woman’s head fell, and as she slunk away, I noticed that the moon had shifted since my arrival into the booth.
My contacts were irritating my eyes, so I removed them and tossed them to the ground. As David’s face came into my focus, his long, full eyelashes blinked. The phone was still ringing when he finally reached over and took the receiver from my hand. He had a look of sympathy on his face, as if he understood my disappointment and wanted to make things better—somehow, without any common words between us to do so. He removed the deformed paper clip from the hole in the receiver where it had fit in so snug and slipped it back in his pocket. The last ring faded into silence before he replaced the receiver on the hook with a click.
A breeze blew in the smell of roasting chestnuts from a street vendor. I lined up the two rows of teeth of my leather jacket and began zipping it shut, one tooth intertwined with the next like the DNA from my unknown parents. When I realized my jacket was caught in David’s jacket, he seemed amused. He untangled us, tipped his head forward and glanced down at the ground before licking his lips. Then he looked up, half-laughing, and flung his black hair out of his eyes with a swift motion of his head.
He unwrapped a lollipop from his jacket pocket and stuck it in his mouth. There was just one more minute left to my birthday. My past and future birthdays felt irrelevant during these sixty seconds. Foggy-eyed, I leaned down to pick up my sandals, but there wasn’t enough room, so David began to squeeze out of the booth to get out of my way. When the pressure of his body against mine started to release, I panicked and clutched his arm. Then, to keep him from moving, I stepped on his left foot. I didn’t know him and I never would, but none of that mattered because he was here with me right now, standing beside me in flip flops so I could feel his warmth under the balls of my bare feet. His skin was soft, nothing like the marble David. He popped the lollipop out of his mouth and placed it in mine. Artificial strawberry.
His lips separated slightly as he studied my face with his brown eyes. David whispered something in Italian which I didn’t need to understand, and then he took off his gloves without moving his gaze from my eyes. His breath warmed my face. I counted the chimes of the church bell: uno, due, tre, and on. Twelve strikes. Midnight. My birthday was over.
David removed the lollipop from my mouth and put it on the ledge below the phone while I licked the strawberry off my lips and drew a line on the fog clouding the booth window. David drew another line and then tapped on the point of intersection. His hand’s movement was expressive and intentional, like that of a painter. He touched my lips with the tender skin on the tip of his damp finger with such delicacy that I almost felt the ridges of his fingerprint. The feeling was soft and electric, causing me to shudder. Just that morning I had seen the painting in the Sistene Chapel of God, four fingers limp, reaching his forefinger out to grant life to Adam.
The Wind Calling
My dad might still be travelling through England in the caravan, raiding the place of what it's got; jobs, money, sites to stop in but I haven't heard from him in a long time. There were six of us when we started out, then four after Mum died. My elder brother drifted off. In the end, it was me and Dad.
He had his two china cats, a Spanish fan, pictures of hurling teams, and his dog Treacle, whose eyes are dark as muddy tracks. The past piled up, like the sections in our history books, Stone Age, Vikings and Tudors, which we had from school. Comics, photos, and games are stuffed in a corner as if we had never left. The way we lived was the way we were, running around on a midsummer evening, frenzied with the excitement of throwing stones in a pond, the hush of trees we sat under to gossip about Colum Brady, tall, with the squinty eye, blonde and eighteen with a dreamy look, as if he couldn't understand what he had been born into. Ever since I saw him on a site outside of Galway, he wore a long coat which came to the ground, scarves free as streams and waistcoats with flowers. Once he wore a cape. Jem thought he was Jesus but I knew he wasn't, because he had no beard. Jem thought a lot of him because he was always giving him balls, jigsaws, and once a cricket bat which he didn't know what to do with. Colum knew about things we only guessed at; the best form for a horse, their price, the names of the stars and planets. He showed us a swing made from a tyre, how we could nick a bike and a string of pearls he had lifted in a jewellers. He led Jem on; telling him things, setting dares, making up stories.
He talked about going to the south of France, to Saint Marie de la Mer, where gypsies came from; their spiritual home. I used to hope I could visit there, because it was warm and different. He knew the names of flowers, trees, hurly teams. I wondered how, when he had never gone to school, never been forced to, but my sister Rena said he must have got it from books nicked from a shop or a library. Dad said he was shifty and too clever and any fool knew that a lad who wore those shirts and thin ties was after something.
After days away, he would bring me a small piece of jewellery, or a stone with a glint, shells or ribbons and laces I could only dream of for tying up my hair. Cassie, his sister, and Rena plaited my hair, discussing styles, which colour would be best, whether they should brush up the stray strands or let them fall. They kept hair pins between their lips and in front of the mirror my father scavenged from a house that was demolished. They contemplated my face and what would suit it, tied clumps of hair in ribbons and set in slides.
They put me in dresses nicked from wherever they went. Preening themselves in the squat mirror, they were going to challenge the world in the dance halls and almost achieved it but that Cassie had a child at sixteen and went to live with a man who was older. Rena was fifteen and said she would never be caught that way and she wasn't, but she never had the chance with us to watch over, especially Jem. He was a lot of work. She taught him the most of what he would need, numbers and letters. When we stopped in country places we used to go walking the lanes for fruit. He would hang on my arm, almost up to my shoulder, swung my plastic bag with his, juices from the berries leaking after us. Thin and wiry, one of the men said, slight as a wave but I don't know. I've only seen waves once from a distance.
When he wasn't around, it was my job to find him, like the time one summer on one of the better sites. I went in the washroom and Colum was with him, flicking water, making Jem dance. Droplets flying, Colum had flooded the floor. I worried we might be kicked out by the warden but Jem got excited and ran out with his towel sopping wet.
Colum said we should get some air. I followed him out while Jem's voice could be heard in the distance. Colum asked if I'd been up this way before and did I know about the river hidden at the side of the canal where the grass was long and the willows threw down their branches?
When we got to the rough ground by the river, he pulled off his tee-shirt and said he was going in. He was so thin there were shadows on his ribs and his belly curved in.
‘That colour suits you,’ he said, referring to the red and lavender ribbon - and it pleased me.
Afterwards, we lay on the grass. Putting his mouth on mine, he drew me close and then it was too late. The day was heavy and stunning. He was the river going through me; words, songs; stories from his grandmother. He locked me into him. His fingers lay on my back, fragile as insects, his lips were going lower and lower. He ran his hand on my arm and down my legs as if he didn't quite believe I was there and water shifted. The air was still and loud with noise. A bird rose. I wanted to weep.
‘I'm thinking of leaving,’ he said.
He wanted to live in one place, be in the country and off the road. Wouldn't he need a job? I asked.
‘There are other ways,’ he said.
He would go back over where there was more space and he could be free. You could grow your own food, have hens, live in the fields. What about his family? Wouldn't they miss him? He said he didn't care. They'd have to get used to it. His father was a blackguard and the soonest he could, he was going off.
‘Would that be now or later?’ I asked.
He said he didn't know. He put his face to my neck and fiddled with the plait at the back of my head, pulling the ribbon off. He ran it over his knuckles so that they came white, then dragged it through his mouth behind his teeth. He tied it around my neck, saying it suited me there. His mouth was wet. I thought he would eat me. I couldn't say any more, even if I didn't want him to go, what he did or wanted to do, was always separate, grown up. I was scared. He wasn't like one of Brid Canty's boys who were in a remand centre after terrifying a shopkeeper with a knife. They were always out of control, though once Brid said at least her sons were men and not the like of other fellas wearing clothes the colour of petticoats.
I couldn't breathe. He eased himself up, brushed his hands on his trousers and looked across to the waste field where we had the parties. He wanted to go there, and would I come? I said I was expected, for there wasn't anyone to cook so I replaced my clothes, rearranged my hair and, carrying my shoes, walked back across the ragged grass. I watched him that night from our small window but drew the curtain and got on with washing the cabbage. That talk, notions of leaving, unsettled me.
Next time I saw him, it was outside and November. The men had made a bonfire and slung wood onto the rubbish so Rena, Jem, Dad and me stood in the warmth of the flames until the fireworks started. When the drink was gone, there was music and when that was done, singing. Voices seared out, 'The Wearing of the Green' and 'The Croppy Boy'. Words fizzed in my head. Jem gathered the lids of bins and hit them with sticks. Two years younger than me, he had always been bolder. Rockets shrieked into the sky; sequins of pink and blue thrown into the dark. Stars were falling. That was the last I saw of him.
Afterwards, when Dad went to pieces, a family took me in but I never got used to them. I still can't live in a house, something to do with walls, one room leading to another, so you can't get out. One night, I woke to a fierce howling. It was the flutter of birds in the eaves and the wind, so strong, like a child calling.
They let me go back today, but he drifted, saying he couldn't bear the closeness of cities. He was cramped. He didn't bother to find work. There was no point, everything he wanted, or valued or prayed for had sunk. When he came for me, the strain on his face told more than I wanted; Jem wandering off that evening and not being seen since. It was never the same again. Dad started drinking and said Jem had escaped into the air on wings and he wished he could join him. I had dreams of my father; the rosary passing through his hands, purple beads like blood, the cross falling, repeating the words in a low murmur.
Rena left. She had an eye for the road. We got a text from the coast, then Birmingham, Liverpool and Leeds. She was working her way from us. I had to read and re-read the words to him. The last time she wrote she had got a job, in a salon, she called it. I sat on my nails so as not to bite them, hoping she would come home.
I'm in a job like hers, though I look after flowers not hair. I am a gardener - or I want to be. I got that from my mother, liking gardens and plants. Dad said the hanging baskets were her idea. They were not strong, only plastic, so the holes kept getting bigger until they rotted. The strain was too much and telling so Dad had to take them down.
I want to see Dad. He could be anywhere, up north, in Scotland, maybe gone back over. When the weather was good he wanted to be there, stalking the fairs, looking for cattle. I see him journeying but lost. I'd like to tell him how I ran into Colum in Balham and how he said he recognised me by the back of my head and my voice. Sitting on a red plush seat under a picture of Queen Victoria, he rose to kiss me, as though it was days, not years since we met.
He told me Cassie was still on the road but with another man and three kids. I asked what happened to his clothes and he said they were not needed on the buildings. He smiled that nice wide smile but he had changed. His face was harder and tanned. I read lines in his brows and round his mouth. Time had got him. He was in a room in a tall house with small windows but as soon as he got money he was off, he said. That could take a long time I said.
‘As long as it takes, I'll wait,’ he said.
I asked what had been bothering me for years. Jem. Colum looked into his drink. The silence lasted years. He fiddled with the beer mat, passing it between his fingers. He said he went to the river that evening. Jem had arrived up saying he had a good pile of cans and he was going night fishing. He asked Colum if he wanted to go along. Colum said he hadn`t time and it wasn`t his idea of fun, sitting around in the wet dark waiting for a fish to decide to bite. They had a row. Colum had said Jem was a young pup not fit to be out on his own. Jem said he had seen Colum and me by the willow. If Colum didn`t give him the price of a bottle of whiskey, he`d tell our dad. Colum told him to head off.
That was the last he saw of him; Jem wearing a long dark coat, carrying a rod and his bag. Later he heard of men seeking him by the fields and the canal, all the way to the river. It was lugged up with leaves, rotting pieces of wood from old boats, heads of elderflower glowing their clouds of white, cartons, dust, shadows and leaves, floating downstream.
Prole Judge’s Comments
There were a lot of wonderful entries for the Prolitzer Prize, the standard was high and the stories were incredibly well written. Judging, I was delighted by a strong sense of character and the scope of the work. The stories varied from the personal to the political, some spanned years and whole life histories, others hinged on a single moment.
I read all the stories and put several aside to read again. There were some that came so close to making my shortlist. I loved the writing. I loved the place, but, sometimes it felt like the story may have originally been a longer piece and omitted something a reader needed to know. Other stories could have been stronger without the last line or so.
The stories I loved included a strong sense of character, and a sense of place so vivid I could smell it. I could see the world of the story and couldn't put it down until the end. This is the mark of a good story, for me, the ability to take a reader elsewhere and keep us there until the end. The mark of a great one is when, even after I've finished reading, the story stays with me.
I chose Janos as the winner for this reason. The writing seduced me into a world of shark's teeth, fish heads and the dangerous allure of strangers. The ending of a story can be where some stories fall down, but the last line was electric. There was such a sense that something had changed, it felt sinister, yet exciting. This was a story I felt couldn't be any other length. It started and ended exactly where the story needed to be. Every word felt necessary.
The stories I chose as runners up, Fingerprints, and The Wind Calling, shared this quality. Fingerprints impressed me with its feeling of urgency. The use of space in the story was outstanding. Two people who speak different languages share a phone booth. The piece explores closeness and distance throughout, while the sense of the intimate space creates a wonderful tension. It was beautifully done.
The other story I picked, The Wind Calling, is almost the exact opposite to Fingerprints. It roams amongst places and people. It spans years, yet the reader could go on this journey because of the precision of the writing. We could see the story so clearly we were able to follow the characters from open fields into cities. The writer made smart choices about varying pace and the intensity of description according to the feelings of the characters. These qualities stood out for me.
Angela Readman's stories and prose have won The Costa Short Story Award, The National Flash Fiction Competition, Inkspill, the Fish Short Memoir Prize, and been placed in The Asham Prize, The Short Story Competition, The Bath Story Award, and The Manchester Fiction Prize. She has had prose published in Mslexia, Prole, Black and Blue, Matter, and anthologies including The Bristol Prize, and Unthology (Unthanks.)
Her debut collection, Don't Try This it at Home (And Other Stories) won a Saboteur Award in 2015, and The Rubery Book Award. She also writes poetry, her collection is out with Nine Arches in November 2016.