I came relatively late to writing short fiction but it is a fiercely demanding and beautiful form that I love.
about my short fiction
I came to writing short stories late, after I’d been writing novels for a while. I was studing for an MPhil in Writing at the University of Glamorgan; I’d finished the novel that wasn’t yet The Mathematics of Love, but still had a workshop full of keen and knowledgeable readers available.
One of the stories I workshopped there, Maura’s Arm, was awarded third place in the 2014 Bridport Prize competition; the anthology was my first publication credit, and despite all the emails I’ve had since about contracts and prizes, in a way the excitement of that day has never been surpassed. Another story, Russian Tea, gained a place in All The King’s Horses, the Fish Short Histories competition anthology for 2005/6.
Since then I’ve had my fiction broadcast on Radio 4, as well as writing a pseudonymous erotic short story for the anthology In Bed With, and a tribute to (and perhaps riff off) my great-great-great-uncle J S Lefanu’s tales of horror and the uncanny, in Dreams of Shadow and Smoke. I love being commissioned to write short fiction, so if you would like to discuss that, click through to Contact.
read an extract of ‘closing time’
My most recent story to be published is ‘Closing Time’, in Volume II of Swan River Press’s Uncertainties series. To buy a copy of the book, click through to Swan River Press.
I was just de-mobbed from my job round the corner that I didn’t talk about, but which gave me a WRACS gratuity I’d already spent on a second-hand Rolleiflex, and gave me too a determination never again to take an order from anyone – man or woman.
Through a bombed-out gap that smiled at me like a child with a newly missing tooth, I saw the studio: saw it, and wanted it, and somehow borrowed the money to buy it from the old painter who’d trained with Burne-Jones but couldn’t cope with living alone now that his wife had died. Then, flushed with pride and excitement and nerves, I explored every cranny of my new possession, and right at the back I found the door and tried it.
It opened onto a brick wall.
So that was that. I was too young to be worried and too old to be curious. And too busy? Too hungry? Too sick of damage, so soon after the War, to risk making more? Maybe. I had more than enough to do as it was, in conjuring a life from the wreckage. I wanted to go on, not to un-bury the past, however fresh the earth was over it. The door stayed closed and locked, and the layers of paint on it accumulated.
I didn’t think about it again for years, not till the winter of ’63, when old people and babies died in the iron-deep cold, and everyone’s lives became an inch-by-inch fight to keep the ice out of their bones and bodies. Some lost the fight. My sister Sarah was one.
A week after the funeral the cold cracked and the thaw came and, from God only knew where, dirt dripped and crept and soaked into the studio. Panda-eyed models and their minders stumbled on the swollen floor, and dark mould crawled up the walls. The leaks kept on coming, and the smells got worse but, try as I might, I could not find out where the water was coming from – a roof, a gutter, a burst tank? – nor who owned what, in the jumble of buildings onto which we backed.
I spend hours on the telephone, days writing letters, and got only tales of lost files and merged departments and un-forwarded messages. Sometimes I would stand and stare at the wall as if my gaze could bore through it and show me some thin, relentless water-course. But it was as futile as trying to remember something that your mind has chosen to bury forever.
Only then did I remember the door at the back of the darkroom.