BBC Young Writer’s Award 2018 & short fiction extract from Tabitha Rubens

Hello all!

Apologies for the quiet over here — I’m currently typesetting and polishing up 3 of Cups Press’ second anthology On Bodies. But I’m popping back today because I get to share something really exciting with you.

As you may know, I’m really into short fiction. I’m always on the hunt for fresh new voices for anthologies I work on, and meaty new collections to dive into. In fact, I did a post at the end of last year detailing my favourites, and those I was really looking forward to.

As such, I’m particularly fond of the BBC National Short Story Awards as they always introduce me to new voices or names I’ve seen floating around that I’ve always thought “yes, I need to read their work”.  This year, the thirteenth year of the awards, was a pretty tremendous one, because there was an all-female shortlist line up, collated in this handy pocket-sized book.

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Alongside from the main award is my personal favourite, the BBC Young Writers Awards. Open to writers aged 14 to 18 years, this year they saw a whopping 962 entries! There is a huge wealth of talent and passion in our teen population, and this shortlist always demonstrates some of the best and brightest. This shortlist this year has been phenomenal — impassioned stories of mental health, loss, desperation, and a desire for change.

I have the immense pleasure of sharing with you today an extract from Oh Sister, Invisible by Tabitha Rubens, a 16 year old writer from Islington in London. Oh Sister, Invisible is a poetic story of helplessness as a sister watches her sibling struggle with anorexia. A story of grief, and of courage, it is intensely personal and conveys the unique power of writing to convey empathy an experience. 

As such, please be aware this excerpt references eating disorders.

 

 

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I was always sure my sister was woven from golden thread.

I was merely yarn.

She could stop the breeze with a fingertip and catch sunlight in her fists.

One warm summer night of a distant year, she dragged me from my bed and we climbed out of the bathroom window. With one hand on the drainpipe and the other gripping hers, I pulled myself after her and stretched out on the terracotta roof. We watched the fireflies circling the moon and decided what to be when we were grown.

June Solstice arrived and my sister filled my palms with honeysuckle flowers. She taught me to tease the string of nectar from the pale yellow petals and drop the sweet elixir onto my tongue. Dreams are made of such sweetness.

When the weather turned, and rain drummed across the ceiling, I’d play the piano so that I could hear her sing. My sister could sing as if the notes were alive; as though the crescendos were rushing through her blood and the symphonies reveling in scandalous secrets, unveiling their enigmas in a flurry of sound.

When my sister sung, the whole world stood still.

In mid-July joyful melodies filled the house: Italian love songs and the occasional musical ballad. But at the dawn of August, her preference diverged to tragedy, and her voice would waver in mourning, and break apart as she choked upon each accelerando. By September, her grief grew until she forced herself to settle on silence.

On Halloween I brushed her lips with indigo ink and plastered Titanium White over her prominent cheekbones. A skeletal silhouette stared back at me.

 

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The winner of the awards is announced on the 2nd of October at the awards ceremony, beamed right into your ears via Front Row on BBC Radio 4, and the winning story will be made available in full on the BBC Radio 1 website.

In the meantime, check out the other extracts here, available to read or listen to. You can find out more about the awards and follow them via Twitter using the #BBCYWA hashtag.

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The BBC Young Writers Award 2018 is in association with Cambridge University and First Story. First Story was started in 2008 by the writer William Fiennes (author of The Music Room and The Snow Geese) and former teacher Katie Waldegrave (author of The Poets’ Daughters) with the mission of changing lives through writing. First Story exists to bring talented, professional writers into secondary schools serving low-income communities to work with teachers and students to foster confidence, creativity and writing skills. Since 2008, First Story has run almost 400 residencies in schools, given 8000 students the chance to take part in weekly creative writing workshops, worked with 400 acclaimed authors and 500 teachers and librarians, published almost 400 anthologies, and enabled over 140,000 pieces of original student writing. More information here.

Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 by Naoki Higashida | 1 Minute Reviews

Back when I was still wandering the waters of am I autistic, I read Naoki Higashida’s first book The Reason I Jump. I was on a train from the bookshop in the Chilterns back to my regular bookshop to meet my colleagues for work drinks, and I whizzed through it. I arrived flapping and buzzing with information, which they kindly took on board even though I was definitely oversharing in that autism specific interest kind of way.

When the publicity bods at Hodder told me last year that another of Naoki’s books had been translated into English, that rush came back to me.

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Naoki Higashida, an autistic Japanese man, once again delivers in creating a wonderful book of short essays, poetry and short fiction. This edition was originally published in Japan in 2015, deemed as the most illuminating of Higashida’s books by author David Mitchell. Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 also includes a number of essays that were originally printed in the Japanese edition of The Big Issue, which he quite regularly writes for.

Higashida’s short essays are insightful, illuminating and beautiful; he has a way with words that captivates me. As a mostly non verbal autistic man, he writes about the ways people treat similarly disabled people – talking as though they aren’t there, habitually removing their dignity or choices for the sake of ease, the frustration of being unable to communicate the nuances of your needs. His writing is essential reading for anyone interested in disability rights, as well as for anyone wanting to know more about autistic people.

Living in a way different to everyone else requires a degree of courage.

His poetry is rooted in dreams; simplistic, poignant and beautiful. His writing is lyrical, careful. His observations on human behaviour are astute.

GRATITUDE

The point

of gratitude

lies in first

feeling gratitude

that one owes

gratitude.

As an autistic person, I can say that autistic and neurotypical people will find a lot to love here.

This is a book that can be both devoured in one go and read a short essay at a time. It is a book that settles in your mind, flickering thoughts that linger.

I’m very hopeful that more of Higashida’s books will be translated by David Mitchell and KA Yoshida over the years, as his writing floors me every time.

Buy it from Book Depository!

What to read next:

Want to read more books about or by autistic people? Check out the Essential Autistic Reading List.

Thank you ever so much to Sceptre Books and the team at Hodder for sharing this important book with me.

Do What You Want edited by Ruby Tandoh & Leah Pritchard | 1 Minute Reviews

I’m absolutely in love with the array of essay books that are being released now; The Good Immigrant, Nasty Women, and Know Your Place, which is still being crowdfunded, are three that spring to mind.

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What started out as a project to raise some money for charities such as Mind and Beat has become a brilliant zine, a handbook for this generation to navigate mental health problems.

I’ve long admired Ruby Tandoh’s writing, both her long pieces and her threads of tweets, and so I was immediately drawn to this collection. Tandoh and Pritchard have brought together such a great collection of writers and artists, and so this zine absolutely hums with honesty, talent and vulnerability.

If you want an idea of the calibre of writing available in this zine, the team have made two essays available online: Into the Depths by Martha Rose Saunders, about autism, desire and passing; and On the Realities of Life as a Black Woman with Borderline Personality Disorder by Christine Pungong, one of the most affecting essays in the collection.

Also featured are recipes, checklist guides to loving yourself and practical advice about seeking help for your mental health problems.

The zine has been re-released for a second printing in August this year; you can preorder it here. If you want to get your hands on a physical copy earlier however, hit up their stockists listed on the website to see if they have some left. Ebook editions are also available.

What to read next:

Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | 1 Minute Reviews

Dear Ijeawele started life as a series of letters to a friend of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, after she was asked for advice on how to raise their new baby girl as a feminist.

When a couple of years ago a friend of mine from childhood, who’d grown into a brilliant, strong, kind woman, asked me to tell her how to raise her baby girl a feminist, my first thought was that I did not know.

It felt like too huge a task.

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Adichie writes with wit and gentleness but with a commanding voice that draws attention, as with her fiction novels. While this book is only small, it covers a wide range of topics including instilling a love of reading, toy choice, conversations about sexuality, competition and changing oneself in order to promote your child’s feminist learnings.

This small book packs a punch, and is an essential for any feminist starter kit, along with Adichie’s previous feminist essay We Should All Be Feminists (and there is certainly a relevant overlap in content between the two). These two books are great primers for any person interested in finding out more about feminism and why we need it, leading readers into more adventurous in depth works by writers such as Audre Lorde, Angela C Davies and bell hooks.

I think it would also make a great present to any new mothers, as was its original use.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to the team at 4th Estate and Harper Collins for sharing this important book with me.

Nasty Women by 404 Ink | 1 Minute Reviews

What does it mean to be a woman in the 21st century? What does it mean to stand up against misogyny, racism and classism alongside sexism?

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Independent Scottish Publishers 404 Ink seek to answer this question in this excellent collection of essays and interviews from a number of brilliant women.

Originally released as a Kickstarter that was 369% funded, the Nasty Women collection is now widely available, as is their first edition of the 404 Ink Literary Magazine, Error.

The collection covers a wide range of topics – the feminist leanings of foraging, accountability in the punk scene, classism within the arts, the difficulty of living multiple racial identities, the struggle of loving Courtney Love.

I’m pleased to say that this essay collection holds up against my recent favourite, The Good Immigrant. Every single essay made me pause for thought and I enjoyed reading it an article at a time, allowing them to settle in my mind. Genuinely, this took me a little while to read because I wanted the extra time to connect to the voices and their experiences. I was sent a proof copy for review which didn’t include the articles from Kaite Welsh and Anna Cosgrove, which I’m sure are also brilliant. I was very impressed with the calibre and range of writing available.

I feel that this collection would stand up well in a feminist starter pack of sorts, as we continue to gather around the rallying moniker of Nasty Women. Buy a copy for the young and old women in your life; there is something for everyone here.

I’m really excited to see what else 404 Ink have in store for us, and I’m going to order their first issue right now.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to 404 Ink for sharing a review copy with me.