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.
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.
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.
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.
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.