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.

Short and Sweet: How about a novella?

One of my favourite things in the world is finding a well-curated novella table in a bookshop. Waterstones Kensington always has a couple of great ones – translated novellas, seasonally appropriate novellas and a truly great one of Bowie’s favourites where I found one of the below. Novellas can be a wonderful way to explore ideas, and I’ve been very lucky to read some really great ones in the last year.

Here’s a few of them.

9781447283904A Whole Life is a German novella originally published in 2014 and translated into English late last year. Seethaler’s gentle story focusses on the life of Andreas Egger, a man who lives in – and for – the wildness of the mountains. Arriving in the Austrian Alps as an orphan and taken in by a farming family, Egger grows, falls in love and is enlisted for the war. With the same gentle melancholy spiced with humour as John Williams’ Stoner, A Whole Life is a beautiful short meditation on one man’s life. It’s really very enjoyable and the cover is so absolutely divine. Thank you to Picador for sharing this copy with me to review.

 

9780486437132Passing by Nella Larsen is a beautiful novella about the dangers of being black in the 1920s. This is the one I discovered thanks to Bowie, albeit sadly posthumously. Light skinned Irene’s life turns upside down when she meets an old school friend Clare Kendry, who admits that she has been “passing for white”, to the extent that her racist husband believes her to be a white person. The prose absolutely simmers with tension as Irene is drawn into Clare’s lie, and Clare digs her claws into Irene’s life.  At only 94 pages it makes a great single sitting read. But don’t be fooled by its diminutive length; this is an incredibly important, powerful novel about passing privilege, and the violent threat racism in America, even in your own home or marriage; it sadly remains as relevant today as it was almost 100 years ago.

9780141188348Sticking with tense thrillers, I must also recommend the lesser known work of Muriel Spark, The Driver’s Seat. Spark’s story is of Lise, the woman in bright colours, who is looking for someone, a man, on her trip to the South. Peppered in the prose are nods to the future, where the people she passes will eventually testify seeing her before she died. A crime in reverse, with a really quite terrifying protagonist. Thrilling, tense, often times peculiar as Lise finds her way around an unnamed city looking for a man, but for what? And who is the man?

Muriel Spark is author of one of my other favourite novellas, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Thoroughly recommend both of these very different books.

 

9781447269991Meanwhile, if you’re looking for something charming and light, The Salmon Who Dared to Leap Higher is easily the most whimsical book I’ve read recently. This beautiful little fable by Korean poet Anh Do-Hyeon is literally the story of a salmon migrating upriver, but it is also more than that. He speaks to the river, he falls in love, he questions life’s purpose. There is something a little Tove Jansson about it, but that may be just because I’ve been filling my mind with philosophical Moomin tales.

I recommend it, wholeheartedly.

 

What novellas have you been reading this year? Tell me in the comments, as I’m always on the hunt for new ones!

How Much the Heart Can Hold, Short Story Collection | 1 Minute Reviews

Books of short stories, it turns out, are great for times when you cannot concentrate on a full novel. Nerys (pictured below) arrived on the scene on the 12th of April, a contradiction of teeth and cuddles, and so my attention has been somewhat divided. Short stories, I thought. This is where to go!

My wonderful friend Alice Slater, who runs the fabulous Short Story Salon at Waterstones Gower Street, confirmed this idea a solid one, as she often recommends them to new parents. My child may be furrier than average but her attention needs are quite up there.

Anyway, onto the book.

This stunning collection of short stories is the brainchild of Sceptre, a literary and non fiction imprint of Hodder and Staughton. Not your typical collection about romance, How Much a Heart Can Hold features a single story for each of the seven types of love – la douleur exquisite, eros, agape, pragma, philautia, mania and storge.

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The paperback edition, due out in August, also features an eighth story by Phoebe Roy about love changing over the seasons. A long time fan of Phoebe’s tweets and writing, I’m very much looking forward to this addition.

The collection boasts an impressive array of artists.

Rowan Hisayo Buchanon‘s take on la douleur exquisite (the sweet pain of unrequited or unreturned love) Before It Disappears follows Joy, an anorexic woman who refuses to eat and the husband who desperately wants to save her. This story is visceral and reminiscent of The Vegetarian by Han Kang.

One More Thing Coming Undone is a great story of first, burning loves you cannot forget by D.W. Wilson – tactile, melancholy and rich in Canadian life.

This is followed by a great short story White Wine about siblings battling racism and microaggressions after their mother’s death by Nikesh Shukla. I’m already a big fan of Nikesh’s work, though I am yet to explore any of his novels – a treat for later this year.

Donal Ryan explores complex mental health problems and obsession in Magdalena, Who Slips Sometimes. This is a furious, messy story that rips through the pages.

Codas by Carys Bray, covering familial love, is one of my favourites of the collection. Louise struggles to balance her roles of daughter and mother when her father has an accident at a football game. A gentle, lovely family tale.

The Love Story by Grace McCleen follows a young girl dealing with the beginnings of understanding romance and desire as concepts, but struggles to align them with her parents.

Bernadine Evaristo closes the collection with her take on love for humanity, writing as God. It truly is an impassioned essay about the cruelties of the world as much as a piece of fictional writing.

This is a really interesting collection

Interested? Get it here in Hardback or preorder the Paperback with the extra story.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Sceptre for sharing the copy with me.

The following stories require trigger warnings:

  • Before It Disappears: anorexia, eating disorders, self harm.
  • The Human World: sexual abuse, child sexual abuse, references to suicide.