New Voices: Gavin Extence on his debut novel The Universe Versus Alex Woods

From Hodder & Stoughton, Jan 2013.

Gavin Extence’s debut novel The Universe Versus Alex Woods was published in January this year and has since been picked as one of the Waterstones 11 for 2013.

Described as “one of the year’s most anticipated debuts” by TimeOut, it’s is a heartwarming story of friendship, morality and humanity, with an unforgettable 17-year-old at its centre. Drawing on the writings of Kurt Vonnegut and John Irving, Gavin blends humour and tragedy to take us to life’s darkest moments – and show us the light.

As part of Litro‘s New Voices series of interviews with newly published authors, Bella Whittington talks to Gavin about teenage narrators, why authors need to be market-savvy, and the surprises along the road to publication.

Gavin Extence, 30.

The first time we meet Alex Woods, he has an urn full of ashes and a stash of marijuana in his car. It’s a pretty bold beginning to a novel that goes on to address some tricky themes, not least assisted suicide. Did you have this dramatic opening in mind when you first conceived the novel?

By the time I started the book, I did, yes. It wasn’t the first thing I had in mind when I was plotting out the book, though – I had Alex’s voice very early on and Alex’s character followed from that. But I actually wrote the opening scene as a hook to attract an agent and a publisher, so it was a really useful focus. As soon as I hit upon the idea of starting almost at the end and working backwards, I could see how the whole structure of the book would work.

The hook obviously worked! It’s interesting that you were thinking about how to attract an agent and publisher so early on. Was publication always your goal?

Yes, it was. I knew writing would be a fairly serious hobby if nothing else, but I’d always hoped to get published. I read a lot of stuff on the internet about commissioning and how the whole publishing process works, which was a really valuable thing to do. I understood that you’ve got to make a pretty quick impact, especially when you’re dealing with agents who receive 10 or 20 manuscripts a day.

So, did you never consider self-publishing?

No, I wouldn’t have self-published. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do it – I need affirmation from someone else! And while there is self-published writing that does very well, that gets picked up and works, I still think it’s most aspiring authors’ ambition to be traditionally published.

Alex is such a memorable character, somewhere between child and adult, naïve and intelligent. Was his age a key factor?

Yes, absolutely. He had to be 17. That was what I always had in my head. He’s 18 by the end of the book, and I wanted him to be right on the cusp of adulthood at the point of narrating it, even though most of the story takes part as he’s going through adolescence. I’m a big fan of teenage narrators, too – I like what you can do in terms of exploring the large, adult ideas that most of us start to think about in adolescence. I think you can deal with very weighty things without them ever becoming overblown or pretentious, and that was really what attracted me to Alex as a 17-year-old narrator. I found Kurt Vonnegut a really useful springboard for talking about these kinds of things. I had the idea of a cross-generational friendship from early on, and Kurt Vonnegut became a part of that, because he is someone who can bridge the gap between young adults and older generations.

There’s a lot of humour in the book, but also a lot of darkness. Did you find it tricky to balance these two elements?

There were lots of tricky things about the book, but that wasn’t one of them. I always knew what the tone had to be and I wouldn’t have wanted to write a book that was bleak and black. A lot of writers I really love, like Kurt Vonnegut and John Irving, do tragicomedy really well – and that was basically my aspiration: to write the kind of book I like to read. Humour was a big part of that, but humour is also quite true to life. As humans, we can deal with tragedy by laughing or crying – they’re both equally valid responses.

So: you had your manuscript ready, you knew you wanted to be published traditionally… and suddenly Hodder & Stoughton pre-empted the world rights. Did you ever expect such a rapid response from publishers?

No, I didn’t. I had very modest ambitions. From my research, I knew how hard it is to get published, and how many manuscripts there are floating around, and this set me up to not except too much. The general message out there is that very few books get published and that, of those, very few will make any money. So, just getting published was my first ambition. Things went much better than I really could have hoped! It’s strange, though, as a debut writer – you have to have a mixture of realism and idealism. I don’t think anyone would undertake writing without that I-could-really-make-this-work element. It’s an odd double-think situation: you’re expecting the worst but there’s a small part of you hoping for the best.

By the sounds of it, you really did your research about getting published. Would “research” be your main piece of advice for other aspiring writers?

It’d certainly be high up on my list of advice. That and “practise a lot”. Practise is invaluable. I spent a year or so writing without really getting anywhere. During that time, I also researched publishing quite thoroughly. You need to know how the process works and how tough it is out there, but you then have to put it right to the back of your mind because it’s quite a daunting thing to research.

Once your novel had been acquired, how did you find the publishing process? What was it like being edited?

So far, it’s been a lovely, lovely experience. The editing didn’t take long at all. There was very little change from the advance copy, which was more or less the manuscript as I submitted it. The changes have been minimal – some sections have been tidied up and shortened and a few bits have been tinkered with. There have been very few significant changes, really.

Did you ever worry that by dealing with such controversial ideas, you might deter some publishers? Or that they might want to dilute some of the issues?

No, I don’t think that would have been an issue with UK publishers. I also didn’t intend to write something topical in the first place – I genuinely started with the characters and developed the story from there. I suppose the surprise for me was that it got picked up as a crossover. I conceived it as an adult book, but it’s been marketed as 14-plus. I’m really pleased with that, but because of the darkness of some of the material, that was a bit of a surprise for me.

Even before your novel was published, it received a lot of attention. Has the whole experience been a wonderful rollercoaster, or have you felt a certain pressure for it to perform well?

It has been amazing. I think it’s exceeded my expectations in almost every area. Also, a lot of what’s happened in terms of the Waterstones 11 and the buzz around the book has come from my publishers. They’ve been so behind the book, and so many people have been so enthusiastic, and I think that’s quite infectious. Inevitably, though, the pressure is on for Book Two! The wonderful thing about debut novelists is that there’s no pressure, no expectations – you have the freedom to do what you want. I don’t feel any pressure with The Universe of Alex Woods – it’s out of my hands now!

I’ve also heard rumours of a film… You have a PhD in Film Studies, did you write this book with cinematic appeal in mind?

Not at all, getting published was a big enough mountain to climb! The film rumour was strange. At the beginning it was just a rumour, but there has subsequently been interest, which I think the original rumour generated – a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Even so, it’s in very early stages. And it’s certainly not anything that I had considered… except only as an idle, late-at-night-before-falling-asleep fantasy. It wasn’t something I realistically expected and I’m still quite cautiously thinking, “Well, we’ll see what happens.”

One of my favourite aspects of the book is how in control of the narrative Alex is – he’s telling his story and the end is very much the end. Is this the last we’ll see of Alex, or might you revisit his story in a sequel?

It was always conceived as a standalone story, so there are no plans to revisit it in that way. Sometimes it is good to know when to leave something alone! I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out, and there’s always a danger you can take away some of that with unnecessary sequels. The only way I can envisage revisiting it is if there was a screenplay potential. Otherwise, that’s it for Alex. I’ll let him get on with his life without me now.

The Universe of Alex Woods is out now from Hodder & Stoughton in hardback and ebook.

New Voices: Hanna Jameson on her debut novel Something You Are

(c) Ben Grubb Photography
(c) Ben Grubb Photography

Hanna Jameson’s debut novel Something You Are was published in December 2012, when Jameson was just twenty-two. Currently a student at the University of Sussex, Jameson first came up with the idea for her London Underground series at the age of seventeen. She met her agent after a gig for the band The Darkness, and Something You Are was sold to a new kid on the block of London publishing, Head of Zeus, a month into her first term at university.

Influenced by Tarantino, David Peace, and (most of all) Nick Cave, Jameson’s writing has been described as being like “an angel on speed”. In Something You Are, she’s created a twisted, dark and very sophisticated London underworld that will stay in your head long after you’ve finished reading it.

In the first of Litro‘s series of interviews with newly published authors, Robin Stevens talks to Jameson about her experiences of writing her first novel and its road to publication.

Where did the idea for the novel come from? What part of it came to you first?

The original idea I had when I was seventeen. It was much more idealistic, much more of a straightforward love story — although it was still pretty horrible! Then during the rewrites it got so much darker, and now I wouldn’t describe it as a love story at all. The idea just came from a character who was a contract killer, and then he brought his own story with him.

And Something You Are’s protagonist is this contract killer, Nic. He’s an interesting character, a bit Philip Marlowe in a way. He’s not totally misogynistic but he seems to have moments where he’s uncomfortable with women. What was it like to write in his voice?

Weirdly, it was easier than writing female characters. I’m actually finding it hard to get the voices for the female characters that I’m writing for the second and third novels right — but writing Nic was surprisingly smooth. I don’t know what that says about my own state of mind.

You seem to be able to get into other people’s mindsets well, though! I particularly loved Daisy. She’s a very interesting character. Instead of being one of those throwaway women you often find in gangland crime novels, she’s a very rounded person. I liked her a lot.

Oh, that’s really cool! I loved writing Daisy, she was so much fun but completely accidental. She didn’t play any part until the chapter in which she first appeared, and the twist that came out of that chapter was so entertaining that I decided to bring her back. She’s got such a cool voice that came out of nowhere. I was instantly like, “Oh my god! This character has to come back!”

You’ve said that you’ve got ideas for the next two novels in your series. Are those broad-brush plots or detailed plans?

I’ve got details in the sense that I can kind of see the novels in my head, but I don’t really write outlines down — I’m not very good at doing that planning thing that they always try to teach you to do in school! I find it kind of pointless. So I’ve got outlines — but I don’t like to plan too much. It just hampers the story. You find yourself looking at it far too much, and it doesn’t leave a lot of room for interesting, spontaneous things to happen.

Do you enjoy letting your characters surprise you?

I like it when a character unexpectedly gets killed off! You don’t get to do that when you’ve planned every single chapter. Daisy wouldn’t have come out of a detailed plan at all — there wouldn’t have been room for her.

Five years have gone by since you had that first idea. Has this meant that your perspective about the story has changed?

Yes, definitely. I think just from reading more books and watching more films I got ideas for how to make it darker, more twisted. Also, my editor — my English Literature teacher Paul Davies — had a massive influence on it. He made it a lot less flowery, and he told me it was OK to not have so many redeeming features for my characters.

What influences did you have during the writing process? You talk about reading more and seeing more movies — what were those?

Definitely films like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. I think Tarantino had a massive impact, and so did the writer David Peace. Peace completely changed my writing style. He writes in such a short, staccato, poetic way, and reading that made me completely cut my sentence structures down and describe violence in a very different way. In terms of writing now, I’d say that Nick Cave probably has a bigger influence over my writing than anyone else.

Do you read a lot around the crime genre, or read outside the genre and bring influences in?

At one point in my life I read a lot of crime thrillers, but I got bored of them really quickly — which is probably why I ended up writing the book that I did. I just found the crime genre so formulaic. It got to the point where I felt like every book I was reading was the same one, that I wasn’t being shown anything new or original, or given any characters that interested me, so I started reading in different genres. At the moment I’m reading a lot of Neil Gaiman novels.

You talk about Tarantino, who’s often very stylised in his presentation of violence. Do you see yourself as writing reality or fantasy?

I don’t want to be the sort of writer who says she’s written a social commentary, in an overly pompous way, because I haven’t written a social commentary. I’ve just written stuff that I see around me, stuff that I see reflected in the news and so on. So there is an element of truth in it, but ultimately as an author I’m in the entertainment industry. I’m in the business of making things up to entertain people, books that people can escape into. So in that sense I’m writing from the point of view of fantasy — but there are elements of it that are rooted in truth.

The book is set in London. At times your vision of it is very bleak. How do you actually feel about London?

I used to really love it. I used to be really obsessed with it. I went there every single weekend when I was a teenager because that was where the bands were. I still like it when I go there, but I definitely wouldn’t compare it to Brighton — that’s the city where I live, the place I love most. London’s too big and sprawling, and full of places that I don’t like and places that intimidate me.

How much work did your agent and your publishers do on the book? What stage did they see it at first, and how much influence did they have over its direction?

My publisher and my agent didn’t have too much editorial input, actually, because I don’t like too many people to have that kind of influence over my work. I think it’s OK for people to suggest things, but I really only take ideas on board from one or two people — otherwise everyone who reads it starts to have an opinion on it and it gets really diluted and weird. Whereas if you have the sort of editor, like Paul, who thinks along the same lines as you and whose work you really respect, I much prefer him to have that sort of massive sway over the novel. Later on, my agent and my publishers made suggestions, but they didn’t make any big changes to it — which was fortunate!

I’ve read in another interview that you wrote the last two thirds of the novel very fast. What was that like?

Oh god. I think I went just a little bit mental — or even more mental than I usually am when I’m writing! It was because I got signed when I wasn’t actually sending anything out. I stumbled upon my agent by bumping into someone at a party. I’d actually given up on sending the novel out. I was at an aftershow party after a gig for The Darkness, and my boyfriend of the time introduced me to a friend who happened to work at a literary agency, which is now my agency!

So that was when you’d written a third of the novel!

Yeah! I signed three days after that chance meeting, and my agent very politely said to me, “I don’t want to put a deadline on you, but could you get it finished by the time I go to the Frankfurt book fair?” Which left me about two months to get sixty thousand words done. I didn’t sleep in that time. I didn’t have a plan — I just wrote. Thank god in the end it was actually OK.

I started uni after those mental two months had finished, and then about a month into term my agent sent it out to publishers and publishers started taking it up.

Did you get a lot of interest?

It was way more difficult than I thought it was going to be. I don’t have a lot of time for the UK publishing industry at the moment, actually. I was really surprised at how little power editors actually have to take on pieces of work that they feel strongly about, because a manager who’s never read a book in his life can just say “Tesco’s won’t like it!” and stop the whole thing.

They’re basically not putting any money into developing new talent any more. If you’re a debut author you’re very unlikely to get your novel taken up by publishers — which is kind of sad, actually. But Germany has taken my book, and I think the German publishing industry is a lot more healthy than ours. And the German cover’s amazing! It’s funny, the English cover is so understated and unthreatening and the German one has blood all over it.

Was this the first book you’d ever written? Was writing something you always wanted to do?

Oh, yeah, definitely. From thirteen or fourteen, becoming an author was always the plan. I’ve got loads and loads of stuff knocking around, novels I started writing when I was fourteen, fifteen. A lot of them I think I could go back and work on, make more mature, rework as screenplays maybe.

Are they crime as well?

Yeah, they’re still crime-based. Crime gives a lot of scope to explore darker stuff, which I like — although I’d quite like to write a really dark and twisted romantic comedy some day!

What have you most enjoyed about becoming a published author, and has anything surprised you by not being as great as you thought it would be?

The best part is not having to get up in the mornings. Definitely! I had to get up for an interview on BBC Radio Sussex this morning so I got up at 8. It sounds disgraceful but that’s the earliest I’ve got up for about six months. I had to have an hour’s nap later because I literally can’t cope with getting up before half-nine any more. Being able to pick your own schedule is amazing. You’ve got the freedom just to go write in a café, and that’s awesome.

What was quite surprising is that before I was signed, and I was writing for myself, I thought that once I was given a contract, and I was writing for a monetary incentive, words would just flow out and I’d find it really easy. But actually it makes writing a lot harder. Suddenly you feel like you’re in competition with someone other than yourself, you’re writing for this big faceless phantom audience that’s looking over your shoulder all the time. You find yourself thinking, “What would they like?” when actually you should be thinking, “What do I like?” That’s been really hard to get past. I’m still struggling with it in the second book, actually — trying not to second-guess myself is difficult.

Without giving too much away, can you tell us what the second book will be about?

It follows on in a lot of ways from Something You Are, but its protagonist is a different person, a half-Japanese half-English girl who works at the Underground Club. All of the books in this series are going to have different voices and a different main character — the third novel is from the point of view of Daisy. They all have their personal stories, but there is a big main story that carries through.

Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time? Does your success so far now make you feel content, or more hungry to keep going?

How old will I be in ten years? Thirty-two. OK. In ten years’ time I’d quite like to have my books adapted into films, and I’d like Nick Cave to write the soundtracks. That’s pretty much it! Actually, sometimes I think I’ve just become a novelist as an excuse to one day work with Nick Cave.

And the success — I think the more the book does well, the more I panic, and the more pressure I feel to get things done. I see it as quite a motivating thing. I’m just driven by panic, denial and anxiety!

Teenage Writers: Bonafide Wunderkinds?

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) and Frank McCourt (1930-2009)

We live in a culture that fetishises youth. When we’re young, all mistakes are forgivable; we’re just finding ourselves, testing our boundaries. We make excuses for our younger selves: we’re just late bloomers—it’ll happen, in good time, whatever “it” is. We make such allowances for young people because they have something their elders no longer do: potential—that whisper of possibility, of change. Of course, there is the occasional author who makes it when they’re past their fifties—Raymond Chandler published his first short story at 45, and his first novel, The Big Sleep, at 51, only after losing his job during the Depression; Frank McCourt published his first book, Angela’s Ashes, when he was 66, and won a Pulitzer for it—but “potential” is a word usually reserved for the young. On X Factor you’re considered “old” if you’re above 28; luckily, we writers have more time to fulfil our ambitions—until we’re 35, or 40. Just as we are heartened that someone “past their prime” can still start doing great work, so we are understandably impressed when young people—kids, even—show themselves to be early achievers. Some might say prematurely, but it doesn’t matter. Put youth and genius together, and we are seduced totally. It’s the dream, and we badly want to believe in it. As we’ve seen, however, writing a bestselling book has little to do with writing a good book—so are these teenagers bonafide wunderkinds, or one-hit wonders successful only by virtue of having done something so unexpected for their age?

Anne Frank (April 1941)

When we think of teenagers turned writers, Anne Frank, whom the Pulitzer prize-winning American novelist Phillip Roth (The Human Stain) once called the “lost little daughter” of Kafka, leaps readily to mind. Between the ages of 13 and 15, she wrote in a diary—calling it “Kitty” like it was a real friend—while she was in hiding with her family in the secret attic of her father’s office building in Amsterdam during the German occupation. She wrote about the quiet upheaval of her family’s life and her own coming-of-age experiences: her fears, her hopes, her relationship with her family, her first love—”I give myself completely. But one thing, He may touch my face, but no more.” She wrote her last entry on 1 August 1944; someone had betrayed the Frank family’s whereabouts to the Nazis, and Anne eventually died of typhus at a concentration camp in Germany in March 1945.

Anne’s diary was published two years after her death; however, the English version only surfaced in 1952, as The Diary of a Young Girl. It hadn’t found immediate favour with American and British publishers; Alfred A. Knopf had apparently dismissed it as a “dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions.” That soon changed, and now, almost seven decades later, Anne’s diary continues to stand the test of time. What I found especially interesting about Anne’s diary was that it hadn’t been intended simply as a private, personal record. It certainly began as such, but Francine Prose‘s Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife revealed that when Anne heard an exiled member of the Dutch government on radio announce his intention to create a public record—including letters and diaries—of the German occupation, she began re-reading her old entries, editing and rewriting them—even creating pseudonyms for the people she wrote about—with the hope that it would be published some day. This reveals Anne as a precocious young writer, for whom publication wasn’t simply an “accident”, but the result of some deliberation.

Christopher Paolini

It began pretty much the same way for American fantasy geek Christopher Paolini, who was only 15 when he started writing his boy-meets-dragon tale, Eragon. He’s said in interviews that publication wasn’t his motivation; he wanted to write a story he would enjoy reading himself. In the Writer Magazine, he wrote, “Like a lot of kids my age, I’d sit with my math book open, and stare out the window and daydream about what I’d really want to be doing, which is riding around on a dragon and fighting monsters. Basically, I wrote down my daydreams.” But it soon became a serious project.

Christopher first self-published Eragon with the help of his family. Rolling Stone described it as a “mom and pop—and brother and sister—business run by a clan of introverts living on the prairie”—Paradise Valley, Montana, to be exact. They did everything themselves—editing, typesetting, marketing; Christopher designed his own cover and drew the accompanying illustrations. When he travelled across the country to peddle the book from door to door, dressed up in medieval costume, the whole Paolini clan went along. Still, it wasn’t quite working out, until the son of writer Carl Hiaasen brought the book to his attention, and he to his publisher, Knopf. In 2003, Christopher—aged 19—became a New York Times bestseller; and in 2006, Eragon was adapted into a Hollywood film. The last of the series was published last year, and its deluxe edition will be available on 23 October.

Almost ten years have passed, and Paolini is now something like 28. It remains to be seen how his writing will mature, if he will be known for anything else other than this seriesAlready, Christopher is no stranger to criticism: his writing hasn’t exactly won fans over for its sophistication, and he has been widely accused of being derivative, taking inspiration one step too far—particularly of Tolkien. His critics gleefully quote him often from an essay he wrote, saying: “In my writing, I strive for a lyrical beauty somewhere between Tolkien at his best and Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf“—surely an earnest expression of a boy who loves what he does, but which you can imagine they didn’t take to kindly.

Nancy Yi Fan loves birds

These kids get even younger. Nancy Yi Fan, who was born in China and moved to America when she was seven, published her first, bestselling book in the Swordbird trilogy (2008, Harper Collins)—an allegorical fantasy about tribes of warring birds and the struggle for peace—when she was merely 13. She hadn’t even gone through an agent. she’d simply emailed her manuscript straight to the big publishing houses, aiming right at the top: one of them was Jane Friedman, then the CEO of Harper Collins. Within a month, she had a book deal; the Telegraph reported that Friedman had admitted, “We were planning to enter the Chinese market so, yes, the idea that she was Chinese was appealing.” Still, Nancy was much celebrated, and appeared on Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey as one of the world’s smartest kids—proof: she also translated the books herself into Chinese for a bilingual edition (that’s right, English is her second language). Sword Mountain, the final book in the trilogy, was released earlier in July this year. She currently studies at Harvard.

Alec Greven

America also lays claim to the youngest writer ever published (I think): Alec Greven, who was just nine when he first published in 2008. He is your new-age, self-help kid guru, with five titles already under his belt, including the tongue-in-cheek book that shot him to fame: How to Talk to Girls, which started as a hit school project. A bestseller, it was also dignified with a review in Time magazine; he’s also appeared on Ellen DeGeneres (instrumental in getting his book published), Conan O’Brien, and Jay Leno. Here’s one of his tips on love: “If you are in elementary school, try to get a girl to like you, not to love you. Wait until middle school to try to get her to love you. Otherwise, you have to hold on to her for a long time and that would be very hard.”

Helen Oyeyemi

Britain is no stranger to budding talents, either. In fact, it boasts a legendary example that goes far, far back in time: Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein when she was 19, though it was published two years later, in 1818. More recently, there was the 2005 novel, The Icarus Girl, by then 19-year-old British-Nigerian Helen Oyeyemi, who migrated to London when she was four and completed her first book in a jaw-dropping seven weeks while she was still studying her A-levels. By the time she received her results, she had already signed a two-book deal with Bloomsbury for a reported £400,000. Helen has impressed many with the quality of her writing—the New York Times said it was “[d]eserving of all its praise”, a “masterly first novel”—and she is incredibly prolific, even while juggling her studies at Cambridge: since 2005, she’s written three other novels and two plays. Her third, supernatural novel, White is for Witching, won the 2010 Somerset Maugham Award for writers under 35.

Abigail Gibbs

Two more British young writers are set to join this line-up, one of them recovering British ground in a field now populated by American writers. Abigail Gibbs, who is 18 and about to start studying English at Oxford University, has secured secured a six-figure sum for a two-book deal with Harper Collins—the first being The Dark Heroine: Dinner With a Vampire, which was inspired by Twilight. It centers around 18-year-old Violet Lee, who witnesses a horrific mass murder in Trafalgar Square before being kidnapped into a world of vampires. Abigail began writing at 15, self-publishing online as “Canse12” on Wattpad, an online community where users can publish their stories; she has been read over 17 million times. She’d published 20 chapters of her novel online (which you can still read here) before she was discovered by a literary agent, who advised her not to post the rest of the novel. Those who want to find out the ending will have to buy the book; it is already out in ebook, and will be out in paperback on the 11th this month. You can read an extract here.

Samantha Shannon

Another Oxford undergraduate, Samantha Shannon, has also landed a six-figure book deal for her debut, The Bone Season, and two prequels with Bloomsbury. She is not strictly a teen—she’s 20—but she has already been compared to J. K. Rowling: by virtue of them sharing the same publisher, and of her intention to spread out the entire adventure over seven books. It is a dystopian adventure set in 2059 London, and centers around Paige, a 19-year-old clairvoyant—whose “gift” constantly endangers her life—and member of a criminal gang. The Man Booker shortlisted novelist Ali Smith was apparently the one who recognised Samantha’s talent during a workshop and recommended she send the book to an agent. The Bone Season is Samantha’s first published book, though not the first she has written; in 2010, she sent her fantasy novel, Aurora, to ten agents, but was rejected by all of them. With her persistence and hard work (she reportedly writes up to 15 hours a day), however, The Bone Season will be published in August 2013. You can keep up with her publishing journey here.

Many have questioned the wisdom of young writers rushing to land book deals, instead of waiting it out a few more years—perhaps until their vision and writing have matured, until they have experienced more of life. In a Guardian blog titled “Teen authors should be encouraged, but not always published“, Imogen Russell Williams suggested that Harper Collins should have waited to publish Nancy Yi Fan, though she should be “praised for her perseverance” in completing the trilogy. This will certainly be true in some cases, just as it is true for books written by adults. The considerations that go into deciding whether a book should be published should be the same regardless of how old the author is, and the fact is that some books, regardless of their “literary” merit, are published and become bestsellers–sometimes for good reason, sometimes not so much. For instance, I think the writing in the Twilight saga leaves much to be desired, but I really enjoyed it while I was reading it—I was so caught up in What happens next? I finished all four books in a weekend—though it is not the sort of book that now, having left it, I find myself missing. Still, I’m glad that I ever got to read it. I can’t say the same for Fifty Shades of Grey—I couldn’t force myself more than halfway through—and when people ask me about it, I tell them it’s like Sweet Valley with soft porn. Judging from the skyrocketing sales, though, many people like it, and surely that’s enough justification for its publication.

I think what’s more important than the age of the author is the audience they’re writing for. Notably, most published works by young authors are aimed at their peers (which is not to say adults won’t read them), and they tend to deal with supernatural/fantasy/dystopian themes, in which plot action is what carries the story through, so perhaps life experience doesn’t count so much towards writing; it’s not the same as doing a Richard Yates (Revolutionary Road), who ranks for me as one of the most perceptive writers of the human condition I’ve ever read (but then again, they call him an “author’s author“, which is to say, he wasn’t very much read). We read them for their ingenuity and their unique voice. For many young readers, reading a book by someone of similar age means reading someone they can relate to. I’ve picked up a book by an author several times on the strength of how I feel I can relate to them through their biographies, of the extent to which it’s likely to influence what they write about, and consequently, what matters to me.

Personally, I think it defeats the point of it all to try to separate the work of teenage prodigies from who they are. When it comes to the books of young writers, their relative youth is part of what makes them great; it is part of their allure. You think, Wow. I have to see this!  (This isn’t the same as saying, of course, that there aren’t “bad” books written by teenage wunderkinds; they exist, and so do “bad” books written by adults.) Generally, I think that when we read a book for the first time, written by an author we’ve never read before, we read without having a care as to who the author is—unless we enjoyed it so much and want to read more of their books, and unless the author’s biography particularly stands out. Inevitably, whenever a writer’s story is out of the ordinary, it, too, becomes part of the story—and teenage authors are very much out of the ordinary.

Never Too Young to Be Published

As my final year as an undergraduate at university comes to a close, I’ve begun to think over my time here and what I’ve managed to accomplish over the past three years. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had the most wonderful time and, personally, I wouldn’t change a moment of it, but a recent spate of panic-inducing C.V. workshops and careers events has left me thinking that maybe I ought to have spent my time at university more proactively.

The White Fox by James Bartholomeusz

In today’s fierce and ultra-competitive job market, it’s important to stand out, to have something on your C.V. that’s a real achievement: it’s not all about good grades anymore, you have to show that you’re a versatile and interesting character rather than just a number-cruncher. What better way then to prove your individuality and attest to your creativity by writing a novel and, more importantly, getting it published in your teens before you’ve even graduated? Well, whilst I’m floundering to fill out job applications and personal statements, that’s exactly what James Bartholomeusz, a second year student at my University, has done.

People often say that there’s a novel inside all of us and many would-be writers will spend their entire lives trying to access that creative spirit, but for some, inspiration strikes a little earlier and the literary world is starting to take young authors more seriously. I was surprised to learn that the world’s youngest published author, Meleik Delaney, is just four years old. For James Bartholomeusz, his first book The White Fox, a fantasy adventure across dark worlds clearly inspired by the likes of Philip Pullman, is part one in a trilogy of novels for Medallion Press’ YA-YA (Young Adults writing for Young Adults) range. Medallion Press launched the YA-YA scheme in 2010 and Bartholomeusz’s book is the first publication from the imprint. The CEO of Medallion Press, Helen Rosburg, started the scheme with the intention of reaching out to younger generations through the creative voice of their peers and giving young writers a chance to showcase their work.

Medallion Press aren’t the only ones noticing the potential in young writers; nowadays, plenty of major organisations, such as the BBC and the Royal Court Theatre, offer opportunities for fresh, creative talent to get involved. Indeed, Litro Magazine‘s International Young Person’s Short Story Award is a fantastic chance for young people to start writing and earn some recognition.

Some may argue that as a teenager, you haven’t refined your literary style, that you aren’t yet mature enough to be able to grapple with complex ideas. Personally, however, I believe that young writers ought to be encouraged; even if you haven’t had decades to plan, draft, and redraft your work, publishers can often spot promising talent even in the roughest teen scribbles.

Applications Open: 2012 Litro & IGGY International Short Story Award for Young Writers

This competition has now closed and we are no longer accepting entries. Best of luck to all those who entered. The shortlist has been announced and we will announce the winner on 15 October.

Inspiring, encouraging and acknowledging the creativity of young people is a common goal for London-based Litro magazine and the International Gateway for Gifted Youth (IGGY) at the University of Warwick. Litro & IGGY are pleased to announce that the International Short Story Award for Young People will be held again in 2012.

The Award is funded by alumni from the University of Warwick, and is open to young people from around the world aged 11-19. In addition to a cash prize of £2,500 the winner will also be published in Litro magazine and see excerpts of their work displayed on a poster in a London Underground station.

The illustrious panel of judges for the 2012 award include internationally acclaimed authors Chika Unigwe, Gemma Weekes, Will Eaves and Damian Barr.


  • You must be 11-19 years of age
  • Your entry must be no more than 3,000 words in length
  • This year we’re looking for a story with an “international” theme, a purposefully broad theme to allow writers to be creative. You can include aspects of your own culture or write about a character’s cross-cultural experience.
  • The deadline for entries is 24 July 2012
  • Submit your entry here


  • The long list of nominated writers will be announced on 5 September 2012
  • The shortlist of six writers will be announced on 14 September 2012
  • The winner will be announced at the Award Ceremony in London at the end of October 2012

Commenting on the announcement of the award, Litro founder Eric Akoto said:

“It is great news that the Award will be going ahead again in 2012 and is a mark of the success of the entrants from last year’s event. The Award is a fantastic opportunity for aspiring young writers to showcase their talent and to be recognised for their literary creativity. We are delighted to be partnering again with IGGY on this. The magazine has thrived because of the talent of its writers and it’s exciting to think of who and what we might discover through this Award.”

Layla Hendow: 2011 Winner of the Litro & IGGY International Short Story Award for Young Writers

On a balmy London evening, young writers joined IGGY and Litro at an awards ceremony at the 3i offices to announce and celebrate this year’s winner for the annual International Short Story Award for Young Writers: Layla Hendow, with her story La Maison de Dieu.

The pre- and post-ceremony reception allowed the young writers to talk to various members of IGGY and Litro while drinks and canapés were served. Patrick Dunne of Warwick University Council and Alumnus opened the ceremony with a welcome speech, in which he encouraged the shortlisted winners—and all young writers—to pursue their passion and nurture their talent. Speeches were also given by Professor Margot Finn of Warwick University and Eric Akoto, Editor-in-Chief of Litro.

At the ceremony, Layla Hendow was awarded a cheque of £2,500, and an extract from her story read out loud by Peter Blegvad, who is a writer, illustrator, songwriter, broadcaster, and a teacher on Warwick’s Creative Writing Programme. Layla’s story will also be published in the Sunday Times Magazine.

Due to the exceptional standards of the entries this year, all shortlisted entrants—Kate Baguley, 19;  Ruth Ingamells, 19; Charlotte Poulter, 19; Chester Pylkkanen, 13; and Lillian Fishman, 17—were also awarded £250 each by the University of Warwick and IGGY.

2011 Shortlist: The Boy Who Lost His Life Twice by Chester Pylkkanen

This is a shortlisted story for the 2011 Litro & IGGY International Short Story Award for Young Writers.


I wait in the queue. With functional formica tables and a blue acrylic carpet dark enough to conceal stains, it is like the other adoption agencies: bleak, barren and inauspicious. ‘Robert Bale? Robert Bale?’ calls a receptionist. I rise, chair creaking in complaint, and am directed into an office. The silence, such a blatant contrast to the cacophonous children’s home, only adds to the wan, ashen setting, interrupted solely by the susurration of an aged air-conditioning unit. A woman with unnaturally black hair pinned into a pleat, wearing magenta lipstick to match her spectacles, a grey blouse, charcoal skirt and ‘flesh’-coloured tights on her fleshy legs, appears behind the desk. She passes me a sheaf of papers without comment, and the atmosphere oozes discomfort: yet another rejection. Even the paper sags in disappointment.

Mrs Jonson explains that on my sixteenth birthday I will no longer be legally eligible to stay at Honeytree Children’s Home. I am fifteen, my birthday just two months away in October. A sense of impending doom floods my system; my body visibly stiffens. Yet there is reassurance; the local Somerfield, she proffers, gives children from the Home work, and the agency will fund a rented room for me until I have experienced a year’s employment.

The caterwauling of monotonous machinery floods the checkout. In a scratchy, turquoise-green T-shirt and too-long, starch-stiffened apron, I stand, already weary of the discordant sounds, my arm aching mercilessly from scanning myriad barcodes. During the lunch hour, Andy and Garcia join me on the wooden park bench in front of the store. It being my first week, I ask questions, they answer, and by the end of our break Andy and myself have discovered a surprising amount in common: we are both partial to Marmite sandwiches, Top Gear and Jimmy Carr. After three more hours of barcode ordeal, I return to the bedsit above the betting shop, ravenously consume an insubstantial dinner, and, finally alone, ask myself the same unanswerable questions that dog my waking hours: Why was I abandoned? Might there have been a couple willing to take me in – if only I’d found them? Who were my parents and where are they now? Empty and exhausted, I sleep fitfully.

Over the months, I find family in colleagues. Andy moves to the till beside me with the permission of the manager, Mr Belson, and we develop a kind of friendship. We never discuss our upbringing. We spend breaks between laborious shifts together and on a whim sign up for the Somerfield Community Service Team, devoting the odd day off to walking dogs for arthritic old ladies and clearing litter from the adventure playground on the estate. Emboldened by our selfless endeavours, we decide to start a youth football club, and our shared devotion to the mighty West Ham, coupled with some rusty ball skills, further binds us together. Remembering my birthday, Andy organises a surprise party for staff to celebrate my seventeeth. I return home grinning with pride, full of cider and a growing sense of security.

The following morning brings a letter. Crisp, white, stamped first class – surely from the adoption agency. Mrs Jonson regrets to inform me that they have, in accordance with regulations, withdrawn their funding but wish me all the best.

Despite the agency’s eagerness for me to prosper, I cannot help but flounder without their financial assistance. Within weeks, my bank account is empty. I leave the flat and, that night, sleep rough in my bedding. The South Bank: a homeless ghetto. Grey concrete skyscrapers mirror the gaunt, sallow faces. Successful businessmen, well-fed in too-tight tailored suits, consulting ostentatious watches, stride purposefully past the poorest of the poor without sparing so much as a glance or the price of a cup of tea. As I prepare my makeshift bed in a tenebrous alley, I discover I have unwittingly encroached upon the territory of another homeless group; they gesticulate and swear, words asphyxiated by bedraggled beards, confiscate my envied pillow malevolently and banish me with all-too-believable threats. I flee, find shelter elsewhere and finally sleep. I wake without a sheet as it begins to drizzle and my nostrils flare in recognition of the pungent stench of urine.

I trudge to work, my uniform a little more creased than before. Customers seem unusually silent at my checkout and seize their bags impatiently; in the street during the lunch break, workers hurriedly divert their paths. These actions seem to me enigmatic, incomprehensible. Finally, a child loudly asks her harassed mother why I smell of ‘wee’, and all becomes clear. Andy, half in jest, offers me a bath at his; I accept, explaining that a pipe has burst at my bedsit. He proposes that I stay the night in the spare bedroom. Initially hesitant, I reason with myself and conclude that a bed and running water more than make up for any loss of dignity.


I ponder Robert’s disquieting behaviour as my scum-surfaced mug of tea cools; the new odour that clings to him is unmistakable, his once-shiny hair is grimy with grease and his filthy clothes reek of neglect. Concerned and suspicious, I drink until the tea-stained, ceramic bottom is visible, then pour the stewed remains from the teapot into my now empty mug. It is a longstanding family joke that I am a glass-half-empty sort of person, but a powerful instinct is telling me that something is wrong. Something has happened to Robert. I clear away the china and make my way to bed, where I wait for sleep, trying to make sense of the day’s events.

I set the breakfast table for two, reminding myself that my parents are away in the Algarve. Glancing at the postcard they sent, with its vivid colours, smiling, tanned people and the glorious, too-good-to-be-true sun, I call Robert, wishing Mum and Dad were back. He seems refreshed, genuinely touched that I have washed and ironed his clothes – my friend seems to have travelled back two years, to the day I first saw him; a little more confident perhaps, a little less vulnerable. This morning’s stark contrast to the Robert who arrived last night only intensifies my confusion and anxiety, and I am suddenly compelled to ask him exactly where he lives. A pause engulfs the room; he asks if perhaps he could stay for two more days, until Saturday.

Saturday comes and Robert announces that he has a proposal: he will pay half the rent and bills if I will let him stay as my flatmate. With difficulty, I explain that the flat is owned by my parents, who I live with. There is no spare bed, just the room they have vacated in search of a little winter sun. He asks about the going rate for rent and I volunteer that the lowest is around £600 a month – too much for a Somerfield checkout assistant. His face contorted by disappointment and a suggestion of jealousy, he thanks me in a choked voice, opens the door and ambles, disheartened, down the stairs.

By the following Friday, Robert’s situation has clearly deteriorated and I decide I must go to see the store manager, Mr Belson. He is sitting at his desk, discussing sales figures with a sullen, spotty girl from Accounts. I wait at the door until he notices me, then knock.

‘Mr Wright?’

‘Good morning, Mr Belson.’ A hiatus ensues as I clear my throat.


‘Mr Belson, I’m worried about Robert Bale. He’s not looking after himself; his uniform’s not been washed in weeks and he looks terrible. He stayed at my flat last week and all he would say is that a pipe had burst at his bedsit.’

‘And you don’t believe him?’ infers Mr Belson. I stutter, pause, then respond.

‘I don’t know why he’d lie, but it seems far more serious than that. Maybe he’s ill – depressed perhaps. Or something’s wrong at home.’

‘You may not be aware, Mr Wright, but Robert was placed here by Honeytree Children’s Home, who always withdraw funding of a charge’s accommodation after he or she has been employed by a local company for a year. Mr Bale must have been struggling with his rent for quite some time now. Do you think he could have been sleeping rough?’

At a loss for words, I nod, then walk to the door modelling an awkward smile.

‘Andrew, I would prefer it if you didn’t mention this conversation to Robert.’

‘Of course not, Mr Belson, I understand.’

I leave the room, closing the aluminium door soundlessly with a quivering left hand. Robert had seemed so stable, an ordinary boy who had left school without the qualifications necessary to get a better job. a sixteen-year-old who liked football, fast cars and going to the pub on Friday night. In fact, someone just like me. Except that he couldn’t be more different.


I had expected too much, been given too little in return.

Why had I been rejected by my parents, left to struggle alone, when Andy lived so easily, was loved, admired, destined one day to become manager with his charisma and calm capability?

As I wait outside Mr Belson’s office, with its unvarnished aluminium door, I sense finality. Promotion seems unlikely, yet surely appropriate – for everything I have been through that they haven’t, that Andy hasn’t. Babied by his parents, doted on, dependent. I deserve the flat, the bed, the pay rise. The Manager ushers me in and his blank expression suggests that the conversation is not to be positive. In a low, steady voice he explains.

‘Mr Bale, it has come to my attention that you may have been sleeping rough recently. Is this true?’

‘Well, sir -‘

‘True or false, Robert?’ he asks sternly but with sympathy.

‘Mr Belson, the children’s home has withdrawn its funding. I have been thrown out onto the streets.’

He stares with curiosity rather than pity.

‘I am so sorry. The rules, however, are as follows: Somerfield employs no homeless people. I will double your final pay packet as a gesture of goodwill; there is nothing else I am legally able to do, unfortunately.’

My voice suddenly hoarse, I quiz: ‘Did Andy inform you?’

‘Robert, it would be unprofessional to answer that question. It was, however, in your best interests – and I respect the concern he has for you.’

I leave the supermarket in the driving rain, without a coat, a home or parents. A pair of pigeons roosts above an advertisement hoarding, calling softly and huddling together. As bruised, livid clouds unleash steely, frigid sorrow upon the city, I understand that there is nothing left in life for me.

Rain becomes sleet, and I sleep, unsheltered, from exhaustion, toes and fingers numb and senseless and a heart as frozen as the ice that falls insidiously around my slumbering form.


Robert’s email, like all the others, reads:

How are Mummy and Daddy?
Safe and sound at home?
You live with your parents at almost 20 – what can I say?
From Robert

The Internet [email protected], South Bank

Since I had moved out, the letters had stopped coming but the online taunting was inescapable. The sense of calculated confrontation was unbearable, my feelings of regret overpowering. Robert refused to see that I had been trying to help him – that I could not have known how it would backfire. Had I foreseen the ominous future, I would have contacted Social Services rather than Mr Belson.

On an ill-timed visit to my parents’ house, I noticed among the double-glazing flyers and takeaway menus that arrive on the doormat daily in a steady, unwanted stream, a scrap of paper imitating an envelope, addressed to me. Robert’s note was full of the usual bile and bitterness.  As so many had done before, it warned me of his suicidal mood, but this time it was alarmingly specific. He intended to end his miserable life by West Reservoir, a mile or so from my parents’ flat, at 3pm precisely.

Traffic halts all hope of saving Robert. Cars half-covered in flaking paint screech as they round the corner almost as loudly as their obese, skin-headed drivers, who, in obsolete anger, grope for every expletive that has ever been hurled at them. My watch reads 2:56; abandoning the car, I rush towards the bridge, the most likely – if clichéd- place to end a blighted life.

As the heavy rain darkens the industrial concrete, its texture and shade metamorphosing simultaneously, it appears that Robert has not carried out his threat.  Exhaling, I return to my vehicle, then park on the pavement before sitting on a graffitied bench to wait for my troubled friend. Piercing the clouds is a single, burnished shaft, and as the clouds dissipate into the dazed atmosphere, there is a disturbed silence. It seems everything has paused to listen to the faint creak echoing in the cavernous space beneath the bridge. Fearing what must be, I retch involuntarily and, clutching my mobile, peer over the rail.

The roar of the rush hour and the pelting of the relentless rain had camouflaged his muffled cries, smothered a life unlived. I phone the police, battling the tide of emotion. In response to my shock and instinctive disgust, raindrops hurl themselves, like Robert, at the ground, leaving stains that will never truly dry. Almost without thinking, I drive to Somerfield, enter the manager’s office, inform him of the news, and with all my will focus on remaining conscious. I return to the flat silently and fall upon my old bed, smothering the sobs.

Why didn’t he tell me? Why did I never ask about his family? Why didn’t I let him share mine?

Robert Bale, the boy who lost his life twice. The most unfortunate 17-year-old I ever knew. The brother I never had.

Chester Pylkkanen

Chester Felix Finbar Pylkkanen is 13 years old and has just started at St Paul’s School in West London. For as long as he can remember, he has been obsessed with reading anything and everything and in his spare time enjoys writing both prose and poetry. Favourite authors include Dickens, Hardy, Hemingway, William Blake and Carol Ann Duffy. When he is not reading or writing, Chester can be found strumming his guitar, singing, playing rugby or eating Asian food. He lives in South London with his English mother, his Finnish father and his younger sister Scarlett.

2011 Shortlist: Black Hooks by Ruth Ingamells

This is a shortlisted story for the 2011 Litro & IGGY International Short Story Award for Young Writers.

The car was on the edge of the city when her waters broke, dusk was imminent.

“We need to find shelter,” said the man.

“Then find it!” she snapped.

They sped down a deserted street, searching through the fatigue to get somewhere safe. The car thudded over body and bone with ease, lining the streets with blood and mud. The girl, sickening with pale pain, writhed rigidly with little consciousness or sense. Bloody bubbles popped onto the seat fabric, soaking deeper into a stain. White panic was building, puckered and manic, knuckles bleached and bleeding. The car stopped.

“How close?” he said.

“I don’t know, I’m trying,” she said.

“Can you stand?”


He parked the car near the house he had chosen, squat and suburban, got out and helped the woman out of the car, supporting her up the driveway before breaking inside. He had only a few minutes before darkness. Leaving her there he hurried to the boot of the car and pulled out several containers full of chemicals and splashed them over the top and onto the tyres and followed the tracks of blood up the road about a hundred metres spreading the fluid as he went, washing away their scent. He then sprinted back to the house, poured the remainder of the fluid onto the porch and then pushed the door closed.

It was dark now but he dared not light a fire. He hoped the house was empty.

He helped the woman up the stairs and into the bedroom, barring the door behind them and closing the shutters on the house. They did not speak. Bleak blurs of furniture scattered the room and the bed lay dusty. It would do.

“Is this a good idea?” she asked.

“We can’t move now,” he said.

“I know, but perhaps we should check the house?” she said.

“Best not to leave the room.”

“You’re right.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, the contractions aren’t as bad now, I should be able to sleep,” she lied, ignoring the pain that had spread from her abdomen to her lower back.

The silence outside was unsettling, it rendered the space vacuous and breathless. The woman lay awake in darkness until the pain exhausted her body and eventually sleep stole her. They were deaf to the scuttling rustles that only a keen listener would have heard. Few but distinct sounds in the road and around the car outside; little clicks barely audible.

In the early morning unwelcome consciousness forced them awake. Neither hurried to get up, they relished the rest but pushing noon they knew they had to move. The man pushed open the front door and waited. Nothing stirred, even with the hot sun reflecting off the broken windows in the house opposite, the feeling of darkness remained. They hurried to the car and got in, the seat was still wet with blood and the woman winced as it seeped into her but made no complaint. He put his seatbelt on.

“Where are we going? There’s no one here,” she asked.

“We need to find somewhere safe to get that thing out of you,” he said.


“I don’t know, away from here,” he said.

Passing through the moulding streets they watched for any sign of life. Nothing. Cinema signs dated films several months ago and the smell of rotting meat and vegetation permeated the air. The man negotiated the car around the debris but when he reached the road leading across the bridge they saw it was blocked. A children’s bus stretched across the gap and cars piled up behind it, a massive middle finger of metal directed at them. The car stopped, engine still running and a winded silence issued between them.

The woman got out of the car. “What are you doing?” demanded the man.

She ignored him and strode towards the pile, gritty with anger and kicked the bus screaming profanities, struggling around the swollen bulge that leeched off her. He waited. She returned eventually, wilted, and folded back into the car.

“Feel better?” he said.

“No,” she answered.

“Alright,” he said.

“Where do we go now?”

“There’s another way out across town.”

They returned back down the main street in blacker moods, bleakly aware of the swollen danger, gravely greyer. Meandering down shady streets, creeping to grasp the road that reached around the lip of the city. The car wheeled over curb and crust, deep and gritty, with little mindful direction. Nausea was the constant feeling, a bleary queasy sickness, not only from the smell but from the intense fear that held them. But after days of eating little more than scraps even the nausea was overcome.

Food was scarce but luckily not all the tins in the myriad of malls had been looted. It was pushing early evening when they found any worth opening but as he pierced the lid with his army knife they clustered around the meagre meal and etiquette abandoned them. They paid no heed to the settling sun.

“We need to move,” he said suddenly.

“Wait -” she hunched over.

“What? What’s wrong?” he said.

“Contractions,” she managed.

His chest tightened. Not now. Not here. He was stupid to bring her to this place, stupid and irresponsible.

“We need to move now!” He hauled her towards the car.

She was bleeding again, fumbling at her dress, weakly mumbling for water and comfort which he couldn’t provide. Somehow he got her to the car and put it in gear, ploughing through the traffic that stood static. They were close to the railway station frantically looking for somewhere to hide, craning to look into all the nooks. Without warning the car hit something unidentified, he turned his head to the windscreen to see a face stare back. She was pressed against the glass, face bleeding, splintered and splayed. Shades of reds misted the glass, her face printed in lipstick and blood. He had hit someone. Screaming he slammed on the brakes throwing the corpse off and the woman next to him forward. He heard her arm break. They halted, the engine gurned. The woman beside him was crumpled, cuts down her face and arms, whimpering stickily. She had been thrown about the car as it skidded and the blood was no longer localised to her thighs but all around her face and body. They had thought they were alone in the husk of a city. They had been wrong.

He pulled her from the wreckage and began stumbling towards the station. “It’s coming,” she choked.

He saw in his periphery a large metal container used to shift goods and with new hope he wrenched the door open and pushed her inside. As dusk swamped he managed to spread some chemicals before locking them inside.

There was no light, darkness diffused into their skin, sinking through their eyes, a dye that tainted. She was groaning deliriously by this point, squirming in the dirt, he pulled off his shirt and dabbed the blood dribbling. She was drained.

“It’s coming!” she sobbed. He took out his knife.

“I’m here,” he said quietly and felt around her inner thighs, he could feel it pushing through.

“I have to push! I’m sorry,” she said.

“I’ll get it ok? Do it now!” he hissed.

Something soft and slimy pressed into his hands and as he tightened them around it, it squirmed, smelling of low tide. He felt it thrash in his grip, six legs trying to fight but he held on. “Kill it!” she wailed.

Quickly he trapped it between his knees and stabbed downward into the thing, slashing and hatching until it ceased to move. He felt the warm fluid dribble, ripped skin ripple and shred. They sat in the tepid gunge, and he pressed his shirt in her thighs until the bleeding stopped and they could breathe again.

“How do we get away from here?” she said.

“There will be a way, there must be a way,” he said. “are you alright?”

“I don’t know,” she said, fading into unconsciousness.

“Sleep, we will do something tomorrow,” he said.

Only silence answered him.

Light diffused in through the many pin-prick holes in the side of the container. He shook her awake and opened the door. The sun was embracing. Her arm was clearly broken but he splinted and slung it as best he could.

“Can you walk?” he said.

“Yes,” she said.

They left the body of the thing mangled in the container, deflated and deformed. The box that had served as a safe house the night before now looked haunting in the light, a tomb left cold and skeletal, a brittle Kohl grave.

They walked through the city, heading to the coast where the second bridge would be. When the port was sighted they saw a ferry there waiting and small throng of people, huddled and hiding from the jigsaw buildings behind them. Perhaps the city was not forgotten. They ran towards the port, hopelessly happy for company. The crowd flinched from sight of more people and as the two joined them they wordlessly frisked them for food or water which neither could offer. Everyone had a wild wheezing mien. All the women were pregnant.

“Where is it going?” the man asked another.

“Mainland,” said the other shortly.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Where else? Both bridges are blocked.


“Last night,” he said.

He returned to the woman who was helping one of the more pregnant women move up the ramp and onto the boat.

“We should go,” he said. “With them?” she said. “Yes,” he answered.

She nodded, flocking with the others onto the ferry, leaving behind the city. A city wearied by the unwanted, riddled with danger and anger, soon to die from its parasite and remain a ruin. As the ferry left the city the people began to relax, lying down or resting dry eyes. They sat close in a cold corner.

“Are we going somewhere safe?” she asked tiredly.

“Yes,” he said.

“I would love a bed.”

“You’ll get one.”

They sat, mute.

“Do you think Mum and Dad are alive?” she asked. “I doubt it,” he said quietly.

They sat again. “My arm hurts.”

“I know, I’m sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?”

“For you.”

“Me too.”

It was dark inside the ferry, and as it moved further out to sea, clouds formed and cast shadows, draining the little warmth that the sun gave. The inside of the ferry was lines with wooden panels, storage space for luggage. They were nearly rotten, etched with scratch marks and freckled with holes. A rank stench began to rise, smelling like poisoned water and rotten salt grappling their senses. As the waters deepened the stench of low tide rose high. As the people rested these panels began to shake, not violently at first but as it exceeded the vibration of the engine people began to notice. As the wood began to split everyone huddled in the centre of the ferry, fraught limbs taut with frantic panic hitting and clawing. Out of the ferry poured hundreds of little black bodies armoured in black exoskeletons, skull-sized, four legs and two at the front with a hook on each designed to drag. Emaciated hollow faces ridged pulp. Black creatures that knew you were there.

Screams erupted in high pitched terror and every woman on seeing the things clutched their bellies going into early labour. In the panic no one noticed them collapse and moan, unable to run or fight. Out of them came more of the black organisms, shelless but animated and scuttled to join their kind. Placenta followed shortly after, creating a viscous film on the floor.

Brother and sister headed for the edge of the ferry, as did many others not paralysed with dry fear. The cold water was preferable.

“I can’t swim!” cried the woman, lifting her broken arm,

“You’ll have to try!” he yelled.

In their hesitation the dark crabs pierced their ankles, hooking and dragging through skin and tendon. The man fell forward and hit his head, hard, on the railing. He blacked out. Around him people were falling, their faces enveloped by a black body until knocked unconscious. The woman in her fatigue and exhaustion felt darkness dribble into her mind unbidden and unprovoked.

She woke up in a cell, surrounded by bodies piled on bodies, blood soaking the metal floor, ceiling high and dripping and iron walls that had bloody fingernails dug into the metal.

“How… where are we?” she mumbled.

There was a movement behind her and she flinched – it was her brother.

“You’re awake,” he said, “I don’t know where we are, but they caught us in the end. There was no crew on the ferry, did you notice?”

“No,” she answered.

The floor shifted.

“I think we’re on the sea,” he said.


“Yes, I think we’re on a boat or island or something. Something they made.”

“How? How could they make anything,” she said.

“We underestimated them,” he said.

Ruth Ingamells

In her own words:

"I currently study english at Queen Mary University of London, having always loved both reading and writing fiction. In writing "Black Hooks" I was influenced by writers such as Pratchett, Atwood, Joyce, and Woolf. It was originally a vivid nightmare I once had, which presented itself as colourful and coherent, and in which I was not present. This made it perfectly adaptable to the medium of a short story. It was my first attempt at writing for an audience and I'm very pleased to have gotten so far with it. I hope you enjoy it."


2011 Shortlist: The Bath by Lillian Fishman

This is a shortlisted story for the 2011 Litro & IGGY International Short Story Award for Young Writers.

Mia’s arms are long and white, and her nails are trimmed short and round at the tips of her fingers. Elodie knows this because of the picture of her on the second shelf of the blue desk. She also knows that Mia has eyes that melt when people look at her to keep them from becoming windows.

Elodie learns this when she finds the first note. It is folded eight times, smudged with green crayon, a little torn, rolled carefully into the crevice where the knob of Mia’s reading lamp forms a tight niche with the frame. The paper is unbelievably thin when she pulls it out, almost transparent, and a tidy, perfected script meanders across it in what is, at close inspection, a ballpoint pen’s neat line. The words curl against her teeth as if they want to emerge in a murmur, sure but unassuming. I have eyes that melt when people look at me to keep them from becoming windows.

Elodie, because she is paid to do so, because the girl Mia is granted the unremarkable luxury of returning home to a pristine room, spreads a new set of sheets on Mia’s bed. The waves of the fabric are even as it settles onto the mattress. Elodie is used to the seething pattern and the strangeness of the sheets while she arranges them. She smoothes the elastic edges, tucks in the corners, straightens the hem, lets the stray cotton filaments drift up and settle on her clothes. She finishes dusting the lamp and curls the transparent paper back inside the niche.

Mia’s room is not unusual. It is wide, painted yellow with pale blue trim, and the closet doors open and close with a satisfying snap. She has two sets of drawers, a blue desk with photographs and postcards, tchotchkes made out of soda cans and pressed flowers, old homework assignments, magazine cutouts. When she burns candles there is a lingering trace of patchouli where the smoke clings to the blue baseboards. Elodie remembers this precise shade of blue when she sweeps along the thresholds: cornflower blue. She remembers the label and the tight happiness of new paint on her walls. She can see the shadow of a pink tree flowering on the patio, the white molding in the hallways like the frosting on a cake. She can still feel Mia’s beautiful reality under her fingers as she folds the quilts; she remembers the smell of vanilla soap, the silver gossiping of rings as her mother stirred a spoon, the thoughtless ease of running with linen skirts sighing around her ankles—the thoughtless ease of existence.

Elodie does not know this, but Mia’s favorite room in the house is the bathroom. She doesn’t spend very much time in it, but perhaps that is part of why she prefers it. There is something undeniably majestic about the bath: those strange, twisted feet. The curve of the basin. The faucets, exactly spaced and polished. Maybe it seems enduring to her, that hard, white body, the defiant sweep.

Between the parallel slots of an air-conditioning vent, the borders hooked so that it is wedded to the apertures: Elodie finds a flimsy square of Polaroid film, a little blurred, the colors glossy. She thumbs the corner and looks at it. In the picture, an orange skin lies curled on a wooden cutting board, two tapered rounds of peel blooming at the ends of a single winding strip. Elodie considers slipping the Polaroid into her pocket, but the borders are still creased to embrace the parallel slots of the vent, and she leaves it to wait between the apertures. She thinks about Mia while she drains the bath with blue soap, rinses the walls, listens to the gurgle of the drain. The pads of her fingers are wrinkled and pale with the wet. There is something august in the bath’s imperious claws, Elodie observes. She admires the plump walls and the bath’s white hips.

Cleaning Mia’s room feels like all of the times Elodie has fallen in love with someone she can’t have. The feeling of floating, the inevitability of her own familiar life is the same. Mia’s life, one that Elodie knew as a child, one that she can still recall perfectly when she steps into soft shoes—it is lost to her. Now there is only the great bath, Mia’s bath, like one Elodie remembers, and the sharp tongues of the blue soap.

In the afternoons, Elodie walks out to her car. The dogwood is beginning to bloom pink, and the rain sweeps a lacy afghan of petals across the car windows. The flowers are sticky, freckled orange, and they wrinkle against the glass. When Elodie turns on the windshield wipers the rain and the petals are swept to the fringes like a tide, and they glitter, gossamer, translucent in the corners of her eyes.

While she drives she thinks of the creamy yellow of Mia’s walls. She remembers the smooth skin of her own palms, the way gloves used to slip over them like water. She remembers lying in the grass on the patio, and how wide the sky looked from the ground.

Mia leaves a quote inside her pillowcase. Elodie reads it and thinks of the March damp in the soil, and the impossibility of everything beyond the edges of her tight world.

I would not think to touch the sky with two arms. Sappho

Elodie has never met Mia, but she finds her notes and photographs—the things she leaves behind, to mark this house, to mark something—and her mind is filled with Mia’s secrets tucked inside the everyday sundries of cleaning. She knows that Mia likes spicy food and that when she rolls something hot inside her tongue she doesn’t blush from the heat but from the weight of people’s eyes. She knows that carbonation makes Mia think of birds taking flight inside her cheeks and that she only drinks soda because everyone else does. She knows that Mia does not really like music, that her hair falls out sometimes and that it scares her, that raked leaves in elegant heaps on people’s lawns remind her of cemeteries. She knows that sometimes Mia sits in the bath while it drains and waits as the water leaves her skin cold so that she can feel the weight of gravity and the fast, warm throb of her own blood.

Spreading the sheets is a precise routine, exact, calculated, smooth. Elodie is tired of evening the bed with her palms and lining up the seams, of the strain and the meticulousness. Sometimes she does it with her eyes closed: she feels the pull and the weight of the cotton, the shape of the bed, and she finds the wrinkles with the pads of her fingers. When she makes Mia’s bed she sees the nebulous darkness behind her closed lids and she wonders if Mia has ever wished she could penetrate that dusk. She imagines entering into the halls of her eyelids, and the echo of her footsteps, and the flickering gate of her eyelashes at the edge.

We jump and we hope that the air catches us and that we will fly, frozen. But I relish the fall. It reminds me that I am mortal, and that I have survived this long.

Elodie finds these purple words and thinks of Mia’s white arms, and the lines around her own eyes. She thinks of how long she has survived. She does not feel mortal; she feels as though her years are limitless, enduring, as though she will bloom pink like the dogwood on the patio less vibrantly each year, as though she will always be alive to watch the world fade.

More often Elodie remembers being Mia’s age, a child in sprawling house, with yellow walls and pale blue trim. There was the patio and the vanilla soap; there were the magazine cutouts and the occasional candles, maybe. There were no notes or Polaroids hidden underneath the bath or inside the hot shells of desklights; there were secrets, but they were not hers, and she was the keeper of nothing that was hers—her life was deftly controlled, smooth, quiet, lace and linen. Elodie was not like Mia. But she wonders if she and Mia are more alike than she knows. Inside her skull, palpably, there are long winding thoughts and impatient ideas knocking against the noodle-labyrinth and the bones, and they build up behind her eyes (which unfortunately do not melt when people look at her) one by one because she never breathes them out, not even through her fingertips. One day, when she is sweeping Mia’s room, Elodie takes a scrap from the blue desk and carefully pens a message. I was never a keeper of secrets. I left no mark on my house, and I have left no mark on the world.

Elodie is dusting underneath the bath while the water runs, whistling. There is a wide window that opens above it, glittering a little, and it is newly spring. A lush quiet.

Between the curved claws of the bath’s feet is a twisted slip of paper, elegantly hidden, that reveals itself to Elodie’s sponge. Slowly she unfurls it, lets the momentum of the first letters roll out the corners.

Someone will remember us, I say, even in another time.

Elodie puts away the blue soap and the sponges and leaves the hot water running. She steps inside the bath, feels the burst of the jets at her ankles. It is oddly quiet. She steadies herself on the white hips of the bath, sinks into it, lets the eddies swirl and stroke the wasp-edge of her waist. She turns the tap off and listens to the drain swallow the water in long, greedy gulps. She is left thin, wet and cool, and she can feel her own weight in the great bath, and she can feel her own blood beating in her throat.

Lillian Fishman

Lillian Fishman is a 17-year-old writer from America who wanders around Boston and enjoys the brick-and-blue beauty of the city, especially in October. She loves dumplings, the smell of books, ancient mythology, Thanksgiving, doorknobs, Florence and the Machine, tea with milk, and the view of trees from second-story windows. She particularly loathes all mint-flavored things, including toothpaste. Her favorite authors include Virginia Woolf and Colum McCann. She’s been writing ever since she could read and it’s all she ever plans on doing, aside from eating, which she pursues with just as much fervor.

2011 Shortlist: La Maison de Dieu by Layla Hendow

This is a shortlisted story for the 2011 Litro & IGGY International Short Story Award for Young Writers.

© Allie Caulfield


There walked the priest: through the stone archway of a watchtower in Roquebrune-sur-Argens, underneath the blood-red cliffs scorched by an ancient sun. He was close enough to the Argens River to have felt its cooling wind had there been one that day. He was alone. The rain had started early that morning and bounced upon the cobbled pavement like it was landing on a frozen lake. The old streets that ran between buildings themselves even older became narrow as he walked. They guided him to the entrance of l’eglise de Roquebrune-sur-Argens.

The old man sighed. He looked up at the sky, a gunmetal grey, and then at the godless world around him. He thought it bleaker than he ever thought possible. The building he was trying to open was more similar to a ruin than a church and he imagined the rain could dissolve the very foundations of the stone.


The priest shook off his cape when he entered the church; the sleeves of his fading cassock stained with rain. On the table, there was a handwritten notice on thick brown paper. It read:

Eglise de Roquebrune-sur-Argens
Diocese de Fréjus-Toulon
“La maison de Dieu”
Horaire des Messes:
Le dimanche: 10h30 (avec orgue)

The note lying beside it asked him to nail the sign to the door. He put down the piece of paper. He did not go.

Instead, he made his way down the church to the altar: two unlit candles lay on its smooth, white marbled surface. The wax that had melted down the sides of the candles some time ago, hardening into a strange new sculpture. A row of women undressing. The man frowned at this thought. He knew that time had forgotten this place, that time moved forward but the church was forgotten. The wax had hardened and no one had ever thought to remove it. God had been forgotten somewhere along the line.

The man began to speak, closing his eyes as though he could see the words resting beneath them. He held his hands in front of him, imagining the roughness of the paper-thin bread and the weight of the wine-cup.

Panis triticeus… vinum de vite…’


As the priest turned to lock the Eucharist behind its golden gates, he heard the wooden doors of the church swing open quickly. For a spilt second he heard again the world outside.

Je suis très désolé,’ he called out. ‘La masse commence à dix heures et demi.

He heard the light click of a woman’s heels inside the shadows of the far end of the church.

‘Hello? Bonjour?’ She spoke in a textbook French accent. ‘L’anglais, s’il vous plait,’ she said meekly. She was seemingly lost in the vastness of the pews.

Suddenly she appeared from the shadows in the North Aisle. He stared at the girl in surprise. Her hair was parted centrally and fell in black waves over her petite shoulders. Sunglasses were placed upon her head like a crown despite the rain beyond those walls and a large, professional camera dangled from her neck. She wore little red gloves, which she took off carefully and placed on the table next to the door to dry.

L’anglais?’ she asked again, unsure what the man’s silence could otherwise mean.

‘Yes,’ the priest said slowly. ‘I said you were early. Mass does not begin until ten thirty. You weren’t to know.’

‘Oh no!’ she said, letting out a small, child-like giggle. ‘I’m not here for mass. I’m not even a Christian. I was wondering if I could take some photographs of your beautiful church.’

She stood and rocked on her feet before the priest nodded slowly.

‘Will you give me a tour?’ she paused. ‘S’il vous plait? I will be finished so much quicker,’ she added, sensing his agitation.

‘Of course…’ He found himself nodding again. ‘Mais ce n’est pas la Notre Dame de Paris…’ he said under his breath.

They began to walk to the back of the church, taking the route he had walked down so many times before.

‘Oh, I cannot stand Paris!’ she said, like she had just finished translating the words one by one in her head and was exceedingly pleased with herself. ‘Too busy! Too many people. I despise people… photography is my passion, but not of people. I love churches…’

She spoke quickly and seemed to be talking to herself. He could not help it. He cleared his throat and asked her why.

‘Why?’ She let out that same strange giggle, which distracted him. ‘Because they are beautiful! Especially the old ones. They represent a community that has existed for hundreds of years, and that without the church as its leader would not exist. It is somewhat inspiring, don’t you think? The church is like a womb… it is the last remains of true family in this world.’

‘But… I thought you said you weren’t a Christian?’

‘I’m not. But just because I don’t believe in God does not mean I can’t believe in the power of the church. The power it has to create hope. Just look at this window…’

The girl diverted, walking through a set of pews to the stain-glass window on the wall above. She was mesmerized by it and her mouth hung slightly open. The priest took this opportunity to look at her. He thought she was beautiful. The light from the stain-glass window cut shards of red across her face and shoulders, so when she smiled she looked like the image of the devil himself. He was taken aback: in all of the Cité Millénaire he did not think such beauty existed. As she spoke about the history of the figure of Jesus on the cross he realised it was not him leading the tour, but her.

So the church appeared new: like the first time he entered it as a child. How infinite the walls had seemed! And how, now that he was older, he had begun to feel part of the stone itself. The ornate paintings on the wall and roof were suddenly the pieces of art he had once fallen in love with. The structure of the pews and the stone archways, which led to the chambers, were striking and each curve was like that of a woman’s figure. He followed as the girl’s camera led them through the church.


As the bells rang, the priest got up from the pew. When the girl left, he had knelt down and begun to pray. He prayed for God to forgive his sins. He prayed for the family and friends he had not seen in years. He prayed for the girl; that she might never believe in God.

He did not want her to change, but to stay exactly the way she was.

Walking to the doors, he passed the notice still on the table. He picked it up.

La maison de Dieu,’ he read aloud. The House of God.

Next to the notice, there lay two small, red gloves. The priest laughed. He grabbed the nail and hammer and opened the door.

Layla Hendow

Layla Hendow is a student reading English Literature at university. She enjoys writing poetry and short stories and hopes to be a writer in later life. She has recently had poems published in Aesthetica and Acumen, and was featured in two anthologies by Forward Press last year.



2011 Shortlist: Gladys and the Birds by Kate Baguley

This is a shortlisted story for the 2011 Litro & IGGY International Short Story Award for Young Writers.

Credit: Lindsey Bieda

‘Come on, then. Let’s get you out of this chair, poppet.’

‘It was the zeppelin,’ I tell you. ‘It flew right overhead and everyone from the terraces ran out to wave as it passed. It had come all the way from Germany, and we were so very excited to see it.’

At least, that is what I want to tell you but it doesn’t come out like that. I hear myself mumbling about the birds on the ceiling and I wonder why I bother. I really want to tell you about the zeppelin because I can remember it as clearly as if it were a cliché. But I can’t because Mouth and Brain don’t work together like they used to. Mouth only talks about the birds. I don’t even like birds.

‘Put one arm into this sleeve for me.’

Thing is, that’s the problem. People listen to mouths too much. If they looked at eyes, or understood hands, or even thought for a minute, they would know that I don’t want to talk about the birds. I’m fed up of talking about the birds, and I know that the birds aren’t on the ceiling, or indeed even outside most of the time. I want to tell you about the zeppelin, or tell you that I’m tired, or hungry or that I don’t want you to talk to me about the birds, or bring food to tempt the birds to the patio window so that I can see the birds, or tape endless nature documentaries so that I can learn more facts about the birds. After their inexhaustible efforts, I’m probably about as knowledgeable as an ornithologist. To be quite honest, I’m surprised that they haven’t given me a pair of binoculars and stuck me at the top of a mountain. At least the Evening Chronicle would be interested. I’d probably end up talking to them about the birds as well, knowing my luck. If I were having a really good day, I might even be able to tell them to ‘go away’, although mouth doesn’t phrase it quite like that. Mouth is much more daring. See, there are some perks to living with Mouth.

‘And the other arm.’

The cruel irony, of course, is that when you get to my age, my ‘great’ age, as I’m sure they call it, one looks rather bird-like. The dentureless mouth and the sunken, beady, black eyes don’t do any favours, and the fleshless, stick-like limbs don’t help, either. I keep expecting them to put me on a perch and rename my room ‘The Aviary’. It wouldn’t surprise me, but then nothing really surprises me anymore.

‘Do you need to spend a penny? No? Are you sure you don’t?’

What gets me is that you think I don’t care anymore. You take my clothes off, and you watch me whilst I’m sitting on the commode. ‘It’s just a body,’ you say, but you don’t seem to realise that I might have more inhibitions than you. Just because I’m old and you think that I don’t care. It’s alright you for; it’s not your body. I forgive you, though. Or, at least, sometimes I forgive you. Sometimes I give you a good kick and then look as innocent as I can manage. Being twitchy isn’t always a bad thing.

‘Let’s get these socks on, then.’

I know far more about you than you think, you know. Just because I look like I’m away with the fairies doesn’t mean I’m not listening to every word you say. And just because I can’t answer you with Mouth doesn’t mean I’m not taking part in the conversation. For what it’s worth, I’ve heard everything you’ve told me about your young man and I’d think really carefully about what you’re going to do; the perfect man doesn’t always come along; sometimes you just have to settle for second best. I wouldn’t get rid of him just yet; it’s not all about looks, or what happens in the bedroom. But, then, you’re young and you don’t understand that one day you’ll be too old to enjoy anything other than a gentle peck on the cheek and a bit of a cuddle. It’s the talking that really matters, then. Until even that’s gone.

‘Just shuffle over to the left for me and we’ll put this cream on.’

The thing is, I’m not even sure that perfection exists. I mean, take my Doug. He wasn’t much of a looker, and he most certainly wasn’t winning the race in the personality department. But he turned up when he said he was going to, which is always something in a man, and he did what he was told. Reliable. And he wore sensible ties. ‘Never trust a man in a cravatte’ was what my mother always said. But then she had a thing about the French in general, so I’m not sure how much of that was seasoned advice and how much of it was a natural Victorian francophobia. He wasn’t fond of surprises, either, Doug, so you knew that you could serve the same pie three days in a row and he would enjoy the predictability of it. I think, these days, you’d refer to it as a marriage of convenience. And so I cut my losses and made do. The very end was the worst: I couldn’t stand him because he turned into one of those moaning invalids you avoid in hospital waiting rooms. And so, my dear, I have to say that I wouldn’t touch marriage with a barge-pole.

‘And the other way. You’re doing really well.’

Oh, for goodness sake, I’m off about the birds again. I’m dreading my birthday. ‘We’ll take her outside to hear the dawn chorus,’, they’ll say, ‘she’ll enjoy that.’. Well, I’m telling you now that I won’t. I really can’t think of anything worse than being dragged out of bed at some awful hour just to listen to something which has been there every other morning for the past hundred thousand years at least. What they forget, I think, is that I’ve heard it all before. I didn’t want to hear it then, either, but we didn’t get much choice when we were on nights.

‘Brilliant. Fantastic. Now, can you stand up for me?’

‘Canary girls’. That’s what they used to call us. We had some fun, though. It was me and Jessie Fothergill most nights, packing TNT into bombs until we turned completely yellow. I can’t remember laughing so much either before or after I spent those nights in the factory. She’d had polio as a child, Jessie. I imagine the teasing about her legs had hardened her up a bit, but she could do impressions as well as anyone on the stage ever could. Move over Ella Shields, that’s what I say. Apart from that wouldn’t be much use now. Not unless Jess is going to come back from the dead and surprise us all. She didn’t even make it to the end of the war, poor old girl. And then the factory seemed very quiet, and I couldn’t stand it anymore and they put me on days. But it was never the same.

‘And we’ll just turn you round and then you’ll be all tucked up in bed.’

Oh, for goodness sake, there’s a robin outside the window. I’ll never get to bed now. I’m not sure I’ll even get to bed tomorrow at this rate. The thing about having other people to do everything for you is that you can’t do anything at your own speed. I can’t even have a leisurely wee anymore. I have to do everything at their pace, which is usually double-time. I roll my eyes at the robin, but they seem to take this as a sign that I’m enjoying it. Sometimes I wonder which of us is supposed to have the neurological problems. Can’t they read expressions? I’m very kind to them; I don’t make a lot of fuss, and I only wait until I’ve only just been put into bed to wee when they’re really annoying me, but I just can’t cope with much more of this. I mean, I know a lot of it’s my fault – Mouth just won’t do as it’s told a lot of the time, and the rest of the time it won’t do anything at all – but I do wish they’d talk about something else. Variety is, after all, the spice of life.

‘And one sock on… Oh, Gladdy, look at the robin! Isn’t his red breast lovely? Do you think he’ll sing for us?’

I think they think they’ve sussed me. They think it’s birds that interest me. And the thing is, there’s so much bird related this and that out there for them to interest me with. Just after Doug and I were married, and before he had to go back off to fight, our first dance as married couple was to ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’, but that’s because he proposed in Berkley Square – not the Berkeley Square – but the sentiment’s the same – , not because we were passionate about nightingales. First and last romantic moment of my life, that was. I imagine that if you told them that your favourite song was ‘White Cliffs of Dover’, they’d assume that it was because you had a passion for chalk rock-faces not because it reminded you of a stolen kiss behind the cricket pavilion. They played that at his funeral because he was always whistling it. Not properly, sort of through his teeth. Quite frankly, the lack of whistling since he died has been utter bliss.

‘Bluebirds over there. Just you wait.’

She’s a sweetie, Gladys. Talking about her birds all the time. We have some fun, though. Always such a twinkle in her eye, and she listens ever so carefully, as though she understands every word you’re saying. I tell her all sorts of things. It’s nice to have someone to talk through your problems with. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved. Sometimes I just have to look at her and I know the answer, or maybe it’s just because it helps to say things out loud? I’m not sure, but it really does help.

‘Look at him fly. He’s got big wings, that one.’

I tell her all about my boyfriend. I’m not sure what to do, but then who is when men are involved? I’m not sure whether he’s a keeper, as they say, or whether to get rid now, before it’s too late. That’s the problem with being my age. The sort of gentleman who’s good at lasting relationships got married a long time ago, and the only ones left are the closet homosexuals and the dysfunctional ones. The current boyfriend – partner, I’m too old for a boyfriend – I tell Gladys, is older than me. Not too much older but older enough for you to notice it. I met him at the Bingo. I don’t usually go, I don’t even like the game, but there’s precious little else to do round here on your night off, and a couple of the other girls from work were going so, I thought, Gloria, you’ve nothing better to do with your time, girl, go and enjoy yourself. He’d been sitting by the bar all night, so it was no surprise that he knew I was drinking rum and blackcurrant. I was a bit surprised when he brought it over for me, though. I don’t usually get much attention that way. I don’t usually get that much attention from men at all. It is, as my sister always says to me, because Jamaican girls have too much personality for the average man to handle.

‘Flying together. Look. Look!’

And the next thing I know, he’s sitting with me and the other girls have moved up to make space for him. He’s not bad looking, I suppose, if you can get past the stomach and the balding head. He’s pleasant enough as well. By the end of the night, I’ve learnt quite a lot about him. He’s got a job, which is always a bonus, especially in the ‘current climate’ and he’s called Vic. Short for Victor. Short for anyone. In fact, short is the problem. I’m taller than most men, and I can see I’m quite a lot taller than he is, but then he is quite short. He is, he tells me, what you’d call a dwarf, which explains why he’s on the small side of small. It doesn’t bother me, really, and before I know it, we’re arranging to meet again. Not at the bingo hall, but somewhere different. We do get some looks, though, especially in shopping centres, or cinemas, when you’re out together. We meet at a pub. His local, he says. I wonder whether it’s a bit early to be meeting his friends – I’d only met the man once -, and I’m not sure that I really want to go, but beggars can’t be choosers, as my sister reminds me.

‘Birds. In the tree. On the fence.’

It’s alright for her. She’s a good three inches smaller than I am, which is why she got married a good thirty years earlier. Ten years for every inch. And counting. They haven’t exactly had a blissful marriage, but then who has? I expect you did, Gladys, didn’t you? Your Doug was devoted right up until the day he died. Anyway, back to my Vic. We met for a drink; and then again for another; and then he came round for a bit of dinner; and then I went to his. And then he stayed over at mine. And we just carried on like that for a bit. I found that I liked him – like him – quite a lot. He’s kind, and he makes me laugh. But then he’s rather lacking in other areas. Even at my age, you need the passion, and it’s just not there. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we have a good time, but there’s no spark. As soon as we’ve started, we’ve finished and he’s asleep

‘Have you ever seen such a lovely pair of dickie birds?’

And so I’m not sure what to do about it. Do I call it a day? Tell him that it’s not him; it’s me? Or do I carry on? It’s lonely by myself, I’m sure you understand, Gladdy, stuck in this room all day. If I stuck with him a bit longer, I expect that, eventually, he’d move in, and then I’d have someone there all the time to do the Sudoku and so on with. It’s no fun when you’re the only one left lying awake in the middle of the night with a snoring man you’re not quite sure about lying next to you. But then it’s no fun when there’s no-one to share the washing up with. You know, Gladdy, you’ve really helped me sort things out in my head; I think Vic and I do make a lovely pair of dickie birds, as you so nicely put it. I don’t know that I’m ever going to be quite as wise as you are, even if I get to twice your age. Anyway, there we are; you’re in bed now. All nicely tucked up. I’d better get on and put these clothes away, hadn’t I? I’ll see you in the morning, Gladdy, love. Sweet dreams.

‘Pair of love birds. Lovely pair of love birds.’

Kate Baguley

The not often spotted Kate Baguley, commonly known as Kate or Kitty, can generally be found in the small village of Lowdham, Nottinghamshire, where she was first sighted in the spring of 1992. Although comparatively little is known about this mysterious creature, she is thought to live in a small "pack" with her mother, father and younger sister. When not in her natural environment, she has been observed at University, where she is widely believed to be studying Primary Education, and at a block of retirement flats, where she is presumed to work. Research into Kate's general behaviour has concluded that her recreational activities include writing, knitting, and performing the bizarre and little understood art of painting-by-numbers. Worryingly, it appears that she has also recently developed a taste for "walking"—a pastime rarely seen in a homosapien so young—giving researchers no choice but to theorise that she is turning into her mother, an event for which there is, sadly, no remedy.

2011 Shortlist: Shepherd by Charlotte Poulter

This is a shortlisted story for the 2011 Litro & IGGY International Short Story Award for Young Writers.

The first time the phone rang in the office I ignored it. The second time I answered because all I could think of was my mother saying: ‘They’ll call back if it’s important.’ It was Emma, and in the hesitation before she spoke I knew that my mother was right. ‘It’s the police.’ she said. ‘They’re on their way to the office. It’s about Harold.’

There was one male officer and one female. They sat opposite me in the cheap swivel chairs that my children made themselves sick on when they visited. ‘I hope we didn’t alarm you Sir.’ said the female. ‘We do tend to have that effect on people.’

‘No, its fine. My wife called ahead. What happened?’

‘Natural causes. Its standard procedure to inform the next of kin but well…we’ve spent the last few days going through his personal documents, official identification, bills, that sort of thing. There’s no family to speak of, no apparent friends or colleagues even. In fact, in all of his belongings the only contact we could find was you.’

I stood and turned to face the window which looked out over the ugly grey concrete of the car park and the greenery of the public gardens beyond it. Behind me I heard the roll of wheels on the carpet as a chair was pushed backwards and the creak of its plastic spine as its occupant stood.

‘Sir?  You knew Mr Stirling?’

Outside a secretary I recognised from one of the offices below me was loading cardboard boxes into the back seat of her car. Through the glass I watched as a bird swooped and flew low to the ground. I tried to follow it but it got lost in the blurred line between the green and the grey.

One of the last times I’d been with Harold was the first day of a freezing February almost ten years ago. As usual I was waiting for him on the corner but today was different in that the snow made his painfully slow walking speed even slower. It wasn’t that he couldn’t go faster, more that he had no desire to do so. ‘There’s nothing to be gained by speed Michael.’ he would say ‘Did you never read the tortoise and the hare?’ ‘Did you never read my class timetable?’ I said in response and he’d grumble and tell me go ahead but I never did and I was always late.

To try and distract myself from the numbness in my fingers I played a game that we sometimes played in the car when a landmark loomed in the distance. I closed my eyes and waited, seeing how long I could resist the temptation to look and see how much closer he was. I had a few tries but every time I opened my eyes things didn’t seem to have progressed that much further which made it seem longer than ever. Anyway it didn’t work since Harold was the one who was moving and therefore technically the passenger while I, rather appropriately, was the landmark. The frozen statue. A lovely ice sculpture.

That was the episode that gave me hypothermia. I didn’t call home but my parents showed up anyway. My flatmate Sophie claimed it must be mother’s instinct until Dad said, ‘No, it was fathers common sense.’ meaning, I guess, that he knew I was heading for trouble.  I half expected Harold to show up too but his common sense must have told him to stay away.  It was also the first of the discussions about him and an opportunity for my parents to showcase their concern by using words like ‘appropriate’ as though his old age was something that needed to be considered. ‘He’s not your counsellor any more Michael.’ they’d say.

‘No. He’s my friend.’ I’d reply. They were wrong but even so I was growing up and I started to forget the reasons why we walked in the snow. I never saw him much after that.

Me and Emma got married in the summertime. We got a mortgage on a small crumbling house about half an hour outside London, whose only real advantage was the piece of land we got with it. It had always been Emma’s dream to have a small working farm that we could run, alongside our regular jobs. Within a year we were keeping chickens, sheep and a vegetable garden which never failed to provide us with barely edible produce. It was an odd contrast from city life though we both savoured the peace and routine of it. In those evenings of planting and feeding, things which didn’t come naturally to me at all, we were mostly silent. We had a sort of understanding that we would talk when things were ripe to be said so she never asked me anything. That was until a day when she dug up the rotting stalks of the row of corn which I had planted and asked me outright, ‘What did you do wrong?’ That was when I told her about Jack.

The first thing everyone said to me when Jack died was ‘You mustn’t blame yourself.’ as though I were dealing with my parents getting a divorce. Everyone except Harold who said ‘When you lose someone you love as a child it plagues you all your life.’ Jack had collapsed when we were playing outside and I hadn’t known what to do so I’d waited too long before running for help. By the time I came back he was dead. Two days afterwards his parents came to visit me. I knew his mother who always invited me in on the mornings when I knocked on the door to meet him for school. I had never met his father as he was always at work but there was a picture of him sat next to a telephone on the table. I wasn’t sure what he did, Jack wasn’t certain either, but he looked so impressive with broad shoulders and a smart suit that I was sure he must be someone important. When they knocked on the door and in a hushed voice mum invited them into the living room I saw him in real life for the first time. He looked smaller, more shrunken than I’d thought he’d be. She looked smaller too huddled in her coat with her white face peeking out from the collar. He looked tired while her eyes were red and puffy. That seemed like something that mums and dads just did, taking a role each, like the way one drank tea and one coffee. She sat in the armchair and pulled her coat more tightly around her even though the sun was shining through the big glass windows and making the leather of the chairs hot to touch. He remained standing at her side. Me and mum sat opposite them on the sofa. She tried to take my hand but I brushed it away. Mum was asking them questions like if they’d had a chance to sleep and eat but all I could concentrate on was his mother who had a tissue bunched in her hand. I could see it through the gaps in her clenched fingers. Her knuckles were white from squeezing it and I could imagine the fingernail marks on her palm. She was the one who said: ‘Thank you for agreeing to see us. We know how hard it must be for you’. They wanted to talk about it, about whether he struggled much. I told them it was instant and they accepted my lie without fuss. It was after they left that Mum said ‘I want you to see someone.’ Harold was two days away from retiring but he was the only person available at short notice. We had our first and last session on a Saturday afternoon. For the next decade after that we just called it meeting.

We slaughtered the sheep in the autumn. I started to fix up the house the best I could. For the most part I was only playing at being a handyman but I think Emma knew I found it quite cathartic so she let me get on with it.

When I was 25 my son was born. He was a month premature and the doctors didn’t think he would make it. My mother and father in law, despite their assurances that he was going to be fine, wanted us to christen him just in case. Me and Emma didn’t agree but were too fraught to debate it so agreed. The hospital priest came and the five of us stood over the incubator. It felt like standing on the lip of a grave. As he said his prayers we bowed our heads. Emma was crying and I held her but all I was thinking about was a name. No matter what happened he had to have a name. We called him Harry.

After the christening I stayed away from the hospital. There was nothing I could do there so I threw myself into work. I got up before dawn and worked past eight in the evening. Didn’t bother to eat, wasn’t hungry anyway. At first I slept in the house and installed a new phone next to the bed, just in case. After a while though I began to dread the long commute home to an empty house so I put off leaving until later and later until eventually it was too late and I just slept on the floor of my office. If my colleagues noticed my crumpled clothes and unshaven face in the morning they didn’t mention it nor did they question why I wasn’t at the hospital. Nobody asked me about Harry and I didn’t tell them so he remained in limbo for the time being. He kept on ticking and the phone didn’t ring.

It seemed my hard work and long hours hadn’t gone unnoticed. The day he came out of the hospital I got a promotion. When I got home that night my parents in law were in the baby’s room sorting through gifts and cards that out friends had sent. Not ones for confrontation they were just curt enough to make their point and I knew any attempt to make amends would be useless. They had been silently angry with me since the first day I returned to work after the birth and I remained silently apologetic in return. The cot was in our bedroom, Emma didn’t want to be apart from him for a while, and when I opened the door she was fast asleep. I wondered if she was apart from him in her dreams or close by and which she would rather be if she had the choice. I could detect Harry’s snuffling breaths under Emma’s heavy ones but it gave me no signal of whether he was asleep or awake since the pattern was as alien to me as the breath of a stranger. At least he wasn’t crying. I went over to the cot and saw he was asleep. Reaching down I splayed my hand on his chest and I watched it rise and fall with each breath. He seemed impossibly small. I told him about the promotion and we both kept on breathing.

It wasn’t until several years after me and Harold first met that I really understood why he was helping me. He looked right at me when he spoke. ‘I’ve never had a great tragedy like you have Michael. I’ve lost people to old age and that’s not the same. It still leaves you empty but you don’t feel cheated like I know you do. But when it comes to grieving the truth of it is that there’s nothing I can really teach you, there’s no great twist in the tale. It’s just the days Michael, and you have to try and learn each one so that you can turn them into a life you’ll recite to your children one day. The test is to make it the best story you can. All I can do is guide you along the way.’

In the early morning several weeks after Harold had been buried, me and Emma lay awake in bed. She was the first to break the silence. ‘You’ve always been so haunted. I know things have been better since the kids were born but maybe now you’ve reached the end of something it can be a new beginning.’

‘He was right Emma. It never leaves you. You just have to learn to live with it. All those walks we went on together that you were curious about. We never talked about anything. We were just learning to live with it.’

The lambs were born in the spring.

Charlotte Poulter, in her own words:

"I have always enjoyed writing and often wrote creatively as a child. However, storytelling being so private yet public at the same time, I shied away from it as a teenager, instead focusing on nonfiction writing in relation to my studies. It is only within the last few years that I have returned to creative writing and am finding it a wonderfully consuming experience where self doubt and passion go head to head and where each new story teaches me how to improve on the next. I am very excited and honoured to be on the shortlist alongside such talented young writers."

The Guardian Mentions the Litro & IGGY International Short Story Award for Young Writers

We were quite excited to see the Guardian give the Litro & IGGY International Short Story Award for Young Writers a shout-out in their Children’s Books section:

It’s great to see a publication like the Guardian providing a space online to encourage young people to discuss reading and writing, and not only that, but also to actively promote competitions that can give young writers unique opportunities to practice their skills and be rewarded for their talent and efforts.

To find out more about the Litro & IGGY International Short Story Award for Young Writers and to learn how to enter this year’s competition, please click here. The Guardian article can be read in full online here.

Applications Open: 2011 Litro & IGGY International Short Story Award for Young People

This competition has now closed and we are no longer accepting entries. Best of luck to all those who entered. We will announce the winner in September.

* Due to high demand, the deadline has been extended to 27 July 2011.
* Due to a higher than expected volume of applicants, the shortlist will be announced after 12 September.

Litro & IGGY award

Inspiring, encouraging and acknowledging the creativity of young people is a common goal for the London-based Litro Magazine and Warwick University’s International Gateway for Gifted Youth (IGGY). We are proud to announce that the Litro & IGGY International Short Story Award for Young Writers will be held again this year.

The Award is funded by Warwick University alumni and is open to young people from all over the world aged 11-19. In addition to a cash prize of £2,500, the winner will be published in Litro Magazine and see parts of their work displayed on a poster in a London Underground station. The winner and two runners-up will also have their story published online on Litro and on the IGGY website.

The illustrious panel of judges for this year includes the internationally acclaimed author Abdelkader Benali, poet Sabrina Mahfouz, George Ttoouli from Warwick University’s CAPITAL (Creativity and Performance in Teaching and Learning) Centre, and Cathy Galvin, 
Deputy Editor of the
 Sunday Times Magazine.

Abdelkader Benali and Sabrina Mahfouz:

  • The competition will kick off in March. The deadline for entries is 25 July 2011.
  • A shortlist of six entrants will be announced on 5 September 2011, with the winner being announced at the award ceremony at the end of October.
  • Entries should be no more than 2,500 words.

Commenting on the announcement of the award, Litro founder and editor in chief, Eric Akoto, said, “It is great news that the award will be going ahead again in 2011 and is a mark of the success of entrants from last year’s event. The award is a fantastic opportunity for aspiring young writers to showcase their talent and to be recognised for their literary creativity. We are delighted to be partnering again with IGGY on this. The magazine has thrived because of the creativity and talent of its writers and it’s exciting to think of who and what we might discover through this award.”

Ian Rowley, Warwick University’s Director of Development, Communication and Strategy, added, “IGGY is all about providing opportunity for talent to flourish, and we’re delighted to work with Litro on launching this exciting new prize. The judges of last year’s Litro/IGGY Short Story Competition were overwhelmed by the quality of entries and I think this year will be no different. The theme ‘Words Take You Further’ is designed to stimulate ideas and discussion on a very important topic to young people across the world: conflict. I can’t wait to see what the young people produce.”

The email address for submissions is: [email protected]. Please provide your name, age and a contact email address when submitting.

Callum Cleary: Winner of the 2010 International Short Story Award for Young People

The 2010 Winner

Hopefully, some of you got to see an extract of 12-year-old Callum Cleary’s award-winning story, “Points of View: Wolf Pack Hunting”, at Angel tube station (see a frontal view of the poster here). Or click here to read the story online. His story will also appear in print in Litro Magazine.

The International Young Persons Short Story Award is a collaboration between Litro Magazine and Warwick University’s International Gateway for Gifted Youth (IGGY). We aim to encourage creative young people to showcase their writing and recognise them for their talents and efforts.

The 2010 Runners-up

Having received a huge volume of entries this year, our panel of judges whittled it down to a final shortlist – four of them. Yes, the entries were so good that we have three runners up, not two! They are:

Ayesha Drury – “Becoming

Audrey Saltarelli – “Holding Joy

Emma Pierce – “A Secret Day to Remember

The 2010 Shortlist

A special mention also goes to the young writers who made the judges’ shortlist. They are as follows (alphabetically by first name):

Abbie Taylor – “Free at Last”

Ahia Fego – “Carbon Copy”

Amber McCall – “Putita Sucia”

Anna Davies – “The Wedding”

Emma Wood – “A Simple Push”

Frank Palmer – “Fleet Street”

Jamie Williams – “Looking at Pie”

Kate Baguley – “Jolly Japes at St. Jonquils”

Marie Antonini – “The Road She Took”

Robert Harding – “Endless”

Sam Maybee – “The Greatest Train Mystery”

We would like to thank Warwick University and the IGGY Foundation for the beginning of what should prove to be a great opportunity for budding writers. A big thank you also to this year’s judges: Sadie Jones, Peter Blegvad, Laura Dockrill and Kate Williams – and not to forget, Art Below for designing the winning poster.

The Prize-Giving Ceremony

The 2010 Award Ceremony was held at 3i Offices in London on Tuesday, 26 October. Callum was awarded his prize money by Patrick Dunne, 3i Group Communications Director.

2010 Winner: Wolf Pack Hunting by Callum Cleary

Callum Cleary is the winner of the 2010 Litro & IGGY International Short Story Award for Young Writers.

First account: Alpha wolf

It had been 2 snows since I, Greyclaw, took over the pack, and so far my leadership has been successful and unchallenged. All but one hunt had led to a good feed, and even then that hunt was ruined by an over excited pup. This would be the last hunt before the snow set in, and will be the last time the pup will get an experience of the hunt itself. Now upwind of the herd of deer, I started to split the pack in two. Pack moon, Darkscruff, Swiftpaw and Snowtooth, where to chase the herd, so the weak deer would fall behind, and once separated from the herd, pack wind, which consists of me, Darejaw and the pup, Treehide, had the job of chasing and taking down the selected deer.

As I looked sideways at Treehide, I saw that he was staring straight at the herd, ears pricked up. I was wondering what his adult name would be as I noticed pack moon had chased the herd, and an adult was limping behind. As pack moon chased away the rest of the herd, I started to run forward to lead pack wind, keeping an eye to my right paw side, making sure Darejaw was NEVER in front of me, and consequently NEVER leading the pack in the chase.

Pack moon had done there job well, as the deer herd were now out of sight, except one, and that is where I was running to.

I leapt.

I hit the deer’s rump hard, and flipped over it. The lame deer span round, losing its footing and then was slammed into by Darejaw, his teeth literally skinning the deer, but didn’t penetrate. For once, he had followed orders, and Treehide was ready for his first kill… BANG.

Treehide reared back, and ran, as a tall tailless animal approached, holding an object that shone like the moon. Pack moon was just arriving when the noise killed the deer, and they had fled. Treehide, petrified, had to be dragged away by his scruff. Today wouldn’t be the day Treehide would become an adult. I wanted to attack the… thing… but didn’t. My ancestors had told rumours about a greater animal than the honourable wolf, and now I know why. These were the animals who threw moon and sun, these were the animals which could kill by moving a finger, these were the animals that let us starve for a day and these were the animals that denied tree hide’s adulthood.

Back in the clearing, I stood and looked at the pack.

“Brothers,” I started, and then stopped. “, where’s Darejaw?”

Second account: Rebellious wolf

Grey claw was staring smugly at the herd of deer he had found. Of course I, Darejaw had smelt it long before, but noting that his nose was as good as an elk’s butt muscle was probably not the best thing to say in front of the pup. Treehide was ignoring grey claw, at last, and was also staring at the herd. Pack moon was running towards the herd, and I, being me, spotted the dumb damaged beast before it started to run like a three legged elk.

I was still examining the hurt beast when grey claw ran, so of course, I followed him. Being the ignorant boar he was, he kept speeding up; too childish to show I was faster than him. While running towards the beast I considered my position in the pack.


Or I should be, but grey claw was leader, as he kept finding food for the pack, but I know he was just watching MY nose, and following MY scent, while staying in front of me.

After me should be Treehide, a young pup not yet tainted by grey claw’s ways.

After him would be Snowtooth, A useful wolf, ready to work even in snow.

Darkscruff would be next. He reminds me of… me, huge, powerful; the only thing he lacks is the brainpower. Swiftpaw next to last, as there will be no need for running long distances, all my hunts will be successful, but at least he’s honest.

Finally, last and by all means least, grey claw, the un-honourable fake alpha wolf.

I came back from my daydream to find the deer upon me. I lashed out as fast as I could, but not fast enough. I ran right over the deer, which was falling over from the ferocity of my quick attack, and Treehide stood by it.

He was just about to take MY kill when… BANG.

The deer shuddered, and lay still.

I could see another beast, holding what looked like a piece of moon, all silvery. I heard a yelp and turned around to find pack air or something running away, and tuning back, I saw grey claw stare down the beast.

I bet he was thinking of some heroic lie to tell the pack, like he looked into the eye of the moon itself, or a god who was so scared he chucked the piece of moon he stole into the air and legged it. What was important was he ran and I stayed put. Then as he pointed the moon shard at me, I ran to catch up with the tribe so I could boast about not running off.

As a wolf, I knew all the dangers of being pack-less, or alone, but that didn’t worry me, for I am Darejaw, the greatest wolf that ever liv-

I was tumbling over and over, something dared attack me! I tried to look at my attacker but was literally lifted of my feet, twisting in the grip of the beast just let his claws sink further into my skin, and with one final twist, I saw an eagle. This brave twist ripped my fur and the eagle let go, and I plummeted. Down, down, down, down, down. Approaching the ground, I saw the beast with the moon, and another beast, which the eagle flew back to, and in my final moments, I saw my pack retreating into the forest, abandoning me…

Third account: Wolf hunter


On the 23rd of January, 2010, a lone man called Bobby Wilson, age 32, broke the world record of 24 kills of wolf in one day…

 I, Bobby Wilson watched the wolf pack in interest, looking for a wolf to shoot. In theory, this isn’t hard, but in my mind, only a certain type of wolf will fit “Bob’s fit for shooting” list.

They have to be brown; otherwise my wife says I am no better than a common wolf hunter.

They have to have 4 legs; otherwise my wife says I can’t shoot a moving wolf

They must not be old; otherwise my wife says that I can’t take on things younger than me.

The list goes on and on and on.

The wolf pack had started to run towards the herd of deer, and I aimed my gun, none of them were brown. I lowered it. As the herd of deer ran away, another pack of wolves started to run towards a lone deer. A younger wolf, with 4 legs and brown fur, was running at the back of the pack, and that’s what I aimed at.

I raised my gun, took aim, and missed. Instead I hit the deer in front of him.

It was a kill, I thought, and since the wolves were running away, I might as well grab the deer.

As I approached I saw a wolf, who looked petrified, like a wooden sculpture, so I raised my gun at it, then it ran.

Oh well, maybe I can say I need glasses to my wife, there will be no supper for me. I thought I heard an eagle, and so I looked up, to see a wolf, falling. Yes… it is a wolf. Yes, maybe I will have supper tonight. Now, how far to I have to run so it misses me?

Fourth account: Ecologist

As I sipped my bug riddled tea, and held onto my broken phone, I remarked sarcastically to no one in particular, “I love being an ecologist.”

My jeep had run out of fuel in the middle of the forest I decided to look for unusual behaviour in the herd of deer about 40 meters away, and to no surprise, found none. So instead, I took out my pen and wrote what millions before me have written, a study of what the deer is doing…

And after 15 minutes of studying the deer, I came up with this document.

The deer are eating.

That’s it. As I emptied my cup, I could have sworn I heard hordes of bugs sighing in relief, so filled it up with more tea and bug hell was back in business. I kept watching a frog for some reason or other, then looked at the deer again. But unknown to me, it stuck its tongue into my tea, to pick out a bug that had died, and hopped back to where it was. I heard it moving, but every time I turned around, it was back to the same point… it was mocking me.

That’s when something finally happened.

A pack of wolves ran out of the trees straight towards the deer, which in turn, scattered. A second pack of wolves ran out from a different direction, and I wondered if there would be a wolf fight. While the first pack chased the whole herd, the second pack was aiming for one deer. Two wolves smashed consecutively into the deer, which span around, and fell, where a third wolf slowed down and stood before it, I then,


A gunshot rung around the forest, and the wolf fell back. At first I thought the wolf had been shot, and I was really annoyed at the firer, but then the wolf got up and ran. And a man walked into the clearing. I sipped my tea angrily, it had a strange taste, and the frog seemed to laugh at me, and then it hopped away.

I stood up and I went to put my coffee cup in my tent, as I did a wolf crashed into it, probably dropped by a golden eagle, smashing it to pieces. Oh how I love being an ecologist.

Fifth account: Deer

Munch… Munch… Munch… Munch… Munch…………
Grass is good, I like grass. 
Munch… I wonder how the other deer like there grass.
Munch… Munch… I like it fresh.
Other deer are moving away, I will follow.
My leg hurts. :-(
A grey deer is chasing me.
Is it a game? :-)
My friends are getting far away, I should follow.
I wonder what the grey deer wants to play.
Maybe I should play, and then catch up with my friends?
No, I will play with him later.
Grey deer ran past.
Grey deer don’t wan to play with ME :-(
More grey deer arrive.
Maybe they will play with me :-)
Friend deer’s are further away :-(
He caught me, he pushed me. :-(
The grey deer isn’t very nice.
I don’t want to play. I want to find my friends.
Another grey deer is running towards me.
I wonder if HE wants to play nice.
He tried to bite me! :-( :-(
He isn’t very nice.
Another grey deer is running towards me.
Will he be as mean as the other grey deer?
There is another deer, brown, running across the trees.
The brown deer is running in the air now.
I wonder is the brown deer wants to play with me or the grey deer.
Grey deer 111 has reached me.
He isn’t biting me…
HE wants to play nice with me. :-)
I have a new friend.
I wonder what he wants to pla-
A fast deer hit me.
I am hurting. :-(
The brown deer is closer. His front legs are huge.
The grey deer ran.
I am hurt. :-( :-(
Pale deer is walking towards me.
Brown deer reaches grey deer
Everything is black.
Is this a game?
I don’t want to play :-( :-( :-(

Sixth account: Another deer

Munch… Munch… Munch… Munch… Munch…………

I am next to friend deer.

I am also next to another friend deer,

And another…

The trees are moving?

The trees can’t move.

It’s a grey deer!

A grey deer is running towards me.

Grey deer are bad.

Grey deer have fangs (‘,..,’)

I better run.

Friend deer has hurt leg.

Friend deer can’t run.

Grey deer will get friend deer.

Grey deer are closer, I must run


Will friend deer be safe?

Grey deer have reached me, they forgot about friend deer.


I will run!

Friend deer is safe

Foot 1 forward.

Foot 1111 backwards.

Foot 11 forward.

Foot 1 backwards

Foot 111 forward

Foot 11 backwards

Foot 1111 forwards

Foot 111 backwards

Foot 1 forward.

Foot 1111 backwards…

I have run away.

Grey deer are running away.

Let’s go to friend deer.

Friend deer 11 can follow.

So can friend deer111 and deer 1111…

Let’s run.

Foot 1111 backwards………

We are here.

Friend deer is sleeping.

I wake friend deer.

Friend deer won’t wake.

Friend deer has been sleeping in red water…

Red water kills deer…

Friend deer is dead. :-(

Grey deer noticed friend deer.

I don’t like grey deer.

There is a brown deer, running on air… holding grey deer?

Grey deer is now running on air.

Grey deer is running downwards.

Grey deer is hurt, and hits ground.

Grey deer is dead :-)

Red water makes sure of it.

Callum Cleary receiving his prize money. © Joel Chant.

Callum Cleary is a 12-year-old from Richard Cyhalloner School in New Malden, Surrey, UK.

Introducing the Litro & IGGY International Short Story Award for Young Writers

This competition has now closed and we are no longer accepting entries. Best of luck to all those who entered. We will announce the winner in September.

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Litro Magazine, along with IGGY, has launched its first short story competition.

Inspiring, encouraging and acknowledging the creativity of young people is a common goal for Litro Magazine and the International Gateway for Gifted Youth (IGGY), so we have joined forces to create a major new international short story award for young people.

This award is open to young people from around the world aged 11-19. In addition to a cash prize of £2,500, the winner will be published in Litro Magazine and will see parts of their work displayed on a poster in a London Underground station. The winner and two runners-up will also have their story published on Litro Online and on IGGY’s website. An illustrious panel of judges has been assembled for the award, including novelist Sadie Jones, author of the international bestseller The Outcast; acclaimed historian and novelist Kate Williams; award-winning poet Laura Dockrill; and Peter Blegvad, creative writing lecturer at the University of Warwick.

Terms and conditions of entry:

1. Entrants can write in any genre.

2. The length of each story must not exceed 3000 words.

3. The winner of the Litro and IGGY International Short Story Competition will receive £2,500

4. The closing date for all entries is 5pm, 16 July.

5. There is no entry fee. However you can support us by subscribing to Litro Magazine and by doing so, support our efforts to continue to provide you with alternative new and exciting reading from established as well as up and coming writers.

6. Submissions should be emailed to [email protected]

7. The copyright of any story submitted to this competition will remain with the magazine. You submit a story with the understanding thatLitro has the right to copy and distribute the story in print, online, and on other platforms.

8. Entrants must be aged between 11-19 on the date of entry.

9. Due to the expected volume of entries, Litro Magazine is unable to offer individual feedback to entrants. The decision of the judges is final.

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Sadie Jones, Kate Williams, Laura Dockrill and Peter Blegvad.

We are pleased to have Kate Williams join the judging panel, taking the place of Ian Kelly, who withdrew prior to the start of the contest due to previously unforeseen commitments.

Click here to join the Litro & IGGY Short Story Award for Young Writers Facebook group.