Speak Up! An Anthology of Young Voices

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Speak Up: An Anthology of Young Voices

Published by Big White Shed, Nottingham, England ISBN 978-1-9163105-1-3 Printed and bound in the EU by Booksfactory Cover design by Makermet Creative Copyright Š Big White Shed 2020 Individual copyright remains with the authors funded by Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature Arts Council England and Nottingham Hospitals Charity

The following entries are published largely unedited. We have however made some soft edits to clarify meaning where required, for the benefit of the reader. We have not sought to alter the voices represented in the anthology, and we have taken measure to preserve the raw, powerful and vibrant voices of the featured writers. Some of the writing covers themes that some readers may find upsetting, we list these themes at the back of the book (p.51) should you wish to alert yourself to potential triggers.


INTRODUCTION..................................................................6 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS.......................................................9 HAROON ALTAF Earth Was Utterly Polluted...................................................10 TSVETINA TODOROVA Language Barriers.................................................................11 ABBY STAFFORD The Soul of Heteropa...........................................................12 TEO EVE To Be Seen...........................................................................14 MARIA SIBI A Different Story..................................................................16 ALICIA EBANKS-BABB Unnatural Love....................................................................18 LAURA STANLEY I Want to Change the World But..........................................21 HOLLIE JEVONS SAUNDERS I Would Give Molly a Voice.................................................22 SOPHIE CUMMINS Just a Short Walk..................................................................24 RUTH EMMA HARDING I Wake Up, Alone and in Pain..............................................26

RHIANNA GREENSMITH Bathrooms Are My Comfort Blanket.....................................28 THABISO HADEBE Because I Am ......................................................................30 CHINENYE OKOLO When I Wake Up, I Dread the Feeling Inside of Me.............32 NASUA IYAMAH-ARBOUIN Your Black Is Beautiful.........................................................34 FREYJA HOLLINGTON Broken Record.....................................................................37 AYANA SEN-HANDLEY A Muddied Welcome...........................................................38 CHARLIE-DAWN SADLER Paper Skin............................................................................40 RAQUEL BOOYSEN We Are So Polite..................................................................42 EMILY ROYSTON Snowflakes...........................................................................43 ELEANOR JACOBSON Wanderlust in a Broken Planet.............................................44

INTRODUCTION As we enter the 2020s, we bear witness to the intolerable destruction of rainforest in Brazil, and the inexcusable disappearance of millions of acres of the Australian bush. Not only must we mourn the loss of arable land the world over, but we are also forced to fret about the longer-term consequences to the environment. Young people around the world have taken matters into their own hands: they strike from school, take to the streets to voice government inaction, and disrupt the normal functioning of cities by occupying streets and public places. The stories chosen for Speak Up are incredibly strong and diverse. They provoke, challenge and inspire, and will generate, I am certain, vigorous debate among its many readers. Take Earth was Utterly Polluted for example by Haroon Altaf, an extremely well-written vision of the future in which the human race is sustained by young people. Half of earth’s population has moved to Mars, and owing to the absence of fossil fuels, young people are tasked with providing an alternative energy source. ‘The Children,’ Altaf writes, ‘were now the planet’s engine.’ As much as the story invites us to think of alternative ways of living, it also speaks to a reality that confronts us today: young people hold the answers to the environmental crisis. Eleanor Jacobson’s Wanderlust in a Broken Planet imagines the future the climate crisis has taken from her unborn daughter. ‘She will not see the idyllic Venetian canals and bridges’, Jacobson writes, nor ‘the iconic gondolas of Venice because it will be submerged by the time she turns eighteen.’ But this is not a despairing howl. To the contrary, Jacobson’s generation will save this planet: ‘But our generation is determined too, and our voices will be heard,’ she concludes. This short story is a rallying cry to other young people to stand up and fight for a future that is under threat. If the threat of climate collapse and current political discourse wasn’t concerning enough, Speak Up offers moments of hope in dark times. Take Teo Eve’s To Be Seen, which presents an encounter between two university students as they discuss 6

the 2019 general election result in the early hours of the morning. What is striking about this story is its narrator, a rough sleeper who observes the scene, detached from the political debate. The story does not make a value judgment for what the consequences of the election result will be for the narrator. This is not the point. Rather, Eve’s story emphasises the need for us to resist political arguments and turn our attention to acts of human kindness. Speak Up does not only advance a hopeful vision of the future and offer ways to act in moments of political difficulty, it also showcases stories that convey the everyday experiences of marginalised groups. On the face of it, Nasua Iyamah-Arbouin’s script Your Black is Beautiful portrays an all too sad and familiar episode of racism. A young black girl discusses the harrowing abuse she has received from her classmates. Mothers, the script suggests, are not only required to cook meals, wash and iron clothes, and work to support the family, but they must also help their child cope with the psychological trauma of racist abuse. I Would Give Molly a Voice by Hollie Jevons Saunders, Snowflakes by Emily Royston, and Just a Short Walk by Sophie Cummins explore the ways in which gendered violence threatens everyday life for women. Saunders brutally explores a situation in which a woman has had her voice taken away because of a controlling partner. Royston’s story ‘Snowflakes’ expertly portrays a case of domestic violence that will stay with the reader long after they’ve finished reading, and Cummins’s story reveals the daily fear women face by simply walking the streets at night. I am overwhelmed by the incredible breadth of issues and talents on display. Stories of climate change and politics, oppression and misogyny reflect a city that has a rich history of embracing diversity and standing up for women’s rights. A city that champions freedom of expression and social action. A proud, pioneering leader in the race to be the UK’s first carbon neutral city. As a UNESCO City of Literature, Nottingham is dedicated to building a better world with words. We have a 7

wonderful tradition of rebel writers from D.H. Lawrence, the resolute author of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Alan Sillitoe, inventor of Nottingham bad boy Arthur Seaton. Both writers challenged the standard mores of their day and celebrated types otherwise hidden away from mainstream representation. Today, we have a vibrant community of writers taking on the salient issues of the day: Robert Macfarlane’s writing about reconnecting with the environment would find home easily in this anthology; novelist Nicola Monaghan’s writing documents the harsher aspects of working-class life; and Panya Banjoko’s poetry foregrounds black culture and celebrates stories long ignored by the mainstream publishing industry. Nottingham’s literary tradition not only pushes back against what is deemed socially and culturally palatable, but it also represents the experiences of people living ordinary lives. The MyVoice programme invited young people to send in their own creative work on the theme of social justice, and I am delighted and honoured to be showcasing their creativity in this anthology. I think there’s something here for everyone, and I hope that they are enjoyed by a wider audience as much as they were by us. I want to congratulate the twenty young writers selected for this anthology and to everyone else who took the time to think, pick up a pen, write, and submit a story. The quality was really impressive, and I hope it will inspire others to write about the issues that matter to them the most. The inspirational work of these young writers will continually feed into our vision as a world leading UNESCO City of Literature. There is a hotbed of writing talent in this city, determined to take up the issues that affect us all. The future of writing in Nottingham is bright. Sandeep Mahal Director, Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to thank all twenty writers for their creative vision and dedication to the MyVoice project. I am grateful to the judging team - Bali Rai, Becky Cullen, Danica Bowles, Georgina Wilding, and Kim Slater - whose generous and insightful contributions during the deliberations made a difficult selection process run more smoothly. To Anne Holloway of Big White Shed and cover designer, Alex Traska, I commend you for such a beautifully crafted publication worthy of the voices it features. A special thanks goes to Rebecca Goldsmith for her wonderful film that captures so much of the process from beginning to end. I am deeply grateful for the generous funding and ongoing support from Arts Council England, Nottingham’s Education Improvement Board, the Nottingham Hospitals Charity and Violence Reduction Unit. I am particularly grateful to Richard Bromhall and Ruby Tyler for their tireless liaison, coordination and administration of the MyVoice project. And we thank you: the reader. We thank you for celebrating with us what these young people are capable of, and everything they can go on to achieve. Editor’s note: Speak Up: An Anthology of Young Voices reflects the creative writing and views of young people from across the city and county. Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature does not necessarily endorse points of view expressed in this anthology. Readers may agree with and disapprove of entries in equal measure, but in what follows, you will see the voices of young people represented. As a UNESCO City of Literature, we subscribe to the ambition to ‘promote the value of dialogue and freedom of speech and expression in all our activities.’


HAROON ALTAF Earth Was Utterly Polluted Earth was utterly polluted. To swim in the poisonous sea was suicide. To try and eat the plants off the trees would kill you. The planet was a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode. After the government had taken over completely, they used all the money they now had to make technology we could never imagine was possible to create. It was an amazing feat. The first thing they did was travel to Mars… When they first went there, it wasn’t anything special. Just a few modern experiment pods, but a few months later. YES! They had got the first fresh water lake on the barren red planet. For a lot of money, people would come from Earth to Mars. And 4 years later, more than 60% of Earth’s population had moved. AMAZING. Resources from Mars were being transported to Earth. That was until the year 3056. NO fossil fuels were left, and they wanted a more efficient but clean method than renewable sources. That’s when they had the idea of The Tournament of Planets. This wasn’t a normal tournament. This was for teenagers ranging from the age of 13-19. The government would use their new tech to “break the barriers” of human energy. They chose children to do this as they had the most potential (and also the adults were kind of out of their league ;) ). The children, you could say, were now the planet’s engine. They just didn’t know it. They thought that they were in a tournament to show who was the strongest between either Mars or Earth. But they were actually storing the children’s energy to use as fuel. And the results were crazy! So much energy had been created by the children that they didn’t need them again for another 20 decades. So the young people helped to clean the usage of fuel. The world right now is being polluted by the adults. Global Warming and plastic pollution. We are the next generation. What does the future hold?


TSVETINA TODOROVA Language Barriers Time to restart, Leave that special place in my heart, I announced my last goodbyes, Beads of water overflowing from my eyes. Few months into the future, I got used to the new culture, However one vital fact I forgot, An English speaker I was not. Firstly attending the new school, I had nothing to ridicule, Until time came to meet the students, For every minor issue they had rude comments. Days upon days insecurity grew, Although the meaning of the words they said I rarely knew, By the time my linguistic skills improved, The location of my home had moved.


ABBY STAFFORD The Soul of Heteropa Time trickles languidly forwards like a gentle brook, Rolling in small waves over smooth pebbles; There’s no strength to it. Not even an inevitability. The universe is dragged to life not by some ocean of temporal force But by the pebbled hill over which the flow falls. In a mossy cottage on the edge of nowhere, that loose gush swirls within a girl, Hair grey as glossy concrete, Eyes blue as tainted sapphire. And life ebbing, pulsating, with the force of time. Heteropa lived as humans do: Bleeding, black and blue, Ashen skin weathered by her untimely youth. A peasant born to wealth; an aristocrat brought to beggary. This new life fit her tedious melancholy like a strained shoe And with little sense she lived it through. Twilight of some anonymous autumn night; Her father lay beside her in the warm glow of bright dusk. Heteropa wept and wept that night, Her heart gushed misery as she held her blanched face in her pale hands. “Why must I be so ugly, Father?” she cursed. He smiled in return, “My darling Hettie, you are beautiful.” But her hair hung dejectedly over her sparrow shoulders, And her face was plain as cinder. A look of knowing ghosted over her father’s face. “Your hair is as silver as the stars, my sweet, And is as fine as the pearly moonbeams 12

That faeries cast down from the heavens. Look upon those who taunt with pity; for they disregard The most enchanting eyes and loving heart And cry that the world has no beauty.� Heteropa slept soundly that night, Dreams of a distant life, an unknown love; They haunted her from past the grave. A life she had lived, but a life she could never love all the same. For her aged and weathered looks Came not from devastating luck But from an old soul, lost, even tethered, to its form, A young girl born once more.


TEO EVE To Be Seen The sun bobbed above the shop fronts, flooding Beeston’s broad high street with soft light. Early commuters ambled toward the tram terminal with hung heads or jubilant smiles in turn, each hoping off their hangovers. Slowly, the town shook itself to life, wearing the same wrinkled skin as the night before. It was cold. Not the coldest winter on record, sure, but December’s frosty air was heavy, and wrapping newspapers and what was left of my sleeping bag around me, I felt no warmth. It was a parade of drunk students that had woken me up when the night was still black, bickering in a disagreement on the verge of becoming a fight. There were five of them, two guffawing in mocking delight while a couple reasonably explained their points of view. Another had her neck and chin tucked into her coat’s lapels, watching her shoes silently with empty eyes. “Your guy lost,” the loudest boy erupted. “Get over it. If he’d won, he’d have killed our country dead.” After their violent approach startled me awake, I rested my eyes and wondered whether I could sleep again, but my back was sore against the shop front and the chill of the air sapped the blood from my extremities, tightening my limbs. I was thirsty and opened my eyes for distraction, locking them with the student to whom this reproach was clearly addressed. She looked a bit like me when I was younger, but her shirt was wrinkled, not from the negligence of ironing every student knows, but for years of wear. Her coat was scruffy, her shoes probably her last pair. Her eyes were bloodshot and tired, recently drunk with all the merriment sapped from them; her lips were dry. Seeing me, she flicked her eyes away. I followed the crowd’s voices until they disappeared 14

round the bend and I could hear nothing, their arguments lost beneath the first cars of the morning. I wriggled in my sleeping bag, cracked my back and drew my arms out in a stretch, then in again from the frost. My face began to warm from the sun’s early rays, which gradually illuminated the concrete in front of me, revealing deep black streaks of graffiti against the grey of the slab: “THE PRIME MINISTER IS A LIAR.” So without a phone and no-one to share it with me, I heard the news. The printout of Corbyn’s face that had hung from my shop front had been torn in two, each loose end fluttering in the breeze as chocolate wrappers scurried past me in a cinematic shot of tumbleweed. This made me hungry. I dragged my backpack towards me, searching for any morsel of food. A few hours later a young student I thought I recognised brought me coffee and two sausage rolls (“Vegan, just in case”) from the nearby bakery, and promised me they’d do the same every morning they lived there until the end of term. Today, I’m going to hers for Christmas.


MARIA SIBI A Different Story A rush of relief washed over me; I wasn’t alone! On the school bus, many children were cramped together. I started by waving. “Wah Gwaan,” I shouted. They all stared at me like I was some creature! They had a stare that told me that something was wrong with me. A white boy my age got up; “she has a disease!” he sniggered. My heart sank. A pain in my stomach started to grow bigger and bigger. My mind was blank; my legs started moving to the back, I suppose I felt ashamed of being different. When I walked past, everyone zipped their bags and clutched them on an empty seat nearby. But the bus journey wasn’t the worst problem… The second I entered the building, I was dragged into a corner. A lot of white people passing by stopped to watch what was going to happen to me. “Don’t worry, this is for the best!” “Yeah, your skin will be nice and bright in no time!” Hands rubbed my skin sore. It hurt so bad. I wanted to burst into tears right there! But I kept it in because I wanted to show that I could stand this scorching pain. I was something for them to watch: entertainment, that’s what I was. The night sky had wrapped itself around the earth. I was on my way home from the bus stop, when another person came by to make it clear I didn’t belong here. He grabbed my bag, although there wasn’t much in it. When I arrived home, or what I call home (it’s a one-story house with a squillion people trying to fit in it), I saw my grandpa. “How was dat schoo-el?” he said in his soothing, Jamaican tones. I shrugged. Then he started talking about when he got here. The smoke twirled from his pipe. “Di year 1948. Mi did hav nuh oddah choice buh tuh move. Dem seh deh did bai betta opportunities fah ah greater life. Afta di second wurl war Britain did leff tuh rebuild itsel.” 16

He paused once again, then smoked on his pipe, “mi lickkle Aray people will help yuh. Nah everyone will hat yuh.” I didn’t agree with him, wondering... how was this the ‘Mother country’? Next day at school, the same thing happened. During lesson time, I was trembling, so much my pencil fell out of my hand. Clink, clink, clink! It echoed through my head and the scrubbed, polished floor. I looked around the wistful room in the hope someone would help. Everyone covered their pencil-cases and looked down. I felt like a helpless girl drowning. All the courage drained away. “Here,” a voice came from behind me. It was a girl holding a pencil, and it was for me. Her feet on the floor; she was standing way above the rest. “Thank you!” I smiled. She smiled back… I am still different; every day I always feel welcomed by Cristilisa… Grandpa was right, people can change.


ALICIA EBANKS-BABB Unnatural Love Strands of burnt orange hung loose on her shoulders. Now they barely touch her ears. Feet used to be propped apart by her thighs. These days it’s left empty like the gap between the train and the platform. The bitter morning air tickled her lungs, shortly before infecting them, causing her to breath out a foggy cloud. Marshmallow cheeks tinted crimson with embarrassment. Whilst sprinkled with ginger stars, they were also laced with what I can only describe as sadness, which condensed on her glasses, clouding her vision. Occasionally, they got separated from the rest, only to end up in one of the creases of her face. However, over time they had disappeared leaving her face identical to a skeleton. Luminescent beams cast a shadow that poisoned her skin, filling her with uncertainty as she pulled up the black straps of a black dress with a struggle. Standing wearily, she investigated the distance however only saw herself for it was her reflection that peered back at her. But she couldn’t see the whole of her reflection. A fraction. These days, she stands boldly while her old clothes hang loose like vines dangling uncontrollably in the jungle. It was almost as if she could only see what she dreamed of looking like, which was as real as her imagination. She watched the rest of her body leak away with whatever happiness that remained in her soul until she went to school. Nowadays, she’s the preponderance of students in her school and it took her by surprise. It took her by surprise because the hatred was worse. The laughing, taunting and haunting replayed in her mind. Her mind that functioned as well as a broken stereo. Over. And over. Again. All at the same time; when she began to feel comfortable with herself. The taunting is worse. The haunting is worse. The 18

laughing is worse. Everything got worse… She got judged everywhere she went by everyone, not to mention judging herself. She was obese, but now she’s dead. Unnatural love. She didn’t love herself, so she couldn’t see those who did love her.


Twenty companies have contributed to 480 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent since 1965. The Guardian online 09/10/19

LAURA STANLEY I Want to Change the World But the world is lit & a sixty-five inch HD smoke cloud shrouds me & my eyes flit flit flit between screens & my thumb slides slides slides & flames hundreds of miles away singe my skin & the tip of my left lung is disintegrating but I barely wince & I sip flat lukewarm Diet Coke & I read the news for a bit & in five minutes I watch five thousand people die & Twitter is lit: Donald fires off words & I wash my metal straw & I crush the Diet Coke can in the green bin & twenty companies have contributed to 480 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent since 1965 & tomorrow is lit & the Daily Mail uses words like Britain will ‘bathe’ & ‘luxuriate’ & ‘soak’ in record-breaking heat like Britain is a fattened lobster & I dart out to buy the last electric fans for my 86-year-old Grandad & I coax him out of a yoghurt-splattered jumper & into a clean shirt but I wear long sleeves because I twist & hoard the sharp lips of Diet Coke cans for self-harm & I watch the flames hundreds of miles away & my thumb slides slides slides & my eyes flit flit flit 21

HOLLIE JEVONS SAUNDERS I Would Give Molly a Voice There was a girl; young, pretty, visibly happy enough in life; for the sake of this we will call her Molly. Molly had a secret, a secret she never told a soul, but if she’d had a voice, I think this is what she would say. I think she would start by saying that she wasn’t always so obsessive, she hadn’t always spent hours in the morning doing body checks in the mirror. She looked herself up and down in the crooked glass, gently stroking any loose hairs away from her face with one hand. Each day it felt worse than the last to look her frail frame in the eyes and smile. She was far too skinny, she knew that. Her eyes were clearly lacking in any brightness and it was painfully obvious she hadn’t slept in weeks. The skin sagging around them was dark, spreading its painful purple-yellow veins down and onto her cheeks. She moved her hand slowly to the back of her neck, she couldn’t see them, but she knew there were more purple tattoos painting her shoulder blades like a disease. People said she should cover them with makeup, but why would she, she never left the house. She knew he’d been watching her from the back of the room, he slowly crept up behind her until Molly could feel the soft brush of his breath warming the nape of her neck. He lowered his head, kissing her crown, slid his hands around her waist and pulling at the hem of her shirt, his fingertips cold as he brushed them against the bare skin of her hips. All her breath caught once again in her throat and she had to bite down against her tongue to stop a gasp from escaping her mouth. Molly knew he was a drug. One touch and the intoxication was instant. It spread through every vein in her body, sending his poison tumbling around, warming her from the inside out. In life, we are never defined by the things we think or feel, only the choices we make and by that definition, he was a monster. She had never been afraid of monsters, even as a child, and now in fact it was safe to say she had fallen head over heels in love with one. Her monster would spend all 22

day checking she was okay, watching her favourite TV shows with her and spoiling her with gifts. Her monster had the most magical blue eyes, and a smile that dragged her towards him. Her monster didn’t have long claws or a dark deformed face or any flaws at all. Her monster wasn’t green or purple or brown. Her monster did like purple though; he covered her body in purple, sometimes for fun she assumed. Her monster loved her so much that he ran her life for her, kept her all to himself and took away her voice. If I could change the world, I would give Molly a voice.


SOPHIE CUMMINS Just a Short Walk “Bye,” I say, stumbling as I go in for a hug. “Text me when you get home.” “Sure.” “Seriously,” says Jen, “don’t forget.” I’m seven minutes away from my front door. Too close for public transport. Too close even to take an Uber. By the time I got to a pick-up point, I’d be nearly home. Walking’s the only way and the lonely way. Especially at this time. I check my phone: 2 am. There’s plenty of other people falling out of the club, but they all head straight for the bus or the tram or the next bar. I scroll through my contacts looking for someone in the right time zone. It’s only 9 pm for Angela but she loves posting about Trump and how women shouldn’t have abortions. I scroll again. It’s Angela or nothing. I call and wait. Nothing. “Hello, you awful person, you,” I say. Hey Tan, how are you? “Same old, same old. Still pro-choice.” You always were the reasonable one. Why are you even friends with me? “Well, you just won’t stay deleted. Nobody unfriends anyone by accident, Angela. It’s called ghosting, look it up.” Will do. Talk to you soon, Tan. “Even in imagined conversations, there’s no getting rid of you, is there?” Not a chance. There’s someone up ahead. I wait until the figure floats through the pool cast by the street light, ready to cross the road if necessary. They’re clearly too small to be a man so I relax. She walks past and I can tell she sees me talking to my lock screen. Meanwhile, she has her head high, without a care in the world. Confident. Then again, she’s wearing more clothes than I am. I imagine the inches of bare skin above my knee being used against me and I pull my skirt down. 24

I’ll wear trousers next week, just so long as I get home safe tonight. I don’t know who I’m bartering with but we reach a deal. I put my phone away; only a few minutes to go. I turn a corner and that’s when I see the undeniable shape of a man up ahead on my side of the road. He doesn’t move until he sees me and then he starts walking in my direction. I’ve thought about this happening before but it’s never actually happened. I cross the road; so does he. “Oh God.” I reach into my too-small bag for my keys. I hold them snugly in my fist, my room key sticking out like a makeshift knuckleduster. Could I use it? Could I stab this man? I suppose I could if I had to. I’d have to go straight for his eyes. Or his Adam’s apple. He’s just a few steps away. My heart’s pounding. I think about screaming or making a run for it, but I realise I’m frozen. My hands are sweating so much I feel the keys slip in my fist. He walks straight past me.


RUTH EMMA HARDING I Wake Up, Alone and in Pain I wake up, alone and in pain. My parents are at work, my brother is at school, my bed always smells from night sweats, and our dog is stretched out next to me twitching in her dreams. There’s always some kind of hurt, like my head is being crushed from the outside or my back feels wrong, and my guts split with a torture blade so my joints dislocated just enough to scream with an overwhelming flood of sadness because I am alone. Again. It’s so unfair. All the doctors do is say things that don’t make sense and never communicate with each other properly. All school does is complain that I’m not at school. I need a chance. Lots of chances. I should be able to get the health care I need. I should get the education I deserve. I should get the freedom to go out with my friends when I want to. To follow my real dreams. “A dream is a wish your heart makes…” Going to university. Going out with friends. Studying for my exams. Living on the outskirts of a really busy town in a country farmhouse that’s nice and big with some fields. To have about four or five dogs (rescue dogs), a Siberian Husky, a German Shepherd, maybe a Poodle (normal size, not a miniature), and a Dalmatian. To have chickens so I have my own eggs for breakfast. To have my own small stables to fit four horses, but I would only have two, and I would have two miniature 26

ponies (a Falabella because they’re really cute and a Shetland because they’re cheeky) to keep each other company for my kids to ride. I would have my own vet practice in the town, close enough for me to get there easily every day. And I would have my own garden where I would grow fruit and vegetables, such as strawberries, blackberries, carrots, and also sweet peas, white and yellow roses. And at the end of the garden, a secret fairy garden. Instead, I’m in bed, looking at the same walls I’ve been stuck with for five years. The same broken door. The same vomit bowls for when I get rushed into hospital. The same GCSE books that I’ve been trying to use to teach myself so that I can take my exams. The same things on my shelves because I just haven’t got the energy to tidy. Then the dog wakes up and belly crawls her way over to give me a whiskery kiss. Her breath stinks, as usual, but I love her so much. She snuffles about my bed looking for treat biscuits that mum sometimes leaves out for her to find, knowing full well she will wake me up finding them. She makes me so happy. I go to tickle her ears, but she sits just out of reach. She’s waiting for me to get up. So I will, alone and in pain. Yet I will start this day.


RHIANNA GREENSMITH Bathrooms Are My Comfort Blanket 04.04.2018 - 12.25pm My name is Annie. I do not feel as though we met properly last time. I do not like talking to people much. Dismantling the iron-wrought barrier that exists between myself and others is too challenging. I engage at considerable speed, discussing the works of my favourite authors, linguists and the severity of the climate crisis only to be met with short, mocking cackles from those that mean the most to me - my dad saying that I am ‘going off on one again.’ I like writing. The act of putting pen to paper, or as is sadly more convenient these days, letting my stream of consciousness take subconscious control over the tapping of my laptop keyboard. Writing is cathartic: it allows me to analyse the constituents of my brain (a form of structuralism that allows for introspection), acting as a means of conversation that does not demand reciprocation. I capture this life that I lead through the written word, aware of the idiosyncratic lens through which I view the world, I wish for my mind to stand the test of time. To let an insight into my brain outlive me by constructing its physicality. I am sat in the bathroom at school currently, the block on the bottom of Z Block - a building best avoided during this lunch hour as crowds of my unruly peers rush up and down the flights of unstable stairs. Standing in a huddle of ill-matched personalities discussing menial topics such as the weather and engaging in bad-humoured gossip does not appeal to me. Besides, who would I want to spend time with? I cannot bear to construct a false version of myself, the self-assured version of myself that constitutes their normalcy. I often spend time locked within the safe walls of a toilet cubicle. Feeling lost, confused, anxious I subconsciously track down the nearest block of toilets and unthinkingly reach for them. In public places they are the only location that I cannot 28

be seen in, a respite from the tiring facade of typicality that is expected. To be alone with myself and conform to my mantra of living life peacefully alone. A space carved by myself to exist a few moments autonomously. French last lesson was horrific as usual. I am passionate about the constituents of language - word classes, semantics. I answer as many questions as I can in French class, revelling in the recognition that I gain from my teacher for having retained the verb conjugation taught the previous week. Today, the sarcastic comments were as prevalent as ever, joyously accompanied by a plethora of eye rolls and mocking giggles at my unapologetic excitement to be acquiring new lexical forms. Feeling ashamed for having exposed my abnormality I intentionally slowed my already laughable pace of putting my pencil case and exercise book into my bag down so that the remainder of the class would leave me in isolation. And that is when I retreated here.


THABISO HADEBE Because I Am I sit here on my desk and stare outside the window wondering I need to gain society’s approval to change it But that same power is what corrupts people Should the more privileged be responsible for me even though that is the point of their lethargy? When is discrimination justifiable or whether maybe it is just a harsh reality? Society says that it is justified for a woman to refuse to be examined by a gynaecologist if he is a male because it will make her uncomfortable Though what if the situation was the same and instead she said she does not want to be examined because the gynaecologist is of the African race? Or maybe because the gynaecologist seems way too young for her to be examined by them Where do we as a society draw the line and where do we place our morality I scrutinize my own skin, ideals and question myself “You are too young to understand.” When did age define maturity? Yet maturity and wisdom are defined by experiences “Man up, men don’t cry.” As if it were a crime for a man to shed a tear, this toxic masculinity kills. This is why the male suicidal rate increase “Why is it that all men are not created equally?” Since I am black, I always start at the back Because I am black, I am always under attack Being black means that I am no longer a slave to an individual yet I am still a slave to the society. But being black is not everything I am, Being a man is not everything I am Being too young is not everything I am It is a part of the complexity that I am Deep personal convictions probably suggest that there is a war 30

between people of difference. Are we truly addressing the problem though? As Humans, we tend to conclude that the problem is me vs them, yet in actuality, we need to view it as me and them vs discrimination Everyone needs to be responsible for someone else The more silent I am, the worse it will become, So I decide to stand up and speak. Because this is who I need to become.


CHINENYE OKOLO When I Wake Up, I Dread the Feeling Inside of Me When I wake up, I dread the feeling inside of me. It scratches at me. Hits me. It wants to come out, but I refuse to allow it. I swallow it down. I refuse to give into the immense feeling pulling me down. I feel like this every day. There is no escape other than the one that will hurt the ones I love the most. The one that I will carry out today. I can’t remember when I finished getting dressed but I find myself in school. I say I love you to my mum for the last time and I act as if everything is fine like I do every day. I emerge into the place that caused me physical and mental pain 5 days a week for 4 years. It will all end today and I will feel nothing. “How was your summer, you gay Paki?” Mike taunts, throwing an empty Fanta can at the back of my head. I don’t reply, instead I just walk. The thing inside me cries and begs for me to say something, but I pay no attention to it. “I’m talking to you, terrorist!” Mark shouts, throwing me to the ground; “look at the ground. This is our soil.” “DON’T CRY!” I plead with myself. The people around me laugh, pointing at me. Mocking me. My blood dribbles down my leg and people find it funny. Just like the coward I am, I walk away. The thing inside me wants me to stand up for myself. To say something. Anything. I can’t tell whether the bullies are drowning out the thing inside me or if I’m the one neglecting it. The day carries on. The taunting carries on. I carry on. It passes by in a blur and when the day finishes I make my way to the rooftop. I know what I want to do. Many people don’t have the guts to do this or are too scared. Maybe somebody will come and save me like they do in the books I read. I stand on the edge and nobody has realised. I’m just the Indian boy in an all-white-people school. I tried to fit in, but I never did. I stuck out all the time. Then, I was assumed gay over some incident. I say incident, 32

but I am gay and I’m not proud. My mother doesn’t look me in the eye. I get bullied every day. My father avoids me. I feel alone. At this point, even my God won’t accept me. Then, I just do it. I let go. The voice inside me finally dies. I die. I was dead before but it feels different now. My classmates scream. Parents jump with fright. My body lies limp on the floor. I watch the whole ordeal, not knowing what to do. Lola cries. Lola always used to make bomb noises every time I walked past. Why are my bullies crying? Is it guilt?


NASUA IYAMAH-ARBOUIN Your Black Is Beautiful INT. BEDROOM - EVENING NALA, a strong 30-year-old black woman, is tucking in her 5-year-old daughter JAIMA, who shares a room with her 12-year-old sister AMELLA. Nala is putting down the book she is reading to her daughter and standing to leave when Jaima pulls her back down. JAIMA

(sitting up in bed) Mummy, I can’t go to school tomorrow. NALA (concerned)

Why not, baby? I thought you liked school. JAIMA

I did, but then the new boy said my skin looked like poo, and now no-one will touch me. NALA

But honey, your skin isn’t like poo at all, your skin is beautiful.

Nala places her arm next to Jaima’s on the bed.

See, your skin is like mine and Amella’s. You’re part of a community of people who look like you and who love you. 34

JAIMA (eyes filling with tears)

I know! But nobody in my class has skin like mine, and they won’t share with me anymore. They won’t even speak to me. Why don’t they like me?

Nala pulls a now crying Jaima onto her lap, and strokes her neatly cainrowed hair. NALA

Jaima, look at me. You are blessed to have dark skin. At times, it won’t feel like that. At times it will feel like the whole world is against you because of it. But there will always be other people, like us, who understand, and will be there for you. AMELLA (sitting up now)

Tommy at school says we don’t belong here. He told me that his dad says that people like us should go back to where we came from. NALA

Where were you born‘Mella? AMELLA




There you go. These people may never understand you, because you’re different.

Nala grabs Amella’s hand and kisses Jaima on the forehead.

But,I am your mother,and I always will. Your black is beautiful.Don’t let ignorant people change your perception of yourself.

Nala lets go of Amella’s hand in order to tuck Jaima back into bed. She moves to the door, switches off the lights and before leaving says.

Things will get better. For all of us.

Nala exits the room and sinks to the floor next to it. With tears of her own blurring her vision she pulls her phone from her pocket and opens her text messages. She clicks on the first contact and types out: “Can you come over?” An immediate reply buzzes through saying:“Of course, be there in 10”. The camera pans up, and we see that the message was sent to Nala’s own mother - contact reads as MUM. Nala lets the sobs erupt from her body as she cradles her knees and the shot zooms out.


FREYJA HOLLINGTON Broken Record A broken record, stuck in a monotonous, continuous loop, repeating, reproducing, replicating, an unbroken melody, formed from chains of tradition and conservation, linked in metallic evidence of closed mindedness, each note trapped, bound, shackled, contained and controlled, the melody an earworm, programming the minds of the naive, resented in the minds that seek truth, unconvinced, unsatisfied with the faรงade, the song of lies, the claim that life is better freer, fairer, equal and accepting, ignoring the similarities, that the melody is the same, repeating, reproducing replicating, stuck in a monotonous, continuous loop, A broken record. 37

AYANA SEN-HANDLEY A Muddied Welcome “Natasha! Are you ready, or are you planning on being late on your first day?” “Coming Mom,” Natasha called back. She flew downstairs and out the door, too excited to do more than shout a hurried goodbye to her mother. Her anticipation of new friends was reflected in the glow of her golden-brown skin. School started well, wrapping up the morning with her favourite lesson, English, before lunchtime. She was wandering along the playground, weighing up different ways to say ‘hi’, when she was knocked clear into a puddle. As she looked around in shock, a popular girl called Skye hurried past with her adoring entourage. Natasha glimpsed a pale, pretty face which bore a triumphant sneer and drifting over from the girl gang were titters of ‘you can’t even see the mud!’ “I think she could’ve at least said sorry,” said a little voice nearby, helping Natasha up as the others moved away. “And did you hear what Amelia whispered? My mummy would call that racist. My name is Mina, by the way,” she tailed off timidly as the bell rang for science. And so seven solitary days crept past, inching their hours along as if they would never end. Eventually (thank goodness) they did, and Natasha began a new week with new hope. Natasha was rounding the corner to the main gate to the school when she almost walked smack into a gaggle of children loitering there. As she regained her balance, she realised that these were the girls from Skye’s gang. Skye and Amelia were murmuring together whilst the others were either smirking knowingly or unsuccessfully smothering excited giggles. No one had spotted her yet, so Natasha stepped out of sight to plan her next move. Finally, after much internal debate, she decided to stroll casually past them, praying they had forgotten 38

all about her. 1, 2, 3 GO! She set off, fixing her gaze in the opposite direction, in the hope that if they did look her way they would think she hadn’t even noticed them. The gates got closer… and closer… BAM. Skye skidded in front of her, barring the way in. She wrenched them open, only to slam them shut behind her whilst her cronies cackled with laughter, “You’re not welcome here!”. Yet again, Natasha was dripping with mud. She looked down at her sodden shoes and back up again onto a completely different scene. And this one included … Mina? She was standing with her hands on her hips shouting at the now quiet-as-mice bullies, “everyone is welcome here. We are all equals, which means treating everyone the same, so if you can’t be nice, you can just take your powder-puff noses and keep them out of our business!” Then eyeing them menacingly, little Mina added, “Or else!” Natasha’s mouth fell open. Was this really the same Mina that had shied away from openly helping her? But ‘oh’, she thought, Mina had said ‘OUR business’! Natasha had found a friend.


CHARLIE-DAWN SADLER Paper Skin I always wondered how it felt, it’s strange to start it now. I want to learn to like myself, but no one taught me how. If you undress my responsibility, you’ll find I’ve got paper skin, and you’d think after years of pretending, it would be much thicker than thin. Sometimes, I feel like someone who’s not, and today my chest feels heavy, like someone cut their hand on my broken heart, and no one thought to tell me But all the words you’ve ever said, are preserved in ink inside my head, and all the letters I never wrote, are smudged in pencil around my throat. I feel unease in my body, like I grew it there myself, I didn’t know the effects, of putting my love on the shelf. My paper skin is full of words I hope not to hear again, they’re black and bold across my chest, In permanent marker pen. I can’t catch up to my feelings, but now my mind has gone flat, it took me a while to realise, I’m not myself, but who is that? 40

There’s no one left to talk to, no one, least of all me, and my paper skin is tearing, but nobody wants to see. Introducing me to myself, I don’t want to do it again, we didn’t leave on good terms, we didn’t leave as friends. She asks me to remember, and I just don’t think I can, wrap me up in a different skin, and ask me who I am.


RAQUEL BOOYSEN We Are So Polite We are so polite. The British continue to chant to the rest of the world. A wave of excitement flooded her entire body as a new chapter in her book was about to begin. Everything was new, the environment, the people, the weather, everything. She was ready to explore, experience and fall in love. Not with a person, but a people, a culture, one she had only ever admired from a screen. She was here now, in flesh, boldly stepping out into a world she expected would accept her. We are so polite. The British continue to chant to the rest of the world. “Your English is pretty good?” Was that a question? A compliment? A statement? “What do I reply to that?” she asked herself, “I guess I should say thanks.” But for what, she thought. She wondered why her fluency in the English language would come as a shock to a British white person. Was this person assuming that her foreign status meant she was incapable of fluency or were they genuinely admiring the articulation of her words? Will she ever really know what they meant when they uttered the words “pretty good”? Most probably not. We are so polite. The British continue to chant to the rest of the world. “Why aren’t you black though?” Confusion began to seep into every fibre of her being. She was not confused as to why she was not black but rather why her skin colour was being questioned. Surely, they must know Africa, being the largest continent consisting of numerous different countries, most probably has a variety of ethnicities with different coloured skin. ‘Your ignorance amazes me’ she whispered quietly to herself. We are polite. The British continue to chant to the rest of the world.


EMILY ROYSTON Snowflakes They stuck to my eyes as I lay on the ground, steadying my breathing, trying to stay calm. I could hardly believe what had happened. My chest ached and my feet stung with cold. My thin cotton pyjamas clung to my body, letting the cold night air in. It nipped at my skin and wrapped around my hair, freezing the wet locks. Kimmy was wailing in my ear and I bent down to give her a hug. My hands shook as I reached in my pocket for my phone. “Hello, this is 999 what’s your emergency?” “It’s my mum she was attacked.” “By who?” “My dad.” *** Thirty minutes earlier The door opened and the sour almost mouldy smell of beer and whisky wafted through the door and my heart sank through the floor. He was drunk again. I started to bustle Kimmy upstairs, but he grabbed me by the back of the neck and slammed me into the wall. Stomping past, he pushed open the door to his and mum’s bedroom and started pounding her, punching her face, neck, chest, anywhere he could reach. Kimmy screamed and Dad knocked her to the ground. I grabbed her and ran down the hall and out of the house before falling to the ground outside our house in a dead faint. *** 1 week later I rushed into the room hope soaring in my chest. Only to find a white sheet pulled over her face. My knees hit the floor and I felt an inhuman moan escape my throat a sound of agony, despair, and horror. She was gone. Killed by her own husband. 43

ELEANOR JACOBSON Wanderlust in a Broken Planet When my daughter grows up, she’s going to explore the world. She’ll turn eighteen and pack her bags. “I’m off on an adventure,” she’ll say, a big grin on her face, her fernweh spirit glowing like an aura around her. I’ll drop her off at the train station, wave her off with tears streaming down my face, as she sets off into the sunset to follow her wanderlust and quench her thirst for serendipity. As the days apart become months, our only contact will be a few scribbled postcards and too short phone calls. First stop Venice and Europe, then California, Brazil, Australia, the list seems endless. At least this is what I dream will happen. But it’s 2020. I’m nineteen and my daughter is a figment of my imagination. She will not see the idyllic Venetian canals and bridges or the iconic gondolas of Venice because it will be submerged by the time she turns eighteen. She’ll miss California, the drought too unbearable for humanity to survive. The Amazon Rainforest will be off the table too, because that’s already leaving our planet. She’ll skip Australia, the bush fires will have turned the continent into a kingdom of ash. She’ll never see some of the most beautiful places of the world or appreciate the breathtaking beauty our world has, and all because past generations took it for granted. Plastic still litters the supermarkets’ shelves; fossil fuels continued to be burnt when renewable energy sources are an option and plastic bottled water is still sold when tap water tastes the same. Protests and climate strikes take place and although reported by the media, our voices are not heard but hushed. “We’re too young to understand, we don’t know anything”. Our power is shackled to our age, too young and too powerless. As the clock ticks down and sea levels rise, doubt fills my mind; can we really change and save our planet? Do humans, 44

creatures of habit, have the ability to change? Can we stop the stubbornness and denial of the few to save the many? But our generation is determined too, and our voices will be heard. We will yell from the rooftops of every city and raise awareness of the poison mankind has spread on our planet. We have learnt from the mistakes of our elders and will unite to save our home, our family, our planet. In 2050, my daughter will pack her bag and explore the world we saved, a world that was in danger of becoming non-existent. A world that nearly slipped through our fingers.


JUDGES Bali Rai has written over forty novels about teenagers and children. A leading voice in UK teen fiction, Bali is a passionate advocate of libraries, reading for pleasure and literacy. He has been nominated for and won numerous awards since 2001. In 2019, he was a Costa Book Award Judge. Bali’s new book Now or Never - A Dunkirk Story is out now.

Becky Cullen is a poet and lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. Becky’s award-winning poetry pamphlet Majid Sits in a Tree and Sings won the 2018 Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet competition. She hosts Totally Wired Poetry at Wired Café Bar and is the creator of the Poetry Pulse project, which explores the use of digital technologies to capture, showcase and curate the work of Nottingham’s 1000+ poets.

Danica Bowles is one of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature’s Young Ambassadors. The Young Ambassadors project is organised by the City of Literature, which selected fourteen of Nottingham’s young people to become champions of reading and writing in their schools and communities. Danica’s an avid reader, and she loves Cassandra Clare, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Sarah J. Maas.

Georgina Wilding is a poet and learning designer born and bred in Nottingham. In 2017, she was named the Young Poet Laureate for Nottingham. She is currently the Creative Director of Nottingham Poetry Festival. Georgina is also the founder of Mud Press.


Kim Slater is a full-time author, writing Young Adult fiction (as Kim Slater) and Adult Crime (as K.L. Slater). Kim gets her literary inspiration from everyday life and all her YA books are set in Nottingham. She’s won several awards, most notably for her debut Young Adult novel Smart (2014). Her 2019 novel, The Boy Who Lied, was distributed around the city for free as part of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature’s Big City Reads campaign.


AUTHORS Haroon Altaf is a secondary school student who loves to read, this helps him with his vocabulary knowledge in school. Hence, why he entered the My Voice creative writing competition. Tsvetina Todorova is a year 8 student at The Oakwood Academy. She loves reading non-fiction especially about space and science. This is the first poem she has written and is extremely excited to win in her category. Abby Stafford is an aspiring writer in Year 12, she reads avidly and enjoys creating stories in her free time. Usually Abby sticks to prose, but for this competition she wrote a poem instead. Teo Eve is an English Studies MA student at the University of Nottingham. His poems have been published in the Nottingham Poetry Exchange’s Voices anthology, and by 404 Ink Magazine. Maria Sibi is a Secondary School student at The Trinity Catholic School, Nottingham. She likes to read a variety of fiction books. A Different Story is her first published work. Alicia Ebanks-Babb is a hard-working student at Nottingham Girls’ Academy. She enjoys creative writing and exploring different viewpoints. Laura Stanley is a third year English with Creative Writing student at the University of Nottingham. She is currently working on a poetry dissertation. 48

Hollie Jevons Saunders is an English Student at Bilborough College who has loved writing her whole life. Hollie dreams of becoming a writer and inspiring young people just like her to write. Sophie Cummins is a keen writer; she is currently working on her second novel. Just a Short Walk is her first published work. Ruth Emma Harding is fifteen years old. Her ambition is to be a vet. She enjoys art, playing games and doing different sports, especially horse riding. Rhianna Greensmith is an English student at the University of Nottingham. She is also currently involved in a commissioned audio project with BBC New Creatives. Thabiso Hadebe is a student at the University of Nottingham International College. He loves reading and analysing themes and characters in books. His MyVoice Entry will be his first published work. Chinenye Okolo is a Secondary School Student at The Trinity Catholic School. She regularly reads books and her MyVoice entry was her first work that has been published. Nasua Iyamah-Arbouin is a seventeen year-old college student at Confetti, currently studying ‘Film & TV Production’. She has had short stories published before, but this is her first script.


Freyja Hollington is a member of Nottingham Girls Academy, she enjoys writing creatively in her leisure time. The MyVoice competition gave her an opportunity to share a strong message. Ayana Sen-Handley is ten years old, a writer/artist/actress who’s danced with Martine McCutcheon in Elf, sung with G4 at Southwell Minster, performed on the West End, and been published in anthologies. Charlie-Dawn Sadler is an Acting and Creative Practice graduate who loves devising theatre, writing poetry and all things comedy. She aspires to be a successful playwright focusing on feminist story-telling. Raquel Booysen is a final year Fashion Management student at Nottingham Trent University. She is originally from Windhoek, Namibia and enjoys writing. ‘We Are So Polite’ is her first published work. Emily Royston is thirteen years old. She went to Blessed Robert Primary School and is now in year 8 at The Becket School. When not lost in a book, you might find her swimming (for the Green Arrows) or, she confesses, with her nose in her phone. Eleanor Jacobson is currently on her gap year. Her travels around Europe and California were the inspiration for her story. She will be studying Creative Writing at university from September.


Trigger Warnings:

p.16 A Different Story - racial abuse p.18 Unnatural Love - eating disorder/body dysmorphia p.22 I would Give Molly a Voice - domestic abuse/weight loss p.24 Just a Short Walk - gendered violence/sexual assault p.26 I Wake Up Alone and in Pain - extreme illness p.32 When I Wake Up I Dread - racial abuse/suicide p.43 Snowflakes - domestic violence


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