Myths of the Near Future
ALL HAIL THE NEW PURITANS #8 guest edited by Annmarie McQueen
MYTHS OF THE NEAR FUTURE PO Box 1, Sheriff Hutton, York, YO60 7YU email email@example.com To become a NAWE member go to www.nawe.co.uk
ISSUE 8 2016 PUBLISHER AND EDITOR: Wes Brown GUEST EDITOR: Annmarie McQueen DESIGNER: Estelle Morris The selection copywright © Myths of the Near Future
Myths of the Near Future is published three times a year online and collected into an annual print compendium.
CONTENTS 7 8
About Us Editorial
A Town Called Affliction Bethany Mangle
my Mother tells me to iron
Katherine Henderson 30
The Emptiest Vessel Sophie Lay
post|pro|mono|logue Dawn Seabrook
The Bird Cellar of Forgetting
Lady Waker Elizabeth Gibson
Kappa Quartet: with Daryl Quilin Yam
Things and Their Places Sophie Turner
The Memory Lounge Daniel Broadley
Benjamin Haynes 40
The Tidal Zone: in conversation
Making Myths Wes Brown
Dark Mathematics of the Universe Yellow
Hannah Froggatt 53
Anna Rivers 49
Turn Brown Edmund Hurst
with Sarah Moss 46
When The Leaves
Untitled Untitled Jago
MYTHS OF THE NEAR FUTURE
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We offer listings, support, advice, workshops, events, bursaries and publish a journal of new writing by under 25s called Myths of the Near Future.
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“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” George Orwell
For our autumn issue, Myths of the Near Future has collated the best new writing from writers aged 16-25, alongside two interviews from author Sarah Moss and recently published creative writing graduate Daryl Qilin Yam.
How do we define oppression? How do we define freedom? There’s a fine line between them, and it’s this delicate balance that the prose and poetry in this issue attempts to navigate, whether it’s rebelling against authority figures, or rebelling against the mental cages we find ourselves trapped in. This is a literature that mocks convention, a literature that is proud, glorious and outrageous, unafraid to laugh in the face of orthodoxy. To the future!
A TOWN CALLED AFFLICTION
This town is a prison, A den of utter decadence, Assailed by the echoes Of a leader’s phantom dream.
This house is a monument To the most wicked remedy, Of hiding from profundity, Hiding from the hunger.
This room is a landfill Of past days’ grim confusions, Sauntering down the neural way, Eating promises.
This bed is a foxhole Where the forgotten cry and sob, Long after the last speech has ended And the last real hope has gone. This head is a graveyard Of snakes and soapboxes, Raging, raging, raging, Population of one. Bethany Mangle
They watch me burn up like a false sun; flicker in and out of time. Kindling hips and lambent lips. Hands held high, I drop –
and I’m the flare on a sinking ship, stolen sips from stranger’s drinks
Greek tragedy, and I’m playing with the male gaze, slag, just for one drag, I’m disaster, drawing them in with amaretto spells. tiptoe kisses and I’m little nightmare, I sting them with my teeth – trouble.
Flypaper hands, sticky with cocktails spilt. The light blares cold, I drink my fill and hate their too-tight hold.
Queen bee. Nectar sweet. Off-beat. Incomplete. slut.
THINGS AND THEIR PLACES
Paracetamol crumbs dust the crossword puzzle and she licks them up like crack. Scrubs red wine stains from chipped mugs; sits in bay windows and reads the same words twice Watches her cobalt veins slink down slips of wrists, stares at motes in curtain gaps. Sometimes she wakes up on pavements and can’t remember how.
Sadness becomes her natural satellite; eclipses everything that came before. She speaks in clichés, words that are ghosts from films. She only knows that everything has its place. Sophie Turner
LADY WAKER Elizabeth Gßibson
“So what do you think of Amy? Something short, unpretentious,” suggested the Duke of Miransae. “Or what if we combined our names?” “Cosna?” The Duchess asked doubtfully. He was Cosmo, she was Luna. The Duke shook his head. His wife grimaced. “I suppose not.” After much thought, something occurred to her. The little darkhaired thing before them would be the Lady X of Harsee, Harsee being a pretty turquoise-and-pink island of the coast of Miransae. As the Duchess said, there were worse things to be named for. Tradition more or less dictated that her middle names would be Saira and Imogen. “So,” the Duchess declared, after a sip of her favourite blue honey-nectar, much missed during the past months, “if we wanted her initials to be WISH – which is, if I say so, quite nifty – we would need a first name to begin with W.” Her speech was slightly slurred. “How about Waker?” asked the Duke. It was normally a male name, frequently used for dogs. But the Duchess nodded blearily. “Waker sounds good,” she murmured, before slumping against his shoulder. •
Twelve years had gone by and still Waker never slept. She wasn’t unhappy. As a Lady of Miransae, she wasn’t expected to attend school – she learnt from her parents’ huge library and the tales of their many flamboyant guests.
She didn’t even attempt to sleep at night anymore. She would curl up and nap on and off during the day, when warm golden rays curled through the windows and around her limbs, eat dinner with her parents and then sit on her windowsill watching the dusk arrive, trembling with the beauty of it. The sky would turn silver, the sea purple, the masses of little white shells catching the last of the light and turning the stretch of sand outside their beach house into a sky heavy with stars. She would feel a pulling inside her, an agony that could never really be soothed. When her parents had definitely gone to bed, she would clamber out the window and drop to the sand. Her ankles would sink for a second before she grabbed the ledge of the lower window and heaved herself up. Then she would take a deep breath and smile. She would run to the waves, and they would roar in greeting. •
“Do you think…” the Duchess mused for the millionth time. The breeze flicked the curtains and her hair. She felt, yet again, at the mercy of the universe. “No. Whatever we named her, this is who she is.” The Duke was watching his daughter as subtly as he always did. She hadn’t suspected, not yet. “She seems happy,” her mother sighed, the only conclusion she could ever come to, and one that was far from comforting. •
Lady Waker was eighteen and on her first official visit abroad, to the land of Fridanse. The Duchess was with her. They arrived at the seaside palace and ate their evening meal. It was delightful, and the young Lady expressed her joy at such a divine meal. Her mother
chuckled at how utterly unlike her the child had become. That night there was tension, of course – Lady Waker was expected to appreciate the beautiful bed that had been made up by sleeping in it. She lay there, looking out at the ocean foaming and frothing. Her mother was reading beside her. “What is it, darling? Do you want to go out? I’m sure you could go for a quick run. I’ll cover for you.” Lady Waker shook her head. “You’ve done enough for me. You brought me up with such sweetness and love. Everything was soft like candy floss, gentle like cream, smooth like honey. You showered me with sugar strands, dressed me in frocks that fluffed like meringue. I needed salt, always, to even it out.” “But why didn’t you go to the sea during the day?” “Because that would mean sleeping at night and I never can.” “Because the night is beautiful?” “Because when I’m out you’re watching me, and Papa too, and I’m safe. When I’m in bed anything could happen to me.” “Like what?” “I could wish something and it could come true and it could be terrible.” “Your wishes all come true?” “Yes. When I was tiny I wished for a star and it burnt my hand. I wished away the burn and it went but after that I felt ill and weak and I realised I could only wish so much at a time for it to work.” The Duchess’s head was spinning. “So… your initials are the important thing. Not your first name. Not Waker.” Lady Waker shrugged. “I don’t know much about names but… I guess maybe the WISH part was deliberate, that you meant it as a joke, that maybe you didn’t even think what Waker meant.” The Duchess nodded slowly. “So, if you had a daughter, what
would you call her?” Lady Waker shrugged. “Maybe Luna, after you, and because the moon is beautiful and safe.” The Duchess was touched. “And,” her daughter smiled ruefully, “I would make sure her initials spelt out absolutely nothing.” The Duchess laughed as Lady Waker scrambled out of the window and, raising her many skirts, danced her way across the sand to the roaring surf.
THE BIRD CELLAR OF FORGETTING Beth Jellicoe
Since this is a story about Remembrance for a competition themed on remembering the war, but the theme fills me with a kind of numb stupidity whenever I sit down to write it, like a tourist in a foreign town suddenly caught in the middle of a very serious and mournful street procession, bumped along in the huge crowd without comprehending what is happening -
Because firstly, writing about Remembrance is tricky. You always feel like if you get it wrong, the ghosts of the past will crawl out and haunt you with disapproving looks; along with living readers getting offended, since they have a firm idea of Remembrance which brooks no disrespect or contradiction. This makes you want to do it wrong, though. You feel an urge to write something shocking, that can pierce people’s view of Remembrance entirely - something that flies straight into the reader’s ribs. Like a joke, for example, a really good war joke, like a little stab where tension has swollen up, allowing a release of poison and a burst of joy. Only these days, a lot of people are confused about whether it is still legal to make jokes about the war. So what am I going to do? Secondly, I was allowed to enter this competition, when my friend Roshan was not. Our college has banned her from it. The unfairness of it is what makes me feel stupid, and the shame as well, since Roshan is a better writer than me (also artist, filmmaker, thinker, clear-eyed seer of things) - so any attempt to write about Remembrance makes me feel only inadequate; also sad for her. The actual text of the new law is vague, declaring that people who make “disrespectful and anti-social displays and remarks” relating to
the war will receive a fine and a court order. Out of all the people I asked at college, no one is sure if a joke counts as anti-social, or whether joking is all right; the subject seems to make people feel awkward, although most people aren’t particularly bothered one way or the other, as we have exams coming up and everyone’s distracted with studying. Since the judges of this competition have probably read about Roshan in the papers, which gave a completely wrong idea of her as well as her motives for what they said she did, I want to tell you about a conversation I had with her recently where she told me about a film she’d been rewatching, a sixties movie made in the Balkans. I’m telling you because it shows the peculiar way in which she sees things. I was struck first of all that Roshan remembered this film when she thought she’d forgotten it. She said she’d seen it last year then had a dream a few nights back which played through the whole first section of the film again and she woke up wondering if she was in the film, if she had really seen it, if it was real. Our anti-hero of this film is a man who lives in this basement, which is full of birds fluttering about. He lives there with his friend, a dirtpoor photographer. He wakes up and there’s a girl, and he doesn’t know her. She’s scared of the birds, who she thinks will peck her eyes out. She is bald, skinny and androgynous, her face smudged. The girl claims that he rescued her, but he doesn’t remember. The girl won’t leave the basement where our man and his friend live, although our man wants her to leave at first because she’s Jewish. He fancies her, but he sometimes lobs anti-Semitic remarks at her. “Why?” Roshan had no answer to why that was in the film, but she said it was part of him both loving and hating her at the same time. But the three of them, orphans of war, band together and form a small family. The girl washes and is suddenly beautiful. They dance, eat and fool about. The man and his friend flirt with the girl, and try to paw her, but she puts a mousetrap on her naval that catches their hands. The friend photographs her - snap, snap. The two boys dare their friend
to undress, and she says, giggling “Only if you do too!” They jump behind a screen and throw their clothes off, while the girl rushes behind a screen, throws clothes in the air. Looking foolish, the boys edge out, naked. “Well, are you ready?” And the girl pops out, fully dressed, holding a camera in her hand, and takes their picture. They meet an old man who refuses to believe the war is over. They feast, do drugs, ride around. When they go up out of the basement it’s a contrast because the world above is so grim, full of soldiers and cops. Roshan said the film gets gradually darker and weirder until the girl suddenly turns to the camera and says she photographs things with her eyes, everything evil, so that the more she absorbs, the more she will take with her when she leaves. So there will be less evil left in the world. It all made me feel unsettled. I said, jokingly, “So I guess it ends badly?” “Oh, they all die!” said Roshan. “A love triangle,” I guessed. “Jealousy?” Roshan said it was frustrating. By the end she wanted them to be able to live together in the little world they’ve created, to keep being free. But the point is it’s impossible in a place like that - but, she said, interrupting herself, wouldn’t it be simpler if we could all love more than one person at the same time? I said yes, love should be free; if everyone was polyamorous it would solve a lot of problems; although I’ve never been able to do it myself. I am a very jealous person. Apparently the authorities at the time didn’t like new wave films because they were decadent and nihilistic, both at the same time. They were disrespectful of war, Soviet Communism, and everything else. I said, “Let’s make a new wave; a new new wave.” Roshan has very pretty brown eyes. She always apologises for not being articulate and for rambling, although she is and doesn’t. We got up and wandered into the glass-roofed area of the market, where birds were peeping and screeching. We looked around for the birds, but couldn’t see any; I thought I saw a little black figure perched on the
rafters, but when I pointed it out to Roshan, it disappeared as soon as she threw her head up to look. The sound of the birds seemed to be coming from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. There was a strong smell of fish, and ice. Roshan looked up and said, with a smile on her face, “The birds are all invisible!” So to those of us who know Roshan, we know how unfair it is that such a person should be banned by her English teacher from entering a writing competition, as if any story she would send in would be so explosive that everyone who read it would have to run for cover. To those of us who know Roshan, we understand that what she did was blown completely out of proportion and her disrespectfulness is of the purest sort. And it’s a little ironic that when the war bill passed six months ago, Roshan’s response was, “Well, at least that’s one war people won’t forget about. People seem to forget about all the other wars as soon as they go out of the news.” She actually corrected me, since I was opposed to the law from first hearing about it, and gently made me see both sides. She said, “I don’t agree either but I do agree that if kids aren’t learning about the war properly, then of course we should teach them. If the government steps up education about the war then that’s a good thing, ‘cos pretty soon nobody will be left alive to remember it, then there’ll be absolutely nothing stopping us from heading into another war. However, I admit that educating kids more won’t help if they aren’t being taught a historically accurate narrative or why it matters, so…” I said that firstly almost all the politicians in power are too young to remember the war while the people who survived it are mostly in retirement homes, secondly that schoolkids only learn about a small segment of the war as it affected our little island, thirdly that our collective memory of the war also revolves solely and selfishly around our little island and its nostalgia for an idealised good war of the past, and finally because as the war seems to be getting further and further
away, it is impossible for people like us to remember it as it really happened, and if everyone was forced to remember and to observe remembrance ceremonies once a month as the new law tells us to do, they would end up going through the motions of memorialising the war and “And do what?” said Roshan, smiling at my rush to say all this. “And become robots,” I finished. Roshan laughed. We were on the train and for a while after this we were both quiet, staring out of the window at the back gardens going past with their strings of washing lines unfurling. As it pulled into the station, the woman opposite us got up and said to me, “Can I just say that I think you were being horrendously disrespectful just now, and you have no idea what you’re talking about. Lazy, ungrateful little sods. And you,” she nodded at Roshan, “you need to go home.” She got off the train while we both stared at her, too stunned to reply. Roshan said afterwards that she wished she’d said “I am going home, I get off at the next stop” but didn’t think to say that at the time. I’ve been thinking about how this means that really I should have got into trouble, rather than Roshan. I also admit that after this happened, I became a little shy about airing grievances in public, worrying that people would take it the wrong way. Roshan, on the other hand, allowed her thoughts on remembrance and forgetting to change and develop. For example, last month she wrote a story imagining what it would be like if we had ceremonies of forgetting. At a scheduled date and time, people would start walking and together they would drift into a park, in no hurry. Someone would call for a two minute silence, checking it by their watch. During the silence people would stand in a loose group, staring at the sky, deliberately trying to forget everything they ever knew. They would repeat quietly to themselves “I forget - I forget - I forget everything.” Maybe they would do gentle stretches as they looked up at the sky or looked at
each other. They would not go through all the things they wanted to forget, since going all the images in their minds of atrocities in the past and present would require remembering these things and then letting them go, and two minutes is too short for that. But as they repeated “I forget” they would hope that some of the awful things they had seen and heard would disappear from their minds entirely. Roshan passed this story around online and a commenter told her that a ceremony of forgetting would be shallow, selfish, silly, and totally useless to society as a whole. It would be a highly privileged process of forgetting collective responsibility and so on and so forth. Roshan said, “I wasn’t saying we should do it,” as if to say “I’m just saying” which is her usual defence when she makes anything. She told me the story was about an idea she was interested in, about how everything you see and hear lodges in your brain and becomes part of who you are, therefore if you continually see images of terrible things your brain begins to change, and so perhaps forgetting is a way for the brain to heal itself. Then she said she was tired. She said yes of course we should be aware of the war, but she was finding it difficult to be constantly reminded, especially as people seemed to be taking all this as permission to attack anyone who wasn’t being respectful or patriotic enough. I remember one day around this time I caught her staring into space, and when I asked what she was doing she apologised and said “I’m trying to deliberately forget something. It’s not working!” I never thought the story would get Roshan into serious trouble, and in the end the thing that happened was nothing to do with the story anyway. She was just walking home one day and realised her legs were hurting, and since she has something wrong with the muscles in her legs sometimes she needs to sit down, and the nearest place was the war memorial in the little park opposite the roundabout. She was dehydrated also, since it was a hot day. So she sat down there, and took out a water bottle and had a drink. She knew it was illegal, but didn’t
expect anyone to say anything. Of course what people remember is not just the photo of Roshan sitting on the memorial, but the statement she made the day after the story blew up, where she said the line everyone seems to remember - “I am free to sit down anywhere” - then questioned why people were so interested in a photograph of a girl sitting on a war memorial, anyway.
Of course this story being simply a story about Roshan won’t change anything, and will not unban her from entering the competition or change the minds of people who have made up their minds about her without even knowing her. But I’ve been daydreaming, about the two of us, not because I think one day things will be different but because I’d like them to be different. It’s not as if I want to see statues torn down and people sprawling about on war memorials, or history textbooks torn up and thrown about in the streets, or days of remembrance transformed into ceremonies of forgetting everything you ever knew. It’s not like I want us to be able to rethink Remembrance a thousand different ways without being called heretics. It’s not like I want Roshan and I to tear up everything and build the newest wave ever seen. But I know things could be different, still. It just seems harder these days for people to picture things as different from the way they are now. Imagine that you open your eyes and hear noises, which at first you think are multiple ringtones all going off at once, signalling an emergency - but they resolve themselves into cheeping and purring, call and response - birds. Imagine that you hear a noise above, rat-a-tat, and don’t know if it’s gunfire or fireworks, because you can’t remember if the war is over and you can’t care less really. Imagine you push back the bedcovers, turn to your left, and see a beautiful brown-eyed girl lying beside you and you don’t remember her. She yawns and says, “Pretty loud! They’re celebrating up there.” She laughs and catches your eye, then points to a table in the corner covered
in apples, oranges, eggs in cups, fresh loaves of bread, fish, and elaborately iced cakes, along with bottles of wine. And now imagine you cut a slice of cake and offer it to the girl, whose hands are splattered with paint, and she takes it and laughs. Think about the two of you eating from the same plate, then a handsome young man joins you and you put the plate in the middle of the duvet so you can all eat - and you can’t tell if you’re in the past, present or future, or if all three are converging together, because the outside world is receding like a distant star and it feels like this is a new world you’ve invented… Imagine an underground world where you could forget the war and where forgetting was beautiful, and possible, and easy as breathing.
In conversation with Daryl Qilin Yam
Daryl Qilin Yam is a Singaporean writer who recently completed his undergraduate degree in English & Creative Writing at Warwick University in the U.K. His debut novel, Kappa Quartet, is due to be released on September 30 by Epigram books. It will be launched at the Singapore writers’ festival in November where he is a featured author. Despite the big time difference, Daryl and I found time to reminisce about our old Warwick days over Skype and talk about his recent writing success.
Has it always been your ambition to become an author?
I wanted to be a writer from the moment I started writing. I was 16, and I had taken a shot at a couple of short stories. But I was also interested in other forms of writing - for the stage, and for the media - and it took me a couple more years to realise that I wanted to write literary fiction. And nothing else. What made you choose to do a degree in creative writing?
Pure drive and ambition, a lot of selfishness, and the privilege of having parents who were willing to support my dreams.
Has doing the degree helped you improve as a writer? Would you recommend it to other aspiring writers?
I think it was doing a creative writing degree at Warwick University that really helped me improve. Warwick is no London, but I had the
time and the quiet and the peacefulness of living in a town like Leamington Spa. It gave me the space I needed to pursue and practice my writing, and it has given me friends whose stories and lives continue to shape my imagination today.
Can you tell us a little about your debut novel, and what inspired you to write it?
"Kappa Quartet" is a novel about a cast of people split between Singapore and Japan, bound by a common struggle with an inner sense of emptiness. I had many sources of inspiration, but the main one had to be an anime series titled "Uchouten Kazoku". It has a very Miyazaki vibe to it, in which humans and mythological creatures live side by side in contemporary society with nary a blink of an eye. It was wonderful. And then in came the figure of the kappa, and the hole in its head. After I had the story I relied heavily on texts like David Mitchell's "Ghostwritten" and David Hare's "The Blue Room" to give me a real sense of how I wanted to structure and plot out the novel. Did you have the whole novel planned out from the beginning, or did you just start writing and see where it took you?
I only had the courage to start writing after I had the first half of the novel planned out in my mind. I don't think I would ever have found the guts to do so otherwise. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I am very much a writer who needs a real sense of a story before I can begin the act of writing, especially when it comes to an undertaking as large as a novel. But of course, everything is subject to change when the writing actually begins, and this is the part nobody can ever teach you.
What’s the most helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
There's a recurring lesson in Hermann Hesse's "Siddhartha" that enlightenment can only be learned, and can never be taught. It's not exactly helpful, nor does it have much to do with writing in particular, but it's something that has guided me for a very long time. Where’s your favourite place to write?
My favourite place to write is any large desk with a comfortable but sturdy chair, filled with light throughout. There's a Starbucks near Inokashira Park, in Tokyo, where I spent many hours of my time writing. Would you say your writing is heavily influenced by your own personal experiences, relationships and emotions at the time?
Yes, but especially so when it comes to short stories. I feel like, more often than not, when friends share stories between themselves, they are better formatted in a way that can fit a single conversation. That, to me, is what a short story is like. What are your goals and hopes for the future?
My goal is to keep writing, for the benefit of my readers. My hope is purely selfish. All I wish for is that as I keep writing, I can grow in my practice, push the form forward, and live a richer, more fulfilling life.
Is there an author who’s significantly influenced your writing style?
These authors, I love and have devoured everything they have ever written: Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, David Mitchell, Michael Cunningham, Raymond Carver. God. It's a long list of men, save for Atwood of course, and I know I need to rectify this.
my Mother tells me to iron my dress
but the creases read like Arabic Sanskrit script – a pattern heat would take and make steam from look how the flowers make an alien alphabet
the darts and the pleats and the heat of my skin will see me right and the creases will drop a curtsey and lower their eyes at the sight of my royal body.
He laces up the back, checks the busk is straight, steel dowry creaks.
He tugs, once, twice, firmly and it feels good. The strings are thin but strong. He pulls again, makes the motions – nothing tightens.
Secure, the busk sits firm, the bridge, sternum to pelvis – gives her structure.
Binding contract of skins; there is nothing between them. Growing pains, ribcage all natural.
Lacing and steel grit teeth; something has to give. Katherine Henderson
THE EMPTIEST VESSELL
I always did the talking for you, rambling through family dinner until Dad couldn’t stand the sound of my relentless voice any longer.
He slammed down the onion gravy. Why do you never say one word when a thousand words will do? That never made me stop.
Mum bought you a shiny clarinet banded in silver and black. It squeaked and whistled and screamed,
so I did the same. Mum bought me a piano, second hand of course, giving me the tools to build
my very own wall of sound. Word by word. Key by key.
Until you, my very talented brother, couldn’t be heard over me.
Welcome, my friends, I’ve saved you a seat. Not quite front row, but just as enticing. These seats are for the back alley. Yes, the back alley, out in the cold, with the cigarette stubs and strangers’ piss. Here’s where the actors come out, in nothing but their dressing gowns. Here they smoke a few, blowing rings into the dark. Here, they pick some unmanned corner in which they vomit out all the nerves before costume change. Look at them; aren’t they beautiful?
Yes. Yes, we are missing the show. That’s not important. That’s not why we’re here. Who cares about plastic faces droning out someone else’s words? Just wait. Consider this an extended intermission. Run inside and grab some popcorn, but come back out straight after. And mind the rats.
You came back. Very good. Very good. Take a seat, but wipe it down first. Some strangers stumbled past here while you were gone, I’m not sure what they’ve done to your chairs. Sh. Here comes the cast. Now in yoga pants and ten-yearold t-shirts. See the make-up, smeared around their mouths? See the black stains under their eyes? They’re holding wine bottles already, look. Isn’t it beautiful? Aren’t they beautiful? Aren’t they beautiful? beautiful? beautiful? Dawn Seabrook
THE MEMORY LOUNGE Daniel Broadley
Sam found himself in a part of town he scarcely knew. He thought where he lived was rough, but this was something else. A wasteland of estates and terraced houses, grimy and full of debris. His boots crunched against the gravelly floor. He tightly held his brown worker jacket in the cold wind, holding his hands under his arms. The sky was grey. Sam couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen sun light. He was following vague directions from a pamphlet; straight on, left at the brothel, third on the right. And there it was, just past the moonshine off licence. The Memory Lounge. It was nothing more than a terraced house with a small neon sign outside. He hesitated, staring at the plain building. He held out his hands; the shakes.
He’d hoped his friend Zac would’ve come with him. All they’d done since the war is chase the next high, tried to get one up on the last. The Memory Lounge supposedly offered the best high money could buy, better than anything their dealer had to offer. “I’ve heard weird shit about that place. Fulla pervs and weirdos!” “Aye, dangerous part’a town that, lad,” Zac said. “Too many foreigners hiding out there. Even I wouldn’t go! Just stick with smack.” Zac shook a can of spray paint, continuing a piece of graffiti – ‘FUCK THE LIZARDS’. “Aren’t you tired though?” Sam got up from his dirty mattress. “We do the same shit all the time. It’s become routine! Let’s try somet new! We could go to before the war, even if it is just for a bit!” “Fuckin leave it out Sam alright? It’s all bullshit. We’re here, right now. That’s all there is and that’s all there’ll ever be!” replied Zac. Sam kicked over a tray of needles and baggies. His friends called out after him. Some were angry; those needles had just been sterilised. Others, like Zac, were calling him back.
The front room was like a hospital; white, sterile and blindingly lit. Sam winced as he walked in. Bookshelves. Magazine racks. A record player playing some classical music. Cream leather chairs with glass coffee tables and the smell of hand sanitizer. Sam couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen a place so clean and well furnished. He noticed a reception desk at the back wall. The receptionist had a blonde beehive that peered over the surface of the tall desk. Sam went over, walking through the breeze of the ceiling fans. “Excuse me? I’m here to… try the memory loungers?” “Do you have an appointment?” Sam looked confused. “I’m sorry, an appointment?” “If you don’t have an appointment we do a walk-in service. Dr Mengele is always happy to see new clients,” she said, her eyes locked on her computer screen. Her face hardly moved when she spoke. “Alright then…” This was all too formal for Sam, all too much like before the war. “Sign here,” she said, handing him a clipboard. There were just three names on it. James Porter 25/02/83 Sophie Turner 03/06/83 Claudia Darnell 21/08/83 “You’ve not been very busy this year,” Sam said cheerfully. “Mm hm,” she replied. “Please take a seat over there. Dr Mengele will be with you soon.” Sam sat in a cream arm chair, putting his feet on the glass coffee table. He tapped his foot in time with the classical music. There was a fish tank with a piranha and a few skeletons of small animals. That one fish has probably seen everyone that’s come through here, Sam thought. He stared at it for a while, wondering about what else there was to do, after such a devastating war, other than to seek pleasures. It was the
only thing left to do, but that little piranha was completely oblivious to all that. If the human race was completely wiped out, it would have no idea until it isn’t fed. Yet there it was, floating around, utterly ignorant to everything outside its tank. Dr Mengele entered through the double doors by the reception. Sam turned to him. “Hello?” “Ah, hello there. I’m Dr Mengele,” he said, going over to Sam and shaking his hand, “pleasure to meet you…” “Sam.” “A pleasure to meet you Sam. I’ll be taking you through the procedure.” Dr Mengele was a slender man. His lab coat was perfectly pressed and white, which matched his hair but contrasted with his black, bushy eyebrows. He wore spectacles and a shirt and tie. He was very well spoken, but his accent seemed to evade any area of England. It wasn’t northern or southern or anything; just plain English. Nothing like the street corner dealers Sam normally worked with. “If you’d like to leave your jacket at reception with Betty, then we can go on through to my office.” Sam passed his jacket over the desk to Betty, who then placed it next to three other jackets.
“So it’ll be two hundred then?” asked Sam, counting his money. “Yes, for the time period you’ve specified, yes, two hundred,” replied Dr Mengele, reading some documents. “Now you won’t be accessing any… past sexual experiences, will you? We do get an awful lot of perverts coming here and they make such a terrible mess… they really aren’t the kind of people we want.” “No nothing like that, just something before the invasion.”
“Splendid,” replied Dr Mengele. “You’ll do fine then,” he said with a smile. As he stacked various documents, Sam remembered one of the names from the clipboard. Claudia Darnell… Strange, Sam thought, somewhere in his long term memory was something attached to that name. What was it? “Claudia Darnell,” Sam said, “that name rings a bell.” Dr Mengele went over to a filing cabinet and flicked through the top draw, looking down his nose at the files. “Oh yes?” he replied. “How curious…” “Was she in the news or something?” “A model!” replied Dr Mengele. “Yes, she was a famous model. Plenty of money to throw around she had. She spent a long time in the loungers. Nice and young that one. Can’t have had many memories to sift through…”
Sam nodded. The answer half satisfied the memory Sam failed to access. It made sense, he thought. But there was still something else connected to that name, Claudia Darnell. “You’re shaking,” said Dr Mengele. Sam looked down at his hands. His right hand was scratching his left wrist red, trembling. Dr Mengele sighed. “You aren’t the first junkie to come here. Anyway, who am I to judge? We all have our vices,” he said, sitting back in his seat. “Now let’s go over the procedure. Firstly, I give you a small amount of tea extracted from the peyote cactus. This activates all the right parts of the brain we need to access before you’re put under with nitrous oxide. Then we let the machine work its magic!” “Great. Sounds good to me,” said Sam nervously, hiding his hands under the desk. “Splendid! Now, let us go through to the main lounge.”
The main lounge was a large, circular room. The floor and walls were
sterile white and toothpaste greens. A cacti garden centred the room. Around the sides were the loungers; recliners surrounded by an egg shaped screen with thick cables coming out the back. There were even some famous pieces of art hung on the walls. “Is that Salvador Dali?” asked Sam, noticing a painting of melting clocks. “How observant! Yes, ‘The Persistence of Memory’.” Dr Mengele went over to a computer at the far side of the room and began typing. Sam went over to the cacti garden and began poking them. “AH! Don’t touch those!” shouted Dr Mengele. “They’re very sensitive. You need to wear gloves to tend to them.” Sam thought of Zac. He’d have kicked off at that. D’ya fuck need gloves! And he’d have pricked himself and they’d have laughed. Yet there Sam was, alone, sat in a chair by the cacti under the UV lights. He could feel their heat. A fly landed on them. Sam watched it, listening to the light’s buzz. The tranquillity was abruptly disturbed by a sudden whirring hum; the lounger was ready. Sam stood up, his hands still shaking. His wrists were almost bleeding. His arms were crossed, shivering. “Aren’t you cold?” asked Sam. “No, it’s just your withdrawal…” sighed Dr Mengele. “Now then Sam, remove your shirt, jeans and boots and lie yourself down on that lounger over there,” said Dr Mengele. Sam complied, stripping to his underwear before lying down in a lounger. Dr Mengele went about clipping some cacti before boiling some water and brewing it. After a short while, he brought a small cup of it over to Sam. “Here you go,” said Dr Mengele. Sam sipped the tea, wincing, before gulping it down whole. He coughed and retched before composing himself and lying back down. A black rubber mask came down over the lower part of his face with a hiss, followed by the egg shaped screen locking him in. Sam began to drift into unconsciousness. His vision became blurred and his eye lids
became weak. Just as he fell under, he saw the shadow of Dr Mengele watching over him.
Sam was awake. Strange, there had been no memory relived. It was as if he’d been asleep! The nitrous oxide can’t have worked, he thought. Or perhaps a fault in the machinery. Sam lifted the black mask off his face and tried opening the screen. It was locked. He began kicking and hitting the screen as hard as he could. Eventually, one kick broke the screen off entirely. Sam got up and looked around him; Dr Mengele was nowhere to be seen. He began putting on his shirt when he noticed a table and chair next to the cacti garden. “What the fuck…” He approached the table. A full dinner set. Fine silver cutlery complete with a mains and side plate and a wine glass. “Hello?!” he shouted. His voice echoed throughout the building. There was no reply. It was silent, like the building had died. He looked through the door and down the corridor; nothing. “Fuck this,” he said, before shouting, “Oi! It didn’t work! I want my fucking money back!” Just as he’d finished dressing himself, tying the final lace on his boot, Dr Mengele entered the room. He was wearing a white apron and wielding a butcher’s knife. Sam looked at him in horror, noticing his eyes. What were once rounded, human pupils were nothing more than reptilian slits and his right hand was half covered in scales. “Sam,” he said calmly, “you’re up early. The procedure has hardly begun!”
Life starts in the death of an entire era. Catholic viewpoints visions of empowered corpuses Not the ego of 77’ — 88’ Mohawks and safety pin promises. Eeny, meanie, miners? No, Catch the workers, off their toes If they squeal, take their homes, Eeny, meanie, miners? No.
Thatched structures of economy Goblin markets come buy — come buy. A whitewashing in Daz left out on the line to dry to d r y Wage slip skint and bone marrow loans pockets of hopes and childlike dreams.
Scratch card saints pointed to the next fix Kingsman coveting in the un-sublime
treaties of the counties congress. Brought downwards in Black and Blue memories of single surrogate scenes. Falsified by fathers foraging floors for a ten bag. Humpty Dumpty never sat on the wall His hard boiled days cracked his shell Not the Royals Not the Aristocats Not the facts or Economical rats Air fed conditions Chem trail tabloids funded by broadsheet buyers. Bullyingdom clubbed of concerned privatisation Public to particular has always been the introductory inclination. could put Humpty back t o g e t h e r again.
Tory, Tory, quite conformist How does your economy grow? With NHS sales,and bullet shells, And dead Syrians all in a row.
The Tidal Zone In conversation with Sarah Moss
Sarah Moss is a professor on the Creative Writing programme at Warwick University, as well as an established novelist. Her published books include ‘Cold Earth’, ‘Night Waking’, ‘Signs for Lost Children’ and her most recent release ‘The Tidal Zone’ which has been received with critical acclaim. Her works have been shortlisted for many prestigious awards including the Wellcome Prize, The Walter Scott Prize and the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize. When and why did you start writing?
I started writing almost as soon as I could read, so it would’ve been about 6 as I learnt to read quite late. I don’t really know why because i was so little at the time but I guess it’s because i was reading a lot and it was what I wanted to do, I wanted to make stories as well as reading them.
Your latest novel, The Tidal Zone, is being released this summer. Could you give us a quick summary of it?
Sure, my elevator pitch. It’s a book about a family putting together a new normal after their teenage daughter nearly dies on the school playing fields. It’s not a book about trauma, it’s a book about what happens after trauma, about how you rebuild family life in the weight of crisis. It’s about adolescence and letting go from a parent’s point of view and how much harder it is to give independence to a child who you know is fragile and whose mortality you’ve just been
reminded of very starkly.
Was the book inspired by anything you witnessed in real life?
Not particularly. It’s about the strangeness of Mediterranean life, how on one end a sick child is saved at any price, and on the other end a healthy child is killed at any price. Adam, the narrator, is a descendent of the refugees and he’s very aware of the news, in particular the sufferings of children in Syria and war zones. And some of that started on a day when I was just making a packed lunch before work and there was as news piece about the bombing of a hospital in Syria and a man standing in the ruins just shouting ‘Where’s the world? Where is the world?’ And I remember just reading in my kitchen thinking ‘here, here is the world, I hear you’ but I had no idea what I could do about that. You know, I understood the awfulness of what was going on, but understanding it made no difference whatsoever to anybody and I didn’t know what else to do. And when I got back from work that day my kids told me that a child at their school had collapsed, though not under any dramatic circumstances like in my novel, and that an air ambulance had been dispatched. And it just seemed so bizarre that in one place you send a helicopter to save a child and at the other end of the sea you send a helicopter to kill a child. It was kind of meditating on that that got me started.
How long does it usually take you, from start to finish, to write a novel? How much of that time is spent on research?
The second bit of that question is really important. The answer is years, but because I’m always reading and always writing I never quite know which thing I’m working on until I’m in the writing
phase. So my next book, which is still a very vague shape in my mind, is developing from research I did from ‘Night Waking’ which I think was published in…2012? 2011? So in some ways the research just goes on from year to year. From that point of view you could say that it takes 5, 10, 15 years to write a novel, but during that time I’ll be working on other things as well. So there isn’t really an answer. The writing phase for me usually takes me 9 to 12 months to make a full draft. But then I usually delete that and write the whole thing again, so roughly 2 years.
Many of your novels are set during historical periods. Do you find writing historical fiction gives you more creative freedom than writing in the present, or is it more limiting?
Another very good question. Both, i think. It gives more freedom because in some ways it’s not totally unlike writing sci-fi; you’re building the world in which you set your novel and you have control over that world. There are always some unfortunate facts that get in the way, but by and large you can dodge them if you really need to. So to that extent it probably does give more freedom. On the other hand, if you want to say anything about the present day, which you always do, you’re kind of relying on your reader to make the connections, which means you’ve got to point things out in a subtle way and believe that your reader will work it out, which some do and some don’t. To what extent do you think your academic research interests influence your fiction writing?
Oh, hugely. I don’t think you can separate them. Particularly because since I came to Warwick I haven’t published any academic work at
all, it’s all been fiction or journalism related to the fiction, so they’re not separate.
I’ve noticed that the theme of motherhood comes up a lot in your novels. What do you find fascinating about this theme? What compels you to write about it?
I think we live in a culture that tends to blame mothers for everything. I think that as a daughter as well as a mother. I mean people will say ‘Oh i do this because my mother did it’ or ‘I do this because my mother didn’t do it’ and that’s accepted uncritically. And it seems very strange both to believe that mothers are responsible for everything that’s good and everything that’s bad, but also that their lives are not interesting and that maternity is not interesting. I think it is interesting, i mean it’s philosophically and politically interesting. And it’s interesting how often motherhood is perceived as some kind of pink frilly minority interest, which is just bizarre because the one thing we all absolutely reliably have in common is that we have mothers. So yeah I just think it’s not thought about as thoroughly as it should be and i quite enjoy doing that. If you could co-author a book with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Oh, wow. I’m trying to think who would be bearable to work with as well as who I’d like to work with because I suspect trying to coauthor a book with Charlotte Bronte or Virginia Woolf would just be tears of rage all round. I don’t know because co-authorship’s weird, but what i’d really like to do, that i’ve been thinking about recently, is co-author a book in several different languages with somebody who’s more competent than I am in another language. I’d
like to write a European novel across several languages with parallel text. What do you like most about the writer lifestyle? Is there anything you dislike?
I think the things I like are probably also the things I dislike. It’s the contrast between weeks and weeks and weeks on your own in a room making stuff up, which i like up to a point but it drives me a bit crazy after a while, and then several very intense weeks of being on show and publicly visible and having to think very carefully about everything you say because so many people are listening, and then going back into being completely anonymous and solitary again. I find I enjoy the back and forth because I like being on my own in a room with a lot of books and I also like talking to people. But I think to me academia is one of the things that mediates that because when I’m teaching I’m talking to people and I’m part of a community. It’s not as exposing as publicising a novel so I think for me that kind of mediates those two extremes.
That’s really interesting, thinking of the writer both as the introvert and the public figure. it must be a shock when you get up on stage for the first time after months of not doing it.
Yes, absolutely, and some writers hate it, some writers really are happiest on their own in a room and absolutely loathe being on stage and talking. But I’m not one of those, I do like talking. But I do find the extreme moments of both of those phases hard to deal with.
Yeah, I know most people would. Okay, last question, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to writers looking to improve their craft? Read.
Aeroplane thoughts between Brussels and Crete, March 24th Amber snakelines in the dark glowing eyeballs of human courage human human courage threaded into the black blanket of the land fading, flickeringobliterated.
Blue hat, black ink I, tesselate cross of trembling muscle frozen wild thing wild above the tossed amber lights of your unknown cities far below Sarajevo skies where once in a book, in a faraway library I read bombs crumbling out of space little boys pressing buttons driving up great flaming shards of concrete and death. a book written by a little red-hood girl with a family, homework, dance class glass windows, bleeding hands true story. Only two days ago somebody tore holes in the thrumming threaded fabric of my city, too.
In Brussels I was taking a shower when it happened I had shampoo in my eyes and in the airport, the subway, the street (far from me but sickeningly I felt the heat on my skin streets I know streets far from the suburban bubble of hedgerows and bicycle baguettes that protected us) the streets were imploding people were on fire people were breaking alive people were bleeding from the eyes I don't understand the cold of it I don't understand the conviction I don't understand how humans can hate like this or maybe I doI don't know how to think about it I don't think my mind contains the right shapes to fit these new realities like a jigsaw puzzle I have to break new shapes and holes and ridges into the soundscape of my mind in order to understand my mind rejects this reality this knowledge of Brussels in tatters flickers away while I try to punch new holes into my existential tapestry just to understand just to understand.
People dying under the bombed-out streets in Brussels Zaventem Airport where my little sister only days ago was welcomed home her footprints there pool with blood now broken families broken broken broken there are humans weeping in this moment in my city a girl gazing for the first time, awestruck wondering at the empty space where her leg used to be.
these skies dividing Brussels from Crete my uncharted causeway my mind cast loose I am a patchwork jumble of light and pain and ink and nationality memorythere has to be somebody left outside in the cold to do the remembering. sickness, I reject you I cast you out. Anna Rivers
DARK MATHEMATICS OF THE UNIVERSE Hannah Froggatt
PowerCon was once an annual congress for wizards, scientists and billionaires, held to share knowledge and discuss strategies for bending the laws of the universe to one’s will. In practice, it was more about boasting about one’s own mastery and inciting as much jealousy as possible in one’s colleagues, but that looked less grand on the brochure. The highlight of every Con was the world domination summit, where the best and brightest of each group showcased their schemes. First up was a genetic engineer who presented on modified animal armies, helped by his giant Cactopus. The billionaires jeered him offstage on the basis that one couldn’t patent living organisms, which made for an unprofitable apocalypse, and the genetic engineer fled in tears. A wealthy despot took over and discussed his plan to buy the wombs of all the world’s women, then charge such exorbitant rent for them that no foetus could afford to reside there, dwindling humanity to conquerable numbers easily ruled by an autocratic world king. Unfortunately, the wizards booed him off, since they could make people disappear instantly with a hex and had no patience for gentle population pruning. As the despot flounced out, a famous sorcerer stepped onstage to discuss enslavement spells, but a late-comer’s arrival interrupted him. He didn’t wear Armani, robes or a lab coat, so appeared very mysterious. To the sorcerer’s annoyance, he caught the interest of the crowd. “Tell us,” they called, “What are you?”
“A mathematician,” the man said. The room erupted with laughter. Theoretical physicists mocked him for studying something without real-world applications. Wizards belittled him for wasting time on books, and billionaires offered him jobs counting their money. “What’s your plan?” asked a scientist, grinning. “Nothing.” More laughter. “But I’ll duel anyone who doubts my power. Any volunteers?” “Me,” said the sorcerer, still onstage. “I’ve got such a dismemberment curse for you, pal.” They squared up. The mathematician moved first, pointing some chalk at the sorcerer. “Divide by zero.” The sorcerer looked down, and watched the cells of his body drifted apart as he was sucked into the infinite, screaming void between dimensions. “Who’s next?” said the mathematician. “I am,” replied a brave but stupid oil tycoon. “What’s your net worth?” “Ninety billion!” The mathematician pointed at him. “Multiply by zero.” Suddenly, three of the tycoon’s phones began to ring. It was his accountants, all calling to say he was broke. He fainted. “Anyone else?” He pointed at the scientist who’d heckled him. “How about you?” The scientist declined. He understood what he’d seen. This was
dark mathematics, a primal art that neither black magic, mad science nor venture capitalism could compete with. It was at the roots of them all. The crowd knelt and praised PowerCon’s most powerful man. “Tell us your secret,” they said. “How do you control the forces of the universe?” “I am the forces of the universe.” PowerCon was never mentioned again, and next year they held a World Peace Festival instead.
“I don’t think you have enough yellow.” “Hmm?” “You’ll run out before you can paint the sunrise.” “Well, it’ll probably be dark when I finish.” “Dark? But you’ve already cast the shadows.” “Yeah. To remember where they were.” “You can’t miss the sunrise.” “You know there’ll be another tomorrow, right?” “But it isn’t the same. It’ll be all wrong.” “It’ll look fine. I’ve done this before.” “Everyone will criticise you!” “…” “Sorry. I just love watching you paint. I’ll hush.” “…” “I just don’t understand why it can’t be perfect.” “Nothing I do is perfect.” “What’s the point then?” “Pass the black.”
Oh to be able to challenge that it’s irrational or doomed to try to be morally good, and not amoral like you should according according to libertines and magical individuals who won’t let all but only themselves be hemmed in. To sacrifice yourself to socialism or just people with mental illness, and be simple and clean and everything and let go of art and live like it’s your conscience’s tomorrow, and lessen your idealism and, having forgone a quest for transcendence, maybe even build some New Jerusalem Jago
I said, ‘Let the world be run by dogs!’ and everyone thought I was joking. The divide between politics and life all or nothing is the only rational thing, so when we left the EU what did you really lose? And contribute mildly to socialism if you can but when you’re getting stamped in the face try to remember that blood is the real red.
WHEN THE LEAVES TURN BROWN Edmund Hurst
I remember the cold of playing out. The taste of rain in the air, the feel of ice on the wind. The kind of weather that kept parents inside and left the world open to those of us who didn’t know any better. I stomped my feet on roots and soil. Jeremy grinned behind a cloud of white breath. The wind rattled through the trees and swept a curtain of dead leaves around the clearing. We were alone, cut off from everything but the mud, the branch and the corpse. “Told you!” Jeremy’s brown eyes shone with triumph. His ratty leather jacket flapped around his shoulders with a waft of horses and wild grass. Mum told me that he lived in a caravan on Peterson Field and I could bet that the council was none too happy about that! I already had a voicemail from her. School was over, where was I? How much homework did I have? Didn’t I realise that Year Ten was a big year? I didn’t want to throw it away mucking about with some gipsy boy, did I? I brushed past a branch and leant closer. The stink made my eyes water and I could taste sour bile in the back of my throat. The kit was very dead. Its ribs stuck out but the tiny tummy was swollen like a pumpkin. Some bird had been at the eyes and pink viscera glazed the two dark sockets. Deep runnels gouged the loamy earth surrounding it. A testament to its violent attempt to escape the fallen branch. “See?” Jeremy poked the ragged fur. “Gross. How did you even find it?” “You remember that big storm a couple of days ago? I was out for a wander and I heard this huge scream, like some pregnant woman just got kicked in the stomach. Turns out it was this thing.
You think this is cold; you should’ve been out then! Would’ve froze your bollocks off.” He cupped his crotch for emphasis. “Why would a kit be out in weather like that? Why not hide in a den or something?” “Dunno. Foxes are vicious. Maybe it didn’t have a choice.” “What d’you mean?” “Maybe it was hungry, or lost or something. Maybe the other foxes got sick of looking after it. The vixen-bitch was probably snuggling up to a new mate with this thing gone. It’s not like anyone gives a shit about runts like him.” “Him?” I raised an eyebrow at that. “Yeah. Looks like a boy, doesn’t it?” “Nah, I think it’s a she.” Jeremy snorted. “You would. Whatever. Boy or girl, it stinks. Let’s get rid of it.” He lifted the branch with a grunt and tossed it aside. “Come on.” I hesitated. What would Mum say if I came home with grave-dirt under my fingernails? “What’s the matter? Afraid of getting your posh-boy uniform dirty?” “No.” I knelt in the mud next to Jeremy. Together we scrabbled a little hole in the muck and eased the kit in with a couple of sticks. “I feel like we should say something.” “Why? It’s just a fox.” Jeremy rolled his eyes until I could see the whites. I sighed and stood up, just in time to feel the first drop of rain. Before I could open my mouth, the clouds burst and a torrent poured through the trees. “Looks like that storm weren’t done!” Jeremy blew water from his lips and grinned. His teeth were sharp. “Looks like you are getting wet with us rejects this time!” He yanked me down to the mud beside
him and his arm curled around my shoulders to trap me there. The rainstorm was brief, but heavy. Water ran from my hair and down the collar of my shirt. I wiped my nose on my sleeve. “Thanks.” “Welcome.” Jeremy let me go. He pulled a cigarette from his pocket, lip up, and sat back. Satisfaction oozed across his face and he held one out to me. “Here. This’ll warm you up.” “I don’t know.” “Why not? Afraid what Mommy might say?” He took another drag and blew smoke at me. “Shut up. I bet your Mum doesn’t like it.” “Who cares? She’s a slut.” “You shouldn’t call her that.” “What? It’s true! Slept with some gorger and got knocked up with me. Now no one wants her.” Smoke escaped his lips as he spoke. “Besides, you always going to do what Mommy tells you?” The wet soaked a shiver from my shoulders and I glanced at Jeremy. He stank of smoke. Brown stains were visible on his fingers and when he coughed, yellow phlegm stained his lips. “I’m telling you, they really take the edge off. Stop you shivering at least. Maybe you’ll even grow a pair whilst you’re at it?” He crushed the butt of his cigarette against a tree. I took a deep breath. “Fine.” “There it is!” Jeremy slapped me on the back hard enough to sting. He lit a fresh one between his lips and passed it to me. I gripped the filter between my teeth and took a breath. He laughed when I tried to cough my lungs up. Then he told me to breathe. I never really got the hang of it, but I stopped coughing. We sat in silence for a long time. I was going to be in so much trouble when I got home. Mum would be horrified and Dad…Dad would nod
along. But right then, none of that mattered. I just watched the smoke fade beyond the trees. When the cigarettes were spent, we stood up. My shirt was soaked through and Jeremy’s lips were turning blue. “Wait.” Jeremy knelt next to our little cairn of dirt and leaves. “God. Keep her free,” he said simply. Then he stood up and unzipped his jeans. “What are you doing?” I took a few steps back. “It’s a fox?” Jeremy said like it was the most obvious thing in the world. He walked over a tree and fiddled with his boxers. The sound of splattering followed and he groaned. “Go on. You do one too.” I spat a laugh. “Not a chance.” “Fine!” Jeremy turned from his tree and, jeans around his ankles and piss spraying between his fingers, he ran to the other side of the clearing. Proper laughter bubbled up in my stomach. Maybe he got a couple of drops on the other tree? I clapped regardless. “Right!” He pulled his jeans up and marched over. Then he grabbed the sides of my trousers and yanked. “Nice try.” I tapped the belt that dug into my hips. “Guess these ‘posh-boy’ uniforms have some advantages.” “Yeah?” He pushed my arms aside and grabbed the buckle. I swatted at his hands but he was stronger. I laughed and he yanked me closer. I could see the faint outline of the moustache on his face. He met my eyes for a second and it felt like the wind stopped. He let go of my belt like it was a snake. I looked down into the mud. Silence hung like frost between us. Then Jeremy punched my arm. My blazer squelched against his fist. “Ow!” I rubbed my arm and glared at him. “Dickhead.” He grinned at me. I smiled back. “Come on. I’m soaked.”
Jeremy nodded. We walked through the trees together and parted when the branches did. I held out my hand. He took my wrist. “See you tomorrow?” I asked. “If you’re lucky.” He winked at me and squeezed my wrist until it hurt. I squelched home. The little copse wasn’t too far, but wet trousers make any walk miserable. I passed by identical brick houses and entertained myself with a guessing game. I figured five was a reasonable estimate. Yeah, five or six. Turns out it was only three. Three steps in from the porch and Mum swooped on me like a crow on an unguarded crust. “Steven! Where have you been? School finished two hours ago!” The stress lines beside her eyes bulged at me. “…out?” “Out? In this weather? Steven, you’re filthy!” Her eyes narrowed. “Oh I see. You’ve been out with that gipsy boy again, haven’t you?” “Uh…” “Where is your school bag? Did he steal it so he could pawn the books to his criminal friends?” “No!” I knew exactly where my bag was. I stashed it under a bush by the copse. My own stupid fault for forgetting the damn thing. “I’ll…” She sniffed the air like an addict. Her eyebrows knit together. “Anthony! Anthony, get in here!” Dad poked his balding head from the living room. “Mm?” “He’s been smoking!” Mum’s ears flushed red. She really was angry. “Steven. Is that true?” Dad’s voice rumbled at me. I could feel my heart hammering against my ribs. What could I say? They had me on all three counts. Damn it though, I was not a child!
“What do you care?” The words sprayed from my lips like vomit. “What do either of you give a shit about what I have to say?” “Steven! We do not use that language in…” “Yes we do! See? Shit, shit, shit! What does it matter? You’ve already decided to bollock me. I don’t care. I’m leaving.” “No you are not! You are going to stay right here and…” I will treasure the look of abject shock on her face for as long as I live. It looked like her eyes were trying to burst out of her face. The door slammed behind me and I stormed back into the rain. My breath came sharp and my cheeks tingled like I had been slapped. Of course, I had no idea where to go. No money. No clothes beyond my school uniform. No food. Even as a run-away I was useless. So I just kept walking and let my feet choose. It wasn’t long before I was squelching my polished shoes though the mud of Peterson Field. The rain calmed to a drizzle, but I was already soaked. The caravans were right in the middle, bunched together with some huge tarp over them. A petrol fire burned beneath it and illuminated the travellers. Of course, they didn’t look like travellers. Mum told me what travellers looked like. The men wore nothing but vests, trousers were optional, and the women well…low cut dresses and bondage gear was par for the course! The truth was far less exciting. They just looked like people. Wet people, trying to get warm. I was more than a little disappointed. There were around twenty in total and it didn’t take long to pick out Jeremy. He was slouched next to one of the caravans with a cigarette in his mouth. I raised my hand and he looked over. The colour drained from his face. “’Ere, what do you want?” A man in a beanie lurched at me.
“Oh. I’m sorry, I just…” “Oooh, look at this one! Minds his P’s and Q’s don’t he?” He sniggered to a couple of his friends. “Piss off, faggot.” I bit my tongue so hard it hurt. “Please. I’m here to see Jeremy.” The man threw back his head and laughed. It was a harsh sound, like a dog choking. “You lot hear that? Gayboy here wants Jez! Oi, boy, get over here and see to your beloved!” Jeremy walked over slowly. His flicked his cigarette away with an exaggerated casualness, but his eyes burned like coal. “What do you want?” “You were right. I can’t stand listening to them anymore. I figured…” I shrugged. “I figured I could come and stay with you for a bit.” Jeremy groaned. The other traveller spoke up again. “Aww, ‘ain’t that cute! Jezza’s got a boyfriend!” “Fuck off Derek.” Jeremy turned and spat over his shoulder. He turned back to me. “And you can do one and all.” “…what?” “You need it spelling out for you? Fuck off posh boy.” His finger jabbed at my chest. “You ‘ain’t welcome here.” I am not a violent person. I never have been. But standing there, in the rain, with Mum’s words still sour in my ears and Jeremy’s finger in my face, I snapped. My hand cramped into a fist. My shoulders cracked when I swung. I felt the bone of his cheek beneath my knuckles and I punched him with all the angry strength I had. Which is to say, not a lot. He barely flinched and took a single step back. But the grass was wet and the mud was slick. His foot slipped and he fell flat on his arse. Laughter exploded behind him. “Great job, Jez! Nancy boy decked ya!”
That did it. Jeremy leapt to his feet, his face red as murder. He swung back. I saw black. Then red. My breath was stuck in my throat. I couldn’t even cry out. I just managed to raise my hands before he came again. His fist curled up under my jaw and knocked every idea of an equal fight right out of my head. He beat me. Not like kids in scrap. He pummelled me with the knowledge and strength of hard experience. It was all I could do to stay on my feet. I lost count of the times his fists crunched into me. Face, arms, legs, body. It didn’t matter so long as it hurt. When he stopped, my eyes were swollen to slits. I could only see the green of the field. My throat was sore and my lips tasted like blood. “Get out of here.” His voice came from far away. It even hurt to nod. I crawled away through the mud. It was night when I made it home. Mum was there the moment I had the door open. “I knew you…Steven! What happened?” She pulled me into a hug so tight it made everything hurt. Tears leaked between my swollen eyelids. “Anthony! Anthony, get in here!”
In the end it took me two weeks to heal. Mum showed me the pictures she took. My face was a mash of blue and purple, I had eyes like peaches and blood stained my cheeks. All I got in return was a few bandages, a month of notoriety at school and blood in my piss for three days straight. Meanwhile, Mum took the pictures to the council. Sat them all down like they were her kids and demanded that they do something about the ‘violent criminals’ in Petersen Field. She even went to the
local newspaper. They ran with the headline TRAVELLER TROUBLE and a picture of my idiot face for everyone to see. Dad told me all about it. Like always, he spoke into his hands and left as soon as he could. Two weeks later and a triumphant Mum told me that the travellers had been evicted. Weren’t we lucky? Wasn’t I happy that those brutes had finally been dealt with? I nodded and asked if I could stretch my legs. Two weeks cooped up in my room and I was desperate to get out. Only if I was back by dinner. I stepped out into the wind and wandered the streets like a zombie for a bit. I ended up by the old copse. I wasn’t surprised when Jeremy emerged from the trees. It had been his spot first. “Hey!” He walked over. The last two weeks had aged him. His eyes had lost that spark, that childish excitement that made him so desperate to show me a dead fox. I mourned for that. “Hey.” “I’m sure you know. We’re being shoved off. Got the police involved and everything.” “Mm. I heard. Where are you headed?” He shrugged. “Somewhere. Follow the road until we find another field with a broken fence, I reckon.” “Cool.” He hissed. “Look. I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t…things just got out of hand and I…” He trailed off miserably. “It’s okay.” I said. Even I was surprised at that. During my convalescence, I had nursed my resentment like a fire. I stoked it with every bruise, every spilled drop of blood, and yet the moment I saw him, all of that was gone. “Really?” “Yeah. Dickhead.” I even found a smile for him.
“Good! I didn’t want to leave when…well. Fuck!” He knuckled his eyes. “Its so confusing, you know?” He shook his head violently. Then he stepped closer. His hands came for me. I flinched but they were not fists this time. He crumpled me into a greasy embrace and then grabbed my shoulders. We stared at each other for a long time. Then he kissed me. His mouth tasted of tar and chalk. Surprise paralysed me. Jeremy broke the kiss with far more force than was necessary. Without another word, he left. I watched him go. Watched his jacket flapping in the wind until it was just a dark smudge on the horizon. I was surprised to feel the wetness roll down my cheeks. I was even more surprised to find that I was smiling. After that I went home. I ate my dinner, did my homework and ended up doing well in my exams. A few years later and I got accepted into a good university, studied my arse off, and ended up taking a job at the old school. I married a nice girl, had kids and moved into a house just down the road from where I grew up. I can see the forest from my bedroom window. Once a year, when the leaves turn brown, I take an evening for myself. I tuck the twins up in bed, wait for my wife to fall asleep, and sneak outside. Taped under the deck is a pack of cigarettes and I share one with the night. In the darkness, my thoughts turn to Jeremy, to a dying fox and a fallen branch. The smoke accompanies my whispered prayer into the empty sky. God. Keep him free.
You’re not easily taken but By god he knows how to charm and When he takes it’s not just your breath it’s Hunger and restless dreaming A pretty picture of a place that’s always been Too fragile to exist outside of you, a place where the air is a little colder and the streets a little wider Where there are urban mountains and Men with blue-blue ice eyes, snow skin, Extra play houses in hotter countries for Their extra play women. But he’s different because no one has ever Turned your solid ground to liquid the way he has Until you plunge, choking, into water that won’t Obey your thrashing limbs.
He teaches you how to swim Tells you he is a shore to return to. You don’t think you’ve ever seen a Smile so glamorous Tilted lips submerged in cherry wine Pressed up against cool glass. He is an ivory shade of exotic and he Wears it as dark suits, polite small talk and Winding tales of London streets. It will be five years before you realise You’ve been drowning, slowly, Ever since the day you met him.
You miss places, not people.
At 62 you dream of Kenting And firestone beaches, sand
Settling into the creeks they’d once colonised, then freed
Headlands jutting out like a Stubborn jaw, resisting
The wind’s whispered melancholy The stumbling lilt of its
Ancient hymns, telling of a History that once became you
Until the waves bored holes into the Cliffside and rolled shells into
The tight spaces where you slept, The cavities in your veins where
The salt deposits grew into crystals And the coral fish bloomed red and
Gold, each scale a waxing moon As they swarmed in mass along paths
Only they could see, headed for an Aquatic utopia at the edge of the reef
A place the divers could not reach So instead they marked out maps
Like bees dancing to divulge secrets of Where the nectar lies, trying to
Push out past themselves, past the dinghy Bobbing in the ocean’s open palm
Peeling white paint camouflaged In sea foam, a drawn-out
Decay, a collapse in slow-motion.
MAKING MYTHS Wes Brown on the first print compendium of Myths of the Near Future The Young Writers’ Hub was set up after a consultation into literature opportunities for young people in Yorkshire in 2010. I was given the opportunity to create a space to share news and encourage collaboration between young writer and writer, between writers and projects, and between Yorkshire and the surrounding literary communities both off and online, in the UK and beyond. A great deal has changed since then. The Young Writers’ Hub was taken on by the National Association of Writers in Education and our outlook immediately became national, rather than regional. We were able to offer an Enabling Fund to support young writers and producers, spending nearly twenty five thousand pounds on supporting grass roots projects. This part of are work was one of the most influential things we’ve been able to do. To simply allow young people to pay for a train fare to a conference they needed to be at to make vital contacts, the start up costs for a print publication like Cake Magazine, to stage a comedy musical, finance a podcast, or fly to America to represent the UK in a poetry slam. Along the way, we have been an information provider offering listings, news, resources, links and a weekly eBulletin to members. But what we found time and again was young writers wanted to be young writers foremostly and this meant being published. There were other outlets out there for publication. I had created one myself as founding editor of The Cadaverine – an online magazine publishing the best new writing by under 25s. The magazine also ran a programme of events and compiled work published online into a
print collection. But there would always be space for more. With Myths of the Near Future, I wanted to publish something in the spirit of the periodical. The curated feel of a magazine like Granta rather than the slapdash relentlessness of publishing individual items online. When you hear the phrase ‘young writers’ its often alongside ‘emerging’. But when do you stop emerging? What’s the end goal? As I created Myths of the Near Future, I moved through the threshold of twenty five, had a full-length publication from a small press and no longer a ‘young writer’ in funding terms. But there still seemed a huge gap between somebody like myself and more established writers we interviewed for the magazine like Evie Wyld, Ross Raisin, Joe Dunthorne, David Morley and Helen Mort. The purpose of Myths was to give young writers the publishing platform they wanted but also to include an interview with an established author and one in the stage between emerging and emerged to show a kind of stepping stone. What’s more, we wanted the publication to be what attracted young writers to our other work which might not be as desirable as publication but is equally as important like our writer development programme, information provision and support. I also wanted to look at experimenting with new digital platforms to help us deliver our work in the most sustainable and accessible way. We tried and failed to create an app. We looked at Ebook publishing to reach as many readers as we could. But it turned out much of our audience were not signed up members of the Kindle revolution. Some, even, were militantly opposed. I still felt that digital offered something unique. It costs the same to produce one digital edition as it does one hundred million, so why not utilise that with the power of free? The plan would be to publish three issues a year, every four months, for free online using our website and ISSUU and then combine the year’s worth of work into a single print
compendium. This way we could publish with greater regularity, at lower cost, create our own audience and then ennoble the publication in print. We would embrace a freemium model of freeloaders, fans and superfans. The freeloaders were people who would just read us online for free. These are an important demographic as they’re our audience and are generous enough to offer us their time, interest and often share our news virally. Fans are people who may occasionally come to our events or workshops. And the superfans are those who are willing to sign up as members and completely embrace all the work we do and support we can offer. There are no overarching themes in the compendium. We owe this to the originality and distinctiveness of our writers. But, also, the eclecticism and open-mindedness of our guest editors. Keeping with the theme that the Young Writers’ Hub would support the development of young writers and producers, I felt it important that each issue would be guest edited by a young person. The first few issues and the strength and continuity of the content are very much the success of Hannah Pollard, who has since gone on to work for Oxford University Press. Other guest editors over the years have been Jess Belman, Jonny Aldridge, Mia Florin-Sefton, Ella Frears and Annmarie McQueen. I’m also thankful to the likes of The Poetry Society, New Writing North, Writing Yorkshire, Writing West Midlands, The Writing Squad, The Cadaverine, Dead Ink and Arts Council England for regularly supporting our work and in some cases partnering with us to launch our online issues. It’s important for our publication to offer a platform for young writers to publish their work, to allow them to have serious editing on their work, to develop skills as performers and to then take part in the other facets of support the Young Writers’ Hub offers and for them to make their own connections and create new networks that support and facilitate readers, writers, producers and collaboration with other art forms.
The future is certainly on my mind as I compiled this compendium and see a cross-section of a new generation of writers. It’s impossible to read without at least one eye keenly on the future. The time-lapse for some from original online publication to being compiled in this compendium is four years or more. This itself adds another dimension to the collection. For some, they’re nearer sixteen than twenty five, Myths is their first publication. Others have gone on to publish novels with major publishing houses, place short stories and poems with internationally reputable magazines, begin promising academic or literary careers, write for popular television drama and produce networks and publications of their own. Still emerging. On their own terms. Making their own Myths of the Near Future. Wes Brown
See http://www.nawe.co.uk/young-writers-hub/myths/aboutmyths.html for more details. NAWE Young Writers’ Hub members are entitled to a free edition.
Bethany Mangle is a graduate student currently living in northeast Ohio. As a writer, she is particularly interested in political discourse, human rights, and the ability of fiction to act as a commentary on modern social issues. She is a full-time thinker and a part-time writer. Beth Jellicoe is a writer who currently lives in Birmingham, UK. She has published work in various journals and projects including London Journal of Fiction, wordgathering and the Stratford Literature Festival anthology.
Sophie Lay is an undergraduate student in the University of Gloucestershire’s Creative Writing program. Here, she studies and writes poetry, prose, and dramatic writing. She was raised in Oxfordshire, and currently lives and writes in Warwickshire and Cheltenham. She’s performed flash fiction as part of the Cheltenham Poetry Festival, and will have her dramatic writing published in the University of Gloucestershire’s Anthology, New Writing V Reflections.
Edmund Hurst is a Creative Writing Ph.D student at the University of Hull. His thesis is mainly concerned with the perceived ‘gap’ between Literary and Genre Fiction and he is currently writing a novel with the aspirations of appealing to both hardcore fantasy readers, as well as those who have never encountered the genre before. He is 24 years old and though he does not have a website, he does have a twitter, which is @Edmund_Hurst.
Sophie Turner is a 23 year old Teaching Assistant, feminist and aspiring writer from South Yorkshire. She mainly writes poetry and occasionally dabbles in non-fiction.
Elizabeth Gibson studies at the University of Manchester. She is a member of Writing Squad 8 and has work published or forthcoming in Myths of the Near Future, The Cadaverine, London Journal of Fiction, Far Off Places, Octavius, Severine and Ink, Sweat and Tears. Since 2012 she has been a Digital Reporter for Manchester Literature Festival. She tweets at @Grizonne and blogs at http://elizabethgibsonwriter.blogspot.co.uk. Benjamin Haynes is currently a second year student at the University of Bedfordshire. He is studying English Studies. He has a passion for the written and spoken word and is a part of a poetry dynamic called Street Academics UK.
Jago is a blue-eyed boy with a mirky conscience. He relies on the countryside and on six litres of cold water daily.
Katherine Henderson is a blogger and poet based in Edinburgh. She first started writing poetry at Rotherham Young Writers group and went on to win some local slams. In 2013, she supported Benjamin Zephaniah as part of Off The Shelf Festival in Sheffield. She is a graduate of The Writing Squad. Her blog is called Pin Ups and Panic Attacks and it explores a combination of vintage fashion and mental health.
Hannah Froggatt is a 22-year-old writer from London. She was the winner of the Junior Author International Short Story Award in 2015, the Ink Magazine Writing Competition in 2014 and second-place winner of the Words for the Wounded’s Annual Writing Award 2015. Her work has been featured in print and online, including in Frost Magazine, Dialogual, Blink|Ink and Writer’s Forum. Dawn Seabrook is currently a psychology student at the University of Canberra and has studied creative writing at Cambridge University. Her writing can be found in university publications by both Canberra and Cambridge, and her mum’s work locker.
Anna Rivers is an aspiring novelist and Oxford University literature graduate, currently living in Belgium.
Annmarie McQueen is a recent graduate of Warwick University in the U.K, where she studied English and creative writing. She’s the author of YA novel ‘Cold Water’ on the amazon kindle store and has been published in magazines including ‘Words with Jam’, ‘Reach poetry' and 'Buried letter press.' She can generally be found scribbling furiously in a cafe somewhere, hidden behind her camera lens or learning a new song on the ukulele. Follow her on twitter at @Annmarie_writer
How do we define oppression? How do we define freedom? There’s a fine line between them, and it’s this delicate balance that the prose and p...
Published on Dec 14, 2016
How do we define oppression? How do we define freedom? There’s a fine line between them, and it’s this delicate balance that the prose and p...