There was a time, as I was learning my craft (still am!) through my copious short story writing — when I was sending short stories to as many places as I could. I choose places where there is some prestige in being placed or, and better, the stories are published. To me, if you write, you want it read by as many as possible, right?
One of the competition placements I had was with a company that I did not realise had such a terrible reputation, and to my knowledge no longer exists. I waited some three years for the winner’s anthology, and in the meantime had to fix some terrible editing done by the same company for clients who came in and asked for help! Really. I have to say I was getting agitated about whether my story would ever be in print when that happened. It was — finally. It was in a book with an appalling green cover, no ISBN, you could only get it from the company and for a small thin paperback, they wanted £12, no contributor’s copy! Now it doesn’t worry me not getting a free copy as I know how hard it is to even break even with small presses, but come on…£12! I know that would have cost £2/£3 at cost.
I still have the book and it has the oddest title but I doubt many people have it. I imagine lots of copies festering somewhere. So there is a message in here that if unsure do some checking on where you sending your money when you enter these things because many do charge a fee.
After all these years I have revisited that story and decided to put it into Canvey Writers Anthology ‘Tales from the Upper Room’ that Bridge House is publishing next month, so at least someone will finally read it!
So, I will share an extract of that one with you this morning…
The edges are blurred, the lines between dark and light ill-defined as if they’re folded together.
I watch a raindrop cross a dirty window, stare across grey rooftops, and I think how I hate Thursdays.
The world ended on a Thursday.
It’s easy to stare at nothing for too long. The randomness of lists on a fridge door: baked beans crossed off, shampoo underlined, the name of a play by an unknown writer we heard on Radio 4, and a magnetic memento of a day trip to Brighton when there were day trips to Brighton. It holds a photograph of you, aged fifteen. You can’t tell. You look like any normal kid.
No one ever knows how things will turn out.
Morning news claims rising costs of living and layoffs at factories. I picture Dad, proud in a neon vest and hard hat, reminiscences of his Health and Safety Days: the officer, the enforcer. Life defined by punching a time-clock. But look where it got him. Or didn’t get him.
“A good honest living,” he said. “None of that artsy fartsy nonsense.”
Of course he meant me, not you.
“You think you’ll make a living ACTING?” he said, his doubt booming across a newly fitted kitchen while Mum stirred stew with a wooden spoon and looked the other way. “Look at your brother, going to the polytechnic. A vocation is what you need. People always need civil engineers.”
You tried to tell him they always need actors too and what would he do without Bond – James Bond – on wet bank holiday Mondays? But all he did was laugh. You always made him laugh.
And the whole time Mum said nothing. You said some people keep things on the inside, because they don’t know how to say them.
I can still see our house in West Hampstead where we grew up, you and I. Mum would turn in her grave if she heard me: You and me. ME not I. What did she think would happen if I used the wrong word, did she think the world would end?
I picture our house, with its enduring scent of lemon polish. A brick fireplace where shiny porcelain shire horses pulled invisible carts. The Top Forty countdown on Sunday nights, all of us singing along to Brotherhood of Man, and Auntie Shelly saving all her kisses for outstayed welcomes because Dad made the mistake of boasting about having a spare room. And a car port.
What do I have?
Cups stained with the entrails of too much tea; splashes of milk spilled from recyclable plastic that I won’t recycle; toast crumbs scooped into a grey dishcloth moulded with the shape of my hand and chip fat splashes scarring the surface of a metal hob.
But it’s home. And at least I didn’t desert you when you needed me.
Sometimes I wonder where that place went. I imagine it’s behind a closed door that one day I’ll find, quite by chance. Maybe in Debenhams: a wrong door in the fitting rooms. And there you’ll be, as if you’ve always been there, and our lives have been playing out in parallel the whole time. Mum still baking butterfly cakes that she wheels out on a hostess trolley, Dad laughing at you doing those rancid impressions of David Bellamy while uprooting Mum’s rubber plant.
I think about that as I stand at the window, counting the lives on the other side where new memories are spun. You just never realise how fragile all the threads are.
© Debz Hobbs-Wyatt, Tales from the Upper Room, Bridge House Publishing, November 2017
Never stop believing… you have the power…