July-August’s submissions reflect a change in tempo. Five months on since the pandemic entered our lives, attention has shifted from the external experience to internal worlds. Covid is no longer an explicit presence, but a ghost, a metaphor, its presence less visceral, but its shockwaves keenly felt. The uncertainty of living in a twilight world between isolation and the old social norms has thrown some writers back on their memories while others have delved into their imaginations to escape.
The Space Between Us by Judith Glover, is a tender exploration of ageing and loss, an act of remembrance bound in a quest to let go. The past and present is skillfully woven together in Judy Darley’s This Too, which evokes a strong sense of dislocation. Set against a heatwave and infestation of ladybirds, the pandemic is never explicitly named but ominously present.
This Cloistered Time by Lois Hambleton is a heart-breaking memory of a mother witnessing her son survive the impact of an explosion in Basra. Again, the pandemic isn’t present explicitly, but it steals through the analogies of war and loss. A different kind of grief drives the narrative in Grace Palmer’s Has Dorothy Died? which charts the experience of family members in care; the complex combination of contradictory emotions provoked by dementia, with an ear finely tuned to the peculiar details that unexpectedly make one gasp for breath. In Snow Angel, Jasbinder Bilan writes about her grandmother escorting her from India to England, its sensuous detail beautifully captures the disconnect between old lives and new, drawing with great economy on the chill of an English winter and a whole new vocabulary. Words are also under the microscope In Covid 19, by Subitha Baghirathan, who uses haiku to adroitly explore the phrases which have defined our months of lockdown: isolation side by side with companionship, anxieties set against ‘precious spirit’.
Distraction proved another strong theme for many writers, yanking us out of the narrow confines of our lives into a world rich with possibilities, a salutary reminder, if ever needed, of the power of writing to transform and transcend. In his highly inventive From: Germinal Floréal, Alisdair Paterson drums up the ghost of Voltaire to inspire an imaginary and humorous flight to a world revisited through apples trees, oaks and palms, where pangolins is an anagram of plainsong. Likewise, in her visual poem, Once Upon a Lockdown Josephine Corcoran draws on the fairytale tradition to illuminate the repetitions, contradictions and broken narrative that have been our lives for many months, setting roses and knotweed against algorithms and enforced routines. An underlying sense of frustration cleverly underscores the tale. Lyndsey Croal also uses mythology in A Kelpie’s Breath, a contemporary take on a Celtic myth, retold with a skilful nod to the sacrifices many have made through the pandemic.
Finally, in a lovely subversive swipe at our obsession with appearance, An Evening at The Masked Ball by Stuart Larner, disrupts the dress code of a formal dance as guests don full PPE to waltz around a ball-room; an incisive commentary on human fragility and resilience, with its final punch offering a tender and optimistic truth.
Of all the featured submissions this month, whether inspired by memory or fired by the imagination, we were struck by a common theme running through them all, the realisation that despite the uncertainty many of us currently feel, all is not lost; hope has a beating heart.
And the winner is…
The submissions were original, inventive, tender and insightful. Every writer brought unique insight, originality and compassion to their work. But in the end our team consistently returned to one piece in particular, our winner, Judy Darley’s This Too. Congratulations Judy!
Feedback from our team included:
‘Judy Darley’s piece is a tiny novel – full of yearning and questions; there is so much tension under the surface of a seemingly unremarkable memory and conversation about the heatwave and ladybirds, all evoked with haunting and powerful imagery.’
‘This is a great piece of flash fiction. So much is said –and left unsaid– in such a small length of time.’
‘Judy’s piece speaks to the experience of many with chronic health conditions and those who experience longer-term isolation, for whom the hope that life will return to its usual jolly bustle simply does not exist. And yet, somehow, Judy still manages to make this piece hopeful. It revels in life, from the vibrancy of the ladybirds to the “comb-footed spiders”.’