The results

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of the Willesden Herald Competition are in. Alas, alack I did not win. But my story, as one of the shortlisted (from, I am told, a total number of 645 entries) is going to be published in the New Short Stories 3 anthology, which can be ordered here

Some have said it “ably and wryly depicts the sometimes quite contrary nature of the male psyche.” (Authortrek). As a taster, (or perhaps, a warning), this is how it begins:

Amy

One night, a few months ago, I went into my flatmate’s room. I put back the pillow and then, without thinking, bent down and pulled out one of the plastic trays that slot under her bed. In the first were trousers, t-shirts and shorts, so I pushed it back in, and pulled out the other. In that one there were bras and pants so I brought a black pair to my nose and slowly, deeply, breathed.

I had taken the pillow because a friend was supposed to be staying. When I’d finally made up the spare bed— the duvet cover was a nightmare —I realised there was no pillow and so earlier that day I’d gone into Amy’s room. I didn’t think she would mind: she was in Romania with her adventurous boyfriend.

I remember listening outside while the floorboards creaked. If she had somehow been inside— having returned from her holiday early after breaking-up with Tim —it would have seemed strange, almost creepy, for me to be stood there so long, as if I was waiting for a hole, or crack, to open in the wood.

I pushed the door with my knuckles. It swung in with an unfortunate groan but no one said Get out. I went in and took a pillow, then paused for a quick look round (although she’d lived there eight months, I’d only been in once before, when I had stood and watched while she wrote me a cheque). I saw that the bookcase was full, that she had a thriving yucca and a Vettriano print. I certainly didn’t think about touching the trays under the bed.

When I returned the pillow later (my friend had inexplicably decided to stay in a Travel Lodge) I was pretty drunk. When I brought her pants to my nose, it was mostly as a joke; there’s something unavoidably comic about sniffing someone’s underwear. My thoughts during the three or four seconds that I smelt the spring freshness of the fabric conditioner, felt the softness of the crotch (which although far from worn, felt too thin to be new) were anything but erotic. I smelt them the way you breathe in a rose on your way to the bus stop. At no point did I imagine Amy taking off these pants, slowly, or with a jerk of eloquent impatience.

Final words

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There were several forms of disbelief at the suicide of David Foster Wallace last November. First, there was disbelief at the basic fact of his death. Then, on learning the manner of it, there was a refusal to comprehend that someone so brilliant, so devoted to showing the richness of mental life, could be simultaneously  so exhausted by this richness that he chose death as a solution. Finally, there was our childish refusal to accept that there would be no more. The two novels, three short-story collections, numerous non-fiction pieces- maybe half a million words -just did not seem enough. And we wanted to think this was not just our greed. We could not imagine that someone so engaged, so gifted, would not be, in spite of their depression, at work on something.

Well, even we are sometimes right, albeit twice a day. It seems that, yes, there is more. The New Yorker has an excerpt from ‘The Pale King’ which DFW had been at work on for years; the unfinished novel will be published in 2010, and apparently runs to two hundred thousand words. Also in the same issue, a long piece on DFW’s life and death, the best of its kind so far.

I suspect that when the book comes out, it will makes us feel better and worse.

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