My story ‘The False River’ has been shortlisted for The Commonwealth Short Story Prize. I had completely forgotten about this, so it’s almost a shock, though a welcome one. I think the way judging works is that they pick a regional winner (mine would be Canada and Europe) then an overall one. The story in question is about a man obsessed by numbers who is driving a Greyhound bus and is very much in love. 1st round of judging takes place on May 22nd. Please cross your eyes.
Once again, I am the bridesmaid in this excellent competition. My story ‘Half’ was shortlisted and appears in the 2012 Anthology, which can soon be ordered here. The Willesden Herald is a very good competition because a) it’s not expensive to enter b) it’s judged anonymously c) The word limit is usually much higher than usual (7/8000) for short story competitions and d) if you get shortlisted, you at least get a publication out of it, rather than the whole ‘honourable mention’ thing which is like being told you’re a bridesmaid without being allowed to come to the wedding.
My story is an incredibly joyful tale of acceptance, personal growth and warm, enduring love, as the begining suggests:
Ruth stood at the end of the pier, looking back at the shore. Beyond the beach, above the road, she saw the line of hotels: white castles topped with flags, slightly blurred in her vision. She squinted, but they weren’t just distant: they appeared to be retreating. As if she were at the stern of a ship that was slowly cruising away.
She touched her hair, then checked her watch. Perhaps Sam wasn’t going to come. Perhaps, despite the way he’d sounded, things had not improved.
She leaned on the railing and wanted to shut her eyes. But the pier, for all its ironwork, did not feel like something to trust, not against so much water.
Five minutes, then she’d go; the London train was at half past.
She went to the telescope and pushed a coin in its slot. She bent and peered and turned it slowly. Windsurfers, waves, a dinghy. A single swimmer on his back. Then the grey of the water blurred to the yellow ochre of sand. More sand, then the freckled limbs of a woman without hair. The woman was wearing small dark glasses. She absently picked her nose. Then she looked directly at Ruth with a stare that said, Fuck off. Ruth jumped and the telescope skipped to waves that lifted, hung, then fell. The woman had, of course, not seen her. If she moved the telescope back, the woman would be squeezing sun cream onto her speckled arms.
She turned the scope till she was seeing down the pier. A pushchair, a rubbish bin, a cloud of candyfloss. Then she raised it and saw faces. White, black, lumpy, old, then, as the shutter dropped, the face of her half-brother.
He’d told her a year ago, just after he passed the bread, right as she started to butter.
“I’m using heroin,” he said.
There’s a nice review of The Tree That Bleeds in the April issue of Literary Review, which doesn’t even accuse me of bigotry or treachery.
My piece on life in Cairo’s cemeteries is up at Egypt Independent.
I’ll be having two kinds of fun in NYC this month. I’ll be giving a paper at the Association for the Study of Nationalities conference at Columbia University on 19th April. The paper is titled ‘Post-Conflict Identities in Xinjiang: Good, Bad and Non Muslims’ and is basically about the mean things that Uighurs I knew said about Han Chinese, Hui and other Uighurs in Yining. For example, this exchange that I had with a Uighur girl in a small village near Yining.
‘Are there any Chinese here?’
‘No, you would be able to smell them.’
‘What do they smell of?’
‘Spices, mostly chilli.’
‘What do they say you smell of?’
‘Lamb. Many Chinese, they can’t stand this smell. When they come here for the first time, they will –’ (she mimed retching) ‘when they smell this.’
Were this not fun enough, I’ll also be doing a book reading at Bluestockings in Manhattan on the 22nd. For the love of God, if you know anyone in NYC, please tell them to come.