Tag Archives: creative writing

That tone by Kathryn Gynn

One of a series of blog posts written by Brunel’s creative writing students, inspired by the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies.

Some individuals may find the topic covered in this blog post distressing. Should you require support please contact:

Brunel Students: Student support and welfare team

Non-Emergency NHS Helpline: 111

Samaritans: 116 123 (open 24 hours)

He often found it unbearable, the tone of voice she used when she was talking to her sister. Not that it was his place to say anything; it wasn’t his sister, and she never used that particular tone when she spoke to him. But he would sit and listen to her talk on the phone, and he would hate it. She seemed to only talk to her sister when he was around, and always in that same tone. It was insincere, that’s what it was. She wasn’t an insincere person. It was one of the things he loved most about her. She was kind and gentle, and oh so genuine. She would never lie to him. But when she spoke to her sister, she would change. He didn’t like it. He didn’t like the smile that crept across her face, a cruel smile, he had decided. He didn’t like her laugh. Too sharp, too loud. He didn’t like that they talked about everything. Private things. And most of all he hated her tone. She was so sarcastic (1). When she spoke to him there was no sarcasm. Her voice matched her. She was the sort of girl who wore sundresses and cute ballet pumps. He made sure of it, throwing away anything that didn’t fit, and buying her dresses for her birthday. She didn’t know, just assumed she’d lost things.

‘Yes, I’m sure you took that red scarf to work, but you didn’t have it when you came home,’ he would say.

She’d smile, and roll her eyes at herself, asking him to remind her to buy a replacement. He never did. Her voice belonged to someone who baked cakes, which she often did, or wanted to have children, which she had agreed with him would be lovely.

‘One day,’ she had said, and he knew that day would be soon.

Yes.

Her voice matched her. But when she spoke to her sister in that tone, that sarcastic tone, she didn’t sound like his girl. She sounded like someone who wore leather jackets and high heel boots, who had piercings and tattoos, and ate takeaways, and wanted to travel the world. He hated that woman, and he hated that tone of voice. That sarcastic, horrible tone of voice. Like she was having a joke. A joke he wasn’t privy to. He didn’t like those moments, his girl talking to her sister, and not including him. He had a right to be included, but whenever she asked, she just brushed him off.

‘It’s not actually funny,’ she would say. ‘Oh, you know we don’t really talk about anything.’

If they didn’t talk about anything, there was no reason they had to talk at all. It wasn’t necessary, and it made him feel uncomfortable. That tone. That sarcastic, cruel voice. Not like his lovely, sweet, kind girl. He’d tried suggesting that she didn’t talk to her sister on the phone, but she lived on the other side of the country and his girl insisted they needed to talk, to keep in touch. He’d deleted her sister’s number one day, when she was having a shower, but it turned out that she had learnt the number by heart. He blamed that on a phone glitch. He’d stopped talking about her sister, in an attempt to not remind her of her sister’s existence. None of it had worked. She still spoke to her sister. She still used that tone.

(1) ‘Autobiographical Letter’ by May Owen (2:576), p.8, in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections, Brunel Library, Brunel University London.


© Kathryn Gynn, 2019. All rights reserved.

‘That Tone’ was inspired by ‘Autobiographical Letter’ by May Owen (2:576), in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections, Brunel Library, Brunel University London.

Kathryn Gynn is an aspiring writer, born and raised in East London, where she still lives. She has studied English Literature with Creative Writing (BA) at Swansea University, Children’s Literature and Writing (MA) at Birkbeck University, and is currently studying Creative Writing (MA) at Brunel University, London. She also used to be a Secondary school English Teacher, but left when they started mock-GCSE exams for 11-year olds. Kathryn enjoys learning about new things, and about new ways to experiment with words, and likes writing on things that aren’t paper. She recently embroidered a short story onto a t-shirt.

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First Day by Katie Higgins

One of a series of blog posts written by Brunel’s creative writing students, inspired by the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies.

Harper couldn’t deny the feeling of betrayal as she looked through the car window at the group of girls gathering for field hockey practice. Alyssa had said she didn’t want to play field hockey anymore, that she wanted to do a summer softball league. She hadn’t said that Harper couldn’t make the switch too, but it was clear to her twin that Alyssa wanted some independence. ‘We are fourteen now, after all,’ Alyssa had said with a complicated smile that was more mean than understanding, a facial expression Harper could never quite get to appear on her face. Her face that looked a lot like Alyssa’s.

‘Go on, sweetie,’ her mother Paula said. Her mother smiled encouragingly at the group of girls beyond the car window. ‘Daddy will pick you up in a few hours, okay? Have fun and make sure to drink water. It’s another scorcher today!’

Harper repressed the need to roll her eyes and tried to control her expression like Alyssa.

‘I’ll be fine, mom. I’ll see you later.’

She hopped out of the car, her field hockey stick banging against the doorframe a little, and jogged over.

She felt lopsided without Alyssa, like she could fall over any second. Or that the Earth was tipping drunkenly beneath her and she wouldn’t have anyone to hold onto.

A few girls in Harper’s grade looked over, but none of them made any sign of recognition and Harper was fairly sure they knew her name. Twins stood out like that. They were probably unsure of which twin she was.

‘Hey! It’s Harper, right?’ A tall, supermodel of a high schooler noticed her first.    

‘Yeah,’ Harper said, trying not to sound too relieved.

‘I’m Stacy, I’m the captain this year.’ Stacy gestured to the clipboard in her hands.

‘That’s great,’ Harper said a bit breathlessly. There was no way Stacy was only eighteen, with her long limbs and stylish bob haircut. She looked like someone from the cover of the Cosmo magazines she and Alyssa stole from their mom, before their little sister Delia ratted on them.

‘Okay, girls, gather round!’ Stacy called, turning to the group at large. Harper took a half-step away, not wanting to look like the teacher’s pet. Or captain’s.

Stacy went over the plan for the day, all of it sounding incredibly difficult and though Harper would never admit it out loud, she was thankful that her mom had made her bring three bottles of water.

Her eyes slid over the group of girls. There were about fifty in total. They all had similar willowy builds to Stacy, all lean muscle and tanned skin from tropical vacations no doubt. How were some of these girls only a few years older? Her own age? They all looked like superheroes. On closer inspection, she also noticed that most of them were wearing similar shorts and fitted tank tops. Each one had a shimmery logo, something designer. Harped tugged at the hem of her Backstreet Boys t-shirt and tried not to give in to the sudden itchy-feeling she associated with bad omens. Her body instinctively leaned to the left, but Alyssa’s familiar form wasn’t there to catch her.

They were told to warm up with a jog through the neighborhood that ran along the school grounds. The group stretched and fragmented, not every girl able to go in a uniform pace. Harper, to her surprise, found she could keep up with Stacy and the other seniors. She and Alyssa had taken up going for jogs in the spring to get out of the house and avoid homework. Harper hadn’t realized the runs had actually done anything besides make her brain blank and fuzzy for a little while. A small smile crept around the corners of her mouth and she breathed hard.

They looped back to the starting point, each older girl complaining of being rusty, or having drank too many Mike’s at the party last night. Stacy barely looked like she’d moved at all. She grinned at Harper around her water bottle.

‘First freshman to complete the Fun Run!’ She said to the other seniors. A few of the other girls took notice of Harper for the first time. Not all of their stares were friendly, but in the giddy fog of adrenaline, Harper didn’t find herself cowed. Stacy’s praise washed over her, protecting her.

‘The Fun Run is roughly 5K and we do that for every warm-up,’ Stacy said to Harper. ‘Most girls don’t keep form off-season. They’ll all trickle in over the next twenty minutes or so. The good thing about finishing early is a longer break.’ She winked.

When the last girls showed up, mostly shell-shocked freshman, Stacy grouped everyone to start running drills. Harper found she had more energy than before she’d started running and hadn’t thought of Alyssa once.

A large group of boys coalesced on the other side of the field, kicking soccer balls and each other. Linnea, a tall, sharp-eyed girl in Harper’s grade, straightened up. She looked like a hawk that had just caught a scent. Harper was infinitely grateful the gaze wasn’t trained on her. It looked positively vitriolic.

‘Oh, shit,’ a mousy-looking girl next to Linnea whispered. ‘Gavin will be over there, won’t he?’

‘No fucking shit, Jill,’ Linnea snapped, not taking her gaze off the group of boys. ‘He’s the captain of the varsity team, isn’t he?’

‘Youngest one in years,’ Jill said, almost in reverence.

‘Don’t praise him, you zealot.’

‘Come on girls, let’s get back to our drills!’ Stacy called, noticing their group standing, facing the boys. ‘There will be time to ogle boys later!’

A few other girls around them laughed. Harper blushed furiously but Linnea looked meaner than ever. Disregarding the drill to dribble through stout orange cones, she whacked the neon green ball with righteous force, sending it zooming away from the field of play. Jill ran to retrieve it.

‘You live near Gavin, don’t you Harper?’ Linnea said, as if noticing her for the first time.

It was true, Gavin Hawkins’ family lived in the same neighborhood as Harper’s. Her mom was good friends with Mrs. Hawkins. Her dad wasn’t a fan but he certainly was good at faking it at barbecues and birthday parties. Alyssa must’ve gotten that skill from him.

Harper shrugged. ‘Our moms are friends but I don’t really know him.’

Linnea nodded, as if Harper had something that could be agreed or contended with. Harper didn’t know how to answer and bent to receive a pass from Jill on her return.

Harper needed an excuse to break eye contact with Linnea. She knew Linnea was Gavin’s recent ex-girlfriend. She hadn’t been entirely truthful though. Just because she said she didn’t know Gavin now didn’t mean she hadn’t ever. She swore Linnea was still watching her as she ran the drill.

Fortunately, Stacy was too. ‘Nice handling, Harper! Linnea, you try.’ She had jogged over to watch Linnea, teeth bared, receive the ball.

Stacy leaned in conspiratorially. ‘It’s always dangerous practicing on the same field as the boys’ soccer team.’

Harper laughed as if she too thought boys were nonsense.

‘My boyfriend is heading off to NYU in a couple months,’ Stacy said, watching Linnea maneuver another cone. Harper didn’t know whether or not to answer, as it didn’t sound like Stacy was talking to her anymore.

Stacy blinked and her glamorous smile was back. ‘Nice job, Lin!’ she called, before jogging away to watch another group.

Stacy seemed so lovely that Harper almost felt a pang of annoyance towards this mystery boy for making her face crease like that, if for a moment. Harper glanced at Linnea, who kept sneaking glances over at the soccer team, who admittedly hadn’t looked over at the field hockey team once. She thought of Alyssa, striking out on her own and forcing Harper to do the same. Harper found that she was still standing.


© Katie Higgins, 2019. All rights reserved.

‘First Day’ was inspired by Alice Pidgeon, Looking Over My Shoulder to Childhood Days and After, (2:619), in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections, Brunel Library, Brunel University London.

Author’s note:

I was really stuck on the line Alice Pidgeon wrote about waking up to find out a dolly her father had ordered for her had arrived. I started thinking about how ideas of status and class permeate to children and how those ideas create their own sort of social structure amongst young people, teenagers in particular. ‘First Day’ came from wanting to frame that idea in a contemporary (suburban American) context.

Katie Higgins is from Chelmsford, Massachusetts. She earned her BA in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2017. During her time at UMass, she worked as a writing tutor, helping students and faculty alike on a myriad of writing projects. In 2015 she studied at Trinity College, Oxford, where she won the award for the best essay in English literature. She is currently pursuing a masters degree in creative writing at Brunel University London. In her free time she can be found window shopping for funky hats, knitting scarves she’ll never wear or breaking a sweat at the gym. She writes primarily for young adults, firmly believing that teenagers are both the most compelling characters and engaging readers. She and her funky hats can be found on Instagram at @katmarhii.

Three worlds one house by Josa Keyes

One of a series of blog posts written by Brunel’s creative writing students, inspired by the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies.

Above and behind the front door

Lies grown-up world

Master and Mistress reign unquestioned

Among the inherited furniture.

Upstairs at the back is the liminal milky bubble

Nursery world crammed with babies

And their nurses and nursery maids.

Beyond the baize door, the back door

Twisty passages and tiny rooms

Separate world of service

Coalhouse

Woodshed

Greenhouse cobwebs

Cold frame

Rotten wood and peeling paint

Scullery

Pantry

Storeroom

Kitchen

Stone flags seep and freeze

No worlds warm in winter

Flurrying, hurrying, maids with buckets

Ethel, Ruby, Mabel, Alice

Brooms and sweepers, blacking, beeswax

Family poised helpless on a heap of helpers

Like a hut on a hill.

In the back-passage bells jangle

Pulled by impatient hands remote in bedroom

Drawing room, parlour, salon

More hot water, pressed clothes, coals

Breakfast, lunch and dinner served

Prepared by Cook’s red raw hands

Complete with ceremonial fat gold wedding ring

On hand never held by husband

She’s Mrs in name only

For respect you see

Nursery world floats between

Where dwell the infants and their nurse

Miss Mary, Master Michael, Nanny Smith

Meals on trays brought up by grumbling maids.

Sit on a tuffet near the fireguard

Supping bread and milk in your bib

Nappies and baby clothes gently steam

On wooden racks

None of the worlds are immune from winter

Warm breath freezes to icy mist

Water solid in bedroom jugs

Frost, fog, yellow and choking

Bitter wind and snow

Step outside and chill bites

Raising chilblains no remedy can soothe

Fires rustle as coals settle and cinders fall

Gas fires bubble violet flames

Bring blood back to blue hands.

Even indoors beyond the glow

A wall of cold

Spring will come

Life stirs inside and out

Snowdrops, snowy blossom replace snow

Warmth summons forth

Boot boys and maids transformed to

Brilliantined lads and giggling girls

Promenade in groups

Rich with sex and stirring senses

Eyes slide by hoping to meet,

As elemental as animals in the ark

Master obeys the sap’s rising

Justified by psalm’s dictates,

Begets upon the Mistress a full

Quiverful within their lawful bed

To populate the nursery world

Popped out like puppies

Viewed daily for a precious hour

Otherwise left to other’s hands

As that’s the way it was back then

Woe betide the maid

Who falls to a young man’s fancy

Her increase a disgrace

Out of the house she goes

To an unforgiving world

Where babies are a regulated commodity

Reserved for the safely wed.


© Josa Keyes, 2019. All rights reserved.

‘Three Worlds One House’ was inspired by Church Bells and Tram Cars, a Vicarage Childhood, by Mary Denison, in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections, Brunel Library, Brunel University London.

Author’s note:

I read three memoirs from the Burnett Archive altogether, and wanted to make poems from themes in two of them, both about vanished worlds just a couple of generations behind us.  ‘Three Worlds One House’ describes one home as a paradigm of rigid social silos in wider society. In some middle – and all upper – class homes, the head of the household and his wife lived entirely separately, not only from their own children, tucked away in a nursery, but also from the support system of servants looking after them. I also wanted to highlight the plight of girls who fell pregnant outside marriage, and how society mistreated the single mum – and still does.

Josa Keyes was born in Kent. She read English Literature at Newnham College, Cambridge, and is currently studying towards a Masters at Brunel University London. She started her career at Vogue, as a finalist in the Vogue Talent Contest, and has held positions as a commissioning editor for Country Living, Elle Decoration and the Times. An early adopter, she embraced digital professionally from 1995, and has swapped between magazines and digital content design as a contractor ever since. A parallel career writing fiction and poetry resulted in her first completed novel, One Apple Tasted, published by Elliott & Thompson in 2009. She indie published her second novel Sail Upon the Land in 2014, and it was long-listed for a Historical Novel Society Award in 2016. Her chapbook, My Love Life and Other Disasters, will be published in September 2019. Josa Keyes lives in West London, has two grown-up children and a teenager, and tweets @JosaKeyes.

IN NOMINE PATRI, ET FILII by Iris Mauricio

One of a series of blog posts written by Brunel’s creative writing students, inspired by the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies.

i

was terribly

off   for three days.

i would   hope and pray that

god   would

eventually

end.

i was frightened

for years.

i got

ill.

i could not

go home.

i said to mary “i don’t

know why he can’t let me stay.”

she

said

“you are   coming back.”

he   asked,

i followed.


© Iris Mauricio, 2019. All rights reserved.

IN NOMINE PATRI, ET FILII was inspired by Alice Pidgeon (2:612), in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections, Brunel Library, Brunel University London.

Author’s note:

For this particular piece, I was inspired by the watercolour erasure poetry in Tom Philips’ A Humument, upon the recommendation of our lecturer Tony White. As for the subject, I didn’t approach the piece with a particular theme in mind, and just went choosing words as I went along. From this, the narrative began to unravel on its own, which was that of Jesus Christ, before what would be the beginning of the events that lead up to his crucifixion. I thought this suited me, as I often write poetry and prose with much religious imagery and symbolism.

Iris Mauricio moved to London from the Philippines for university, graduating from Brunel University’s BA Creative Writing in 2017. She is currently pursuing an MA in the same course. Iris writes poetry, short stories, and screenplays, with her works often inspired by her Roman Catholic upbringing, mythology, water, and films. Iris has been published in No Parking Comics, Stache Magazine Online, and the Queen Mary Review. Her works have been shortlisted in three consecutive Hillingdon Literary Festival anthologies, and featured in two Third Year Brunel Creative Writing anthologies. Iris was also selected to be one of three UK Student Ambassadors for the British Council Philippines in 2017, and was a part of the Liberated Library: Diversifying the Ivory Tower Part 2 panel. Iris Mauricio writes film poetry and reviews on Instagram @_twoirises, and has a WordPress blog, iristypes.

Seize a survival by Caren Duhig

One of a series of blog posts written by Brunel’s creative writing students, inspired by the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies.

Some individuals may find the topic covered in this blog post distressing. Should you require support please contact:

Brunel Students: Student support and welfare team

Non-Emergency NHS Helpline: 111

Samaritans: 116 123 (open 24 hours)


If I could give my younger self one bit of advice, it would be to run away, as far and as fast as I could the minute my partner started to show an inkling of abusive behaviour towards me. I wonder how different my life would have been if I had made that decision back then.

You see, it was February the 27th 2004. I was 20 years old. Studying my degree at Brunel University and enjoying being young. But I was dating a guy who had seen a bit more life than I had. Twelve years older, he took advantage of the fact I was young and naïve. Used me as his sexual plaything whenever he felt like it. Slapped me whenever I disagreed or questioned him.

I’d had enough and wanted to be young and enjoy my partying years. Having only started Uni a few months earlier, I saw that there was a lot more to life and I wanted to live it. Sitting with him in a bar in the City that night, sipping my vodka and orange, I saw him for who he was in his drunken state. He’d already had several drinks at an Old Bailey event where he worked as a Head Chef and was full of himself, righteous and arrogant. I remember engaging in an activity which I didn’t want in the pub toilets. I don’t remember much more of that night after that. Only what I was told.

He told the police we were arguing. I tried to run away. I had bruises on my shoulders where he must have grabbed me. We were on a dark, disused road. He said he put his foot out and I tripped. Landed on the side of my head. He said that, from my fall, I gave myself a blood clot in between my brain and my skull. An extradural haematoma. I would have lost consciousness temporarily. He would have had to wait for me to come back round. Regained consciousness. He was walking me to St. Paul’s Station, on the Central Line, so that I could get back home to my mums in Stratford. A 20-minute journey. If I had got on a train by myself as he’d intended, I wouldn’t be writing this now. Somehow, a random police car must have driven by and saw me behaving erratically. I would have had a lump on my head where the blood clot was developing. I was told that the police took me to Snow Hill Police Station in St. Pauls. I don’t understand why they let him go if they could see that I was upset and hurt, possibly by him. The police told me that I started to make a statement but then I passed out. Unconscious. They must have realised that something was very wrong because I was taken to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel immediately. I was dying.

When I woke up from the chemical-induced coma 4 weeks later, I didn’t have a clue who I was or where I was. All I could remember was flashbacks of the dreams I had while I was sleeping. That thing they say about the tunnel is true. Wearing my white gown, I was alone on a train, cascading at high speed through the Channel Tunnel to France. The train must have crashed and suddenly my mum was there, and we were washed up on a beach. I can still vividly remember that dream now.

I must have looked horrific. Half of my permed hair was missing on the left side of my head where the surgeons had shaved my head to perform the craniotomy. I had a huge scar from the front of my ear, which circled round to the top of my temple. I had staples in my head where my skull had been put back together. I’ve learnt that surgeons use a bit of titanium to replace the bone flap, which was why my head set off metal detectors in the courts and at airports years later. My skull has a deep indent in it which I can still feel to this day. I’ve suffered with epilepsy for the past 15 years as a result of the head trauma

The case went to Southwark Crown Court on the 4th of December 2004. The charge was dropped from attempted murder to GBH. He did a plea bargain of guilty to ABH. He was sentenced to 200 hours community service. For the injury to have been that severe, I either must have hit a very blunt object when I fell, which he didn’t mention to the police or, while I was on the ground, he must have inflicted an injury upon me. That’s even if I fell. There was only me and him there that night, the 27th of February 2004 and I’ve heard through social media that he took his life 3 years ago. I’ll never actually know what happened.

So, if I could give my younger self, or anyone who is in an abusive relationship one bit of advice, it would be to get out as soon as you can. Seek advice. Seek support. Confide in someone. You don’t deserve to be hurt. You don’t deserve to be hit. You don’t deserve to be bullied. Abused. Made to think you’re nothing. It’s not your fault. There’s something wrong with the person who’s abusing you.

I was lucky to survive something so traumatic. I want to use my experience, my scars, and my unanswered questions, to help anyone who has been in, or is in a relationship that involves domestic violence. My message to you is please don’t let them try to destroy you.


© Caren Duhig, 2019. All rights reserved.

‘Seize a Survival’ was first published in the Brunel anthology series Letters To My Younger Self, and was inspired by Wally Ward, Fit for Anything (2:798), in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, Special Collections, Brunel University London.

Author’s note:

Reading Fit for Anything by Wally Ward in the Burnett Archive felt close to home for me because, like the narrator, I also suffer from epilepsy. Wally Ward inherited the condition from his parent, whereas I developed the disorder from an assault I suffered fifteen years ago when I was involved in an abusive relationship. Fit for Anything inspired me to not only write about my medical condition and the improvements in neurological treatments since the early 20th Century, but also to raise awareness of domestic violence. Through ‘Seize a Survival’ I wanted to use my scars to empower other sufferers or survivors of domestic abuse, and to educate my readership on what defines an unhealthy relationship. Writing the piece helped me confront the memories that have haunted me for many years, and I hope it will encourage others to do the same.

Caren Duhig was born in Forest Gate, London, in December 1983. Caren graduated  in English and Film and TV Studies at Brunel University London in 2010 and is currently studying a master’s degree in Creative Writing. In 2016 Caren created the Fixit Harrow Network, a social media organisation with over 3.4k members, to raise awareness of, and seek improvements towards the environmental, economic, and social issues in the London Borough of Harrow, in order to make it a happier, cleaner, and safer place for her community. Caren Duhig was nominated for a Harrow Heroes Award in 2017 and 2018, and Fixit Harrow has had a featured exhibition at Headstone Manor and Museum in 2018.

Down the beck by Anna Tan

One of a series of blog posts written by Brunel’s creative writing students, inspired by the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies.

There are strange things down the beck. Things that sparkle and glimmer, things that flit and flutter, but also things that nip and nibble, that sneak and quibble. Caelie knows it’s the reason she’s not allowed there alone.

It’s the place where bad things happen, like the way her older brother Cieran had walked past the trees and never come back. They’d looked for him, taking sticks to the tall, biting grass, the thwack-thwack-thwack still echoing in her mind as she looks longingly down the purling brook. Mother doesn’t speak of Cieran anymore, pretending he didn’t exist to keep the grief at bay.

It’s also the place where good things are found, like the magic pot her eldest sister Camlyn picked up that never ran out of gold. She’d wanted to keep it, but the strange small man with fiery hair and a sharp chin had convinced her otherwise, exchanging it with her for a lucky rabbit’s foot. Camlyn is now at some fancy university on an all-expenses paid full scholarship, studying to be a doctor like she’d said she would be since she was nine.

Caelie cannot help but wonder what she will find when it is her turn to wander down the beck, when the fae and spirits start calling for her. For now, she sits on the back porch, staring at the grasses that rustle with the soothing wind, listening to the merry babbling of the water as it trips over stones, basking in the warmth of the sun and the scent of green life sprouting beneath the brown earth.

#

It’s not the fae that call Caelie when she is twelve but her brother Cieran, who stands on the other side of the brook, not having aged a day since he’d disappeared.

‘I miss you,’ he says, ‘come visit me.’

Caelie gives him a long, ponderous look before she answers, ‘Mother says I’m not to go yet. Another year, she says.’

‘The fae await you.’

‘Will they take me like they took you?’

‘I had to stay.’

There is a sorrowful look in his eyes that Caelie cannot understand so she asks, ‘Why?’

‘It was time.’

‘Time for what?’

‘My time.’

Caelie looks him over, thinks that although he hasn’t changed over five years, he looks healthier, his cheeks rosy and his skin glowing. His hair doesn’t hang limp and oily any longer, bright curls that bounce as he moves. His pallor has lifted and it has nothing to do with the sun but everything to do with life.

‘Will they take me?’ Caelie asks again because Mother will not survive another heartache, another child taken by fae or fate.

Cieran shrugs. ‘I don’t know. They didn’t say.’

‘Wait another year,’ Caelie replies, although she longs to go, to see what they have in store for her.

#

When Caelie is thirteen, nothing comes for her. She waits as she always has on the back porch, looking out across the field, to where the beck disappears in the grass that grows tall, no matter how often Father mows them.

The wind blows both hot and cold, the sun hides his face behind the dark clouds, and Caelie thinks today must be the day she goes down the beck. Caelie knows she may not return and her parents may be alone forever. Cieran is with the fae and Camlyn is too busy with her new life to come home except for Christmas and Easter.

Mother will not speak to her, not since she let it slip that Cieran had spoken to her. Father looks at her with resignation on his face.

‘Fate,’ he starts, but he doesn’t finish, turning away from Caelie. Not saying goodbye may be the only thing that keeps Father from breaking.

Mother is already broken.

Still, Caelie walks out towards the beck that has defined her life, that has destroyed her family, the beck that beckons with sweet threats and dark promises. It is quiet, the wind in a lull, the water sluggish. It smells of dead things and decay. Her breath mists, frozen like the lump in her chest that is barely beating. 

‘I’m ready,’ she says as she stands by the brook, looking for the shimmer and shine, for the twinkle and gleam. Nothing moves, and all she sees is winter death, dark and grim. She pushes her way through the browning grass, past the trees that once swallowed Cieran. He’s not there.

No one is there.

‘Take me!’ she yells to the empty fields and the heavy skies, and she feels the earth shudder around her.

Camlyn stands before her instead, a shimmery mirage. ‘Go home,’ she says, barring Caelie’s way.

‘What are you doing here?’ Camlyn is supposed to be far away from here in the real world, not in this in-between of life and death, reality and imaginary.

‘I’m not here,’ not-Camlyn answers, ‘neither should you.’

‘The fae call me.’ But Caelie is not sure because she hasn’t felt the call, not since last summer when Cieran had let her go.

‘Our debt is fulfilled. Go home.’

Camlyn disappears into the mist. Caelie goes home and shuts the back porch door.

There are strange things down the beck. Things that sparkle and glimmer, things that flit and flutter, but also things that nip and nibble, that sneak and quibble. They do not call to Caelie anymore. She never returns to the beck.

© Ann Tan, 2019. All rights reserved.

‘Down the Beck’ was inspired by Ups & Downs: A Lifetime Spent in the Yorkshire Dales by C.V. Horner (2-422), in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections, Brunel Library, Brunel University London.

Author’s note:

I’d picked CV Horner’s Ups & Downs: A Lifetime Spent in the Yorkshire Dales to look at because the description mentioned ‘rural customs, songs and ballads’, which I’m generally interested in. Horner uses some fine (and fun) turns of phrase in his depiction of Yorkshire life, like ‘foxes from her crags’, ‘down the beck’, ‘dead man’s view’, ‘a pig to kill’, ‘a wild showery day’, and ‘have you no b– ink?’ I played around with them until something clicked and went with it.

Anna Tan grew up in Malaysia, the country that is not Singapore. She is the author of two fantasy books, Coexist and Dongeng, and has short stories included in anthologies by Fixi Novo, BWWP Publishing, Bausse Books and Wordworks. She is also the editor of NutMag, an annual zine published for and by MYWriters Penang. Anna was once a certified and chartered accountant with a big 4 firm and is the current treasurer of the Malaysian Writers Society (MYWriters) and oversees the group in her hometown of Penang. As a recipient of the Chevening Scholarship 2018/2019, Anna is currently studying an MA in Creative Writing: The Novel at Brunel University London. Anna is interested in Malay/Nusantara and Chinese legends and folklore in exploring the intersection of language, culture, and faith. Her new short story ‘Operation: Rescue Pris’ will be published in The Principal Girl: Feminist Tales from Asia forthcoming from Gerakbudaya Enterprise in 2019. She can be found tweeting as @natzers and forgetting to update annatsp.com.

Bei Route by Marie-Teresa Hanna

One of a series of blog posts written by Brunel’s creative writing students, inspired by the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies.


Light, a light or alight,
In Arabic
My mother named me after fire,
So she could see in the dark

(Noor)

Noor and I are sitting at the kitchen table, shelling peas. I’ve only been in England a few months and when I first arrived, she met me with open arms. Now, I feel like an intruder and more so since she met Mr Johnson. Noor pinches open the pod between her fingers and swipes the peas into the white Falcon bowl with the blue rim that Mama gave her as a leaving present. I mimic her technique and we work in silence, knowing there are several unanswered questions between us, but not knowing where to begin. Noor looks up and breaks the silence first, singing the lullaby Mama used to sing when we were children, ‘buy me a diamond or buy me some gold─’

‘Can you stop?’

‘The only wealth a person needs… is a place to call home.’

‘Stop!’

‘God, you’re so sensitive!’

Noor is quiet, reflective, ‘She used to love doing this.’

I try to push all thoughts of Mama down to a place where they can’t hurt me, but I fail, ‘Why didn’t you visit?’

Noor bites the inside of her cheek before answering, ‘Mama wouldn’t have wanted me there.’

She takes the Falcon bowl to the sink, fills a pan with water and places it on the hob. The water splashes, hissing in the heat. Noor leans against the sink, grabs a knife and begins peeling a carrot. I know I’ve hit a nerve. She’s only a few years older than me but plays the role of older sister well: judgemental, hypocritical and bossy. Since Mama’s first diagnosis, we exchanged a few letters and often she gloated about her new life in England while I reported back about Mama’s health from Beirut. Yet, never once did she think about me.

I take the contents of my bowl and empty it into hers, grateful to hear Alice’s soft footsteps coming down the stairs. She enters the kitchen complaining about how long it’s taken her to put the children to sleep and pulls out a chair, collapsing into it. She rests her head on the table and when she lifts it, her blonde curls take a while to settle into place and she has a red mark on her face.

‘Why are you two so quiet?’

When I don’t answer, she slaps me across the arm, ‘Edna!’

Alice never fails to distract or make me laugh, and if we weren’t from two different countries and backgrounds, I would think we were related. I take the photo out of my apron and slide it across the table. It takes Alice a moment to recognise Noor and I with Mama holding our hands, outside our house in Beirut. Although the photo is black and white and was taken years ago, it feels like a lifetime, and the two young girls in the picture are unrecognisable to me. Every time I look at that photo, all I see is coldness and death lurking in the grey space between who we used to be and who we are now.

Alice is fussing over the photo, and I can’t handle it anymore. I take out the letter that came with the photo and pass it to her. As she reads it, I catch her facial features changing into confusion, hesitation and then shock.

‘I’m so sorry,’ she whispers.

I nod and take them back, putting them in my pocket. They remind me of my failure to take Noor back home on Mama’s request, and my own missed chance to say a final goodbye. 

Ever since I arrived, we followed the same routine. Alice wakes up, dresses and entertains the three children, Noor cooks and prepares the table and I complete the housework by plumping pillows, putting away toys and making the beds. Often, at the end of a long day we gather in the kitchen. Alice tries to teach us Scottish using words like ‘small’ ─ wee ─ and in return, we try to teach her Arabic, but she has never mastered the accent. Once, she asked how to woo a gentleman and I offered her the word Garad. Noor and I knew it meant ‘monkey’ in the general sense, but in Syrian Arabic it also means, ‘cheeky’, ‘unattractive’ or ‘undesirable’. It was all in good humour until Alice said it to a gentleman and was offended when he walked away from her mid-conversation.

Tonight, however, the mood is sombre and quiet. Noor lights the stove and places the vegetables in the boiling water before joining us. Alice takes our hands and as we utter a prayer, my mind wanders to the funeral arrangements and how to get back to Beirut. Within a few hours, I packed my clothes and prepared for departure. As I sat on the train, and watched the scenery and greenery unfold in front of me, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would return to London or see Alice and Noor again.

Dates and times merged together in travel and once I arrived back home, it became a flurry of funeral arrangements, wakes and guests, and clearing out our family home. I packed Mama’s clothes and gave them to charity. They weren’t the right fit for me, but I kept the summer dress she always wore on special occasions, the one with the yellow daisies.

I couldn’t sleep, eat or get dressed and I existed in the space between being alive and wanting to join her. Life was unimaginable without her, and our house now felt like an empty space, a hollow shell reminding me of where her life should be. I became an intruder, a guest who had overstayed her welcome and no longer belonged here. The family photos on the walls served as memories stuck in time, compared to the rolling film that continuously played in my mind. I craved being around Alice and Noor and having company instead of being alone. I missed the cobbled streets of London and green pastures, unlike the unbearable heat and sandy roads, but even then England never felt like home.

As weeks turned to months, I begged Noor to help me return to London and find a position, but all hopes were dashed when I received a letter telling me of her marriage. There was no invite attached, only news that Alice had moved on into a new residency as a nanny. Noor spoke of securing her future, of lace and silk, and church venues and her beloved Mr Johnson from the parish, without even one question asking about my own happiness or health. If only she knew that as I lay in bed that night, I thought of my darkness compared to her light, singing the words of Mama’s lullaby:

Buy me a diamond or buy me some gold, the only wealth a person needs is a place to call home.

© Marie-Teresa Hanna, 2019. All rights reserved.


‘Bei Route’ was inspired by ‘Looking Over My Shoulder to Childhood Days and Later’ by Alice Pidgeon (Volume No: 2- 619), in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections, Brunel Library, Brunel University London.

Author’s note:

The Burnett Archive was captivating, providing several voices, narrative stories and diary entries which revealed unique personalities of the individuals who had written them. My piece was inspired by Alice Pidgeon, who explored the relationship between two sisters and their home countries, in comparison to England, via the workplace. It is through the alternative spelling of Beirut that this piece took shape, exploring family dynamics, definitions of home and identity.

Marie-Teresa Hanna is a British Egyptian-Sudanese writer, interested in BAME, Middle Eastern and North African women’s fiction. She is currently doing an MA in Creative Writing: The Novel at Brunel University London, after interning at literary agencies and publishing houses over the last two years. Marie is in the process of finding her voice and has previously performed at The Poetry Café, and been published on the British Council website in collaboration with #BritLitBerlin. In recent months, she has given readings at a mindfulness event and as part of the Brunel Writers Series, as well as hosting a book club for St John’s Hospice. In March 2019, Marie-Teresa Hanna ran a writing workshop at the Dardishi Festival, CCA Glasgow. If you would like to follow her and ramblings, find her on Twitter @MarieTeresaHan3