Categories
Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2021 – An Interview With Prize Winning Author Mary Darroch

 

Welcome to the episode 1 of the Perito Prize Podcast 2021. A special podcast series all about celebrating the writing and creativity for this year’s Perito Prize & Anthology.

In this episode we’ve got Mary Darroch joining us from Glasgow. Mary wrote the winning story for the Perito Prize 2021 called ‘Magic Bus’ which can be found Journal section of the Perito website and was selected by the judges as the winner for this year.

Welcome to the podcast Mary, congratulations on Magic Bus winning and just before we start how about a quick warm up question?

Q1) Tell us a little about who your creative inspiration or mentor is and why? This might be a favourite author or place to work.

I find creative inspiration everywhere – usually when I am not looking for it! People inspire me, places inspire me, situations inspire me.
I grew up in Glasgow, in a big family, and I think I must have spent most of my childhood reading! When I was about eight I read Little Women and right there and then decided that I was going to be like Jo March and write books. I filled school jotters with stories but I kept them under my bed and never showed them to anyone. I suppose I was just too shy. As I grew older I read Jane Eyre – 12 times! – and Wuthering Heights and all the dark and moody gothic novels I could find in the local library. Eventually, I moved on to the Russian writers (again, dark and moody!) and folk like James Joyce who were inventive and experimental with language.

I think I was always drawn to the idea of ‘the outsider,’ the character who is at odds with the rest of the world. In 1994, Mark Haddon’s best-seller, The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-time, struck a chord with me as did Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman’s 2017 debut novel about a socially isolated young woman who lacks the self-awareness to recognise that indeed she is not ‘completely fine.’ Both these books left me muttering to myself afterwards that, damn, I wish I’d written this so yes, they were inspirational, and motivational.

 

Q2) Righto, tell us about who you are and what you have been up to during the pandemic period?

Being in my 60’s I suppose I’m a bit older than most beginners, although in a sense I’m not really a beginner. I’ve been writing all my life but as I said, I lacked the confidence to do anything with it.
I worked at a variety of jobs over my lifetime but when I was forty I became an English teacher. That might sound like the ideal job for a wannabe writer but by the end of a teaching day you’re mostly just too tired to think creative thoughts!

Unfortunately, I had to retire early on health grounds and I thought then about returning to writing but I got sidetracked with other hobbies and interests and it was only really when the pandemic struck that my priorities started to change. Like everyone else, I was spending long hours at home, at times feeling quite isolated. It got me thinking about what it must be like for people who live their whole lives like that: whatever the reason, it was rarely through choice.
I’d thought for a while about enrolling in a creative writing class but had never done anything about it because I felt anxious every time I thought about having to read my work out loud! So, when I saw that Strathclyde University had moved their creative writing classes online, I thought I’d give it a go as I wouldn’t have to read stuff out or feel awkward and it would all be kind of anonymous.
Well, actually it wasn’t like that at all! Everyone was very friendly and extremely supportive. We all learned a great deal from each other and the best thing about it was that I was so busy writing assignments and reading and commenting on everyone else’s work that I didn’t have time to feel awkward about sharing my stuff. It really was a turning-point for me and I have my excellent tutor David and everyone
on the Blaze course 2020-21 to thank for that!

 

Q3) What made you enter the prize and how did you find out about it?

I think that what’s been happening in the world over the last two years has changed every one of us. We have all had to dig deep and find inner resources to keep ourselves afloat – and sane. During times of conflict and hardship, you might hear that creative voice whispering to you that it wants out. Maybe it was the daily news updates that I was trying to escape from, maybe it was just that I had more time on my hands after the creative writing course ended, but I found myself looking online for writing projects. I had been shortlisted for the Creative Future Writers Award a couple of months before, which came as a complete surprise to me as I had never entered anything before!
Buoyed up by this, and keen also not to ‘go off the boil’ with no more classes to attend, when notification of the Perito Prize appeared in my email , I just went for it. I liked the fact that we were being invited to write about things that really mattered to us, and also that it actively encouraged new writers.

 

Q4) Some people may not yet have read your story yet. Tell us about what ‘Magic Bus’ is all about?

‘Magic Bus’ is about two young people caught in the poverty trap . As the story opens Mick, the cheery optimist with a drug habit, tells his best buddy Shona that he has a job interview coming up but that he doesn’t have the right clothes. Shona, it seems, can help him with this. The story is light-hearted and amusing but, on a deeper level, it endeavours to show how society is set up to ensure that if you’re
poor, you’re destined to stay that way. I wanted to make people think about what life can be like for those who live every day – not just during a pandemic, but every day of their lives – without choice, without opportunity, without hope. At its heart though, is the theme of friendship and mutual support. Without that, maybe we would all be
lost.

 

Q5) Dialect and slang like Mick’s is often religiously avoided by writers across the world but in Magic Bus you make it look easy and enchanting. Have the voices of Mick and Shona always been chatting away to you or did they require a bit of nurturing to get them to the back seat of the bus?

Ha, well I imagine Mick and Shona on the FRONT seat of the bus, looking out at the road ahead. I don’t know about you but I feel that this attitude might one day stand them in good stead. I hope so anyway.

Yes, the voices of Mick and Shona have always been in there in my head, along with a few of their friends and relatives! I’m glad you picked up on the idea of their voices because they are indeed loud and brash and they demand to be heard. They speak in colloquial Lowlands Scots-English – a Glasgow dialect that I hear all around me. Sometimes it’s harsh, sometimes it can sound like music to my ears. Writing in
dialect can be a tricky thing: what you don’t want is to obstruct the flow of the work or make it difficult for the reader to follow. When Irvine Welsh wrote Trainspotting, I believe many American readers struggled with the language, but if you read it aloud it sounds like poetry – it has a beat and a cadence to it that becomes an integral part
of the story. From the very beginning, I had Mick and Shona speak in dialect because it instantly conveyed something about who they were, where they came from and what their lives were like. It was almost a kind of shorthand in that I could convey a great deal about them within the 2000 word limit.

 

Q6) As you know the Perito Prize is dedicated to inclusion, access and inclusive environments. Did you find the topic difficult to write about?

If we have the will to look, we can see discrimination, inequality and injustice all around us so no, it is not difficult to write about these things but it CAN be difficult to know where to start if we want to make a difference. This is where I think the Perito Prize plays an important role. Perito provides writers with the opportunity to give a voice to those who cannot always speak up for themselves. It gives writers the scope to examine what it is to be a human being with all its failings. It invites us to challenge the status quo and to try
to make a difference.

 

Q7) What was most valuable about going through this writing process for you?

Well, as I mentioned earlier, the Perito Prize is so appealing because it is accessible to all who wish to enter. For the writer just starting out, it’s important to feel that you can just ‘give it a go’ and not worry about how it looks or what people will think. Writing on this particular topic – inclusion – also made me focus more keenly on what it was I really wanted to say. Having something to say is half the
battle in writing!

 

Q8) Finally, any recommendations/tips for people entering next year?

Apparently, a short story of 2000 words takes the average person about 15 minutes to read. In that time, you want to make sure that your story actually comes across the way you want it to. So, you need to be clear from the outset what it is you want to say.
Then edit. Edit edit edit. You’ll see your story start to take shape. Be like Michelangelo, hacking away at the marble till the shape emerges. Then fine tune it. Two thousand words are vying for attention. Make sure every word is doing something useful. If it isn’t, dump it. Be prepared to ‘kill your darlings’.
Remember that writing is liberating. Don’t be afraid. Just take that leap into the unknown, And don’t bother about what other people think – it will only hold you back. It’s a feeling like no other when you finally get it finished. You’ve done your best for it and now you can watch it fly off and start a new life of its own!

 

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Mary and it’s been lovely to find out more about you, Mick and Shona’s dad. But now it is time to sign off and tell listeners about the upcoming Anthology, available from Amazon around the world and all profits will be going to a nominated charity, the rest covers Amazon’s costs.

Thanks again to our special guest Mary Darroch, author of the Perito Prize winning short story ‘Magic Bus’.You’ve been tuning in to the Perito Prize 2021 Podcast – Special Edition.

Thanks for listening. Everyone…Everywhere.

 

 

Categories
Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2021 – An Interview With Third Place Author Ali Azar

Perito Prize 2021 – Transcript of Our Podcast Interview With Perito Prize 2021 Third Place – Ali Azar

 

You can find the audio version of this excellent interview with CHIARA on our podcast host here https://www.buzzsprout.com/507109/9726008  available on all podcast sites like Apple and Spotify.

 

 

 

Perito:     Welcome to Episode 3 of the Perito Podcast 2021, a special Podcast series all about celebrating the writing and creativity for this year’s Perito Prize and Anthology, now in this episode we are pleased to be joined by Ali Azar, writer of the third place story for the Perito Prize 2021.  Ali wrote the short story Exit The Shaitan which can be found in the Journal section of the Perito website and was selected by judges as the third place story for this year.  (0m.24s)  Hi Ali and welcome to the Podcast. 

Ali:             Hello there and thanks for having me.

Perito:     It’s a pleasure, so before we kick off let’s get a warm up since it’s so cold outside at the moment. (0m.34s)  What is the most important thing in your opinion Ali so is it ambition, talent or opportunity which I guess you could classify as luck as well?

Ali:             Sure, well the boring answer would be a combination of all but I think I will, I’m gonna focus on the third one which is opportunity or I’m gonna rephrase it into a circumstances I think it’s really important that where we were when you’re writing about the things, that you were there or not because it can be very inspiring, it can stir you up, can be very inspiring for your soul, I would say the opportunity, the luck of being in a particular place which will help you to write a particular point of view about the things, I think that’s the, for me that’s the more important part.

Perito:     I think I agree with you as well I was reading something, there’s a fantasy author called Brandon Sanderson on his Wiki page he’s, it took until his 6th novel Elantris to get picked up by a publisher and I was thinking 6! and this guy’s obviously globally famous and does huge books so definitely seems to be that kind of like opportunity, he had the ambition to write, had the talent clearly.

Ali:             Exactly. 

Perito:     And then he just needed that one moment, so yep good answer.

Ali:             Exactly.

Perito:      Thank you very much for entering the Perito Prize I think the judges especially really enjoyed your story. 

Ali:             Oh thank you.

Perito:     (1m.51s)  What you made you enter the prize and how did you find out about it in the first place?

Ali:             Right I had never heard about this and then, I was as a part of my, I had written a few short story with particular themes and I wanted to enter competition and I come across with that and obviously I just wanted to send some random stuff, so when I went to your website the things about your messaging, your website about being inclusive and the jobs you’re doing as a consulting and making the environment of the work more inclusive, so it draw my attention and then I had a chance to read the previous winners’ stories which I really enjoyed that.  One of the recurrent theme of my work is always about talking about the people they’ve been excluded, I just didn’t have a second thought and I went for it because I thought it’s very relevant, so yeah I submit for that and where did I hear about it, I don’t remember it but I think that this prize come up in a few, in several other websites as a recommendation that you can enter the competition so yeah.

Perito:     Perfect thank you very much.  (3m.00s)  So some people won’t have read Exit The Shaitan yet and I’m assuming I’ve got the pronunciation right there as well Ali so?

Ali:             Perfect, perfect.

Perito:     (3m.08s)  Yeah, good, so can you tell us about what the story is all about?

Ali:             Sure just by the way Shaitan it’s Satan so we say Shaitan for Satan so.  Exit the Shaitan it’s about an exorcism.  It’s a about a possessed girl that as his father just ran to an old ladies which is known in the area for helping people out when they’ve been possessed or etc. and in the one midnight and this is all about the journey of this old lady just she had to deal with this possessed girl, yeah if I have to summarise it that way.

Perito:     (3m.45s)  Ingi is the older lady whose, I kind of got the impression she was a bit, maybe a bit like a medicine woman perhaps?

Ali:             Exactly.

Perito:     Providing sort of alternative complimentary therapy to the community but she’s quite a long way away from this place where the family is.  (4m.02s)  You’re from Iran originally, is this kind of the area you’re from did you write about your home area?

Ali:             Your surprised yes, so just to give you a bit of background I am coming from the North West of Iran called the State of Azerbaijan which are the second largest city in Iran, we speak language of Turkic, version of the Turkic which is called Azerbaijani, 30% Iranian are Turkic speaking as Azerbaijani’s so yes which is a very mountainous area and is very close to border with the Turkey and I am from there and this is the story I inspired it is the village that my great parents come from so it’s actually little town and I brought up in the big city called Tabriz which is the fifth biggest city in Iran but we always went for a holiday and all sort of things to this little town called Miskin, these character I inspire, these are the character whether they were a relative, far distant relative of mine or Ingi I inspired by my great grandmother which I was lucky to see her before she died several years, many years ago at the time I was 6 or 7, her character was so strong that has always remain in me and felt is this as the medicine woman it’s a good way to get a better understanding of it but these woman was a Sayyid and Sayyid it means a person who is a descendent of Prophet Muhammad so these people they were kind of a mediator meaning that their prayer heard by the God or Allah so what they did in the Society they kind of, the people come to them and they would kind of channel them through, channel their prayer to the God so God can hear them.  So my great grandmother she was like that and yeah and I found it very inspiring, very interesting.

Perito:     (6m.00s)  Excellent and did she have sore knees and I kind of got the impression with the way the characters have to help her in and out of the Land Rover?

Ali:             Yes.

Perito:     (6m.07)  That perhaps you’d had a lot of experience doing that over the years or someone had?

Ali:             I’m glad you raised it up because it may sound trivial but for me it was a part of his character, she was quite, she was older lady, quite at advanced age but yeah she had suffered from the knees and I think it’s remind me of many of other ladies, woman in Iran particularly very older generation, they work very hard, they wash many things, they always do the things that they eventually had arthritis either because of the knee problem, either because they were doing a lot of household work or it’s because they get, yeah these sort of things and for me it’s always I remember her that because she always couldn’t walk and yeah for me that was the part of that health issue of hers so always a part of her character.

Perito:     Initially Layla struck me as the protagonist of the story but on second and third readings I started to think maybe it’s actually Ingi who’s the character and exclusion comes down to there’s a part where she couldn’t remember the last time that she got out of the house.

Ali:             Right.

Perito:     And then I start to think well from an accessibility point of view that’s exactly it she’d become a prisoner in her own house as you write and then this is almost like a journey for her to go out there and to kind of experience life again.  So that was interesting from the exclusion perspective it wasn’t just, it was how her body had essentially started to entrap her.

Ali:             For me it’s an important point because a, okay many people come, the people like me which coming from, I don’t like this word developing but I have to go for it.  It’s coming from developing country many people say, “oh they come like country, developed country like Britain” they always say, “oh it’s a very nice the rules are, people obey the rules or you’ve got in it’s just etc. etc.” but for me one of the things really struck me is about how many disabled people I can see in the street, it doesn’t, it isn’t because the Britain has a more people that they have accessibility issues compared to Iran, you haven’t many disabled people we had 8 years’ war with Iran they are many people, they lost their limbs and etc. but you don’t see them in Iran on the street because they are not suitable for them, for that reason they can’t find a work, they can’t, they are less preferred finding a job and I suppose it’s not just for Iran for many countries are like that and yeah with the Ingi things she can’t because she can’t walk properly and the house, the way her house is lay out there are many stairs so yeah she become the prisoner of her own house. 

Perito:     That’s really useful I think it gives us the sketch over, we won’t spoil like the principle of people who have to read this story to get the idea but essentially it’s about a small journey to the village which is far away, I kind of get the impression it’s very highland, very bumpy.

Ali:             That’s right.

Perito:     And the Land Rovers kind of Layla’s father is driving too fast and then you kind of so the build-up and then kind of reach the crescendo and then at the end of it it’s very nice and calmly done and your story has this gentle flow despite the urgency of the family situation.  (9m.24s)  We talked a little bit about why you were writing it in terms of the area but what made you use this particular situation of Layla’s to create a story around, what was the reason behind that?

Ali:             The weirdest thing with the writing you remember some of the things you never thought about, I am a late starter when it comes to writing, I start when I was 30 and I’ve been writing nearly for 10 years, I heard this when I was a little boy and the guy who was telling this story was telling to show how can people can be deceived because they are possessed and it’s superstition etc. and etc. but that wasn’t my take on on it and I just found this story very fascinating and it always was in my mind and I didn’t, yeah in back of my mind and then I start writing about the things and after many things they came straight in was this but I didn’t want to focus on superstitious, another thing if I may add to this exclusivity things you can’t hear the woman voice a lot in the Iranian literature, we are quite advanced society we’ve got many ladies working different part of Iranian Society although it’s a very patriarchal society but the literature you don’t see many woman or woman point of view unfortunately, it’s not a surprise so somehow hearing this story I thought okay actually I’m just gonna, because when the guy was writing this story the guy who was going to deal with this possession is a man and I said let’s, I’m just gonna replace it with a woman and let’s see how it’s gonna happen because I didn’t know the end and I say I just like the setting that this old lady is gonna have, her house is gone a bit knacked in and knacked and then when he’s gonna open it and there’s a guard  roaring father that her child has been possessed.  So yeah and then I start writing it up and then I have to decide and what to write up, how to end it but the real driver of it, it was that story that I heard many years ago.

Perito:     (11m.31s)  Thank you Ali, your first language must be Farsi/Azerbaijani perhaps?

Ali:             Turkic.

Perito:     (11m.39s)  Turkic yeah, so do you find when your writing that you write in your Turkic.

Ali:             Yes.

Perito:     (11m.46s) Language first and then you have to translate it, how do you find that when you’re coming up with these stories and having to go through that computation in your mind cos they’ll be a lot of people who will want to embrace the Perito Prize because we get hundreds of entries from around the world and how did you feel about kind of that translation mission and what sort of techniques did you take on to accomplish it?

Ali:             Sure, okay, well although my mother language is Turkish but I unfortunately because circumstances in Iran you can’t write and read in Turkish so if it comes to the writing yeah we’ve been taught to write in Farsi or Persian but it’s a good point because it is not easy, it’s my third language, I am writing in it, what I did initially I write it in Turkish or in Farsi and then translate it in the English but I found it not particularly useful, I mean if you wanna have a plan just to see what you’re writing it might be useful but when you really wanna compose your text I didn’t find it useful or put it this way, it is a bit of a, it’s not the best use of time what you could do instead you can just start with the crude language of English and then you can just filling in, it’s a very slow process.  What I do sometimes, sometimes when it comes to very complex things or I have to really show some, when I wanna say something very subtle or something like that and I, nothing come up to my mind in English I write it in Turkish and then I translate it, let’s say within the paragraph I needed this last bit, last touch, I write it in whatever language is come to my mind because I’m comfortably can write in Persian as well and then I translate it in English and I think that’s useful but to write whole section in one language and translate it I didn’t find it very, what is the word, is a very effective approach. 

Perito:     (13m.55s)  Okay that’s really useful thanks for covering that off.  So as you know the Perito Prize is dedicated to inclusion, access and inclusive environments did you find that topic difficult to write about or come up with obviously ideas or do you write about that normally with the other stories you do?

Ali:             It is a difficult topic and I didn’t, okay by itself I’m coming from the country you have to self-sensor yourself so but I didn’t find it particularly hard to write. I don’t want to give a spoiler but it’s one of the problems with Iran is the way the woman has been treated for example their virginities, so all the society has made the woman to behave as if their virginity is an asset and there are many things going around that, and also I’m fascinated by that the way the woman or men approach this sort of things.  So you may say what to do with being inclusive or whatever I think it is important because it’s just made in this particular case a woman it is a bit, being considered as a kind of in the position of the men or do you see what I mean so?

Perito:     I do yeah.

Ali:             Particularly with Iran it can be hard issue because there are many layer of it.

Perito:     (15m.27s)  Excellent thank you very much.  What do you think was the most valuable thing about going through this writing process for you?

Ali:             You mean in this particular story or as a whole?

Perito:     Either, whatever you fancy really just go for it.

Ali:             Yeah the thing is I really don’t, when I talk with other people I don’t say I write it because they, then they say, “it’s a good hobby” and I don’t like it, I think if you want to write you have to take it seriously.  When you write it can be difficult and can be very slow process but at the same time the aspect of the writing I love is, you come back, I’m quite a nostalgic guy so you come back to your past, your own past and you dig in and sometimes you got surprised with things you did as if someone is telling you, “do you remember that?” and I love that and you kept being surprised by yourself, this is self-indulgent I know. 

Perito:     To be honest writing is kind of like that isn’t it as you say it’s kind of like the sudden urge to go and do something cool.

Ali:             Yeah.

Perito:     And you’ve got it put it down.

Ali:             Yeah exactly.

Perito:     (16m.35s)  Brilliant so has this prize made you think differently about how inclusive and accessible the world we live in actually is, you kind of hit on this at the beginning with the idea of the streets of Tabriz and Tehran maybe people are not likely to be seen because there’s not the infrastructure or the culture’s not there in the supportive way.

Ali:             Exactly I mean I encourage in audience to read the previous winners or previous stories they have been published, just surprised about how people consider this topic, take it from the being bullied in school to the like sexuality issues or all sort of things and it doesn’t matter where you come from you will always find this margin part of the society those people they’ve been excluded, some of them they are not we always see them in the TV’s and radios and some of them just they are too subtle to see them so I think for me in every society you’ve got this kind of confliction, we feel those kind of, what’s the word, the majority and those people they are in the outside in the skirt of the centre so.

Perito:     Well as Keshe wrote last year Every Other which probably.

Ali:             Wonderful.

Perito:     Sums it up quite nicely isn’t it.

Ali:             Wonderful story yeah.

Perito:     Everyone else and the others but I guess the interesting thing about exclusion and inclusion is that we’ve all been included and excluded in different ways.

Ali:             Precisely

Perito:     Across different stratas and thinking about Iranian Society you can’t just look at one person isn’t one thing they might have social connections, economic, different history, different religious beliefs and you might be and have maybe in Iran Society I think maybe five or six primary identities that you could be moving through on a daily basis.

Ali:             Exactly.

Perito:     (18m.20s) It’s just a lot of shades of grey isn’t there? 

Ali:             It is, the successful community it’s the one, I think it’s one of the goals to see whether society’s been successful, it’s how you’re gonna integrate all this shade of greys you see what I mean?

Perito:     Indeed, brilliant.  (18m.34s)  So Ali finally any recommendations for people entering next year?

Ali:             Yeah, sure I mean first thing is obviously they have to be interested in this kind of topic which is a very strong topic and people write about it and another thing is if they’re interested in it they don’t have to go and catch those things you always hear about, if you, I think if you have a good look around you will find something relevant, very relevant to your own life, your own little circle of people, your own little hub whether it’s at work or whether it’s a neighbourhood or whatever.  I don’t, in my opinion you don’t really have to look hard it’s always it’s interest, you have to have obviously interest to develop this story and then you will see it’s there.

Perito:     Perfect, thank you very much for that.  I think that’s good advice.

Ali:             Sure, thank you.

Perito:     Now it’s been great to find out more about you and your story, Exit The Shaitan, but now it’s time to sign off and tell listeners about the upcoming Anthology which will be available from Amazon around the world and ideally will be on audio book potentially later on but for now you should be able to buy that in time for Christmas 2021, thanks again to our special guest, Ali Azar.

Ali:             Thank you for having me.

Perito:     Absolute pleasure, who was the author of the short story Exit The Shaitan and thank you very much for coming along today Ali.  You’ve been tuning into the Perito Prize 2021 Podcast that’s a Special Edition thanks for listening everyone, everywhere. 

 

 

 

Categories
Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2021 – An Interview With Second Place Author Chiara Bullen

Perito Prize 2021 – Transcript of Our Podcast Interview With Perito Prize 2021 Runner Up – Chiara Bullen

 

You can find the audio version of this excellent interview with CHIARA on our podcast host https://www.buzzsprout.com/507109/6577582 and its available on all podcast sites like Apple and Spotify.

 

 

Perito:     Welcome to Episode 2 of the Perito Podcast 2021, a specialise Podcast series all about celebrating the writing and creativity for this year’s Perito prize and anthology, now in this episode we’ve got Chiara Bullen joining us from Glasgow.  Chiara wrote the runner up story for the Perito prize 2021 called Smelly Cat which can be found in the Journal section of the Perito website and was selected by the judges as a second place story for this year.  (0m.29s) Welcome to the Podcast Chiara.

Chiara:    Hi James, thanks for having me.

Perito:     (0m.36s) Hi, it’s an absolute pleasure so before we start then how about some kind of quick warm up questions iron out any of those nerves or anything that you might have?

Chiara:    Sure.

Perito:     (0m.46s) Let’s a little about your writing routine then so what kind of things like where you like to sit, have to drink or maybe the music that you like to listen to?

Chiara:    So I think quite a lot of writers would be quite horrified at my set up and for most of my PHD it’s been the pandemic so it’s just my desk at home and it’s always super messy and when I’m finished with my PDF work for the day I usually just launch straight into writing so nothing really special about that which is probably isn’t great but I do like listening to sound tracks to inspire my writing kind of like video game and TV shows sound tracks and things like that.

Perito:     I am obsessed with the Elderscrolls Ambiance soundtrack on Spotify I just have it on repeat because it just sits in the background and does its thing.  So I can relate to that but I think what probably surprised me the most with your answer was the fact that you can write after work, I’m normally at the end of work I don’t want to do anything else so I tend to prefer writing in the morning.  (01m.43s) What is it about the afternoon that works for you?

Chiara:    By the time I’ve finished work it’s normally the evening I suppose but yeah I don’t know, I guess I just sort of associate it as my sort of downtime even though it’s still like, it’s still working, it’s still quite difficult, I guess I’ve always just been a little of a night owl when it comes to my writing so I can’t be one of those people who get up really early and do it before work I think I just need to, I wouldn’t be able to start my day at that point so.

Perito:     (2m.17s) So you’re not kind of like a Raymond Chandler with a whisky in hand in the evening?

Chiara:    Not quite (laughter).

Perito:     Good okay (2m.26s) tell us about the PhD, what are you doing at the moment for the PhD?

Chiara:    So I’m in my third year of my PhD, I’m doing it across the areas of publishing studies, literature and law and I’m kind of looking at like the social responsibilities of the book publishers in the 21st Century so for example right now I’m kind of looking at like what happened in the publishing industry in the wake of the Me Too Movement, for example of authors who were accused of sexual harassment and things like that, I’m just kind of getting an idea of what’s happened in the industry in the past few years cos obviously there’s quite a lot of kind of like discussion and controversy around it so it’s just kind of examining that.

Perito:     (3m.07s) Have you come to any kind of hypothesis or conclusion as to what might need to change or is there change underway?

Chiara:    I mean change is definitely happening, I wouldn’t want to talk about any findings I have yet we’ve got another year to go to iron them out but I do have some ideas of what’s going on and kind of what needs to be changed and things like that.

Perito:     Perfect.  (3m.33s)  Okay, so second question then, when you’re wondering about you’re going to write about in the evening who do you turn to for inspiration and why?

Chiara:    Well I don’t really have just like one figure, I suppose I kind of always keep in mind that like widely used advice which is that to be a good writer you have to be a good reader and read widely kind of in your field and know what’s out there and what works, what doesn’t, what gaps are there and how you can fill them.  I think if I ever have a bit of a writing block and like I think I’ll just spend a good few weeks like reading and enjoying myself and then I’, sort of like refreshed to go back to it.

Perito:     (4m.14s) So are you admitting there is such a thing as writer’s block?

Chiara:    I’m currently, I’m actually currently suffering it with my academic writing, (laughter) not my grade of writing but I guess, yeah I guess some things it’s really hard to get the words out, I think you can always kind of writing something is better than nothing in those instances even if it’s not great or what you’re entirely happy with but yeah you can definitely feel a little bit like stuck.

Perito:     I’m sure everyone whose listening can relate to that at one time in their lives certainly, okay perfect, thank you very much for those answers that was really interesting.  (4m.52s) Moving on to the prize then so what made you enter the Perito prize and how did you find out about it in the first place?

Chiara:    I really liked Perito’s dedication to accessibility, for example, I really liked that there was no entry fee which is often a barrier for lots of people and there were options to submit like audio files and an option to get in touch if you needed to submit your application in any other way like the team would help.  I really like that side of Perito and I don’t just enter my writing kind of like anything, well first of all there’s a lot of times where I can’t afford to, so yeah I just thought that was really great also you were open to young adult stories and young adult short stories are quite hard to be placed cos there’s not, there are places for them but there aren’t as many as adult section and things like that, then I heard about the prize via The Mslexia Newsletter so that’s a magazine for women writers and they do, it might be monthly or it might be every few weeks, they do a newsletter where they showcase writing opportunities and things like that.

Perito:     Perfect, thank you very much.  I think you’ve hit the nail on the head from an access point of view, I just always got really annoyed about the idea you had to be from South Norwich, 6 foot tall and have £50.00 waiting to be able to spend…

Chiara:    Yeah.

Perito:     …in order to even get submitted so the prize is definitely designed to encourage everybody to try and get involved which is why we tend to get, certainly last year, 50 or 60 countries around the world and that’s another great point about sterling GDP, pounds don’t translate well into other currencies…

Chiara:    Yeah exactly.

Perito:     …due to inflation and things, so.

Chiara:    And I completely understand that opportunities, magazines, competitions they do have, they have something to pay their staff, they should always pay their staff but they have running costs and things like that so I am completely sympathetic to that sometimes there just has to be, there just has to be a charge but it’s good when there are options in place, for example if an organisation is gonna charge sometimes they will have a certain amount of slots for people who can’t afford to enter and things like that but I definitely still think there is more that should be done for, to widen accessibility sort of like wider writing competitions and things like that.

Perito:     Thank you very much Chiara that’s a great response.  (7m.21s)  So some people may not have read your story yet and can you tell us about what’s Smelly Cat’s all about and kind of the message that you wanted to write about?

Chiara:    Yeah absolutely I’m don’t blame them if they haven ‘t read it yet (laughter) which is good.  So the story is about a girl, a teenage girl who is bi-sexual but she hasn’t come out to her friends yet and she’s sort of internally agonising over what she should to do because she’s already come across a lot of bi-phobia and bi-sexual erasure and things like that and she’s just not very confident and what the reaction will be like.

Perito:     (8m.01s)  And how does the, without kind of ruining the entire plot line, how does the whole kind of 90’s pop culture vibe fit in?

Chiara:    I suppose, I mean it just sort of got me thinking about how pop culture can really shape it, can really have an impact on our identities but popular culture can also have a kind of harmful effect because it can provide inaccurate stereotypes and things like that, so for example the main character reflects on the fat phobia in friends amongst other things and some people if they watch that a lot when they’re younger in the 90’s or if they’re coming to a little bit later they might always then replicate those stereotypes and those feelings for their whole life, even though they don’t think that it’s harmful because it was a funny joke on Friends, how horrible can it be and that just sort of creates this kind of, kind of strange cycle and makes kind of marginalised people feel even worse and it’s, I think it’s how we get to these conversations when people will say something offensive or hateful and they’re like, “oh but I didn’t mean it, this was just what I was this was what I thought was the case” so yeah, I was just thinking about that when I wrote the story.

Perito:     It’s a great point you make about kind of people reinforcing cycles of exclusion and if you’re watching, how many episodes of Friends are there 300 odd.

Chiara:    Something like that yeah.

Perito:     Yeah and if you’re watching them like I used to, the Sunday omnibuses or whatever, you’d maybe 3 and 4 and yes you’d laugh and things but actually the messaging of and also their casual stupidity as well sometimes, particularly with Ross.

Chiara:    Yeah.

Perito:     Kind of sets in doesn’t it and then as you say the people are then going to think well actually that’s reasonable, if someone whose, and they’re all reasonably good people fundamentally and if they’re saying it then why not, why not we just use that and take that on.  I definitely agree with you the idea of society and media has a role to play in kind of re-framing the conversations around that sort of stuff.  So that’s why I particularly liked Smelly Cat because it really kind of gets to the point and in a nuance way and says, “yeah have you thought about this”.

Chiara:    Definitely.

Perito:     (10m.21s)  So do you find you write a lot about TV shows or popular materials, current affairs and things in your other work?

Chiara:    Actually this is the only time that that’s happened, I usually write like speculative and fantasy and sci-fi and things like that, I honestly, if I may be completely honest, I don’t know where the story came from I think it was just a manifestation of thinking about what we’ve just discussed and a sort of instance where, where that particular episode of Friends might have a negative impact like in real time because the, if people read the story the episode that I’m referring to that always kind of, always bothered me so yeah.

Perito:     Yeah it’s a little bit like Little Britain, even Little Britain I never particularly found it that funny, there were some good bits but often you were still sitting there even back in the 2000’s just thinking, “no I’m not sure that quite works in a way maybe they’re intending” and I think Friends obviously is earlier but at the same time it’s no real excuse because these same conversations were happening then at the same time.

Chiara:    Yeah exactly.

Perito:     Okay, perfect, thank you.  (11m.33s)  So as the Perito prize is dedicated to inclusion, access and inclusive environments did you find that topic difficult to write about or concede with the ideas?

Chiara:    I didn’t really, I do write other genres like fantasy and stuff that’s something that I always keep in mind and I always write about some sort of kind of like injustice and things like that so inclusively is something that I do think about a lot and I like to keep learning and kind of like educate myself to be a little bit of an ally for areas that are that I’m not like part of and things like that.

Perito:     (12m.10s) Despite being a little bit too close to a long conversation but particularly with your skills and understanding of the publishing industry, do you feel that kind of class and social status plays a big role in these sort of coming up with stories and background and certainly being able to get published.

Chiara:    Oh yeah absolutely (laughter) I could be here forever if I worry to talk about that but yeah I mean for so long we’ve had the majority of stories and writers they come from the same, they’re white middle to upper middle class if not more and we have those kind of stories and I started kind of noticing like when I thought about the popular media I consumed like maybe like throughout my whole life, there’s so many recurring issues like, where like the parents getting divorced or not being able to live up to an older sibling or a very successful parent is like the main conflict, the main difficulty and I sort of, and those are horrible things regardless right but I realised that for so many people writing and who they assume the audience to be that those were like the most pressing things that people would ever deal with in their life and then again those are really, those are really difficult things to deal with and recently we have popular shows are tackling things like racism and ableism and tackling the stigma and mental health and stuff that’s really great and I’m really glad to see that happening and there are changes to make publishing more inclusive and diverse, maybe not quite as fast as we would like but I think, yeah I think things are definitely changing but the money that it costs to sort of just often get a story out there, for example creative writing courses and degrees are really popular now and they cost a lot of money and time and there’s scholarships available but there’s not, these opportunities available for everyone and you’re often kind of up against these people who have a lot more time and money to put towards their craft and things and it’s just kind of, yeah it’s definitely kind of been eye opening looking at things from a publishers side and then from the writers side, but yeah sorry that was a bit of a (a ha) a conscientious answer but I hope that kind of answered your question.

Perito:     Well I’m actually thinking of a whole different podcast about these subjects actually to be honest, I’m sure there’s gonna be plenty of people on who’d happily listen to your thoughts all day about that stuff so maybe watch this space, that’s brilliant.  (14m.41s)  So what was the most valuable thing about going through this writing process for you?

Chiara:    I think it really was just with this story in particular it just helped me get my thoughts about pop culture and what we’ve just discussed like really together and put them on the page and just sort of see how that can, yeah how that can impact people but it also helped me to remember that again things definitely aren’t changing fast enough whether that’s in publishing or the film industry or in TV or whatever but there are more pieces of popular culture tackling injustice and raising awareness to issues and issues with stigma surrounding them and things like that and that is great, I suppose yeah it kind of taught me to sort of, there’s still a good reason to be hopeful and things like that.

Perito:     There is definitely, yeah 100%, that’s great.  (15m.34s)  Now I suppose a continuation of that theme, has the prize made you think differently about how inclusive and accessible the whole world we live in actually is?

Chiara:    Yeah, yeah definitely, I think it’s sort of made me think, it’s sort of reinstated that in terms of making an inclusive and accessible world there’s still so much, we’ve so much further to go and just another reminder that there’s still so much to learn and there’s still ways that you can help and things like that, yeah it just sort of reinstated all of those kind of values and the things that we discussed earlier particularly about publishing and accessibility and things, I liked how the prize, that spelling, grammar doesn’t matter and this is open to everyone and we can help with that and I thought that was great and that’s something I often don’t see in publishing and is something that I often, I don’t, for example I don’t end up talking about that in my work and maybe I might or maybe I should think about that when I think about inclusive publishing and things like that.

Perito:     I’m a Dyslexic, relatively moderate to severe and I used to get called stupid at school by my teachers and two in particular and without, what’s that’s done is really set the kind of, the scope for actually what if you aren’t a particularly good speller or you don’t have a Cambridge Grads academic understanding of the English correct grammar than how are you meant to kind of cruise through this, how are you meant to get your voice and story out there if the first people are doing is looking at your, the way that you pronounciate and accentuate your words so that’s, it’s nice that you spotted that as well cos that was a really big important thing for me personally.

Chiara:    Yeah and it often disadvantages people who are, who English might be a second or third or a fourth language, I know that’s a big issue in academia with journal articles for example, people not getting necessarily accepted because of that but all the ideas and the research are right there, it’s not something that should include, exclude people with good ideas and have voices that should be heard.

Perito:     Well exactly if you think from a voices perspective how are you going to engage with a lady from Benghazi if her English is not great and how are you going to get her story, I bet the first thing you do is look at how many spelling mistakes she’s made but that’s only in English.  So it’s a really important point and I think sometimes it does take a while for people to understand, that’s one of the messages that I’m trying to get across by putting this prize together is that idea that we’re not being exclusive just because the be all and end all is whether your grammar and spelling is literally perfect.  You can always pay someone to check it but at the same time if you’re not gonna win that’s expensive.

Chiara:    And also sometimes you just can’t, like that’s not something you have a budget for so yeah it’s just, it’s just something to think about I suppose.

Perito:     (18m.47s) Brilliant and so finally then any recommendations and tips for people entering next year, now I’ve got high hopes for this one Chiara so you (laughter) lay it out there and give everybody as many tips as you possibly can that would be fantastic.

Chiara:    (laughter) So much pressure, I hope you’re not gonna be disappointed with my answer but it was basically, it sounds kind of cheesy but honestly like don’t give up, with this story Smelly Cat I’d entered it in a few places and it got quite a lot of rejections but I would take it back and rework it and honestly went I sent it to this prize I was like this was the last time I’m gonna send this out because I just don’t think there’s a home for this story and obviously it worked out really well but, and it kind of made me realise like oh even if it wasn’t placed here definitely shouldn’t have given up because so much about publishing is just subjective, maybe you don’t quite fit with the theme of like being with the anthology or the issue that you’ve submitted for sometimes the people putting together the magazine or the competition they just don’t feel passionate enough about it, it doesn’t mean that your writing isn’t good and it doesn’t mean that there’s not a place for it, finding the right home for your writing is way more important than just trying to gonna get it published anywhere so yeah, sort of keeping, yeah don’t give up when you’re trying to place a story and just think about what would suit as much, what would suit the story as much as the sort of like just the sort of feeling that you need to get it published, I just think it’s more important to find a good home for it.

Perito:     That’s a lovely point, thank you very much and I think again there’s lots of wisdom backing that up as well so Chiara that’s wonderful.  Now it’s been great to find out more about you and your story but now it’s time to sign off and tell listeners about the upcoming anthology which would be available from Amazon in time for Christmas 2021 and thanks again to our special guest to Chiara Bullen, Author of the short story Smelly Cat, thanks for talking to us today Chiara.

Chiara:    Yeah it was so good, it was so great to speak to you.

Perito:     That’s brilliant and thanks for all your lovely information as well.  Now you’ve been tuning into the Perito Podcast 2021 special addition, thanks for listening everyone, everywhere.

Categories
Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2021 – Winner: ‘Magic Bus’ By Mary Darroch

Magic Bus

 

By Mary Darroch

 

 

My first thought was that he was lying. No one could possibly be wearing those teeth unless it was for a joke.

          ‘Aye right, Mick! Ye got them at Tam’s Joke Shop, didn’t ye?’

          He pulled his mask back up real quick-like before I could reach the teeth to give them a pull just to check.

          ‘Naw, Ah didnae!’ He was doing that annoying laugh that sounded like a donkey hee-hawing. ‘Ah telt ye, ma dentist gave me them! He said he would put them through on the NHS so Ah wouldnae need tae pay, so there ye go! No’ too bad, are they?’

          He was obviously dead pleased with them and I wasn’t about to burst his bubble. He didn’t get many moments of joy in his life and he was my pal and I wanted nice things to happen to him. Actually, what I really wanted was for him to lay off the gear a bit and maybe get a job and make something of himself. Not much chance of that, right enough, but never say die, as my old Da used to say.  

          ‘Yeah, they’re fine, Mick. They look good.’ From the movement behind his mask I could tell that his wee capuchin monkey face was cracking a toothy grin. It never took much. He was the happiest person I knew and he was always the same, whenever you met him, except for those bad times when he was heavy using again, because then he would look a bit out of it but in the main he was always just ma mate Mick, always grinning and always looking on the bright side.

          ‘Anyway, Shona, how ye doin’, pal?’ As usual, he didn’t wait for an answer but battered right on to talk about himself. ‘Did Ah tell you Ah’m gettin’ a job on the buses?’

          ‘Aye right, Mick, is this another of yer daft stories?’

          ‘Naw! Whit makes ye think that?’

          ‘Cos Ah know ye, Mick! Yer always at it!  Mind that time ye were gonnae open a magic shop and that was all ye talked about for weeks and then the next thing yer training to be a stand-up comedian? You and yer daft ideas!’

          I thought that would maybe take some of the wind out of his sails. But no. Not a bit of it.

          ‘Oh, ye of little faith!’’ he asseverated in a ridiculous sepulchral tone. I knew he was channeling Mr Micawber right there. It was a perennial favourite of his because  Mick, for all his shortcomings, was surprisingly well-read and Dickens was his favourite. . ‘Just you wait an’ see!’ He gestured with a dramatic flourish towards his chest. ‘Yer man here has not yet reached his prime!’

More Big Ideas on the way, then. He must have noticed my exasperation because he dropped his voice to a more conspiratorial pitch.  ‘Ah’ve got an interview the morra morning! Jist a ‘preliminary assessment’, like, but at least Ah’ve got a foot in the door …’  

Reaching inside his hoodie, he brought out a folded-up bit of paper. ‘An’ there’s the letter, tellin’ me where to go an’ that.’

I inspected the grubby, dog-eared thing  It was from the Jobcentre right enough. 

          ‘That’s brilliant, Mick! Well done! Ah’m so chuffed for ye! But … whit ye gonnae wear? Have ye got a nice clean hoodie ye can put on?’

          ‘Hoodie? You’ve got tae be kiddin’ me! Ah cannae turn up for an interview  in a hoodie!’ He looked genuinely affronted at the idea. ‘Actually, Shona, I was kinda hopin’ like, that ye’d come tae the shoppin’ centre wi’ me an’ see aboot gettin’ me a jaiket tae wear the morra …’

          ‘But, Mick … Ah’ve no’ got any money right now. And neither have you. It’s no’ yer pay day.’

          ‘Ach, nae worries, Shona! We don’t need money!’ He was grinning under his mask again.  ‘Have you forgot aboot oor special skill sets?’ Nothing ever daunted Mick. He always had a plan.

 

 

 

 

On the bus over to the shopping centre, I was aware that Mick was buttering me up. This could only mean one thing – he was planning for me to do the dirty work today while he ‘kept edgy’. He would be the lookout. He usually was. Maybe that was his special skill set, then. Well, play to your strengths – that was another thing my Da used to say. 

‘Aw, it’ll be great, Shona! Jis’ think, Ah’ll be able to take ye on a wee bus run tae the seaside. Mibbe Saltcoats, even! Ye like Saltcoats, don’t ye?’

‘Mick, see this job – is it like coach trips an’ that?  No’ like jist drivin’ folk intae the toon?’

‘Aye! It’s coaches, an’ they dae trips tae the seaside – Saltcoats, an’ … beaches an’ castles an’ that.’

‘Oh, Mick, that sounds magic! Ah really hope ye get it!’

‘Aye so dae ah. Ah’m gettin’ a bit fed up wi’ never goin’ anywhere nice except mibbe the wee park across the road fae ma hoose. Ah mean it’s a nice park but ye jist stoat’ aroon’ the place wi’ the auld coffin-dodgers and their designer dugs! Aye, It’ll be great to go somewhere different. Jist think – the wide open spaces where we can take in aw that fresh air …’

The rest of the bus journey was spent in quiet reflection – Mick breathing deeply through his blue mask and his ridiculous teeth as he practised taking in the fresh air while sounding like an emphysemic old coffin-dodger himself and me, looking out the filthy bus window on to the dismal grey streets and imagining blue skies and sparkling water and eating ice cream on the promenade.

         

 

Debenham’s was closed. Permanently.  Debenham’s –  our favourite place to pick up a few luxury items. Gone. This was a disaster.

          ‘Aw naw man, what’re we gonnae dae?’ Poor Mick looked a bit distraught. I thought he might start greetin’ in a minute. 

          ‘’Well, there’s Next, an’ H&M, and there’s TK Maxx and maybe Tesco would be worth a go  …’

          ‘But they’re all CCTV-ed up tae the gills! An’ the security guys there are total wideos, man! Huckle ye as soon as look at ye! We huvnae a hope in hell!’ His despair was making his voice increasingly screechy and he was starting to draw looks of suspicion and downright contempt from disdainful passing shoppers.

          ‘Mick, just shut it, will ye! Stop actin’ like a wean.  Where’s yer fightin’ spirit, eh?  We’re no’ beat yet!’ I said these words to pacify Mick but inside I was panicking, too. Mick absolutely had to have decent clothes for his interview or he wouldn’t get that job and I wouldn’t get to the seaside.

But it wasn’t just that.. In some strange way I felt responsible for Mick and for everything that happened to him. He was the closest thing I had to family now and despite all his own problems with the smack and the relentless stream of Big Ideas, I knew that Mick was always looking out for me, too. 

I looked around in the hope of seeing something that could help us. Anything. I started walking and Mick followed, neither of us knowing where we were going, really. 

 ‘Over here, Mick.’

Up ahead, almost at Tesco, I saw our way out. Cash Converters. I touched the small diamond at my neck.  It would only be for a wee while.

Mick stopped. He saw where I was heading. ‘Naw, Shona, no’ the necklace. You love that necklace. Ah’m no’ lettin’ ye dae that.’

‘Aye well, try stoppin’ me! You need that money. Mick, yer like a wee brother tae me, an’ this came from ma Da, so in a way it’s yours, too.  Anyway, Ah’ll buy it back as soon as ma ESA comes in!’

Mick was torn, I could see that, but in the end the thought of the new jaiket won the day. He helped me take off the necklace and even gave it a wee shine and polish on the sleeve of his grimy hoodie.

‘Shona,’ he announced, handing the necklace to me with a flourish, ‘my dear friend, I am deeply indebted to you for what you are doing as I know how  much …’

‘Jist give it a rest, Mick, will ye?’ I tried to sound irritated but couldn’t help smiling at his overblown display of gratitude. 

 

 

 

A guy with owlish specs and a tiny light clipped to his forehead  was offering us quite a lot of cash, more than I had expected, to be honest. Apparently, it was a quality South African diamond set in 22 carat gold. I nodded and tried to look nonchalant as he dictated the details to his colleague who noted it all down.

          ‘I can give you a good price on this.’

Relief. I looked at Mick. He was going to get his new jaiket and I was going straight from here to Tesco to buy a bucket and spade and maybe a wee bikini for the seaside.

          ‘First, I need some details. Do you have some ID?’

          ‘Some ..?’

          ‘Passport? Driver’s licence? We need to see some ID before we can make you an offer. Fraud Initiative and all that.’

‘Um …well, actually …’ I knew there was nothing in my tiny crossbody bag except  my fags, my phone, my purse and my Rimmel Highland Mist lippy. I didn’t own a passport or a driver’s licence – never had a need for either. I looked at Mick. He was standing there, staring straight ahead. ‘What about your driver’s licence, Mick? We can show him that, can’t we?’ No response.  ‘Mick?’

          Suddenly, he seemed to snap into life.  ‘Look, jist forget it,’ he said to the owl guy. ‘Shona, get yer necklace back an’ Ah’ll meet ye outside.’

         

 

 

We were sitting at Costa – one coffee between us.   

‘Mick, Ah think we would’ve got a good price for that necklace.’ I looked at my dirty, bitten nails and pondered. ‘There might even have been enough left to get mysel’ a wee manicure …’

Mick sat back a bit in his chair.

          ‘Nah, Shona, ye’re right. Me and ma big ideas …’

I stopped looking at my nails and looked instead at his wee face, unmasked now in order to drink his share of the coffee. He looked sad.

‘ Ah was lyin’, Shona. No’ aboot the interview – that was legit – but aboot me. Ah would never have got that job. Ah’ve no’ got a driver’s licence. Never even had a lesson. Ah never had the money, to be honest.’

          ‘Then … what was aw’ that aboot? Yer interview?  The bus runs tae the seaside?’

I didn’t really need to ask because I knew what it was about: a few moments of shared happiness, of shared dreams. It was what Mick did best. I understood.

          ‘But jist so ye know, ah would never really have let ye sell yer necklace. Ah know what it means to ye, bein’ the last thing yer Da ever gave  ye …  No, Ah wouldnae have let ye. I’m a better man than that.’ He looked thoughtfully at the table, quite impressed with himself I think.  Then he sighed. ‘And yer Da, he sounds like a good man, too. The best. May he rest in peace,’ he added, respectfully.

          I nodded. Let him bask in his delusions.

Of course he would have let me sell the necklace.  But I couldn’t, because neither of us had any means of proving our existence. Makes you think, that.

It wouldn’t have mattered, though. The necklace had value, but it had no meaning. My Da had brought it home one night with a bag of stuff he’d got from a ‘house clearance’ as he called it,  and I’d nicked it from the stash under his bed before the cops found it and  took it, and him, away. One day I’ll tell Mick, but not today. I don’t want to spoil his dream.

 

Categories
Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2021 – Runner Up: ‘Smelly Cat’ By Chiara Bullen

Smelly Cat

By Chiara Bullen

 

You know that feeling you get when you’re watching something on TV – or watching a film, or reading a book you love – and something big is going to happen? And I mean, change the story big. But you already know what’s going to happen. The story isn’t new to you. It’s the second, third, fourth-and-beyond time you’ve consumed it.

Just as the moment is about to arrive on the screen, on the page or through your headphones, you recognise the steps and plot points that will put this action into motion and you plead to the fictional entity about to do something catastrophic: please don’t!

Please don’t listen to Scar, Simba!

Please don’t kill Dumbledore, Snape!

Please don’t follow that noise into your garden shed, Will Byers!

Of course, if these things don’t happen then the inevitable outcomes and climaxes of the story you love so much would not come to be. The character development needed to make certain characters become the one you’re absolutely obsessed with rely on these moments. So, it’s worth it in the end.

Still. It would have been nice if Kylo Ren hadn’t done that in The Force Awakens.

Anyway. That squirmy, clenching, anxious feeling has me in its grip right now. On my bed, in my room, in my dad’s flat in Glasgow. I know something is about to happen on the show I’m watching and I really, really wish it wouldn’t.

But we aren’t watching anything epic. Nothing scary. Nothing twisty, nothing turn-y.

We’re watching Friends.

My scratched, chunky iPad I got from CEX is propped up on the top of my washed-out looking bookshelf, the sounds jarring from the small speaker on its right side. Eleanor is lying on the floor, arms propped up on a pillow as she lazily scrolls through Twitter. Olivia is on the bed with me, her legs crossed tightly, up at the top end against the wooden headboard covered in old stickers. She’s engrossed by the events unfolding on the 9.7” screen (she’s never seen Friends before – she’s only just got Netflix). I’m leaning on the pink wall my bed is shoved up against, one leg stretched out whilst the other is still on the duvet, my toes digging anxiously into the soft sheet.

It’s a lazy Sunday. A ‘Sunday Funday’. I know this because it said so on several Instagram stories. I’m tapping my screen now, flipping through the stories so fast I only get a glimpse of faces, gym gear, steaming cups of tea and books arranged so beautifully it makes me sad I never really took care of mine.

I barely register the weekend life of my friends and mutuals. My eyes flick back towards the iPad screen, squinting a bit at the distance. I can’t remember the last time I got my eyes tested, but I’ve watched this episode so many times I don’t really need them. Phoebe Buffay is picking up her guitar. My relationship with her is more than a little bit complicated, and within the next few minutes it will be strained, once again, to its limit.

The episode is called ‘The One After the Super Bowl’, but it should be called ‘The One with Phoebe’s Biphobia’, if you ask me. Which I suppose nobody did, least of all the creators of a show who wrote the lines well before I was born.

The knot in my stomach tightens, and I can only imagine it resembles what my white earphones look like inside my jacket pocket. All twisted and chaotic, so tight that my stubby, bitten nails will never be able to pry them free with ease.

I suppose it’s my own fault for loving this show. Members of Gen Z aren’t supposed to like Friends. I read an article about it on Teen Vogue. Plus, my eighteen-year-old cousin said Friends is ‘problematic’ on Twitter, and she’s about to study journalism. So, I know she’s right. Then, amidst the claims of us being another snowflake generation, the article I read pointed out all the issues with the sitcom that my progressive generation is sure to find problematic.

And I agreed with them. There are plenty of reasons why this show is problematic – and I don’t feel this way because I’m as ‘soft as a snowflake’ (I try to be as sharp as an icicle, personally).

There’s racism. Sexism. Fatphobia. Homophobia. Double-standards, and some really shoddy editing work for something so embedded in my sister’s (a die-hard 90s’ kid) pop-culture.

So, I get why people my age aren’t supposed to like Friends. I really do. I’ve always known this. Our generation is the hope for change, tolerance and acceptance – I read that on Tumblr. I felt the slow burning of the beginning of hope and ambition. But, Joey Tribbiani from Friends’ hurtful stance on dating fat women is the same as my pal Craig McKenzie’s views on it, too – and these opinions are at least fifteen years apart.

Then there’s the improbable, frustrating, irresistible case of Phoebe Buffay.

She’s still on the screen and almost ready to sing now.

Right.

Now.

Her blonde hair is in an impossibly high ponytail, a scrunchie thicker than the iPhone in my hand keeping it firmly in place. She’s about to perform her song to the chic café she’s always in, which makes me wish I had a Starbucks in hand even though I don’t like coffee.

I feel the clamminess in my palms and put my phone down on the bed. I know what’s coming next, I know what will make me feel the sting of hurt and the forced feelings of shame and embarrassment her words elicit, as they have done every time I’ve re-watched the show over the past three years.

And to make it worse, my friends are here watching, too.

“So, Oliva, who’s your favourite Friend?” El asks, twisting awkwardly to look up at us on the bed. There’s no room for three of us up here, and only barely room for two people on the floor. It makes for awkward sleepover arrangements. I hope student halls are bigger, if I get into university.

“I donno yet,” Olivia replies. “Rachel. No! Joey. Uh… It’s too hard! Who’s yours, El?”

“I think Ross is hot. What about you, Lauren?”

“Oh, Phoebe, probably,” I reply a little too quickly, not taking my eyes off the screen.

The sound of real laughter – not fake, blaring, audience laughter – drags me back into my room away from my impending doom. El is looking up at me with an eyebrow raised, and Olivia is giggling.

“What?” I ask, snapping a little.

“She’s your favourite, or you find her hot?” El asks, teasing.

“Um…”

“Both?” Oliva suggests, her right eyebrow raising to match El’s, before they both relapse into a fit of giggles.

“Em, yeah!” I respond, trying hard to make it sounds like a joke and laughing a tad too loudly at myself as they both turn their attention back to the show.

I haven’t ever told them properly that I’m bisexual. I was just sort of hoping they’d figure it out.

That happens, right?

I didn’t even tell myself I was bisexual until recently. When I was younger, I started to get crushes on women around me and female celebrities. Keira Knightley in Bend it like Beckham had me slayed. Then she did the same in Pirates of the Caribbean.  Convinced at first I was a lesbian, I spent many a night on Google searching how I would know if I were gay. It was only after I realised that I fancied both Lupin and Tonks from Harry Potter that I altered my search terms slightly, and found what I was looking for.

Bisexual.

‘Bisexual’ fitted me like my snuggest knitted jumper. I know not everyone is happy with labels, but I leapt into the arms of mine.

I practised saying the word over and over, enjoying how it felt slipping from my tongue and imaging how I’d tell the people I loved most in my life. I knew it was scary, but I thought; doesn’t everyone in the LGBTQA+ community say, “It gets better”?

But then, as I was taking time to gain the courage to tell people, I was sitting in registration class and heard Jess Wallace joke that bisexuals were only good for threesomes.

At a sleepover, Amy Barrie told me, fearfully, that she thought her sister might be bisexual, and her sister’s boyfriend was terrified that he’d be cheated on because of this.

She was never invited to mine again after that. It was the only small stand I could take.

I couldn’t share the hurt with anyone in school, or my family. They didn’t know I was bisexual in the first place. I didn’t even want to find people online to talk about it.

And so, my knitted jumper became impossibly tight, the neckline stealing and squeezing the breath from me so that it would be impossible to utter those defining words comfortably.

Phoebe Buffay begins to sing.

            “Sometimes men love women…”

It isn’t fair.

            “Sometimes men love men…”

Without warning, I feel the sting of hot tears as she strums the lullaby-like melody to her audience. Each word sang with such authority that for a while, I believed them. I wonder if a tiny part of me still does.

            “And then there are bisexuals…”

            Please, don’t!

            “Though some just say they’re kidding themselves…!”

The laughter of the studio audience is a deafening roar, each guttural sound a punch to my stomach, a personal insult thrown my way. Sometimes I wonder if I’m overreacting. Isn’t it OK to joke around sometimes?

But if those jokes hurt, shouldn’t people listen to how I feel?

The sound stops.

I look up towards the small screen, and an even smaller pop-up has appeared. “Are you still watching Friends?” Netflix asks.

If Netflix was a person, I would kiss them. Passionately. Has there ever been a time when anyone actually wants that message to pop up? It gives me a second to compose myself, get ‘over’ myself as my friends would probably say.

“Lauren, can you start it again?” asks El, even though being on the floor, she is closer to the iPad on my bookcase than I am. I nod in response to her plea, grinning slightly as she continues scrolling through her Twitter feed.

            I stand up to tiptoe over to her, and end up standing crushed against the wooden shelves, the top one just level with my shoulders. Before I tap the screen to continue, a rush of bravery floods through me.

“You know, I think that’s one of Phoebe’s worst songs,” I say lightly, restarting the programme and turning the volume down a bit. Adrenaline makes me light headed and I have to be careful not to stumble and step on El as I gingerly edge back towards the bed.

What am I doing?

            “Hmm? Why?” asks Oliva, the Friends novice who cannot yet recite every single one of Phoebe’s songs off by heart.

            Please… don’t?

“It’s just not funny,” I reply, twirling a strand of my loose hair lightly as I take my seat on the bed. I can hear my heartbeat thundering in my ears, drowning out the rest of the episode. “I mean, I’m bisexual, and I know I’m not ‘kidding’ myself.”

Silence. I can feel Olivia’s surprised stare, catch her mouth forming a small ‘o’ in the corner of my vision. My heart is livid at my mouth’s betrayal.

I am furious at myself. Furious. I’ve potentially just ruined two friendships. I know what everyone thinks about bisexuals and I’ve just—!

“We know, Lauren,” El replies, obliviously smashing into my downwards spiral like a juggernaut, not looking up from her phone.

I don’t reply, don’t dare let the hope that has ballooned inside me carry me away.

“And,” she continues, “I know ‘Smelly Cat’ is your favourite Friends song anyway.”

Categories
Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2021 – Third Place: ‘Exit The Shaitan’ By Ali Azar

Exit The Shaitan

By Ali Azar

 

The fists landed on the door, pounding on its old wooden frame. Inji jolted from her sleep.

‘Who is it at this time of night,’ she shouted from her bed, but the door continued to be knocked without pausing.

‘Coming! Stop it before the door comes off the hinge.’ She took her cane, plummeted toward the door. Her joints started aching once she was out of her warm bed.

It was two fellows, a man wearing a wool hat and a boy.

‘Mrs Seyid, my daughter had gone mad.’ The man voice was shaking.

‘If a Shaitan has gone to her skin, the rock of misery has dropped on my head. You are my only hope. Save her, and I shall be your servant for the rest of my life.’

‘Go and fetch my chador. It hung on the hanger beside my bed,’ Inji said to the boy.

The man took from one arm of Inji and his young boy from another, they helped her to walked down the uneven stair steeps which opened to the street. She couldn’t remember the last time she got out of the house. Her knees didn’t allow her to walk more than a few steps. She had become a prison for her own house. Though she couldn’t see anything in dark, the earthy smell of clay walls was telling her that she was now in her beloved neighbourhood, where she once sat in front of her house, the whole the women gathered around her.

The two dazzling headlights of Land Rover lit up once the man started the car.

‘How am I going to get in this car? It was hard when I was younger and lighter, let alone now that I am old and well above hundred-kilogram. God, you help me,’ Inji said.

The man held Inji’s hand from the driver’s side, pulling her toward himself. Using the boy’s head as a handrail, Inji climbed on the car, landed with velocity on the leather chair.

The man moved the car, quickly shifted the gear to four, put the pedal to the metal.

‘Where are we going,’ Inji said once breathing allowed her to talk.

‘Jilodarli’s summer quarter.’ The man, hunched over the wheel, was scanning the road.

‘The one below Mount Savalan?’

‘Yes, Mrs Seyid.’

‘That is far. Slow down man if you want me reaching there alive.’ Inji said, grabbing the dashboard firmly.

‘I will be your servant forever if you just help my little girl. My quiet harmless Leyla has now turned into a monster, hitting, screaming, swearing.

Exited the town, the car entered the realm of nature, split fiercely the utter darkness of the surround with its glaring light.

‘Shaitan must have gone to her skin, her voice has changed, her eyes turn white. I don’t even know the meaning of some of her swearing.’ The man broke down, hitting his lap, his shoulders were bouncing. ‘The rock of misery has landed on my head.’

‘Come to yourself, man. You are scaring the boy.’ Inji rested her hand on man’s shoulder.

The car turned into bumpy off-road. Inji large body was jolting up and down while the boy was floating between the chairs and the roof in the back. Glowing lights appeared over yonder, tents came into sight, fiercely barking dogs welcomed the car. They were running, inch away, along the approaching metal monster. Unlike their village counterparts which just stood further away and barked and growled, nomad dogs, being on the constant threat of tactician wolves, attacked savagely to any unknown object entering in their territories. They dispersed once the car reached the yurt where the gathering crowd were awaiting them. A woman ran to the car when it stopped, opened the door of passenger side.

‘Mrs Seyid, thanks god you have come. My girl is perishing in front of my eyes.’

‘Where is she, ‘Inji said, rested her hands on the woman’s shoulder, got up from her seat. Other men approached to help her to step on the ground.

‘Bring me a chair, my heart is going to burst,’ sweating Inji said, wheezing in and out, once she reached the tent of the driver. A folding chair was bought for her, which could hardly accommodate her big bottom.

The man came in, dragging the girl. Her dishevelled hair had covered her face. The father was holding her delicate wrists firmly-not an easy task to get away from the pilers-like hands of a nomad man. Leyla looked at Inji with resentment, gowned her teeth. The mother was whimpering, hitting her laps, and the boy was staring at his sister.

‘What are you looking at me you nosy people. Apart from the girl’s family, everyone else march home. Yallah!’ She threw her cane toward the tent entryway. The people quietly left the tent.

‘Have her sit in front of me,’ Inji said.

With help of his heavyweight, the man pushed Leyla to her knees.

‘Leave me alone with her.’

‘But, Mrs Seyid, she may hurt you.’

‘She won’t. Everyone out.’

The man let her girl loose with caution. The curse breaker and the cursed were left alone. The girl was staring at the red kilim thrown in the middle of the tent. Two lanterns stood in two opposite corners aiming to do the futile task of brightening the spacious tent, a gratefully brewing Samovar, a few cushions rested against the wall, a pile of neatly folded duvets and mattresses on the corner were all the family had.

‘Is that ayran?’ Inji saw pitcher containing white fluid. ‘It must be made from ewes’ milk. My mouth’s as dry as a parched well, my dear girl, pour me a glass of it.’

Girl looked at the old woman for sometimes, then rose with hesitation, grabbed a glass, poured ayran and gave it to Inji, who emptied the glass with one gulp; it was rich, viscous, creamy and sour.

‘Shahseven nomad’s ayran tastes something else. So, your name is Leyla. It is a beautiful name.’

The girl didn’t say anything.

‘I don’t think you have gone crazy, but you have a problem, and I want to help you.’

She stood in front of Inji, her head sunk into her neck.

‘You see here.’ Inji tapped her chest a few times. ‘It is full of secrets, scandals and untold stories. I have kept them in here and will take them to the grave with myself. May god be my witness. Now tell me what is bothering you?’ Inji said in a lower tone.

The girl still stood unmoving.

‘Now, you have two options: one is to tell me your problem, and we can find a way out, or you continue playing your daft game, and I promise you that your dad will then take you to Tabriz, to a mad house, and there even if you’re not crazy, you will become one. You decide.’ Inji straightened her back, rested her hands on the cane.

Leyla burst into cry, held her mouth with her palms to suffocate her outcry.

‘Cry my girl, you are safe here with me. I am on your side,’ Inji whispered.

‘No one can help me?’ Leyla said half cried and half whispered.

‘What is troubling you my girl?’

‘Can’t tell, can’t even tell myself. I have committed the most grievous sin.’

‘Have you fallen in love?

The girl triggered another mighty sob.

‘More than that?’

‘I am done. There is no way out.’

‘What did he exactly do to you?’

‘My own fault. I am a fool.’ She punched her head a few times.’

‘Where is he? We can make you married to him. I know a very good mullah who can help. Convincing your parents on me. Just tell where the hell he is?’

Leyla swung her head.’

‘Doesn’t he want to get married? It is not up to him. Tell me where he is, and I will have him dragged here to your feet, then marriage will be proceeded.

‘He has run away.’

‘Son of a dog. Where has he escaped?’

‘Hell,’ she wailed.

In her mind, Inji went through the similar cases she had encountered in the past to find a way out, but this case was hard to solve.

‘Pour me another glass,’ she said.

Girl, whimpering, brought her another glass of Ayran, then sat beside Inji, looking at her quietly.

‘Are you pregnant?’

‘I would have killed myself if I was. I waited till I made sure I didn’t carry the child of that pig.’

‘Don’t be silly. I may have found a way to get you out of this trouble, but I need your complete cooperation.’

Leyla nodded firmly. Inji could see her face completely for the first time. She hardly looked like a grown-up woman; she was small and thin; her breasts have hardly developed.

Inji called out Leyla’s parent. They instantly entered the tent. She asked the mother to take Leyla out of the tent. She kissed her daughter’s head, then they went outside. While following her mother, Leyla was looking back worryingly at Inji. She looked more like she has lost her doll than her virginity Inji thought.

‘Shaitan has gone inside her body indeed but I will expel him.’

‘God bless you Seyid Inji, I shall be your servant for the rest of my life.’

‘But the procedure that I am going to carry out will not be done without a consequence.’

‘What consequence?’

‘Shaitan exit will cost her virginity.’

The man who sat on his knee froze, his gaze fixed at the floor, grabbed his trouser, pressed hard.

‘And of course, I won’t do it without your permission.’

The man still couldn’t utter a word. His fuming face soon sunk, became sad and desperate.

‘My son, it is not up to me to tell you what to do, but something has to be done.’

‘No man will marry her.’ He sighed bitterly. ‘Better off be a sound minded spinster than be a lunatic!’

‘Who says she can’t get married. When a suiter found, send him to me, and I will confirm she hasn’t done any wrong.’

‘Whatever you approve, Mrs Seyid.’

‘Bring the girl inside.’

Leyla was brought in, and they were left alone again. Inji said to her to eat well as she looked like a resurrected dead, not to get out of her bed for a couple days, and after that, behave normal.

‘Now, take, this agate ring. It is blessed from Karbala.’

Leyla took the ring with face of a rich-brown agate.

‘Now, my dumb girl, gather your wisdom from your heel to head. Since now, be careful of every step you take. Life is unforgiven.’

Girl’s face shone, a shy smile appeared on her face (youth gets sad easily, happy easily). Inji stroked her head, then call out her father to come in.

‘How did it go Mrs Seyid?’ he said. Inji could see the gathering crowd outside of the tent.

‘The girl needs rest. I will tell you in the car. Take me home now.’

The Land Rover ambled away from the tents, and in no rush, headed toward the town. Gaynarja spring had to be somewhere close to here Inji thought. She wished to have her ill feeble body bathed in its therapeutic hot water coming from the heart of Mount Savalan, whose silvery shoulder dimly shone in the dark.

‘The procedure went well, and with might of Allah, your girl will recover.’

The man profusely thanked him, promised he would pay in cash when his lambs were old enough to sell.

‘I don’t want your money, just look after your girl.’

The glowing lights of Meshgin appeared. Inji was thinking what she was going to do once arrived at home: to eat a couple of halva’s slides that one of her neighbours had brought, then take her red pill, and best of all, lay on her bed and have the sweetest sleep.

Categories
Blog

Why Inclusive Space Environments Are As Vital Now As They Will Be In The Future

Inclusive Space Rocket
A Space Rocket Sketches Off

Now I know what you’re thinking… space, the final frontier, an inclusive environment… really? That’s going a bit boldly isn’t it you scruffy looking Nerfherder?

Well yes and no.

With the advent of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s Space X the idea that space is just for fine Shakespearean actors, the Death Star and super fit military people may well be over. But you only have to take a quick google of the space craft themselves, as well as the focus on the technology, to start thinking that there are going to be some major limitations to people getting into space. And that’s just the near future vision.

What about if the only way of surviving climate change is to leave our planet entirely? The security person at the door of the craft begins to draw the door closed and says… ‘Sorry folks, we can only save those who can get in. And actually fit in the narrow seat too. The designer was busy making it look cool like the Millennium Falcon and forgot to think about the user.’

I don’t think this scenario is science fiction.

Well maybe.

Hopefully, the part about the reasons for leaving but imagine if space travel or even just hypersonic atmospheric journeys become our new standard. How do we deliver all the changes we are working towards on Earth so that everyone can participate once its common to be living, travelling and working off it?

The answer is to ensure that the space environment is carefully designed to become an inclusive environment from the very start. Think of it as an opportunity to create and nurture inclusive environments without all the centuries of baggage and Victorian thinking. There has already been some headway into this by organisations like the European Space Agency (ESA) who is in partnership with a range of other organisations with the SpaceIN network. SpaceIN focused on providing access to learning about science and technology. But its remit doesn’t cover incorporating the concepts of Ability to Access, Inclusive Design, Universal Design and Inclusive Environments into the very fabric of the Space Environment.

To do this we all need to ensure careful assessment of future human need and to have oversight on how the designers and thought leaders of this new space race are mapping the journey. For instance, how might we use the Space Environment to enable people to participate in the ‘human supercomputer’? This is the idea that diversity and inclusion will generate more ideas, concepts and challenges to the status quo purely because we are all able to get involved. As Anton Ego in the film Ratatouille says. ‘Not everyone can be a great artist. But a great artist and come from anywhere.’ Future citizens of Mars included.

We can achieve all this simply by spending time putting the user at the heart of this lightspeed journey. Although, in counterpoint, that might seem some distance away for the human and wildlife population of Boca Chica, Texas as Space X moves in next door and tramples on their way of life.

But this is another reason why we should start talking about the ‘Inclusive Space Environment’ now so that the so called ‘final frontier’ doesn’t remain that way – a permanent, exclusive and potentially harmful barrier to us all. As Princess Leia might have said about inclusive environments – ‘Help Me Everyone, this might well be our only hope.’

Categories
Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2020: Transcript of Our Podcast Interview With Perito Prize 2020 Third Place Author – Fatema Matin

 

Perito:     Welcome to Episode 3 of the Perito Prize Podcast 2020, a special Podcast series all about celebrating the writing and creativity for this year’s Perito prize and anthology.  In this episode we are pleased to be joined by Fatema Matin, who entered her short story “The Little Black Stool” into the Perito Prize 2020 and came third.  Fatema’s story can be found on the general section of the Perito website.  Hiya Fatema.

Fatema:  Hi thanks for having me James.

Perito:     (0.26) Well it was great to have you on the Podcast before we kick off though let’s get a warmup question out of the oven for you, what appears in your opinion more important ambition, talent or opportunity?  Put luck in brackets there.

Fatema:  I think it’s a combination of all three, the way I see it what happens to us how and why it’s such a complex phenomenon, I mean I believe that God is the best of planners in the religion that I follow but at the same time God doesn’t change the conditional of people who don’t change themselves you have to take action and make an effort, we have another saving that tells “you shouldn’t leave your camels free to roam and trust blindly in God to keep them safe”.

Perito:     That’s a nice saying.

Fatema:  Yeah definitely, you should tie your camel up and then trust in God more wisely, it’s a delicate balance of hard work and faith.  Sometimes things happen for you and sometimes they don’t, that doesn’t mean that you do or don’t deserve them it’s the will of God so I have quite a religious outlook but it doesn’t really answer the question I’m afraid but sometimes life’s like that, it’s about the questions as well as the answers.

Perito:     (1.42) What made you enter the Perito prize and how did you find out about it?

Fatema:  I done a search for writing competitions based in the UK to participate in because I really enjoy creative writing, I came across the Perito prize and I really related to the theme because inclusive it’s just not an important part of life practically but it’s an important value as well, we should include people whoever they are and make them feel included.

Perito:     (2.11) Some people may not have read your story yet, but I really liked the way it showcases inclusive technology so well, tell us what “The Little Black Stool” is all about.

Fatema:  I think on the surface the story is about a little black stool and about how technology for accessibility it is this whole range of equipment that sometimes needs to be state of the art but sometimes it can be as simple as a single moulded piece of plastic, on top of that it’s about the everyday frustrations that we might experience when things aren’t accessible when perhaps they should be and coping with feelings of being different.

Perito:     (2.45) Brilliant thank you very much that is very nicely said.  Now as you know the Perito prize is dedicated to inclusion access and inclusive environments.  Did you find the topic difficult to write about?

Fatema:  Actually, yes it was very personal to me, I think it was a bit of a raw emotion because I don’t like feeling different to everyone else, it’s not a part of myself I ever like to talk about or even really think about, it’s as if I can ignore what makes me different then I can pretend that those differences don’t exist.  It was also a little bit difficult because I have quite a determined streak if I can do something by myself I will even if the technology to make it easier isn’t there because I hate to depend on other people because I don’t want to put them out.  I remember once bringing a Carrom board home by myself on the bus, if you haven’t see one before a Carrom Board is a game played on a square of wood about 4’ by 4’ so it’s pretty much as tall as I am but when I got home my family were just like how, how did you bring this home but I’m just that wilful so I found a way.

Perito:     (3.55) What’s the most valuable thing about going through this process for you?

Fatema:  I think the most valuable thing about this writing process was it encouraged me to be more grateful about how accessible the country that we live in really is because I know that it’s not the same across the world unfortunately everyone doesn’t have a friendly and helpful attitude to people who are atypical, that appreciation of each person and that it isn’t universal so it’s something that I really should be thankful for.

Perito:     (4.27) Your story is already a great example of how even the small things, well designed, fit for purpose can make an amazing impact on people’s lives but has the prize made you think any differently about how inclusive and accessible like you mentioned about the UK but how we can go about changing the rest of the world or helping the rest of the world to become more inclusive and accessible?

Fatema:  I’m not sure about whether it’s made me think differently but I think it’s definitely brought to my attention the impact that accessibility technology has on people’s lives, some people use it for certain tasks only and other people use it every day for operating other reasons but however it’s being used this technology is an important part of people’s’ lives, writing the story’s made me think about the significant impact that even the simplest of tools now for example, I’m a School Librarian and I recently put together a small section of Dyslexia friendly books.  To someone who doesn’t have Dyslexia it may not look very different, the colour of the page is very subtly different and we may not think twice about the font but for someone who is struggling with Dyslexia that might make a really big difference to them so it’s really brought accessible technology to my attention in that way.

Perito:     (5.52) Do you come across Dyslexia a lot when you’re, as a Librarian?

Fatema:  Unfortunately, I haven’t had that personal experience with children who have Dyslexia because the Coronavirus Pandemic it kicked in just a matter of weeks after I started so my role now there’s not much face-to-face contact and there’s not much physical contact on resources as well that has kept to a minimum so I don’t have as much experience than maybe I’d want.

Perito:     (6.27) As a Dyslexic I think everything that schools can do to aid this is brilliant.  Finally then Fatema any recommendations or tips for people entering next year?

Fatema:  I think I’d like to give encouragement rather than recommendations, I mean I don’t envy those who had the role of picking the winners, that must be such a hard decision to make I don’t think I could do it but just have a go at expressing yourself, even if it feels like you don’t have any idea just jot things down feelings, words, thoughts, any other ideas that a feeling brings to mind then you can start to see the links and connections between them and you can bring them together into something more solid.

Perito:     (7.06) I think that is brilliant and I like the idea of the encouragement angle as well.  Well it’s been brilliant to find out more about you and your story but now it’s time to sign off and tell listeners about the anthology which is available from Amazon around the world and as well as the audio book which will feature Fatema’s work alongside a variety of other entries from the 2020 competition.  This will be available on Audible and other audio book sites, thanks again to our special guest Fatema Matin author of “The Little Black Stool”.

Fatema:  Thanks again for having me it has been a pleasure.

Perito:     It is an absolute pleasure as well Fatema now you’ve been tuning into the Perito 2020 Podcast special edition thanks for listening everyone everywhere.

Categories
Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2020 – Winner: ‘EVERY/OTHER’ By Keshuan Chow

 Every/Other

Keshuan Chow

 

I can’t remember where I first heard it, or when. All I remember is that the girl who said it was an Every. Long, silvery blonde hair, straight as corn silk, shiny with the echoes of a million others like her.

I brush my hair one hundred times, she said, as she pulled the brush along those long, long strands.

So I adopted the habit, in an effort to be more Every. Each night, I sat at my mirror, looking into my Other face. Looking into my Other eyes, dark like obsidian or black holes or voids. I would brush and brush, counting carefully. Always precisely to one hundred, so that I may become more like an Every. More like her.

Brushing my hair was soothing. So soothing that I never saw it as a chore. The sound evokes such calm that people trawl the internet for videos of women brushing their hair. What these people do with the videos I do not know. I imagine them leaning forwards, ear buds in, staring at the screen with a sort of manic grin.

The sound of brushing hair is otherworldly. (You can approximate the sound by putting the flat of your tongue against the back of your front teeth and repeatedly exhaling. It’s not an exact replica, but it comes close).

As a child, I was like a Bowerbird, eagerly picking up tips on how to be more Every. The Everys seemed to be of peak human stock: often blonde, or at least light-haired. Their noses were small and neat, their skin freckled adorably in the hot summer sun. They had eye creases which didn’t puff up and change location when they cried. They didn’t have epicanthal folds.

I remember attending auditions for school plays, year after year. Being an Other meant that I was consistently relegated to minor roles. It didn’t matter how hard I tried; the main part would go to an Every.

I, like the other Others, would be in the chorus, or cast as a Token. Once, I played a Japanese schoolgirl. Another time, a dirty Vietnamese street child. It was as though all of us who were Others were one and the same. It did not matter if I was Chinese, or Malaysian, or Japanese, or Viet. All that mattered was that I was Other.

The night before my Grade Six play, I scratched my face. There was a mole there, a blemish in my Other skin. It wasn’t like the light smattering of freckles I so coveted. It was dark, almost black, the same colour as my hair and eyes. I thought if I removed it, I would somehow be more Every. So I scratched and scratched, until I felt wetness. When I looked at my fingernails, they were caked in blood.

I did my chorus the next day with a plaster on my face.

I distanced myself from other Others. Picked a football team that sounded very Every. I surrounded myself with Every friends, friends whose parents didn’t carry their belongings around in plastic bags, or make them attend Chinese school. I read Every books, I watched Every television. When I flicked through magazines, the faces were all Every.

As I grew, and traversed the rollercoaster that was puberty, I would sometimes be noticed for my Otherness. Boys would actually say they liked me for being Other.

But I don’t want to be Other, I would say. I want to be like you.

They would say, We wouldn’t like you if you were Us.

No matter what I did, I was distinguished as an Other.

I tried my hardest to get part-time work, but suspected my résumé was often thrown out. My name broadcast me as an Other, and it was almost too hard to say. The Everys in charge of hiring probably didn’t want to bumble through an attempt to pronounce it. So it was easier to just not try.

Years later, I read research that confirmed my suspicion. Some Others had found that changing their name to something more Every-like landed them better jobs. It’s a strategy as old as time, really. People who were Others — women, the enslaved, the persecuted —  changed their names to become more acceptable, more appealing. Apparently, the onus is on the Other, not the other way around.

Eventually, I won a place at med school, where I painstakingly sweated out the letters that would follow my name. Afterwards, I would write out my complicated, unpronounceable Other name, then write those two letters: M.D. It is such a common mark of Others like me, that it could almost be a trademark.

Not OtherTM, but OtherMD. In fact, there were so many Others in my graduating class, that I almost felt more Every.

Almost. But not quite.

My habit of brushing my hair never stopped. Every night, one hundred strokes. It didn’t matter if I was up late, studying the bones of the hand (tip: use this mnemonic. So Long To Pinky, Here Comes The Thumb. Straight Line To Pinky, Here Comes The Thumb). It didn’t matter if I was passed out drunk on my friend’s bedroom floor. Whenever I remembered, I would swipe my brush through my hair one hundred times.

It was shortly after starting work as an OtherMD that I started to inspect the brush. For so long, the brush had just been an object, a prop. But as I rode the cresting waves into adulthood, it became an extension of my arm. A totem, or talisman, something that represented myself, my diligence. The parts of my personality I carefully crafted, just like my now-hidden yearning to be more Every.

I looked at my brush, after my one hundred strokes, and saw long black strands of hair tangled through the bristles. The dust collecting amongst the hair was abundant, and unsettling.

One morning, I put my hands on the back of my head, and felt it.

Maybe I’m imagining it, I said to myself, but my head feels smaller.

Don’t be stupid, said my reflection. Your head can’t get smaller from brushing your hair.

Every night, though, there would be more hair snarled into the brush’s bristles. And every night, more dust was caught up in the hair, grey and fluffy, like a cat.

It soon became clear I would always be an Other. Some of my patients insisted I had seen them before (Remember? In June last year?) and I would shake my head and tell them, No, I’m afraid you’re mixing me up with another Other.

They still could never pronounce my name.

So I shortened it.

When I met my now-husband, it was in a bar. He had the blonde hair and the blue eyes of an Every, and a devastating smile that made my stomach fizz. That night, I imagined my gastric bile, yellow and pungent, bubbles popping on the surface. (You can approximate this sound by bringing your lips together and then rapidly pulling them apart).

He took my hand, his white hand clasping my dark one. I forced myself to forget the names of the bones (do not, I repeat, do not mention the mnemonic). We danced. We kissed. His hand caressed the small of my back.

Later, he pushed his Everyness into my Otherness, over and over again, while he whispered my shortened name into my ear.

We married quickly. Everyone thought too quickly. Except my Mother, who told me I was lucky.

He’s a good man, she said. Rich. He will support you.

I didn’t want to tell her that all his ex-girlfriends were Others. That my Otherness seemed, to him, exotic. Something to be cradled and cherished, like a flower.

But not unique. Never unique.

I brushed my hair on our wedding night, while he was sleeping. This time, the hair didn’t just snarl in the brush. It started falling out, drifting down in a dark mist, collecting in a puddle at my feet. When the hair hit the ground, a cloud of dust puffed upwards, rising into the air like curling fog. I breathed in that dust, the dust that came from me.

I turned my head. The back of it looked flat. My head was shrinking, my features disintegrating. In my quest to become more Every, I was losing myself.

Slowly, each day, my skin cells were dying. And dead cells turn into dust.

When my daughter started growing, I felt her Everyness inside of me. Twisting and stretching, she would kick me from the inside, angry at the fleshy prison of my womb. She kicked so hard she cracked a rib.

It’s a known complication, said the doctor. You Others are built to have small babies. But this baby is half Every, and this baby is Big.

What should I do? I panted, breathing through the pain.

The doctor looked at me squarely, over his glasses. Try not to laugh. He wasn’t even joking.

The first glimpse of my daughter was a thatch of black hair, peeking through the lips of my labia. The midwife asked if I wanted to see, with a mirror. At first I said no, but then I said yes.

Black hair. Black, sticky hair. How very Other.

Four months after she was born, the last of my hair fell out. Nature’s cruel trick means that a Mother at her lowest — sleep-deprived, hormonal, with stretch marks and sagging breasts — is also destined to lose her hair. Of course, I was already losing my hair, but the hormones sped up the process. Each time I had a shower, I saw strands getting caught in the drain. And swirling in the water was the dust that came from me, slowly but surely washing away.

My daughter was born looking Other, but over time began to look more Every. And shamefully, I was relieved. They say girls are born with every egg they will ever produce already in their ovaries. I marveled at this fact, and thought about the grandchildren that resided in her belly. Mendelian genetics means that she might have blue-eyed babies. Just think — in only two generations, my Otherness could fade, and end up as nothing more than an interesting anecdote, or something that results in an almond-shaped eye.

I still brushed my head once my hair fell out. It had become such a ritual; a ritual I couldn’t break. It didn’t matter that my scalp was scratched and bleeding, that dust fell from it like the crumbling wings of dead moths.

It didn’t matter that I was shrinking, slowly fading from existence, becoming Invisible like I’d simultaneously wanted, and not wanted, to be.

The last day I brushed my head was when the last scrap of skin dissolved and fell away. I sat staring into my mirror, now no longer flesh-and-blood. All I saw was a gaunt skull, empty-eyed and grinning, staring back at me.

Finally White.

With no connective tissue to hold me together, I collapsed onto the ground in a clattering pile of bones. (You can approximate the sound of clicking bones by putting the tongue on the roof of your mouth, and drawing it downwards quickly to break the vacuum).

It was then that He approached, all black cowl and shroud and large, curving scythe. Just like I had dreamt last night, and every night before that.

He stroked my head with a skeletal hand, bone on bone. It hurt in a way that was both tangible and sweet.

Come with me, Child, said Death.

Yes, I replied. I will come.

Death gathered me into the folds of his cloak, and made me look in the mirror one last time.

Congratulations, he said.

I stared, entranced, at the sight of my bones. The same bones that are inside every other human. (Remember the mnemonic?)

Congratulations, Death repeated, as he brought down the scythe.

You have what you wanted. You have now become an Every.

 

Categories
Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2020: Transcript of Our Podcast Interview With Perito Prize 2020 Winner – Keshaun (Keshe) Chow

Perito Prize 2020 – Transcript of Our Podcast Interview With Perito Prize 2020 Winner – Keshuan (Keshe) Chow

 

You can find the audio version of this excellent interview with Keshe on our podcast host https://www.buzzsprout.com/507109/6577582 and its available on all podcast sites like Apple and Spotify.

 

Perito:     Welcome to Episode 1 of the Perito Podcast 2020, a special Podcast series all about celebrating the writing and creativity of this year’s Perito prize and anthology.  In this episode we are pleased to be joined by the winner of the Perito Prize 2020 Keshe Chow. Keshe wrote the story ‘Every/ Other’ which can be found in the journal section of the Perito website and was selected by the judges as the winning short story for this year.  Hi Keshe and a very warm welcome to the Podcast and well what an incredible story you’ve created, a bit of a warm up question for you so what’s most important do you think ambition, talent or opportunity, we’ll put luck in brackets on that one as well what do you think?

Keshe:     Okay thanks so much for having me today James, first of all I think with this question it’s a bit of a difficult one because I really think it depends so much on the situation and I think depending on what situation you find yourself in different aspects of those three things would take precedence over the other.  I think if we’re sort of talking specifically about writing and publishing I think probably it’s a combination of all three, I think you definitely need to have the drive to just absolutely put your head down and do the work and get the words out and then obviously there’s an element of having the sort of innate ability to use words and just craft them in a certain way and definitely sort of like opportunity and luck is a big part of it as well because so often writing is so subjective, I think different people respond to different things and what one person enjoys a lot another person might find just too out there or too dry or too bland or too like upbeat or too depressing like it’s very, very subjective so I think it just depends so much on that kind of dual factors of the audience and the writer if that’s what we sort of talking about.

Perito:     (1.54) It’s an interesting point you make about subjectivity within the kind of books and writing, I think that is such an important thing, often people will not read outside of a certain subject matter.

Keshe:     Yes.

Perito:     (2.05) I only read Italian detective fiction blah, blah, blah, I only read American…

Keshe:     (laughter)

Perito:     …something or other and when it comes round to read other stuff there does seem to be a, oh I know blah, blah, I could possibly read short stories well might not, they’re micro stories, they’re really short you can eat them in bite size chunks and you get the satisfaction of the whole story in one, I think that’s what I’ve tried to do with this anthology certainly is put together a collection of stories which is as diverse as possible so everyone’s going to find something there but it’s such a difficult thing to get through and people realise that books are so important to people as well, that’s a good point.

Keshe:     Yeah story telling is just so important really and that’s just what part of what makes us human really, I think the ability to share stories and you know communicate ideas through words and things like that.

Perito:     (2.54) So thinking about kind of sharing your ideas out there. What made you enter the prize and how did you find out about it in the first place?

Keshe:     How I found out about it was probably through like a writing blog or something, to be honest I don’t really remember, I spend a lot of time late at night kind of just like when I can’t sleep and stuff (laughter), it’s like cruising around on the internet and I probably came across it at one stage and I had this already written because it was a very personal story so I had it kind of sitting there and I hadn’t really shown it to anyone and it was just kind of private and I thought it kind of feels the brief of that sort of inclusivity and exclusivity that you guys were trying to hit in the Perito prize and so I thought why not just send it in, I didn’t really expect much of it as I said to you when you first contacted me it was like completely unexpected that it sort of impacted on anyone really, cos to me it just was like this weird little story that I’d written late at night when I couldn’t sleep and yeah so that’s basically why I entered, I just did it on a whim.

Perito:     (4.00) Sometimes the best stories are done late at night where you’re plugging into the depth of creativity that you just might not…

Keshe:     (laughter)

Perito:     …that well is really deep and draw it out.

Keshe:     Sitting alone in the dark it definitely brings out some interesting ideas (laughter).

Perito:     (4.15) Actually you can kind of sense the whole sitting alone in your dark bit of the story actually that does come out.

Keshe:     (laughter) yeah, yeah.

Perito:     (4.22) So let’s think about the story then some people won’t have read it yet but one Judge described it as stunning and I think probably what I’ve just said there probably get the tone and the kind of the setting of the story.  Tell us what Every/Other is all about?

Keshe:     So basically it is a piece of fiction but it’s kind of loosely based on a lot of my experiences growing up as a person of colour in Australia so I’m Chinese Australian, I was actually born in Malaysia migrated to Australia when I was about 2 and a half so I don’t really remember much but grew up in quite a traditional Chinese family and sort of straggling those two cultures where you’re trying really hard to assimilate into like an Australian very white nominated culture which it was back in the 80’s when I grew up, you know it’s a long time ago now but yeah it basically was, it was difficult from an identity point of view because there always that element of having two sides of your lives, you know you’ve got the life that you have at home where you’ve got like really traditional Chinese values or whatever as a culture you identify with and then trying to sort of, yeah basically integrate into a greater society where some of those aspects might not be so easily accepted the general public.  So yeah that’s basically what it is about, it was just about sort of my experiences and that’s why it was so personal because there were difficulties obviously growing up in that sort of environment and fantastic things as well and I look back on it now and I think I’m so lucky to have that sort of rich cultural heritage and Australia is so multi-cultural but there were definitely aspects of it growing up that I found very difficult because everyone wants to be included and especially when you’re a kid you just want to be like everyone else, you don’t want to be the strange one or the odd one out and so having anything that sets you apart from others can be quite a difficult experience and I think it’s hard to know what that’s like unless you’ve experienced that.

Perito:     (6.29) So it sounds like that Every/Other has come from a place of not just social exclusion but certainly exclusion in general, it really drives that exclusion concept quite harder and makes a serious impact on the reader, was that only the place that you were coming from when you decided to write it or were there other elements outside of just the historical sense of social exclusion that you’d experienced?

Keshe:     I think I didn’t really have any specific agenda when I wrote it, I kind of just started and it just kind of came because I think it was from a such a deep place that it actually didn’t really take me very long to write, it kind of just flowed once I got the idea, so I don’t really know what exactly what things it encompasses because I’m close to the story I think but I think that it was really just trying to show that dichotomy of having two different aspects of your life and trying to kind of, I guess it kind of almost self-rejection and self-hatred that can come when you realise you are different from the majority and that can be really damaging and I think that’s what I was trying to get across that sort of, I guess it’s social exclusion from others can then lead to a kind of self-rejection and then that’s the real damaging thing when you sort of don’t accept yourself anymore because society at large is telling you that you’d be better off being different.  Yeah I don’t know, I mean like I experienced a really good childhood, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like it was awful or you know, I was bullied or anything like that.

Perito:     Yeah.

Keshe:     It was just that there’s all little things and I guess being a marginalised person and this goes for any form of marginalisation is that you’re always questioning, you’re always second guessing, it’s always like, you know, if I miss out on this opportunity is it because I’m actually not good enough or was it because I’m different, it’s always having that thing in the back of your mind where you’re like people seeing me for me or are they seeing me because I’m a stereotype or a token of my culture, there’s so many different aspects and it’s very kind of complex growing up as a marginalised person and again I think it can be really hard to see that if you’re not from a marginalised community and I think it’s fantastic that there’s so much push nowadays to understand diverse voices and marginalised voices and that the culture overall is really trying to raise up those voices nowadays and like your anthology and the contest and everything it’s just such an important thing because historically a lot of the marginalised voices, and I’m not just talking about marginalised from a cultural point of view which is obviously what I was writing about but from any point of view, historically those voices haven’t really been heard and if it was written about it was written about from a viewpoint of, you know, the other side not from the person themselves so yeah it’s amazing that now there is that sort of really deep push to celebrate and raise up those voices, I think that’s just so fantastic.

Perito:     (9.31) You mentioned about self-hate and…

Keshe:     (laughter) yeah.

Perito:     …this actually came across from, was something that you wanted to write about or is that just coincidental that that came across?

Keshe:     I think it was probably a bit coincidental and that’s obviously really strong language, there were definitely a lot of times growing up where I felt like I wish I was just the one blue eyed person but overall I’ve really over my life come to like an acceptance but it is very hard to question whether you really like who you are and that has so many different aspects, I mean obviously as a child and as a teenager most people are kind of question that I think everyone kind of goes through, those of angsty, phases of trying to find out who you are and kind of rejecting each version of yourself and things like that, like I actually I have robust mental health so I think overall like I’ve been able to navigate those aspects quite well but it definitely, especially for people who are even more marginalised than myself I think that mental health is such a massive thing that we have to bear in mind that sort of the sort of lack of inclusion can really seriously impact on people’s mental health or just feeling stigmatised for whatever reason that may be.

Perito:     (10.51) That’s a good point. I found the sentences where you encouraged the reader to make sounds for themselves was particularly engaging and kind of the clips and clops as you brush your hair and things like that.

Keshe:     (laughter)

Perito:     (11.04) Was there any specific inspiration of this technique of writing that you encouraged or was, you’ve mentioned that you wrote this story quite quickly was it just like ah that’s, were you making these sounds, were you brushing hair and then you were like I’m just going to put that in because that feels the right thing to do.

Keshe:     I think that writing is such a rich sensory experience really, like often when you write and you write about all the senses, we’re not just using words we’re trying to evoke memories of sights and smells and sounds and things like that and it was just an extra way I think of kind of reaching out to the reader and having them kind of engage, I think one of the things is that I kind of want to, whoever read it, to really understand where the protagonist was coming from like actually sort of put themselves in her shoes, in this case and so that was just a way of kind of engaging someone whose just reading rather than them just reading words they’re actually kind of interacting with the material and it was experimental because I was kind of like oh this is kind of maybe a little bit too weird and I definitely had some readers who read it when I was like looking for feedback and they were like I didn’t like that bit (laughter) they were like that’s too strange and I think my parents will have said the same thing but again everything is so subjective I just thought it was like a device basically to engage someone and actually sort of get them just feeling like they could put themselves in the story rather than just reading it from a distance.

Perito:     (12.42) Well it worked, it definitely worked.

Keshe:     (laughter)

Perito:     (12.45) So as you know the Perito prize is about inclusion, access, inclusive environments it sounds like you’d already written the story before you came across the prize…

Keshe:     No.

Perito:     …but do you think other people or would you if you entered next year, would you find these sort of topics difficult to write about if you came up with things organically from scratch?

Keshe:     Yeah, so I think I already mentioned like I did really find this particular story very difficult to write, I mean it wasn’t difficult from a point of view of the time it took it came very quickly but once it was written I was kind of really shy about it. Like you know I mentioned to you before the Podcast started that I hadn’t shown my parents yet and I’ve shown very few people and actually once it was written I kind of sat on it for ages, kind of too afraid to let anyone read it because firstly I thought it was really weird and secondly it was so personal that I really felt as though it was like a piece of me and I kind felt that anyone reading it would know so much more about me than a lot of people do, so yeah it’s like kind of scary to be putting it out there but I think on the other hand it is an important topic to write about, I think writing what you know and writing about diversity and culture and inclusion and exclusion is really important especially in the current climate because like I said we are, and as a society as a whole I think we are really trying to hear from diverse voices which is a really good thing and I feel kind of like I can’t ignore that side of myself and be kind of true to myself anymore like I have up ‘til now so yeah it’s kind of a big thing, very scary to be putting myself out here like I am but I hope that it helps people understand what that sort of thing is like, yeah, but I’m not being very articulate at the moment but I think it’s just.

Perito:     (14.46) No I think it’s perfect.

Keshe:     and difficult to speak about.

Perito:     (14.50) I had a question about the hardest thing come up with the story for the competition, but I think you’ve answered that one quite clearly.  How long have you sat on the story before you decided to submit it?

Keshe:     I don’t actually remember, I don’t have a very good concept of time to be honest, as particularly a lot of my writing is done late at night when I can’t sleep so I kind of just, I either manically write really fast or like I sweat out individual lines over many, many months.  This one I wrote very quickly in the night but I think it was probably earlier this year and I was writing other things and getting feedback from readers about this and then the first person I actually showed at all was someone who put out a call on like a critic where it’s saying, “I have something really weird would anyone like to critic it” and I was like, “well I have something really weird as well do you want to read it as well” and I was kind of like sweating cos I was like, oh my goodness this is kind of scary to have anyone read something so personal but yeah like it was once it put it out there it kind of became easier to then decide that it was a story that needed to be told.

Perito:     (15.58) I think it’s important for you to understand that we had over 300 entries for the Perito prize this year.

Keshe:     Wow.

Perito:     (16.04) and so many of the stories have the same sort of impact, so you’re definitely not alone having written something that’s dynamic and unusual and that is entirely the point of the prize is to get people to think literally and laterally about all the themes of the competition as well and then ideally when people read these stories they will sit there and think, gosh I hadn’t viewed things from that perspective before, and because it’s bite size chunks it gives people the ability to understand the message in lots of different ways, so don’t ever feel that this is exactly what you should have done and I would say that the competition has been waiting for your story to come on in.

Keshe:     Thank you.

Perito:     (16.48) So the ending is quite specific, I was kind of in two minds we kind of, we ruin it a bit like a movie review on IMDB.

Keshe:     Yeah (laughter).

Perito:     (16.58) And as I read it, it’s what maybe you had in mind as a way of concluding this story did you add it later or did you, what did you learn about your story as you wrote it out, I guess that you can tell people about that journey that you went through I suppose in the dark room and how long it took you to write it through, but what was that bit where you hit that point in the story you just thought, you know what to hell with this bang I’m going to do it, or was it kind of much more calculated?

Keshe:     I spent a long time actually planning it in my head before I wrote it down, I think that’s why I can write it in such a short amount of time, it took a couple of hours to get all of the words out but I had been thinking about these concepts for a while and kind of formulating it in my head a little bit and I guess what I really wanted to get across with that ending was just that, that loss of identity can almost be as bad as death itself, like it’s just so tragic to really be yearning so much to be something different that you kind of lose yourself in the process so again like I don’t know whether I should be giving it away but it was very metaphorical I hadn’t like.

Perito:     (18.11) It’s your story Keshe so you tell it how it is.

Keshe:     So I mean I had one reader who completely, who thought it was literal and so kind of missed that point but most people kind of understood that it was like a metaphorical death and so yeah that was basically just it, I think while I was writing it I kind of, because I’m now at a place in my life where I can look back and think, no actually I really do accept myself and I accept my culture and I want to impart that onto my children that I am proud of my heritage and proud of my culture and that all of that sort of stuff that I struggled with growing up, you know that was so damaging and sort of maybe I didn’t see it at that the time that it was as damaging as it is so my parents probably will feel quite justifying or just they were always kind of like, you know you have to accept that side of yourself and things.  I think it was just kind of straggling my whole life journey up to now and so I think that it was a little learning process was just realising that I have come to accept myself so in this story the fact that the protagonist doesn’t accept herself as almost like a metaphorical death, if that makes any sense?

Perito:     (19.30) It does yes, yep, I’ll leave the listener to read or listen to it and make up their own minds but I think one of the things we’ve hit on here is getting feedback, now I know a lot of people who would be entering the prize or considering entering the prize will be either wary feedback, I personally as a writer I have (laughter) often had. I get quite agitated when it comes around to feedback cos either people are too slow, they don’t understand or they don’t want to do it and they say they will and they don’t and all these other things but it sounds like you’ve got some really good critical constructive feedback from various people.  How did that process work for you and are there any tips you can give listeners about how maybe they could get something similar going?

Keshe:     So I started creative writing again this year actually and so prior to this year I really had no concept as to how to get feedback or the need to get feedback and critics and I just joined like a heap of writers groups and critic groups online just kind of researching like I always kind of do, yeah so many people were just like it’s invaluable to get feedback because sometimes just so close to your work that you just can’t see when something doesn’t make sense or when something sounds a bit awkward or when things could be framed in a different way and sometimes it’s just really minor tweaks like swapping a word or just changing two sentences around in terms of their order, it can be just so minor but it can just make things so much more powerful and so one thing I found with critics is that, I mean I feel like, because I’m just starting out I feel like anyone offering to read my work is doing me like a huge favour so I feel it’s just they’re so generous with their time so I always kind of offer to reciprocate so it’s always, that’s one thing that I always do and yeah I guess like when I’ve had feedback, so sometimes like I said some readers don’t really get the point I’m trying to make or sometimes they are critical of what I’ve written I think, you know it can be really painful to hear that especially when you’ve written something very personal but just with anything because I think as a writer you always feel so sensitive and so much ownership and it’s kind of like your little baby that you’ve written and put out into the world that I think you can be really sensitive to anything negative but it’s important also to realise that when you’re writing your not really always writing for yourself, you’re really writing to get a message out there…

Perito:     Yeah totally.

Keshe:     …and the more people can hear that message then the more impactful it will be so it kind of serves a good purpose to make sure that you’re reaching as many people as you can with your message.  Yeah and so when I’ve been giving feedback I find it so helpful to try and really zero in on all of the positives as well, like I think it’s really easy to pick apart other people’s work but I think it’s just so important to raise everyone up and make sure everyone knows that everyone has good aspects to their work and there might be things that need tweaking but they’re keeping everything positive and being constructive is just so valuable.

Perito:     (22.54) That’s great advice.  So what was the most valuable thing about going through this writing process for you, sounds like you’ve had a lot of experience in the past but this is quite a recent return to writing, is there kind of something that’s really struck out and said, do you know what I feel better because I’m writing or I feel more creative or so and so forth?

Keshe:     Yeah from a personal point of view I mean I’ve always loved creative writing and I was saying to you before we started today that I had to take like a bit long break from any creative writing at all because I was very focussed on my academic career so that sort of took precedence for many years and so just being able to kind of stretch my brain in a different way is just so fantastic.  I think that having something as well, I mean obviously this year has been exceptionally stressful for virtually everyone in the world and for various areas and so just having something else to kind of focus on and nurture is just so nice, and it’s sort of like a personal journey because I’ve come back to it after such a long time away.

Perito:     (24.09) So has the prize made you think differently about how inclusion access and how accessible the world we live in actually is, was this something that was already plugged into you, with you before or do you look around the street and think, you know what that’s social exclusion, that’s someone’s feeling marginalised, someone can’t access, there’s a lack of inclusion here and there and everywhere?

Keshe:     Yeah, well I think that anytime you hear those words about inclusion and exclusion and accessibility it just puts the emphasis on it more and it just brings it to the forefront of your mind and one thing I particularly loved about the way that you guys framed your competition was that you made a point to say that it could, like the material could be submitted in a whole lot of different ways, like it didn’t necessarily have to be just pros on paper for people who might not find it easy to write because of various reasons or you know whether that’s like a physical reason or even just like you know a mental reason that there were other ways that they could submit work, I mean I just don’t see that very often, I think most of the time a lot of these things that you can participate in are very prescriptive and narrow in the way that you can participate and so I just thought it was so fantastic that you guys extended that and made it a point to say, you know we welcome everyone this isn’t gonna be like some de-ambitious, unreachable thing to take part in that only certain parts or some parts of society can take part in, it was like we welcome everyone, we want everyone to be included and we want to make it a positive thing, I think that’s really, that was likely to see that because obviously we read so much and a lot of it is so kind of rigid especially in the publishing world (laughter) yeah so that was real nice to see.

Perito:     (26.04) That is definitely, that is very right, yeah I found from previous writing and that’s why when we created this general experience it was all about trying to say to people and as a dyslexic myself grown up being called stupid at school it was very much a case of, if you can’t spell that well you can still be creative, everybody can be creative and everybody can express themselves in lots of different ways and I think we wanted to really draw out that by not creating barriers like for instance you have to be in South Australia and you have to be in this tiny part of South Australia and you have to pay 25 dollars and you have to be this and you have to be that.

Keshe:     Yes.

Perito:     (26.43) And I don’t think they’re setting out to be exclusive because they hate other people…

Keshe:     No, yes.

Perito:     …but it’s more the case they want to limit the opportunity to reward people in certain areas, certain things and I think we felt that wasn’t the right course of action it is building, I mean we can’t help everybody whole 100% of time but I’m glad that’s come across…

Keshe:     Yes.

Perito:     …and you felt like it was something that you wanted to get involved in that’s great.

Keshe:     Yeah for sure.

Perito:     (27.11) Finally then so any recommendations or tips for people entering next year?

Keshe:     I mean I don’t really feel like I’m experienced enough really to give out too many tips, I guess just like writing something (laughter) that’s probably the first step, I think so.

Perito:     That’s great advice.

Keshe:     After like it’s so easy to keep all of these stories kind of locked up in your brain and again like you alerted to in the last question there’s so many times where, like sometimes the barriers are external like we discussed but often they’re internal as well, often it’s kind of like, I’m not good enough for this, or like I can’t spell well so why bother entering or, there’s so many sort of like personal demons if you will but like you have to fight to sort of participate in something like this and also like I said when it’s something very personal and this topic and all of the sort of things that you sort of talk about they are very personal to people because you know a lot of these things and exclusivity or accessibility they can be sometimes painful things to write about from a lived experience so I think kind of just getting it down, and whether or not you even send that off or let anyone else see I think just getting it out there and knowing that your story is valuable and needed is probably the first step to overcome, that’s the only thing I can think of.

Perito:     (28.52) I think that’s a lovely piece of advice, I hadn’t thought about the number of stories that maybe have been written but never sent.

Keshe:     Yeah.

Perito:     (29.00) Well I’m really glad you sent in yours Every/Other was certainly a worthy winner amongst many this year.

Keshe:     Thank you.

Perito:     (29.08) So it’s been brilliant to find out more about you and your winning story but now it’s time to sign and tell listeners about the upcoming anthology that is available from Amazon around the world and the audio book which will feature Keshe’s work alongside a variety of other entries for the 2020 competition and will hopefully be available on Audible and other audio book sites as well.  Now thanks again to our special guest 2020 prize winner writer Keshe Chow, thanks Keshe.

Keshe:     Thank you.

Perito:     You’ve been tuning into the Perito Prize 2020 Podcast Special Edition, thanks for listening everyone, everywhere.