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Locked – BAME Short Story Competition Entry

Back in May, a friend of mine brought the Guardian and 4th Estate BAME Shorty Story Prize to my attention. The competition, which was set up in 2015, is intended to discover and promote talent from Black, Asian and Mixed Ethnicity backgrounds whose voices statistically tend to get overlooked by traditional publishers. In the spirit of 2019 being the year of my return to fiction writing, I decided I’d give this a go.

At first, I struggled to come up with an idea I felt I could work with but, when I finally got into it, I was pretty pleased with what I produced and submitted last month. The longlist was announced today and, alas, my story was not deemed worthy of continuing in the process. After an initial wave of disappointment, I read through the list and realised nearly all the longlisted entries this year appear to be fairly established journalists, filmmakers, traditionally published authors or have an English or Creative Writing degree from Oxbridge, so the level of writing must have been on another level. I can’t even be upset about not moving on because, who can really compete with that pool of talent (not me, obvs, heehee)? Anyway, I’ve decided to share my entry with you guys as always (hurrah!). Maybe I’ll find another competition to submit it to but, until then, I hope you enjoy what I had to offer.

 

LOCKED

 

“You are Joanna.”

Uncertain if this was a question or a statement, Ezinne nodded to be on the safe side. She didn’t answer to the English name on her passport, but it was the first listed in the document so most people took it for granted that she would. She usually gave it a few days before expressing her preference to be addressed by her Igbo name, although she wasn’t sure she would have that luxury here.

“Is something wrong with your mouth?” the portly man bristled, glaring at her with a raised brow.

“Sorry, sir. Yes, I am Joanna.”

Leaning back in his chair, he scratched his salt-and-pepper beard and inspected her documents for a little longer before nodding and handing the pack back to her. “I see you are with Uchechi, you will be in good hands.”

Ezinne attempted a smile as she heard the room door creak behind her. “Thank you, sir. I’m looking forward to getting started.”

“You might regret those words in a few minutes.”

Spinning around, Ezinne took in the speaker standing in the doorway, a short caramel skinned woman clad in loose fitting khakis with thick multicoloured braids pulled away from her makeup free face. She eyed Ezinne up and down for what felt like an eternity, with toned arms folded across a heavy chest. When she finally motioned for her to follow, the woman didn’t bother acknowledging the man behind the desk as she exited the room.

The chain of command was clear enough for Ezinne to know she didn’t require permission from the man to leave but she hesitated, glancing longingly at the noisy but effective air-conditioning unit which hung above his head. It was only when he waved her off with a deepening scowl that she hurried along behind the woman, suppressing a sigh as she caught up with her. They walked down the narrow fluorescent lit corridor in silence, meeting no one else, until the woman stopped outside an unmarked timber door. She wiped freshly formed beads of sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand and then pushed open the door, stepping to the side.

“Take off your clothes.”

It wasn’t a request.

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“You read the briefing notes?” The woman threw up her hands, as if this was all the explanation that was needed.

Ezinne nodded but her frown remained.

“Then you know that you need to be prepared. Don’t worry, there are no cameras in here. I’ll turn around if you’re feeling self-conscious.” The humour in her voice was exaggerated.

“It’s not that,” Ezinne wavered, peering past her and into the small room. A lone chair was pushed up against a wall with a yellow Hazmat suit draped across it. “I thought there was no contamination recorded.”

The woman laughed but the sound held no mirth. “Come on, don’t you know your people again? Do you trust that they would have gotten everything right?”

No response was expected and refusing to comply was clearly out of the question so Ezinne settled on to the metal chair, sliding the suit to the ground. She had no intention of taking all her clothes off but putting on the suit required the loss of her knee length skirt.

As she leaned forward to slip off her shoes, she caught sight of her reflection in a full length mirror which was propped up against one of the walls. She had thought her white blouse and beige skirt combination were a little too clinical when she put them on that morning but pale colours complimented her carob skin best when she was looking to make a good first impression. It didn’t help that her black rimmed glasses were always perched high on the bridge of her broad nose or that her buzz cut made her look much more uptight than she felt. She needed to come across as warm and amiable today.

And now the stupid suit was going to wreck all that she had worked towards. She picked up the yellow plastic and began to unzip it but promptly stopped when a strong waft of BO hit her.

“You know what?” Ezinne got up and replaced the suit on the chair. “I’ll take my chances. I have already signed the waiver so there’s no need to worry, you won’t get blamed if anything happens. Uchechi, that’s your name, right?” She smiled at the woman to soften the rejection of her authority.

Uchechi’s nostrils flared but she recovered quickly.

“You can’t say I didn’t warn you,” she said as she led Ezinne back into the corridor and unlocked the door beside the room they had just vacated. “Go through there and unlock the door with this key.”

Ezinne hadn’t expected to be left alone so quickly but she didn’t complain. Instead she took the key and did as she was told, only turning slightly when she heard Uchechi lock the first set of doors behind her.

The brightly lit room was almost as bare as all the others Ezinne had been in so far, save for a single bed in the corner of the room. A girl sat cross-legged on it with her eyes closed, the long pale blue gown which draped across her thin body forming a tent across her knees. She looked to be no older than pre-teen and yet there was something about her which kept Ezinne hovering by the door. The idea that others had felt she required a Hazmat suit for this meeting probably didn’t help.

Nobody had used the word dada in the briefing notes but Ezinne knew what she was there for. Her thesis on ritualistic offerings and cultural scarification had been cited when she was approached for the assessment. The markings on the girl’s cheeks were barely visible on her ebony skin but more so because her face was almost completely covered by the thick matted black hair which fell to her shoulders.

Ezinne stood for a moment observing her until she realised the girl had no intention of acknowledging her presence. Resisting the urge to remain by the door wringing her hands, she cleared her throat and took a small step forward.

“My name is Ezinne,” she announced a little too loudly but then, realising the girl may not be fluent in English, she switched to her native tongue and repeated in a much softer tone. “Aha m bu Ezinne.”

The girl’s eyes flew open and she uncrossed her legs, turning to face her visitor. Her narrowed eyes took in Ezinne with one quick sweep. And then she smiled, revealing a sizeable gap between her bottom incisors. “Aha m bu Odera.”

Ezinne could sense the absence of the ridiculous suit had bought her some points. “Do you know why you are here?” She continued in Igbo.

The girl shrugged but her left hand tugged at one of her long tangled locs. “They say I am not safe.” Continue reading

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The Comeback Kid…and a story

It has been nearly 18 months since I last posted on here (Oct 2017, whaaat?)! Gosh, where has the time gone? I wish I could say I have spent all this time writing an epic bestselling novel, meeting with Netflix producers over a glass or two of champagne and generally refining my writing skills but, sadly, real life got in the way and I’ve pretty much done NONE of that. A few life changes have been recently made so I hope this means I’ll be able to get back into writing with some sense of joy, something that eluded me over the last couple of years.

In that spirit of optimism, I decided to enter a short story competition that was due this week but (shock of all shocks) I didn’t quite meet the deadline. Probably for the best because I suspect the story I came up with may not have been the sort they would have been looking for anyway. The best thing about it though was that, despite its (very) short length, it kept me up late for the last couple of nights so I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it.

Here’s to 2019 being way more productive and to that future bestseller finally getting written!

 

CARBON CONTENT

 

“Are you sure you’re ready to do this?”

Rahe’s response came after a full minute and an almost equally lengthy sigh but Mante didn’t press her. Certainty was more important than a few wasted seconds. Or minutes, as it was turning into.

“If I am being completely honest, I could spend another month thinking about all this and I still won’t really know for sure,” another weighty sigh escaped her thin rouged lips, “so I’m going to bite the bullet.”

Barely able to conceal her relief, Mante smiled and nodded before leaning forward with a black conical device in her right hand. She raised the object towards Rahe’s face which now bore a perturbed expression. “For the record and for absolute clarity, can you please say the words? Just as we practised.”

“Oh sorry, I forgot about all that.” Rahe cleared her throat and edged closer to the device. “I, Rahe Vicki Drowe, consent to the use of the carbon content of my body by Blue Pharmaceuticals In the event of the expiration of my mortal body. Anticipated expiration date being sixth of October twenty seventy-eight. And I confirm that I have not been coerced in any way to come to this agreement. Is that alright, love?”

A firm nod from Mante was enough to erase the frown from the older woman’s face.

“Now, if you could please open your palm for the scan, we can finalise the process and I’ll be on my way.”

This was always the part Mante found trickiest, even though it was what the subjects all seemed the least concerned about. That is, at first. Continue reading

I’m in a magazine!

Well, sort of. I entered a short story competition for The University of Nottingham alumni magazine, Connect, all the way back in February and genuinely thought I didn’t have a chance of getting shortlisted (because I almost never do for these things). Shock of all shocks, I did! My story was picked as one of the top 6!

All entries were initially judged blind by a panel of 8 Creative writing and English students and graduates, and assigned scores for: creativity and premise, characterisation and dialogue, plot and structure, presentation and grammar, style and tone. Then three  prestigious judges cast the deciding vote.  I know I didn’t win but I really don’t care. It’s just nice to know that my rambling makes sense to other people out there. And I get featured on the online version of the magazine.

The final judges with the casting vote were:

Jon McGregor – creative Writer-in-Residence, whose latest novel Reservoir 13 is currently on the longlist for the acclaimed Man Booker Prize 2017.

John Miller – celebrated BBC television and radio producer, who has published books on many famous actors including Dame Judi Dench, Sir John Gielgud and Sir John Mills.

Lauren James – British Young Adult author of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe and popular The Next Together series.

This is the link! Don’t be thrown by the fact they’ve called me Kenny on the website. Hope you enjoy it!

The Conversation – The University of Nottingham – The University of Nottingham

Sing when you’re winning…Wembley!

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So, I sang at Wembley Stadium a couple of weekends ago for the rugby Challenge Cup Final. It’s weird because when I found out we would be doing the gig a few months back I was like, sure, singing at Wembley, whatever, it’s not that big of a deal. No biggie, except…oh my freaking word, I SANG AT WEMBLEY STADIUM!!!! WHAAAAAT!!!! That was pretty much my level of elation as we queued up at 9am to get our passes and go through security checks with about 200 members of my amazing non-audition community choir, London City Voices.

I was so nervous I could feel my rushed breakfast sitting heavily in my belly, but I knew I was with friends who were as equally excited and anxious as I was so the panic somehow subsided as we walked into the venue and settled into the press conference room. Then we had to wait around for a little while before walking on to the pitch for our sound check with the brilliant competition winner, Kathleen Greene, who got to sing the soloist bit for Abide With Me. Okay, so it was actually just the AstroTurf as Continue reading

Pilot Episode – Short Story

I am actually enjoying participating in random short story contests on Freelancer, partly because I get to post them here when I don’t win (silly, but true). This entry was a little bit more challenging than the last. A Swiss luxury cosmetic brand was looking for a pilot episode (700 to 1000 words) for future episodes of their serial online novel which would help promote their products and have characters their customers could relate to. They wanted the protagonist to be likeable, charismatic, lead a desirable avant-garde lifestyle, differentiate herself from her peers, travel regularly in style and luxury and lead a global, urban lifestyle. I figured, hey, I am a female architect and I feel like I could tick all those boxes (in a fictional world where we actually make good money, obviously) so…you guessed it…my story was about a female architect on site. Which is probably why I didn’t win, heehee. Well, this was my entry. Hope you like it more than they did.

Pilot Episode 

“That’s definitely not going to fit.”

Annie cocked her head and examined the enormous claw foot bathtub which sat in the hallway. The tub was a thing of beauty with a matt ruby exterior, gilded gold feet and a shiny porcelain interior. It complemented the other fittings in the bathroom perfectly, something Annie had obsessed over for weeks to get right. But there was no way it was going to fit through the doorway.

“I wish I could say this isn’t our fault but…”

The remark came from the frowning foreman who stood to the other side of the bath scratching his stubbly chin.

Annie’s brow rose slightly in disbelief. She had been expecting a snarky comment about how she should have designed the hotel suites with smaller practical tubs. But, at the same time, she wasn’t completely surprised.

Joe wasn’t like most builders she’d met. His clear grey eyes never seemed to miss a thing and he actually seemed to think about resolutions to problems before offering his views. She couldn’t count the number of times she had sighed with frustration on other building sites where nobody cared to hear her design opinions. The way her comments were dismissed, you’d never guess she had studied for nearly a decade to qualify as an architect.

“What’s done is done, eh? I think we need to rip out part of the wall and rebuild it afterwards to avoid wasting more time. It’s a good thing you insisted we set up the showroom flat first. We can’t possibly get rid of this lovely bath because of one oversight.”

He winked and Annie felt herself blush. Try as she may, she couldn’t stop herself from reacting like a school girl whenever the man standing before her showed her any sign of warmth. It had to be those eyes. They twinkled when he smiled, hinting at a cheekier side to the lean dark haired man. Or maybe she had a thing for stubbles.

No, it was definitely his eyes.

Annie tried not to dwell on the wink as they finished their inspection and headed back to the site office in silence. She quickly stripped off her hard hat, high vis jacket and steel toe cap boots. She hated the utilitarian boots as they always hurt her toes, but health and safety always came first. Besides, hard hats and stilettos didn’t really go together. Shame the hats never did her curly brown hair any justice. She loosened the braid she held her hair in to fit under the hat and fluffed it gently with her fingers.

When she looked up, Joe was watching her intently. If he felt any guilt at being caught, he certainly didn’t show it. Continue reading

Broken Ties available in Spanish – Lazos Rotos

It feels a little like I do nothing except post about book translations, but I’m still so excited about having my work available for so many more people to read in a multitude of languages. So much work goes on in the background to achieve this and I have to say thank you, thank you once again to Eva María Medina Cabanelas and Patricia M Begona for all their help on this. They translated Aversion and Other Slipper into Spanish and yet found time in their busy schedules to read through this and provide invaluable support. And, of course, a massive thanks to Vanessa Marisol Vargas Trejo for getting the job done!

Spread the word people, and I do hope you enjoy the story!

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Broken Ties - SPANISH

“No hubo nada diferente la noche en que todo cambió. No había luces centellantes en el cielo, no sentía fuego en mi panza, no hubo ninguna señal que sugiriese el cambio que estaba por llegar… Nora Brice provocaba cosas extrañas en mí. Extrañas y horribles cosas…”

Paul Colt tenía un problema, y no es uno a los que la mayoría de los adolescentes se enfrenta. Sí, le gusta una chica; una por la que está convencido haría tonterías si se diera la oportunidad. Pero no puede ir tras ella o tras cualquier otra chica con ese propósito. Eso es lo que obtuvo al ser un avertor, obligado a conformarse con la propagación de la colectiva. Él sabe que algunas reglas pueden pasarse por alto, y hay otras que nunca deben ser rotas. ¿La más grave de todas? Nunca te enamores, jamás.

Esta novela precuela de la saga La Mentalista puede ser leída antes o después de Aversión, el libro uno de la saga La Mentalista.

It’s May And We Love It – Mentalist Series Sale!

I’m always a little bit over excited about the lovely month of May (birthday month, say whaaaaat?) and this year is no exception. This time I’ve dropped the price of The Mentalist Series Box Set to $0.99 (from $4.99) for the next two weeks.  Now’s your chance to read all the books in the series for next to nothing. Bargain or what? Click away and spread the news! And most of all, I hope you enjoy Gemma’s story.

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mentalist-boxset-3d

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