Shorter Reads

Want to read a story with all the depth, questions and quality of a novel, written by highly skilled writers in about 5% of the space? Short stories can be heartbreaking, mysterious and incredibly detailed; for a perfectly formed, bite-sized smorgasbord of stories, browse our Short Story recommendations here.

Jungle, 1971

Jungle, 1971

Author: Lesley James Format: Ebook Release Date: 01/03/2022

She stared at the wallpaper for many hours, alone at the dining table, thinking, whilst doing her homework. She imagined snakes traversing it, and thought that would be appropriate. She sometimes contemplated adding them in with her crayons but wisely decided not to. She disliked the wallpaper because it symbolised things she disliked about life here. The wallpaper was a glum grey, mottled, with repeats of exotic flowers deeply etched into it. If you had some particular reason to look at it up-close, you could make out that there were colours. Dots of red, smudged pinks and maybe purple lines had once defined the design. Now it just looked monochrome. Monotone. Monotonous, like the grubby routines of life in the pub. The dirt of many years made your eyes blend it all into mousy shades of drab. There was that poem in school about guttering, choking, drowning; the gas here was grey, beery breath and cigarette smoke. It seeped into everything and would probably drown them all. The wallpaper did have a couple of advantages, however. The first advantage was that it was handy for Art. The Art Teacher was prone to setting random unrelated homeworks after the Monday I’m-Talking-Now lecture about how to use a pencil which rendered Art joyless. And for Homework, your topic is The Dockside/ Factories / The Train/At the Office. Nothing remotely accessible in these topics, as there were few resources to inspire or copy in the pub. No-one was prepared to take her to the library (in fact, it was discouraged because it was too much fuss and what about the fines?) so the wallpaper came in handy. This week’s topic was The Jungle, which was a bit better. A perfect use for the insane flowers on the wallpaper which could be traced with greaseproof paper and a soft pencil, then replicated. Next, the addition of a few of the larger snakes from her imagination. Then draw around the outline of some Swiss Cheese Plant leaves from the dining room, and you had a psychedelic early seventies trip of a jungle. It was going to be an imaginative rendition, full of colour, style and just a hint of threat. The flowers looked noxious. She planned to do Jungle in the lull after Sunday Lunch when whatever fight between her parents had died down, when her father had gone downstairs to the pub TV room to sleep it off, her mother had gone to bed to prepare for a night out at Bingo. With only religious programmes on the telly, she could have the lounge and the big table to herself, in relative peace. But Sunday lunch was a ritual and a flash point so you had to tread carefully. It was a race between her father and mother to see whether he could get drunk first or she could get the lunch on the table. For the child, it was a test of nerve to stay to the end. Otherwise, you didn’t get lunch. It had to be roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, every week without fail, because your father won’t eat anything else. The mother perpetuated this myth. She was a slave to his every whim. But the dad never ate much of anything at all because he was too sloshed; he sometimes helped himself to the leftovers, cold out of the fridge, when the pub was dark and silent and lonely and he thought his daughter could not see. This Sunday, her father arrived at the dining table early, because he wanted the Sunday papers back from his child. She was combing The News of the World for new rude words, which was the best part of Sundays. He was drunk, and struggled to speak coherently, but the table was laid, so he sat down.In came the mother carrying plates loaded with Yorkshire puddings. So far, so good. Gravy ladled out. Silent eating and a bit of slurping. Yorkshires first, like they do up North. Then the main event of meat and three veg. At which point it started. The father complained about the food. Something about tepid slop and pigs’ swill. There was some truth in this. The mother annihilated vegetables to the point where the child begged to eat her carrots raw. She turned cauliflower into puree before cauliflower puree was a thing, by boiling it to a pulp. Swedes and carrots were mixed and thoroughly mashed. Marrowfat peas, unidentifiable as individuals, were cooked to grey mush. Fair point dad. And his wife hissed Well you shan’t have any of it then. If you don’t like it, I won’t allow you to eat it, you drunkard, as she ran off to the other side of the room clutching his full plate like a tennis trophy, daring her husband to come at her. He rose from the chair and said You stupid woman. You’re a witch and a bitch. You don’t know how to cook. Bloody cremated beef and baby-food vegetables. And the mother launched the whole plate of food, full force right at him, propelling it like a discus. He ducked. The plate hit the wall with a crack and a squelch. It adhered to the wallpaper just above head height. And slid down, slowly. Meat, peas, cauliflower the lot. Rivulets of gravy led the way. And so, this was the second advantage of the wallpaper: it hid gravy stains very effectively. Jungle got a B minus. The Art teacher’s comment read: Lacks realism.

Love in the Time of Corona

Love in the Time of Corona

Author: Rachel Rees Format: Ebook Release Date: 01/03/2022

She’s sitting alone in a restaurant slightly more expensive than she can afford but which TripAdvisor assures her makes ‘the tastiest burgers in the city’. Jack loves burgers. His profile picture is a monochrome snap of James Dean eating one. After necking back half a bottle of wine and working up the courage to download Tinder, his decision to use an image of a dead celebrity rather than his real face had seemed witty and strangely profound. Now, sober and exposed, it strikes her as the calling card of a psychopath. A waitress passes by with a bowl of curly fries and her stomach rumbles. She’d prefer a curry, but it’s their first date and - if all goes well - she doesn’t fancy spending the next sixty plus years answering the question “How did you two meet?” with “I watched him sweat his way through a vindaloo, turn a worrying shade of puce and make a desperate dash for the bogs.” In the unlikely event that tonight resembles a fairytale, she’d rather it not be Shrek. Eyes on her phone, she scrolls down her newsfeed, articles on the latest climate crisis, government cock-up and Coronation Street spoilers flashing past. She doesn’t click on any, wouldn’t be able to make sense of them if she did. Her heart’s beating too fast to concentrate on anything other than the digital clock at the top of her screen. 19:09. He’s late. Why did she agree to this? She doesn’t want to meet the love of her life through the internet. She’s watched too many Cary Grant movies to settle for a courtship consisting primarily of fruit-based emojis and sympathetically lit dick pics. She wants romance. Old-fashioned, will-they-won’t-they, Darcy and Elizabeth, Ross and Rachel, Simba and Nala style romance. Is that really too much to ask? Apparently so. In her twenty-eight years of existence, the most thoughtful thing an ex-boyfriend’s ever done for her is walk to the late-night Tesco’s and buy a box of Kleenex when she was battling a head cold. Admittedly, it would have been sweeter if he hadn’t handed them over with a terse “It was either that or suffocate you with a pillow. You sniff like you’re kickstarting a chainsaw with your nostrils.” but beggars couldn’t be choosers. And, when it comes to love, she’s most definitely cash-strapped. A lost cause whose mother has even abandoned the obligatory hurry-up-and-make-me-a-granny schtick. Nowadays, whenever they’re stood behind a loved-up couple at the checkouts or seated beside a pregnant woman on the bus, she’ll just sigh and mutter “I used to have such high hopes.” As if her daughter’s eternal spinsterhood is now all but guaranteed. An unfortunate fact of life to be grudgingly endured, like the menopause or her glasses fogging up every time she opens the oven door. 19:18 He’s very late. Maybe he’s not coming. Maybe he saw her through the window, winced at the extra pounds she’s put on during the pandemic and decided not to bother. Or maybe he was put off by the bad dye job that’s left her with more roots than a Shepherd’s tree (230 feet deep, apparently. Contrary to reports, not every Millennial used furlough to learn Mandarin. Or make a fortune investing in Bitcoin. No. Some whiled away that precious oasis of free time obsessively Googling pointless trivia on their phones at two o’clock in the morning.) “Hello.” She jerks her head up. The man approaching her table is mid-to-late twenties, pale, with hair that’s slightly too long behind the ears and brutally short on top. Not quite James Dean, but no obvious Patrick Bateman vibes either. She’ll take it. He lowers his mask to smile and for a moment she sees their future unfurling in front of her. She’s not asking for anything too outrageous. There’s no surprise proposal at the top of the Eiffel Tower or fancy wedding on some far-flung, crystalline beach. Instead there’s a steady heartbeat beneath her ear when she’s laying on the sofa late at night. A hand squeezing hers as she walks into some dreaded family function. An arm around her waist and a line of heat against her back as she drifts off to sleep. Little things which keep the rising pit of loneliness at bay. “Hello,” she says, grinning up at him. “It’s nice to meet you.” “You too.” She rises to hug him and then wonders if she’s being too forward. “Sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve done this. That’s why I turned to Tinder. I’ve never really bought into the whole ‘tick, tock, better listen to your body clock’ rubbish, but after having eighteen months of our twenties effectively wiped out I’m definitely starting to feel The Fear.” He looks confused. “You know The Fear,” she elaborates. “Like sometimes I’ll be lying in bed, silently cursing whichever raging sadist invented alarm clocks, when it’ll hit me that I’m almost thirty and I’ve got no savings, no partner, no real career plan. Hell, I don’t even think I’ve got hobbies anymore - unless spending an hour scrolling through Netflix trying to decide what to watch before giving up and going to bed counts. It doesn’t, does it?” He shakes his head. “I thought not. So, what do you fancy eating? Not to rush you, but if I don’t order something soon the owner’s going to have me arrested for squatting!” Instead of answering, his gaze drifts down to the empty chair opposite hers. Her stomach sinks. “You came over to see if that seat is free, didn’t you?” “No.” “Oh thank god! For a moment there I was worried you weren’t my date and I’d just made a right tit of myself droning on about my sad little…” “Actually it’s just that our table is out of ketchup. Do you mind if I borrow yours?” “Of course, go right ahead,” she says, slumping back down. 19:27 Her mother is right. She’s definitely dying alone.

Succulent

Succulent

Author: Paul B. Cohen Format: Ebook Release Date: 01/03/2022

She served him a meal every day. It was part performance, part servility, and it had a rhythm, as if it were a ceremony.Horace would sit at the head of the table. There were three other pinewood chairs; they remained unoccupied. Each place, one should note, had been set beautifully, yet there was no one else to use the cutlery.Horace was a patient man and would wait equably for his food. He sat with a straight back, only leaning forward to pour a glass of claret, like a man of angles. Sipping from his drink, he would stare ahead.Ten minutes would pass and then she would appear. Sometimes Horace fancied a gong had been struck to summon her as if she were a sprite or even a djinn. Sometimes, just before she entered the room, birdsong fluttered into his ears. He didn’t like birds but found the melodies enchanting.“Ah, Lila,” he would say. He liked the aspiration of the two word phrase. He would linger on the vowels.“Good morning, Horace,” Lila would reply, even if it were not morning. In fact, she seldom served him in the morning. It would normally be half-past one when she brought his food.Her meals were bountiful. On oval plates, salmon glistened; lamb chops were succulent, and her potato gnocchi was ethereal. She knew how to cook and present vegetables: green beans were slender, tender; tomatoes were intensely red, and asparagus were luscious green shoots.As he began to eat, Lila would hover, but only for a minute. She would take her leave, returning only to clear Horace’s plate when she knew he had finished.Then she would depart for the day.Horace was seventy-nine. He didn’t know how old Lila was. He was not an observant fellow. If he had only gazed at her, take note of her features, he might have said she was an elegant fifty-year-old. He was not a curious man, either, and he asked no questions of her. Counting traditionally, a year passed. Horace thought about his upcoming eightieth birthday, which fell on February 29th.If he were to mark his birthday, with whom would he celebrate? His wife Sheila was long dead. His son Howard was out of reach: they had not spoken for half a decade. There had been too many spikes of anger in their relationship to hope for reconciliation. Their connection could not find a plateau. They ignored each other.Once there was a neighbour, a Mrs. Johnson, who sometimes called in for a chat. She both smelled of roses and wore dresses with roses printed on the fabric. A religious woman, so Horace thought. She had moved away several years ago. At six-thirty, one evening in January, Horace looked up at Lila. How was it that she appeared younger than he remembered?“Lila, how old are you?” he asked.“I cannot tell,” she replied.Horace was puzzled. What did she mean? Was she saying she could not work out how old she was, or remember her age? Or was she denying the inexorable nature of time?He thought he should ask her again, but he never did. As I say, he was not a curious man. A month later, with his birthday in sight, Horace scrutinised Lila. He could not credit the sight. He was being served by a young woman. There could be no doubt of it. Lila, wearing a silky dress of a shade somewhere between gold and auburn, was surely no more than twenty.“Lila, how long have you been bringing me food?” he asked.“As long as you can remember,” she replied.“I don’t know what you mean,” Horace said.She merely smiled. On his eightieth birthday, Lila brought in a cake.“Happy birthday, Horace,”“But...I never said anything about my birthday,” he spluttered.“You are eighty,” she cooed. “That is a great achievement.”He was puzzled. Was reaching an advanced age actually an achievement?Horace stared at Lila. “Tell me how old you are...You look no more than eighteen.”“It is about how one travels,” she replied.“Some women would say it’s their face creams,” he said, thinking he was being clever.As if she were flirting with him, Lila traced her fingers through her hair. “Face creams?”For once, Horace did not start eating. What was this about travel? “I’m not travelling anywhere,” he said. “Are you?”“We all are. Eat your cake before your journey,” Lila ordered.“Only if you’ll eat it with me,” he said, wanting to drop the topic of travelling. He was amazed at the fact that they were having a conversation. It was unprecedented.“I do not eat the food I serve,” she said.“Just this once. Please...”She lowered herself into an adjacent chair. “Very well. We will eat together before your journey.”Before he took a bite of his cake, he asked, “What is this journey you’re talking about?”“It has many names,” she replied.“Does it? Tell me one,” was his request.Like a fond lover, Lila placed a forkful of her moist, dark, rich cake into his mouth. “Wait and see,” she said. Horace was stiff in his chair when they found him.A peaceful passing, the woman across the street said to the man next door. She folded her arms across her chest. “I wonder who that young girl who left Horace’s house was.”“Did he have grandchildren?” the man next door asked.“I don’t think so.”Down the street, Lila was playing hopscotch, with several other girls.Lila enjoyed the game, enjoyed dodging the cars. She felt that it was a good way to say goodbye to the neighbourhood, before her journey continued.

The Lapse

The Lapse

Author: Denny Jace Format: Ebook Release Date: 01/03/2022

There was an ethereal beauty in the way that the boy’s body flew through the air. His hips lead the way, his shoulders and head thrown backwards, his limbs fluid. His body created a soft arc, like a replay of a tumbling gymnast. Then he hit the tarmac. The thud of raw meat on the butcher’s board. His bottom hit first, then his spine rolled flat. The back of his skull was last. And then, just for good measure, his head shot forwards on his stringy neck, before bashing against the tarmac a second time. ‘Did you find his shoes?’ I ask the police officer sitting opposite me.‘Mrs Cargil, if you could just answer the questions so that we can complete your witness statement. We appreciate how upsetting this is for you, but we do have a lot of people to interview.’I pull at the skin on my fingers as the scene plays out over and over in my mind. I regurgitate the facts to the officers; ‘The boy was crossing the road. He was running. The car hit him. He lay in the road like he was sleeping. And then his Mother came.’Photographic stills, the images flicker, scratching my eye lids. I don’t tell them how the mother crawled on her hands and knees across the tarmac with high shoulder blades like a stalking cheetah. Nor do I mention the howling sounds she made as she reached the boy and covered his body with her own. A human shield in a battle he’d already lost.‘Mrs Cargil, can you recall roughly how fast the vehicle was travelling? Do you think perhaps faster than the 40MPH restriction?’‘I’m not sure.’ I say. Fast enough for the air to snatch off his shoes.‘What about the driver. Could you see if they were distracted? On a mobile phone perhaps?’I remembered the car, sitting skewwhiff and empty. The driver’s door wide open as the engine purred on. The officers will say the car was white. I won’t correct them and say it’s pearl.‘I didn’t see anyone on their phone.’ I tell them as I automatically pat my jacket pockets in search of mine.‘Is the boy okay?’ I ask. The officers don’t answer. I’d watched the paramedics cover him with a blanket and leave him in the road, the need for urgent treatment had passed. They cleared us all away, the witnesses, the bystanders, the rubberneckers. Swept us to the kerb. The Mother stayed in the road, sitting next to her boy, in his blanket. Traffic slowly snaked round her, as she sang to him with one of her hands resting on his chest.There’s a white plastic cup with beige liquid nestled in my hand. It’s warm and I wonder if its tea or coffee. Or soup. It’s from a vending machine somewhere outside of this room, but not Costa because I didn’t manage to get there. Perhaps I should take it to the Mother. If she’s still sat in the road, she’ll be cold now. Tired and thirsty.‘Mrs Cargil, there were headphones found at the scene, the type that fit over your head. We are trying to establish whether the victim was wearing these at the time he entered the road.’They show me a clear plastic bag, which instantly I think is too big for sandwiches. Then I close eyes and remember the small camouflage lunch bag trapped under the front wheels of the car, sprinkled with the glittery shards of splintered glass from the matching flask.The officer slides the bag closer to me. ‘Mrs Cargil, could you look at the headphones please?’Through the plastic I can see them. Bulky and purple with huge, padded ear sections to protect the soft delicate skin of a child’s ears. I wonder what music he was playing before he took them off and wore them like a collar. Did he hear his mother’s voice, the urgency with which she called him? Her body reaching forward. Arms elongated, extending towards her child, yet not even her utter desperation to make him stop, could bridge the millimeter gap between her fingertips and his jacket.‘No,’ I tell the officer, ‘the headphones were around his neck.’I remember his face, how it was flushed from running. His cheeks soft and full, the absence of adolescent edges. He’d paused and so had time. Noise fell away into distant whispers as a strange silky silence descended. And then there was the tiniest suggestion of a smile, one of those that comes with a surprise. It made me smile too, reciprocation. But then I realized that it was fear, sheer panic as he understood what was going to happen. And so did I. Yet we both did nothing.‘How can you be sure the victim had removed the earphones Mrs Cargil?’‘Because they were around his neck when he looked at me.’‘When did he look at you Mrs Cargil?’‘The second before my car hit him.’

What Goes Around

What Goes Around

Author: Adrianne Aron Format: Ebook Release Date: 01/03/2022

Who would have imagined that young Emiliana, a business student in El Salvador, would one day be working as a gym teacher in California, and would decide at age fifty to write her memoirs —in English? Her memoir-writing group meets in a handsome wood-paneled room on the fourth floor of the Mechanics Institute Library in San Francisco, reached by a spectacular spiral staircase that snakes through the landmark building.This afternoon, as her fingers scan the curved banister and her feet make their way up the marble steps, her mind contemplates this week’s writing prompt: “Change.” How much can change in thirty years’ time! The country you live in, the friends you tell your secrets to, the language your children speak, the kind of work you do...And the things that don’t change? She was contemplating them, too, as she climbed the steps: the things impervious to change, that don’t grow or shrink, or fade, or wither; that remain indestructibly faithful to themselves. There were things reappearing in their exactitude on a looping filmstrip in her head, held in their track by a perverse memory guard. What about those things? A voice, for instance: an intonation, a spoken phrase; a recurring dream that for thirty years plays and replays a single moment in time—the moment after the colonel ordered her husband out of the car. She was walking through the university parking lot, toward Miguel, who was waiting for her in their old Toyota. A man in uniform approached the car and ordered Miguel out of the car. He got out and stood by the driver’s door. Then the colonel pointed at him and barked an order: “You: Step this way, I want to show you something.”Miguel stepped over. The colonel pointed his pistol at Miguel’s forehead and the brains of Emiliana’s beloved husband went shooting through the air like exploded melons. His brains. Like when they killed the Jesuits that same year. The war of the terrorist government was a war against thinking.Over and over in an endless loop, for thirty years she has been re-living the terror, those exact sounds, that precise moment. Her memoir, she hoped, would preserve the truth of her immutable point in time, to embed it securely in the historical record, never to be lost in the great wash of change that threatens to rewrite realities.At the lower end of the staircase Emiliana feels as though she’s inside a snail. The bright dome up at the top could be an eyeball. From time to time as she glances at it while making her ascent, it seems to be glancing back.On the fourth floor she’ll look over the banister at the coiled steps that wind down the steep grade to a landing far below. The drop is so great, a pendulum could swing in it while the earth rotates, proving as the saying goes that what goes around comes around.The pages she wrote for today are about her life in El Salvador. Her fellow writers already know she went to college in the States, did some graduate work, got a credential, and started teaching when her daughter was big enough for pre-school. They know that her choice of physical education as a major had to do with a love for the martial arts, and the Chinese-immersion pre-school for Katy had to do with her marriage to Ben, an immigrant from Shanghai who she met in an ESL class. School, family, life as a refugee: she’d written about those things. Today her fellow writers would hear for the first time about El Salvador—the fear and the sorrow, her brother’s detention and torture, her mother’s violent death. They would hear about Emiliana’s first eight months of widowhood, spent in hiding after the murder of her husband Miguel. She wrote a whole page on the indelible filmstrip in her head. “You! Step this way…” After thirty years of being unable to talk about it, she was writing her testimonio.Clutching the pages torn from her heart, she climbed the spiral staircase, looking up now and then at the eyeball that stares down at the interior of the long white cylinder. From the fourth floor she will be able to look straight down into the void, to the inconspicuous piece of marble flooring at street level. She often thinks of how much her dearest Miguel would have loved the drama of that staircase. He was a student of architecture. Emiliana used the restroom on the fourth floor landing. When she came out, a stocky man in a leather jacket was chatting in Spanish with a woman on her way in to clean the facilities. Emiliana stepped over to the rail to enjoy her favorite view again, the vertiginous drop to the lobby. She overheard the cleaning woman congratulating the man for his nephew’s award in a chess tournament. She heard him say he hopes the boy will choose a career in the military when he grows up. “Like me,” he bragged, “Atlacatl Battalion, trained at the School of the Americas. Been here since ’90. Special-entry visa.” He laughed.Emiliana froze, too stunned to move. She couldn’t see the man’s face. But she knew the voice. She had been hearing that voice, trembling to it, for thirty years.The cleaning woman wheeled her cart into the restroom. Emiliana stood at the iron rail that separated the winding steps from the long, treacherous drop. Such a long drop…Never mind that the eye above was watching; she took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. Emiliana the gym teacher flexed her strong muscles. There were thirty years of tension wound up in those muscles. She braced herself at the rail of the precipice. Her throat felt like she’d swallowed rust. But she was able to speak, she knew exactly what she needed to say.From the rail, she pointed at the man. “You!” she barked, “Step this way. I want to show you something.”

What Remains

What Remains

Author: Natascha Elizabeth Virginia Graham Format: Ebook Release Date: 01/03/2022

View of the Pond In the pond, she watches the fish: quick, silver, blood orange, speckled, larger this time, having grown enormous last summer, and now, at the end of spring, they grow again, just before summer grazes lazily at the edges.She watches the pond from the front of the house. Upstairs. Her bedroom. In a pause between painting, where her brush wilts in the bottom of a green glass (a gift Clive had bought back from Terehern? India? She couldn’t recall which) where the water is the same yellow as the trees. She wipes her fingers on the seam of her skirt where it won’t show, hums a note of a half-forgotten tune half-played on the piano last night, hears the soft creak and close of the front door and watches Duncan, in the same grey buttoned-down cardigan and brown corduroy trousers he’s been wearing since January, step out.He leans back. Stretches his back, and takes in the morning air. He walks slowly. Takes his time from doorstep to pond, a short distance of only a few steps, but he pauses, slow, gentle, takes in the bluest of blue skies, the fragile warmth of the sun, closes his eyes. Stops. Then, with hands in pockets, looks out across the water, watches the fish gulp and pop their lips at the surface, the flash of gold and silver, a fin, grey striped and shining, slicing the water here and there.The pond, an eruption of life, of light, a million dazzling, shimmering dashes and moments of sunlight ablaze on the waters’ surface.She wonders what he thinks, standing there, the shadow of Charleston at his heels, then,turns instead to dry her brush, to dip, now, into the red-pink of a curtain, brought back into this room, this house, this home, where the sun warms her face through the glass.She paints: draws the colour in waves, becomes for a moment, the painter, instead of the observer. Then, almost as if she has willed it to happen, the sun shines brighter, bringing her back beyond the glass.Ducan, gone moments, minutes or hours ago, is replaced by the hurried halting stride of Virginia. She too with hands in the pockets of her skirt, only hers are balled, straight arms, shoulders tight. She moves fast, wide-brimmed sun hat covering her face, though Vanessa knows she is whispering, mouthing, perhaps, the words of other people, a novel, an essay, or, perhaps, a letter, after all, one needed only to receive a postcard arranging or confirming an appointment to see that here was a mind with a twist of its own; always a quip or unexpected phrase.How different, the two of them, the sun-bleached Virginia of the day, all soft edges and soft smiles, then the glowering, glowing Virginia of evening time, shrouded in a fitting gloom that suited her well.Only hours ago, last night, she had been fizzing with possibility, arm draped over Vita’s, sitting on the floor, at the foot of Vita’s chair, finger making circles over a knuckle. A look, a gaze, a moment in love between conversation.She remembers, whilst working the deepest pinks of the curtain into soft folds, the hours of the evening before, spent over wine, after dinner (Lytton had bought a goose), Virginia, sitting in the half-light she loved, seemed to draw the thrill of the coming night into herself, only becoming more alive when her moving hands became shadowy, the teasing bite left her voice (now more the purity of Virginia than the fang of the Woolf) and her features became visible only when she bent forward to poke the fire. Twilight and firelight were her own illumination, distorted, fragmented, gloriously glowing, perfectly fitted with her imaginative penchant for seeing things aslant rather than dully straight, and she grew confident in her own game, a task willingly undertook, taking the offerings of the table, a bit of information handed to her as dull as a lump of coal, only to hand it back glittering like diamonds.She rouses herself, makes a final brush stroke, the painting is done, new, perfect, and, stepping back she sees not the view, but Virginia, now sitting in the garden, where the black birds call, and the sun is high. Virginia, amongst a garden ready to spring forth with lupins and delphiniums, veiled in the slight romantic haze which surrounds a nature deepened by thoughtfulness and melancholy, whilst Vita, sleeping somewhere in the house, busies herself in the back of Virginia’s mind, swarms, overcomes, and Virginia smiles, relaxes, and welcomes the sun.

My Pen Is the Wing of a Bird

My Pen Is the Wing of a Bird

Author: Lyse Douchet, Lucy Hannah Format: Paperback Release Date: 17/02/2022

This book, although works of fiction, are real stories by real women which evoke great sadness, empathy, sometimes shock but also hope for the future. It’s an unputdownable book that I read from cover to cover without stopping. What brave women, despite many of them not being named to ensure their security, moved me beyond words, and I, and many other readers can only say thank you for these wonderful, beautifully written and translated works that bring to us real stories of endurance and hostility in the difficult world these brave women live in. I look forward to more.

Sofia Khan and the Baby Blues

Sofia Khan and the Baby Blues

Author: Ayisha Malik Format: Paperback Release Date: 14/02/2022

Sofia Khan is going about everything the wrong way. At least, that's what her mother, Mehnaz, thinks. Sofia is twice-divorced, homeless and - worst of all - refusing to give up on a fostered baby girl. Sofia's just not behaving like a normal woman should. Sofia doesn't see it like that. She's planning to adopt Millie, and she's sure it'll be worth it. (Even if it means she and Millie have to stay at Mehnaz's place for a while.) And as Sofia finally begins to live the life she's chosen, she finds both romance and happiness start to blossom. But then someone comes back from the past - and not even Sofia's own past. Suddenly, she's faced with a choice. To do what's best for those she loves, Sofia might have to break her own heart. And she might find herself needing the last person she expected...

Male Tears

Male Tears

Author: Benjamin Myers Format: Paperback Release Date: 20/01/2022

'One of the most singular, moving and crucial voices of our times' David Peace In Male Tears, a debut collection of stories that brings together over fifteen years of work, Benjamin Myers lays bare the male psyche in all its fragility, complexity and failure, its hubris and forbidden tenderness. Farmers, fairground workers and wandering pilgrims, gruesome gamekeepers, bare-knuckle boxers and ex-cons with secret passions, the men that populate these unsettling, wild and wistful stories form a multi-faceted, era-spanning portrait of just what it means to be a man.

Fiona And Jane

Fiona And Jane

Author: Jean Chen Ho Format: Hardback Release Date: 04/01/2022

These two adolescents Fiona and Jane, best friends since the second grade, walk hand in hand through the thrills and pains of growing up. Fiona's beautiful and ambitious and always on the look out for an escape pod whilst Jane is dead set on staying in California. Spanning decades the women float in and out of each other's lives, their friendship both a beacon of home and a reminder of all they've lost and the shame that holds them back.

A Toast to the Old Stones

A Toast to the Old Stones

Author: Denzil Meyrick Format: Hardback Release Date: 04/11/2021

Featuring notable characters from the Kinloch fishing community of Denzil Meyrick's much-loved DCI Daley thrillers, A Toast to the Old Stones is an essential standalone story for fans of the series. With the seasonal setting and attractive hardback format making it a great gift to curl up with on Boxing Day, it’s also likely to entice new readers to discover the novels. Denzil Meyrick sure knows how to conjure details of character and place that keep readers invested in knowing what happens next, and those skills are very much on display in this atmospheric tale, alongside the author’s trademark humour. With the 12th January New Year celebrations approaching, the fishermen of Kinloch are readying themselves for their annual pilgrimage to the Auld Stones, with youngster Hamish over the moon to be invited to partake in the tradition, given that this honour is usually bestowed on the oldest fishermen. Then, as the new owners of Firdale Hotel create a stink by increasing their whiskey prices, with a plan to circumvent them all but ruined by a tip-off, the appearance of a “man from another realm, from another time” further adds to the intrigue.

The Haunting Season

The Haunting Season

A collection that’s billed as ‘Ghostly Tales for Long Winter Nights’ that features eight award-winning authors – all masters of the mysterious and the macabre - was always going to grab my attention! With a stunning cover and top names, this was bound to be an instant bestseller. Stand out stories for me include Laura Purcell’s, The Chillingham Chair, Lily Wilt by  Jess Kidd and Thwaites’ Tenant which I was unwise enough to read right before bedtime. Perfect bite-sized pieces of supernatural scariness. Selected by Carole Matthews, Our Winter 2021 Guest Editor. Click here to read the full Guest Editor Piece.