The Creative Future Writers’ Award is aimed at talented, underrepresented writers. This year the writing competition was open to a range of writers who identify as marginalised, including, for the first time, writers from working-class backgrounds, which helped them attract over 1000 entries. The winners will be published in the anthology, ‘Home’. Review by Tom Smith
The theme of the 2019 anthology is ‘home’, which given today’s political climate is a very apt and raw subject. The prompt saw a varied selection of stories, and as I can’t talk about them all here, I will discuss the ones that really jumped off the page:
A Home from Home by Iqbal Hussain tells a story of a mother who is an unhappy immigrant. She describes the events of marrying her husband and moving to England in no uncertain terms: “I was fourteen years old when my parents sold me into slavery.” Told from the point of view of one of her four children we see the children make efforts to help their mother when it all gets too much for her. It is implied that every so often she gets so homesick she has to retreat to her room for the evening and when she returns the next day it is like nothing had happened. It is a fantastic description of the impact of depression witnessed through a child’s eyes.
Maciek the Orphan by Kris Michalowicz tells the story of someone acclimatising to a new country. This is not my usual kind of story, the snapshot of an entire life, or in this case the character’s life in a specific place, always feels too grand to allow me to properly invest in the character, but not in this case. We see Maciek feel isolated, turning to drink, turning to drugs, before eventually turning to boxing where the people in the gym become his family, and he feels accepted. The story could have ended there and would have left me smiling. However it continues to a situation where Maciek feels he has outstayed his welcome and leaves the city with the parting words, “you were never mine.” I understand this choice, but I’m just a big softy.
As any writer knows the opening sentence to any story is important, it can suck you in or spit you out. Even more than that it can show style and make promises to the reader, promises that need to be kept. The opening of The Space Between Words by Susan Hunter Downer was a one that had me re-reading it over and over again, “I were a woman once, and I were good at it.” This sentence asks a lot of questions. Is this a story about a transsexual character? Is this a story of a woman who has lost herself? Why the grammar choice? To be able to ask those kinds of questions in 11 words shows a fantastic skill, a sleight of hand, even.
Unfortunately, the story itself does not quite live up to the opening, although this may be my fault. The opening sees a character claiming to be a rain cloud and I took this to be literal, putting me in mind of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and I let my mind run away with itself at the scenarios the story could present. When it was revealed that the character was not a rain cloud but an undocumented woman living in Sheffield, I felt let down. Re-reading it with a new perspective I found the story of a woman feeling like she had no home, absentmindedly returning to her old house that was now someone else’s home, to be a very good one. But I still could not get past the first impression.
Finally, my favourite story was Hefted by Gary Evans, despite a staccato style and being overwritten in parts. As a reader I always enjoy being thrown into worlds I am unfamiliar with, and Gary expertly takes you into the world of farming. I was unaware of the practice of skinning a dead lamb in order to put the skin on the runt of the litter to make the ewe nurse it. As disgusting as it sounds Gary presents it as a perfect metaphor for pretending to be someone you’re not, to find a home. I must also praise Gary for not shying away from the reality of the practice, “I fetch a bucket from the trailer and scoop up some of the ewe’s shit and afterbirth.” It would have been easy to gloss over the reality to make the metaphor sound prettier.
Overall, I enjoyed the anthology and I would recommend it to anyone, and I would recommend Creative Future to any underrepresented writer wanting to find a home of their own.
The Creative Future 2019 Award winners will be announced on Friday 25th October at the prestigious Southbank Centre as a part of the London Literature Festival. Award winners will also receive a share of £10,000 worth of prizes, both cash and developmental.
Please click on this link to find out more about the Creative Future Writers Awards and for details of where you can purchase the anthology Home, which also includes stories by Kerry Hudson, Anthony Anaxagorou and Mahsuda Snaith.