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Fiction | About You by Marjorie Main


Early on a Saturday morning in October I met Vivian at Liverpool Street Station. Stevie had a painting in an exhibition opening that night, and they were down for the weekend staying with her agent, Alex. I had just returned from a brief visit to Italy and instead of going straight back to Cambridge we had agreed that I would join them. After all, Stevie’s painting was a portrait of me.

I had only a leather weekender bag with me, and Vivian slung it over his shoulder, offered me his arm, and we wound our way out of the writhing crowds of the station. I let him lead me south, not thinking of where or why we were going. Stevie was, according to Vivian, so on edge with agonised suspense about the opening as to be unbearable. He had left her with Alex and fled.

The air surged coldly at us, and I walked closer to Vivian, who wore a charcoal dark woollen coat. When we came across a florist I slowed, thinking of Stevie.

So why did you go to Italy? Vivian asked as we examined bunches of fragrant lilies. Careful how you answer, through: Camille came to dinner while you were away and he seemed rather down in the mouth, and although not even Stevie’s most persuasive attempts could extract much from him, we figured out that you were the cause of his troubles. Have you two broken up?

We aren’t together.

But you obviously are, in some sense. Or have been.

No. I’m not asking you to define my interactions, Vivian. I’m capable of doing that myself, and Camille isn’t my boyfriend.

Well, it looks like he is.

Appearances can be deceiving, mate.

Well, if you’re sure.

Fuck off, Vivian.

So, how was Italy?

Nice, yeah. I met a friend in Milan and we went to Lake Como for a few nights, hung out, took in the sights etcetera.

You hung out. With a friend.

Yes. Next topic. Vivian laughed quietly at this. I threw him an impatient look and crouched down to breathe in the sweet smell of the tumbling late roses. Their petals were tinted with apricot and creamy pinks, and I gathered them into my hands.

These ones? Vivian asked, and I nodded. While the florist wrapped them in swathes of brown paper and tied a pink velvet ribbon around it all, I burrowed into my weekender and brought out Camille’s cashmere jumper, putting it on. Outside, we turned down Threadneedle Street.

I’m not going to comment on your jumper, Vivian said, and laughed.

Good, I replied. Do you have a cigarette?

They should be in my pocket, Vivian said. His hands were full of the flowers, so I dipped my hand into his coat and helped myself, lighting two.

Thanks, Vivian said, as I held one up to his lips. We picked up pace and I tucked my hand into the crook of his elbow. The flowers were gathered between us in a futile attempt to shelter them from some of the wind.

So, how have you been? I said.

Do you honestly want an update on all the thrilling things we old marrieds have been occupying ourselves with while you’ve been flitting around Italy and so on?

Something like that.

Well, it’s more of the same. Stevie panicking, yours truly callously attempting to get some work done.

You’ve been writing?

I have, in fact. Thank god. Finally! Vivian grinned at me and I laughed.

That’s brilliant, I said.

It feels good. I think I’m writing a short story at the moment – at least, that’s what I’m calling it, I don’t want to overthink it.

Cool. Hey, do you mind if we duck into the Royal Exchange? I need a replacement perfume.

By all means, Vivian said, inclining his head comically.

In the store, I asked for a bottle of my standard scent. As I waited for the assistant to hand me my purchase with suitable aplomb, Vivian smelled the tester curiously.

It does smell like you, he said, his expression ambiguous. It feels almost too intimate, he murmured, eyebrows hovering humorously.

Yes, perhaps this was indiscreet of me, I laughed. I do hope you won’t mind?

I’m just trying not to appear too delighted, Vivian laughed.

Perhaps now would be a good time to segue into a discussion of À la recherche du temps perdu?

Yes, we do seem to be preoccupied with olfactory experiences today. Perhaps we should have tea, and partake of madeleines while vigorously debating the finer point of Proust’s navel.

Would teatime be time enough for La Recherche? I asked with mock-solemnity.

No chance, Vivian said. But it’s a start.

We drank tea among the verdite columns of the Ned and then walked west along Cheapside. St Paul’s rang out the hour and we decided to visit the whispering gallery if the crowds weren’t too bad.

It’s interesting to regard the city as a spectacle, Vivian said. I was a boy here, I mean. The city is very familiar to me, but today it appears strange. It must be your company.

I’m curious about the notion of places as legible. Not just in terms of the poetics of space, but as a cultural artefact. One moves through the city and apprehends its signs and markers, the changes in architecture that indicate the evolution of time, the differences of economies, and the jumps in ethnic identity of localised zones. And then too there is so much literal text inscribed onto the city’s surface. All those place names, and advertising.

I really like this idea, Vivian said. The city as a text: it’s interesting.

Like, I often have this sensation when I’m walking through town, or when I’m at the supermarket, being overwhelmed with disparate information. It’s as disorientating as the endless newsfeed of social media. Vivian laughed at this.

I’ve never thought of it like that. You’re right, though. Sound too is another one. The music of the city, or some such: overheard conversations too, and the ebb and flow of traffic.

Right: noise pollution, and the hum of the city. This is also true of light.

Indeed, the city has a filthy halo of light pollution.

Weird, isn’t it? This pollution as a trace of culture, I mean. Also, I think that for most people nature is nowadays the least legible it has ever been.

Because the majority of the population is so urban, you mean?

Yeah. Like, perhaps in cities like this people are still capable of reading the weather, predicting its daily changes so as to dress accordingly. But few people know the names of the trees in the avenues, the birds hunting tobacco crumbs. Let alone anything less urban than that. It weirded me out when I moved to England for university. No one could tell me the names of the trees or birds. I had to buy a book to teach myself the Latin.

It’s actually quite unusual for someone to want to know those things. Vivian smiled. Especially some one of –

If you say something about my generation, I interrupted warningly. He laughed.

Alright, you caught me.

It makes you sound so old.

Wow, thanks.

Yeah, well. Ageism works both ways, mate, I smiled. I’ve read so many fucking think pieces that either malign millennials as the laziest and most narcissistic, entitled generation, or defend their predicament as a social rather than individual challenge.

What do you think?

Perhaps that the dilemma is not one of character but of means; I’m not sure.

What kind of means? Are you speaking financially?

Yes, in a way. I mean, I’m not interested per se in the millennial dilemma, but there is an increasing disparity between income groups that I believe is problematic. One manifestation of this gap is generational, but I also think that this economic instability is fundamentally infantilising in its effect on people.

You mean that a lack of income security renders people dependent? That’s true, whether on the state or parents, I can see that. But what about the emergence of so-called job snobs? People who refuse to work in a role that they think is beneath them?

Honestly it’s more often the salary than the role itself that is objectionable. This depreciation of labour is two-sided, and has financial consequences. The employee doesn’t value the worker, so doesn’t reflect the significance of the labour in the pay. Therefore the worker doesn’t value the labour, as it offers them no material reward. Capitalism is where feelings of solidarity go to die.

You would make a great unionist. I suppose you would support a universal income, too, with your youthful socialist leanings.

You do like misrepresenting my ideas as naïve, don’t you? I suppose it is easier to be amused than provoked into actual independent thought.

I’ve offended you, Vivian said apologetically.

You’ve made me think you naïve, I said, and we laughed.

Well, I am, really. I’m still profiting from the system that limits your peers and perpetuates classism.

Yes, you belong among the ranks of landlords.

Is ownership of property really so malevolent?

Well, yeah. Having to rent, coupled with having to rely on a casual income, is essentially crippling people. It offers no possibility of future security.

So I am the oppressor? Obviously I am speaking from the swampiest of moral grounds; I’ve inherited private means and property so obviously belong to that most despicable class of shareholding landlord baby boomer despots. I know I’d the bad guy.

Well, obviously. Owning a property makes you a card-carrying member of the capitalist bourgeoisie. You are protective of your financial security, and that makes it impossible for people poorer than you to eke out any semblance of security. You harness a profit from their struggle. And economically, people only really matter to society as property-owners, which is to say as shareholders within the economic model our society upholds.

You’re basically saying that poverty has become an entrenched problem within first world countries. I appreciate that these are increasingly inequitable times.

In a sense, yes. Our time is marked by inequity on so many levels: people of colour are poorer than their white counterparts. Men earn more than women. These are issues of race and gender, yes, and have wide-ranging consequences, which at their worst include racist hate crimes, and sexual violence. But the most constant and insidious level at which this inequality registers is economic. And people won’t have the time or means to act as their own advocates unless they have financial security. The threat of losing a job, and not being able to afford a place to live is too real, otherwise.

I’m assuming you also disapprove of rags-to-riches stories as capitalist propaganda?

Rather. Poverty infantilises people, yes. But it condemns them to suffering in multiple and complex ways, while capitalism disseminates this false ideal of meritocracy, which perversely teaches us to think of those who don’t get a to-riches ending, that is to say the poor, as being without merit and therefore deserving of all the suffering heaped upon them. It upsets me so much.

You’re a good person. Of course it upsets you, there is so much that is grossly unfair in the world. And I hate to ask, but how are your socialist tendencies paid for? Aren’t you here on mummy and daddy’s money?

Yeah, I can see how much you hate asking, I said, laughing. But I know what you mean.

We had reached St Paul’s, and came around by the back way, through the gardens, where leaves were already swirling to the ground. The cold wind sent the leaves frisking over the grass and paths, picking up pieces of litter as they moved like a creeping mould over everything.

I thought about how hard I’d tried when I first came to England to assert myself in crowds far worldlier than those I was accustomed to, and how I had grown to despise this. How my stance and voice had betrayed their origins by changing, rapidly and almost beyond recognition. But even at home, even in school, I had been asked this question, had it demanded of me that I state my position in society. I had long accepted the idea that whatever my answer was it would be unbelievable to someone. And now that I felt so far from my former selves I was taken up by a perverse inclination to insist upon my background, to insist that I was an outsider.

Of course, I said, as an individual my ability to pay my own way is reliant on the capitalist model. But no, my parents don’t pay for me. My privilege has a different face. I’m dependent on a scholarship; it pays my university and college fees, and I get a liveable allowance. My so-called academic merit has been deemed worthy of financial support. But I am essentially on the make.

What do you mean by that: on the make? Vivian asked, looking amused.

Oh, just that I am socially mobile in a way that misrepresents my economic status. Education has ruined me in terms of being able to fit properly within the binaries of rich and poor, privileged and disadvantaged. It means that I’m a hypocrite, and that the socialist principles I espouse are not reflected materially in my lifestyle. I smiled at Vivian, who looked both bemused by this dissection of things that to his way of thinking shouldn’t be spelt out, and endeared to me.

I rather suppose I am guilty of misjudging you, Vivian said. He looked at me with a wry smile, and I laughed. I just assume that because you’re at a good university, he went on: that because you go to a very prestigious college, because you have read similar books to me and you can talk about Beethoven and Proust and because in the winter you wear a fur coat, I assume that your economic background is one of similar privilege to mine.

Vivian and I were almost the exact same height, and his shoulder felt dependable as we walked beside one another, in a way that I knew was misleading. He was waiting for me to reply, watching distractedly where we went, which was through the leaves towards the front of the cathedral, to the pale steps where a society wedding party was lingering in its finery.

That fur coat cost me six euro at an op shop, I told him.

Okay. But you have to admit, your taste appears expensive, educated: privileged. And then there is your voice.

Fuck you. What’s wrong with the way I speak?

You know, I’ve spoken to Stevie about this – about you, I mean; but in terms of your accent rather than finances.

What a horrifying prospect.

Well, quite. You’re precise, and eloquent: obviously educated and cultured, and speak in a way that demonstrates a rarefied level of understanding. But it is your accent itself that is disorientating. Stevie recognises some Australian idiom in it, but of a bygone era: her grandparents, with their money and post-colonial cultural cringe. But it’s also European in some turns of phrase, modern and Americanised in others, and an utter throwback in its turns of plumminess, which taken alongside your eccentricities has led a lot of people into thinking that you are rather posh. Your accent sounds moneyed.

When really I’m a fraud?

Yes, you really are the most dreadful phony. But no, perhaps an anachronism, but also a bastard child, or changeling: you are something quite new, as well as something out of a bygone time. Not an arriviste, perhaps, but as you say, someone on the make, culturally speaking. A self-made renaissance woman, I suppose.

I think that last bit was the nicest yet most morally ambiguous thing you’ve ever said to me, I laughed.

Well, I suppose that means I shouldn’t go on and say that your physical appearance also suggests a kind of privilege.

I made a face of distaste and Vivian laughed.

It’s true, he said. You are so beautiful that people are bound to assume your life is easy, that things are given to you on silver platters and you will never have to work to prove yourself.

That’s such a revolting misrepresentation, I replied.

Is it? Is it really? I mean, I admit it’s sexist.

Wow, that’s so self-aware, how admirable of you. Should I thank you for objectifying me, now?

We went into St Paul’s together, laughing, and Vivian joked: I’m trying my hand at this new-age man thing. I think I’m really pulling it off.

Please stop, I said.

Vivian laughed and we made our way up through the cathedral until we were standing beside the curve of its dome. St Paul’s was surprisingly quiet, and bore the traces of the wedding that had just taken place. There were very few people about, but lots of flowers.

Up in the whispering gallery we walked away from one another, directing our talk into the stone, sitting down when we heard each other from around the curve. We looked at each other from our positions of distance, and around ourselves at the cathedral itself.

Iris? Vivian’s voice came to me.


You know the story I’m writing, he said, and paused.

What about it?

It’s about you.

My skin went cold, and I knew I could endure anything. When I took a breath it was steady, and I said: aren’t they all?


Fiction | Beloved by Roger Raynal



That morning, when Ryoji woke up, fired from sleep by a strident, but usual sound, he refrained from opening his eyes. He wanted to feel, all around him, in the thousand little sounds of the house, in the movements of the air, in the heat of the spots of light dancing on his face, the essence of this morning. It was the day of his fifteen. He felt the hard mat under his back, and the floor of the house, sometimes vibrating when a lost truck was passing in the street.

He heard his elder sister, already busy in the kitchen. He looked around. What he saw was far from luxury. Despite his young age, he was well aware of the fact that his family had become poorer in the recent years, and that, surreptitiously, the loss of unnecessary wealth had slowly given way to the lack of vital needs. But today, it little mattered.

He was going to meet Yoshino.

He had known the young girl for only a few months. He had met her before her high school closed, in a bookshop downtown. She was the sister of a friend of one of his, and he had tried to meet her regularly several times, in the street and in the shops where she got used to go.

At first, they just shared quick smiles until they finally got introduced to each other by respective friends : Yoshino was her name. He remembered this feeling when he had to leave her ; a spirit in turmoil, a particular stare and a long whisper.

Every single step was hardened by Yoshino’s parents. Her father worked at the local hospital as a doctor. Their family had seen their wealth grow over the years. They would not even have considered the possibility that one of their daughters might have some relationship with a boy who, from their view, could only be a disgraceful beggar to their family whatever his virtues.

However, he had managed to get closer to Yoshino. They shared some feigned intimacy by the darkness of the cinema, where the ticket clerc, to whom he sometimes did some favours, let him in freely. In the kabuki theatre, Ryoji had even been able to sit next to the girl ; but his joy had moved on shame when he compared his clothes, carefully prepared by his elder sister, to Yoshino’s.

Today, on his fifteenth birthday, the young girl, half serious, half laughing, had promised him a kiss. Under his shaved hair, Ryoji’s mind was purpled. It would be like in those foreign movies they watched, sometimes laughing to hide their embarrassment in front of the effusions of the stars on the movie screen. They had to meet early in the morning, behind the Shima Hospital, downtown. It was not seven o’clock yet and, on the bay, the rising sun caressed the ocean. He had time.

Smells, forgotten for too long, came to arouse his appetite. He smelt of real rice, not mixed to soya, and grilled fish. He swallowed his breakfast with delight, under the impenetrable glance and the unfailing smile of Yasuko, his elder sister.

Through her face, the joy of seeing her brother eat such an exceptional meal, and the sadness of knowing how far she had been reduced to get it, were conflicting each other. Since the loss of their eldest brother, Toshiro, their mother seemed to be dazed. She had no taste for anything. So, Yasuko had to take care of the daily life of the family. She had no news from her betrothed for several months, so she concentrated all her efforts and found strength to keep on living and offering a few moments of happiness to those she loved.

Ryoji lived north of the city, where the river flows one of its arms, describing a loop to the east. To reach Yoshino, he had to take a bus, then the tram, without paying his ticket. When on the way, he realized he had forgotten to thank Yasuko sufficiently for her attentions, and he felt miserable. He promised to make her understand how much he had appreciated the care she had taken to satisfy him, at his coming back. But for now, all his affection seemed to be directed only to another young woman.

He was waiting for his bus in a crowd which, as time was passing by, was growing on an on. The delay, which had been frequent in the recent years, was becoming unusual. With an increasing attention mixed with anguish, Ryoji was watching the great clock that adorned the shop window of a nearby watchmaker. Suddenly, a rumour, peddled by a travelling salesman, was heard through the small group : the bus had had an accident a few streets farther north and it could not go by any further. The group of adults scattered, some trying to hail some improbable taxi, some going on walking or others settling as comfortably as they could, waiting for the next bus tour.

For Ryoji, the world was crumbling. His feverish thoughts urged him to find a solution as soon as possible to rejoin the city center, and, through the disorder of feelings that began to oppress him, he thought of his comrade Yukio. Yukio had a bike!

Ryoji quickly went straight to his friend’s home, luckily rather close. He wanted to hurry, without running yet, for he feared of sweating over on his first date.

Reaching the threshold of the house, a miserable cube of wood and paper, which could not be distinguishable from those on the suburb of the town. This area could run the risk of being destroyed to prevent the danger of fires. He saw Yukio’s sister, whom he hopefully asked if his friend was in. Yukio was just up. When he told him he could not lend him his bike for the morning because his father needed it a little later, Ryoji felt a pain in his stomach. His distress was certainly so visible that Yukio finally offered him a ride to the beginning of the tram line.

‘— I pedal, hang behind me on the luggage rack, so the lady will not be repelled by your sweaty smell ! ’

Yukio had broken through him so much that Ryoji blushed out. In the small circle of his acquaintances, he was the only one who thought that his interest for Yoshino was not obvious.

Yukio spared no pains and, coming close to the docks, he rode south, where the river divided into three arms before reaching the sea. Gripping his companion, shaken by the jolts, Ryoji was now rushing down the alleys bordered by countless wooden houses added to paper parts. He seemed, as he crossed the powdery air of the dusty roads, that the whole town was nothing but a heap of dry wood and crumpled paper, ready to burst into flames, becoming as burning as his generous heart within his chest. He remembered the heat spreading inside him, in the conniving darkness of the movie theatre, when Yoshino had allowed her hand to linger on somehow with his own. He recalled with amusement an old song his father used to hum which, tirelessly repeated ‘ watch out for the fire, watch out for the fire… ’

Yukio crossed a bridge due east, and the sun dazzled Ryoji, pulling him out of his inner storm. ‘The tram!’ Yukio yelled, pointing, in the distance, to the elegant wooden shape of the castle, which bordered one of the first stations of the line. Yukio, sweating, left his friend with a frank smile. Ryoji did not have enough time to babble his thanks. His comrade, in a hurry, had already left away, shouting at him that he wanted to be the first to know what would happen with the girl, with all the saucy details …

* * * *

Yoshino awoke with an inner smile illuminating her morning. For a few weeks, a feeling had been growing inside for Ryoji. At the beginning, the young man had seemed ordinary and clumsy to her. But, with the time passing by, and their meetings which Ryoji staged with a touching clumsiness, she began to appreciate his company. To notice, his family was not the most shining. He was wearing his school uniform a little too often which made her think he probably did not have any other acceptable clothes. And yet, his love of life and his cheerfulness had been good to her. When she had heard of his approaching birthday, moved by an impromptu impulse of her heart, she had promised him a shameless kiss which she would not have thought possible to offer. What could have led her to such an end? Perhaps, the recent loss of one of her brothers had made her realize that she had to live, quickly. But Ryoji was so hesitant that she had to help him a little!

She carefully chose a very pale blue summer kimono, soberly decorated with darker patterns, reminding of the ocean. In order not to arouse any suspicion from her governess about her appearance, she pretended she wished to visit a nearby shrine. She had not donned her kimono for a long time. Since then, her body had changed, and the young woman draped in the silk with a sensual sweetness she had never tasted before.

It was not a lie for she had really planned to go to the shrine after her date anyway, maybe with Ryoji, who knows, if he had time. It would be a pleasure to walk together in the gardens, under the shade of the leaves, before reaching the hospital where, thanks to the influence of her father, she worked as a nurse’s assistant.

The building was very close so she set off without hurrying. The river reflected the summer sun, reminding of the past seasons, in the mountains near the torrents, with the family once united but who seemed to have torn apart over time. She felt strangely nostalgic, but also beautiful and light-hearted. When looking up at the sky, she imagined, in a prodigious leap, that she might have vanished into the blue.

* * * *

Ryoji was as shaken by the jolts of the tramway as he was exasperated by its slowness. Older highschool student groups crossed the tracks with no rush, as did traders and other vehicles, forcing the tram to continually slow down. Ryoji had crouched down on the platform at the back, hidden from the sight of the ticket inspector by the mass of passengers standing and clinging to the support bars of the wagon. However, a movement from the legs around indicated that the inspector was coming straight to him. So, taking advantage of another slowdown, Ryoji leaped out of the platform and quickly crossed the bridge that would lead him to the peninsula where the hospital was located. A wall clock indicated that it would soon be eight o’clock. He had only a few hundred meters to walk but he could be late if he did not hurry. So, he rushed along.

The sun, already high on that full summer day, sent back shafts of light on every shop window, blinding him regularly. The city was passing around, and he no longer felt the painful muscles of his legs, hardened by the joy inherent to the first pangs of desire. He wanted to laugh. He hurried with all his strength, without running, for he was worried about arriving breathless, whereas was instilling inside the fear of missing his first date. Yoshino would certainly wait for a few minutes. Today, everything had to be beautiful.

As a reward after a long wait, he discerned in the crowd, among so common outfits that they all looked as one, a touch of incongruous blue, like a piece of the sky on the street. It was Yoshino. He slowed down, crossing the last road that separated him from her. He finally came, ill-at-ease overwhelming with respect for the young girl.

* * * *

In the distance, Yoshino had seen Ryoji’s strange gait. He seemed to walk very quickly and yet undecided to run. ‘ Still so hesitant ’, she said to herself, delighted by this character trait she actually appreciated so much.

They both greeted each other in a strange solemnity, and Ryoji, astonished, realized that he had not even thought, for a while, of what he was going to say to Yoshino. Against all odds, it was her who decided to break the silence between them.

‘ — Did you find it easy to come here?

— Not really, everything went wrong. The bus had an accident and was cancelled. I had to run and ask Yukio to help me. Fortunately, he managed to ride me with his own bike to the tram…

— I would have like to see you on the bike ! It must have been funny!’

Ryoji looked down, embarrassed. Yoshino laughed a little. ‘Maybe I should give you your birthday present now,’ the young girl said, heading for the nearby piers.

Ryoji followed her, not forgetting to compliment her for the elegance of her outfit. Despite himself, the slow swaying of Yoshino’s hips in front of his eyes set his adolescent imagination on fire. When they arrived near the river, protected from the intruders by a white wall with its brightness facing the sun and almost hurt the eye, Ryoji offered his cheek to Yoshino. She was facing him. She naturally leaned forward and in a whisper said : ‘You are not a child anymore, you are fifteen now. My brother only lived a few years beyond his. I no longer want to be a child either, we have so little time for love’. Yoshino huddled into Ryoji’s dangling arms. Almost instinctively, he hugged the tender body of the girl. Their lips joined. For them both, the time stopped. They were young, handsome, invaded by a burning heat wave. For the first time, in the awakening of their senses, Ryoji and Yoshino felt the nascent promise of the quest for an absolute. Yoshino thought that the world could now come to an end.

Six hundred meters above the lover’s first kiss, a new sun kindled in the sky of Hiroshima. From their first-time embraced bodies, only remained a single blackish shadow on a whitewashed wall.

Short Story Competition 2016 | An interview with Max Porter


With just over a month until our Short Story Competition 2016 closes, we spoke to judge Max Porter and found out about which writer never fails to inspire him, which three books he’d take if he were stranded on a desert island, and what advice he’d give to this year’s competition entrants.


What are you currently reading? If it’s not fiction, what fiction have you recently read and enjoyed?

I’m reading Lian Hearn’s Japanese adventure series Shikanoko, Eileen Myles’ I Must Be Living Twice, and some Peter Stamm short stories.

And what specifically did you like about it?

I like the very controlled and worthwhile magic realism in Lian Hearn’s books, and the sex, and the painterly way she has with violence. They’re hugely entertaining and I need that because I ‘literary fiction’ all day every day.

What is your favourite short story, and why is it your favourite?

That’s a horrible question and I refuse to answer it. Oh OK. On Monday it was The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. On Tuesday it was The Swimmer by John Cheever. On Wednesday it is The Country Funeral by John McGahern. Thursday The Early Deaths of.. by Jesse Ball. And so on.

I’d choose The Lottery for a space capsule I suppose. Because it is devastating, exquisitely well designed, witty, political, mythic. It tells vast truths quickly and with poise. It is perfect.

Which writer’s work can you always rely on to inspire your creative process?

Angela Carter.

If you were stuck on a desert island and you could only take three books, which three would you take?

Refuse to answer. Ok, Odyssey, Shakespeare and a massive cheat Poetry anthology.

What advice can you give entrants to the Short Story Competition 2016?

You should let the story do what it needs to do and not corral it harmfully into another shape. Stories are lethal tools, let it be. Consider how many we’ll have to read and show us quickly why we need to pay attention to yours. Do not waste one single word. Finish well, all the greats do.


Max PorterMax Porter is an editorial director of Granta and Portobello Books. His authors include Han Kang, Eleanor Catton, Ben Marcus, Sarah Moss and Caroline Lucas. His debut novel Grief is the Thing With Feathers was published in 2015. It won the International Dylan Thomas Prize and will be translated into 23 languages. He lives in South London with his family.

Short Story Competition 2016


This competition is now closed.

Thanks to all who entered. The longlist, shortlist and winners will be announced over the next few months. Keep checking our ‘Competitions’ section and sign up to our newsletter for updates.

Autumn is here, which means The London Magazine‘s Short Story Competition 2016 is upon us.

The London Magazine has published short stories by some of the most well-respected literary figures over the course of long history. Our annual Short Story Competition seeks out new voices to join them. Established to encourage emerging literary talent, the award provides an opportunity for publication and recognition, as well as rewarding imagination, originality and creativity. The London Magazine is looking for unpublished short stories under 4,000 words from writers across the world. The story that wins first-place will be published in a future issue of The London Magazine. The second and third place stories will be published on our website. Prize winners will also be invited to a reception in early 2017.

Entry fee: £10 per short story (there is no limit to the number of entries you can submit)

Opening date: 1st September 2016
Closing Date: 31st October 2016
Deadline Extended To: 14th November

First Prize: £500
Second Prize: £300
Third Prize: £200


Erica Wagner is an author and editor. For 17 years literary editor of The Times, and twice a judge of the Man Booker prize, she is now Lecturer in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, a contributing writer for the New Statesman and consulting literary editor for Harper’s Bazaar. She is the author of Gravity: Stories; Ariel’s Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of Birthday Letters and Seizure, a novel. Pas de Deux/A Concert of Stories, co-written with storyteller Abbi Patrix and musician and composer Linda Edsjö, tours around the world. First Light: A Celebration of Alan Garner, has just been published by Unbound, and her biography of Washington Roebling, chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, will be published by Bloomsbury in 2017.

Max Porter


Max Porter is an editorial director of Granta and Portobello Books. His authors include Han Kang, Eleanor Catton, Ben Marcus, Sarah Moss and Caroline Lucas. His debut novel Grief is the Thing With Feathers was published in 2015. It won the International Dylan Thomas Prize and will be translated into 23 languages. He lives in South London with his family.


Angus CargillAngus Cargill is Editorial Director at Faber & Faber, where he was worked since 2000. He edits and publishes writers such as Kazuo Ishiguro, Sebastian Barry, Jane Harris, David Peace, Nadeem Aslam and Lucy Caldwell, as well as non-fiction authors Peter Pomerantsev, Nick Kent and Barney Hoskyns. He also runs Faber’s crime list – which includes Peter Swanson, Chris Pavone, Laura Lippman, Stav Sherez and Alafair Burke, among others – and has published a number of graphic novels, by Emily Carroll, Craig Thompson and Adrian Tomine.

Read The London Magazine’s interviews with the judges here.


As of 1st September, you’ll be able to apply via Submittable here:

Alternatively, you can download the Short Story Competition 2016 Entry Form to fill in and post with your entry. (N.B. There is no need to complete an entry form if entering via Submittable)

Please read our competition rules carefully before entering.
If you have any questions, please contact Abi at competition@thelondonmagazine.org.
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