The thirteenth BBC National Short Story Award shortlist was announced just over a week ago. On it are five stories written by female writers: ‘To Belong To’ by Kerry Andrew, ‘Sudden Traveller’ by Sarah Hall, ‘Van Rensburg’s Card’ by Kiare Ladner, ‘The Sweet Sop’ by Ingrid Persaud and ‘The Minutes’ by Nell Stevens. Because I love short stories and writers who happen to be women, I’ve teamed up with the award and will be bringing you extracts from each of the shortlisted stories, as well as videos from some of the writers and some of the judges talking about the work. One every day this week, in alphabetical order.
To Belong To (extract)
This is a good place to die.
He stands at the edge. The height sends the hangover lurching to his stomach. The closeness of toes to air.
Below, the sea is bladed, black. A thousand fulmars stipple the cliffs either side of him, their cries a blur. On the lowest rocks, a little way out, are the thicker brushstrokes of seals, resting. There had been talk of hearing their song, but if it is there, it is blunted by the wind.
He curls his toes. The ground curves, falls away gently, almost inviting it.
There will be a short moment of great pain. His head might catch on a rock. His back break. But once he has made the decision to jump, he will have to take whatever comes.
One movement. A footstep, into nothing.
In the sea, by the seal rocks, there is a small spot, bobbing. A lone adventurer perhaps, going further out to find the fish.
Another moment or two, to listen for the singing.
He closes his eyes, holds his arms out. The Angel of the North, transported to the outer edge of the country. He stands as still as he is able.
When he opens his eyes again, the spot has moved past the others, towards the cliffs.
He watches, wind pummelling the length of his arms.
In the shallows, it rises, and is not a seal. Long slabs of flesh, dark at the ends. The woman stands for a moment, looking back out to sea, and he thinks he hears something, words or a melody. Then she is turning, walking the few steps over the paler stones to a strung ladder that he had not noticed, tucked in at the bottom of the rocks. His eyes trace the journey that she must take, move just ahead of her as she scrambles over turf and quickly crosses two unsecured planks of wood. A rope, glinting silver, zigzags up the cliff and she ascends, once or twice leaning outwards, very close to the edge.
She disappears for a moment in the fold of the hill and he waits, his eyes on the sodden green line where she must appear. He puts his arms by his sides.
A fulmar passes at head height. He can see the architecture of its beak.
She walks towards him, clothed now. Sports leggings, a fleece. The gloves and socks she was wearing gone. Her hair is mostly slicked back, a short cap of it, glints of blue or green, almost mineral. Her arms are folded, shoulders hunched. She keeps walking towards him and for a moment he wonders if he hasjumped, that his body lies dismantled on the stones, before she stops right next to him.
Push me, he thinks.
She stares up at him. Hard, brown eyes. ‘Come on,’ she says, before striding past.
And he does.
Kerry Andrew is a composer and writer. Her debut novel, Swansong, was published by Jonathan Cape in January 2018. She performed her debut short story One Swallowon BBC Radio 4 in 2014. She is the winner of four British Composer Awards and has a PhD in Composition from the University of York. As a composer, she specialises in experimental vocal and choral music, music-theatre and community music. She made her BBC Proms debut in 2017 with No Place Like for BBC Ten Pieces and was Chair of the jury for the BBC Young Musician of the Year 2018. She performs alternative folk music under the banner of You Are Wolf and sings with award-winning a cappella trio Juice Vocal Ensemble. Originally from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, Kerry lives in London.
The winners of the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University will be announced on 2ndOctober on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row. The shortlisted stories are available in an anthology published by Comma Press, out now: https://commapress.co.uk/books/the-bbc-national-short-story-award-2018