Kerstin Twachtmann’s story T-t-television is one of those published in the London Short Story Anthology, having been longlisted for the 2017 prize. Here she tells us more about the story and how she created it.
While I was working on this story I saw a great meme on the website 9gag. It said ‘Being 18-25 is like playing a video game where u’ve skipped the tutorial & ur just sort of running around with no idea how anything works.’ It had 35,000 votes. I nearly opened T-t-television with this quote, because it neatly sums up where I was going with the story.
In your twenties life is always surprising you, and that’s not always a good thing. Stories about being young often have a lot of romance attached to them. It’s characterised as a carefree time full of adventure and new experiences. In reality, the years before you had a proper job, a dependable set of friends and a working knowledge of HMRC were probably a total disaster. None of the furniture of adult life is in place, and you have none of the experience or the tools or even the emotional maturity to understand how to take care of yourself, how to navigate. There’s an element of trying to get out of the whole thing alive. Especially if, like the characters in the story, you have mental health problems, the stakes feel really high. You struggle and loose and fail, you are disappointed and have your heart broken in new and uniquely painful ways, and it doesn’t feel like a rite of passage; it feels like the end of the world.
I wanted to talk about the time in life when you’re a beginner at everything in a way that didn’t make the struggle romantic, and didn’t assume that it was all leading somewhere better. Because romanticising struggle is only possible in hindsight, if a story is told from a position of safety after everything turned out OK. And at the time, you don’t know if that’s going to be the case.
Extract from T-t-television
On top of everything else we had rats. They’d somehow gnawed their way in under the bathtub. The bath panel had bite chunks missing at the corners. So did the piles of old magazines stacked up against the walls; the evidence was suddenly everywhere. Those empty ready meal boxes on the counter, I realised, weren’t all shredded before. And that hole in the tied up bin bag leaking rubbish juice across the kitchen floor; that might not have been there before. We called the landlady and she said she wasn’t sure that, if indeed there was a problem, it hadn’t been caused by “the way you young ladies are living over there.”
‘Infestations are the tenants’ responsibility, you know,’ she said.
We didn’t know. We tried the exterminator next. He wanted £60 just for the callout, which seemed an extravagant fee for a rat-free existence. Elle put the phone down and started kicking the flat’s best Ikea furniture, calling Rentokill motherfuckers.
‘I’m glad I’m getting out of this piece of shit country,’ she said.
I however wasn’t.