class="post-50035 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-city-of-stories-home category-network-knowledge"Closeness
 by Caleb Azumah Nelson an illustrated section of a library with a London skyscape in the background

Taking place across all 33 of London’s library services from February to June 2022, City of Stories Home celebrates libraries as the place to make and share stories in our local communities. 

London writers Amer Anwar, Natasha Brown, Jarred McGinnis, Caleb Azumah Nelson, Lizzie Damilola Blackburn, Ruth Goldsmith, Iqbal Hussain and S. Niroshini have written stories on the theme of home to inspire Londoners to get creative and write their own story.   

Closeness by Caleb Azumah Nelson 

All of us at the party are already nostalgic for yesterday, so it’s grime cuts that Adeline spins from the decks. 21 SecondsI Spy,Too Many Man. Pow begins to play, a kick drum starting off, sudden and sure. A thick bassline follows, getting to the heart of things. Eerie chords ring round the garden. Before the intro is done, Raymond magics himself next to me, calling for the song to start again. There’s isn’t time for what I want to say to him before the song starts fresh, the intro bare and empty of words, leaving space for us. The floor clears, bare and empty of bodies, a circle forming around us, something possessing Raymond and I as we push the edges further towards the confines of the garden. Look, I’m trying to tell you what it means to be in the eye of a moshpit: a small, beautiful world in the midst of chaos, free, amongst, flailing limbs and half-shouted lyrics. Soon, after the fifth or sixth reload, we begin to tire. Soon, we’re disappearing into the night, four abreast down Walworth Road, in search of food. Soon, it’s Bagel King, the only place we know that’s open forever. Soon, it’s Raymond with an arm around my shoulder, mouth to my ear, saying, you good, yeah, and I nod into the space he makes. Soon, it’s an arm wrapping around my body from behind, and I know it’s Del. We’ve known each other so long she knows the way light holds my neck, she knows my rhythm, even when I’m still. Soon, it’s acapellas and phone speakers, and since the one thing which might solve most our problems is dancing, an easy two step on the pavement.  

Soon, too soon, it’s time to split. Those who are together disappear into the night, pulling even closer. Those single long for the knock of knees on a journey home, the brush of skin on the doorstep, the invitation inside a free yard. We’re young and often struggle to express just what it is we need, but I know we all value closeness.  

That’s what I’m thinking as Del and I take the night bus back towards Peckham – Raymond has magicked himself elsewhere, into the night, so it’s just me and her. Her cheek resting on my shoulder for the short journey. Off the bus, arm in arm, down her road, a soft light on her doorstep, like a beacon. It’s just us. It’s the quietest it has been all evening. I gaze at her. Thrust my hands into my pockets, breaking the gaze with a glance at the ground, before stealing another look at her. She smiles at my shyness, and I smile back. It’s here, when I’m with her, I know that a community can be two people, occupying a space where we don’t have to explain. Where we can feel beautiful. Where we might feel free.  

Del’s lips make a brief home on my cheek, and we pull each other close. We give no goodbyes – we know death in its multitudes, and goodbye sounds like an end – instead, after our embrace, the soft pounding of fists accompanied by, in a bit, which is less a goodbye, more a promise to stay alive. 

 About Caleb Azumah Nelson 

a picture of a man in a white shirt smilingCaleb Azumah Nelson is a twenty-seven-year-old British-Ghanaian writer and photographer living in South East London. His photography has been shortlisted for the Palm Photo Prize and won the People’s Choice Prize. His short story, PRAY, was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award 2020. His debut novel, OPEN WATER, won the Costa First Novel Award, was shortlisted for Waterstones Book of the Year, and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Gordon Burn Prize. His second novel, SMALL WORLDS, will be published in May 2023.  

Twitter: @calebanelson  

 

Get involved with City of Stories Home 

Read all the short stories and get top tips on writing a short story at: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/cityofstorieshome 

Sign up for a free online creative writing workshop at: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/city-of-stories-home-workshops  

Enter your story to the competition with the opportunity to be published in the City of Stories Home Anthology, be part of masterclasses and read your story at a celebration event at your local library: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/city-of-stories-home-competition  

City of Stories Home is run by London Libraries in partnership with Spread the Word and is supported by Arts Council England and Cockayne Grants for the Arts. 

Published 12 January 2022

class="post-50126 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-city-of-stories-home category-network-knowledge"Dearly Loved 
by S. Niroshini an illustrated section of a library with a London skyscape in the background

Taking place across all 33 of London’s library services from February to June 2022, City of Stories Home celebrates libraries as the place to make and share stories in our local communities. 

London writers Amer Anwar, Natasha Brown, Jarred McGinnis, Caleb Azumah Nelson, Lizzie Damilola Blackburn, Ruth Goldsmith, Iqbal Hussain and S. Niroshini have written stories on the theme of home to inspire Londoners to get creative and write their own story.  

Dearly Loved by S. Niroshini 

A graveyard is a place of dreaming.  

And in between the overgrown moss and lichen of Highgate Cemetery, the dead-folk of Swains Lane spin dreams for the living each night. The work makes the air, here in the afterlife, sweet. It smells of lavender and freshly-made lemonade. It is love-work, the warp and weft of memories turning into dreams as light reflects from the emerald-green foliage of the cemetery forest. It is impossible to hear anything over the din of chatter and laughter as the dead-folk work. It is through dreams, the dead try and tell the living the single most important thing they need to know in life.  

If only anyone listened. 

It is a frosty February evening and I sit next to my headstone. I gather tufts of memory from my satchel to spin my grand-daughter dreams. She arrives to the world of the living in eight days and I hope she listens to what the dead have to say. The dreams are as soft as marshmallow and fly through the air like the whip of a ships sail. I have waited so long for this moment. 

I remember the day I arrived at the cemetery. I dont know how I died but the first thing I noticed was how cool and damp it was, full of ivy. The second thing I felt was love.  

In loving memory. 

To my beloved. 

Dearly loved. 

It was a place of love. 

My own headstone has a simple inscription. Miss Anusha Alfonso, died 1872. It says nothing of my life. How I had travelled the world, a young woman who had been one of the greatest playwrights to arrive in London. It doesnt of course include the smaller, intimate details; how I had many lovers, how I loved dandelions.  

Only someone who truly cares about you will ever remember something like that. 

The graveyard became a place where a woman like me could finally rest undisturbed. My mama used to say to me you can sleep when youre dead and oh dont I rest just perfectly now.  

Ever notice how much sleep is like death? 

Come. Help me spin dreams for my granddaughter. I need to move fast now. She has arrived early.  

I’m not sure Im ready for this moment but oh there she is asleep at the hospital on Pond Street. Healthy set of lungs on her. Hush now, hush. She is terrified of this transition to life from death. I wish she knew the great secret that the dead know, that life and death are the same. I lean down near her cot. 

Everything is going to be fine, baby girl. Were always going home, always going into the arms of those who love us. 

The dreams blow through her. Her eyes flutter as images of great beauty and love soothe her cries. She curls her little brown fist and falls asleep. Her breath is as soft as the fuzz of a dandelion.  

About S. Niroshini 

S. Niroshini received a London Writer’s Award in the literary fiction category in 2019 and won Third Prize in the Poetry London Prize 2020. Her pamphlet ‘Darling Girl’ was released in 2021. 

https://sniroshini.com 

Get involved with City of Stories Home 

Read all the short stories and get top tips on writing a short story at: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/cityofstorieshome 

Sign up for a free online creative writing workshop at: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/city-of-stories-home-workshops   

Enter your story to the competition with the opportunity to be published in the City of Stories Home Anthology, be part of masterclasses and read your story at a celebration event at your local library: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/city-of-stories-home-competition   

City of Stories Home is run by London Libraries in partnership with Spread the Word and is supported by Arts Council England and Cockayne Grants for the Arts.  

 

Published 12 January 2022

class="post-50122 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-city-of-stories-home category-network-knowledge"Return by Amer Anwaran illustrated section of a library with a London skyscape in the background

Taking place across all 33 of London’s library services from February to June 2022, City of Stories Home celebrates libraries as the place to make and share stories in our local communities. 

London writers Amer Anwar, Natasha Brown, Jarred McGinnis, Caleb Azumah Nelson, Lizzie Damilola Blackburn, Ruth Goldsmith, Iqbal Hussain and S. Niroshini have written stories on the theme of home to inspire Londoners to get creative and write their own story.   

RETURN by Amer Anwar 

2017 

There was no one to meet Zaq so he took the bus. The sun dazzled him, its staccato glare reflecting from the puddles lining the road as the vehicle sped along. He had been lucky with the weather; it had poured the last few days but this morning the sun had broken through the oppressive grey clouds, brightening everything, transforming the world from monochrome to Technicolour, offering a sense of hope, maybe even new beginnings. He got off the bus in Bicester and walked to the station north of the town centre. There, he handed in the form he’d been given in exchange for a rail ticket then waited on the platform for his train to London.  

It was weird, to be there on his own. It should have been the most normal thing in the world, taking a train, something he’d done many times before and yet it felt strange and new. He had over an hour to wait, the later train being cheaper. Thoughts crowded his head, too numerous and fleeting for him to grasp any single one and consider it fully.  

He had been away for a long time and had mixed feeling about returning. Things had changed – not so much the places or people he would see again, though many of them would inevitably be different, but rather things had changed with him – and maybe nothing would ever be the same as it was before. He wished he had some music to lose himself in. 

His train arrived and he got on. It was afternoon now, off-peak, and there were plenty of free seats. He sat by the window and watched the countryside whizz past, his own thoughts superimposed on the blur of green fields and blue sky. It wasn’t a long journey, about an hour with just two stops on the way. The landscape gradually became more built up: rural to suburban to urban. The train terminated at Marylebone. He joined the throng of people leaving the train, savouring the experience. 

Through the barriers, he went to the ticket counter and handed over another form, this time receiving an off-peak Travelcard for it. He went down to the tube and hopped onto the Bakerloo Line, two stops to Paddington. The main concourse here was familiar territory, a place he knew well, once part of his daily commute. He scanned the departures boards for the next Reading service and went to the stated platform. A multitude of butterflies fluttered within him. 

The train out through west London was where he really noticed the changes, the remembered mixed with the new. One stop at Ealing Broadway and then it was his. He stepped off the train and was greeted by a sign in both English and Punjabi – SOUTHALL. He felt his heart swell and a tear or two threaten. Idiot, he chided himself. 

Up the stairs, out of the station and he was back where he belonged. 

After five years in prison, he was finally home. 

About Amer Anwar 

Amer Anwar grew up in West London. After leaving college he had a variety of jobs, including, warehouse assistant, comic book lettering artist, driver for emergency doctors and chalet rep in the French Alps. He eventually settled into a career as a creative artworker/graphic designer and spent a decade and a half producing artwork, mainly for the home entertainment industry. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London. His critically acclaimed debut novel, Brothers in Blood won the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger and was picked by the Times and Guardian as one of the books of the year. His second novel, Stone Cold Trouble, was longlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger. He is currently working on the next book in the Zaq & Jags series. 

www.ameranwar.com  

Get involved with City of Stories Home 

Read all the short stories and get top tips on writing a short story at: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/cityofstorieshome 

Sign up for a free online creative writing workshop at: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/city-of-stories-home-workshops   

Enter your story to the competition with the opportunity to be published in the City of Stories Home Anthology, be part of masterclasses and read your story at a celebration event at your local library: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/city-of-stories-home-competition   

City of Stories Home is run by London Libraries in partnership with Spread the Word and is supported by Arts Council England and Cockayne Grants for the Arts.  

class="post-50057 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-city-of-stories-home category-network-knowledge"Top tips on writing a short story 
by Caleb Azumah Nelson an illustrated section of a library with a London skyscape in the background

Taking place across all 33 of London’s library services from February to June 2022, City of Stories Home celebrates libraries as the place to make and share stories in our local communities. 

London writers Amer Anwar, Natasha Brown, Jarred McGinnis and Caleb Azumah Nelson have created read, think and do top tips to inspire you to write your own short story on the theme of home.  

Top tips on writing a short story by Caleb Azumah Nelson 

READ 

I’m always on the lookout for short stories which render both characters and the worlds they occupy with a depth that goes past sentence level, towards something you might feel. The detail of these of stories create a texture that a reader won’t always be able to explain but will be touched by. The Heart of our Our Enemies (Dantiel W. Moniz) and All The People Were Mean and Bad by Lucy Caldwell both do this.  

The Hear of Our Enemies by Dantiel W. Moniz: https://yalereview.org/article/hearts-our-enemies 

All the People Were Mean and Bad by Lucy Caldwell: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/oct/19/lucy-caldwell-wins-bbc-national-short-story-award-for-masterful-tale 

THINK 

Know and cement your characters 

Spend time with your characters, understanding what they might do, where they might go. Afford them the possibilities of their reality, and ask what might happen beyond these possibilities. Encourage your characters to roam, put them in situations where they are tested. Place them in the unfamiliar as this is where you find out the most about people. Nudge your characters towards vulnerability as this is where connection – both between characters and with the reader – might be forged. Characters don’t necessarily need to be likeable but you do want to be intrigued by them, do want to spend the length of a short story with them.  

Don’t feel like you need a beginning, middle, end 

I’ve often described short stories as ‘photographing lightning’. It’s difficult to cram a traditional story arc into a short story; instead opt towards conveying a feeling, or specific moment in a character’s life. Utilise tone and mood, rhythm, refrain and perspective to capture these moments and expand on them. Short stories are short in length but can be expansive, can render whole worlds.  

Revise! 

Editing is a difficult yet beautiful process. It’s tough to let go of words you already committed to the page, but in this rewriting process is where the work can truly emerge. Allow yourself some time and space away from the work, then come back to it fresh. Allow the work to be something you couldn’t have imagined when you first set out to write.  

DO 

Writing exercise: afford beauty to the ordinary! Your character (or you) is making a journey they do regularly – a bus, or train, or walking – what do they see? What do they feel?

a picture of a man in a white shirt smilingAbout Caleb Azumah Nelson 

Caleb Azumah Nelson is a twenty-seven-year-old British-Ghanaian writer and photographer living in South East London. His photography has been shortlisted for the Palm Photo Prize and won the People’s Choice Prize. His short story, PRAY, was shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award 2020. His first novel, OPEN WATER, won the Costa First Novel Award, was shortlisted for Waterstones Book of the Year, and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Gordon Burn Prize. His second novel, SMALL WORLDS, will be published in May 2023.  

Twitter: @calebanelson 

Get involved with City of Stories Home 

Read all the short stories and get top tips on writing a short story at: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/cityofstorieshome 

Sign up for a free online creative writing workshop at: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/city-of-stories-home-workshops  

Enter your story to the competition with the opportunity to be published in the City of Stories Home Anthology, be part of masterclasses and read your story at a celebration event at your local library: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/city-of-stories-home-competition  

City of Stories Home is run by London Libraries in partnership with Spread the Word and is supported by Arts Council England and Cockayne Grants for the Arts. 

Published 12 January 2022

class="post-50128 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-city-of-stories-home category-network-knowledge"[____] by Ruth Goldsmithan illustrated section of a library with a London skyscape in the background

Taking place across all 33 of London’s library services from February to June 2022, City of Stories Home celebrates libraries as the place to make and share stories in our local communities. 

London writers Amer Anwar, Natasha Brown, Jarred McGinnis, Caleb Azumah Nelson, Lizzie Damilola Blackburn, Ruth Goldsmith, Iqbal Hussain and S. Niroshini have written stories on the theme of home to inspire Londoners to get creative and write their own story.   

[       ] by Ruth Goldsmith 

The crack and split and greed and tear and waste and want of war eats them out of house and [      ] 

War has come to their front door, an angry man, a shouting screaming cursing man, a hungry man they can’t ignore. War makes himself at [      ] 

The house is no longer a [     ] but a carcass, no longer where the heart is. They pick up their skin and bones alone and start the slow march down the longest road they’ve ever known. The slowest way round is the shortest way [      ] – but it’s nameless now they are [    ]less. 

Crossing land is hard. Then they reach the sea.  

To stand on the beach in the dark, to trust a promise of safe passage, to hear the water suck and beckon, is to sit atop the crest of a wave between faith and madness.  

But what choice do they have? There’s no place like [      ], not any more. 

So they redefine what a [       ] is. Seven months in, the tent on a hillside in the mud and the crowd and the cold and the noise and the thirst and the stink is a [      ] of sorts, a place they call [      ] at least, a broken kind of [      ] where warmth is a metaphor and people are the bricks and mortar.  

They stand twice more on beaches in the dark, hearing water suck and beckon, hope in pixels on a tiny screen, until they reach the country where a man’s [      ] is his castle. They all look like castles from the outside, too.  

They try to live a life. They try to build a [      ]. 

But here, they learn that some words say and sound the same but the meanings we give them are different. Some words we read in quiet and tidy [       ] in our green and pleasant land, over breakfast, a head shake, pass the jam.  

STEALING [        ] AND JOBS 

Some words we scroll through on phones that never run out of charge, distracting ourselves on the bus, a flick, the story’s gone.  

CHARITY BEGINS AT [        ]

Standing by those same words on the news rack, in the shop, they wonder what they did that was so wrong.  

GO BACK

                   GO BACK 

                                    GO BACK 

       GO BACK 

One day, the letter comes to say this place is not their [     ]. Removal vans will come, it says, for them, not for their things.  

The toddler plays with her building bricks on the floor, as they turn the words over, the words that turn their world over. This is the only [     ] she’s ever known in the only country she’s ever seen. How can she be returned somewhere she’s never been?  

When the vans arrive on the street outside, they spill [     ] Office branded men. And once again, to their front door comes a man, an angry man they can’t ignore, a man who won’t tell a house from a [     ] 

Instead he says: open up. 

We’re coming in. 

It’s the law.   

 

There’s no place like [       ]

Not any more. 

Head and shoulders photo of Ruth Goldsmith, wearing green jumper, against backdrop of Walthamstow's William Morris wallpaper.About Ruth Goldsmith 

Born to a librarian and a museum curator, stories were always going to be important to Ruth. In 2019, she received a London Writers Award for Literary Fiction with Spread the Word to develop her novel. Her short fiction has popped up in various places – as a lead on Visual Verse, in the first City of Stories collection and most recently placed first in the streetcake magazine Experimental Writing Prize 2021. As a commissioned writer on the Science Museum’s #ScienceFictions project, she’s having fun mixing history, science, art and words, with an anthology forthcoming in 2022. Ruth’s a card-carrying member of Waltham Forest Library Service. 

Twitter: @ru_goldsmith 

Get involved with City of Stories Home 

Read all the short stories and get top tips on writing a short story at: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/cityofstorieshome 

Sign up for a free online creative writing workshop at: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/city-of-stories-home-workshops  

Enter your story to the competition with the opportunity to be published in the City of Stories Home Anthology, be part of masterclasses and read your story at a celebration event at your local library: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/city-of-stories-home-competition   

City of Stories Home is run by London Libraries in partnership with Spread the Word and is supported by Arts Council England and Cockayne Grants for the Arts. 

Published 12 January 2022

 

class="post-50040 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-city-of-stories-home category-network-knowledge"The Alderton Farm: Interview with Claire Spencer 
by Natasha Brown an illustrated section of a library with a London skyscape in the background

Taking place across all 33 of London’s library services from February to June 2022, City of Stories Home celebrates libraries as the place to make and share stories in our local communities. 

London writers Amer Anwar, Natasha Brown, Jarred McGinnis, Caleb Azumah Nelson, Lizzie Damilola Blackburn, Ruth Goldsmith, Iqbal Hussain and S. Niroshini have written stories on the theme of home to inspire Londoners to get creative and write their own story. 

The Alderton Farm: Interview with Claire Spencer  

by Natasha Brown 

Claire opened the large front door to her Cobham home one-handed — her left arm was wrapped around a shyly-curious toddler. We sat in the kitchen with a pot of fresh mint tea between us. Little Rosie lay on the soft-play mat in the corner, kitted out in stripy leggings, a builder’s hard hat and a glittery tutu, mumbling as she forced plastic trucks to collide. “I’m a designer,” Claire says. Since Rosie’s birth in 2018, Claire has taken on part-time freelance work for a handful of clients. Before that, she worked at a boutique branding agency, after studying Art History at university, where she met Richard Spencer. They married soon after graduation, living in London apartments until deciding to move to the suburbs. 

Claire is sanguine about the separation, “people change, don’t they?” Their suburban house had never really felt like Spencer’s home — “he stayed in the city most nights. His hours were so long, it made sense.” Spencer had spent weeknights in his Kensington pied-à-terre until Rosie’s birth when, increasingly, he began to spend weekends away from his family, too. “I’m not stupid,” Claire says of the unspoken affairs, “I know what goes on.” Still, it wasn’t until Claire found out the extent of Spencer’s involvement with a younger colleague that she decided to officially call it quits. “There’s a line,” she says. Spencer had crossed it. 

A few years earlier, Spencer had bought the Alderton farm — an old hill-top property in Kingsford, a quiet West Yorkshire village. Claire didn’t think much of the place. “It’s a complete wreck,” she doesn’t mince her words, “a rubbish-heap on a big hill in an awful little town.” 

Claire’s dismissal of the farm hit personally. I grew up in Kingsford, a stone’s throw from the Alderton farm. I walked past it almost daily as a child, even spending occasional summer afternoons ‘mucking in’ with the Alderton family. Fresh produce was a staple at our dinner table. Nothing at the supermarket can beat the warm, frothy taste of unpasteurised cows milk, ladled fresh from the milking bucket. Though economically disadvantaged, and unapologetically working class, the town provided a wonderful backdrop for my childhood. It has value. But somehow, our country’s towns and industries became the playthings of London’s elite.  

The Alderton farm fell into hard times in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, when the government subsidies that buoyed the farm’s modest revenues dried up. The Aldertons searched for new owners who would continue to run a community-minded farm, but eventually sold to property developers. No investment or redevelopment in the area took place, however, though the farm changed hands a few more times. The abandoned plot became a familiar pockmark atop the town’s hill. Until, in 2016, Spencer snapped up the property at auction. 

“He has a weird ‘prepper’ fantasy. He thought he could survive the end of the world there or something.” Claire is doubtful, “I’ve never seen him do so much as water the garden.” Spencer went on to renovate the farmhouse, fashioning a luxe refuge for when society inevitably collapsed — possibly galvanised by his part in the ’08 crash, and the societal fragility it revealed. But when global catastrophe did arrive by way of a novel coronavirus, Spencer clung to London’s familiar comforts: restaurant deliveries, his housekeeper, and Fibre Optic broadband speeds. He remained at his home, in Kensington. And the Alderton farm stood empty. 

About Natasha Brown 

A woman (Natasha Brown) siting in front of a window.Natasha Brown is a writer who lives in London. In 2019, she received a London Writers Award in the literary fiction category. Assembly is her debut novel. 

www.npbrown.com  

Get involved with City of Stories Home 

Read all the short stories and get top tips on writing a short story at: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/cityofstorieshome 

Sign up for a free online creative writing workshop at: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/city-of-stories-home-workshops  

Enter your story to the competition with the opportunity to be published in the City of Stories Home Anthology, be part of masterclasses and read your story at a celebration event at your local library: www.spreadtheword.org.uk/city-of-stories-home-competition  

City of Stories Home is run by London Libraries in partnership with Spread the Word and is supported by Arts Council England and Cockayne Grants for the Arts. 

Published 12 January 2022