We had a lovely evening at the Gloucestershire Writers’ Network writing competition award, last week. It’s an annual event that happens at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.
The theme for the festival and the competition, this year, was East meets West. It drew in some lovely pieces of poetry and prose from writers across Gloucestershire, and most of the authors were brought together to read them for us.
‘What did you think?’ I asked my friend Louise, when we caught up six days later. She’d had to rush off to another event just as that one finished, and we’d not had chance to compare notes since. ‘How did you find your first time at a reading?’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘it was good.’ She paused. ‘And interesting: aren’t poems quick?’ Louise fronts a band. ‘One minute they were stepping up to the mic, the next it was over.’
‘It felt like a lifetime when I did it,’ I said.
Louise laughed and shook her head. ‘They all read really well, though, and the stories were excellent. I did like the one about the shawl, by the woman from your writing group.’
‘Lynda’s,’ I said. ‘It is a lovely story.’
‘I’m looking forward to sitting down quietly with the anthology,’ Louise said. ‘It was a really subtle approach to the theme.’
‘It was perfect,’ I said, ‘a lovely piece of flash fiction.’
How do you tell a grim story without dealing out graphic detail? Lynda did it by giving voice to a scarf. ‘I remember,’ she begins, ‘how she held me up to the window and I delighted in the way the sun shimmered through my rich magenta and green folds, throwing rainbow patterns across the tiled floor.’
The scarf can observe and remember, but has limited understanding of the events that disrupt it’s soft, perfumed life: that’s left for us to interpret. This is where the power of words becomes clear. It’s not just a question of finding the specific order that describes a picture, the other side of fine writing leaves spaces that the reader cannot avoid filling.
Dust seeped through the bag and cries and shouts accompanied the endless days of trudging. Later it became quiet and the cold crept through my silky sinews. How I longed for the warmth of that sun…
What does it mean to be a refugee? Lynda provides us with a sense of it in around six-hundred words.