Fiction

I’m a fiction writer with publications in Gutter, untethered, Scottish PEN, The Stockholm Review of Literature, Tin House, The Island Review, Valve and others.

This is my selected work.

Black T-Shirt, A Little Faded

untethered 5.2

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Later, after dawn, we walked over the dunes and onto the beach, our skin rubbed by sea air. If I hadn’t had the baby, I would have left my clothes under a rock and you would have followed me into the ocean. Or, maybe not. Babies aren’t the reason for everything.

We inspected the storm-washed beach where hundreds of dark glass fragments had been left on the sand. Worn down over time, the edges were no longer sharp. They were green and brown, and some were still coded with manufacturer’s numbers. You put several of them in your pockets. What will you do with them, I said. I’m going to make something, you said.

Smoke

Gutter 22

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I’m in the article anyway. They’ve recycled a photograph of me as a teenage girl with a badly cut fringe, wearing a weird corduroy dress. The original headline was one word; Innocent, with a question mark.

Cults have a thing about clothes. You can’t walk around in a clown costume or space suit, or naked, because that would break a clear rule. But the uniform has to be just ridiculous enough to keep people from empathising with you. It has to look like it was your idea to be a pariah.

An Old Word for Frost

Scottish PEN anthology: Declarations on Freedom for Writers & Readers

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How long is it since I’ve said it? Or heard it? Or felt its syllables in someone else’s mouth, pulling at my memory of thin frost on the cold roofs of the town where I learned to speak. A town without an airport or train station. The roads are closed this time of year, and so wild animals become bold and surface from the forest.

Small Bribes

untethered 4.1

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He calls her out of habit, not to exclude the other two. Sébastien was with them in Freetown, but she and Harris have worked together in five countries and never seen each other’s childhood streets. In Jaffna, they shared a Swedish diplomat’s house which Harris vacated for a week so Jasmira’s mother could use his room. When he returned, they ate the bhajitas that her mother had made just before her flight. So he knows the taste of a Delhi kitchen.

Sébastien stands on Jasmira’s other side now, and Chaima looks at them from the window. She blows smoke through the wooden slats of a shutter they pulled closed to keep out the worst of the heat. Jasmira wonders if they disgust her, three foreigners picking through her country’s filthy laundry. And if so, who disgusts her the most. Chaima turns and puts the cigarette to her mouth again, not letting her fingers touch her lips.

Radio Preacher

The Island Review

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I stop nearer the animals, who are out to graze. They’re not muskox, they’re something else. I’ve never seen livestock like these. They’re docile, bovine, thick with fur and a smell that reminds me of urban foxes, but thinner-limbed than the kind of animals who usually thrive up here. They ignore me, standing at the chalk line they’ve trampled.

This is where the surveyors have been; they’ve staked the land and made their calculations. The line they’ve drawn cuts through an old grave, and I wonder if they intend to grind our bones into the soil. 

This is the end of the island we never changed. The campers always stayed at the warmer end, near the mainland. They’d sometimes wander out here to have a look,  but they did no harm. They only wanted to touch a bit of history, run their soft hands along its stony surface. 

Rainwater

The Island Review

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Eleanor has been thinking about the problem of the woman lately, but out here it seems like a story, some gossip she heard at the office or something barely read in the news.

It is real though, and there are things to consider. When she should leave Wen, who should buy whose half of the apartment, and why she has yet to feel anything about this. Wen is sleeping with a woman after all, someone who arranges café receipts and the tips of condom wrappers in Eleanor’s apartment.

The woman’s name is Frances; another old woman’s name, which turns a strange crank of familiarity. If they were introduced at a party, if Frances wasn’t sleeping with Wen, they’d talk about the lives of young women with old women’s names.

First Winter

The Stockholm Review of Literature

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I sat in a room with Josué , a young man with thick framed glasses. This man has spoken to Tevye, I thought. This man knows the pressure of Tevye’s handshake.

He brought me a cup of hot water and lemon, and asked if I was comfortable. I said yes, I was comfortable, though I wasn’t. My heart was broken and my back was stiff from sleeping on the kitchen floor, and I was nauseous with hunger, but I didn’t think he’d want that kind of information for the company newsletter.

“Website,” said Josué, “not newsletter. We want to make it public, if you agree. Our partners all over the world have been sending their sympathies.

In The Dead Man’s House

The Stockholm Review of Literature

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I started to walk with the dead man’s lover late at night. We were both bad sleepers and fond of wandering under streetlights, pausing to admire the way black clouds covered and uncovered the moon.

Once, after smoking weed that I’d carried home in my hand luggage, we walked hand in had through the west end giggling, looking up at the clouds and alternately drinking from a bottle of Rioja we’d taken from the kitchen.

We wandered into the park and sat under a bush inventing a perfect desert island. His involved a lot of plants I’d never heard of. Mine had a large bathtub and a wine cellar. We staggered home at dawn, trailing dew and wet leaves up the close steps.

American Sitcoms

Valve 4

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A woman comes to the house. She’s a tax auditor. She wears high heels and short skirt. The audience whistle. There are three men. One lives in the house and the others are his friends. One man stands behind her. One stands to her left, and the other to her right. They take turns speaking. The woman is obliged to turn around and around to see them. She’s off balance. The men move closer to the woman. She steps back because the man on her right is too close. She steps to the side because the man behind her is too close. The man to her left moves forward. The woman leans back. She falls onto the couch. The audience laugh.

Frankfurt

Gutter 8

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We met in a press office in Berlin, under the shrewd eyes of a woman called Ute who ran the place. She wore a crackling headset over a swirl of red hair, and granted me mild favouritism after she saw me talking to him.

Everyone knew him, and he worked for anyone he wanted, whereas the only job I’d managed to get after the Almaty incident was an underwhelming financial weekly that littered bankers’ desks in Zurich and Frankfurt.

About once a month he drove to a city near mine for work, then to me. In the trunk of his car he carried a bottle of wine chosen from his cellar three floors below Brussels. He presented it to me after we kissed, after I let him into the parking garage under my flat, between shimmering German cars with Swiss and Italian license plates, insect corpses smashed on windshields.

Hotels

Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine

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We were people used to rain and grey, both of us. Much later I learned you’d lived for five years in Madrid with the mother of your two children and had suffered from the heat. 

I burned, you told me much later, like an insect under a magnifying glass.

First, a hotel. Manchester. I’d like to forget the name of that hotel, but I see it in every city centre, on every motorway. They still send me emails. Twenty-nine pounds for a double room in Dundee on the second weekend in May. I stepped across the border of the room into a landscape of brown carpet and hard white sheets that never fell right. You switched on the light; I walked to the bed and pulled the cord of the bedside lamp. You switched off the light.

Frontier

Frontier is a novella, now out of print, published in 2014 by Pankhearst and based on the short story Hotels.

Under Water

Newfound

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The light was thin, the colour of raw egg white. Molly was sitting next to me in bed singing to her stuffed whale. It was a song I didn’t recognize; one she’d learned from Andrew, maybe. She looked down at me and smiled. It was an odd, grown-up smile I’d never seen before. I drifted off.

When I woke up, the sun was higher in the sky. Molly was gone and Scott was still out. I went into her room. She was in her own bed, asleep. I sat on the side of her mattress and looked at the stack of books she’d brought with her. She was getting too old for some of them. I decided to leave them in case people with smaller children rented one of the cabins.

Ash Summer

Valve 2

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In windless streets, it falls on trees, cars. My hair turns grey and I’m too hot to shake it clean. After several weeks, smoke makes world headlines. The Kremlin clock vanishes.

A woman faints on the Metro. She’s carried to a bench, fanned by strangers’ books. As we pass, you touch me where my dress meets my spine.

The Prime Minister flies a helicopter, tips water on the ashes of a village. We laugh, cough into scarves. The richest leave the city.

Under the street, there’s a river. This summer, for the first time, I hear it groan.

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