Welcome to A Literary Life

I did something today that I have been thinking about for a while now.

I changed my name!

By that, I mean that I changed my blog’s name. It’s goodbye to A Writer’s Beginning and hello to A Literary Life.

Why have I done this?

Basically, I felt as though my old title wasn’t really working for me. I do still see this blog as my beginning as a writer but, for a while now, I have been using it to post other things, too, such as book reviews and poetry analyses. All of this is a part of my journey as an aspiring writer, but I’ve been worrying that it all seems a little too confusing.

This blog is my literary blog, so why shouldn’t I just call it what it is?

I hope you like the new name! Let me know what you think (and don’t worry – I’ll still be posting all of the same stuff, from bits of flash fiction and sometimes longer stories, to book reviews and the occasional, literature-related rant).

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“The Sign of Four”: Book Review

As I mentioned in my review of A Study in Scarlet, the first full-length novel in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series, I recently treated myself to Audible’s definitive collection. This is an audiobook bundle of the Sherlock Holmes stories, read by the wonderful Stephen Fry. One of these stories is The Sign of Four.

2A Bit of Context

Title: The Sign of Four.
Author: Arthur Conan Doyle.
Publication: 1889, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine.
My Edition: 2017, Audible Studios.
Length: 3 hours, 15 minutes.

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a total of fifty-six short stories featuring the infamous Sherlock Holmes, but only wrote four full-length novels. The Sign of Four is the second of these novels, and is generally considered to be the least popular of the four (it scored the lowest rating on Goodreads, at any rate).

Like A Study in Scarlet, this novel considers both the typical Englishman (like Holmes and Watson) and foreign cultures. In this case, the novel takes us to Asia, making specific reference to the mysterious Andaman Islands. This is because, like many of the books that I discuss on this blog, The Sign of Four was written during the Victorian Period. During this time, the invention of steam power made travel much easier, which, in turn, encouraged an increase in global trade. English men and women were now coming into contact with foreign cultures and their products, which instigated a certain curiosity regarding some of these new countries.

Plot Overview

Both A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four are quite circular novels; they begin with Holmes and Watson in a state of normality, and, after a thrilling adventure, the duo return to Baker Street. In a way, this structure makes the stories more lovable, because, no matter what they experience on their journeys, they can always return home.

This particular adventure lends itself to the fantasy genre; there is a damsel in distress, some dangerous treasure, and some very mysterious villains. Holmes and Watson are approached by a Mary Morstan who presents a very mysterious case involving her missing father and some pearls being sent to her anonymously. The duo accompanies her to meet the sender of an anonymous letter and, from there, they begin to uncover the mystery.

I don’t want to give too much away about the plot here, simply because this is a story that I thoroughly recommend, and one of the great charms of these stories is uncovering the mystery alongside Holmes and Watson. What I will say, though, is that it involves a wooden leg, a trapdoor, some poison, and one broken promise.

Going Deeper into the Novel…

In this section of my reviews, I like to choose a couple of themes from the book that I can discuss a little more thoroughly. The obvious choice here is race, as, set partly in Asia, The Sign of Four has a lot to say about race. Yet I want to talk about two different themes that really stood out to me: gender and genre.

Gender

There is one particular line in The Sign of Four that I had to note down:

Women are never to be entirely trusted, – not the best of them.

4.jpgThis is something that Holmes says privately to Watson, and obviously stood out as a red flag to me. Even Watson himself notes that this is an “atrocious sentence”. It suggests that Holmes is a misogynist, even though he does seem to show respect to their female client, Mary Morstan.

Yet later on in the story, Holmes announces that he is going to cook for Watson and their friendly police officer, calling himself a “housekeeper”. He surely is not entirely sexist if he is willing to take on the tasks that, during this period, were associated with women. After all, he could have quite easily called Mrs Hudson to help him with the preparations, but he does not.

More than anything else, this demonstrates how Holmes frequently fails to judge social situations in the right way. At times, he can be very courteous and polite, offering to cook for Watson and the police officer, yet when he is concentrating on a case, he seems to forget this side of himself. He can, at times, be a little disconnected from his emotions. This doesn’t make him a misogynist, but it does make him seem rather rude.

Genre

At the very beginning of the novel, Holmes scolds Watson for “romanticising” A Study in Scarlet. His companion replies that it was a romantic tale, or at least contained some elements of romance, but Holmes seems certain that Watson should have only reported what, in his opinion, was important: the cold, hard facts.

This is more evidence of Holmes’ emotional detachment as he fails to register the fact that a case can be both factual and romantic at the same time. I don’t want to give too much away about the romantic elements of The Sign of Four, as most of it centres around a lovely surprise that comes at the novel’s end. Yet it is very romantic, and Watson engages in this romance, just as he did by “romanticising” A Study in Scarlet.

In contextual terms, these differing opinions of Holmes and Watson could demonstrate how Conan Doyle himself is debating which genre he wishes to be filed under. It may demonstrate how he is experimenting with genre boundaries as he fuses Holmes’ logical characteristics with the more romantic parts of Watson.

My Conclusion

The Sign of FourI thoroughly enjoyed listening to The Sign of Four. I actually enjoyed it far more than I did listening to A Study in Scarlet, although this may simply because, in the first book, I was still becoming accustomed to Conan Doyle’s style of writing. The first story introduces us to a few central characters, but then The Sign of Four expands on this, introducing Toby the dog and Mary Morstan (who I sense may be a recurring character). It builds on ideas and relationships that had already been established, which seems to make the story much more lovable.

I also found the mystery in this book easier to follow; in A Study in Scarlet, there is a long pause between part one and part two which acts as a long flashback. This book is much more linear, and although we are treated to a flashback, this comes right at the end of the novel (in its longest chapter). This prevents the mystery from being broken up and makes the case itself far easier to follow.


Well, that’s two of the Sherlock Holmes novels completed, which leaves two more to go! I honestly cannot wait to start The Hound of the Baskervilles; these stories are truly works of art and should be experienced by everyone.

Thank you so much for reading! You can click here to check out an A-Z list of all of my reviews (so far)!

“King Lear” (BBC Drama): Play Review

A new performance of Shakespeare’s King Lear recently caught my attention as I was looking through the programmes on BBC iPlayer. This performance is still available online for another sixteen days, so I suggest that you check it out!

lear2.jpgAn Overview

Title: King Lear.
Playwright: William Shakespeare.
First Performed: 1606.
Director: Richard Eyre.
Length:
115 minutes.

King Lear is composed of two, interwoven narratives. The main narrative concerns itself with the king, who, in his old age, decides to divide his kingdom between his three daughters. This was a common tale in Elizabethan England as issues of legacy, promoted by the queen’s lack of children, were popularised during this period.

In the play, Lear decides that he is going to give the most land to the daughter who claims to love him the most. His first two daughters, Goneril and Regan, conform to this way of thinking and tell the king that they love him more than words can describe. Yet his youngest daughter, Cordelia, refuses to play this game. She tells Lear that she loves him, but that she will also love a husband, should she ever marry.

This enrages Lear so much that he banishes Cordelia from his sight, marrying her off to the King of France without a dowry. This act has serious repercussions, though, as Lear begins to fall into a state of madness. Meanwhile, his remaining two daughters plot to overthrow him, tired of his constant presence, as well as the noise of his hunting parties.

As you can expect in a Shakespearean tragedy, this all ends in bloodshed. Yet this is not only the blood of Lear and his daughters, for there is a secondary narrative that runs through this play. Gloucester, Lear’s ally, has two sons: Edgar and Edmund. The latter son was born a bastard, and he holds a grudge that causes him to disrupt the other characters, punishing both his father and brother for, in his opinion, failing to value him as a true member of their family.

The Drama

The BBC’s adaptation of King Lear is an interesting one, as, although it keeps to the original Shakespearean script, it is set in modern times, beginning in the heart of London. For the majority of the drama, this fusion of the old and new has a very powerful effect, as it allows the producers to add their own spin on Shakespeare’s play, without having to tamper with the original script. For example, as Gloucester helps Lear to escape from his vengeful daughters, he drives him away in an ambulance, which emphasises the sense of urgency in the play, as well as alluding to Lear’s madness.

lear-e1528143099752.jpgYet this fusion of styles does sometimes come across as confusing, and I wish, at times, that some changes had been made to the script. After all, in this drama, the fool, who mysteriously dies in King Lear at the end of the first act (some scholars claim that Shakespeare forgot about him), is shown to die of something that resembles hyperthermia. He goes into the ambulance with Gloucester and Lear, yet never comes out. This is an interesting addition to the play, as it reveals how the fool has essentially sacrificed himself to keep Lear company. The only issue is, at the end of the script, Shakespeare refers back to the fool’s death and has Lear tell everyone that he was “hanged”. The BBC drama keeps this line in, which makes the whole event seem rather confusing. After all, the fool is not hanged; he dies in the back of an ambulance.

Another interesting addition that the drama brings to King Lear is the use of the horseshoe. Lear appears to replace this horseshoe for his crown as he wears it upon his head at the height of his madness. He holds onto it throughout the drama, which emphasises how he is clinging both to his need to rule (this was what originally angered Goneril and Regan, as Lear failed to realise that, once that he had given them his land, he had no power), and also to his insanity.

I also appreciated the addition made to Gloucester’s secondary narrative. After the earl’s gruesome blinding, he is guided by Edgar (who is in disguise), hence the famous quote:

Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind  –  Shakespeare, King Lear.

In the play, Gloucester appears to die, unaware that it is Edgar who sits at his side, protecting him, yet in the BBC drama, Gloucester reaches out his hand to feel Edgar’s face. As he strokes it, he appears to recognise him, which provides a much more satisfactory ending to the Earl of Gloucester.

My Conclusion

There is a lot like about this adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear. It has an incredible cast that includes Anthony Hopkins (Lear), Emma Thompson (Goneril), Emily Watson (Reagan), Jim Broadbent (Gloucester), Jim Carter (Kent), Andrew Scott (Edgar), Karl Johnson (the fool) and Christopher Eccleston (Oswald). With this cast, it is inevitable that there is also some fantastic acting in this drama.

There are a few interesting features, such as the horseshoe and the modern setting, that appear to add something new to the original play. Yet while I do recommend this drama, I did think that the mix of the old and new, although interesting, did make the story a little confusing. It is therefore perhaps a good idea to watch this drama, only if you already have a vague idea of what King Lear is really about.


Thank you so much for reading! You can view a list of all my reviews here.

How to Read the Classics

It’s not difficult to understand why a lot of modern-day readers are not familiar with the ‘classics’ of English literature.

IMG_2679 (2).JPGTheir narratives tend to be slow, overly methodical and really quite dull. On top of that, the language is dense and often hard to appreciate, and the characters are almost impossible to relate to. It’s not the fault of the author; a lot of the classics were written a long time ago, and writing conventions tend to change over time.

Before I go any further, I’ll say this: I don’t hate the classics. In fact, I love quite a few of them, but only because I know how to read them.

If you’re looking for some instant satisfaction, the classics probably aren’t going to be for you. If you want to be thrilled, read Stephen King rather than Mary Shelley, and if you’re after romance, Stephanie Meyer is probably going to be better than Jane Austen.

If you’ve got a bit more time on your hands, though, I suggest you look at the classics not merely as novels, but as portions of history.

I’m not saying that you need to know everything about a novel to appreciate it, but there are a lot of advantages to knowing just a little bit of context.

Perhaps the best example of this is Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. That’s a children’s story about white rabbits and Cheshire cats, right?

Wrong.

Okay, that’s not exactly wrong, but it’s not quite right, either. There’s a lot more to Alice than first meets the eye, and it’s often only realised when you think about the time in which it was published: the Victorian era.

IMG-2873.jpgOne of the biggest events of this period was the Industrial Revolution. During this time, a lot of the people who had lived on farms out in the country moved to the cities in search of jobs. In only a few decades, city populations doubled, which meant only one thing: people didn’t know who they were anymore. They wanted to find ways of standing out from the crowd, and this desire prompted what is possibly the biggest theme in Victorian literature: identity.

Remember how Alice is always growing really big and then shrinking right down again? It makes a good story, but it also represents a growing fear regarding the body as people in the Victorian era (particularly women) began to worry about their size. Did you know that anorexia nervosa was officially accepted as a medical condition in 1873, only eight years after Alice was first published?

There’s more than that, too; did you know that Alice’s very adventures represent the gender injustices experienced by young girls? Why did Alice fall asleep and have a dream about Wonderland in the first place? It was because she didn’t have anything else to do; because whilst boys her age would have been in further education, she was left to her own devices.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that reading a classic isn’t at all like reading a modern-day novel; it’s an entirely different experience. You’re not just reading the words on the page – you can do, but it’s not even nearly as interesting – what you’re actually doing, is reading a piece of history.

IMG-2984.jpgThink about how astounding a book like Alice would have been in its own time: before it, everyone was reading realist novels from Austen and Dickens, but Carroll brought a kind of magic into their lives.

So, whilst the stories may be slow, and the characters might be difficult to understand, the classics shouldn’t only be appreciated for these things. The stories are good, and I recommend them, but they’re even better when you understand what they mean.

That’s how to read a classic novel: you have look past the words on the page, ask questions and think. Think about what these books actually mean, not what they say. Think about what they would have meant to people when they were first published and how awe-inspiring they would have seemed.

Think about all of that, and then try to tell me that the classics are boring.

Summary: “The Knight’s Tale”

During this university term, I have been reading a selection of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and I thought it might be nice to share a few summaries of them. Please bear in mind, though: I’m only scratching the surface of these tales; there are so many complex themes going on, particularly connecting the different stories, and it would be wrong to judge any of them through a simple summary.

A Background

Riverside.jpgThe Canterbury Tales is quite a long narrative that takes place during a pilgrimage from London to Canterbury. Lots of different members of society unite on this journey, their different beliefs, social classes, and professions no longer separating them, and the idea is that each of them will tell a tale (generally with a moral) to the other pilgrims.

“The Knight’s Tale”, told, obviously, by the knight, is generally placed in manuscripts near the start of The Canterbury Tales, if not at the very beginning; it is the opening, after the general prologue, of a pretty extensive collection of moral tales.

My Summary

After a great battle, Theseus, the Duke of Athens, has conquered the Amazons, women renowned for their fighting prowess and bravery, and is bringing back home with him Ypolita, the queen of the Amazons whom he has married, and her younger sister, Emily. Before he can return to Athens, however, he comes across two wounded Thebans, Palamon and Arcite. As Thebes and Athens were not exactly at peace during this time, Theseus decides to take them both back with him as prisoners.

The Knight's Tale.jpgSometime later, Palamon and Arcite are in their cell, musing over their friendship, when they glimpse Emily wandering in the garden outside. All it takes is a few fleeting glances at her, and both of the Thebans fall in love. Their friendship soon disintegrates as they realise that they are each other’s competition, and instead argue over Emily. Whilst they do this, however, they seem to forget the fact that, regardless of whom deserves her more, the pair are still locked in a cell.

However, not long after this, Perotheus, a friend of Theseus, asks for Arcite’s release, and, although it is granted, Arcite is banished from Athens. As soon as Arcite leaves, he realises the problem: he is still in love with Emily, and so he returns to Athens in disguise and takes service in Theseus’ household.

Meanwhile, Palamon manages a daring escape from his cell and is hiding in a wood when he encounters Arcite, as he performs an errand for the duke. The two former friends begin to battle one another, each worried about the competition they have for Emily’s hand in marriage. They continue to fight until Theseus, out on a hunt with Ypolita and Emily, breaks them apart. Realising who they are, he intends to have them killed right there on the spot, but the women plead for their lives, causing Theseus to spare them. Instead, hearing their stories, he arranges a tournament that will decide Emily’s suitor.

A whole year later, this tournament takes place. Palamon prays to the goddess Venus to grant him Emily’s hand, whilst Arcite prays to Mars, the god of war. Up on Mount Olympus, Venus and Mars begin to argue with one another, until Saturn finds a solution to suit them both. Whilst Palamon prayed that he would be married to Emily, Arcite only prayed that he would win the tournament.

The Knight's Tale Ending.jpg

So, back in the world of the mortals, Arcite is crowned the victor of the tournament, but, as he rides about the arena on his horse, a fury, sent by the gods, appears in front of him and causes his horse to rear suddenly. Palamon falls and is mortally wounded, leaving, years later, Palamon free to wed Emily. Their marriage thus ends the tale and the knight stops talking.

The Analysis

There’s a lot going on in “The Knight’s Tale”, but I only want to touch on a few themes, namely: competition, order, and the objectified woman.

Competition

When it comes to competition, there’s a lot to say about the relationship between Palamon and Arcite. In truth, the men don’t spot Emily at the same time: Palamon sees her, falls in love with her, and then wakes Arcite so that he can see her, too. It is only then that the competition arises, as both proclaim the love for the same woman.

An article published in 1985 by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick analyses such competitive relationships, by suggesting that the relationship between two rivals of a woman are just as strong as those are between the rivals and the lady, herself. In other words, Palamon and Arcite’s relationship is just as important as their love for Emily, as it is the competition that drives them on and keeps them interested in their pursuit.

From this view, it can be argued that Arcite may have only fallen in love with Emily because she was already made into a desirable object through Palamon’s affections for her; if the latter had never announced his love, it may have been that Arcite never experienced any feelings for her, at all. Equally, it is interesting that Palamon is desperate to show his friend his new love-interest; using Sedgwick’s logic, it may be that he wanted competition for his love, in order to make Emily more desirable, and therefore a more worthy wife.

Regardless of the Thebans’ motivations, it is the competition between them that destroys their initial friendship and becomes a destructive force that results in their separation, as well as the death of Arcite.

Order

11258122_978493955518054_1982954685_n“The Knight’s Tale” is written in quite an elevated style, Chaucer’s intricate metre reflecting the Athenian setting with the duke in charge and his conquests surrounding him. He is the centre of order, breaking apart Palamon and Arcite’s fight, and generally dictating the narrative.

However, as the story progresses, it becomes apparent that Theseus isn’t really the centre of order, at all. In the end, it is not Theseus who dictates what happens in the tournament, but the gods, themselves. They are shown to choose Arcite to die, a choice that quickly results in his death. In this way, they hold a power over mortal lives that, although it is mimicked by Theseus, can never be contained by a human being.

The Objectified Woman

The Amazonian women are often used as examples in feminist philosophy; these were a fearless group of women who used men only for the purposes of procreation. If they gave birth to a boy, they would send the child away as an infant, in the vague idea of them reuniting with their fathers, but, in reality, they were really just rejecting them. Theseus parades Ypolita and Emily as his conquests, forcing Ypolita to marry him and thus taming her wild, Amazonian identity. Here’s a short little insight into the narrative of “The Knight’s Tale”:

And how asseged was Ypolita,
The faire, hardy queene of Scithia (Chacuer I.881-882).

This great queen has become an obstacle to be “asseged”, a term that roughly translates to the modern English word, “besieged”. She is conquered, just as her empire was, tamed by marriage, which is the fate that also awaits Emily.

There’s a short scene in the tale where Emily prays to the gods that she will not have to marry either Palamon or Arcite. She states that she doesn’t want to marry, particularly these two, squabbling prisoners. Yet Emily’s wishes go completely ignored by the narrative; she is an object of desire, and her opinions do not count for very much at all. What is interesting, however, is that Chaucer ends the tale by suggesting that Palamon and Emily lived happily together.

Emily didn’t want to marry, yet in the end, she is happy, a contrast that can only be explained by the lack of importance that women held during this period. For all intensive purposes, other than Emily’s actual emotional state, she would have been happy, as she would have been fulfilling her purpose as a dutiful wife.

headIt’s easy to shake off such scenes and suggest that Chaucer is blatantly just as misogynistic as the rest of his society, but I will leave you with this one question: if Chaucer believed that the opinions of women didn’t matter, then why would he include the scene where Emily states her desperation to avoid marriage? Why would he even consider her opinion, if all he thought, was that she was an object for men to desire?

Works Cited

Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Canterbury Tales.” Riverside Chaucer, edited by Larry D. Benson, 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2008, pp. 3-328.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men. 1985.

“The Heart Goes Last”: Book Review

When most people hear the name Margaret Atwood, they are most likely to think of her more renowned novels, such as Alias Grace and The Handmaid’s Tale, the latter of which has recently been adapted into a T.V. mini-series. However, it is important to remember that no author can be limited to only their most popular titles, particularly when they are responsible for as many as Atwood is. Canadian born, this writer has published more than thirty novels, works of poetry and critical essays, her writing reaching people in countries all across the globe.

FullSizeRender - Copy.jpg
Virago Press, 2016.

The Heart Goes Last is actually one of Atwood’s most recent novels, having only been published in 2015. It fits into her genre of the futuristic, dystopian novel, by considering the fall of establishment and thus also the loss of societal order. What is particularly interesting about this setting, however, is that it isn’t necessarily futuristic. Whilst certain modes of technology may not exist today, it is easy to imagine everything that takes place in the course of the novel happening in our own time; from mass-redundancies to widening divisions between the rich and the poor, nothing described seems too absurd. Even when the events of the narrative escalate, and disorder becomes, not only chaos, but a dangerous place of uncertainty, these events are presented as cause-and-effect, gradually building into something obscene.

This said, what I deeply admire about Atwood’s style, is how she doesn’t go out of her way to describe the settings of the book. The reader is left to come to their own conclusions, at least initially, about the dystopian chaos that she never truly focuses on. Within the book’s opening pages, for example, readers are exposed to the harsh atrocities of Atwood’s world, her characters considering the gang rape, theft and murder that goes unpunished around them: “There’s been a number of former car owners flung out onto the gravel right around here; knifed, heads crushed in, bleeding to death. No one bothers with those cases anymore, with finding out who did it, because that would take time, and only rich people can afford to have police” (17-18). Comments such as these, which are presented as merely the characters’ absent-minded musings, reveal the true nature of societal chaos. With no fixed law and order, there are no boundaries. In Freudian terms, humankind rejects its super-ego for the sake of its id, once more controlled by the primal instincts that it shares with the rest of the animal kingdom.

Morality, of course, is another interesting issue in the novel. Atwood appears to impose an unusual inversion of values, suggesting that it is in the midst of chaos and disorder, that her chFullSizeRenderaracters make their most morally justifiable decisions. In this state of initial anarchy, for example, the female protagonist rejects the potential income of prostitution, stating merely that “it was wrong” (26). Later on in the novel, however, as chaos is replaced by order and a strict sense of authority, the moral decisions made seem to wither and disintegrate; it is almost as though, when the characters were exposed to the horrors of a fallen establishment, they clung onto their morals as a means of separation from the barbarity unfurling around them. When this primal nature is tamed, however, they seem to forget what they have seen, abandoning their morals for the sake of their own enjoyment. If nothing else, I believe this to expose to ambiguity of the human being. We fight to fit into the mould inscribed by society, but only when are close to losing it; the values that we were taught when we lived in an ordered world are a reminder of this structure. When we are comfortable, however, and take the order for granted, all we appear to want to do, is to defy it.

The Heart Goes Last contains twists impossible to predict, and questions that will leave you reeling. It creates a theoretical world that is uncomfortably similar to our own, but another thing that I wanted to focus on, is the power of imagery harnessed here. Without giving too much away about the novel’s actual plot, I will say that it is humanity’s nature to search for profit in any situation, even amidst the suffering of others. This capitalist gluttony is barely emphasised by the language of the novel, Atwood’s characters primarily just reporting their stories, without considering, in too much depth, the motivations and implications surrounding these events. However, careful imagery is promoted throughout the narrative, almost acting as a reminder of this theme. It is hard to ignore, for example, the inexcusable greed of a man who sits smiling at his table, whilst copious amounts of animal fat drips down his lips.

Although this is the first Atwood novel that I have properly read through, I can say that I am utterly inspired. The craftsmanship behind the language on the page is startling; all I can conclude, is that it is no wonder that Atwood has obtained the fame that she so clearly deserves. Of course, whilst I do strongly recommend this book, I must add that, as with many of Atwood’s works, it depicts very adult themes. Two of these, which are consistently evoked, are those of identity and desire; because who can retain a stable identity when nothing around them is stable? And who can resist desire when they’ve already lost everything that they’ve ever known?


I have also written reviews for Atwood’s Life Before Man and The Penelopiad.

Burnt Out

This short piece of writing is for the purposes of the competition at Ad Hoc Fiction. With only a 150 word count and a weekly word prompt, this week’s word being “burn”, this competition gives its winner free entry into the Bath Flash Fiction Award, for a chance to win £1000!


The rain beats heavy against the window, rapping angrily as though it is desperate to come inside. I see it as an angry loan-shark, beating at the glass as its greedy eyes stray towards what little furniture I have left. It wants to tear it apart, taking it away from me on a stream of gushing floods.

I turn away from the window to bend low over my work, trying to shut everything out as my paintbrush moves up and down, almost mechanically. I don’t have long here now. They know I can’t pay what I owe, and I know they’re coming for me, but still my paintbrush moves up and down, creating careful little brush strokes on the page.

Before me, my last remaining candle continues to burn. Its flickering and dying, but it still provides some light. When that goes, I will know that my time is up.