‘Still Life with Blackbirds’,
Corinium Museum, Cirencester
A remote island in the Hebrides and a lost, ancient bowl, a bowl that legend has it, possesses power over life and death. An archaeological dig is close to unearthing it but who will get there first – the archaeologist with no name who has come to claim it or the hundreds of restless black birds who have been guarding it for centuries. One man has already been murdered because of it and as the storm gets closer, the birds are restless; the race to find the bowl becomes a race against time itself.
Still Life with Blackbirds was a collaboration with the Cotswold artist Richard Kenton Webb. We’d worked together before in Listen, but sometime in 2013 he sent me a series of thirteen drawings that needed someone to tell their story. The drawings showed the very clear narrative of a murder and a series of landscapes which formed the backdrop for the crime so there was a narrative of sorts already in place but the rest was up to me. Once we had the Corinium Museum in Cirencester on board, a really beautiful museum in the heart of the Cotswolds established within a Roman Villa I found within the museum the grave of an Anglo Saxon princess. In my story she became an Iron Age girl who is protecting a priceless bowl which is the object of the protagonist’s quest in the story.
Still Life with Blackbirds was published as part of an exhibition in the Corinium Museum in September 2014 and then as a limited edition signed book by Artists’ Choice Editions in 2015.
‘My Mind’s Eye’,
Warrington Art Gallery & Museum
Anna Maria is an opera singer who, following an accident, has forgotten how to sing. She starts to find her voice again in the most unlikely place and with the most unlikely people, in a place of sanctuary where the strangest character of all is a young boy whom only she can see…. ” As I move through the wood, the pylons above my head tick like giant cicadas in the damp late August air. It’s almost dawn, still dark and everyone else is sleeping, apart from the devout few who get up every morning to pray or to do whatever it is they do to save their souls, our souls. We are the outsiders here, the ones who are sick, who came here for healing. I hope they pray for us, I know we need it. Since the accident I feel safer in the dark, before the daylight finds me again. There’s no one here, no sound but my own breath biting back at me, my soft footfalls echoing my thoughts, repeating the fears that haunt me now wherever I go…”
A moving and elegantly written short story about how the past is never really done with us. Bad memories follow Anna Marie as she seeks to recover from a past trauma in a new location; yet when she gets there she finds that it has memories of its own. Highly recommended.
Review from CUT
My Mind’s Eye is available at cutalongstory
Colour n. …any of the constituents into which light can be separated as in a spectrum or rainbow, and which are referred to by names such as blue, red, yellow…
‘Can’t you hear anything?’
You peer into the picture as though by sheer effort of will you could produce an image out of thin air, something that you haven’t seen before, something that wasn’t there.
‘No,’ you stand back.
‘It’s Spain,’ she points to the trees, the sound of them like rainclouds in a red day…..
…and you wonder how you can explain the space of a colour and the way it sits in your heart and becomes something else. As you look, you feel yourself pulled into the paintings, walking along the roads and swimming in the rivers, creating a story from the structure of images and colours unfixed in space or time as you float in the canvas, fleet of foot and waiting for something, anything, to happen.
You are a traveller trusting the hand that drew this map: black lines draped purposefully over the shoulders of hills and mountains and across the boundaries of a landscape, half remembered half hidden. The line is where the colour starts, in startling contrasts of cerulean blue and vermilion – now orange now red, cadmium and turquoise, filling seas and grasping air, sticking to gateposts and hedges then rivulet-running down pathways that lead to…where? They are leading somewhere, that’s the point, and this is only the start of your journey – one thing becomes another in a strange alchemy and something begins to shift.
You move on, finger-following the lines to France, Brittany and its wild mad wind and rain-textured, kinetic otherness, the vast expanses of the sea, and on to the beaches of Lindisfarne with their tides of sand and memory washing the present clean, leading you between marker posts reflecting the very stars in the hemisphere, white against black and yellow, colours you haven’t even reached but will come to in time. Only then do you stop.
‘Yes,’ you close your eyes. ‘I can hear it now.’
My father said there is magic in this water.
He saw it once with ageing eyes,
when there was nothing to be fished in the long sad sea,
not even the flash of a herring’s tail or a blue fin to cut
the tide like slices of silver in the evening sun;
when the sound of the waves became
the song of the shadow of silence.
Just when they’d lost hope she came, he said,
a sprite with a bottle enchanted and strung
on a line made of hemp and honeycomb.
Thrown into the water to reel the fish back, she wove
a charm to corral the elements into order.
The bottle became a rock and I became my father’s daughter,
and now it is I who fish in this same, nameless bay.
Two thousand years, and my sea sings without a name we can agree on.
Some call it no man’s land, some call it their own
But I live here, on the water, where my father lived, and I call it home.
Published in Not a Drop by Beautiful Dragons Press. An anthology about the seas and oceans of the world
The Sorrow of the King
She measures the bones in single lengths of DNA feeling
the weight of them, like needles and pins balanced
in her hands. She holds scapula and clavicle curved
in slices of time that must be fitted into place laying
each one, side by side, with care, on the silk
by a pit in which they say a king is buried.
She fears that the box which holds the bones will melt
like dust in the rains which come as they must,
as they always do to England.
It is up to her to prove that this is not some tramp,
some itinerant lost who stumbled
across a battle, a wrong place, a wrong time
and was taken for a king with a twist in his spine…
Published in A Bee’s Breakfast, available from Beautiful Dragons
Mr H’s Angels
Published in Patria and Other Stories, a short story anthology from ten talented emerging writers, the winning and runner-up entrants of the 2014 Cinnamon Press Short Story Prize. Ten stories including: Tracey Iceton, Lindsay Fisher, Tamsin Hopkins, Joanne Reardon, Jez Noond, Nicola Warwick, Jacqueline Haskell.
Lili is small and the muscle in her arm stretches and aches from carrying the baby all the way across London. He is tied to her waist by a shawl, the fringes of the cambric blending into her dress so that, from a distance, no one can even see that he is there.
She wears her best dress, yellow sprigged muslin with pink roses woven into the linen. An old dress of her mother’s, patched and darned but kept fresh with lavender and rosemary picked from the Physic Garden on a clean dry day. The heat of her body warms the cotton so she fancies she can smell her mother rising from its creases and folds. She has to catch herself to remember where she is and that her mother has been dead some three years now and is not here to help her. She is only aware of the smell of the baby, milky and sweet melting into her skin as she hurries through the crowds, down towards the river and on into the shock of the city….
Patria and Other Stories is available at inpress books
- No Ordinary Angel’ in The London Magazine’ Vol. 36, 7 & 8, 1996.
- ‘The Saint on the Landing’ in Neale, D. (ed) Mafia, UEA, 1993.
Some of Jo’s short stories are available to download and buy from: cutalongstory