During March, NTU’s WRAP invited students and staff to write a 250-word short story inspired by a bus journey. Entries were judged by a panel from NTU’s Centre for Travel Writing Studies, along with a WRAP Student Ambassador, and eight winners (four students, four staff) were selected to receive a £25 book token and publication in WRAP’s forthcoming online short story anthology.
There was suggestion from the judges they were looking forward to reading about ‘the conviviality of public transport’. However, conviviality is not my natural territory. I had been playing with the idea of all the empty spaces created during lockdown – sure, our homes were full of us, but other places were vacant. Victoria Centre, the Market Square, the Cineplex, Center Parcs: these are spaces designed by architects to contain people, their initial designs had figures painted onto drawings, tiny plastic people striding across 3D models. How long would it take, I wondered, for these places to be returned to nature, and used for something else?
In my writing I frequently return to climate fiction, describing possible events to draw people’s attention to the world we are sleepwalking through. I am a quiet Extinction Rebellion supporter, indoors at my desk, armed with a pencil not a mask. There is already much apocalyptic ‘flood fiction’ written and screened, but reminded of the hot weather we suffered in Lockdown v.1 in the spring of 2020 I went instead for drought: what if the water ran out, where would we go, how would we live? The bubbled domes of Centre Parcs seemed a perfect choice to me, as would the Eden Project, and here the idea for my story was born.
The title, ‘Let the Waters of Under the Sky Be Gathered to One Place’, is from Genesis 1:9, when God creates the seas and the lands. I titled the story after finishing it, as I often do, as I need to see where the story lands first. The sense of apocalypse worked well against the idea of Creation, and in many ways helped the reader access the story whilst not adding to the wordcount.
The bus journey in the story is of indeterminate length, from city to country. We travel with Charlotte, meeting her already on the bus, looking through the smeared window at ‘rolling zoetrope hedges’. Two hundred and fifty words doesn’t leave much room for explanation, and I left spaces in the story for the reader to fill in the gaps, travelling through time with brief sentences such as, ‘After what might have been another hour, she slept.’ Originally a story at 1000ish words, I extended it to 2500+ words before taking and editing just the opening 250 words for this flash. At all lengths the story began in the same place, travelling on the bus, but for this competition I left the reader with Charlotte as the bus pulled to a stop, thirsty and tired, on Midsummer’s Day.
I was surprised and delighted to discover I had won one of the prizes from WRAP. It wasn’t difficult to spend the book token, and I quickly ordered Jon McGregor’s Lean Fall Stand (available to purchase here) from Five Leaves Bookshop, where Jon was signing them at his launch. The launch is available to watch on their YouTube channel and is well worth a watch.
Lockdown has affected all of us. Some effects are immediate, some deeply buried, but like glacial isostatic adjustment (more simply, the land rising and falling after being weighted down in the Ice Age, rather like the impression one’s post-lockdown body might leave on a sofa cushion after a Netflix session) the movements are slow. Our landscapes are changed forever. I know there are more lockdown impressions within me, and that one day they will rise as inspiration to write. Whatever happens next, I intend to give them room.
There is also a review of it here. What I found interesting is that the seeds for Jon’s book were sown long ago in 2004, and like an itch waiting to be scratched he knew he would come back to make work from it one day.
Lucy Grace is a part-time MA Creative Writing student in her first year, and the recipient of the John Harwood Bosworth Creative Writing Bursary. Her profile is available under ‘Members’.