We are delighted to welcome Carol McKay as our featured writer. Carol’s talent for short story writing will be well-known to those who have attended the short story events at Waterstones in Glasgow over the last two years but she is indeed multi-talented as her impressive biography bears witness. You can read below this a riveting extract from her short story Frozen Waste, a master-class in how to catch and hold the reader’s interest with telling detail.
Carol McKay has been writing short fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction since taking an MLitt in Creative Writing at the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde from 1998-2000. In 2002, she received a Scottish Arts Council Writer’s Bursary, and was a finalist in the prestigious Macallan / Scotland on Sunday Short Story Competition.
She won the Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship in 2010. Almost immediately after, she suffered serious ill health, but the experience brought her renewed determination and she worked with her partner to commission and publish an e-book of sixteen accounts by people living (well) with her fairly rare auto-immune health condition. Second Chances: true stories of living with Addison’s disease was published in 2012. That same year, her story ‘Flags’ won the inaugural Booktown Writers’ Competition, and her e-book Ordinary Domestic: collected short stories brought together fiction published in Gutter, Chapman, Mslexia and other magazines. Carol retired from teaching creative writing through The Open University this summer after fourteen years.
She says, ‘In my creative non-fiction now I’m interested in the natural world and access to it. I know from my own experience the restorative power of contact with nature. My short fiction is very much issue-driven. I’m a writer from a working class background, whose work often deals with misfits, alcoholics and those experiencing social exclusion. My interests combine in this extract from “Frozen Waste”.’
An extract from ‘Frozen Waste’ – a short story first published in Gutter 1, 2009.
(Eleven year old Kool Babe has disappeared and Jack, a rough sleeper, is a suspect. Bob is Jack’s dog, and Rottweiler is Kool Babe’s aggressive father.)
Jack runs for the boundary fence. His quilt tears on its diamonds. He heads north, blood dripping. He runs not knowing where he’s going and when he stops, Rottweiler isn’t following.
Animals don’t sleep out in January. They steam in byres, lowing softly. The fields are frozen. At the edges, under the hedgerow, the sugar frosting brush has left a border. Here the grass is less brittle; here, there are memories of colour. Bent straws bear pods; brambles retain the bitter crunch of fruit on barbed stems. Jack curls with his quilt around him, his finger-tips tracing the broken cartilage of his nose.
In late dawn he wakes with crows for company. The field slopes up in front of him. He pisses a hot yellow stream that dissolves the icing and splinters the winter hush and he realises Bob will be pishing in the shed.
A spasm vibrates through him, but only because he’s frightened. He crouches to conserve heat and looks at his palms shaking. One is for Bob and the other for Kool Babe. He can’t go back to Bob during daylight: Rottweiler will see him. And Bob is secure with a roof over his head, not out alone in the open. Jack’s fist twitches so he shoves it in a quilt fold.
Kool Babe on the other hand has run away in the wrong season.
Jack’s right hand has stopped shaking but his pocketed left hand clenches. Who knows the likely hiding places? If Bob was here he’d sniff for her but Bob is a mutt that runs rings round Jack’s legs with his tail thumping. Jack thinks of Bob’s eyes, his black curled coat, his lolloping pink tongue.
Jack stands and breathes deeply, blowing out vapour. He walks to the top of the slope and studies the white fields. How far must he have walked, drunk on adrenaline? There’s nothing to do but walk. He marches the boundary of the field, investigating hedgerows, turning into and out of weak sunlight. The haws are veiled scarlet and the rosehips braw in crammasy.
© Carol McKay 2018