Shortlisted: Heroines and Deborah Cass

Surprising no one who knows me, I cried on September 4 and October 12.

On September 4, I found out I was short-listed for the Heroines Women’s Writing Prize. This was news beyond expectation for the first short story I’ve written this year. It’s a story that rends apart the classic Russian fable ‘Ivan and the Firebird’, which I adored since I was a child – mainly for the iconic illustrations of the flame-tailed firebird, a creature akin to a phoenix, whose feather is plucked by (we’re told) a heroic young prince. Imagery from the tale adorns the Palekh lacquer of a jewellery box I keep nothing inside, an object I cannot recall when or how it was acquired. In my re-telling, an exiled and bitter (rightfully, I believe) woman reflects on the princeling’s fickleness and betrayal. Her tale forgotten by history, the Grey Wolf reveals the truth.

Grey Wolf will be published in an anthology as part of the Heroines Festival Book Month.

I cried again on October 12. On the phone to my sister (Hi, Ox!), I stopped, stunned, about to clear out my junk e-mail folder. Short-listed for the Deborah Cass Writing Prize. This is a prize for emerging writers from a migrant background and I have followed this award for years. I was tentative to enter, until 2020. The work submitted was Birch, honed and reworked, awakened, abandoned, and – finally – feeling as though it achieves what it means to.

It seems significant that the entries to both prizes significantly revolve around heritage and cultural identity, and tie to a personal history which caused me so much shame and confusion when I was younger. Both speak of displacement and isolation. I believe I am still coming to terms with what this history means for me.

Reflecting on Birch, I realised it has evolved into a story about coming to terms with a complicated history, a process that is not necessarily redemptive, but which is necessary in order to carry that history.

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