In my third year of the Birkbeck BA Creative Writing I did a module on ‘genre’ fiction and I had to write, amongst other pieces, a short piece of historical fiction. I have always loved historical fiction but was not sure that I had the capacity to do the research necessary. But for the purposes of the assignment I thought I would write something about Marie Curie. I read that when her children were young she’d set up, together with some other scientist friends, a sort of school that they called ‘The Cooperative’ to educate their children, including the girls who did not have as many educational opportunities those days. Her educational approach was obviously successful as her daughter went on to be a scientist as well and to win a Nobel prize. I also read that Marie Curie used to carry samples of radium with her sometimes and even used it as a makeshift nightlight next to her bed. And of course it was this exposure to radiation that eventually killed her – a tragic irony. In my piece I imagined a young boy travelling with his father to meet Madame Curie for the first time and join the school.
I entered the piece in the Writers & Artists Historical Fiction Competition and was very pleased to discover that, though I didn’t win, I was one of the three runners up. This has encouraged me to consider developing it into a longer piece. She’s a fascinating character and it would be an exciting time to write about – though I’d have to work on my science knowledge!
You can read the piece here on the Writers & Artists website.
My short story ‘Then I Don’t Feel so Bad’ was published on the Litro website for their #StorySunday on the 5th of May.
It is about a pregnant woman who suffers from claustrophobia and is terrified that her unborn child might be feeling claustrophobic as well.
It was originally called ‘With Tall Walls Wall Me’ referencing Louis MacNeice’s poem ‘Prayer Before Birth’:
I am not yet born, console me.
I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me,
with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me,
on black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.
But the Litro editors suggested that this rather pretentious literary reference didn’t suit the tone of the rest of the story and I had to admit that they were right. The new title references The Sound of Music instead.
You can read the story on the Litro website.
This short story was first published in
Wooing Mr Wickham introduced by Michele Roberts (Honno Press – November, 2011)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that old age brings fitful sleep. Elizabeth Bennett rarely sleeps soundly. She dreams, if you can call it a dream, that she has something precious in her hands that she is trying to hold on to, though it keeps slipping away. Just before dawn she becomes convinced that she has a firm grip on it, but then she wakes with empty hands and a lingering sense of loss, her fingers clenched in useless fists.
She sits on the side of her bed and flexes her fingers gingerly. Her left hand is slightly less contorted so she uses that one to bend back each of the fingers of her right hand – very gently, one at a time. It is agony at first but as she moves her hands the pain eases a little. She stretches and rubs her hands together for a while until she can comfortably grip the edge of the bed and push herself into a standing position. She lets her breath catch up with her for a moment as she contemplates her next move.
The nurse bustles in. “Morning dearie, need a hand to the loo?”
“No thank you. I’m on my way.”
“I’m fine. Thank you.”
She treads carefully, as though her feet might shatter if they encounter the floor too abruptly. She negotiates the dressing table with its bruising edges and escapes into the bathroom. It’s decorated in the same insistently cheerful floral style as the bedroom. She doesn’t remember what her favourite colour is but she is quite sure that it is not yellow. The mindless optimism of yellow makes her want to bang her head against the wall. But she knows that they mean well – her carers, her captors. This prison is not of their making – their culpability is limited to the decor.
Copyright Rebecca Rouillard 2011