We’re delighted to present four extracts from the inaugural Rathbones Folio Mentees – Sophie Crabtree, Shakira Irfan, Imaru Lewis, and Vincent Otterbeck, who were mentored, respectively, by Evie Wyld, AL Kennedy, Kamila Shamsie and Ross Raisin. The Rathbones Folio Mentorships 2017 – 2018, run in association with First Story and supported by Arts Council England, paired the mentors and mentees for a year of one-on-one talent development, where mentees worked on creative writing portfolios which they read from at a public event held in the British Library, in May 2018. These extracts are taken from those portfolios. Read them below, or download them as a PDF.
Poem: Nature’s Reset
I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve walked on this field,
The number of times I’ve walked back into the gym squelching,
Wringing out my football socks.
I played games like rounders
I’d be rolling my eyes
And never the ball
Through a trying game of football
With an unhealthy balance of the
‘Couldn’t care less’ –ers
And ‘don’t just fucking stand there’ –ers.
“You aren’t half exaggerating
I’m lovely and warm.”
Said the teacher with her thermals, hat, scarf and finger-less gloves on
(Minding the manicure).
“You’re right wusses you lot,
It’s only drizzle.”
The same teacher putting her brolly up.
I sang songs in hysteria
With my best friend, Nia, on either side of the tennis nets
That we’d ram into the corner of the gym cupboard at the end of the match;
The most exercise we’d done all lesson.
Back under the frosty whirring air-con,
Have to do with yin and yang?”
Our ‘there’s no such thing as a wrong answer’ English teacher asked Michael –
Pretentious prick –
On a very frustrating Wednesday
With lots of hangry teenagers.
Jekyll and Hyde… Yin and Yang?
3BC China and Victorian England?
“Probably inspired by his fresh haircut.” I’d muttered,
Only my best friend catching it
Like we shared a closed circuit frequency.
I dared to look her in the eyes.
We were two pairs of silently wiggling eyebrows
One set freshly threaded and the other more
I’ve never been closer to being kicked out of a lesson.
Queue break time:
“You’re not leaving this room without your blazer on.”
Ramming themselves into tight stairways,
Desperate to be first in the line for the £3-two-rasher-bacon-sandwiches
Mums mortgaged their houses for.
“You’re not getting in this canteen until I see your planner”
(It was the food threats that worked)
While Nia slides me half of hers through the window.
Jammy bastard had R.E. on the canteen floor…
Here it is,
Bolted up or bulldozed.
No rooms to kick anyone out of now.
It’s hot and the air is thick
I don’t fancy scaling the fence to get to where I’d usually walk.
It was always quiet there,
Like a vacuum
And now it’s the size of a black hole
Swallowing every sound
Save a buzzing bee that resists its
So now I’m at the bottom of the hill
And I’m looking upwards
Towards the green gates
That holds two concrete slabs.
The grass is eating at the school paths
And dog walkers have been treading new ones.
One, I can’t quite understand –
Like a mug ring on a coffee table,
A halo around a tree.
I look up for a spaceship.
You measure a tree’s life like that,
But you chop it down and count the rings
Maybe it’s found the key to eternal life and
Nobody’s paying attention.
Nature has pressed the reset button.
It’s a take-over of gangly dandelions and daisies
And grass tall enough to lose a sausage dog in.
Like a radio station switching from Fortnight Shite tracks
To playing the Beatles all day:
The transformation is in that awkward stage of
Growing out a fringe,
The wind uses the old long jump pit
As a bottom lip
To blow long branches
Out of the face of the tree.
Lunch-box days are done.
I pluck a dandelion
From among its peers
And blow it,
Then hitch my backpack
Up between the barriers
As I make
Short fiction: Brautu
Someone once asked me what serenity feels like.
Being around people that don’t complain, I said.
Looking back, I’m surprised she didn’t ask me if I was joking because at the time, I was a tattoo artist. If Martin had been around, he would have said something about how I was paid to listen to people complain about their own decision to get a tattoo. There’ll be more on him later.
Now Martin was wrong.
I was a tattooist for five years and I suppose it’s safe to say that it’s a part of my life I’m proud of. I was able to take people’s stories and make them into illustrations. Over a thousand of them. Somewhere when I started doing all this, there was a man in his forties who came in during a rainy day, slapped a picture of a woman on the counter alongside a crumpled piece of paper with his number on it, mumbled something about calling him when there was a slot available and left. I remember how his face had droplets of water where it had run from the tips of his fringe and his boot marks remained a wet green-brown on the floor.
There was something about him that made me sit down and work on his piece immediately. The woman on the picture had a kind face and I threw several drawings in the bin because I felt a personal obligation to perfect the delicate laughter lines around her mouth.
After a week, I called the number on the paper he gave me. He arrived a few days later to decide on his final tattoo and then he came back the following Monday. He didn’t talk much during the paperwork, you know, confirming his identity and providing written consent and he said next to nothing for the hours that followed. For the average human, needle in skin is enough to get their mouth intimate with the taste of swear words, but he laid there, lying on his stomach with eyes squeezed shut and his fists clenched with all four fingers wrapped around the thumb, breathing. At one point, I felt the need to ask,
“Why do some people get tattoos if all they’ll do is curse me, curse themselves and their mothers and maybe even regret getting one after?”
He raised his eyes slightly and it was a minute before he said, “My wife had the answer to that. She would’ve said, what’s the difference between getting a tattoo and getting married?”. He shut his eyes and for the rest of the session I left him in his silence. That was the first time I realised that there was comfort in getting a tattoo.
Extract from a novel in progress
Yemi woke up in a mass of sleeping bodies. They were breathing heavily. Some were snoring, filling the air with a thick fug of sleep. All that was between him and the hard, cracked ground was a thin layer of blankets. The man lying next to him grunted deeply as he rolled over in his slumber. Yemi didn’t feel like going back to sleep. He could hear the shrill cries of cicadas coming from the jungle’s mouth, as if they too were restless with the morning heat. He sat up quietly and squinted to see out of the open doorway.
Outside the hut, it was heavy with darkness. The bright summer moon had dipped beneath clouds, and Yemi could see no more of his surroundings than he could the face of the man who was turned away from him. But already in the screeching of insects and the stirring of men, he could feel the energy of the day to come.
Even though he’d only slept a little while, Yemi was glad to be awake. He lay back down and closed his eyes to listen to the snoring of the men in the room, the cicadas in the distance, and the stillness of the sky outside the hut’s entrance. In a few more hours it would be time to get up. Yemi felt the strength in his body, his worn limbs newly rested and healed. He decided to stay here for one more day.
“Thank you. For letting me stay here.” Yemi said. Shego looked up at him from the rabbits they were skinning by the fire pit. Her face was so wrinkled, as if a thousand tiny rivers had carved their way across her sandstone skin. He watched the wisps of her white hair blow around her face as she made rough incisions in the animal’s flesh.
Yemi looked around them at the small village, where all kinds of activity were taking place. There was a cluster of mud huts, and a crumbling stone well where a line of people stood waiting to get water. Only a few of them looked anything like Shego or the other villagers, and Yemi could only guess at what regions they’d come from. They were migrants on their way up north to the City, stopping to rest and trade supplies. Others were sat around eating and talking loudly. Their voices rang out like cowbells in the blisteringly hot air. Yemi saw a man who had slept in the same hut as him at the edge of the village, carrying a sack over his shoulder as headed towards the north path with a woman. Down the west path, through the dancing heat devils, he could see another group walking towards the village, kicking up clouds of dust. Half a mile away, spanning from east to west, the jungle loomed. A strange, cool green creature in the delirious heat.
Imaru K. Lewis
Extract from ‘The Misdeeds of Ellis Friar’
Rhu Tilo had been friends with Friar for as long as she could remember. It wasn’t that she hadn’t tried on multiple occasions to find other friends, it was just that there was no one else in the school who seemed willing to talk to her for more than a couple of days, before they told her formally that she was never to come near them again. Sometimes they would look at her with open contempt, or sometimes with fear. She had been in a short relationship with a classmate, Jim Laurel, who had wound up in hospital for almost a year after he’d ‘stumbled’ in front of a w3 bus; he’d recovered, just about, but when she’d gone to check on him in hospital, Jim had told her that it was over and that if she didn’t leave right now he’d call the nurse. He’d left school the week after he’d been discharged, moved clean to the other side of the city and had not been heard from again. And after Jim had left, Friar had sidled up behind her and given her a friendly pat on the shoulder. He’d said “At least you have me.” and Rhu smiled and agreed. That night she’d wept into her pillow so that her parents couldn’t hear-she was stuck with him.
They were partners in crime, or so said Friar. But Rhu thought of herself as more of an unwilling accomplice. He would talk her into a night out, a bit of fun just the two of them going to a movie or some other innocuous activity. Each time Rhu would convince herself that he was telling the truth; sometimes he was, and they would spend a pleasant evening together. But often the night would be a harrowing chain of events which would culminate in the pair of them running from the Police. After the last time, in which Rhu had been tricked out of her bed into aiding and abetting a kidnapping, she had made a promise never to go out with Friar after daylight hours.
It was a Saturday evening. Rhu was in her room and had been trying in vain to entertain herself, while her father was at work; her father was a Police Detective and was out most days and nights of the week. Her mother had died shortly after giving birth to her. Rhu and her father were not the kind of father and daughter, who relished the thought of having deep emotional conversations. If Rhu’s father spoke to her, it would generally be because lunch was ready, or because he was tired of asking her to do the damned chores. If Rhu ever spoke to her father it would generally be because she wanted money. It was an efficient, functional relationship, which didn’t need to be sullied by, what her father called “soppy heart-to-heart bullshit”. So, because they were both far too busy getting on with their lives, Rhu’s father never mentioned that his wife’s absence still gnawed at him, and Rhu never brought up that fact that she blamed herself for her mother’s death.
A deceased mother and a workaholic father meant that Rhu had the run of the house. She had spent that Saturday scrolling through the unwarranted amount of TV channels. It was around ten o’clock when her phone rang. The number was unknown, but she knew it would be him. Her stomach felt distorted, compressed as though a great pressure from above was pressing down on her, gently but with conviction. In her mind, she played out the events of the next few hours-she would resist the long hum of the phone, it would go to voicemail; but then he would call again, and again until she answered. Best, she thought if she simply answered now, face him down. She was her own person. She didn’t need to do what he said all the time. She would pick up, ask him what he wanted, then tell him to fuck off and that would be that. “What do you want Friar?”