If you’ve not been around Canary Wharf recently, you might have missed its intriguing literary initiative Short Story Stations. Launched last year, the project sees vending machines installed around the financial district that allow office workers, commuters and other stressed-out ‘here’s the projection for Q3’ types to press a button and get a short story dispensed to them. Not only that, but the stories can be ordered in one of three lengths: one, three and five minutes’ reading time, so you can factor in a bit of quality literature around your lunch meeting/squash game/trip to the massive Waitrose. To date, more than 100,000 stories have been printed off.
In May, Short Story Stations launched a competition to find great new tales inspired by lockdown. They had to be fictional and have at their heart something drawn from the writer’s experience of the last few months. The stories also had to fit within one of the three lengths. The ten best stories will be added to the Canary Wharf Short Story Station alongside the likes of Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf. The overall winner also gets a £250 Canary Wharf gift card, an honour that neither Dickens nor Woolf was able to claim.
Now we can reveal the winners, winnowed down from hundreds of entries and as judged by Time Out.
They are, in ranked order:
THE WINNER ‘Where the Rats Can’t Get Me’ by Kath Whiting.
We said: This was very well written and – more importantly – a highly original take on the whole pandemic. Although it was funny and well-observed, it hinted at the darker, long-term impact of Covid and lockdown on people's mental health but did so in a non-hysterical or clichéd way. Impressive.
SECOND PLACE ‘The Curtain-Twitcher’ by R. L. Shanon.
We said: A wry but troubling vignette of life behind closed doors, this was a strong contender for the top spot. Its detail was good and its terse writing style made it a pleasure to read.
THIRD PLACE ‘Behind Closed Doors’ by Meshiel Brown.
We said: Domestic abuse is not an easy subject to tackle, but the approach here – to focus on the mental state of someone trapped indoors with their abuser upstairs – was highly effective.
4. ‘Eggshells’ by Jessie Randall.
We said: This unfolded brilliantly – you thought it was about the pressure that relationships suffer through lockdown, but it had a great twist at the end.
5. ‘Background’ by Sadie Maskery. We said: Nice to read something that took a more oblique and funny look at life in lockdown. The metaphor of a video background was a great one for the way that people reinvent themselves in virtual space.
6. ‘Time to Grow’ by Amber Dacres. We said: Intense and circumscribed by the everyday normality of the domestic, this was a bold exercise in style using some nice poetic language.
7. ‘The Last Resort’ by Hazel Burgess. We said: The ultimate in lockdown relatability? The longed-for haircut was certainly topical, and the writing had a disconcerting, almost Magnus Mills vibe to it.
8. ‘The Anniversary – A Cautionary Tale in Time of Lockdown’ by Chris Parkinson. We said: An almost Pinteresque set-up, it had plenty of dark comedy to it, but you could slightly see what was coming…
9. ‘Time to Rise’ by Katie Hardy. We said: I've never read anything written from the POV of bread before, so you really had to applaud the originality of this.
10. ‘Time Passed’ by Claire Brown. We said: A good piece of psychological drama, encapsulating a widely held fear – of eventually re-emerging – while maintaining its specific intensity.
The top ten stories can be found on the Canary Wharf Short Edition library from Monday July 27. Congratulations to all the writers, and especially to Kath Whiting and the rest of the top ten!
Feeling creative? Be part of a lockdown photography project from the NPG and Kate Middleton.