An essay, published on The Dream Machine, 25th November 2021.
Ayad Akhtar’s play, The Invisible Hand, recently staged at the Kiln Theatre had an entirely male cast. There were four characters and the setting was a cell in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Akhtar’s play is about Nick, an American banker kidnapped by a terrorist group led by Imam Saleem. Nick’s jail guard is a Dar, who is supervised by Bashir, Imam Saleem’s sidekick. Nick, captured for an exorbitant ransom which he knows no one will pay, promises to raise the money through his expertise of the markets in exchange for his freedom. He teaches Bashir how to study the markets.
The ‘invisible hand,’ is a metaphor and refers to the unseen forces that move the market economy. The play has various overlapping themes, including religious fundamentalism, excessive materialism, human connection, and the lack thereof. During the entire play there are only four moments of humanity displayed by the largely unlikeable characters.
However, it was none of this that made the experience uncomfortable viewing. I’m not against stories or plays with only one gender or jail settings. The claustrophobia of the closed space, a small room remote from the rest of the world, and the inactivity and lack of interaction of the prisoner with the outside, allows a writer or playwright to explore their characters more fully.
It was what the absence of women suggested, in this particular context of frenzied male aggression, which made it harrowing viewing…
I am very pleased to be shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize for my story Queen Victoria in the Basement.
You can view the full shortlist here (pdf).
If trees were lone women
I’m so pleased that one of my poems has been selected to be a part of this exciting, innovative project.
‘If trees were lone women what would they sound like’ is a sound installation deep in the Galloway Forest.
It’s an opportunity for those on site to track, trace and immerse themselves in the audio of women from around the world whispering in words, sounds and music from 17 identified trees. In creating a loosely delineated star shaped ‘Lone Women Wood’ this work will produce an ongoing record of answers to the question often asked of women, how do you feel about going into the woods alone, and will facilitate the voices of those who might not otherwise do so, to be heard there.
Highly commended for CWFA
The results have been announced for this year’s Creative Future Writers’ Awards, celebrating prose and poetry from under-represented writers. I am thrilled that my entry, the short story No One Can Save Anyone, has been highly commended by the judges.
My story is included in Essential, an anthology of all the winning entries from the 2021 Creative Future Writers’ Award. It’s available to purchase from their website.
20 Years CRASSH
I have been selected as one of the authors included in the 20 Years CRASSH Online Publication, which will be published in autumn 2021.
CRASSH (Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities) is one of the largest humanities institutes in the world and is a major presence in academic life in the UK. It serves at once to draw together disciplinary perspectives in Cambridge and to disseminate new ideas to audiences across Europe and beyond.
Download Global Conversations (pdf, 16MB)
2021 Primadonna Prize
I am thrilled to be included in the long list for the 2021 Primadonna Prize. The short list will be announced later this year.
Primadonna is the first literary festival in the UK specifically to give prominence to work by women, as well as writers of all genders, economic statuses and ethnicities whose voices are not usually heard. It strives to tackle the current imbalance in the literary and publishing world, and to create a space where all ideas are welcome and all experiences are of equal value.
No Time To Sleep: A Theatrical Experience
Essay on No Time To Sleep: A Theatrical Experience. Article in Italian.
In 2019, according to Amnesty, a total of at least 2,307 people were executed in 56 countries around the world; in addition, 27,000 death sentences were handed down. Due to the unreliability of the data, this number is considered artificially low.
No Time to Sleep, è una performance della durata di ventiquattro ore che dà prova della grande potenza della recitazione mettendo in scena il punto di vista di un detenuto condannato a morte. Ho assistito a questo spettacolo due anni fa a Lahore, e ancora oggi mi sveglio spesso nel cuore della notte ripensandoci. La pièce s’incentra sulle ultime ventiquattro ore del detenuto Z, ossia il dottor Zulfiqar Ali Khan, accusato di omicidio in Pakistan. Nell’antefatto, nonostante l’argomentazione dei suoi legali secondo cui egli aveva agito in legittima difesa nel corso di una rapina a mano armata, il verdetto è di omicidio volontario e viene quindi condannato a morte. Zulfiqar trascorre diciassette anni in carcere e sette anni nel braccio della morte, nel corso dei quali la sua esecuzione viene programmata e interrotta più di venti volte. Verrà infine giustiziato nel 2015…
Queen Victoria In The Basement, shortlisted
My short story, Queen Victoria In The Basement, has been shortlisted in the White Review short story competition. The story is set in the basement of the Lahore Museum. I was inspired to write it after seeing the statue of Queen Victoria in the Armoury and the guard who was looking after it.
Dear Mr Chairman,
Yesterday, after I switched on the spotlight so that you could see the Queen properly, you covered your nose so I wanted to explain why there’s a smell.
Please, allow me to introduce my good self to you. I’m Benazir Mirza (also known as Aspro), and for ten years now, I’ve been working as guard and caretaker in the basement of our prestigious Lahore Museum. But more than that, I’m a devoted sevadari to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria.
Sir, I want to tell you everything – how after Partition the Queen was dragged from Charing Cross Road, where she’d sat under the shade of a marble pavilion since 1904, and dumped here in the basement. However, I don’t want to lie and pretend that I haven’t been watching you for many years. I see you every morning when I’m taking my tea break at 11.30 am at Khalid’s kiosk and you drive through the gates of the Museum. You sit at the back, on the left, with your window rolled up. I even know your number plate…
Shortlisted for CWFA
Shortlisted in the Creative Future Writers’ Award (prose section) for my short story No One Can Save Anyone.
A Safe Place
Langata Prison, Nairobi, December 2008
Kay slept on a thin mattress with a torn blanket to cover her. In the corner of her cell was a steel bucket and a brown sponge for wiping both her body and the rough walls finished with gloss grey. The bulb hanging from the corrugated iron roof was never turned on. The only light coming in was through the barbed wire in the narrow ventilation gap between the roof and walls. Her cell, at the end of a long, wide corridor, had a small internal window with bars which overlooked the passageway lined with other cells on either side. These were shared by five or six women. Once a day, before they were marched out to the fields, they ate together in the passage seated on low stools. Kay slept and ate on her own.
‘Oi,’ she shouted, ‘there’s a cockroach in here.’