It’s not often that a university is lucky enough to be home to its own creative writing journal but, here at Exeter, we are blessed with not only a series which publishes writers from the South West and beyond, but an astoundingly good one at that.
Riptide is now into its sixth volume and still growing. Edited by Ginny Baily and Sally Flint, this volume of Riptide is something of a unique project and presents the ten short stories that were shortlisted in the Riptide International Competition for young adult fiction 2010. The competition was judged by the university’s own, Philip Hensher, and also contains his introduction. The book was launched on 2nd November at Exeter Central Library as part of the Exeter Children’s Literature Festival, where prizes were also given to the authors of the top three stories and the winner of the Reader’s Prize.
Although these are stories for young adults, their richness and diversity is testament to the fact that good fiction is universal. Even Philip Hensher admitted at the launch that it took him a while to realise that this was in fact a competition for young fiction targeted at people aged 12+. Indeed the editors believe that ‘What unites [the stories] and sets up an echo between them is the youthful nature of all the protagonists struggling to find their path in worlds where adults don’t always hear their voices’. As a student, it can be incredibly nostalgic to look back at what seems so near, and yet is buried in past childhood memories and I found the stories to be both sensitive and complex enough for the older reader.
The stories themselves are at once hypnotic and beautiful, unnerving and thought-provoking. The winning story overall was Belfast author Sheena Wilkinson’s ‘What You Will’, a hilarious and frightfully cringing account of a group of teenagers putting on a performance of Twelfth Night at their school, which had me giggling in the solitude of the library. The short tale lets us into the life of Jordan, whose teenage crush spirals into a heady whirlwind of obsession and vodka: ‘I smelt his breath, Pringles and beer. My heart pounded.’
Second prize went to Amy Shuckburgh for her heart-rending story ‘The Lifeguard’. Annie’s Dad has been hospitalised with a serious throat problem and the story reflects on the need for family, strength and care, in all areas of life. My personal favourite, however, was ‘Kite Season’ by Anita Sivakumaran. An account of the uniquely bittersweet and competitive relationship that exists between brother and sister, ‘Kite Season’ is set in the tamarind groves of India, As Anand attempts to build the strongest kite, his sister is forced into the role of assistant, hanging from her bullying brother’s every words. The luscious language coupled with the grappling humility of sibling rivalry is conducive to a story that is both rich and poignant. Thankfully, karma reigns supreme as the narrative closes and Anand’s kite reaches an inevitably perilous fate.
I could go on about every story. Each one exemplifies the craft of the creative writer and each captures the imagination of the reader so completely in such a way that I didn’t think possible for stories as short as seven or eight pages. The stories in the volume represent the versatility of the short story form, the potential for discovery and the scope of human emotions. As Philip Hensher says in his introduction, ‘They are about very different sorts of people, and very different ways of life’ and we should relish the diversity that this volume of Riptide allows us to experience.
Copies of Riptide can be bought from the Guild Shop in Devonshire House, Blackwells on campus or online at www.riptidejournal.co.uk.