The Prize









“Every year, it seems, our job as judges gets harder and harder.  This year has shown more than ever what an extraordinary depth of creative talent there resides on this island of ours and we all feel that having to choose but one of these splendid entries is something of an onerous task.  But, of course, that is what we are here to do and, after a great deal of deliberation and debate, and even a few tears (but enough about me),  I am pleased to inform you that, in the end, the panel were unanimous………..”

When it comes to conceptual art, it seems like everyone’s an expert. Sneering, plummy-voiced ageing critics, populist politicians, broadsheet hacks, tabloid hacks, black-cab drivers, white-van men, those who cannot ever visit a modern art exhibition without being  compelled to stage-whisper faux uncertainty over whether the fire extinguisher on the wall is functional or an installation. Worst of all are the interventionists; the dearly deluded who feel that they have something to say and view any original, challenging work as an invitation to them to say it. You know the kind of thing – let’s bounce on that mattress, let’s piss on ‘Piss Christ’.

They believe they already know the answer to the question: ‘What is art?’ So they never ask themselves the question. I do, all the time. As do all true artists. We don’t presume to know the answer. Or rather, we feel it has many answers. ‘What is art?’ Art is pain. Art is feeling. Art is belief. Art is body. Art is soul. Art is tradition. Art is renewal. Art is projection. Art is reflection. Art is selection. Art is rejection. Art is acceptance. Art is exhilaration. Art is exhalation. Art is inhalation.

Art is about making the ordinary extraordinary. The ordinary. That’s my medium. Old household objects. Each and every one of them with a history, a story to tell. They come in, they serve, they bear witness to lives lived. They are invariably taken for granted. Then, without sentiment, when their work is done, or when they are no longer able to do the work they were bought to do, they are discarded. What I do, in a sense, is rescue them. Give them an afterlife, if you like. I bring items that, in the home, might never have been together, together. The hat-stand and the toilet bowl, for example, or the electric fire and the mixer tap. I interweave their individual stories, and create a new one.

I have, I would none-too-humbly submit, now achieved a modicum of success. Enough to be able to employ a couple of assistants to do the heavy lifting after I’ve done the heavy thinking.  I have no time for those who see this as grounds for claiming that I am not the creator of my …creations. My instructions are precise. Nothing is left to chance. Everything must be placed accurately, right down to the last inch – or centimetre, as the younger of the assistants prefers. They are good at their job. They never question, never complain. They are the tools that I use to manipulate the medium I choose to work in. I have complete faith that my latest work – ‘A Terrible Beauty: Non-Recyclables in the Age of Austerity’ – will appear exactly as I had envisaged it, ready for today’s ‘judgement day.’

The competition is stiff this year. In the case of the Clapton Brothers’ latest meisterwork, ‘Phallus Phorest’, literally so. It’s quite a depressingly literal work, as is most of their stuff, in truth. Personally, I believe the title needs to leave the viewer with a little more work to do. I am always disappointed to view an artwork that just does ‘Exactly what it says on the tin’. I’m still not sure whether Cameron Smart’s entry this year, a large tin can adorned with precisely those words, is an examplar or a critique of said style. At least no such uncertainty hangs over David Butler’s ‘The Coming of Man’, where the medium really is the message and tells you pretty much all you need to know about him. As for Patrick O’Fahey’s latest, a portrait of John Lennon etched in donkey manure, the less said the better.  ‘Dung Beatle’ – I ask you! Edith Amin’s digital installation of constantly changing photos of men and women, names and comments, entitled ‘All the people I’ve ever poked’, is only marginally better, and certainly not worth the investment of real time it would take to see the whole boring lot of them scroll by.

No, give me artists that present a challenge any day of the week. Such as Maurice Smith’s ‘How Soon Is Now?’, a clock where the second hand doesn’t move and the minute and hour hands move in opposite directions. Or Aaron Stein’s giant, totally white, canvas, ‘Nothing To See Here.’  Or Lizzie Pascal’s squirrel suspended in a tank of formaldehyde, ‘ Greenwich Park Tourist Attraction No.1.’

I recognise a couple of art critics up ahead, inspecting said tank. In truth, I’d recognise them even were I blind, so predictable, and so loudly expressed, are their comments. The art world would be a better place with these two in formaldehyde. The Physical Impossibility of a Good Review for a Living Artist Existing in the Mind of Someone Dead from the Neck Up. As it would if all their outpourings over the decade that this annual prize has been awarded were publicly set alight, a real ‘Bonfire of the Inanities’. But those projects are for another day. Today is not the day to dwell on the flatulent opinions of those who, though they profess otherwise at tiresome length, couldn’t tell a work of modern art from…….well, from that fire extinguisher over there. Today is not for those who consider ‘rubbishing’ an art form; it is for those who, like me, can turn rubbish into Art.

There is a palpable excitement in the air, now that the judges’ announcement is barely twenty minutes away, and I must admit that even I, old hand that I am, am not above a touch of the old Lepidoptera Viscera as I approach the cluster of people surrounding my exhibit at the far end of the hall. They appear animated and, as I get closer, I am gratified to discern the usual mix of emotions and comments that my work provokes. Indeed, that is all I ask: that my work provokes.

There’s a good helping of laughter, too, which I welcome equally; I am nothing if not unpretentious. Evidently not all of the assembled throng appreciate this, as a respectful hush descends upon my approach being announced by one of my assistants, who wears the expression of someone struggling in vain to disguise some deep inner pain. This alone is no cause for alarm – as I have had to warn anyone meeting him for the first time, he always looks like that.  Seeing that expression mirrored in the face of his junior counterpart, however, is, I cannot deny, more than a little unsettling. What has happened, I wonder. Have they lost something – the juicer perhaps? Spilt one of the tins of paint?

I have my answer soon enough. As the circle of people slowly breaks open to accommodate my entry, I am struck immediately by the fact that I am not struck immediately by ……….anything. Where there should be five tins of paint suspended from a pole reaching out centrally at an angle of 45 degrees from a microwave wreathed in an old picture frame, an electric fire peering out from an old suitcase, an upended spindryer from which spews upward a roll of carpet, atop of which sits a juicer, four shelves arranged ornamentally upon another shelf, another carpet propped, canopy-like above the whole, by two other poles, from which dangle two pictures flanking another picture frame, there is nothing. Nothing, save the faintest of perimeter outlines on the otherwise bare dais.

For once, I am at a loss for words. I can’t tell whether I want to laugh or cry and, afraid that I might do both simultaneously, which I haven’t done since drunkenly slipping back down the steps up to my front door and pissing myself in full view of the cab driver who’d just delivered me there one Christmas Eve, I crouch down to inspect the scrap of paper that I now notice has been taped to the front of the dais. I see that it is the list of component parts that I’d given to my assistants. I see also that an alien hand, mimicking my own handwriting remarkably well, has scrawled, above the list, ‘Rubbish To Go.’

So that’s it. All that work gone – literally – to waste. I stand up, shaking my head and conjuring, with great difficulty, what I hope will be seen as a suitably rueful smile and will help me to suppress the tirade of foul and abusive words that are buzzing around inside my head like angry bees and begging for release. A fellow artist extends a hand and I await his words of commiseration. After all, there are every year stories of a conceptual artist somewhere meeting his or her nemesis in the shape of the over-zealous nightshift gallery cleaner. Then someone else claps me heartily on the back. “Brilliant, Dan”, says a voice. “Your best yet,” chuckles another. Assorted congratulations follow from all sides; I am suddenly hemmed in by well-wishers, all seemingly oblivious to my bemusement.

“……..were unanimous. For his audacious comment on how art is both indispensible yet  essentially disposable, for how in, first, painstakingly assembling a magnificent work of art then, overnight, dismantling and removing it, he has given the imagination of the viewer equal billing with the vision of the artist, trusting them to use just the list of its component parts and the ghost of an outline to recreate it in their mind’s eye, this year’s winner, for ‘Rubbish To Go’, is……………”

By Tony Clarke

Dreams of Horses








An old man dreams of horses in a morphine-induced sleep.  His granddaughter sits beside him, holding his hand.  He stirs and mutters, “Sorrella Bell, now there’s a horse to watch.”

It’s dark by the time Sam gets home.  She tries to shut the front door quietly, but Dave hears the latch click.

“You’re late.”

Sam silently curses her bad luck.  She was hoping Dave would be snoring on the sofa in front of the TV by now.  The last thing she wants right now is another argument.  She walks into the living room, taking in the empty beers cans and the remains of a takeaway strewn across the floor at a glance.

“I went to the hospice after work.  They said…” Her voice wavers as she speaks.  “He hasn’t got long now.”

“Sorry,” Dave mumbles.

A slip of paper flutters to the floor as Sam pulls her phone out of her pocket, landing near Dave’s feet.

“You dropped something.”  He picks it up before she can retrieve it, unfolding the crumpled paper.  The logo at the top of the page instantly gives it away. “You’ve been wasting money at the bookies again.”

“It was just one race.”

“Did you win?” He doesn’t wait for her reply. “No, you never bloody do.  I don’t know why you bother.”  He heaves himself off the sofa and lurches towards her.

Sam darts out of his way and he stumbles into the coffee table instead.  A glass falls off and shatters.

“Now look what you’ve done.  Stupid bitch.”

A piercing wail starts up.  They’ve woken Bethany.  Sam turns her back on the broken glass and the stranger who’s taken the place of the man she used to love.  She drags her tired body up the stairs up to see to her daughter.

Bethany’s room is narrow, hardly more than a cupboard.  Sam picks up the baby and sits down heavily.  “It’s all right, sweetheart.  Mummy’s here now.”  She blinks back tears as she holds her daughter close, knowing that if she starts crying now she won’t be able to stop.  She strokes the downy curls on the top of Bethany’s head, breathing in the comforting scent of her skin.  She’s noticed that Bethany’s features have already started changing; she’s just over a year old now, and the little girl she will soon become is starting to emerge.

Twinkle, Twinkle, little star.  How I wonder what you are.” Sam sings, her voice low and soothing.  Bethany nuzzles closer to her and her eyelids soon begin to droop.

Later that night Sam lies alone in bed.  She can hear the murmur of the TV downstairs.  As she drifts in and out of sleep she remembers the horses of her childhood.  Their names gallop through her thoughts.  Lady Nouf.  Carrick Bay.  Sir Jim.  She used to spend all her weekends at the stables, mucking out and cleaning tack in exchange for riding lessons.  She’s always associated the smell of horse with happiness.

The next day at work Sam is bleary-eyed after another 5am wake-up call from Bethany.  She’s watching her boss’s mouth moving but the sound coming out is just noise.

“Sam? Are you listening to me?”

Some part of her brain steps in to save her, and she parrots back his instructions.  “Server maintenance, scheduled defrag every night at 10.30pm.  Remove the generic admin account.”

Her boss looks annoyed.  She’s convinced he’s been looking for an excuse to fire her for weeks.  If she didn’t need the money so badly she would have quit weeks ago, but they’ve been struggling ever since Dave got laid off in March.

At 3.30pm, her phone rings.  Her boss glares at her.  Personal calls are frowned upon at work. “It’s the hospice,” she says, as she slips out of the back door, into the car park.

The receptionist looks up as Sam rushes into the building. “He’s been asking for you.”

Her grandfather’s face lights up when he sees her, but the pain is visible in his eyes. “Lovely girl.  You came.”

“Always.”  Sam can hardly believe that the ashen, shrunken man supported by a mountain of pillows and surrounded by tubes and wires is the same man who brought her up.   Arthur Wallace was a man so full of life it bubbled up and out of him.  Now it’s almost all gone, as though someone’s pulled the plug and it’s drained away like used bathwater.

She sits beside him and takes his hand.   His skin is cold and she has to lean closer to hear what he’s saying.  His breath is fetid and faintly almond-scented.

“Sorrella Bell.  She’s the horse you want.  I’ve been watching her for years.”  He grips her hand with a strength that surprises her.  “Sorrella Bell.”  He repeats.  “She’ll do it in the next race.  She’s just been getting into her stride.”  He starts coughing.  Sam offers him a glass of water but he waves it away.

“Put a bet on for me.  One last flutter.  Promise me you’ll do that.”

“I promise.”

“In the flat… There’s a chest under the bed.”  He presses a small silver key into her hand.

He falls asleep soon after, the horse’s name on his lips.  Sam sits with him for several hours, her hand clasped in his.  He doesn’t wake up again.

She drifts through the next few days in a numb haze, making arrangements for the funeral on auto-pilot.  Every day she checks the newspaper, looking out for Sorrella Bell’s next race.  The day of the funeral, she wakes up early, remembering the chest.

The flat feels strange without her grandfather’s presence – small and dingy.  It’s started to take on a musty smell.  The chest is exactly where he’d said it would be, keeping company with dust balls and spiders under the bed.

Her heart beats faster as she takes the small silver key out of her purse.  The lock opens with a barely audible click.  Memories threaten to overwhelm her as she opens the lid: it’s filled with things she made as a child, things she’d forgotten about until now.  Misshapen clay pots, drawings, birthday cards.  It brings a lump to her throat to think that he’d kept them all these years.  There’s a folder of clippings from his early racing career, a small imitation bronze statue of a horse and a packet of letters tied up with string.  At the bottom of the chest sits a battered shoebox.  She opens it up, and her chest grows tight.  There’s a small fortune in there in bundles of £20 notes.

“Sorella Bell,” she whispers.

She flicks through the newspaper she bought that morning until she reaches the race listings. There it is.  Sorrella Bell, 16:05 at Newmarket, 22/1.

The clerk looks at her in surprise as she pushes the money across the counter.  “You’re sure?”

“One last gamble,” she says.

The church is full by the time she gets there with Bethany in the pushchair.  She looks around, wondering if Dave will come as he promised.  There’s a good turnout: her grandfather was well loved.  She spots several former jockeys and racing trainers amongst the people who’ve have come to pay their respects, along with several neighbours and a couple of nurses from the hospice.

It’s almost 4pm by the time the service is over and they start to lower the coffin into the grave.  Dave still hasn’t turned up, but that’s the last thing Sam’s worried about now.  She bought a cheap mini-radio that morning and she’s got one earphone in, listening to the start of the race.

“Come on my beauty,” she mutters.  “You can do it.”

Sorrella Bell is lagging behind.  Sweat breaks out on Sam’s forehead as the alternative future she’d imagined begins to disappear before her eyes.

“It’s Prince Frederick III, chased by Blue Danube.  As they come round the corner it looks like it’s going to be another comfortable win for Prince Frederick III.”

There had been more than enough money in the shoebox for her to leave Dave, to go somewhere else and start over.

“But this race isn’t over yet.  Tangerine Dream is surging forward, closely followed by Sorrella Bell.  They’re closing the gap now.”

Sam can practically feel the thunder of hooves below her.  Her heart is beating so fast she fears it might jump out of her chest at any moment.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like it!  Sorrella Bell is now neck-and-neck with Prince Frederick III.  As they round the corner towards the finish line this race could go either way.”

She crosses her fingers, unaware she’s holding her breath.

“And it’s a win for outsider Sorrella Bell!  She’s beaten the favourite Prince Frederick III in what has to be one of the most dramatic races I’ve ever witnessed.”

“Yes!” Sam shouts.

People turn and look at her, but Sam’s so caught up in the moment she barely notices.  A man wearing an elegantly cut suit taps his ear and gives her a knowing look.  His face is familiar, but she can’t remember where she’s met him before.

 “Sorrella Bell.  Now there’s a horse to watch.  She’s just getting into her stride.”  Her grandfather’s words echo in her head as she steps forward to throw a rose onto the coffin.

“You were right Grandpa. You were right,” she whispers.

By Fiona Egglestone

The Boxer

She was peeling potatoes at the sink when she heard his key in the door and turned, startled, towards the clock.

“Home already?” she shouted.

“I knocked off early,” he said.

“Well your tea’s still going to be another…” She turned and saw his large frame filling the kitchen doorway. He was smiling proudly. In his arms was a bundle wrapped in a baby blanket. He held it out towards her.

“His name’s Colin,” he said. And the dog’s eyes lit up.

“It’s your favourite,” she replied “Shepherd’s pie”.

That was almost three weeks ago. And she’d tried. She really had. But Colin made it impossible. He left ginger hair all over the sofa. He pissed behind the TV and watched her with his big, innocent eyes when she knelt down to scrub the carpet.

“He needs disciplining,” she told him one night. “He hasn’t been brought up right”.

Bob just laughed and patted Colin’s head.

“He’s only little,” he said. “He’ll learn”.

But Bob didn’t understand what it took to keep a house nice. It had taken her years to perfect the colour scheme. And now, of all things, the bloody dog didn’t match the curtains.

They’d bought them with the money from Bob’s title win, back when they were newlyweds. She stood watching as he hung them one Sunday afternoon, hoisting up the thick, rich fabric; he wouldn’t hear of her helping in ‘her condition’. He fixed the matching pelmet carefully in place and diligently screwed in the hooks for the tie-backs. The results were spectacular. They’d been the envy of their neighbours.

Every evening when Bob came home from work, he’d drink a beer, sometimes she’d join him for a sherry, and he’d tell her about his day. But the ritual was different now. Instead of calling her name, he’d shout for Colin and they’d go out, just the two of them, for a walk on the heath to ‘work up an appetite’. It was there he’d met her.

“Valerie’s got a boxer too,” he said, through mouthfuls of toad-in-the-hole.

“The bathroom needs redecorating,” she said, stabbing a pea with her fork.

When they came back from the hospital, all those years ago, she’d drawn the curtains and sat staring at them until it grew dark. Eventually, Bob crept in and patted her hand. “We can try again, love,” he said. “There’ll be other chances”. She nodded slowly and stared at the curtains until the pattern of flowers and leaves became a blur.

The bathroom went untouched. Black mould grew between the tiles. No amount of scouring with a toothbrush could remove it. Night after night, he took Colin walking, returning in high spirits.

Colin chewed the leg on her occasional table.

“Valerie told me…”

He left scratch marks in the lino the length of the kitchen floor.

“I said I’d take her boys down the boxing gym…”

He sent a prized figurine careering to the ground where it shattered.

“Then me and Val thought we might grab a bite to eat…”

And still, the final straw: the dog did not match the curtains.

He’d never liked Lorenzo’s before. All that rich Italian food gave him heartburn. But he’d sharp changed his mind when Val said it was her favourite. Colin whimpered when he left without him.

“Daddy will be back soon,” Bob said, planting a kiss on his muzzle and a peck on her cheek. And then he was gone.

She plodded into the dining room and poured herself a sherry, the dog close at her heels. She took her drink and sat down to Coronation Street, but couldn’t settle. She rocked. She paced. She chewed her nails. Then she snatched up Colin and left the house.

She was nursing a cup of warm milk at the dining table when she heard his key in the door. She turned, wearily, towards the clock. “You’re home late,” she said.

“Colin! Here boy!” he said.

She turned and saw his large frame filling the doorway. He smelt of garlic and wine. A worried look crossed his face

“Where’s Colin?” he said warily.

“I think I’ll make lasagne for tea tomorrow,” she said brightly.

“Col!” he shouted “Colin! Colin?”

She sipped her tea and stared at the curtains.

By Laura Nee

The Next Big Thing

Last week, Kate Tough tagged me on her blog as part of a book and author chain called THE NEXT BIG THING. So now it’s my turn.

By day I work at Quietroom, by night I work on 26 projects and fall asleep on the sofa. You can read the answers to questions about my latest project below. I’ve also tagged five excellent writers, who’ll tell you about their work in a week’s time.

The Next Big Thing!

What’s the title of your project?
Throwaway Lines.

Where did the idea come from for the project?
It started with an abandoned handwritten letter I found on Blackfriars Bridge in 2009. This was the first of many throwaway handwritten scraps of paper I rescued from London’s streets.

I took this hoard of trash to 26, the writers’ collective, and they got involved. A stash of 26 stories, written by 26 writers, was published at

Then things turned three-dimensional: Fifteen top London designers created frames for the scraps that inspired the stories, taking visual cues from the stories too. Rubbish become art. An exhibition is now running at the Free Word Centre until Monday 26th November, inclusive.

What genre does your project fall under?
A new one – ‘Litterature’ – a term coined by one of the editors and writers, the author Elise Valmorbida.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
It would have to be a large throwaway cast: Anyone who wasn’t anyone. B-movie stars and low profile extras would be particularly welcome. It would have to be directed by the master of ensemble moviemaking, Robert Altman. I know he’s dead, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your project?
A varied collection of sharp short stories inspired by scraps of handwritten rubbish, which in turn have inspired 15 contemporary works of art.

Will your project be self-published or represented by an agency?
This is a self-initiated project, but wouldn’t have happened without the initial support of John Simmons, the endorsement of 26, and the contribution of four great editors, over 30 brilliant writers and 15 fabulous designers. We’ve produced a short-run book of the event available on request as a hard copy or pdf. Just email me, Andy Hayes at for details.

How long did it take the writers to create the first draft of their stories and the designers to develop concepts for their frames.
The writers were given 26 days and the framers had three weeks to come up with their initial ideas.

What other books would you compare the stories to within your genre?
Anything by Charles Bukowski: He was particularly good at noticing and writing about the discarded scraps of humanity left on the streets of West Hollywood.

Who or what inspired you to start this project?
Curiosity, Bukowski, and two other artists in particular: the singer/songwriter, Tom Waits, and the great Magnum photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson. Like Bukowski, they’re curious about people, places and situations that pass most people by.

What else about your project might pique the reader’s interest?
The stories inspired by the scraps cover a huge range of subjects and emotions. There’s love, loss and laughter. False claims of rape leading to imprisonment for murder, and actual rape, gone unreported and only revealed years later on the victim’s deathbed. There’s chocolate, wet paint, jigsaw puzzles and a huge pulsing oversized package.

The works of art are fantastic, created by a brilliant bunch of designers.

Finally, you can still take part. My mucker, Malcolm Blythe, has a big plastic bag full of discarded dockets, lists and post-its just waiting to transform into stories. You can contact him here – – for more info.

Here are some hugely talented writers I’m fortunate to be connected with. I know them all through 26. You can join online at for a mere £26 per year. Their answers to the above questions will go live on their sites around 19th November 2012.

Neil Baker is a widely published writer of short stories and flash fictions. By day – and sometimes at night – he works as a journalist and business writer, helping people to share their ideas and tell their stories.

Martin Lee is currently deciding which of two fiction manuscripts to devote himself to – neither one has been accepted by publishers yet, but both have received enough encouragement for him to feel encouraged.

Home Page

Nick Parker’s first collection of short stories, The Exploding Boy and Other Tiny Tales , came out last year. Several people nodded approvingly. The Guardian said it was ‘astonishing… proof that the short story remains a public good.’ Which was nice of them. By day, he’s creative director at The Writer.

Mike Reed’s
been a copywriter for 20 years, starting out in ad agencies and now working freelance in the design and branding world. He also manages to produce the odd bit of personal writing, but not as much or as often as he’d like – something he’s actively trying to redress.

John Simmons has written a bookshelf of books about writing for business, as well as fiction, and he keeps writing at


From Litter to Litterature

29th October sees the launch of Throwaway Lines, From Litter to Litterature at the Free Word Centre in Clerkenwell.

You can find out all about it here: Free Word Online – and read the stories inspired by the scraps below…

Mr Freeman

April 2nd 2009

Dear Sir

I am writing to you to share my feelings of disappointment, disgust and loathing at your latest film, King of Justice, which I endured on its maiden screening last night. The script was passable. The production was of expected quality. However, there is one decision you made that may well humiliate the African film industry. You know the decision of which I speak. I cannot even begin to understand what you were trying to achieve.

The subject of your film required the utmost in respect. The figure portrayed is a man revered across this continent and across God’s globe. He is good and clean. You showed no respect, no reverence, and you should be punished accordingly.

I wish to never again see your name attached to a Nollywood film.


Mr D. Igbinedion

London, England

*     *     *

February 14th 2009

Dear Mr Oparison

I write to you to express my interest in acting in your film King of Justice, which promises to be another Nollywood blockbuster.

I have excellent experience within movie studios across Africa, from Lagos to Cape Town. This experience has predominantly been within the maintenance and repair side of the studio. However, I have heard and seen actors perform and liken myself to a young Desmond Dube, but with the gravitas of a young Anayo Modestus Onyekwere.

I am confident that I am right for the King of Justice. It would be my honour to portray my, and my family’s, hero.

Sincerely Yours

Mr James Jombo


February 16th 2009

Dear Mr Jombo

The role in King of Justice of which you speak is a cameo and it has already been cast. However, we thank you for your correspondence and wish you well in your future pursuits.


E. Oparison

Nollywood Movies Sky 329


February 16th 2009

Dear Hollywood

Greetings from the beautiful country of Nigeria in Africa.

African movies are becoming more popular year after year as Nollywood and Afroculture spreads around the world. Recent successes like One God One Nation have led to a surge in new investment. Interest in Nollywood Movies in the United Kingdom, for example, is soaring. It is because of this success and the opportunities it creates that I write to you.

We are soon to release a new movie in the UK on Sky 329 and we are looking for an actor to play a very important role. We wish to ask of your studio whether one of your biggest stars is available. The filming will last no longer than one week.

We would like to send you the full script for King of Justice.

Please confirm receipt of this correspondence and inform our studios whether the opportunity to be the first to cast King of Justice is agreeable with you.

Yours in Greatest Respect

Mr Emmanuel Oparison

Head, Nollywood Movies Sky 329


February 21st 2009

Dear Mr Oparison

Thank you very much for your kind and quick response. It was my pleasure to write to you. However, I still feel I could be ideal for the part of Nelson Mandela in your latest blockbuster, King of Justice. Please reconsider your casting.

I am available in the coming months to demonstrate my abilities. I hope you will afford me this opportunity.

Yours in Hope and Expectation

Mr James Jombo


March 2nd 2009

Dear Hollywood

Filming has now begun on King of Justice and, as yet, we have not cast an actor to play the most important role. Many leading actors in Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and Cameroon have auditioned and impressed us. However, we are holding out for our dream actor from Hollywood Studios.

We enclose the full script. Please call when you have read it and we will discuss the terms for your actor.

The matter is fairly urgent.

Yours Humbly

Mr Emmanuel Oparison

Managing Director, Nollywood Movies Sky 329


March 9th 2009

Dear Hollywood

Please call immediately regarding the casting of King of Justice. The film will be screened on Sky 329 in less than four weeks.

My cell number is [removed]. We must arrange the flight and accommodation now.

Yours in Expectation


Nollywood Movies Sky 329


March 13th 2009

Dear Mr Freeman

Your colleagues at Hollywood Studios have advised that we contact you directly regarding a role they consider a major opportunity for you to enhance your international acting career.

The film is called King of Justice and we would like you to play Nelson Mandela in the final climactic scene. The film covers both his early years as a political activist, his middle years on Robben Island and his later life as President. The final scene focuses on Mr Mandela as President, looking back. We see you as the perfect man for the role.

You may contact me at my home address.

You might also try my work address:

Mr E. Oparison

Nollywood Movies Sky 329

[Address removed]

My cell number is [removed]. My email address is [removed].

I admire you and your films.

Yours Sincerely

Mr E. Oparison


March 16th 2009

To: Emmanuel Oparison

Subject: Re: We need Freeman!

Mr Oparison

Regarding your message concerning Mr Freeman. I think it will be a mistake and could offend a lot of people. Not only is he ill-suited to the role but as yet he is not signed for the film.

We are nearly out of time. I would strongly advise you reconsider and recruit a local actor.

Yours sincerely



March 23rd 2009

Mr Oparison

I find your lack of response bemusing. Please have the goodness in your heart to speak to me about how I convince you to cast me as Nelson Mandela.


Mr James Jombo


March 23rd 2009

To: Tolu

Subject: Re: Re: We need Freeman!


You have the audacity to make these suggestions. You are employed as an editor and as nothing more. Know your place.

Mr Freeman arrives tomorrow and has kindly agreed to film for one day. Then he must return to Hollywood Studios, where he is very busy. I cannot be there to direct as Mr Abassi would like us to celebrate our seventh year of working together. However, Mr Freeman is a professional and I am sure will not require my guidance.

You will receive the film for editing this week. You have the full script. Edit accordingly.

Mr Oparison

March 25th 2009

Mr Jombo

You are right. I should give you the opportunity to take on the role of President Nelson Mandela in my big-budget blockbuster, King of Justice. I should take an enormous chance on you and your history in fixing toilets. I should rebuff Mr Martin Freeman and his keenness, inform him that he is not up to standards and employ you. You are clearly better suited to the role.

See you at auditions. (We have now finished filming.)

Do not write to me again.


Mr Oparison

Nollywood Movies Sky 329


March 27th 2009

To: Emmanuel Oparison

Subject: king of justice, cut

Mr Oparison

Please find enclosed a cut of King of Justice for your viewing. It is as you asked.




March 27th 2009

To: Tolu

Subject: king of justice, cut


I do not have time to review this. I trust that it is in order. Please send out immediately to our colleagues in London for screening next week.

Thank you.



April 3rd 2009

Dear Emmanuel

For seven years, I have considered you my first director. First because you are the man who comes first to my mind when I need a director who understands understatement, subtlety, nuance, character, emotion, strength, closeness, distance, love, heart, body, mind, feeling, life, death, culture, engagement, distance. Everything. First because for seven years you have placed yourself in pole position on a grid filled with some of Africa’s – and the world’s – finest directors. First because you have never let me down as a director and you have never let me down as a friend.

So why, dear Lord, why why why did you think it a good idea to celebrate one of the greatest achievements of one of South Africa’s greatest ever leaders, a man who has fought for the rights of black people everywhere, for Africa, a man who lived a life in prison for his political views, for his maverick thinking, for his love of his country, by casting Tim from The Office?

You have turned Nollywood Movies Sky 329 into a joke. You have turned the world’s media against us. We have been accused of a new form of racism. People now spit at me on the streets of Lagos. One man yesterday told me I have ruined his son’s life. His son is four years old.

I have no option but to terminate your contract with Nollywood Movies Sky 329.

Please never return to the studios. You no longer have friends here.


Mr Abassi

*     *     *

March 31st 2009

Dear Mr Oparison

Do you mean Morgan Freeman?


James Jombo

Cell: [removed]

by Rob Self-Pierson

Big Fat Greek Easter

Our Moussaka looks like a marbled cowpat. The cheese sauce is watery, the aubergine is undercooked and the tomato sauce tastes odd. And neither of us knows why.

“Did you follow the recipe?” my sister asks.

“Yes, I followed the recipe,” I reply.

“Well why is it so salty?” she says and tastes it again. “And so… fishy?”

I snort a laugh. And then cry.

It’s our first Easter without Mum.

If you’re Greek, Easter is a big deal. It’s like Thanksgiving if you’re American or Christmas if you’re British: it’s all about food and family. Sure, Jesus gets a look in, but in the main, it’s more about meal times than the Messiah: almond biscuits, fluffy yellow brioche, and roasted lamb – rich, succulent, juicy lamb that makes your lips and fingers glisten. It’s soul food and it’s made to be shared with the people you love and without her, I don’t have the energy to cook. Mamma I miss you.

My Mum liked to eat. She liked it a lot. A lot, a lot. In her teens and twenties, her love of dancing hid her overindulgences. “See how thin I used to be?” she’d say pointing to the photo of her and my Dad that hangs in the lounge. “Your father could put his hands around my waist and his fingertips would touch. Touch.”

But four kids, and a love of second helpings, meant the scales never tipped in her favour again. And where there’s a large mother, you’ll find a large daughter. In fact, look back through generations of Therakelises and you will find a people whose self-restraint crumbles like feta whenever food is around.

But, if there was one thing my mum liked even more than eating, it was cooking.

My earliest memory is learning to make Dolmades with her. In Turkish Dolma means ‘stuffed thing’. She’d brush her hands down her faded lavender apron – it was always immaculately ironed. Then she’d spread out the young vine leaves on the table, careful not to tear them. They were as delicate as birds’ wings. Then I’d place a ball of rice, fresh dill, fried onion and pine nuts in the centre, and fold the leaves in around this tasty cargo.

We’d make dozens and dozens at a time and she’d pat down the top of each one with her fingertips when it was finished. Then she’d look at me as I stockpiled a few to eat later. “Ah! My little Dolma,” she’d say as she brushed my hair behind my ear. I was always a little on the greedy side, still am.

So since then, Dolma have always been my comfort food. I ate them as a child after school. As a teenager, I would devour them post-pub with a ripped bag of chips and a can of Coke. But over the last few months I can’t face them. I cannot stand the idea of making them, of going through the motions of one more thing, of pushing on with life.

I go to dry my eyes and pull out drawer after drawer searching for a tea towel, until I open one with a yellowed take-away menu in it. I start to read and the list of food is like an incantation, and I want to taste all of it: everything she ever cooked, or made for us or said she would love to eat again but never did.

I look at my sister, pick up the phone and dial the number. “Hello? I’d like to place an order. For delivery, please.”

by Clair Whitefield

You have an oversized package








It won’t fit through your letterbox ribs
Shall we try again another day?
Or can we leave it outside here:
Like a bare bird perching
Like a wet red pudding
Like a soft cloth clock
On the harsh mat
Where strangers tread
And free fliers fall
Until it stills
And shrinks—
A regular sized package at last—

by Elise Valmorbida

Special Bread?

This was the first time she would be visiting his place. The first time he would cook for her. A lot depended on it. He was hoping the last course would be intercourse…

She had long, fake-tanned legs. Her smile revealed near-perfect teeth: shiny-white and, like her legs, chemically enhanced. This would be their fourth date. She was due at eight and he had the whole day to prepare. He started by sorting out his flat and changing his sheets. His double bed was over a year old now, the springs still in perfect working order.

He went out and bought flowers, red ones to get her in the mood. All that was left to do now was to decide what to eat, and then find out how to make it.

He could cook and indeed he did cook, mostly oven-ready meals or toast. Pizza was a favourite as was Chinese take-away. He ordered so frequently they even knew his name. It made him feel special. Wanted. He in turn was investing in the local economy.

He decided on pasta. That looked easy and would impress her. It was Italian, fairly exotic, but not too challenging. He called his mum. She agreed. They settled on Spaghetti Bolognese. He had seen ‘Lady & The Tramp’ as a child, his first film, and imagined them slurping the long worm-like pasta together. Then, realising they had the same strand, kissing messily as their mouths met, his Ragu sauce dribbling slowly down her chin…

He looked up the menu online. Simple. Then went to his local Sainsbury’s to buy the ingredients, so far so good. He should entertain more often. It was fun. Perhaps, after tonight, he would? He decided to push the boat out and buy fresh pasta, not dried.

Bread was in the same aisle. Special bread: Garlic, Ciabatta, Focaccia and Naan. A sudden wave of anxiety swept over him. Everything had gone smoothly until this point. He was flummoxed. It should’ve been a simple decision but he just couldn’t make his mind up.

Firstly, was serving bread the right thing to do? He knew from Jamie Oliver that pasta was a carbohydrate, and bread was too. What if she was on a special diet? Fit sorts often were. Also, what if the two of them felt stuffed and couldn’t find any room for dessert? He didn’t want the evening to peak too soon. He had peaked too soon before, and he didn’t want that to happen again in a hurry.

Then, if he did buy bread, which one to choose? Garlic probably. You knew where you were with garlic. But did you really want to be there?

He stared at the bread. His mum hadn’t mentioned it. His mind went blank. He was a little boy lost. He regretted taking Woodwork instead of Home Economics. They all laughed at the soft lads who opted for cooking; but they all copped off while all he got was ‘D minus’ for a lop-sided shelving unit.

He paced up and down. Bought some wine; at least that was easy, red to go with the flowers. He went back to the special bread – the clock was ticking. Eventually, a kind old lady asked if he needed any help. “No thanks, luv,” he winked, “I’ll get there in the end.” She smiled knowingly and left him to his own devices. He walked one complete circuit of the whole store, then one more to clear his head. He passed the condoms, bought a pack of Performa (‘guaranteed to delay climax’), just in case his old batch had passed their expiry date.

She arrived. Her shiny smile blinded him. He blinked in the bright light. They drank and laughed. It was going well. He suggested they eat in half an hour. He made a quick call. A familiar voice answered, “The usual?” “Yes, but this time make it for two.”

Andy Hayes



I’ve set up the device. It’s in the kitchen, and when she comes back she’ll have the shock of her life. So I’m out of here, heading for the lake, driving as far away as I can. I want to fish, cook something slow over a simple fire, watch that trout turn pink.  Is this the easy way out?  You could say I was pushed to it. I’d tell anyone that. All that endless waiting, the let-downs, the disappointments.  She was never good with time, drives me mad. It crept up on me. Something endearing in her breathless rush to meet me. Made me feel special. Then our first trip. I was ten minutes early and she was ten minutes late. Too late. So Paris had gone away for us with the tail lights of the train. I ripped up those no-refund tickets and threw them over her like black confetti. Twisted reminder of another anniversary gone bad. if you want to know, what tipped me over the top was last night. Valentine’s. Came in to find iron-shaped scorch marks on two of my best shirts hanging over the chair. Then rooting around in the drawer for another one I found her hidey hole. The stack of overdue bills she’d not got round to paying. No time, she said. She always said. Then the meal. I’d bought her some of those flowers from the garage. The sort, the comedians said, that start wilting soon as you put them in water. Little buds just opening, dying before their prime, all pink and sad and dried up. I looked across at her, at her roots showing. Another hairdresser’s missed appointment. The chipped nails she’d not got round to grooming. What does she do in the evenings, when I’m out by the lake, waiting for the sweet tug on my line ? And then that familiar aroma, something burning in the pan, the disaster looming with the fizz of steam as water hits a burned-out pot. Oh, the sad demise of that fine rump steak, all hissing on that pan, the end sound of a day that always starts with the scrape of charcoal off toast.  In all the years I’ve been with her, six? seven? I’ve never had my steak rare. I miss the cut my mother cooked, perfectly timed. So I get to eat cereal again. Sushi when I’m at work. I stock up on raw food, chow it down on car journeys, keep a stash next to the fishing flies. You see, she never gets it right. She’s got to learn. I’m sitting by the lake now, watching the gentle open flow of the water and the ripples taking one-two-three seconds to reach the bank. I like the way the fly hits the water with barely a sound. I’ve all the time in the world here. I like that I can wait in peace, be patient. Not rushing back this time, she won’t be going anywhere. I’ve made a small fire, don’t know how long I’ll stay. There’s a cabin here. Reminds me of the one the Unabomber had. Saw a photo in an art gallery once. So I’ll cook my little fish and eat it just how I want. The flesh turning opaque, the eyes pearl like. Imagining the device just sitting there, waiting. Sun’s going down. By my watch her car will be entering the drive right now.  She’ll park up. Click, clack, the heels on the concrete. So she goes to put the key in the lock. I look at my second hand. Count down ten seconds more. Clip clop along the wooden hall, then the scuttling of her shoes kicked off, as she opens the door to the kitchen. She’ll see it before she hears anything. What she should have had years ago when she started to make me unhappy. Tick tock, tick tock. Ping. Precise as my old ma’s kitchen timer.

by Christine Finn