About Ian Nettleton:
Short fiction: Shortlisted for the Edinburgh International Flash Fiction Award 2020 with the story, All the times he tried and failed. Longlisted for the Reflex Fiction Winter 2019 competition and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize Flash Fiction competition 2019. Longlisted for the Ellipsis Flash Fiction Collection Competition 2020.
Long fiction: Runner-up in the 2014 inaugural Bath Novel Award and the Bridport Prize's Peggy Chapman-Andrews First Novel Award for The Last Migration, Ian Nettleton is represented by Sue Armstrong of Conville and Walsh. He has just completed a new novel, Out of Nowhere - a thriller set in Queensland, Australia - and is now working on a novel set just in the future, as the oceans rise and a man decides to leave England once and for all for Scotland.
Ian is an associate lecturer for undergraduate creative writing courses at the Open University, and also teaches on the new Open University MA in Creative Writing. He teaches for the National Centre for Writing and runs private classes.
Ian's work is published in Angles (iande Press, 2006), Not About Love (Gatehouse Press, 2008) and The Petrified World and other tales (2018) and the Scottish Arts Trust Story Award anthology, Life on the Margins and other stories. He was an editorial assistant on Writing Talk - Interviews with Writers about the Creative Process (Routledge, 2020).
A monologue from Chapter 15 of Out of Nowhere. Now I think about it, this might have been influenced to a small degree by They, the short story by Rudyard Kipling - the innocent spirits in the trees:
The sun is up. We are close to the outskirts of Perth. Small shops and streets go by below. I have stayed in the berth with Milly who is looking out of the window and I’m forcing a smile and pointing out cars and Utes and figures in upstairs windows while all the time I can’t shake off this cold feeling of what happened in the night. It’s a horror I keep seeing.
This berth is narrow, only the bunk and a space for the carpet. Last night I couldn’t read or do anything with the light on as I didn’t want to disturb Milly. She took a long time to get off to sleep, I didn’t want to wake her. I went out into the corridor and walked a little way to where the carriages meet. There again was the lady I told you of the one of seven she was drinking from her flask and I saw a red line of light pass out into the night from the open window as she turned and I could smell tobacco.
You again she said. Yes me. And how are you honey? She looked past me then opened up a cigarette packet. A warm breeze blew in from the window and there was the slow clatter of the wheels on the track the train seemed to be moving so slow through the night. I could see a sheep station some miles away out there in all that open space, tiny lights in the window like a string of bulbs. It was like a dream.
You must be exhausted looking after that little one the woman said and I nodded yes it takes it out of you. It’s good to have a break when she is asleep though I feel bad that I don't spend enough time with her they grow up so fast.
I know, she said. Our little brother was born when I was fourteen he was more like a son I used to take care of him all the time. How did he die? I asked. He hanged himself, she said. From a tree in the yard. That is a sight you never forget she said. Do you want a cigarette? she said. Okay I said and she gave me a Windsor Blue with one of those horror photos on the back of the packet of rotting teeth and mouth cancer.
I leaned out of the window and felt the cool air. The lights of the farm seemed fixed where they were on the horizon as though they travelled with us. It was a beautiful night. But something changed I can't tell you what perhaps it was the sight of those blistered lips and blackened teeth. I felt as though small hands pulled at the sleeve of my shirt I can't explain it better than that.
How about you go to the lounge and have a drink the woman was saying. Chill out. I can watch over your little darling. I love children.
I was tempted, for you get so little time to yourself when you're a mum and a single one at that. Still I said, No. It's kind of you but she is only comfortable with me. But she's asleep said the woman. Give me your mobile number and I’ll call you if she wakes. You can be with her in a moment. Thank you no I said but the woman continued to press and when I turned to look at her she was watching me and only when I saw her did she smile.
I'm tired myself I said. You've been a pal but I need to wash and get some sleep. I didn’t allow her to argue more but said goodnight and went back to the berth. I took my toiletry bag and went the other way to the bathroom and washed. I looked pale in the light and old. I always need eight hours but I rarely get to sleep that much.
I left the bathroom and came around the corner to the corridor. I saw there was movement down the other end. I saw the woman coming along, trying every sleeper's door. She stopped half way along when she saw me and stood there. And then she gave me that wink. I moved along to my door and opened it and shut it behind me and locked it and sat on Milly's bunk and listened. I may have heard the woman going past and if I did I swear she stood outside for a time. I never left the berth again that night and I could not sleep until a light was glowing on the horizon before I crawled into my bunk.
There are people out there I will never understand nor would I want to. There was a time I sought out the company of colourful people and I suppose Frank was one of them. But now I am a mother and it is me and Milly against this world if it ever comes knocking.
Look I say to Milly. Houses. A bakery. Look. What can you see?
People, she says. Tiny people.
They are only tiny because they are far away, I say to her. They are as big as you or me. And I press my face against hers, her skin is so soft and unspoiled.
Photograph: Martin Figura
Short story extract
Extract from a new short story I'm working on, The Truth Beneath Everything, where two men find the body of a woman in a field. Reading it back, I can see my influences and it still needs work, but here it is:
They did not talk much if at all and the tracks of the East Anglian fields led on into a vale where all the land was level and the track came to a wide and grassy plain where Friesians grazed far away and broken trees with spiny branches leaned over a flat, dimpled river that ran on towards the estuary and the coast some ten miles away. There were houses on the other side of the river but the men kept to the plain and found a place among a stand of trees and it quickly grew dark and cold.
They sat in the deeper shadow and ate cold meats and tore off bread from a stale loaf. Every now and then Henry would look at Leon, trying to work him out. He wanted to ask him about the woman in the field but he somehow knew Leon didn’t want to talk about it and as Leon chewed on his food, Henry began thinking how little he knew the man.
I can’t get warm, said Henry at last.
I’ve all my clothes on. We aught to start a fire.
No we can’t start a fire, said Leon. And let anyone know we’re here? We can’t start a fire.
Henry sat there feeling a sudden heat in his face. He didn’t know why he’d said it. He knew a fire would draw attention. They were in the dark, but they were on open ground. Why did I say that? he thought.
The sooner we’re away from here, the sooner we can get a fire going, said Leon. Over there’s the next county.
The few lights of houses glittered on a lane that led up a slight incline on the other side like a low constellation.
They laid themselves out for anything better to do. Leon was soon snoring on his back but Henry was too cold. He lay on his side and his hip and legs ached. The river constantly ran and its sound slowly calmed him.
I was always terrified of life, he thought. I was always afraid of work, of the mistakes I would make, that I wouldn’t remember things. And that is why I am here. In the dirt. Where I belong.
He did not think he slept but he must have slept for in a moment, when he looked, all the lights in the village across the river had gone out and it was colder yet. He stood and walked away from the trees and unzipped himself and waited a moment then urinated a good deal and sighed as it gushed out. He had walked away so he did not have to smell his own sour smell once he lay down again and in this way he must have been notable on the open field for someone shouted out Hey! to him from across the water.
Horse shit, he whispered and zipped himself up and quickly wiped his hands on the cold grass then hobbled back to the trees for his limbs were still stiff from sleeping on the ground.
Leon, hey Leon! he whispered and looked about him. Leon!
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