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
A piece of flash fiction that was shortlisted for a few awards including the Edinburgh International Flash Fiction Award:
All the times he tried and failed
The car was slewing in the deep snow that was falling when Charlie jumped out of the back window. He was not long for this world, and as we drove to the vets, he took his chance and out he went, through the gap between the frame and the glass.
Dad slammed on the brakes and leapt out.
‘Tom! Tom! The traffic!’ mum said, but he never gave it a thought and the bus that was bearing down in the opposite direction must have missed him by inches.
As the wail of the horn went slowly by and all those faces pressed to the glass, I looked for dad and when the bus was gone, trailing its red lights, I saw him running down the pavement by the art shop and the barber’s.
He seemed to run like a man in a river, like his trousers were waterlogged and he was floundering in his black coat. The cat – Charlie – I couldn’t see. He was long gone down some dark passage and to this day I don’t know where he went.
I sat in the quiet and waited. Mum tapped her nails on the wooden dashboard, so full of irritation even then. My sister sitting by me was too young to understand, but I had my face to the window and listened to the hush of the snow falling out of the sky and it was a picture. I see it now. The whole world was quiet and when I saw dad walking back and stopping, bending over, his hands on his knees, I saw the same man I would see through the years, all the times he tried and failed to place his hands on something he loved that was just out of reach.
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