Josie Turner’s story Learning My Lesson won the 2016 Brighton Prize. In this blog, she talks about how she came to write the story and how she felt about winning. You’ll be able to read Josie’s story in the Brighton Prize anthology, published later this year.
Learning My Lesson came to me almost fully formed one day in late spring, when I heard in my head a certain tone of voice – sardonic, worldly, donnish – emanating, quite unnaturally, from a frightening young woman.
I knew that I disliked Jane, and was afraid of her. I have no idea what crime she committed and I’ve never let myself speculate about it. Gaps, absences, and oblique views are part of the essence of the story. I felt sorry for poor Miss Harker, the sort of kind and professional person who works in forsaken places, never quite understanding the impact she makes there.
The story wrested control from me just as Jane wrests it from her teacher. At a certain point I sensed I might leave the room, make a cup of tea, and return to find another hundred words on the screen. I don’t mean that it was easy, or effortless – no-one writes an effortless story – simply that all the work had gone on in my subconscious, perhaps over years. I was thinking of the British Library’s fantastic ‘Gothic‘ exhibition, along with my memories of reading novels aloud in class, and of institutions in the mid-nineties, their sprawling wings shuttered and demolished one by one.
It was peculiar and wonderful to find that other people responded to Learning My Lesson. The organisers of The Brighton Prize brought many writers together for the prize-giving evening, where Jane and Miss Harker read and mis-read Frankenstein under the spotlight, and I drank too much Prosecco. I’d like to thank Alice, Erinna, the judges and readers for their kindness and support, and all the writers for their generosity. I can’t wait to read their work in the anthology.
Josie Turner lives in Kent and works in London. She’s had fiction published in Luna Station Quarterly, Words with Jam, The Frogmore Papers and Mslexia. In 2015 she was a joint winner of the Plough short story competition, and in 2016 she received the Emrys Foundation’s Sue Lile Inman award for fiction.