£2,000 Prize for Young People’s Short Story Competition Is Now Closed!

IGGY and Litro Young Writers' PrizeThere are now three weeks left to get your entries in for the 2013 IGGY & Litro Young Writers’ Prize. If you’re aged 13 to 18, or know a creative young person who is, then get writing to be in with the chance of winning £2,000 cash and publication.

Enter the competition here

The theme for entries is DREAM.

Joining IGGY

To enter the competition, you need to be an IGGY member. IGGY is a social network designed to help gifted young people between the ages of 13-18 realise their full potential.

13 – 18 year olds who are not yet members of IGGY and would like to submit a story to the competition will be offered a 20% discount on annual IGGY membership to join the competition.

Students wishing to join IGGY should go to https://www.iggy.net/registration and enter “Litro” in the sponsorship/promo code field of the registration process to claim the 20% discount. This offer cannot be used in conjunction with other membership offers.

Schools may apply for a free 4 month trial membership of IGGY in order for eligible students to apply to the IGGY and Litro Young Writers’ Prize. Schools will need to nominate a minimum of ten eligible students in order to be considered and should contact [email protected] for details.

  • Competition theme is DREAM
  • Winner will receive a cash prize of £2,000 and publication in Litro and at IGGY.net
  • 5 runners up will receive £200 each
  • Stories should be no more than 2500 words in length
  • Deadline for submissions 13th September 2013
  • The prize will be judged by the BBC broadcaster, writer & journalist, John McCarthy CBE, creative writer and perhaps the UK’s greatest teacher Francis Gilbert, writer and critic Ian Sansom, award winning writer and performance poet Dean Atta and young teenage writer  Simi Prasad.
  • Winner announced December 2013
  • Enter via the IGGY site

Enter the competition here

Flash Fiction Competition: Cults & Clubs

“I’m really starting to think the whole world’s just a patchwork quilt of crazy little cults, all with their own secret spaces, their own records, their own rules.”

Clay Jannon, Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Flash Fiction Competition

To mark our current Book Club title, Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, we’re running a flash fiction competition on the theme of Cults & Clubs.

We think Clay, the narrator of the novel, is quite right – when you lift the stone of ordinary life, underneath you’ll find a teeming world of strange hobbies and cabalistic clubs sharing private languages, initiation ceremonies and secrets – and we want to hear your stories about these hidden worlds in miniature.

The winning three stories will be published on Litro Online, reaching thousands of our readers.

  • Entries must be no more than 700 words long and on the theme of “Clubs & Cults”
  • As well as publication on the Litro website, the overall winner will receive a free year-long Litro All-Access Membership. (If the winner is already a member, we’ll give them their next year for free!)
  • Entries should not have been previously published anywhere, in print or online
  • One entry per person
  • The deadline for entries is midnight on Sunday 25th August and the winning story will be announced on the Litro website on Thursday 29th August
  • Submit your story at this link.

The Mystery Lady of Gladstone’s Library – Short Story Competition

The UK’s only residential library (doesn’t that just sound brilliant? A library you can sleep in?) is running a short story competition as part of the library’s first ever literary festival.

Gladstone’s Library, founded by Victorian Prime Minister William Gladstone, is challenging writers to come up with a story inspired by a mystery portrait that hangs in the library’s front hallway. The lady in the portrait is richly dressed, pictured with a small dog and holding a blossoming orange (a clue to her tale?), but no one knows who she is.

Louisa Yates, organiser of GladFest, the Library’s first literary festival which is being held in September, says,“we know what the picture looks like but not the story behind it or who the lady is. We would love people to use their imagination and create their own story around this mysterious lady. The competition is not intended as a research exercise, as it’s much more fun to imagine than to know!”

Entries can be in either of two categories – short fiction up to 3000 words or flash fiction up to 360 words. The deadline for submissions is Friday 9th August.

The first prize for both categories is a 7-night stay at Gladstone’s Library and the winning story will be published online at The Word Factory and the winning flash fiction will be published in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, and the second prize in both categories is a 3-night stay at Gladstone’s Library.

More details on how to enter can be found here.

Gloves of Gdańsk

Amanda Oosthuizen’s story Gloves of Gdańsk is the winner of our Poland & Bruno Schulz-inspired flash fiction competition.

bus_gdansk_smlDo you need gloves? Take the number 184 bus. Leave between Wood Green and Ally Pally. Folded shirts are tiered in the window, matching ties tucked into collars. You’ll need to knock. Eyes will appear above the old sheet. The door will open a crack.

Inside, you’ll glimpse a room, golden like the inside of an orange. The owner, in a black silk suit, will block your path. His head is shaved, a pink rawness to the scalp, slightly dewy. You wouldn’t want to touch it.

He’ll look you over. His criteria for judgment is a mystery so you’ll face him openly. But your secrets will tumble out forming a grotesque, steaming pile at your feet. He’ll kick them with his pointed shoes dividing the muck from the awkward. You’ll wish you were a child again, where time might unravel your mistakes and hope flavoured every breath.

You’ll tilt your head apologetically. A blink of derision will flit across his face but he’ll present the room with a sweeping arm.

Drawers cover the walls in syrupy oak; each labelled: Częstochowa, Łódź, Drohobych…. You’ll enter its warm glow.

In a drawer named Gdańsk, he’ll reveal hands suspended palm down as if playing the piano. He’ll remove a pair with slender fingers, tapering nails waxen at the tips like magnolia petals. You’ll look at your own hands, the sturdy thumbs and scaly skin silver with cold, and wonder if they need replacing. Perhaps it’ll make all the difference.

To your surprise, he’ll insert a pin into the wrist. With a bang, the hand will collapse. He’ll slip the gloves onto your hands; they’ll turn the colour of your skin.

On the bus, you’ll bite the fingertip, intending to remove the gloves, but tasting bread, heck, you’ll nip off a finger.

Submissions Open for IGGY & Litro Young Writers’ Prize 2013

Litro home bannerWe’re excited to let you know that submissions open today for the 2013 IGGY & Litro Young Writers’ Prize.

The theme this year is DREAM, so if you’re an IGGY member aged between 13 – 18, send your stories of no more than 2,500 words in length, based on the theme. In addition to a cash prize of £2,000 the winner will be published in Litro and at IGGY.net. £200 will also be awarded to each of the 5 runners-up. Read some previous winners here.

You must be an IGGY member to submit your entry. For more information about IGGY and to get your 20% discount off annual membership, please click here.

IGGY and Litro Young Writers' PrizeOur partners IGGY have been in the news in the last couple of weeks – read what they’ve been cooking up here. IGGY is the University of Warwick’s educational social network, described as “the thinking teenager’s Facebook”.

The fourth IGGY and Litro Young Writers’ Prize will this year be judged by the BBC broadcaster, writer & journalist, John McCarthy CBE, creative writer and perhaps the UK’s greatest teacher Francis Gilbert, writer and critic Ian Sansom, award winning writer and performance poet Dean Atta and young teenage writer  Simi Prasad.


  • Competition opens on 3rd June 2013.
  • Deadline for submissions 13th September 2013
  • Winner announced December 2013
  • The competition is open to IGGY members aged 13 – 18. Stories should be no more than 2500 words in length.
  • If you’d like to take part in the IGGY and Litro Young Writers’ Prize and you’re not an IGGY Member, get a 20% discount off membership here.

“Mystery” Photo Competition Winners

Impossible architecture, spooky stories and fabulous fairytales in the winning photos in our “Mystery” themed photo competition.

It’s arguably the case that all great photographs contain mysteries; something hidden as well as what is revealed. We asked you to send us photos on the theme of our “Mystery” issue back in March, and these are our top 10 from the entries we received.  We picked Dorothee Lang’s My Stery as the winner because we loved the sense of depth in this image. It demands to be looked at, decoded, turned around like a puzzle box until we understand, but doesn’t quite give us the answer we want. There were also images which asked questions, told stories and hinted at a little magic. Have a look at our top 10 below.

New £15,000 Essay Prize Announced

A new award for essay writing with a £15, 000 first prize has been announced. Named in honour of the master of the English essay, the William Hazlitt Essay Prize will be awarded annually to the best essay in English of between 2,000 to 8, 000 words. Judged on the originality of the idea, the quality of the prose and the ability to communicate to a wide audience, the winning writer will receive a hefty £15,000, with five runners up receiving £1,000 each.

The competition, run by Notting Hill Editions, a publishing imprint devoted to the best in non-fiction essay writing, is open to both published and unpublished works.

Author and journalist Harry Mount, who will chair the judging panel for the prize, said ‘The British have always underplayed the importance of the essay, and yet we’re naturally very good at them. The mixture of wit, brevity and original thought suits us down to the ground. Such a generous prize is bound to produce a fresh crop of first-rate essays from established and new writers.’

“It does not treat of minerals or fossils, of the virtues of plants, or the influence of planets; it does not meddle with forms of belief, or systems of philosophy, nor launch into the world of spiritual existences; but it makes familiar with the world of men and women, records their actions, assigns their motives, exhibits their whims, characterises their pursuits in all their singular and endless variety, ridicules their absurdities, exposes their inconsistencies, ‘holds the mirror up to nature, and shows the very age and body of the time its form and pressure’; takes minutes of our dress, air, looks, words, thoughts, and actions; shows us what we are, and what we are not; plays the whole game of human life over before us, and by making us enlightened Spectators of its many-coloured scenes, enables us (if possible) to become tolerably reasonable agents in the one in which we have to perform a part. It is the best and most natural course of study.”

— William Hazlitt, ‘On the Periodical Essay’ (1821)

The submission deadline for 2013 is 1st August. More details on entering here.

Check out some of the essays we love at Litro in our True Tales section, where we showcase creative non-fiction, essay writing and memoir.

Announcing: The IGGY & Litro Young Writers’ Prize 2013

IGGY and Litro Young Writers' PrizeInspiring, encouraging and acknowledging the creativity of young people is a common goal for London based Litro Magazine and IGGY at the University of Warwick. And Litro & IGGY are pleased to announce that The IGGY and Litro Young Writers’ Prize will be held again for the fourth year in 2013.

The IGGY and Litro Young Writers’ Prize is funded by philanthropically, and is open to gifted young people from around the world aged 13 – 18 and from all walks of life  In addition to a cash prize of £2,000 the winner will be published in the free leading short story and creative magazine Litro and at IGGY.net £200 will also be awarded to each of the 5 runners –up. This year’s participants should write a short story of no more than 2,500 words in length based on the theme of ‘Dream’.

IGGY is the University of Warwick’s educational social network designed to help gifted young people aged 13-18 from across the world realise their full potential. IGGY focuses on providing stretching challenges for young people in Creative Writing, as well as other subject areas.

The fourth IGGY and Litro Young Writers’ Prize will this year be judged by the BBC broadcaster, writer & journalist, John McCarthy CBE, creative writer and perhaps the UK’s greatest teacher Francis Gilbert, writer and critic Ian Sansom, award winning writer and performance poet Dean Atta and young teenage writer  Simi Prasad.

The competition is open this year to IGGY members aged 13 – 18. Stories should be no more than 2500 words in length.


      • Competition opens on 3rd June 2013.
      • Deadline for submissions 13th September 2013
      • Winner announced December 2013

Commenting on the announcement of the award Eric Akoto, Litro‘s founder, said:

“We are extremely excited to be able to announce the award again this year, the award has been growing each year and last year we received over 450 entries, with the award being given to a young Canadian writer Lindsey Nkem with her engaging and witty story ‘I hope there’s Wi Fi in Heaven’. The award is a fantastic opportunity for aspiring young writers to showcase their talent and to be recognised for their literary creativity. We are delighted to be partnering again with IGGY on this. The magazine has thrived because of the creativity and talent of its writers and it’s exciting to think of who and what we might discover through this award.”

Adrian Hall, Managing Director of IGGY added

“IGGY is delighted to be hosting the IGGY and Litro Young Persons’ Award again this year. We are excited to be working alongside Litro and we look forward to offering our IGGY members the opportunity to express themselves creatively as part of this competition.

I was extremely impressed with last year’s entries which were a delight to read and I look forward to seeing what our members submit this year around theme of ‘Dream’. It is a pleasure to showcase the creativity of such talented young people for a wider audience to enjoy.”

If you’d like to take part in the IGGY and Litro Young Writers’ Prize and you’re not an IGGY Member, register your interest with us here.

Ben Norris: Joint winner of LitroTV’s transgression competition

Litro had such a hard time choosing the winners of LitroTV’s competition that we awarded the prize to two, very different, but equally talented poets. Here is our first winning entry, Ben Norris’s ‘Dismembered Voices,’ with an introduction for LitroTV viewers by the poet himself.

Ben Norris is an actor, a writer, and a spoken-word artist. He was born and grew up in Nottingham, but is now based in Birmingham where he is studying English with Creative Writing.

Norris’s work explores the theatrical potential of poetry and the poetic elements of theatre, while ensuring words remain at the heart of what he does. Occasionally, however, he simply rants about the concept of being charged to use the toilet at most major British railway stations.

His career began on Birmingham’s open-mic circuit before expanding to take in regional and national poetry slams, including the inaugural UK Team Poetry Slam, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Bristol Poetry Festival, Cheltenham Literary Festival, Bang Said The Gun, and University Poetry Slams against Edinburgh and Cambridge respectively. Following his success in the world of slam poetry, Norris now plays gigs up and down the country, and is currently working on his first one-man show.

He is also the Literary Events Officer for Writers’ Bloc, the University of Birmingham’s Creative Writing Society, and runs and hosts two spoken-word nights in the city: Scribble Kicks, a night of page poetry and prose readings, and Grizzly Pear, a raucous performance poetry extravaganza. In addition to these, Ben organises less regular but no less spectacular inter-University poetry slams.

Alongside writing and performing poetry individually, Ben collaborates with guitarist James Grady in a music and spoken-word band. He also writes for the stage, and has had his plays staged at Leicester Curve and Theatre503.


performs his sharply crafted poems with breathtaking verve and expertise” Cheltenham Poetry Festival

infallible and energetic” UoB Blogfest

both harrowing and hilarious…impressive as always” Redbrick Newspaper

had the gathering instantly hooked” thespeakerscorner.co.uk

For more information about Ben visit www.bennorrispoet.com

Short Story Competition: “Poland” & Bruno Schulz

poland1Words take you further.

Litro is launching an exciting opportunity for all writers. In preparation for our Polish issue in June and in association with the Polish Cultural Institute London, we are running a short story competition inspired by Polish writer Bruno Schulz.

The winner’s work will be published in Litro Magazine’s June issue and showcased at a London Underground Station.

The theme is “Poland,” with particular reference to Schulz’s short story collection, The Street of Crocodiles. For inspiration, check out the Brothers Quay’s eerie 1980’s stop-motion animation of the same name, or Jonathan Safron Foer’s die-cut adaptation, Tree of Codes.



  • The competition is open to all.
  • Each entrant is limited to just one story, no more than 300 words long.
  • Closing date is 20 April 2013
  • Winners will be announced on 30 May 2013
  • All entries should be sent to: [email protected]




Photo Competition: “Mystery”

We want you to tell us a story in a picture! Send us your photos on the theme of “mystery”: secrets and enigmas, hidden things and revelations, strangers and cliffhangers, puzzles and questions.

The 10 best photos will be posted on our Facebook page and here at www.litro.co.uk, and the overall winner will receive a year’s FREE membership to Litro, which includes 10 issues of our print magazine delivered to your door, access to our digital archive, and membership to our brand new quarterly Book Club. (To learn more about our membership options, click here.)

  • Deadline: midnight on 27 April 2013
  • Photos should be in JPG, PNG or TIFF format, and at least 620 pixels wide, 72dpi minimum.
  • You can post your entries on our Facebook page, tweet it to @LitroMagazine with hashtag #litromystery, or email it to [email protected].

So, grab a camera and send us your mysterious shots!

Calling All Performance Poets!


Litro is expanding, and to celebrate the launch of our LitroTV channel on YouTube we are running an exciting competition dedicated to the word that is spoken, uttered, shouted or whispered.
We are asking for performance poets and artists to send us an original spoken-word performance video based on our April theme of TRANSGRESSION.

The winner will be invited to perform their winning piece at our very first Litro Book Club event in April which will be held at a secret location in Mayfair. They will also receive one years free membership to Litro magazine and an artist profile on our website.

The closing date for entries is 20th March and the winner will be announced on the website on 2nd April.


-Entries must be no longer than 10 minutes.

-Once entries have been received, Litro reserves the right to use them on any of our platforms.

-Directly or indirectly, entries must be based on the theme of transgression.


Email your entry as a video file to [email protected] , in one of the following formats: .MOV , .MPEG4 or .AVI

Parthian Shot

Melinda Salisbury is the winner of Litro‘s #ThisIsNotLove flash fiction competition. Deftly written, fast-paced and funny, ‘Parthian Shot’ demonstrates that clearly not all is fair in love and war.

He’s tapping the pen on the table again, three strikes to every second that the kitchen clock measures. I’d expected this, and my coup de main is prepared. The plate containing his breakfast obscures the crossword, but he smiles at me anyway.

“Thanks, love.”

I watch with visceral pleasure as he cracks the top of his egg, revealing a pale, flaking centre too hard for him to dip his soldiers into. I used to find the soldiers charming, but we’ve been at war for two thousand, two hundred and twenty six days now. There is no room left for sentiment.

He battles through it, trying to smear the yolk on a thin sliver of toast.

“This is great, Emma, thank you.”

I wait until it’s halfway to his mouth before I unleash the second wave of my counter strike; my own perfectly soft-boiled egg. I eat the yolk with a spoon, relishing the silent disappointment that radiates my way.

“The post came,’ he says, nodding at the pile of letters beside my plate. ‘There’s one for you.”

“Probably a bill.”

“It’s handwritten.”

“I’ll read it later.”

“It might be something nice.”

“I don’t have time now, Matt, I’m late for work.” I put my spoon down with a clatter, the aftershock ringing through the room, deafening us for a moment.

Matt, when I first met him, would have raised his eyebrows at me, pursed his lips and mocked my outburst before folding me into his arms. Before we’d moved in together he’d lived with his mother; it seems she was more forgiving of sharp, gingery-brown hairs left in the sink. I watched them make a slow, captivating journey towards the plughole on a tide of my spat-out toothpaste and declared war.

I thought I was doing us both a favour by helping him to adapt to a new regime. A few covert tactics to teach him compromise and the art of give and take, to help him navigate the tricky ground of cohabitation.

He would leave used socks on the floor and I refused to pick them up, even though it disgusted me to have to pick my way through the minefield of them each morning and night. When he’d run out of shirts and boxers too, he innocently asked me why I hadn’t washed them. I told him I thought we were taking it in turns to do the washing, I hadn’t known he’d run out of clean clothes. I was thrilled when he didn’t argue, setting about the task with acceptance.

Of course, it was perfidy. He began to retaliate, dragging me around musty shops selling vinyl, lingering over the selections as I huffed and puffed behind him. Each time I fidgeted, or paced, or sighed, he flipped back to the start of a row and began to look through it again. Eventually I made the connection my actions and his and I stayed still, silent as he selected what he wanted and smiled beatifically at me.

The bed was neutral territory. For seven hours we’d find a temporary peace, or stage battles of a different kind, our very own Christmas 1914 in the trenches. In these he was always the winner and I was happy to concede the victories to him. At night he fought dirty, and well.

As time passed these minor skirmishes became all-out melees and we began to exchange blows with biological weapons, chemical weapons. He’d shower every three or four days, I’d drown myself in perfume he hated. He started to leave the toilet door open, I stopped shaving my legs. We used to engage in week long battles of wills, wars of attrition that drove us almost to breaking point. And then, without any warning, the fight went out of him. He was thoughtful, attentive and industrious with the household tasks, no longer needing a prompt to put the dishwasher on, or to rinse the sink after he’d used it. I’d won, my prize: the perfect man.

“You’re such a lovely couple,” everyone said. “He’s so good. I wish I could find The One, I’d love to settle down.”

We’d smile, he’d put an arm around me and I’d lean into him, even as I planned a new line of attack, hoping to goad him into a response.

I rise and make myself another coffee, even as the clock tells me I don’t have time.

“Emma, open your letter.” He comes up behind me, his hand on my elbow as he guides me back to the table. He pushes it towards me and I see messy handwriting I know as well as my own.

‘Why have you written me a letter?’

“Just open it.” He’s firm, in no mood to negotiate and I feel a spark of excitement, finally something I can work with.

I rip the top of the envelope, pulling out the sheet of paper ungraciously. Something small and heavy falls in to my lap as I open the note.

I had no idea he was amassing nuclear weaponry. I knew things were coming to a head, I knew the final battle, the last stand, was upon us, but this…

“Will you marry me?” He kneels beside me, fishing the ring out of my skirt and holding it up as he smiles the smile of the victorious.

He’s defeated me, finally. He’s successfully crossed my carefully-manned killing field and breached the lines. There will be no counter attack; he has disarmed me so thoroughly that my only option is to allow him his conquest.

“Yes. I will. I do.”

The Sump Pit

This surreal and beautiful story from Matthew Smart is a runner-up of Litro‘s #ThisIsNotLove flash fiction competition.

I eventually grew tired of my basement flooding each spring, as melting snow saturated the foundation, and decided to install a sump pump to remove the water. To install the pump I had to break a hole through the concrete floor, so I rented a small, gas-powered jackhammer. I chose my spot, an unused corner behind the stairwell, and began digging. About a foot down, the jackhammer broke into an open space. I grabbed a flashlight and looked down inside. There was a large room there, with a couple of openings that looked like doorways.

After fetching a ladder and a few more lights I was ready to explore. I dropped my equipment through the rough hole I’d made, then lowered myself inside. I found myself in an exact replica of my home’s main hallway. The hole I’d just dropped through was precisely where the attic hatch was located. Through the doorways each of my home’s rooms were re-created, every detail carved out of the bedrock. Scattered throughout the rooms were life-size stone statues of everything I’d ever lost in life. There was my bicycle stolen from the beach long ago, fishing poles and car keys, a small pyramid of tennis balls and baseballs, stacked like cannon shot.

I moved down the hall towards my bedroom, and there on the bed was a replica of you. You were asleep, a slight smile carved into your face, your skin polished and perfect, like an ancient Greek sculpture. Your marbled arms were stretched out across the bed towards my side, where I was missing.

All that year I came down to lie beside you. Some nights I’d fall asleep on our stone bed, waking the next morning stiff and sore and unable to move. The smile never faded from your cold stone expression. Eventually spring came again, and with it the melting snow and the flooding. The hidden underground rooms flooded waist deep in frigid snowmelt, the water pouring down through the hole I’d made. Despite the standing water, I’d still occasionally make my way down, and wade over to the statue of you, now shimmering just below the surface of the water. I would stand in the chilly water and gaze down at you for as long as I could stand it, my slightest movement creating small ripples in the water over your perfect stone face. The next spring, the runoff filled the rooms completely.


Peter Spencer’s brief, funny and acutely observed story is a runner-up in Litro’s #ThisIsNotLove flash fiction competition.

This morning, she posted a picture of a funny cat on my Facebook wall.

She knew I’d appreciate it because a few days ago I’d posted one on her wall, though that one was thematically different – that cat was asleep on a lamp whilst this one had butter all around its mouth. I formally ‘liked’ the picture precisely twenty minutes after she’d posted it. I felt as though that was a decent amount of time to wait: I didn’t want her to think of me at my computer all day; nor did I want to come across as slack or inattentive.

Six other friends ‘liked’ the picture before I did. They don’t even know her, but I suppose a picture of a cat is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.

Five minutes later I wrote ‘love this’ in the comments section underneath.

Flash Fiction Competition: “This is not love…”

To celebrate the new year and the launch of Litro‘s new Membership Platform, we are partnering with Penguin Books to bring you a very special flash fiction competition.

Our February theme for the magazine is Sex, so as a counterpoint to all that romance (well, presumably), our challenge to you is to write a piece of short fiction from the prompt:

“This is not love…”

Entries must be no more than 1,000 words long, and should not have been previously published anywhere, in print or online. The deadline for entries is 7 February, and the winning story will be announced on the Litro website on 14 February.

The winner and the two runners-up will have their stories published on the Litro website as well, while the overall winner will also receive three beautiful Clothbound Classics editions of Alice in Wonderland, Hard Times and Bleak House, kindly supplied by Penguin (see right). They’re so lovely we were tempted to just keep them for ourselves…

Want to enter? Submit your story here.

Good luck!

A Second Bowl of Jook

Befriend your future father-in-law, Choong says. She drives off to slurp noodles with childhood friends.

Jason’s body feels porous, his neurons balkanized. Splurge on first class and still this jet lag. But he’ll come to Guangzhou annually for Choong. Lack of money has kept her away from home for years. He has given her this. He always will.

Breakfast, Mr. Tan announces. Jason shuffles through air dense as gelatin. Mr. Tan ladles out the rice porridge called jook.

The taste is wondrous, as if to reassure Jason everything will be fine. He eats the steaming gruel and sweats in his gym shorts, his legs sticking to the vinyl of Mr. Tan’s rickety kitchen chair.


Mr. Tan switches on a fan. Hot, he says. On the floor a small gray lizard sniffs a blot of porridge by Jason’s foot.

Jason lashes out and flattens the creature.

No! Mr. Tan shouts. They’re good. They eat mosquitoes.

Jason moves his foot. The lizard’s insides have burst its skin.

I’m so sorry—I wasn’t—we don’t have them in New York.

Yes, Mr. Tan says, yes. He carries the dead lizard away.

I’ll always take care of Choong, Jason says. I love your daughter very much.

But Mr. Tan stands at the trash with his back turned. Jason, not knowing what else to do, asks for a second bowl of jook. 

Geoff Kronik Wins Litro & Sheffield University’s “China” Flash Fiction Competition

We apologise for the delay in announcing the results of last month’s “China” flash fiction competition, held jointly with Sheffield University’s Confucius Institute and School of East Asian Studies.

We’re happy to announce that the winner is Geoff Kronik with “A Second Bowl of Jook“. He wins £200 and the chance to attend a short course in the Chinese language at the Sheffield Confucius Institute. His winning story has also been published online at Litro. You can read it here.

The runners-up are Scott Green and James Watson.

Litro partners with the University of Sheffield’s Confucius Institute and School of East Asian Studies for “China” flash fiction competition

To celebrate our upcoming China issue, we are holding a similarly-themed flash fiction competition with Sheffield University’s Confucius Institute and School of East Asian Studies.

The theme is “China”. Deadline: 3 October. The competition is open to all and each entrant is entitled to submit only one story of no more than 300 words to [email protected].

The winner will receive £200, be published online at Litro, and have the chance to attend a short course in Chinese language at the Sheffield Confucius Institute. Runners-up will receive £100 and £50 respectively.

Confucius Institutes comprise a global network set up with the backing of the Chinese Ministry of Education to promote Chinese language and culture.

The Bike Ride

To celebrate Litro #113: Double Dutch, we held a Dutch-themed short story competition. Rebecca Cordingly was the winner.

I am the only person I know who has never been to Amsterdam.

“I don’t want to smoke marijuana,” I say on arrival as if it is an obligatory practice. Angus, a friend from university, blinks at my misguided impression of the Dutch city in which he now lives. My visions – streets of sprawling students pulling “whities” outside coffee shops whilst bunking off school trips to Anne Frank’s house – could not be more erroneous.

“Bikes have right of way here,” he yells, having plonked me on one of the ghastly contraptions. Mine appears to have been made for a man who is six foot tall, so I stand on my tip toes, my head growing hot with anxiety. I wonder if it is really true that one never forgets how to ride a bike even if the last time I rode one was so long ago it doesn’t even feature in my memory. Angus rides off gaily into the traffic in front of us, telling me, “Pay no attention to cars, they have to mind you!”

It soon becomes clear that Amsterdammers are not surprised by moronic tourist-cyclists with no road-sense or coordination. They roll their eyes mildly as I crash in and out of tram routes like an inept skier on a black run. In a city where everyone bikes and nothing surprises, there is a shrug of weary acceptance towards the gaping, wide-eyed Brit. To brake on a Dutch bike, I learn that one must peddle backwards – a skill that proves useful for stopping but not so great for setting off again. I find I can’t unstick my pedals. This is eventually solved by a kamikaze launch technique, which means that I just narrowly avoid killing anything and anyone in my path.

It is a bustling, sunny Saturday in May and the city is far more beautiful and less intimidating than my preconceived notions had allowed me to imagine. Amsterdam has the elegance of Paris but the laid-back quality of a less conceited European city.

We have been cycling for ten minutes when Angus suggests a ‘Dutch lunch.’

“I don’t want a roll-mop,” I say, eyeing the road-side stall he is approaching.

“You’re not having a roll-mop.”

Raw herring, the National dish, is served to me by a business-like (though not unfriendly) woman of robust build. It comes in a white roll with raw onions and gherkins and looks like an unrolled up roll-mop. The ‘nieuwe’ herring comes in from the beginning of May when a festival heralds the arrival of the shoals. It is extremely popular apparently.

Unfortunately my eyes can’t get my stomach to ignore the concept that Angus is trying to get me to eat a slimy, cold, grey, uncooked eel-like thing that smells of raw onions. Angus finishes his, shrugs and eats mine, wandering off through an impromptu flower and flea market. I am told that if I attempt to speak Dutch, I will be spoken to in English.”It’s pointless trying,” he says. “Your Dutch will never match their English.” All the same, I attempt a “Dank-oo” when handed my purchase in the All Year Round Christmas Shop, enjoying the warping of my own language to fit another. The woman serving smiles and says, ‘Thanks.’

“Look up all the time or you’ll miss everything.”

Back on our bikes this is true but hazardous advice so I ignore it and keep my eye-level horizontal. Continental-style cafés adorn street corners with tasteful outside seats of woven wicker.

“Cafes,” Angus explains, “are different to coffee shops.”

I nod meaningfully, peering into establishments where you can buy a joint over the counter. Occasionally I catch a blast of the scent as we go past but generally the city air has a soft, clear smell, with sporadic wafts of toasted sugar emanating from the stands selling caramelised nuts.

In the museum district I wander in awe through the Van Gogh Museum drop-jawed at how close I stand to his legendary masterpieces. The exhibition is extensive and the story of a life unfolds before my eyes, colouring in in vivid colour a plot I know only the outline of. We emerge hours later, the texture of passionate brushstrokes in oil quietening my mind.

The queues are too great to visit Anne Frank’s house today but the surrounding area is exquisite. Trees line canals and pretty pavements run down either side. Straight rows of houses face each other across the canal. Four to six storeys high the houses are tall and narrow, pressed together like dominos in a pack. Angus informs me that the long windows of these houses hark back to a Calvinist past where the house – like the soul – was to have nothing to hide.

We stop for more refreshment, this time with some food that doesn’t scare me. From my café seat on the riverbank with a glass of Rosé in one hand and some strong ‘auld’ cheese in the other I can at last look up to observe the roof-tops. Each one is different. Like pinnacles in a crown some are triangular, some flame-shaped, but all look one-dimensional as if each slim house were sporting an elaborate headdress.

Redeeming my poor show at lunch I choose a typically Dutch supper of ham, new potatoes, butter and white asparagus – a simple dish that makes me happy. Which is a good thing because we are about to set off for our final destination – the one I am most apprehensive about.

“Don’t be such a wuss,” Angus says, paying the bill and standing decisively. “You can’t come to Amsterdam and not see the Red Light District.”

It is surprisingly underwhelming. Girls in luminous bikinis, many of them chatting into their mobiles, stand in shop windows looking bored – snaking into life with a curve of the hips and a widening of their eyes only when a punter peers in. Gormless groups of English stags goad each other like teenagers and run away, giggling.

“He’ll come back later, ” Angus remarks of a young man whose shyness doesn’t quite cover his evident curiosity, “when he’s had enough to drink.”

Pubs on every corner are full of tourists drinking in what might appropriately be called ‘Dutch Courage’. Many of the shop windows are empty already, their contents bought or borrowed for the hour.

We head back to our bikes away from the bustle of the night, quietened but lacking the sense of horror I had imagined I would feel. There is an air of laidback unshockability to this city, a sense of dignity and self-possession that welcomes without needing to try too hard to impress. Much like, perhaps, the Dutch themselves.