Anna Pye - Winner

Competition: Dialogue only short story competition

Anna Pye is working on the first book in a fantasy quartet called The Turning about a world where the seasons are separate. She loves writing fantasy and that it is becoming more popular, but would like to state that she loved it first. Anna wrote the dialogue-only story because she hates writing dialogue and is terrible at it. If she could be any animal in the world, she would be a wolf.

Anna Pye

A Thing

‘It’s a thing.’
‘It is not.’
‘It so is! Just because you haven’t heard of something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.’
‘Just because it exists doesn’t make it “a thing”.’
‘Yes, it does!’
‘It’s not a bloody thing, for chrissake!’
‘Look it up.’
‘Wikipedia doesn’t make it a thing either. Half those entries are made up.’
‘Look. It. Up.’
‘No.’
‘Scared you’ll be wrong?’
‘Don’t be stupid.’
‘Oh, for the love of god, John!’
‘What now?’
‘Why is it so hard for you to accept that you don’t, in fact, know everything?’
‘Because I do.’
‘Do what?’
‘Know everything. Ow! What was that for?’
‘For being a dick.’
‘You’re angry.’
‘Somewhat.’
‘You’re sexy when you’re angry.’
‘Flattery will get you nowhere.’
‘But you still love me?’
‘Not right now I don’t.’
‘Will you love me if I say it’s a thing?’
‘NO!’
‘Aww, come on, Lily…’
‘Just… Never mind.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘To get some avocados.’
‘What? Why?’
‘Because you’re an idiot.’
‘Not true. You’re making a big fuss over nothing.’
‘It isn’t nothing, it’s you refusing to be wrong and I am sick of it. So… avocados.’
‘But…’
‘No. Bye. Don’t wait up.’
‘But you’re only going for avocados! Wait, come back!’
‘No. I’ve got my coat on.’
‘I’ll look it up! I’m looking it up now…’
‘Really?’
‘Yes. Hang on… Get me a beer, would you?’
‘Okay… Here.’
‘…thanks.’
‘Well?’
‘Um…’
‘Something to say?’
‘No…’
‘Ha! It exists, doesn’t it?’
‘It… might.’
‘Told you.’
‘Don’t be childish.’
‘You’re calling me childish? You, the man who refuses to be wrong?’
‘Now, hang on a mo, that’s not fair…’
‘Really? “Will you love me if I say it’s a thing?” How childish is that?’
‘Hold up…’
‘What?’
‘It might exist but it isn’t an actual thing.’
‘Oh really? Something that exists isn’t a thing? I despair…’
‘It’s only a thing in Peru.’
‘THAT STILL MAKES IT A THING!’
‘Calm down. It can’t be a thing if it’s only a thing if you speak Spanish.’
‘Half the bloody world speaks Spanish. It’s a thing.’
‘They don’t in China.’
‘Half the Western hemisphere, then.’
‘Not Brazil.’
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake.’
‘Or North Ame-’
‘Don’t. Just don’t.’
‘Okay, okay… You win, it’s a thing. Happy now?’
‘Actually, I don’t care whether or not you think it’s a thing.’
‘But I gave in! You won!’
‘I don’t care. And it doesn’t matter anyway because: IT. IS. A. THING.’
‘You are infuriating!’
‘At least I’m not a dick.’
‘I’m not a dick. Well, maybe a bit.’
‘It’s just that…’
‘What?’
‘It’s always like this.’
‘Like what?’
‘I say something, you disagree. We fight.’
‘This isn’t a fight.’
‘Feels like a fight.’
‘Nah, it’s just banter. I’m just winding you up.’
‘Well done, then.’
‘Hey. Hey, babe. Don’t be so sensitive.’
‘Don’t wind me up so much then.’
‘Don’t be daft, where’s your sense of fun?’
‘You think this is fun? Your “banter”?’
‘I find it amusing. Don’t you?’
‘No. Not really.’
‘But you laugh along.’
‘Do I? Am I laughing now?’
‘Well, no, but…’
‘At any point have I been laughing?’
‘…no.’
‘No. Because, John, I don’t actually find it funny.’
‘Which bit?’
‘Any of it. Ever.’
‘Oh. Well, you could have said.’
‘I was hoping you might notice.’
‘I’m not good at that sort of thing.’
‘What sort of thing? Feelings?’
‘Now come on. Don’t be dramatic.’
‘I’m not being dramatic. And don’t belittle how I feel because you don’t understand it.’
‘Ouch! All right, I get it. I’m sorry, babe.’
‘You’re not though, are you?’
‘Of course I am! Come here.’
‘No, you’re just saying that because you think it’s what I want to hear.’
‘Well, don’t you want to hear it?’
‘Yes, I do, John. Very much.’
‘I’m sorry.’
‘I don’t think you mean it.’
‘Yes, I do. I do!’
‘I think you think you mean it but it’s not enough.’
‘Okay, I’m on my knees. I’m really sorry.’
‘You’re such a dick. Get up.’
‘We okay now?’
‘You think getting down on your knees will get you out of this?’
‘Out of what? Out of what, Lily?’
‘Nothing. Never mind.’
‘No. Out of what?’
‘It’s just really hard.’
‘What is?’
‘This! When you do this.’
‘What…? With the whole “thing” thing?’
‘That’s not funny.’
‘Oh come on, it is a bit funny.’
‘You’re doing it again. This is exactly my point.’
‘What? What am I doing again?’
‘Oh my god, haven’t you been listening?’
‘Of course I have.’
‘Really? What have I been trying to say?’
‘That I’m a dick?’
‘That I’m unhappy! I’m unhappy, John.’
‘Oh.’
‘Yes.’
‘Because I said it wasn’t a thing? But I said I was wrong.’
‘No, not because of that.’
‘What then?’
‘Because of everything.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘I think you do. Tell me.’
‘Oh, now you’re being perceptive?’
‘Stop it. Tell me.’
‘It’s—’
‘Yes?’
‘Let me get it right…’
‘Well, go one then.’
‘You’re making me flustered.’
‘I can see that. And you wonder why I take the piss.’
‘That! That right there. That was mean.’
‘Mean? Hardly.’
‘Yes, mean. You are mean all the time.’
‘I am not!’
‘You are! That’s how it feels to me.’
‘But that’s not how I am. You’re just over-sensitive.’
‘I don’t think I am. At least, I wouldn’t be, if you weren’t always so mean.’
‘So it’s my fault, then?’
‘Yes.’
‘My fault I make you feel like this?’
‘Well, I don’t feel like this on purpose! I would prefer to be happy with you.’
‘You’re not happy with me?’
‘I didn’t mean it like that.’
‘Well, what did you mean, Lily? Hmm?’
‘I want to be happy with you but…’
‘But you’re not?’
‘Not always.’
‘Ouch.’
‘Sorry.’
‘No, please. Tell it how it is.’
‘John…’
‘Back off, I don’t want petting. I’m not a little boy who’s scraped his knee.’
‘John...’
‘I said back off!’
‘Okay, okay. It’s just…’
‘What?’
‘It’s just if maybe you could just be a little nicer sometimes, I know we could be happy.’
‘We? But I’m perfectly happy, it’s you that isn’t. It’s all you.’
‘That isn’t helping.’
‘Well, no. But that’s because I’m not actually feeling very happy right now.’
‘I’m sorry.’
‘I thought it was me that was supposed to be sorry.’
‘We could both be sorry. Let’s get takeaway and watch that programme you like.’
‘That one you hate and make me switch off?’
‘Let’s watch it, just this once.’
‘No.’
‘Please?’
‘No.’
‘Fine. Well, I tried.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘I tried to explain how I feel and now you’re sulking.’
‘I am not.’
‘Really? For god’s sake, John, you don’t even understand your own emotions. No wonder you don’t understand mine.’
‘You’re angry.’
‘Yes, I bloody well am. You are so… frustrating. I don’t want…’
‘Oh yeah? Don’t want what, Lily?’
‘Let go of my arm.’
‘Tell me!’
‘This! I don’t want this. Whatever this has become.’
‘And what has it become?’
‘Nothing good. A unhappy mess. Please let go now.’
‘Not till you…’
‘Don’t be ridiculous! Let got of my arm! Thank you.’
‘Unhappy mess. Twisted mess more like.’
‘I agree with you there.’
‘I was joking!’
‘Seriously? Oh my god… It’s been like this so long, I can’t remember when it wasn’t!’
‘What? Everything was all fine this morning. I don’t understand.’
‘This I what I mean. You are oblivious to anything that isn’t you.’
‘You should always look out for number one. Who else is going to?’
‘I would have, if you’d let me.’
‘Let you? How have I not let you?’
‘You make it very hard to love you.’
‘Back to me being mean again, are we?’
‘Yes, John, we are. Because it is the crux of the problem.’
‘Still my fault?’
‘Always. I can’t keep trying to love you if you won’t let me.’
‘So…?’
‘So I think I’m going to go now. Stay at Kathy’s’
‘What? But… No!’
‘I think I have to.’
‘Please don’t. Please.’
‘I’m sorry. But I have to start thinking about what I need.’
‘Tell me what you need.’
‘I need someone who cares that I’m over-sensitive.’
‘I’m really sorry about that, Lily. I can be that.’
‘I don’t want you to “be” anything, John. I just wish…’
‘What?’
‘I just wish you liked yourself a bit more.’
‘That’s crazy. I like myself just fine. Don’t look at me like that.’
‘Like what?’
‘With… pity.’
‘Oh John, I don’t pity you, my heart hurts for you.’
‘How is that not pity?’
‘It’s not pity, it’s love.’
‘Well, if you love me, don’t leave me.’
‘I have to.’
‘Why?’
‘Because you don’t love me.’
‘I do! I… do.’
‘Maybe you do, in your way. But I need something more balanced, something… equal.’
‘I don’t understand any of this.’
‘I know and I’m really sorry. I think you need to learn to believe you’re worth someone’s time, someone’s love.’
‘How the hell am I supposed to do that?’
‘I can’t tell you how to do it, you have to work it out for yourself. Find out who you really are. Go on a journey of self discovery.’
‘How?’
‘Look it up. It’s a thing.’  

Judges Comments

Anna Pye nails a conflicted couple's progression from what seems like a friendly spat to a complete relationship breakdown in The Thing, the winning entry in our Dialogue-only Short Story Competition. Through the voices of its two characters, it neatly reveals everything we need to know as readers about Lily, John, and why their relationship is on the rocks. At first it seems lighthearted, but their conversation discloses deeper rifts as it becomes evident that John, who will never admit to being wrong, uses 'banter' and teasing to pick on Lily. It's cleverly done, the dialogue mirroring the way 'banter' is used by an emotional bully to up the stakes so that the person who 'can't take a joke' is made to feel ridiculed and belittled.

As the conversation builds up incrementally, Anna drip feeds information that reveals not just the faultlines in the relationship between Lily and John, but the way something so apparently trivial (Anna cleverly never tells the reader what provoked the original exchange) can mask something that really is a 'thing': Lily's unhappiness in a relationship where her needs are secondary to John's ego.

Anna uses humour and a deceptively light touch to tackle a serious issue, and using the same line to start and finish the story works well. John begins the conversation; Lily ends it. The emphasis is vastly different; at the outset 'it's a thing' feels light and humourous; by the end, it's a wry, telling comment on the emotional minefield that the dialogue in this sharply well-observed story has exposed.

Although the dialogue is a two-hander and split equally between Lily and John, Anna has skilfully weighted it so that the reader, without being directed, is satisfied that it is Lily who has the greatest insight, and the final word. The dialogue follows a dramatic arc, with change effected and resolution achieved - and all without a word of authorial intervention in this very succcessful story.

 

Runner-up in the Dialogue-Only Short Story Competition was Antony Reid, Heswall, Wirral, whose story is published on www.writers-online.co.uk. Also shortlisted were: Peter Caunt, Harrogate, North Yorkshire; Julie Hancock, Hazlemere, Buckinghamshire; Patricia Mahoney, Broadstairs, Kent; Jo Munroe, Waterlip, Somerset; Julia Sandy, Worcester;
Darren York, Leicester.

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