‘By the Canal’ by KJ Orr

In several ways I was one of the failures of the UEA MA. I drifted in at one end and drifted out at the other. I didn’t know what I was doing, and it was years before I published anything – unsurprisingly, because I hardly wrote anything. It was 20 years before I returned as a Royal Literary Fund writing fellow, which eventually led to a job on the faculty, which led to my occupying Angela Carter’s old office and Malcolm Bradbury’s old job. Katherine (KJ) Orr was in one of my earliest workshop groups, and stood out not just for the poise, elegance and often surprising violence of her short stories, but for her commitment to the short form. She certainly did know what she was doing. Many students begin the MA writing short fiction and, as they see it, ‘graduate’ to writing a novel. For Katherine, there is no graduation. The forms are different, and differently challenging. Eight years after she submitted ‘By The Canal’ to our workshop she included it in Light Box, her debut collection. It remains as enigmatic, and subtle, and shocking, as when I first read it, and the collection is a near-perfect vindication of Katherine’s dedication to the art of what she calls ‘shorts’.

In Light Box, Daunt, 2016. An excerpt was published in Cheque Enclosed, UEA, 2007

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