‘The Ground Is Considerably Distorted’ by Ruby Cowling

This is a story I particularly wanted to include, but which has now become very topical, even more than when it was written well before 2019 although set in 2020. In fact I wondered if I should leave it out, because it involves an earthquake – in Japan – and a damaged nuclear reactor, presumably as a result, coinciding with a conference in Zurich on increasing world dependency on nuclear energy, and a Westminster scandal over remarks about the effects of the earthquake by the wife of the Foreign Secretary.

A heady mix, and what’s so extraordinary about the story is the structure and the multiple stranding: the first-person narrative of a young female Japanese journalist now in London to cover the political scandal, told partly in her Twitter feeds – one her journalist account, the other her personal account; live television news feed from Westminster; the texted conversation between the Foreign Secretary and his wife, even within their home; a third-person narrative of the scandal from the wife’s point of view.

It could have been a gimmick, it could have gone horribly wrong – although Boiler House have done a brilliant job with the layout, which clarifies it considerably. In fact, it’s virtuosic writing of a very high standard, fully under control, riveting on every level – human, domestic, political. Rereading it has induced an even greater twinge of envy, and I had to include it despite the current bad timing.

First published in Lighthouse, collected in This Paradise, Boiler House Press, 2019

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