I’m sure I first heard about Agnes Owens via my English teacher, in fifth year at Prestwick Academy. Scottish literature owes so much to Agnes Owens, yet she remains painfully so under-acknowledged. Her writing is bold, brutal, and darkly funny.
Agnes Owens describes a beach is full of threats and dangers. A young girl wants to go to the lighthouse, but her younger brother does not. She warns him that a monster might get him if he doesn’t comply. His understanding of “monster” is bizarre, and we worry about threats coming from everywhere and anywhere. A dark story beautifully told.
First published in People Like That, Bloomsbury, 1996
This is not a famous story, or a new one, but something about the way it dramatizes the experience of talking to a stranger on a train stuck in my brain. I love trains, and buses – and I’m also scared of them. The possibility that that conversation might turn weird, or that threat might suddenly erupt out of everyday pleasantries, is always present. In particular, this seems very modern, in a world where we are newly interrogating the power play of everyday interactions in the light of gender, race and class. And more than that, Agnes Owens is just great.
First published in Lean Tales, Jonathan Cape, 1995, also collected in Complete Short Stories, Polygon, 2011