‘Ugly Duckling’ by Angela Readman

Angela Readman’s first published story, ‘Ugly Duckling’ is narrated by Matt, who is reminded by a holiday photograph of a nightmare trip to Norway with his parents and brother Jamie, on which, possibly, everything changed. Certainly what Matt hears his father say, during an argument with the boys’ mother, would be enough to create a rupture in a family that would appear to be already at breaking point. Matt plays with a yo-yo, with which Jamie desperately wants a go, and they are briefly separated from their parents on a mountain where, according to local legend (and in a pleasing echo of one of Giles Gordon’s ‘Fingers’), if you throw something off the top, it comes right back up. What comes up the mountain to the brothers, from below, is the sound of their father’s voice and then ‘a sound like a balloon bursting, then another. It could have been a clap of thunder, a banger, an old exhaust. It could have been a lot of things’. The story is not included in Readman’s collection, Don’t Try This at Home (And Other Stories, 2015), and nor is ‘Fishtail’, which was shortlisted for the Manchester Fiction Prize 2015 and may be read online. Readman is one of the judges of the same prize this year.

(London Magazine, December/January 2001)