The line spacing in this story began for me an experiment with form, still ongoing. The form carries much of the weight of any story, in terms of its ‘meaning’ or ‘message’. The spacing around the word ‘But’ in this story lends the word its but-feeling, to borrow a phrase from Wittgenstein.
First published on The White Review website, April 2015. Collected in Attrib. And Other Stories, Influx Press, 2017
If you haven’t read Eley Williams yet, what are you waiting for? She makes stories out of second-long slivers of time, swooping completely away from everything you think a story should be and landing you somewhere completely new and strange. This story, a telescopic exploration of one genderless narrator’s inability to kiss their lover (also a genderless ‘you’) by a Brigit Riley painting, is a great place to start.
First published on The White Review website, April 2015. Collected in Attrib., Influx Press, 2017
Chosen by Susanna Crossman
‘And Back Again’ by Eley Williams is a DIY of how I’d like to declare my love this year, not in ”units, deeds, quests, behests” but through an imagined trip to Timbuktu staying in a cheap hotel with a blue painted face, because, as the 1960 Oliver West End musical song goes, “I’ll do anything. For you dear anything.” As the narrator’s romantic daydream unfolds, mesmerizing details lure us to a Mali hotel where a fan “slices the air into swallowable rashers.” A lorry draws up outside, advertising La Vache Qui Rit, driven by a guy wearing Chelsea away strip smoking cloves-scented cigarettes.
In ‘And Back Again’, language is dissected, turned inside out and upside down. Song lyrics thread through the story, and words are examined from all angles, metaphorically and visually: the word Timbuktu “has just the right mix of spiked and undulating letters…the verticals of boat masts riding easy waves…” Yet the conceptual nature of ‘And Back Again’ doesn’t override the vivid narrative and delicate poetry, as love will be declared on a morning “woken by the starlings…shouldering the dawn.”
Following my reading, for Valentine’s Day, I have booked my flight to Timbuktu, and for the blue face paint am contemplating a Klein bleu. Thanks Eley!
First published in Attrib, Influx Press, 2017
Susanna Crossman is an Anglo-French prize-winning essayist and fiction writer. Her debut novel Dark Island is currently under submission. More here.
I love this story. It really showcases the quietly amazing things the form can accomplish while championing Williams’s microscopic eye for detail. On one level it is a simple story of a woman listening to a bird and watching a bee, in bed with her lover, but of course, it is so much more than that. It is a hymn to tiny places and intimate moments, ‘in-between’ times that are so easily forgotten as we get on with the bigger events of life. The penultimate paragraph is a masterclass in narrative climax, and it makes me jealous. Lord have mercy, Williams is so good, with that comma in the air and her particular way of describing pillows…
First published in Attrib. and other stories, Influx Press, 2017
This is a shout-out for both Eley’s genius, and Rich Porter’s epoch-defining trilogy of anthologies of queer life, published over the last couple of years. Eley’s story – more a rumination on false words, symmetry and self-definition – cuts to the heart of queer being, and being seen. It’s a story about singularity that becomes as inclusive as you’d wish. In reading it, you feel your loneliness being drawn from you. A wonder.
First published in Not Here: A Queer Anthology of Loneliness, ed. Richard Porter, Pilot Press 2017
I almost want to write nothing about this story since I think it’s best experienced for oneself. I will say that I have never forgotten this line:
and you stark me
and I am strobe-hearted
Reading ‘Smote’ for the first time made me rethink everything I thought I knew about words and how to use them.
Collected in Attrib. and Other Stories, Influx Press, 2017. First published online in The White Review, 2015. Read it here
It was hard to pick one story from Attrib., because the whole collection fizzes with the fresh, addictive energy that made it such a hit. It feels impossible to play favourites. While I often reread the alphabet paragraph from the opening story, I chose ‘Synaesthete, Would Like to Meet’ for my Personal Anthology because I think it best captures Williams’ playful spirit whilst also fitting into my loose theme of relationships. The story introduces a character with synaesthesia before, during and after a strangely successful date. The narrator has synaesthesia, which means as they interact with the world, words, sounds and images are paired with flavours, scents, colours and sensations in an overwhelming cacophony of stimulation. By dating the right person, the narrator discovers a way to numb the overwhelming clash of the senses and the general sensory noise is slowly turned down. Every story with Williams is an adventure in a brilliant linguistic gymnasium and I love her writing to death.
First published in Night and Day, 2011, and collected in Attrib. and other Stories, Influx Press, 2017
I published this at 3:AM Magazine and am in no way surprised by the subsequent wild success of her first collection. Eley combines a meticulous eye for language with the rare ability to write convincingly about happy love. She had me at “I am the first to admit that my spirit animal is probably a buttered roll.”
First published at 3:AM Magazine. Collected in Attrib. and Other Stories, Influx Press, 2017
Although this story has already been cited in this parish by the good Naomi Frisby (and isn’t actually my personal favourite in Williams’s justly-lauded collection – ‘Smote’ is as close to perfection as it gets), ‘Alight at the Next’ shows how a train, even the most squalid packed Tube carriage, and a short story can together stop time and open time up. (This story also contains Williams’s wondrous recognition that her ‘spirit animal is probably a buttered roll.’)
In Attrib. and Other Stories, Influx Press, 2017. Read it online here
I first heard this story read by the author at the launch of Isabel Waidner’s Gaudy Bauble (2017) at the Horse Hospital in London. It struck me then for its humour and tenderness and the effortless way it knitted us together as an audience. For Williams, language and love are never far apart (and that is probably already a commonplace in Williams Studies), and a love-object will always be mediated through language and seduced by that rather than, say, gesture. To read this is to entangle word and world. While the narrator overthinks a (what other’s might describe as a mere) kiss in cascades of rhythmic prose, the loved-one has leaned in and done it without thinking. You can find Williams’ Personal Anthology here.
…my hand a melting tessellation could feed you crushed Oreos and moon parings, my hand not quite in yours, but not yet quite out, the starting track at a race track when a white flag means surrender and Black Flag means punk bands formed in seventies California and I cannot tell whether you or I are leaning nor if the attendant is approaching…
First published online in The White Review. Collected in Attrib. and other stories, Influx Press, 2017
I first came across Eley Williams when her short story ‘Smote, or When I Find I Cannot Kiss You in Front of a Print by Bridget Riley’ was shortlisted for The White Review Short Story Prize in 2015. It was Williams’ second shortlisting in two years. Yes, she is that good.
‘Alight at the Next’ is my favourite story in her debut collection. The narrator stands inside a tube carriage. The train is in the station and the doors are open. As the narrator hesitates, contemplating asking their companion to come home with them, a man tries to step up into the carriage. The narrator halts him by placing a finger in the middle of his forehead. The whole story then takes place with the characters in this position. Williams perfectly balances desire, fear, humour and word play.
From Attrib. & Other Stories. First published in 3:AM Magazine and available to read here