In the era of the staycation, travel writing offers a metaphorically transporting way to experience distant realms. With the “Cities” issue, we sought pieces that captured the flavour of a place without sacrificing narrative: more literary than literal guide. The fiction, memoir, reportage and poetry we ended up with convey a strong sense of a particular city (or an imagined one) while keeping character, plot and style to the fore.
We were delighted to find an abundance of captivating pieces that whisk the reader around the world, across Europe, America, Asia, and even into the dystopian urban future. The range among the non-fiction offerings has never been broader, from Emma Rault’s Brit’s-eye-view of LA (“Los Angeles, Seen from a Tree”) to Cheryl Lynn Smart’s impassioned in-depth report on the housing projects of Memphis (“The Bricks”). Judith Roney poetically takes the pulse of Orlando following last year’s nightclub shootings in “<80 BPM”, while Conor Montague depicts backpackers in Gorakhpur with comic flair in “The Integrity of Cockroaches”.
In addition to poems distilling key aspects of Paris and New York, Dundee and Liverpool, of particular note is the winning entry in Shooter’s inaugural Poetry Competition. Miriam Celeste Ramos scooped the prize with “The Long Arm” for its raw energy, surging Beat-style rhythm, and emotional power. Her poem, along with that of runner-up Stephen Williams, also appears online.
Many of the issue’s short stories play with perception as well as place. Paul Blaney’s “A Lisbon Story” seemed a good choice to open the edition given its sharp sense of setting and the kind of questions it raises about identity and invention, opportunities for which cities so frequently present. Sarah Evans, in “The Architecture of Emotion”, reflects her main character’s inner turmoil in London’s outer landscape. Dave Wakely’s “In the Gut” also elegantly explores heartache, this time in the Maltese capital of Valletta, while the protagonist in P W Lewis’s “A Tale of Two” becomes mired in a murky world of art and infidelity in Vienna.
Culture clash emerges as another common theme. Máire Cooney’s Glaswegian schoolgirl has trouble adjusting to Edinburgh life in “Nobody Said Anything”. A stint teaching English in Hong Kong shatters the main character’s illusions in Joshan Esfandiari Martin’s “Charmed Lives”. And not just culture but survival clashes loom in Malachi King’s “The Waters of Michigan”, when two post-apocalyptic survivors roam an unnamed city, dreaming of a better place.
When cities become visions of hell, what idyll beckons with greatest allure? The country.
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