September 11th

September 11, 2016

Fifteen years ago I was driving back into work when I heard, on the radio, that a light aircraft had flown into one of the two towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. By the time I’d passed through security at the gate and pulled into a car parking space, a second plane had hit the second tower. I went icy cold. That couldn’t have been a coincident.

I went into reception and it was packed. Dozens of my fellow scientists and engineers were staring, transfixed, on the live pictures coming from the BBC. Smoke billowing from the Twin Towers, violent gashes ripped into them…

I went to my office. I rang home. Spoke to my wife, Vee, a few days overdue with our first child, oblivious to the moment that changed the world. We had the ‘What kind of world are we bringing a child into?’ conversation.

Milly was born three days later and I did what I always planned to do. I bought an armful of newspapers and put a four hour tape in the video recorder (remember those?) and selected BBC News 24. Those papers still make for a heartbreaking, tear inducing read.

Today, Facebook, is naturally, filled with untold numbers of images from that dark day, however, I have to thank Facebook for giving me one little glimmer of light. Six years ago, WordWatchers had one of its last in-house short story competitions, the theme was ‘Stranded’. I won, with a Science Fiction story called ‘We are The Stranded’. It was the only time I won, and given we don’t do short story competitions any more (we talk about resurrecting the format again, but so far, it’s just that, talk), it is likely to be the only one I ever win.

Happy John

 

That story went into our first short story anthology, ‘Out of Time’ (which I also designed the cover for*).

Out Of Time

OK, I say first, but I mean ‘only’ because, although we had plans to do more, including one based around our first visit to Symondsbury Manor, we never did. The short story competitions and the anthologies, ironically, fell foul of the group’s success. As key members moved on, others became agented or got publishing deals and the hamster wheels began to squeak, there was only time for writing that publishers wanted, the short story competition withered on the vine.

So today is a strange day. I look at my beautiful eldest daughter, sitting just across from me now as I write this, writing herself, a monologue for English homework, and I think of what a world she’s being brought up in – that the 3,000 souls who perished on 9/11 are but the tiny tip of a huge iceberg, of the millions who have died in, or fled from, wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. Her monologue is going to be about 9/11, so we have come full circle in that respect.

I think about the WordWatchers of six years ago, think about the success Katherine Webb, Charlotte Betts and Abbie Rushton have achieved since and I am immensely proud of what this tiny little group has achieved. Then I think about our summer and Christmas parties, the buzz of the competition results and I miss those things and I think the group is missing them too…

John

* The background wood effect was added by committee – I remain unconvinced that it adds anything (fully accepting that I was, and still am, quite precious over my original, plain white background design).

Comments

Comments

  1. Oliver says:

    A lucid account of a tragic event changed the way we all perceive the world.

    I would love it if WordWatchers did introduce a short story comp. I frequently feel the need to escape from the tyranny of the editing process and back into some first-draft euphoria! (I’m not saying that short-stories needn’t be subject to the same level of rigor, mind!)

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