Wednesday, November 21, 2012

All the Voices Cry YES! Announcing Alice Petersen, Winner of the QWF First Fiction Prize

Winner of the Concordia University
First Book Prize

It was with great delight that we caught Alice Petersen's name floating around the twitterverse this morning, and it's with even greater delight that we announce her 2012 story collection (All the Voices Cry) was last night declared the winner of the QWF's First Book Prize. Congratulations to Alice! Twas well-earned, madam. To celebrate, here's a teeny tiny excerpt from one of my favourite stories in the collection. All the Voices Cry is also this month's featured book on the Biblioasis website, so should you desire, it can be yours for 30% off. Enjoy!

from All the Voices Cry

Winner of the QWF Concordia University First Book Prize

"Scottish Annie"

ON SATURDAYS AT FIVE Archie McLean visits the retirement home to take requests at the piano. Each week the seniors try to trip him. “Robins and Roses,” they’ll say, naming some old tune that they used to dance to on the wind-up. They can’t catch Archie out. Archie knows them all and he sings in that old-fashioned radio way, leaning back on the piano stool, nodding to the ladies. At the end, he opens the piano lid right up and plays an extra fast bumblebee song. I’m usually out in the garden when Archie gets back after the tea and scones, and then he leans over the hedge to tell me about it. 
“Well Ruby,” says Archie, “I think we wowed them today.” It always makes me laugh. You would think he was a whole orchestra the way he talks. Archie is a nice young man. Genteel, my mother would have said. We play Scrabble on Wednesday nights. He’s been my neighbour for nearly fifteen years now. Back in March, he celebrated his fiftieth birthday, and I made an eggless chocolate cake, because Archie doesn’t believe in exploiting the hens. He served me a slice and said, “so when’s your birthday, Ruby?” 
“Get away with you,” I said, “a lady doesn’t admit to her age until she’s in for a telegram from the Queen. All I’m saying is I’m not old enough to be your mother. Have some more cake.” 
Last week, when he had finished toting up the score for the word umbilical, Archie told me that he has to move, because his landlord wants to sell the house. I was very sorry to hear that. Archie has been a great friend to me. 
After mother died, three years ago next February, Archie got me started volunteering at the retirement home. He said it was better than hiding in the potting shed. At the time, I said that I wasn’t hiding and that I’d think about it. Now I take the seniors out on wee trips in the car. Archie is the piano man and I am the driving jukebox. They tell me where they want to go, and I take them, within four hours and within reason. Often they like to go back to where they were born, or where they’ve had picnics in the past. One afternoon I drove ninety-year-old Willy Callaghan to Oamaru. We idled outside a renovated villa on Vine Street while Mr. Callaghan wept for the loss of the corrugated iron sheets on the roof and the front room where he had been born. I said that a nice conservatory full of tomatoes was nothing to cry about. Still, I let him have a good old weep, and then we went for an ice cream and came home. It takes me a year to get through all the seniors, so some of the older ones don’t come more than once. 
When I arrived up at the home last week, Mrs. Webster was waiting for me in the foyer, all wrapped up warm for her outing. She always wears mohair cardies that her niece from up Ranfurly way knits for her. The light catches in the hairs. 
“You’re glowing, Mrs. Webster,” I said, and she was pleased. Mohair keeps your chest warm, but it’s not cheap, and it gets stringy. Better to mix it with a bit of wool. 
“Anyway,” I said, “where are we off to today?” Mrs. Web- ster wanted to go to the nursery at Blueskin Bay, to buy a miniature rose for her bedroom. She had a coupon from the paper. They do love coupons. So off we went, out through Pine Hill and over the motorway to the nursery. She got a wee apricot rose to match her curtains. I almost got one too, but then I thought it was silly to get over-excited about plants that don’t survive the winter. 
Mrs. Webster was sitting in the car looking at the rose bush on her lap. Then she looked at me quite shyly. 
“Do you think we could take the road along the coast, through Seacliff?” she asked. 
“Of course we can, Mrs. Webster,” I said. “My wish is your command.” So away we went, winding along above the sea, past the rabbit holes in the yellow clay banks and the twisted macrocarpa trees along the fence lines. 
“Seacliff always makes me sad,” I said, just to make conversation. It’s the kind of thing that people say when they drive through Seacliff. The paddocks there fall so steeply towards the sea that it’s hard to tell how a sheep might hold on in the wind, let alone a farmer on a bike. And you think you might hear some ghost from the asylum wailing away in the breeze. It was a grand old place, the asylum at Seacliff, majestic and crenellated. They had proper lunatics in those days.

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