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SNAP shortlist entry by Nicola Whittam - Guardian


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Guardian by Nicola Whittam.

I don’t remember the before times. I know I was there though, a small child running around getting under everyone’s feet. Then there is the aftermath, that I do remember. The event itself that’s crystal clear.

Mother said it was cold, very cold, blizzard like. She was always prone to exaggeration, but I don’t doubt that it was cold – it was January in Aldeburgh after all. The winds from the east bite and when they join with those from the north, they brutally assault you. Marry that with a tide of which we’d never known the like, and we have a storm made for ending souls.

We knew it was coming. Mother said the days before passed in a blur of preparations.  “The Surge” was coming, we didn’t know just how much of it was coming. Fishermen and the people who live with them and love them know to be wary of the sea, especially when it tries to take the land. But you weren’t a fisherman, you were a painter. And I didn’t even like fish. I still don’t like to look at them, they are too knowing with their unblinking gaze.

I must have gone to bed as usual, maintaining the rites and rituals, talking to the guardians, securing their favours. Granny had instilled a fear, respect she called it, of the spirits and I always spoke to them before bed to ask them for their protection. I still do.

The water came. At first it snook silently under the door, early sentinels searching out weaknesses, finding gaps in our preparations. Then it pounced and we were inundated. All the work that everyone had done, undone in a blink.

Mother told me that Granny refused to leave without her coat. It was quickly lost downstairs in the swirling, stinking, surging blackness that had been our cosy living room. There was an argument in the loft about sitting on the roof, climbing above the encroaching water, and attracting rescue. It was, Granny said, not decorous for a lady to be outside in her dressing-gown. Granny said she might as well be naked. Mother told her that if she didn’t leave now, she needn’t worry about her reputation. I have an inkling that stronger words of encouragement were used. Mother told me that she’d said the spirits would scoff at Granny and ridicule her for being so hoity and giving up everything she had for a coat. That thrashed a nerve, I can tell you. I can still feel it jangling, even now.

Rescue came, not to all, but to us.

You waved as the waves engulfed you. I didn’t think you meant to leave, but looking back, I think that was why you were here. My house painter, my home maker. I didn’t know that you were the guardian I prayed to whilst I knelt beside you. You held me calm in a sea of panic. You did what you were here to do, and then you left.


About the Student New Angle Prize

The Student New Angle Prize is an annual competition partnered with the New Angle Prize for Literature, a national book award for published authors. SNAP offers all UoS students the chance to enter by submitting 500 words of original writing as prose or poetry. Like the New Angle Prize, entries must either be set in or clearly influenced by our East Anglian region.

The SNAP competition gives us a chance to discover new voices in the region and encourages our students to add to the literary representations which continue to make East Anglia such an important place for art, literature, and poetry.

Are you interested in creative writing? Start your journey by exploring our BA (Hons) English or MA Creative and Critical Writing.

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