44 Comments

Nathan, this is wonderful. This is the first of these that I’ve read and now all the others have to compete against it! I kid ;) but seriously, whoever delivered the prompt will, I’m sure, be so touched with the sensitivity you’ve offered. I know it’s not part of the idea, but I would have been so interested to see the prompt, to see what the clay that you sculpted this piece from was like in its original form... Excellent work, my dear. Right, now to the other forty-something pieces...!

Expand full comment
author
Dec 29, 2023·edited Dec 29, 2023Author

😉

Aw, thanks so much Chloe, I appreciate the kind words and I too hope that whoever this prompt came from will be happy.

Expand full comment

Such a beautiful story. I'm happy we decided not to share our prompts because there's more mystery in what was said and unsaid - in the ways your imagination or experience has danced with that of the other.

This story really reminds us that those important relationships and connections can come from unexpected people and places. The weave of the symbol of music helps us feel that essence. So lovely, Nathan.

Expand full comment
author

Thanks, Kate. 😊

I too think it was the right decision not to share the prompts. The mystery is good.

I'm excited to get to yours and all the others!

Expand full comment

This is such an interesting experiment, Nathan, because no matter how specific and personal the prompt is, a writer can’t help putting something of themselves into each story they write. And here you’ve managed to let us spend time with someone whose circumstance would tend to have the effect of making them hard and angry and bitter. Yet this person you render is innocent somehow--still childlike, and completely without guile. Like a Sparrow alone in the wild. A heartbreakingly sad young life and also surprisingly strong and hopeful. It leaves me with the feeling that this soul will always be OK maybe even more compassionate and nurturing for what they’ve been through.

Expand full comment
author

Ann, your thoughts and feedback are always so special. Thank you.

I struggled writing this one. I found it hard to truly let go and let it wander where it wanted to go, but I'm hopeful it got there in the end.

I am left with the same feeling of hope, too. Thank for you being here and reading.

Expand full comment

"I was too young then to realize that hope flew in with a devil tucked under its wing." If there was a Pulitzer for one line, I'd vote for this.

This is such a great story, Nathan. Your writing is so aching and filled with angst. I honestly finished this piece wanting so much more - hoping this was just the start of Sparrow's story.

So great. Thank you!

Expand full comment
author

Thanks for reading, Troy, and wow -- thank you. That's very very kind of you to say.

Expand full comment
Dec 29, 2023·edited Dec 29, 2023Liked by Nathan Slake

As usual with your writing, I found this to be very evocative. I don't know how much of it is autobiographical, but it reminded me in my forst year of uni of a really nice bloke I got in very well with, who decided to pack it in because he thoughht it was a load of rubbish. I've regretted ever since not keeping in touch with him.

As for the cast-offs, the scene reminded me of the scene in Fahrenheit 451 in which members of this band of renegades are walking around reciting the novels they have committed to learn by rote.

"I couldn’t say anything to him, the tears that streaked down my cheeks like a thousand rivers blurring my eyes as I walked away." Excellent writing, as ever.

Expand full comment
author

Thanks, Terry. There was some back and forth with Ben and the whole group about whether the prompts would be shared or not, but the decision was to keep them private, which I think was the correct one.

Anyway, I'm really happy you found this evocative.

You know what, now you say it, I wonder whether subconsciously I was thinking of that ending scene in Fahrenheit 451 when this was starting to formulate in my mind.

Expand full comment

I thought of the Book People, too.

Expand full comment

Ha! Typical. Unconscious plagiarism (a term I just invented) rears its ugly head.

Chortle.

Private prompts add to the mystery I think.

Anyway, great work, Nathan, a mini masterpiece.

Expand full comment
author

Hehehe, shhhhhh.

Expand full comment

I found myself wondering how it might feel to run away knowing that no one would notice.

The indifference of a family, the kindness of strangers and the gradual self-awareness the character gains through his acceptance by a ragtag group have all served to shape him into someone who can move forward to find a meaningful life. Bittersweet but optimistic in the end. Well done Nathan, as always!

Expand full comment
author

Thank you, Jim. It felt like quite a lot to package into something that I wanted to keep beneath 2000 words. I'm glad you feel some of the optimism there. It was something I wanted to seep through. 🙏

Expand full comment

What an excellent concept for a writing project!

Perhaps because I read it relatively recently, this story made me think a little of Station Eleven, with its band of wandering players.

However, instead of one, unifying cataclysm, there is a sense that Jay and the Castoffs have all suffered their own personal tragedies, like Sparrow, which have somehow thrust them into the same post-apocalyptic existence, even as the rest of the world carries on in parallel, unchanged.

Despite the melancholia of loss and regret, with that novel, this piece shares a sense of hopefulness, that salvation can be found amongst people, in community and in art, and that it is possible to discover a better future.

I really enjoyed reading this one. Bravo!

Expand full comment

Yes! I had this same thought about Station Eleven. Finding community at the edges, making art and letting people be who they are, no judgment.

Expand full comment
author

Love these thoughts, Jamie, thank you.

I hadn't consciously thought of Station Eleven, but having read it relatively recently (last year?) perhaps it was simmering away.

Expand full comment

"But I was too young then to realise that hope flew in with a devil tucked under its wing." Great line, Nathan. Knowing or not knowing the prompt doesn't really matter (for me at least) and as Kate says, it only adds to the mystery, which is a good thing. What horrible thing has he or she done? There's a greater story here but it stands well on its own.

Expand full comment
author

Thanks, Alexander. I really like that line, too. And I'm sure it'll come as no surprise to you to say it was one of those joyous ones that came from nowhere whilst writing.

Expand full comment

Q.E.D. ;)

Expand full comment

I love the way the narrator meanders in the telling of her story that is very much a story of being lost and searching without any true North. The details you added are lovely and vivid - burying her tins of food like a squirrel. I really enjoyed it. Bravo!

Expand full comment
author

Thanks, Ben, so glad you enjoyed. This was probably the toughest thing I've had to write this year, so thanks for facilitating that working out of writing muscles.

I'm slowly making my way through the list and looking forward to yours.

Expand full comment

Beautifully sad and yet hopeful at the same time. I always wanted some kind of mentor/protector to guide my journey, but I never had anyone invest in me or see my potential. I guess that's why I've spent my private life pursuing accomplishment. I've had successes (earning a PhD at 54 among them), but even then, I didn't find the satisfaction I sought. But that's enough.

I loved this.

Expand full comment
author

Thanks so much Stephanie.

And wow, congratulations on your PhD! A huge accomplishment at any age.

Expand full comment

Aw, thanks. It was a journey. I taught at an R1 university for two years (COVID started midway through the first year) and when my visiting contract wasn't renewed I found that my area of research (arts-based teaching and remix) was no longer an area of interest for universities and the pay jump required for holders of terminal degrees meant high schools didn't want me either. I spent a year and a half working at Chick-fil-A before it became untenable, and I've been without a steady income since. The PhD was an accomplishment without the long term satisfaction I hoped for.

Having said that, I learned the value of perseverance and skills that help me research my current writing. Now I look forward to whatever happens next!

Expand full comment

Heartbreakingly, beautifully rendered portrait, Nathan - the loneliness, the isolation, and the need to find some connection (and from the humblest of people!) I can't help but think the prompt writer would be touched by the deep empathy you brought. Well done! ⭐✨🌟

Expand full comment
author

Thanks so much, Troy. I hope so, too 🤗🙏

Expand full comment

Nathan, this is wonderful. You’ve painted the relationship between Jay and the Sparrow, what can develop among people who see each other’s pain, and the way being seen and cared for can heal with such beautiful strokes. May we all be so fortunate to find someone who can help us return to a place we’ve never been.

Expand full comment
author
Dec 31, 2023·edited Dec 31, 2023Author

Thank you, Holly, that's really lovely to hear :)

Expand full comment

Raw and emotive and striking. I love the bird names and metaphors.

Expand full comment
author

Thanks, Nadia!

Expand full comment

Wonderfully done as always, Nathan. A truly melancholy tale but with an uplifting coda that brings hope and light to even the darkest of times. I have just become aware of this writing experiment and will certainly catch up on all the other stories 👍🏼

Expand full comment
author

Thanks, Dan, appreciate the thoughts.

Hope you get to dive into some of the other stories 😊

Expand full comment

Beautifully done Nathan. 🧡

Expand full comment
author

Thanks so much, Brian!

Expand full comment

This cast a spell on me. This, for me, is the beating heart of it: “you don’t realise how damn resilient a human is. How much it can survive even if it doesn’t want to.” Or taking that in made my own heart beat differently. Beautiful piece. Thank you, Nathan.

Expand full comment
author
Jan 5·edited Jan 5Author

Thank you, Julie. I really appreciate the thoughts and comments 🤗

Expand full comment