Breaking Ground: A Debut Author Feature with Kate Weinberg

F (r)iction is elated to introduce our readers to Kate Weinberg and her debut novel, The Truants.

Released in late January from Putnam, The Truants is being hailed as “One of the best thriller debuts in recent years…” (Kirkus Reviews) and “a remarkably assured debut, deftly plotted…with vivid, compelling characters that leap off the page.” (Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You).

In this literary mystery, we follow Jess and her eclectic group of friends when a tragedy strikes, revealing a terrible secret, shattering their interpersonal dynamics. Seductive, unsettling, with unforgettable prose, The Truants unflinchingly explores duality and obsession with truly lovable characters that will linger in your mind long after the final page.

In our interview, Kate discusses Agatha Christie, responsibility in storytelling, and the promise of sex in narrative. Stick around after the interview and check out the first chapter. Warning: You won’t be able to stop there.

An Interview with Kate Weinberg

By Dani Hedlund

I read The Truants over the course of just two days, pretty much without sleeping! It’s such an absorbing novel. Where did your love of storytelling come from?

I can’t really explain that without telling you the story of losing my mother. My father was a busy entrepreneur, and he was left with three bereaved girls. I was three, my sister was six, and my oldest sister was twelve. He didn’t know what to do with us, so the one thing he did was spent a lot of time sitting with each of us individually and reading books to us. So right from the beginning of my life, I’ve always associated books with a type of love and special connection. In fact, all three of us girls have turned into writers.

The fact you have been saturated with literature and writing for most of your life really comes through in the novel. Talk me about what the path was like for you with this book. How did it come about?

It took a very long time. I did an undergraduate degree in English literature at Oxford, and then I left Oxford thinking, I’m going to write a novel!, and I planted around a bit looking for a story but couldn’t really find one. And even while I was getting my Master’s degree at UEA, I still hadn’t really found my voice as a writer. But I did meet this very exceptional teacher—Lorna Sage. She inspired the Lorna in my novel. It took several years and several false starts, but I finally got to a place in my life where I was settled enough to write this book. Interestingly, bits of failed books have ended up being kind of wrapped up into The Truants, so this book feels like a real layer cake of my life.

I was so impressed with how beautifully you captured the experience of becoming an adult, that stage when the world is full of mistakes and excitement and debilitating angst. How did you tap into that late teens and early twenties stage of life?

It was such an intense writing experience and it left a very big mark on me! My undergraduate days were not particularly remarkable; I yearned for these sorts of intense experiences. There was a part of me that wasn’t realized at university and was frustrated that, by the time I graduated, I hadn’t had that sort of experience. So it was quite cathartic for me to open that box again and rummage through it, with this set of characters I never met but would have wanted to meet.

When you think about the genesis of the ideas behind this book—the intellectual look at Agatha Christie, the idea of people going missing when they most want to be seen, the question of how to figure out and become the person you want to be—what made you want to commit The Truants to paper?

The reason it has so many layers is because it took me so long to write and there’s so much of my experience in it. And I’m not very good at choosing! I’d read The Secret History, and I wanted to explore what would happen if you created a a female version, which is not just to say that you change the gender of the characters, but if you explored all of the different kinds of psychological impact surrounding female friendships and female mentorships. So I tried to make it as interlocking and tangled as I could because that’s the experience of being young. You’re tangled up in different versions of yourself.

One thing that I found very moving about the book was its yearning and longing. What was it like to pace it out that way?

I wanted the plot to reflect Jess’s confusion, so I kept creating more twists and delaying the gratification. I also wanted to upend the idea that if you put a female and a male character in there, they both had to stay until the end. So I blew that up in the middle of the book and made the women very much the focus of the second half.

I was impressed with where your characters’ powers come from. They do it through storytelling, and I’m so fascinated by that. It’s amazing to see that as a power element, instead of what we’re used to: money, attraction, all of stereotypical things. Was that your intention?

It’s very much at the heart of what I find attractive in people. I’m married to a journalist. My sisters are writers. My friends are all writers. But what I also wanted to get to in this book was the dangers of storytelling. Storytelling is not just powerful; it’s dangerous. You can be caught in the spell of it. It messes with your perspective and it blinds you, or it twists your vision. So storytelling is the magic in the book, but it’s also dark magic.

Discussing the dangerous elements of storytelling, do you feel that sort of responsibility as an author toward your readers?

I feel a responsibility to be true to my own emotional understanding of how I’ve lived. Beyond that, the book then becomes the readers, and their interactions with it will be wildly different depending upon where they are in their lives. I can’t control that. The only thing I can control is writing it as vividly and honestly as I can.

I loved how no one in the narrative wears the white hat or black hat. Everyone just pops around in the world of gray. What was it like to explore this dual element of humanity in literally every single one of your characters?

I find that everything interesting about people happens somewhere along that boundary between right and wrong, good and evil. It’s certainly the area that I find most exciting.

I think those elements certainly added to the palpable tension in the book. How did you balance the more mundane notion of this is an experience we can all tap into with the palpable sense of possible destruction in every turn?

I think there’s a notion that if you go heavy on plot, it’s to the exclusion of character and vice versa. So I did my best to put in enough signposts, to foreshadow through the early bits because the books that really thrilled me as a teenager were the ones that did both. Whether it was John Fowles or Patricia Highsmith or Donna Tartt, I was really interested by writers that could make you care about the detail of characters’ lives while still providing this ticking clock, this sense that something’s coming.

Going back to the longing elements, this was an incredibly sexy book with very little sex in it. How did you pull that off?

I think that the promise of sex is, certainly when you’re writing, the sexiest part. It’s the same tension that you feel when you lean in for a first kiss and there’s a moment before you kiss that person. I wanted to capture that, the moment of impending possibility. That’s where real desire lives in fiction for me.

Jess’s narrative is so beautifully formed. I loved the parts where she randomly starts listing things, all nonchalant. Like, Here’s my entire sexual history! Did her voice come naturally to you?

Some parts of her voice were just me and the way I think. But she was also a little tricky because I wanted to get that balance between a character who is an observer and someone who has something more going on internally.

Tell me why you decided to base this in undergrad if your experience with this Lorna character was in grad school? Why was this time period the right place to put your characters?

I think that a part of me was longing to revisit that time and actually have a more remarkable experience. That coming of age time came quite late for me. I was twenty-five when I did my Masters. I think that undergrad is the time when lots of people are coming into their own, where they’re having a relationship with themselves as an individual for the first time outside of school. And the other thing that I needed was for Jess to feel trapped, where she had this very stifling and claustrophobic time. She’s desperate for an extraordinary experience, which of course means that you’re then very susceptible to not seeing things straight.

You told me very early on that this book took you a long time. Walk me through the whole process, from first having the idea to finally holding the galley proof.

The first three years, I was busy popping out babies. During that time, a friend of mine said to me that I had to stop writing in cafes. I used to sit in cafes with my ear plugs in and sort of write wildly for an hour, and then I’d start getting looks from the waiters and my concentration would be broken. My friend told me to come and rent a small space in her office. Once I had a room of my own, I really started getting down to it. That’s when I put the big pieces of paper on the wall and started scribbling, because it’s a really layered plot. I had diagrams all over with what was happening versus what seemed to be happening. I got that room about two years before I got my publishing deal.

Then there was this remarkable period where the book was bought by Bloomsbury in the UK and then by Penguin in the US. I had two different editors who had two different views on the editing process. So that was another year of rethinking, and reimagining, and balancing it all out. It was a long time, but when I went to the printing factory and saw my book, that was a really emotional moment. It was like having a child. It was a big moment.

How did you go about getting a literary agent? Did you have one for your other writing? Did you specifically query?

Both my sisters are writers, so I had a little bit of a leg up in that I knew of people that I could send my work to. I won a writing competition when I was about twenty-five-years old, and I was initially given an agent with that. I stopped writing for a while, and I eventually moved on to a different agent, but the competition really helped, looking back. Once you’re in the hands of a really smart agent, someone you trust, you do exactly what they tell you to do. You need people around you that you trust, and then you need to be prepared to keep climbing the mountain. Again and again.

When you look at the first finished draft in comparison to what the book is now, what’s the largest change you see?

There were five chapters set in Jess’s home at the beginning, which I chopped off. From the notes I received about its pacing, I had a light bulb moment and was able to take four chapters and turn them into a couple of tiny paragraphs and flashbacks.

What was the one thing that you really wanted to say with this book?

I wanted to get at that duality in every person, or certainly in myself. That need to both run away from the world and have your own sort of secret place—which, for me, has always been the world of books. I’ve always had my own kind of secret private world and that need to be seen and loved by other people, and all my characters have that dichotomy in them.

But, on reflection, I don’t think that’s what the book is about. I think it’s about a very precise feeling that I can remember from the age my narrator is: the fear of being no one. And the longing to live an extraordinary life. Longing always comes with its perils. And that’s where I found my story.

What are you working on now?

I have one other idea that I’ve been thinking about for a very long time now, and in some ways that idea could have come before The Truants. It draws more heavily from my own life. It’s about a young woman who goes in search of the identity of her mother, which has been erased for various reasons. She’s older than Jess. She’s in her early 30s, and the book is mainly set in South Africa. I’m knee-deep in research on South African social history, and I’m about to go off on a research trip to Johannesburg.

 
Kate Weinberg is a graduate of the UEA Creative Writing MA. Having worked as a journalist, a ghost writer, an editor, and slush pile reader, her debut novel The Truants was published in the UK in August 2019 by Bloomsbury, and will be published in January 2020 with Putnam Penguin in the United States, as well as in Germany and Czechslovakia. Kate is contracted to write a second novel for Bloomsbury.

An Excerpt from The Truants

by Kate Weinberg

Prologue

It’s hard to say who I fell in love with first. Because it was love, I think you’ll agree, when I’ve finished telling you.

It was Alec I longed to kiss; Alec whose face I studied when no one was looking. As if there was a clue there, in the sharp dip of his upper lip, or the loose comma of hair he tucked behind one ear. Those stories he told us, while driving somewhere in his preposterous car; Georgie in the passenger seat, bare feet propped up on the dashboard, one hand chasing shapes out the open window; Nick and me in the back, sharing a bottle of beer, his shoulder warm against mine as we leaned forward to catch every word. Then, later, the four of us lying stretched out under a killing blue sky, far from some lecture hall where we were supposed to be. The scent of damp earth and pine strong in my nostrils. My fingers itching to touch Alec’s, a few forbidden inches from mine.

But there was longing, too, in the way I looked at Lorna. An obsessional interest, not just in her mind, which I would readily have swapped for my own, or her voice, low and vibrating at the edges with laughter. But in the form of her, the clothes she wore: long skirts over scuffed cowboy boots, and the crumpled blouses that looked like they had been pulled out of the tumble-dryer last moment, so that along with her bare, freckled face she presented the rarest type of beauty, the kind that isn’t strained for.

Yes, I coveted her too, right down to the old-fashioned bicycle she rode about campus, whose basket always held some oddity: a bag of quinces, a staple gun or part of garden hose—objects that always led you, in some obscure way, to want to protect her.

I have virtually all her lectures recorded on my phone. The one I listen to most is the talk she gave before the puppet show. As though buried in those twelve minutes of that gravelly voice is the answer to all the questions that, six years later, still hang over me. If I had listened and watched more carefully, if I had picked up the signs that lay scattered all around, could I have changed the ending?

I can tell you the exact moment in the recording when Lorna walks on stage. There was no heat, I remember—or perhaps it was broken—so everyone was wearing hats and gloves inside and grouching about the cold. I can hear Nick offering me his coat, Georgie noisily opening a bag of sweets. Then, about twenty seconds in, the rustling ceases, the silence becomes deeper, more intent. And I know why. We are all watching the figure walk into the spotlight, run a hand through her hair, smile down at us as if she’s surprised to find it’s a full house.

“We’re all here today because of one woman.” A pause. She must have raised a copy of the book above her head to show us. “If you haven’t read her then I’d strongly recommend you bugger off now and get warm somewhere else.”

An amused hum from us, her audience, a little release of tension, a settling back into seats, into the palm of her hand. This is the campus star, we’re going to get our money’s worth. And then she’s off—and this time she strikes a different note. Brisk and purposeful: if you can’t keep up with me, then it’s not you I’m talking to.

“Who,” Lorna asks, her voice suddenly a challenge, “should we call the criminal? The person who commits a crime, or the one who tricks another into doing so? Is it ever valid to take justice into one’s own hands in order to prevent other, more dreadful crimes from happening? Could you, if the right sort of pressure was exerted, kill someone?”

At this point, if I whack up the volume, to the point just before the sound quality begins to break, I think I can hear it: Alec’s steady breathing beside me. In, out. In, out. If I close my eyes, I can feel the pressure of his thigh as he shifts forward in his seat, drawn as we all are to the figure on the stage. Then he leans into my side, his face a few inches from mine, and whispers something.

“Can’t hear you,” I whisper back. He leans even closer, his warm breath chasing down my back. “I said…” And then he must have put his lips right up to my ear because the speaker doesn’t pick up anything at all.

Lorna’s voice continues—I know the words by rote—and yet I don’t hear them anymore. Because although I don’t remember what it was he said, I am back there—back on those unforgiving seats, amidst the strong smell of eucalyptus as someone nearby sucks a cough drop, with Alec’s smile in the dark and my heart banging with one repeated question: “Do you feel it, do you feel it?” And I stay there, well after the applause dies and there is just the scratchy sound of my phone as I fumble to switch it off in my pocket.
Back there, back then—a place I want to be, dancing along a line of heady, taboo possibilities. Rather than here, now, sitting amidst the rubble and debris of the whole awful thing.

I press rewind on the file and start listening again.

1

Dear Dr Clay,

Having been ill for most of Freshmans’ Week, I have only just made it down to the English faculty to open my mail. I was due to start your course “The Devil Has the Best Lines” next Tuesday, but a note from the administration office informs me that due to “oversubscription” my place has been deferred to “a future date as yet unknown.”

I am writing to tell you just how crushed I am by this news. Since I first read your master-piece
The Truants I have considered your scorching and irreverent commentary something of a manifesto for life. I applied to this university purely so that I could be taught by you, and on receiving a place immediately requested to study in either of the modules that you offer this term. Since my place on “The Devil Has the Best Lines” was confirmed at the beginning of the summer I have completed the reading list, including a full immersion in the gin-soaked minds of Hunter S. Thompson, Zelda Fitzgerald, and John Cheever.

I did this mainly in the back room of a pet shop in Reigate where I took a job this summer, cleaning shit out of budgerigar and hamster cages so that I could finance my studies. All of which was made bearable by the idea of being taught by you.


So this news is a blow indeed. Considering we have not yet met I can’t understand what I have done…

Someone knocked on the door. I ignored it and carried on typing furiously.

…that makes me suddenly less desirable or eligible than another student…

More knocking.

It feels, to paraphrase a famous poem, like someone is treading all over my dreams. I am writing this letter as a last-ditch attempt, an appeal to your humanity…

The door banged open. A blond guy with lazy, knowing eyes in a handsome face. Mark, or maybe Max. Second year. Historian. Let’s say, Max.
For a moment he stared at me in confusion. Then his gaze moved from where I was sitting cross-legged on the bed and roved suspiciously over the contents of the room: bare, Blu-Tack-scarred walls, narrow single bed, small hanging wardrobe, my half-unpacked suitcase.

“Sorry, wrong room.” He had already turned to go when he twisted round, hand on the doorframe. “Hey . . . didn’t we meet in the bar last night?”

I nodded, biting back a sarcastic comment. I have lots of very curly, long dark hair, a wide mouth, and quite a slight figure: boys notice me briefly, I think, then look elsewhere. Max had patently introduced himself—walking towards me, smiling straight into my eyes—in the hope of chatting up Georgie. A moment of deference towards the friend of the target . . . I knew the score. It had already happened a couple of times last night, enough to make me suspect that my new friend was one of those girls that men find irresistible. Something about her almost too-curvy body, her boyishly cropped blonde hair, her sloping, sleepy eyes, made everyone—even me—think about sex.

“So, Georgie’s a good friend of yours?” Max said, sitting down on the end of my bed and pushing back a fringe of newly washed hair.

“Kind of.” If it hadn’t been for the letter I’d just been writing I might have been amused by being used so transparently. Tapping out the end of my sentence, I signed off with a digital flourish: Yours, ever-hopeful, Jessica Walker.

“You weren’t at school together or anything?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Just wondering. Girls are so tight with girls they’ve met at school. You seemed kind of into each other.” He was one of those guys who was a lot less handsome when he smiled. More of a smirk really, showing too many teeth cluttered in his jaw.

“We met last week.”

“But you’re best friends already.” He nodded knowingly. “Do you know where she is? She said she’d come for a coffee with me but I’m sure she said she was in room 16-B. This is 16-B, isn’t it?”

I nearly laughed. Thanks for that, Georgie. “She’s gone home for a few days.”

“Oh?” He hesitated for a moment. “To see her boyfriend?”

I shrugged. “I haven’t checked her diary.”

He raised his hands defensively. “Right.” He looked at me again, as if being forced to read instructions on a manual that he’d hoped he could bypass. “Remind me your name?”

I looked at the weak, handsome face, his shirt belted into pressed jeans. Minor public school, I hazarded. Father’s a chauvinist. Lazy world-view.

“The answer is, I don’t know.”

“You don’t know what?

“I don’t know whether Georgie has a boyfriend.”

The lobes of his ears went pink but he managed to pull himself together in time to laugh it off. “I’m sure she has. Just tell her Max stopped by, will you?”

After he left, I reread the email a couple of times, the cursor hovering over the send button. It was a stupid letter, a childish, petulant letter, written on the back of four days of stomach flu and a wobbly trip to the bar that Georgie had talked me into, “because there’s only so much Ava Gardner you can get away with before you become Howard Hughes.” I had written it for myself really, not actually to send. It was only because it was a Sunday and the administration office was closed, leaving me no place to vent my disappointment, that I had even thought of hunting through the university website to get Dr. Lorna Clay’s email address. Then I looked over at my copy of The Truants alone on the shelf above the built-in desk—its pages so well-thumbed that it wouldn’t close properly—and thought, Fuck it, what have I got to lose? And with a sudden rush of adrenalin, clicked the mouse.

As soon as I snapped shut my laptop, regret settled over me like an itchy blanket.

And then the itch sank deeper into my bones as I felt myself being dragged backward in time. Back to Boxing Day at home nine months before, with my sister scowling on the sofa as my father made bad jokes about her boyfriend (Dan Pike: plenty more fish in the sea) not understanding that being dumped over Christmas when you’re twenty-one doesn’t call for a punchline, much less a pun—my dad who painted fantastical figures in the shed at the end of our garden but left his imagination locked up there; and my older brother smirking as he stroked the knobby spine of our chocolate Labrador by the fire, and the twins not giving a shit, and my mother not really listening, much less caring, so that in the end I had stood up and walked out.

And the thing I happened to have in my hand as I walked into the kitchen, a book we had been given at Christmas by Uncle Toto, of all people. That feeling when I read the first few pages of The Truants, my bum warm against the AGA cooker and the smell of mince pies, like hot tar, in the air—a book that should have been cleverly irrelevant at best, a book about some drunk, dead writers. Literary criticism—when the hell did that change anyone’s life, for God’s sake? Except it did mine. And I knew it would, almost from the first paragraph, because Lorna’s voice pulled me in and down, like a riptide carrying you underwater and far out to sea so that when, about page five, I flipped to the author picture on the back and saw her clever, beautiful face and read the sentence about where she taught, I thought: Here she is at last. The person who will take me out of this small, airless world before the banality chokes me.

The rooms in Halls all had narrow floor-to-ceiling windows. I stood up to open mine, then remembered you couldn’t. To discourage suicides, I thought, looking at the grey paving slabs below.

Under a flat morning sky, a stream of people was walking away from the zig-zag- shaped residence halls, across the scrubby grass towards the grey breezeblocks that made up the back of the canteen. Without the glowing prospect of Lorna’s teaching, I was confronted by the drab reality of where I would be living for the next three years: a concrete shithole in the middle of flat, windswept Norfolk on what—if you looked at a map—actually was the bulging arse of the UK.

Worse, I would now be shoved into some other, unknown module, most likely with Dr. Porter, who wore skinny black jeans and one earring and had pegged me as a Lorna groupie when I’d come for my interview. No doubt he would be teaching something pretentious and incomprehensible, like “The Phonetics of Postmodernism” or one of those other courses that made me sympathize for a moment with my mother’s views on studying English Lit.

Spots appeared on the window, multiplying rapidly. It had started to rain.

I waited until I saw Max and his carefully coiffed hair emerge down below and strike off towards the canteen in search of a consolatory bacon and egg roll. Then I pulled on some clothes and walked two doors down the corridor. Checking my watch, I knocked loudly and stepped in.

It was dark and slightly stuffy in Georgie’s room. She, jack-knifed up in the bed, one hand pushing her eye mask into her blonde hair, and the other pulling out one of her earplugs and scrabbling for the bedside lamp. When she saw it was me, she sagged back against her pillow with a groan.

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Sorry. But it is midday. And I’m having a crisis.”

Georgie pulled out the other earplug. The mask sat across her forehead at a drunken angle, one puffy eye squinting at me. “Oh, hon. Not sick again?”

“Worse,” I said. “Heartsick. Been dumped by Lorna.”

My first week at college had been a catastrophe in social terms. Barely an hour after my mother had dropped me off with my suitcases, a peck on the cheek, and a brisk look around the room—“Seems clean at least!”—the cramping had begun. Followed by three days of shivering and sweating out the stomach flu in my room, looking glumly through my window at the clump of students that formed and reformed around the bar; scribbling self-pitying notes in my journal whenever I could summon the energy.

On the third day, temperature still raging, a fuzz at the edges of my vision, I dragged myself down to the introductory-English-faculty drinks. Which was when Georgie, wearing tight, faded jeans and silver trainers, her bleached hair cropped high to the hairline on her long, fine neck, had sidled over to me. “Ugly bunch, aren’t they, English students?” she muttered, talking out of the side of her mouth like a gangster as the white-haired Dean of Studies gave a turgid welcome speech. “Can you believe Lorna didn’t show at her own party? A living legend, that woman. Rumor has it she’s seeing my supervisor, Professor Steadman.” She pointed to a tall, bespectacled man with grey hair. “But that can’t be right, surely…“ Georgie paused, looking at me more closely. “Hey, do you know your teeth are chattering?”

Next day, to my delight, she turned up at my door with armfuls of chocolates and sweets that she announced, loudly, were munchies (“There’s a rumor going around that you’ve been smoking weed in your room all week, this will fan the flames nicely”); two different kinds of prescription painkiller (“Tuck in, plenty more where they came from”); and a magazine jammed full of photos of horsey-looking aristocrats at parties (“Don’t knock it. I’m related to half of them and have kissed most of the rest. Look at this guy, Tristan Burton-Hill. He’s so posh he can’t actually close his mouth…“).
For the next couple of days, to my surprise, she kept popping by: one day sitting at the end of my bed with a wheel of hard cheese, which she hacked at with a teaspoon until it bent; the next bringing a handful of wildflowers that looked like dirty daisies, which she had picked by the lake on campus. “They’re called Sneezewort, for your dribbly nose. I went through a stage of pressing wildflowers as a kid. I learned the whole wild-flower encyclopedia, which is kind of weird, looking back at it. Amazing what an only child will do to pass the time. Then I got into pottery and made endless shit bowls. I mean, endless. Got away with about five years of never buying a single Christmas present. Shall I put them in your tooth-mug? How are you feeling today? Still got the shits both ends?”

That was the thing about Georgie. She changed tone so fast that your head whirled. Mostly she was like a slot machine, flashing all its lights in constant jackpot, but there was kindness there and, in amidst the glib, smart chatter, beguiling glimpses of something more tender.

“Ask to be put in the Christie module with me?” she suggested now, from beneath her crooked eye mask. “Wouldn’t that be a laugh?”

Georgie was doing joint honors in Philosophy and English. She claimed the Philosophy part was just to make her “sound more attractive,” but I already had a strong sense that, despite her air of careless hedonism, she was also whip-smart, secretly studious, and heavily invested in showing her parents—”neglectful narcissists, the pair of them”—just how fucking clever she was.

I nodded. “I did wonder. But it’s bound to be full, too.”

The other thing that Lorna was renowned for, apart from the cult status of The Truants, was “rescuing” female authors who had been lost or dismissed from the canon as irrelevant. One of these “personal revisionism” courses was on Agatha Christie, about whom, rumor had it, she was now writing a book. When I’d signed up for the modules online I’d looked at Lorna’s Christie course, “Murdered by the Campus,” with a flicker of longing.
In my early teens, thanks to an old lady I’d visit in Reigate, Stella, I’d read a lot of Agatha Christie out loud. In my later teens, I started reading them for myself—a bit of fun, in between more serious books. But although I loved the cat’s cradle of the plot, the way the clues and red herrings were stitched together, I knew the characters were thin at best and the themes scant: I couldn’t see how even Lorna would make this into an actual undergrad course. So I hadn’t hesitated long before clicking on her other module, “The Devil Has the Best Lines.”

Georgie was getting out of bed now, pulling off her nightie without embarrassment, fixing the clasp of a bra under her heavy breasts.

“Situation clearly calls for a drink,” she said, spinning the bra round and flicking up the arm straps with a practiced movement.

“But the bar isn’t open for another four hours.”

She glanced out the window. “It’s only spitting, really. We could take a bottle down to one of those benches by the lake.”

She picked up the tall, thin bottle of Russian vodka from her desk. The label was in Cyrillic, which impressed me.

“Shall we?”

I looked into the bottle’s thick, wavy glass. “Got a much better idea actually.”

Kate Weinberg

Kate Weinberg is a graduate of the UEA Creative Writing MA. Having worked as a journalist, a ghost writer, an editor, and slush pile reader, her debut novel The Truants was published in the UK in August 2019 by Bloomsbury, and will be published in January 2020 with Putnam Penguin in the United States, as well as in Germany and Czechslovakia. Kate is contracted to write a second novel for Bloomsbury.

Daniel Reneau

Daniel is a Denver-based illustrator skilled in digital and traditional mediums, and specializes in horror, fantasy, science-fiction, and comic-book illustration. He is the co-creator of the graphic novel Zombiraq, a winner of the 2013 L. Ron Hubbard Illustrators of the Future Award, and a graduate of the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Learn more at www.danielbdemented.carbonmade.com.


First Featured In: No. 15, spring 2020

The Identity Issue

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