Verity McKay | 2023 PEN/Robert J. Dau Prize Winner
In the coming weeks, we will feature Q&As with the contributors to this year’s Best Debut Short Stories anthology, published by Catapult. These stories were selected for the 2023 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers by judges Venita Blackburn, Richard Chiem, and Dantiel W. Moniz.
Verity McKay is a British writer of short fiction. She loves her cats, kickboxing and reading as many books as she can get her hands on.
“Filth” was originally published in Hypertext Magazine.
Here is an excerpt:
I placed her mug down on the counter and turned. She faced a photo hanging on the wall: the one with the layer of dust atop its gilded frame—a blight on our otherwise spotless home, best ignored. Jamie. Her face a shriveled peach; her planet-sized eyes glittering with unfulfilled mischief. We’d agreed she couldn’t be replaced. We’d never make another like her.
This piece is both very short and very somber–how did the length factor into its tragic element?
The length reflects that it’s taken years for the wife’s repressed guilt leading to this revelation to build up – not only since the tragic event discussed in the story, but even before then – but it only takes one fleeting moment for the illusion of the couple’s ‘harmony’ to fall apart. The wife doesn’t make her confession during a dramatic outburst or after some huge incident. She has simply reached her limit, and, triggered by the seemingly arbitrary frustration of picking up after her husband all the time, can’t bear her cross for a second longer.
What inspired you to write this story? Where did the idea come from?
I’d had this figure of an underappreciated, overworked housewife who decides to go on ‘strike’ in mind for quite a while. The housewife then evolved into this much darker character – a woman pushed to the brink by the pressures of every day life in the wake of carrying around an awful secret for far too long. The awful secret came to light as I was writing it.
What do you hope readers take away from your story?
I suppose the story illustrates the consequences of suppressing negative emotions, particularly in a familial or marital context. Letting bad feelings and secrets fester inside a home has far-reaching and long-lasting consequences. I hope that message resonates with some of my readers.
How has the PEN/Robert J. Dau Prize affected you?
It’s given me even more motivation to pursue my goals with my writing, and proven that hard work and persistence does pay off. To be honest, winning totally floored me, and I’m so honoured that the judges liked my piece along with the other talented writers who were selected.
What advice would you share with aspiring writers?
Read as widely and voraciously as you can. Take your craft and yourself seriously – you never know when that acceptance letter will arrive.