Live Show, Drink Included

Vicky Grut

Collected Stories – 14 mini novels that will surprise and entertain you

Sample Passages

  • Mistaken

    Arlette pushed through the heavy glass doors of the London department store and into the blaze of light that was Cosmetics. She was looking for a birthday present for her sister, but it was hard to concentrate. Her mind was on work and the speech the Dean had made earlier that week: Changing demographics; Economic downturn; 80 per cent cuts in teaching budgets; 100 per cent cuts to Humanities’ research. This university is going to have to innovate if it’s going to survive. That was the gist of his end of term message: Innovate or …
                  Arlette brushed past a girl in a lab coat who was rolling her hands in a bowl of glycerine flecked with gold. Two middle-aged women stood listening humbly to her sales chatter: ‘… collagen repairs and revitalizes … brightens and exfoliates … luxurious … scientifically proven … space-age technology …’
    You have an opportunity to re-invent yourselves with this current curriculum review, the Dean had said. You’re all intelligent, creative people. I have every confidence …
                  Arlette stepped onto the escalator and rose up into Handbags and Accessories, cursing herself. She should have seen this coming. Why had she not been more proactive? She’d been languishing on a 0.4 contract for several years, hoping that a proper job would open up, and now look. That morning, her line manager, Hamish, had called her in for a meeting which began with: ‘In the current climate’. He’d gone on to say a lot of other things such as: ‘… shared modules … cross-funding … inter-departmental collaborations … focus on recruitment and retention …’ – tugging miserably at the diamond stud in his ear. They could reduce her hours if her modules didn’t recruit so she would have to be ‘super’ flexible about class sizes and ‘Perhaps we need a fresh approach? Courses our competitors haven’t thought of? Modules we can flog to other degrees?’ Arlette knew what he wanted. Sexy, buzzy titles to keep student numbers up. Bums on seats. Luxurious. Scientifically proven. Space-age technology. You’re all intelligent, creative people. Damn, damn, damn. She didn’t even want to think about it.
                  She paused in Womenswear to finger a pretty silver party dress. There was something about it that swept away all the stresses of the day and pitched her back to the feeling of being sixteen again: knowing nothing and wanting everything, burning with longings, dreaming of the life she was going to lead as soon as she could escape suburbia and her mother’s 10 p.m. curfew. It was the colour, she decided, that particularly luminous shade of ice-blue. It reminded her of the sea in Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa. At sixteen, when she was supposed to be studying, she used to spend hours leafing through the art books in the library, fingering the shiny colour plates; the Géricault had been her favourite. Part of its power lay in the fact that she knew it depicted a real shipwreck: that the captain and crew had taken to the lifeboats and these poor wretches on the raft had expected to be towed to safety but instead were cut loose with almost no supplies; only the centre of the raft was safe; the kegs of water they’d been given fell into the sea and only wine remained; the weak and dying were kicked overboard and people ate the flesh of the already dead because there was no food. She liked the fact that it was a black man at the apex of the pyramid of bodies. He had his back to the viewer, waving at some invisible rescuer on the skyline. Take me away, take me away from here.
                  Arlette returned her attention to the dress, stroking the silver fabric with an open palm. Shipwreck chic. You had to be young to carry it off. Well, she wasn’t exactly old – not yet. Her spirits lifted. Innovate, Arlette. Be creative!
                  She forgot all about her sister’s present. She dropped her bag and coat in a quiet corner and stepped up to a mirror holding the dress under her chin, squinting. Too tinselly. She put it back and picked out another style. No again. Too badly made. But now she was hooked on the idea of buying herself a dress. As her fingers skipped through the hangers on the rail she was vaguely aware of a noise at the edge of her attention, a voice calling, ‘Excuse me!’ Innovate. Be creative. Blue? Yellow? Cerise? She couldn’t really blame Hamish. He had people digging pins into him from above. The message was clear, though. If she wanted to hang on to her job she must cobble together some up-to-the-minute-sounding outlines that Hamish could go off and sell to both senior management and students. It stuck in her craw to do it, but the alternative was probably unemployment, which her mother had been predicting for years.
                  She flicked more roughly through the ranks of cloth. Stripes. Flowers. Lace-effect. No to all that.
                  ‘EXCUSE me! Hul-LO!’ The voice was getting louder and more furious, ‘EXCU-USE ME!!!’
                  At last Arlette had to turn. She saw a smartly dressed white woman and a girl of about twelve standing at one of the unattended cash desks. ‘We’d like to PAY for this, IF you don’t mind!’
    For a brief out-of-body moment Arlette saw herself as she must appear to this woman: a thirty-something black woman rearranging the stock. Staff. Help. Service. (You have an opportunity to re-invent yourself, Arlette …)
                  ‘… IF that’s not too much trouble for you …’ the woman hissed.
                  Arlette blinked. How swiftly a woman like this could strip her of all her accomplishments: her grade 5 piano (with Distinction), her ballet lessons, her carefully modulated accent, her fistful of A* grades, her doctorate – gone, all gone in an instant. She opened her mouth to speak. But what could she say? I’m not a shop assistant, I’m a … what? Not a Professor, nor a Reader. Not a HoD or a Chair. Not a mother, nor a wife, nor even properly the author of anything, not recently anyway. A great fury rose within her like an underwater wave, lifting her like a toy on the lip of a tsunami. She moved over to the cash desk, took the skimpy top they wanted, flipped it, folded it, slipped it into a bag from the pile under the counter and the woman handed over a credit card. It was beautifully easy. It flowed.
                  ‘Just a moment,’ Arlette murmured in a silky tone. ‘I need to get authorization.’
                  She spoke with such confidence that the woman seemed briefly hypnotized. One of the lifts opened as if by magic as she approached. She held the card between thumb and forefinger like an after-dinner mint, stepped inside, turned and blew the pair of them a little kiss. The woman gave a howl of outrage. ‘My card!!’ Then the lift doors closed and the computerized voice said: ‘Going UP!’ and Arlette was whisked away, laughing.

Sample Information

Summary

Vicky Grut has taken inspiration from a range of often ordinary situations and shows how easily things can unravel. They veer from the realistic to the surreal, nothing is quite what it seems, and Vicky’s original way of observation is a revelation. These collected stories make you ponder about who is in control of one’s destiny.

The stories form a series of metaphors covering different aspects of life, and the closing story about the ultimate end is very moving.

To give you a flavour of what they are like here are a few snippets:

In Rich, two young people travelling towards Florence just after the Bologna bombing of 1980, decide to cadge a meal and a bed for the night from a girl they barely know. In the early hours of the morning, the atmosphere suddenly changes. They are in over their heads.

In Mistaken, an academic is mistaken for a shop assistant in a big London department store. When she reacts impulsively she finds herself in trouble. Help comes from an unlikely quarter – and for all the wrong reasons.

In Downsizing, Julianne and Tom are all that remain of their company’s department of Policy and Evaluation. Julianne reads management theory and they exchange faintly erotic phone calls while they work on their organisational review, until Julianne has a visionary idea.

In Live Show, Drink Included, two young people on a day-trip to London decide to see a Soho sex-show, obsessed with getting a free drink, they are in for a surprise.

In Into the Valley, a woman tries to comfort her suffering mother-in-law on ward 19 in a small hospital in Wales. Underneath the ward sign it says, in English and in Welsh, ‘Bereavement Office / Swyddfa Profedigaeth.’ There probably isn’t a ward 20.

Many of the stories have been shortlisted for awards and prizes over the years, including the Asham Award (twice) and the Narrative Magazine Contest in America. Six of the stories were included in new writing collections from Serpents’ Tail, Pulp Editions, Duckworths, Granta, Picador and Bloomsbury, and two were published in the States by Harvard Review.

The final story Into the Valley was included in the list of Essays of Note in 2012 at the end of Cheryl Strayed’s edition of Best American Essays, 2013.

Two of her stories will be published in 2018, one in the Mechanics Institute Review 15and  one in Harvard Review 52.

The stories

In the Current Climate
Debts
Downsizing
Mistaken
An Unplanned Event
Escape Artist
Live Show, Drink Included
A Minor Disorder
Saucers of Sweets
Stranger
Rich
Visitors
On the Way to the Church
Into the Valley

You can read In the Current Climate which won the I is Another short story competition and listen to Debts on Drum Literary Magazine.

Live Show, Drink Included was published in October 2018.

Writers’ Corner: Spread the Word interviews Vicky Grut & Maria Thomas.

The launch was celebrated with a standing room only party in the October Gallery on Thursday 11 October.

For more information or advance review copies please contact the publisher Bernadette Jansen op de Haar: bernadette@hollandparkpress.co.uk, +44 (0) 77 926 11 929.

ISBN: 9781907320798
Number of pages: 165
Price: £0

Reviews

‘Some are dark and disturbing tales of lives viewed from under the mad end of a microscope, others are more of a glimpse of lives gone sideways.’ – Alexei Sayle

‘Ordinary people are peculiar too, the poet Louis MacNeice reminds us, and this collection is filled with just such magical peculiarness found under the surfaces of the ordinary and the everyday. Grut does not judge but loves her characters for their oddities and differences, introducing them with a deft tenderness. These delicious, dark, funny and affecting stories – reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor – remind us that life does not come with simple solutions and that often it is in the terrifying messiness that we are the most alive.’ –  Tania Hershman, author of Some of Us Glow More Than Others

‘Seemingly straightforward, but actually subtle and often sinister, these stories – full of arresting images that have stayed with me – take an oblique and unexpected look at current issues.’ – Emma Healey, author of Elizabeth is Missing

‘Here comes a bold collection of compelling stories from a prize-winning author. Her locations and landscapes range across work and domestic settings, friendships and marriages erupt in quarrels that are resolved in startling denouements. Vicky Grut casts a sharp eye over the linguistic clichés of office management speak, and her shifting tone varies from playful, witty, and tender; a love story that is affirmed in a tacky London sex club, to a deeply moving tale of loss and shock in the Welsh valleys. Her readers are in for a treat – and a rollercoaster ride of emotions, thrills and surprises.’ – Patricia Duncker, Professor Emeritus, Department of English, American Studies and Creative Writing University of Manchester

‘There is humour amidst the darkness and glimpses of hope within the despair of some characters’ reactions. Vicky Grut’s stories are taut, astute stories that draw readers into their recognisable situations and shock with a sudden but credible tilt in perspective.’ – Emma Lee on her blog

‘Vicky Grut reveals her knack for summoning up characters so real they’ll follow you around your house.

Grut is skilled a winding a whole life into a single line of exposition. In Debts, we meet Wilson – “the sort of person who couldn’t button his shirts in the right order but could tell you about quantum physics if you had a few hours to spare.”

It’s Grut’s sensitivity towards her characters that draws you in. It’s clear that she cares about these people and their struggle to do the right thing and get better at doing that. That compassion is contagious – you can’t help but worry about them too.’ – Judy Darley on SkyLightRain

‘Grut has a beautiful writing style. With simple, well chosen words, she conveys so much, never giving too much away. She is never flowery and often enigmatic.

Read it if you love stories that are thought provoking, clever and surprising. A really great book.’ – Hermione Flavia on CravenWild

‘A collection of rare beauty, insight and empathy. Many of Vicky Grut’s characters find themselves in a no-man’s-land that opens up in the midst of their otherwise ordinary lives.

Wonderful writing, and as glorious an ending as I’ve read in a long time.’ – Tara27 on Amazon

‘Grut populates her collection with people so close to us, so easy to read, it is as if they were the neighbours we’d spent a decade or so apologising to about the noise. Live Show, Drinks Included is not a mirror but rather a window above a kitchen sink where you just might catch a sun-distorted reflection of someone you know.’ – Ashley Bullen-Cutting in Litro

‘Great book. Opened my eyes to the power of short stories. I find her observations of contemporary working life to be eerily spot on.’ –  sg1000 on Amazon

‘I have never really understood the attraction of a book of short stories UNTIL NOW! I found myself instantly engaged in each story… enjoying the richness of text and detail… very much pleasantly surprised by the variety and depth of them.’ – H Jones on Amazon

‘A fantastic collection of short stories that I’d recommend to anyone. Some of the stories are funny, some sad and some a little of both, but what they all have in common is the sheer quality of the writing.’ – Tigermum on Amazon

‘The characters and situations are beautifully put together with emotions, memories and intellect reflecting struggles that connect us deeply and presented with compassion and humour. I was sorry to finish this book.’ – Mr RA Simmonds on Amazon