Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Write Across Ontario: Grade Nine Winning Story, "Persistence," by Kathleen Chen

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Every Monday in March, the Open Book Magazine will feature one of the four winning stories in Open Book: Ontario and IFOA Ontario's Write Across Ontario contest. Ontario high school students were asked to compose a story of 500 words or less in response to one of three "story-starters" written by award-winning authors Ian Rankin, Johanna Skibsrud and Miriam Toews.

Geoffrey E. Taylor, Director of the IFOA, was thrilled by the number of submissions they received. “The imagination and creativity of Ontario students is fantastic," he says. "Who knows, we might even have our hands on a future Festival participant.”

Erin Knight, Open Book: Ontario’s Contributing Editor, praises the winning stories for providing “the best of what short fiction has to offer, including complex characters, believable dialogue and the occasional surprising twist. Most of all, these stories have lives off the page: they suggest a compelling back-story and a narrative trajectory that carries us forward, even when the story as it's been written is complete.”

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Congratulations to Toronto French School student Kathleen Chen! Her smart, vivid and disconcerting story, "Persistence," was the winning story in the grade nine category of the Write Across Ontario contest.

Kathleen wrote her first book when she was seven years old. "It was part of the Crystal Series, a story about a unicorn named Crystal. I sold one book to my aunt for 50 cents. It had a front and back cover, a contents page, illustrations and even a listing of books in the same series. Unfortunately, I did not complete the series; only four out of ten books were finished." The young writer continued to hone her skills, and by grade six she was entering short-story competitions. "I won the first contest that I entered," she told Open Book, "perhaps it was beginner’s luck. That pushed me to participate in more competitions, and I was not too discouraged when I did not win."

Some of Kathleen's favourite authors are Margaret Atwood, Abraham Verghese and Daniel Keyes. She is also inspired by the English teachers who have encouraged her to write and two teachers at her school, Mr. Wickers and Ms. Mensink, who are in charge of the school’s Writer’s Club, have given Kathleen "invaluable feedback" on her writing. However, she says, "the most influential person has been my mother, who is usually the first person to read and edit my work."

Kathleen selected Ian Rankin's story-starter because it "had the most potential to be developed into a thriller" and because her "writing style is quite similar to the author’s." Her next project is to try her hand at writing a dramatic script.

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"Persistence" by Kathleen Chen

He was out there again. Except maybe ‘he’ was a ‘she’ — it was hard to tell in the dark. Three nights in a row, I’d looked down on to the street from my bedroom window and watched the shape standing there, almost hidden behind the tree that refused to die. I got the feeling whoever they were, they were only a year or two older than me… The first night I’d just stared for a while and then got bored. The second, I’d opened the window to shout something, but there’d been nothing there to shout at. Tonight, I was going to scramble downstairs and throw open the door. Really I was. Really.

Something shatters against a wall. Oh god, they’re at it again.

“Dwayne, please…no, stop!”

“Shut up!”

I light a cigarette and try to ignore them. I’m getting better at smoking. Now I don’t cough.

I remove the Ziploc full of white powder from my pillowcase. They say the high you get from this stuff is more intense than anything else, even pot. It makes you forget how shitty your life is. I haven’t tried it yet; I’m not too sure I want to. But everyone in the gang takes it. Without the gang, I’m nothing.

But I know that coke leads to addiction. You become psycho. You get hallucinations. You turn into a paranoid freak.

A scream echoes through the house. I’m gonna get out of here. I shove the crack back into my pillowcase.

I chuck my cigarette out of the window, and regret it soon afterwards. Then, I get out of my bed that hasn’t been made in years, hop over the greasy Chinese takeout container sprawled on the ground,and avoid the spilled cereal. I open the door, just as something else smashes in my parents’ room. I run down the stairs and fling myself out the door.

Fresh air tastes good. I take out another cigarette, but drop it just as quickly. Someone’s walking towards me, emerging from the cover of the tree. As the figure nears the lamppost, I catch sight of a face. Holy shit.

I rub my eyes.

It’s me.

This doesn’t make any sense.

But it is me. The tattoo of a snake on his bicep. It’s on my bicep too. He’s taller than me, but not by much. His eyes are bloodshot and his pupils are dilated. Hair too long to be stubble coats his cheeks and chin. He’s got something that looks like dreads, greasy, long, unkempt. Cheekbones protrude on the gaunt face. He has a black eye. Strangely, his chest is heaving and he’s sweating. He smells like crap, booze and smoke.

It’s an older me.

He’s scowling, as if placing blame on me, when he turns to leave. I’m too stunned to follow him.

Something on the ground catches my eye: my cigarette, stubbed and smouldering on the pavement.

Kathleen Chen is a grade 9 student at Toronto French School. She speaks English and French fluently, and is learning Mandarin as well as Spanish. In her spare time, she enjoys writing (of course!), skiing and art. One day, she hopes to travel the world, perhaps as a journalist.

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