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Showcase: Calling Home + The Campus + Prime Location + I Love You + Barmbrack

Hello and welcome to September’s first Write On! Showcase. My name is Thomas Nixon, and I’ll be taking you through this month with a wide array of creative fiction, each one embedded with passion and pleasure.

Speaking of which, this month’s theme is all about literary passions and guilty pleasures, so we of the Pen to Print team have selected some of the more provocative stories and poems that are sure to draw the eye, keeping you reading to the very last word.

If we’re talking about literary passions, the first style that comes to mind has to be poetry. It has its roots in the oldest of literature and, although its name evokes classical romance, its words and tones are adaptable to anything the writer can dream up. You can trace anything – from sonnets to songwriting – back to this ancient craft.

And, while there’ll be plenty of passionate poetry for you to enjoy, our first entry is a little different. Hongwei uses poetry to explore a form of communication we’ve all had to adapt to over the last few years. Beautifully crafted, it combines the inner secrets we all have in our own families, and the contemporary fashion in which so much of our family time is spent, especially with relatives overseas.

Calling Home

The moment you walked
into my room while I was calling
home was the moment I dreaded
the most. I was talking
to my family in China
through WeChat,
in very rusty Mandarin.

Hi mum hi dad hi sister hi Xiaoyu hi Bailing.
(Xiaoyu is my niece and Bailing is a white fluffy Samoyed.)
How are you how is everyone how is the lockdown situation at home?
Have you eaten what have you eaten what else have you eaten?
No I haven’t had dinner because I’ve just got up.
No I don’t need to wear more clothes because it’s summer here.
Yes I’m fine everything’s fine please don’t worry about me.
Yes the Covid figures are rising but I’m safe and staying at home. 

I didn’t tell them I recently caught
Covid and still felt weak.
Or about the hate
crime incident I’d experienced recently.
Or about my stress at work.
Or about how or what
you were doing. I didn’t mention

your name.
Nor did they ask
about you.
(They may or may not know
I’m gay. They may or may not know
we’re married. We simply don’t
talk about it.)

I was nervous while you were standing there
listening (as if you understood
Mandarin) because I was afraid
to show my other self
to you, a strange person
you don’t quite
understand, a strange person
even I don’t quite

I was also worried
that you might find out about
the sheer banality of my family
conversation, its lack
of variety, creativity, depth, and strong
emotions, a ritual recurring
every weekend, lasting
half an hour.

Can my family accept
who I am, and who
we are? Can you accept
who I am, and what
my family is like?

(c) Hongwei Bao, 2023

Connect with Hongwei on X (formerly Twitter): @PatrickBao1


Continuing on the theme of Literary Passions, our next showcase stakes its claim on the borders of unfamiliar territory. Writer James Marshall takes one of our language’s most holy institutions, and uses excellent, subtle subversion to twist his story’s setting into a world that may seem foreign and distant, but has roots in the here and now. Moreover, challenging  our assumptions of literature, it broadly asks: What have we already taken for granted?

The Campus

The campus was quiet under the clear blue sky. The leaves made no sound as they fell onto the empty benches. The squirrels jumped from branch to branch, their tiny paws landing with poise and balance, and their noses twitched as they inhaled the cold air.

The student walked along the flagstones, his soft shoes avoiding the cracks, the twigs and the acorns. His scarf wrapped around his nose and mouth, capturing moisture from his damp, warm breath. He carried his notebook under his arm, two pens tucked into the spiral spine, with his hands jammed deep into his jacket pockets. He stopped at the stone steps that led up to the entrance of Liberty Hall.

A bronzed statue of Abraham Lincoln sat on one concrete plinth, glowering down under metallic eyebrows. The student looked left and right before muttering, “Liberty Hall. What a joke.”

The words felt strange coming out of his mouth. He imagined seeing them sketched in the air in front of his face, hanging like cobwebs from dew-covered flowers in the light of dawn. Words hanging there, ready for the Thought Police to use as evidence against him.

The student took a gloved hand from his pocket and wiped the imaginary words away as if clearing a windscreen. Just in case.

He walked up the concrete steps to the glass doors in the vain hope that lectures might have resumed. A thick grey chain draped between the two door handles, a silver padlock with gold clasp securing the ends. A laminated, A4 paper sign was stuck on the inside of the glass.

Lectures suspended until further notice, it read in large black print. Underneath, in smaller letters, By Order of the Freedom Act, 2024.

The student pressed his nose against the glass and put his hand above his eyes to help see down the deserted corridor inside. A desk, three flipchart stands, an overturned chair and two litter bins were the only items on the wooden floor that he could see before his breath misted the glass.

He turned around and surveyed the empty campus. Empty of people, empty of hustle and bustle, empty of laughter. Empty of original thought.

The stone bench beside the entrance was cold underneath his thin trousers as he sat down and opened his folder. Theoretical Treatises Of The Ancient Greeks, was the title of his essay. He sighed and clicked his ballpoint pen, imagining a time when students wore togas in warm sunshine, debating with each other while their wise masters listened and nodded.

His cheek warmed as a tear streamed down one side and dropped onto the paper.

The End.

(c) James Marshall, 2023



We often think of poems as rigid stanzas, where certain words are ordained to corroborate with their neighbours. The truth is, though, that poetry has many unexplored forms, with words  twisting and turning to create narratives woven with countless interpretations. Our next piece explores just that; taking the format of a classic story structure and twisting it into a theatre of prose, where words dance with careless abandon. We hope you experience this beauty and mystery in equal measure.

Prime Location

There were no doors, no entry by ordinary means. And the windows, reflections from computer screens. There were dust microbes, and such. Furniture was warm to the touch.

The telly turned on, the lights too. There was beer in the fridge, from 1992.

There were no footsteps, or fingerprints to sample. But anomalies were reported. The framed photos for example, were strangely contorted.

You couldn’t breathe the air, they found that out the hard way. We sealed the walls, without delay.

Now we watch from afar, waiting to see. Lights flicker, and voices sound…

But the bodies will never be found.

(c) Thomas Nixon, 2023

Connect with Thomas on X (formerly Twitter): @Tnixon98


Our next poem comes from the wonderfully talented Elizabeth Keohane. We will be featuring Liz, as we call her, several times this month, each of her poems looking at a different aspect of loss, love and grief in a fashion that is far too common in today’s world. Liz, take it away!

“I Love You”

is it too late
and is it too
for us
to be
doing this?

look to the
look to the
we’re in the clear

leaves crunch
as you lead
me to
your car,
the air smells
like rain
and earth;
your car
like you,
and i’m not sure which one i like best

as you begin
to drive,
i look over
and you’re
bobbing your
head to
our song
as it blasts
over the
speakers of
your jeep wrangler

looking over at
me, you mouth
the words that
make me
feel the
same as
you first
said them:

“i love you.”

i should have
known you
were going
to drive
us to the beach,
that’s where
we had our
first kiss,
our first embrace,
our first

“i love you”

and as we sit
watching the dark
waves meet the
sand and shore,
we played a
game of simon
says with the sea,
and our lips
met like the
shore and saltwater

and that’s what euphoria feels like.

(c) Elizabeth Keohane, 2023


In our fifth and final piece this week, we’ll be closing off with something a little different: a short autobiographical essay on baking barmbrack which, I’ve recently found out, is a special kind of Irish delicacy. On top of that, I’ve discovered through reading this story, that there’s more than one way to express your passions through writing.

For this extraordinary piece (of both bread and writing), Eithne Cullen will provide everything you need…


I’m making my mother’s barmbrack tonight. A brack is an Irish tea bread. It’s traditional Halloween food in Ireland, and you’ll often find it as a St Patrick’s Day recipe too. I Googled it to try to explain: It is sometimes called bairín breac, and the term is also used as two words in its more common version. This may be from the Irish word bairín – a loaf – and breac – speckled (due to the fruit in it) it literally means a speckled loaf.

I understand there are yeast versions, but not this one.

So, I’ve already soaked a pound of mixed fruit in some strong black tea; this will make the sultanas and raisins plump and juicy. I’m adding the rest of the ingredients – scrawled in pencil inside one of my cookery books – as Mum gave it to me over the phone.

I’m going to add a pound of flour (self-raising), a good teaspoon of cinnamon powder, six ounces of sugar, two eggs and a splash of milk to make a sticky, moist mixture. And that’s it.

It goes in a warm oven (about 140-150 C) for two hours and I’ll let it cool in the tin. It’s a good idea to check on it in the second hour of cooking, so it isn’t burning on top. Just turn down the oven if it is. It’s meant to be moist.

When it’s cool, eat it thickly sliced with some butter. And wish a happy St Patrick’s Day or Halloween to all you meet and to those who passed on such recipes and traditions.

© Eithne Cullen, 2023

Connect with Eithne on X (formerly Twitter): @CullenEithne and Instagram: @eithnecullen57


If you’d like to see your writing appear in the Write On! Showcase, please submit your short stories, poetry or novel extracts to:

Write On! issue 17 is out now. You can read it online here. Find it in libraries and other outlets and see previous editions of our magazines here.

Hear extracts from Showcase in our podcast. Write On! Audio. Find us on all major podcast platforms, including Apple and Google Podcasts and Spotify. Type Pen to Print into your browser and look for our logo or find us on Anchor FM.


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