In the spring edition of Army&You, we caught up with Salisbury Literary Festival winner and Army kid Beatrice Carrell (check out the exclusive interview in Young Generation on page 51). Here’s Beatrice’s winning story, inspired by writing to her soldier dad in Afghanistan…
The City of Stories
One crisp October morning, when The World was still asleep, a young girl was stirring. Bea experienced a sudden surge of sadness, when the realisation flooded through her body that her Dad was going to Kabul, in Afghanistan that day. For seven long months. She knew that The Army would take care of him, as he would take care of his men, and that next summer, he would return safely, back to their scruffy but homely army quarter on the edge of Salisbury.
She tugged on her soft dressing gown, feeling the warmth comforting her and pushing away the chill of anxiety she felt, she opened the door, crept down squeaky old stairs and slipped in to the kitchen. Bea poured herself a glass of cold apple juice, feeling the chill of it bite her teeth, she made her mum a coffee, slightly wobbly with the new coffee machine, but she managed it after a bit of pushing and shoving.
Walking into her mum and dad’s room, past the pile of snoring Labradors, she noticed at once that her dad’s side of the bed was empty. He must have gone already. She crawled in to bed next to Mum, big spoon – little spoon until the cold empty place in her tummy had dissolved with love for her mum. They would get through this together, Bea, her mum and her sister Scarlett. The three musketeers – they had done it before and they would do it again. “Love you Mama”, she breathed, “Love you Noodill” said Mama, her eyes still tightly closed against the grey October light.
The thing they loved most in her family was reading. Her Dad had studied poetry at Oxford, and her mum used to be an English teacher, Scarlett devoured books (especially big ones) and Bea’s best friends could be found between the pages of Ingo, Drury Lane, Lighthouses and Victorian drawing rooms. She had moved around so much as an army child, seven schools and she was only ten! But the books she had read meant that wherever she lived soon became home, as long as there was a bookshop and a library nearby. Now it was Salisbury’s turn – a new home and a new City, filled with history, secrets and light.
She noticed by the bed, a brown parcel wrapped in string. Her name was written in her Dad’s terrible handwriting. She pulled open the paper and inside lay the most beautiful leather journal, deep red embroidery like old forgotten roads, and the smell of frankincense. “Reading gives you a place to go, when you have to stay where you are”, read the note from Dad. “Write your stories in here and I will be part of your world, even so far away. This journal comes from the Hindu Kush, the mountains near Kabul. I can breathe in your air, and know your story. Love Daddy.”
So, for the whole of the grey wet winter, she wrote in the book of things she saw, the spectre of Stonehenge in the mists, her life at her school amongst the trees. When Dad called weekly, she would read him stories of Salisbury and her life, and the best bits from the books she was reading. He would listen and feed her imagination with tales of salted pomegranate pips, Lapis Lazuli and minted tea.
So, between them both, despite the oceans of time which separated them, the City of Stories from Salisbury to the Silk Road, was born.