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Ida Keogh:

Infinite Tea in the Demara Café

When you’re listening intently to an award ceremony and they call out your name, the first thing that comes to mind is, “How the hell did that happen?!” Then comes the screaming, calling loved ones and drinking far too much Prosecco. So, what led to this momentous delight?

“Infinite Tea in the Demara Café” won the British Science Fiction Association Award for Shorter Fiction in 2020. Here’s how it started. Before the pandemic I would travel a great deal for work. Dining alone isn’t much fun, so I decided to write a restaurant blog. It turns out I adore describing flavours. A friend told me about a food fiction competition, so I started noodling away at story ideas (no pun intended). I have something of an obsession with parallel universes. The idea that stuck was a person travelling through multiple realities of the same café.

“Henry first suspected he was in a different universe when his waitress told him coffee didn’t exist.”

For me, the first line of a story is a pebble thrown into a pond. From there the words ripple out in gentle waves and there’s very little you can do to stop the direction they are going in. I wanted the story to be a sci-fi romance, but Henry simply wouldn’t fall in love with the waitress. He wanted to be an older gentleman, retired and stuck in his ways. Liara, the waitress, was merely old for her years. It was a wonderful moment when I discovered the story should really be about Liara’s mother. Henry and Liara’s relationship became one of care and friendship as he helps her overcome loss and grief, and goes on his own journey of rediscovery. In the background I had a great deal of enjoyment trying out different blends of matcha and chai and eating sumptuous pastries.

I spent months drafting and re-drafting because I’m a hopeless perfectionist. I was lucky enough to have excellent beta readers in authors Gareth Powell and Andrew Wallace, who polished the story to a fine shine. I never did get anywhere with the competition, but after a chance meeting at Eastercon my tale was picked up by Ian Whates at NewCon Press for the London Centric anthology. How the story ended up on the BSFA long list is a mystery to me, and why it was shortlisted over dozens of superb stories even more so. The fact that the vote then went in my favour and I won an award is utterly baffling. Which brings me to one of the most important parts of being a writer for me: combatting imposter syndrome.

I am in my forties, and “Infinite Tea” is only my second published story. I am not a prolific writer. I take a long time to craft even a few thousand words, and I have a demanding day job which limits the time I get to spend creating. I also have a plethora of other hobbies, including making sci-fi and fantasy themed jewellery, which has turned into a small business. When I do write, it is mostly for my personal pleasure. I find it difficult to submit pieces because I cannot escape the feeling that my work is never good enough.

It has taken winning an award to give me a good kick and have some confidence in my writing. A bevvy of readers must have voted for me, and must therefore have enjoyed my story. But in the end the only thing which has got me over that lingering sense that I am a complete fraud is to keep on typing. Since the award I have completed a novella and dusted off another project which had been languishing in the drawer. I have decided not to punish myself for taking time over my words. They deserve the attention, and after all there is no age limit to writing. And now I am ready to set them free, I hope you may be reading more of my words one day soon.

Find Ida on Twitter as @silkyida and her jewellery at Silkyfish Designs.

Ida’s new novella, coming soon from NewCon Press:

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