Isha Karki - Mslexia Women's Short Story Competition 2019 winner

Isha Karki, ‘Alchemy

‘It was my first day at a new job, and my head was full with thoughts of recruitment agencies and interviews. I’d had a whirlwind handover and was on my way to the British Library when I saw a missed call from Debbie. My heart started hammering. I sat on the steps outside the Library, thinking, surely they wouldn’t call unless… The wind was blustery and it started to drizzle as I dialled.

When Debbie told me the news, I was overwhelmed. I’m usually good at taking things in stride, but I found myself tearing up. I called my sister and my voice trembled. I had spent the last year devoted to writing, learning and growing, battling years of doubt to finally give myself permission to prioritise the thing I loved most. Winning felt like the universe saying, it’s ok, you’re on the right path.’

ISHA KARKI is 28 and lives in Harrow. She is currently on Spread the Word’s London Writers’ Awards nine-month long development programme, and attended the Clarion West Writing Workshop in Seattle in 2019. Despite being a procrastinator, she is careful to make time to write, having realised it’s where her true passion lies. She worked at a literary agency for three years, before travelling for five months and then completing an MA in English Literature. Her stories have been long and shortlisted for prizes including Galley Beggar, Brick Lane Bookshop Short Story Prize and the London Short Story Prize, and her work has appeared in the prize anthologies, as well as in The Good Journal. She won the 2019 Galley Beggar Short Story prize. You may also remember her story ‘Sisters’, which was a runner-up in Mslexia’s 2016 competition!


What did the judge say?

‘I chose ‘Alchemy’ by Isha Karki as the winner for so many reasons. Her writing has an immediate compelling quality, highly charged with the intense and dangerous excitement of young women’s emerging sexuality. And her use of ‘we’ as a pronoun was so strange and disconcerting. It allowed her to move seamlessly between a single girl’s experience, and the experiences of an entire group of excluded young immigrant teenagers. I kept coming back to this story. 

I loved its weird magic realist aspects too. They add a completely other dimension to the narrative, with all that imagery of monsters and physical transformation. Magical realism makes you aware of the wonder of the world, its beauty and darkness – and there are both in this unsettling story. 

Karki’s attention to the quality of language is at a very high level from the beginning and it never lapses. Along with the tension she’s created, the power of the language never lets up for a second, until by the end you’re quite stunned, like holding your breath underwater.’

IRENOSEN OKOJIE was born in Nigeria and moved to England aged eight. She has worked as National Development Coordinator for spoken-word organisation Apples & Snakes and was mentored on Spread the Word’s Flight Scheme for young writers. Her stories have been published internationally and her work has been featured in the New York Times, Observer, Guardian, BBC, Huffington Post and elsewhere. Her début novel, Butterfly Fish, won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the Edinburgh First Book Award. Her short story collection Speak Gigantular was shortlisted for the Edgehill Short Story Prize and the Jhalak Prize. 


Congratulations to the other finalists!

  • Niamh Maccabe, ‘Hawthorn bowed to westerly wind
  • Kristen Loesch, ‘The eyeglasses
  • Sifa Asani Gowon, ‘Shayi
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