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It might be lonelier without the loneliness by Elen Lewis

It might be lonelier without the loneliness by Elen Lewis


I love the way this weird turn of events is rooted in an absolutely normal humdrum family reality...It was both a delight to read and thought-provoking at the same time. - Deborah Moggach

How I did it

I started writing professionally straight from university, first as a journalist on business magazines, specialising in marketing and branding, then as an editor – then I went freelance, copywriting for big companies and ghosting speeches and nonfiction books for their CEOs.

The Covid pandemic and lockdowns made me reflect on the work I was doing, and I decided I wanted to contribute more to society. So I retrained as a teacher, and now I spend my days trying to persuade teenagers to love poetry and Shakespeare as much as I do – and I’ve never regretted it.

The only downside is that I no longer have time for big writing projects (I had been writing novels between freelance assignments). So I’ve turned to short stories and I’m really enjoying the challenge. I set an alarm for five every morning so that I can write for at least half an hour before the rest of the family is awake.

I always start in longhand. With this story the first line came quite quickly, then I just kept adding to it, a bit every day.

I have two teenage children, and I am beginning to feel an inevitable sense of loss as a mother, as they grow away from me – though neither of them has taken to putting a bag on their heads. You hope they’re okay, you want them to be happy, but they become harder and harder to read. Yet at the same time they are being looked at in a way I never was as a teenager, in the dazzling spotlights of social media. So that’s something else I wanted to convey with the image of the bag on the head.

My novels are all rather dark so I made a conscious effort to try for a lighter tone with this story. Life can be difficult, but it’s also full of ridiculousness and humour. I think you can get away with absurdities in a short story that would be difficult to sustain in a novel.

ELEN LEWIS is a schoolteacher at a secondary school in London, teaching English to A level. She retrained after Covid; previously she worked freelance as a corporate copywriter, editor and ghostwriter of 25 books. She has also written six (narrowly unpublished) novels and some (published) poetry, and a self-published novel, Other Me, about AI. Her short fiction has been shortlisted for the Bath and Bristol Short Story Prizes.


 The Finalists

  • Morgaine Davidson for 'Rust'
  • Amy Lord for 'Mrs McKinnon retired on Friday'
  • Lucy Beevor for 'Not as it was'

The Shortlist

  • Colette Coen for 'Egyptian cotton'
  • Lauren Collett for 'Rank'  
  • Colette Paul for 'Rats;
  • Robyn Goss for 'When the Devil walked' 
  • Erini Loucaides for 'Love more' 
  • Sally Oldfield for 'Autumn wings'
  • Maria Jackson for 'A month of Sundays'
  • Claudia Downs for 'Suntrap' 


Read all our winning stories in our Best Women's Short Fiction Anthology 2023


Meet the winners of all competitions