When my brother was around sixteen a couple of his friends had a baby. It wasn’t exactly a planned pregnancy. One day my brother ran into the father in the supermarket. He was wheeling a pram containing a yowling infant. ‘Want a baby?’ he inquired sheepishly. ‘It’s fresh.’
Just after I graduated I lived in Paris for a year. My friends, like me, were anglophones who taught English, lived in tiny studios on top of tall buildings, and were excited about all that the city had to offer. Every year in France around the middle of November the new year’s wine from Beaujolais would arrive, and as it did all the supermarkets and cafés bore signs that proclaimed this event: Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé! It was nice fruity red wine and we drank it chilled. Even better from the point of view of thrift, though, was the general primeur, red wine that wasn’t much fermented and was halfway between grape juice and wine. It was sold near the exit of the supermarket and cost about three francs (at the time, 30p) for a litre and a half. It was kind of horrible. An Irish friend arrived at a house party with a bottle of primeur and announced, half-embarrassed, half-proud, ‘The tramp outside my house had the same wine.’
Like any graduate of the UEA MA in Creative Writing, I have memories of the year of the course. The first few days, and the exaggerated first impressions we all made on each other. One of us had been a fighter pilot in Iraq. Someone else wore a pair of cufflinks made by American prisoners. One girl turned up with a bandage on her forehead and declared, pointing to her wound and then to a boy on the course, ‘This is where he hit me last weekend.’ I remember taking the bus to campus, the odd sense of theatre in and before a workshop, the peculiar damp, fetid, cigarettey smell of the upholstery in the Grad Bar, and a general sense of exhilaration and aspiration always undercut with fear and despair. I also remember going out to a bar with most of the other people on the course and at a certain point one evening having the strange realisation that, unlike other such evenings with different friends over the years, everyone else around the table was, like me, partially sitting back and watching the occasion unfold, and that this was what it could be like to socialise with other writers.
But why should you, the general reader, care about any of this? Partly there’s the fun of guessing which of the writers might go on to be published, what sort of thing they might write, if they’ll be famous. Essentially this is gambling. But there’s something else, too. Like the primeur, and maybe like the baby, what’s featured here may not be finished, polished, refined, aged, matured, or, always, made by someone who’s certain of what she or he is doing. But because of all those things, what it does have is rawness, fizz, excitement, and probably a lot of highly stimulating enzymes. If you’re lucky, it might even get you intoxicated quickly and inexpensively: in a word, it’s fresh.