Long-listed for the 2016 Edge Hill Short Story Prize
What if, in a parallel universe, you made a different choice of lover? What if you’ve spent your whole life with entirely the wrong idea about your own sister? What do you do if you’re trapped in a phone box by a woman who might be a victim, but could have accomplices nearby? What if we’re wrong that ghosts come from the past, they come from somewhere else? What if we’re only dreaming the life we think we’re living? And can your life be changed by a message written by starlings on the sky?
In Used to Be, a woman is driven at breakneck speed down a motorway, her life flashing before her, and comes to see that there’s never just one story of a life. An eighteenth-century gentleman’s certainty is challenged by a strange phenomenon, and a fatality on the line throws into disarray the lives of the passengers of an express train. Black holes and flooding can make us feel that the universe is running away with us and steal our certainty: can we ever say who we are really are? How reliable can memory ever be, and can looking for a ruined castle unlock the secrets of one person’s past? Is there ever one real story?
In the world of these short fictions, things are rarely what they’re first assumed to be. There’s always another story lurking somewhere…
‘Elizabeth Baines is a forensic: she ferrets out emotional truths and the odd quirks that make people tick with investigative precision. Add to this probing observation Baines’s humour and stylishness with language and you have it all. The stories in Used To Be are the work of a dazzling writer.’ —Nuala O’Connor, Author of Miss Emily
‘The writing is is vivid, buoyant, incisive ... vibrant evocation of time and place - and the power of the human mind to transcend both.’ —Configo Magazine
‘Life is a series of might-have-beens, near-misses and what ifs. This is a tremendous collection of stories. They do not seek to be didactic, but may nonetheless give many of us who read them cause to reflect on the choices we have made in our own lives, and to be more mindful of the options which open in front of us every day.’ —Cath Barton, The Short Review
‘The source of their appeal lies in Baines’ inventive use of motifs such as scientific research. Her vivid, detailed and original descriptions also ground the work in reality, creating a juxtaposition to the collection’s transcendental aspects. Overall, the work blends multiple portrayals of womanhood with ease, creating something larger and grander. I am confident that Used to Be will find a welcome home within the library of anyone looking for a surreal take on the feminine.’ —Daniel Leeman, New Welsh Review
‘Used To Be shows the ordinary for what it is. It reminds you that everyone is in the same boat if not on the same deck, and it’s written with a meticulous eye to detail. It’ll blow you away when you least expect it.’ —Charlie Place, The Worm Hole
‘This powerful book leaves you with a sense of disquiet, anger and frustration [and] the realisation ... that what you have just read is an everyday story about an everyday event. As such it is very clever.’ —Jessice Corner, Everywoman
‘A gripping story, a pithy book.’ —Katie Campbell, City Limits
‘An innovative and committed writer of distinctly pure talent.’ —The Short Review