Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.
Lauren James has written an exclusive new short story about Kate and Matt, her characters from The Next Together and The Last Beginning, for the University of Nottingham alumnus magazine, and she’s very kindly let us share it here.
In The Next Together, one of the timelines is set on
the University of Nottingham campus (where Lauren went to uni) in 2039. The brand-new short story
is set somewhere between Kate and Matt’s first meeting, and when
everything starts to go a little wrong…
Lauren will also be judging an alumni short story writing competition for the University of Nottingham
- find out more here.
“So,” the Head of the School of Life Sciences said, eyeing them
both over the rim of her glasses. “Why don’t you tell me how this
“Kate?” Matt said, in a strangled voice. “Why don’t you explain?”
Kate grimaced. “Well- I mean- I guess-”
“Please.” The Head massaged her temples. “Just tell me how the fire started.” Kate swallowed. “I suppose it started with the snails.”
Beside her, Matt slowly sunk lower in his seat, deflating like a very embarrassed balloon.
Two hours earlier, Kate had been breathing in the fumes coming
off a takeaway cup in the desperate hope that the steam would somehow be
infused with enough caffeine to wake her up. Then she wouldn’t have to
actually drink the terrible coffee from halls.
“‘Ornin’,” she said to Matt around an enormous yawn, ignoring the
professor at the front of the laboratory, who was giving a health and
safety talk. It was never important anyway. “Are you ready to do some
“I am … as long as you agree to never do this again.” Matt
wiggled his fingers in a lazy imitation of the jazz hands she had done
on the word ‘science’.
“You’ve always gotta harsh my mellow,” she said mournfully.
“Don’t say that again either,” Matt said, flicking open his lab book.
“Kill my chill?”
“Remove my groove.”
“Fuzz my buzz,” she said decidedly. “Anyway, what’s the experiment today?”
“You were experimenting on snails?” the Head of the School of Life Sciences asked.
“Right,” Kate said. “We were studying natural selection by
observing the adaptations of snail species found in different
The Head sighed. “Just tell me what happened next.”
“Well, we were collecting samples from the lakeside.”
“This could be totally romantic if you weren’t, you know, carrying a whole bucketful of snails,” Kate commented.
“I’ve got slime in my hair,” Matt said mournfully. “How is that even possible?”
“Take one for the team, Matt. You gotta protect your missus.”
“It was a snail. You were in literally no danger.” He peeled a
snail off the underside of a rotting log and carefully placed it inside
“I think that’s a matter of opinion,” she declared
self-righteously, jotting down the snail’s location. “Let’s look under
the bridge. I bet there’s some, like, aquatic snails there. Hey, did you
know that some types of freshwater snails have gills, but others have
to go up to the surface to breathe?”
“Yeah, I had to do the pre-lab too,” Matt said, crouching down to
crab-walk under the bridge. “Did you see that New Scientist article
about the poisonous sea snails?”
“About the venom being used for pain medication? So cool!” Kate
said, holding onto the stone edge of the bridge to stop herself slipping
on the muddy bank. “And there’s approximately a million different
species, so the research potential is just-”
“Oh my God. Look!”
Kate whipped her head up. “What? Is there a body?!”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Kate. Who’d be stupid enough to throw a corpse in a lake? There’s a massive crate here!”
“It was just chance that you stumbled across an entire box of
fireworks by the University lake, then,” said the Head of the School of
Kate and Matt nodded in unison. “Total chance!”
“So how did the fire start?”
“We can’t just leave a whole load of fireworks here!” Matt said.
“Why not? I bet they belong to Rugby Soc. They’ll probably pick them up after a Campus 14 tonight.”
“Kate! A toddler could find them before then! It could be dangerous!”
Kate sighed. There was a crick in her neck from being crouched down for so long. “Well, what do you want to do, then? Bin them?”
“That’s – that’s even more dangerous! Someone could drop a cigarette butt in and cause an explosion.”
Kate traced a finger over a patch of moss on the underside of the
bridge, mulling over the problem. Then she looked at Matt, grinning
hugely. “I’ve got an idea.”
“A controlled explosion,” the Head of the School of Life Sciences said, unimpressed. “Really?”
“It was the safest course of action,” Kate insisted, maintaining a straight face.
The fireworks were magnificent. Even in the bright morning light,
the sparks of green and red against the blue sky were quite a sight.
“Let’s do the last three all at once,” Kate said, almost dizzy with excitement. “Before someone comes.”
“You should have given them to a groundskeeper,” the Head of the
School of Life Sciences said. “You set fire to the undergrowth.”
“We did put out the fire almost immediately,” Kate said defensively. “Those nettles barely even got burnt.”
“WHAT THE HELL DO WE DO?!” Matt yelled shrilly.
“I’VE GOT THIS!” Kate yelled back as she jumped into the lake,
scooping water desperately into the bucket. Pushing past Matt, she
doused the spluttering flames coming from the patch of nettles in lake
water. The fire, weak to begin with, went out almost immediately.
“THIS WAS THE WORST IDEA YOU’VE EVER HAD,” Matt said, still shouting.
“I’m extremely disappointed in you both,” the Head of the School
of Life Sciences said. “The University expects more common sense from
our students. It’s as if you didn’t even listen to the health and safety
talk at the start of the lab session.”
Kate opened her mouth, and then closed it again. That was true.
“We’re very sorry,” Matt said. “We’ve learnt a very important lesson today.”
The Head of the School of Life Sciences shook her head. “You will
both receive a written warning for misconduct from the School of Life
Sciences. At the very least, thank God that nobody was harmed.”
“Thank God for that,” Matt echoed weakly.
“THE SNAILS!” Matt yelled, staring back and forth from the empty
bucket to the blackened patch of nettles. “KATE, WHAT HAVE WE DONE?!”
Find out all about Lauren and her amazing books by visiting her website: https://laurenejames.co.uk/. Plus you can also read more about Kate and Matt in another life for free by downloading the digital novella Another Together. Happy reading!
If your only problem with certain books is the age group for which they are meant for than I feel bad for you because you’re missing out on some amazing stories. And if you aren’t reading for the story, then what’s the point?
“Insightful and utterly authentic … This is an important book.“ – The New York Times Book Review
Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story is our favorite YA book about depression, which is actually NOT DEPRESSING. Meet Craig Gliner, an ambitious New York City teenager with dreams of success. When he realizes that he has a shot at entering Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School, he studies day and night to ace the entrance exam. Once he is admitted, Craig comes to the hard realization that he is not as bright as the other students. The future he used to wish for is now crumbling apart. He stops eating, studying and sleeping until one day he nearly kills himself. His suicidal episode lands him in a mental hospital, where he is forced to confront his anxiety.
Vizzini’s allure in It’s Kind of a Funny Story lies in its authenticity. In December 2005, Vizzini, too, spent five days recovering in a mental hospital after having suicidal thoughts. After he was released, he wrote It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Although the theme of depression reigns in the novel, Vizzini gives his readers and Craig reasons to live. Craig even forms a deeply meaningful relationship with a girl.
You won’t find yourself upset or angry. As you read the book, you will smile and appreciate Vizzini’s sincere and eloquent account on teenage depression. It’s Kind of a Funny Story along with his other novels established him as one of the finest authors in young adult fiction.
Sometimes, you do things and you do them not because you’re thinking but because you’re feeling. Because you’re feeling too much. And you can’t always control the things you do when you’re feeling too much.
Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe