Joanna Rubery: prize-winning writer

Read my prize-winning short stories, travel writing, and articles on language (for the OxfordWords blog). I’m also a songwriter and pianist.

Short stories and microfiction

Right of Way (first prize, 1000 Word Challenge) (“a beautifully-written story, focusing on the relationship between a driving instructor and his pupil. The characters are skilfully built, with genuine ambiguity.”)

Date with a Sociopath (published as a Narrative magazine iStory)

Fallout (finalist, Gotham Writers ‘Be a Hero’ competition)

Gooseberry (longlisted for the Irish Fish Flash Fiction Prize)

Trapped (shortlisted for Writers Online)

The Photograph (highly placed, Grindstone Literary Academy) (“you tread that fine line between vagueness and giving just enough away to piece together a backstory. My first reactions were very strong for this piece and I championed it”)

Travel writing


Lost in Translation…so I was: adventures in Irish English (published in New Zealand’s Christchurch Press)

Is Polish the most difficult European language to learn? (published on the OxfordWords blog)

Zucchini Flowers (Greece)

Fallen Angel (Belgium)

Why learn Italian? (published on the OxfordWords blog)

Jèrriais, the language of Jersey (published on the OxfordWords blog)

Paris in the spring? (published on the OxfordWords blog)


Loving Latin (Peru, Chile, Bolivia) (published on the OxfordWords blog)

Peruvian Blues

Niagara Flaws (Canada)


Vis-à-visa (published in Wanderlust magazine) (Cambodia)

Stranded in Sihanoukville (Cambodia)


The First Tomorrow (New Zealand)

Articles on language (for the OxfordWords blog) include:

Foreign languages

Let’s just “call a cat a cat”: cat idioms in foreign languages

Can the Académie française stop the rise of Anglicisms in French?

From pralines to pasteurized milk: everyday things named after French people

From silhouette to leotard: more everyday things named after French people

This blog is a he: gender in foreign languages

TEFL and EFL ((Teaching) English as a Foreign Language)


10 British animal idioms and expressions (Advanced/Proficient)

10 common mistakes with prepositions made by learners of English (Beginner/Elementary)

10 mistakes made by learners of English (for teachers)

Other articles include

Flash fiction: short stories with a long lifespan

From room to zoom: a short history of the camera

Chasing the rainbow connection

The language of leap years

Relational language: the language of cousins


Favourites (Best of 2015-2019)

Books of the Year 2019

woman and books

As before (will this become a tradition?), I’ve listed below all the books I’ve read this year.

I choose books mainly based on recommendations from friends, followed by recommendations from reviews in the papers and on the radio, and then from suggestions on my Kindle and on sites like GoodReads.  This year, too, I’ve joined a book club, which has prompted a few of these titles. In the same way as last year, I also wanted to include some classics that I had never looked at properly before.

Here’s the list, this time in chronological order. I’ve marked the ones that surpassed my expectations with *, and any that I thought were overrated with !

  • Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  • The Lost Dog – Michelle de Kretser
  • The Rooster Bar – John Grisham !
  • The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf
  • India: Another Way of Seeing – various authors
  • The British in India – David Gilmour
  • City of Djinns – William Dalrymple
  • Blokes, Beers, and Burritos – Jo Blakeley
  • I am, I am, I am – Maggie O’Farrell *
  • Devil’s Peak – Deon Meyer [in translation]
  • Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
  • Love Factually – Laura Mucha
  • The Unexpected Joy of Being Single – Catherine Gray
  • The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
  • Slade House – David Mitchell !
  • I know why the caged bird sings – Maya Angelou
  • The Second Plane – Martin Amis
  • Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  • Problems – Jade Sharma
  • By Jeeves – P G Wodehouse *
  • The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter
  • The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
  • Selected Tales – Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton *
  • The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky ! [in translation]
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  • Normal People – Sally Rooney
  • The Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula Le Guin
  • The Color Purple – Alice Walker
  • Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White *
  • Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata [in translation]
  • The Other Boleyn Girl – Philippa Gregory
  • My Sister the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite *
  • Moby Dick – Herman Melville !
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
  • Goddesses in Everywoman – Jean Shinoda
  • Collected Ghost Stories – M R James
  • The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
  • The Antidote – Oliver Burkeman
  • Antisocial Media – Siva Vaidhyanathan
  • Tough Tough Toys for Tough Tough Boys – Will Self
  • Fox 8 – George Saunders
  • Dead Famous – Ben Elton
  • I Owe You One – Sophie Kinsella
  • The Mother-in-Law – Sally Hepworth
  • What Red Was – Rosie Price
  • The Potter’s Field – Andrea Camilleri [in translation]
  • The Longest Way Home – Andrew McCarthy
  • Attached – Amir Levine, Rachel Heller
  • Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty !
  • Flight Behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver *
  • Doughnut Economics – Kate Raworth
  • How to be a Kosovan Bride – Naomi Hamill
  • Watching You – Lisa Jewell
  • The Better Sister – Alafair Burke
  • Hunger – Amélie Nothomb [in translation]
  • The Testaments – Margaret Atwood
  • The Prenup – Lauren Layne
  • The Holiday – T M Logan !
  • Christmas Shopaholic – Sophie Kinsella *
  • The Understudy – Sophie Hannah, Clare Mackintosh, B A Paris, Holly Brown !

Films of the Year 2019

Since I’m always on some kind of mission to see films that various people have recommended over the years (read: decades), why not list the films I’ve caught up with this year?

As with the books, those that I was particularly impressed with are marked with *, and the ones I thought had a budget that would have been better off spent on regenerating my home town are marked with !

In chronological order:

  • Disobedience – 2017
  • A Most Wanted Man – 2014
  • The Other Boleyn Girl – 2008
  • 28 Days – 2000
  • The Age of Innocence – 1993 *
  • The Jane Austen Book Club – 2007
  • White Chicks – 2004
  • Mr Turner – 2014
  • The Handmaiden – 2016
  • Call Me By My Name – 2017
  • Wolf of Wall Street – 2013
  • Book Club – 2018
  • The Second Mother – 2015 *
  • The Post – 2017
  • Casanova – 2005 *
  • Philomena – 2013
  • The Bucket List – 2007
  • Finding Your Feet – 2017 *
  • Gandhi – 1982
  • Plein Soleil – 1960
  • Bridge of Spies – 2015
  • Night Train to Lisbon – 2013 !
  • Crazy Rich Asians – 2018 *
  • Queen of the Desert – 2015
  • Downsizing – 2017
  • Infinity Chamber – 2016
  • Molly’s Game – 2017 *
  • The Color Purple – 1985
  • Fitzcarraldo – 1982
  • Spaceballs – 1987
  • 10×10 – 2018
  • Mary, Queen of Scots – 2018
  • The Favourite – 2018
  • Midnight’s Children – 2012
  • The Life of Brian – 1979
  • Isle of Dogs – 2018
  • A Star is Born – 2018
  • The Incredibles 2 – 2018
  • 500 Days of Summer – 2009
  • How to be Single – 2016
  • The Aftermath – 2019
  • Aladdin – 2019
  • Boy Erased – 2018
  • The Hate U Give – 2018 *
  • Vice – 2018
  • Kimi No Nawa (Your Name) – 2016
  • Pete’s Dragon – 2016
  • Matilda – 1996
  • Close – 2019
  • Escape Room – 2017 (Will Wernick) !
  • I am Mother – 2019
  • There Will Be Blood – 2007
  • Oranges and Sunshine – 2011
  • El Camino – 2019
  • Avant l’hiver – 2014
  • Une nouvelle amie – 2015 !
  • Belle Epoque – 2019 *


The Genie and the Lamp

Indian scarves

Namaste from India! As Aladdin is hitting our screens, here’s something I wrote several years ago…

The Genie and the Lamp

“You have three wishes!” he proclaimed.

“I’ll grant your heart’s desire!”

“I want to fall in love!” I said,

“I want to feel on fire!”


Lo and behold, I fell too quick

And soon became obsessed.

With somebody who failed to be as

Equally impressed.


And so I called my genie friend,

And told him that, instead,

My ideal guy should think I was

The best thing since sliced bread.


Hey presto! Such a man appeared

To brighten up the dark.

But still, behind those starry eyes,

I couldn’t feel that spark.


I called my genie back, with “You know

Full well what I mean!

I want to fall head over heels

With someone just as keen!”


The genie smirked, and magicked up

The lover of my life.

And we were living fairy tales

Until I met his wife.


I shouted for my genie.

I cried. I cursed my fate.

I said, “I want another wish!”

But he said, “It’s too late.”


© Joanna Rubery 2017

Books of the Year 2018

woman and books

In a departure from the usual, I thought I would list all the books I’ve read this year. I choose books mainly based on recommendations from friends, followed by recommendations from reviews in the papers and on the radio, and then from suggestions on my Kindle. This year, however, I wanted to include in my reading some classics that I had never looked at properly before. Here’s the list, in reverse order. I’ve marked the ones that surpassed my expectations with *, and any that I thought were overrated with !

  • White Oleander – Janet Fitch
  • Cry, the Beloved Country – Alan Paton
  • Vox – Christina Dalcher
  • Less – Andrew Sean Greer *
  • Help me! – Marianne Power *
  • Release – Patrick Ness
  • The Spare Room – Helen Garner
  • Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney
  • The Power of Acceptance – Annemarie Postma
  • The Happiest Kids in the World: Bringing Up Children the Dutch Way – Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison
  • Letting Go – David R Hawkins
  • C’est La Vie – Fabrice Midal (in translation)
  • Journey by Moonlight – Antal Szerb (in translation)
  • Four Seasons in Rome – Anthony Doerr
  • The Forgetting Time – Sharon Guskin
  • The Grass is Singing – Doris Lessing
  • The Jane Austen Book Club – Karen Joy Fowler
  • Portnoy’s Complaint – Philip Roth
  • Say My Name – Allegra Huston
  • The Wife Between Us – Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
  • Notes on a Nervous Planet – Matt Haig
  • The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell
  • There are No Grown-ups – Pamela Druckerman
  • David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
  • Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe *
  • Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert (in translation)
  • Three Men in a Boat – Jerome K Jerome
  • Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
  • On the Road – Jack Kerouac !
  • Men Explain Things to Me – Rebecca Solnit
  • Hunger – Roxane Gay
  • Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel (in translation) !
  • Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
  • Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
  • Under the Volcano – Malcolm Lowry
  • The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*** – Sarah Knight
  • Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis
  • Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
  • Lolita – Vladimir Nabukov
  • Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (in translation) *
  • Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë !
  • The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie
  • Middlemarch – George Eliot *
  • Beloved – Toni Morrison
  • The Photographer’s Wife – Suzanne Joinson
  • The Gustav Sonata – Rose Tremain
  • A Dark-Adapted Eye – Barbara Vine
  • Where Have All the Boys Gone? – Jenny Colgan
  • We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Doll’s House – Tania Carver
  • All the Single Ladies – Rebecca Traister
  • Lullaby – Leila Slimani (in translation)
  • The Paris Wife – Paula McLain
  • The Return – Victoria Hislop !
  • Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie
  • The Sun also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
  • The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafron (in translation) !
  • The Hours – Michael Cunningham
  • Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
  • Memory Wall – Anthony Doerr
  • Kitchen – Banana Yoshimoto (in translation)
  • My Education – Susan Choi
  • Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel
  • The Power – Naomi Alderman
  • Force of Nature – Jane Harper
  • Then She Was Gone – Lisa Jewell
  • How to Break Up with your Phone – Catherine Price *
  • I See You – Clare Mackintosh
  • The Anchoress – Robyn Cadwallader
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
  • The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
  • Friend Request – Laura Marshall
  • Anatomy of a Scandal – Sarah Vaughan

Thanks for tweeting about this, Allegra Huston!

Shot in the Dark

Brandenburg Gate

At this time of year, Europe always turns a shade darker. I’m reminded of a quote from the Hungarian writer Antal Szerb, whose Journey by Moonlight I have just finished: “In London November isn’t a month, it’s a state of mind.”

I mentioned back in February that one of my flash fiction stories from last year had been selected for publication in an anthology, but then didn’t give any more details: it’s the story below, which has always been one of my favourites.

Microfiction in 250 words: The Photograph

Fallen Angel

Fallen Angel

[I’m travelling around so much that, this year, the blog is going to take a summer holiday too. Meanwhile, here’s a short story written and set in Liège twenty years ago, before the euro, before smartphones, before Two Days One Night, and well before the more recent news headlines about that city.] 

Ça va?” asks Pascale as we bump over yet another pothole on the way up a mountain to her parents’ house for Sunday lunch. Actually, a mountain might be too poetic a name for it. It might be a slag heap. There are so many of them, decaying slowly on the outskirts of the city. At first glance they look like volcanic cones full of exotic promise and then close up, all you see is the disappointing reality of industrial decay. I met Pascale last week in an old attic, which has been the local chapel since the council ran out of funds to heat the church. I squeezed in among dozens of Catholic refugees, kneeling on the bare boards. Pascale took pity on me because she thought I was a refugee too, at first. I threw my clothes in the bin the next day. But she was actually closer than she realized.

“Now you can meet some real Belgians,” she says encouragingly to me. “It must be quite hard being British abroad and not being a typically British… What do you call it? A lager loot.”

Continue reading “Fallen Angel”