Lisa Samson

Lisa Samson




Lisa teaches Creative Writing to undergraduates at Leeds Metropolitan University and has had her work published by Two Ravens’ Press and Brand Literary Magazine. She has an M.A in Creative Writing from the University of Leeds and is just entering the second year of her PhD in Creative Writing at Lancaster University. She completed her first novel last year and began work on the second one almost immediately. Her work in progress is a novel set in North Yorkshire, England, during the fourteenth century. Lisa has put aside her interest in play writing for the time being but her radio play The Whole of the Moon was short listed for the Alfred Bradley Award in 2009.

For her PhD, Lisa is writing a novel set in 14th century Swaledale, North Yorkshire, offering an imaginative interpretation of the life of a medieval woman in an isolated rural community. The novel begins in 1327, when poor crop yields led to starvation and disease amongst both humans and beasts. The fortunes of the girl and her family are heavily dependent on the numbers of dead, because the girl’s father is the keeper of the Dead House at Blades, a halfway stopping point for the pallbearers who used to carry their dead along the fourteen miles of the Corpse Way from Upper Swaledale to the consecrated ground in the churchyard at Grinton, then known as the Cathedral of the Dales. It is a dramatic tale of superstition and spirits, a family’s struggle for survival and divided loyalties. The personal and intellectual growth of the female protagonist, a strong minded woman forging a life for herself at a time when women were legally bound to obey their father or their husband is central to the novel’s development.


Creative Work

Voyeurs (short story)

Beneath the awning of his bar, Mario and the old man watched the dusty Fiat Uno chug up the steep hill to the village, breaking into the monotony of the baking afternoon. An Englishman unfolded his long legs and stepped out of the car, wiping his brow with a handkerchief. His wife flitted over to the fountain and flirted with its ice cold spray, flicking spots of water on to her neck and shoulders.

The piazza was deserted except for Gennaro lying under the plane tree, scratching the stray dog’s bristly ears. Mario remembered the hushed voices around the open door of the tenement after Gennaro’s birth, remembered holding his Mamma’s hand as they walked by, seeing the baby’s head lolling as it was passed from one neighbour to the next, mouth dribbling. Nothing’s changed then, Mario thought, as he saw the spit shimmering at the corners of Gennaro’s mouth.

Eyes narrowed, Mario stared as the Englishman swaggered across the dusty cobbles to the bar. Mario admired his cowboy-like stance, hands in the pockets of his long shorts, hips loose. You could tell the man fancied himself as a bit of an adventurer and it’s true that not many tourists ventured this far. The hair pin bends were enough to put anyone off. What was there to attract them? If Mario hadn’t been born in Altomonte he knew he would never come here. As it was, he dreamt his life away working out plans to escape.

When the Englishman entered, Mario busied himself polishing glasses. With a jerk of his head Mario signalled to the tables outside. If the foreigner wanted serving then he could pay the full sit-down price.

The Englishwoman brought the sweetness of suntan lotion on her shiny skin and the glamour of the Riviera in her sun streaked hair that she tossed back as she lifted her dark glasses. She ordered a gin and tonic, then she smiled into his eyes and asked him for a light. Their hands brushed. Her husband, lobster face sunk in the menu, ordered steak and chips.

Mario heated up the oil for the chips and took the pasta that his mother had made out of the freezer. He held his cigarette in his left hand as he fried the chips with the other, flicking ash onto the floor.

The woman toyed with her pasta and chain smoked, eyeing Mario.

“Why is she not eating?” Signor Baffi asked.

“She’ll be dieting,” Mario shrugged.

“She’s all skin and bone,” Signor Baffi spat on the tiles Mario had mopped only that morning.

The Englishman sliced into his bloody steak. Mario approached the table with a clean ashtray and gave the woman a faint smile. She leant forward, exposing her low cleavage.

Mario flopped on one of his plastic chairs near the old man and lit another cigarette. This heat sapped your energy. They looked on as Fabio, a swarthy young man with a bull-like head, threw himself down under the plane tree next to Gennaro, who lay with his head on the dog’s stomach.

“Ciao, Gennaro,” Fabio offered as he got out his mobile phone and began texting.

Glancing at the large boy lolling beside him, he pressed his key pad with great dexterity. Gennaro sat up and smiled, pleased to have company.

Mario could tell from Fabio’s restless movements that he was bored. Usually you only saw him swarm past on his vesper with the other teenagers, on their way to the beach. Fabio was just a few years younger than Mario but Mario felt the difference between them was as wide as the gulf across the valley. He had been like Fabio once, not a care in the world, his only interest chatting up girls. Then he had got his girlfriend pregnant and within months was married with a baby. Mario sighed as he slung his butt end onto the cobbles and began to wipe tables.

Satisfied after his steak dinner, the Englishman settled himself in his plastic chair to survey the tranquil scene before him. His wife sat in a haze of smoke, watching Mario. He was conscious of her eyes on him and bent over the tables for longer than necessary, his buttocks tight against the thin linen of his slacks.

“Fabio! Fab!”

They all looked round to see a wide face peering round the corner behind the bar. It was Davide, son of the local carpenter. Mario took no notice when he saw Fabio strut over to his friend and disappear into the carpenter’s workshop behind the bar. The English couple ordered more drinks and seemed unperturbed by the banging that echoed round the carpenter’s courtyard. Fabio called out to Gennaro, who beamed and lumbered across the piazza, surprised to be wanted.

When he heard the hammering, Mario thought it odd that they were breaking the afternoon code of silence but assumed the carpenter had a deadline. He sliced a lemon into thin slithers and arranged two of them on the lip of the Englishwoman’s beer glass, hoping that she would notice his artful presentation.

Mario tucked in his white shirt and lifted the tray of drinks in one hand. As he stepped onto the terrace he heard Fabio say, “Hold still, Gennaro!” Then Davide’s voice, “Tighter. Tie it tighter.” Mario placed the drinks in front of the English couple and, with a flourish, he placed a complimentary bowl of cashew nuts on the table. His elbow accidentally grazed the woman’s breast.

There was a grinding noise and Mario turned to see Fabio and Davide heaving an enormous cross past the bar, with Gennaro tied to it. His arms were outstretched, fastened with ropes round his wrists, armpits and middle. Gennaro was dribbling, his mouth fixed in a half-smile. The two boys dragged the enormous crucifix towards the tree, clattering over the cobbles. Panting, they paused halfway across the square.

Mario was transfixed. All eyes followed the spectacle. All mouths fell open. The Englishman rose in alarm. The old men shook their heads. For a moment, nobody in the bar said anything.

“Do something!” cried the woman.

Mario watched as Fabio and Davide rattled across the cobbles with their human burden.

“What are they doing to him?” the woman began to cry.

Mario was torn between wanting to impress the woman and wanting to find out what they intended. It was as if the scene before them were enacted on a TV screen. He made as if to step off the terrace but thought better of it, avoiding her eye. The boys sweated as they struggled to raise the cumbersome crucifix to a vertical position. Gennaro began to whimper, alarmed as his carriage rose higher. The cords holding his wrists dug in deep. Fabio, arms thick as a butcher’s, managed to wedge the cross against the tree.

An old woman genuflected as she shuffled to afternoon mass, head bent under her black shawl. At that very moment, his mother turned the corner opposite the bar, carrying a Tupperware dish with Mario’s lunch in it. His palms began to sweat as she caught sight of poor Gennaro on his crucifix, helpless as a baby in its pram. She dropped her dish and let out a terrible shriek that resounded round the piazza, bounced off the pebble-dash walls of the church and brought the priest at a run from his ritual preparations for worship.

“Mario! Mario!”

Mario half-ran towards the tree, closely followed by the Englishman. His heart thumped in his chest, faster and faster, just like when he was a boy and his mother was cross with him. He fumbled with the cords tying Gennaro’s hands and the Englishman lowered the cross gently to the floor.

Fabio stopped fiddling with the camera controls of his mobile phone and shoved it in his pocket. Davide hung his big head and offered his penknife to Fabio to cut the cords.

“Poor Gennaro. We’ll have you off there in no time,” Mario’s mother stroked Gennaro’s face. She turned her venom on the two culprits. “Get out of my sight, you evil skunks. How could you let this happen, Mario? That a son of mine could stand by and watch. Dio mio, what shame you bring on us.”

Mario’s mother crossed herself.

“It was them, not me.” As if to emphasize his own innocence, Mario struck Davide round the head. The priest arrived on the scene and Gennaro was tenderly coaxed up to a sitting position.

“We didn’t hurt him. We just wanted a photo.” Fabio kicked the dust.

“He was okay about it,” added Davide.

“Shut-up and get inside the church,” ordered the priest. “Let God hear your penance.”

“Go and get some water,” Mario’s mother instructed him.

Hang dog, Mario rushed to the bar and filled glasses with cold water, his hands shaking as he realised the import of what had happened.

When Gennaro’s wounds had been bathed at the fountain by Mario’s mother and Mario had been sent to get Gennaro’s own mother, the police finally arrived. The door was wide open and she rose in alarm as she saw Mario’s anxious face.

“What is it? Where’s Gennaro?”

“Come quickly, Signora.”

She leant heavily on Mario as they walked back to the piazza. She was panting and he was afraid she might hyperventilate.

The ambulance men were carrying a stretcher towards them and Gennaro’s mother fell to her knees beside her son, taking him in her arms and crying. Mario stood by, fumbling for a cigarette in his pocket.

 The priest went into his church to give the culprits their chiding from God before handing them over to the police. Mario, with his pigeon English, helped the tourists give their statement to the police.

“Never seen anything like it,” the Englishman said.

  The woman sat on the wall by the fountain, chain smoking and saying nothing. They all gathered round as the ambulance door closed on Gennaro, who whimpered and held his mother’s hand. Mario’s mother went off to get her car to follow the ambulance to hospital in Sam Remo. She rang Mario later to say that Gennaro would be kept in overnight for shock. He was treated for minor abrasions on his wrists, armpits and waist.

 Mario watched with regret as the woman tottered to the Fiat Uno and got in beside her husband. She refused to return his gaze, eyes intent on the road ahead. They set off gingerly down the mountainside, their windows wound down to let in the air heavy with wild rosemary and thyme. Mario imagined her stretched on her sun bed, roasting on the beach with the other tourists.

Next morning the incident was headline news in the local paper “Il Mattino Cuneese”. Mario ignored the old men waiting for their morning coffee, put his feet up and read:

What could have motivated two ordinary young men to commit such a heinous crime against a mentally retarded boy? Did the midday heat go to their heads? Was there a vendetta between the families? Fabio Contese and Davide Barricardo are charged with reviling a religious symbol and causing personal injury.”

A few weeks later, Mario appeared as a witness at the trial. Uncomfortable in his late father’s black suit that his mother had insisted he wore, he found it hard to control a  twitch in his right hand. When asked why he didn’t intervene sooner he replied, “it was so shocking it felt as if it wasn’t really happening.”

The morning after the trial, Mario fastened a small suitcase to the back of his vespa and left Altomonte for good. He sent money back regularly to his wife and son but never returned to the village.



This is one of my early stories written in the summer of 2006 and I’m quite glad to give it an airing. It was inspired by a newspaper article I read in the local paper ‘Il Mattino Cuneese’ whilst on holiday in Limone on the Italian French border. The small holiday town we stayed in for a few days was an out of season ski resort, surrounded by high mountains that made me feel claustrophobic.

The events described here are fictional but are based loosely on a real case in which some locals tortured a boy with special needs. I located the story in a mountain village close to the French Riviera, and the English people in the story are tourists who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I think I must have been feeling quite cynical when I wrote this because none of the people described in the story are very sensitive. I was keen to capture both the horror of the event and the paralysis of the ‘voyeurs’, who do nothing to stop the torture until it is too late. Like film viewers, they behave as though the action is on celluloid and seem anesthetised to the boy’s pain and humiliation. They suffer from the malaise of dislocation, perhaps a result of too much passive film viewing, or of the loss of social cohesion in contemporary society. Either way, Mario, the barman, blames himself for allowing the incident to happen in front of his bar. The event becomes the catalyst for Mario’s long dreamt-of flight from the village.

My writing style here feels quite laboured but I‘m rather fond of this story and may get to know Mario a bit better in future to find out what happens to him when he leaves Altomonte.




Short Stories

Sewing a seam on the spirit line in A Wilder Vein ed. Linda Cracknell, 2009
Fly Free, Brand Literary Magazine issue 2, 2008

Performances of Short Plays

Inner Sanctum, Leeds: West Yorkshire Playhouse, 2007
Before Her Time, Bradford: Priestley Theatre, 2007
Either Way, Leeds: Leeds University Workshop Theatre, 2006
Crossed Words, Harrogate: Harrogate Studio Theatre, 2005

Writer Index