Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 27, 2023

‘Mrs Meiners has gone to get chalk’ from The Boy in Time (2023), by Stephen Orr

‘Mrs Meiners has gone to get chalk’ is a shocking story… it took my breath away.

It’s in Stephen Orr’s new collection:

A plane in the distance, artillery, his father waiting, and the boy wonders what to do. As with every story in this collection, the child born into a world he can’t comprehend, but stands waiting for answers, overcome with possibilities. The Boy in Time charts this child’s progress from the Outer Hebrides to a Mongolian desert, from war to kidnapping, a Midwestern American nightmare, falling from the wheel-well of a Dreamliner. Stephen Orr’s impressionistic take on the short story captures a child’s bewilderment of what it’s like to be alive.

I don’t read short story collections in order.  I start with the ones with titles that pique my interest. I’d read a few of the ones in the collection when I chose ‘Mrs Meiners has gone to get chalk’ because I knew Orr was a teacher and I was curious about how he was going to make something interesting out of it.

I mean, teaching is so ordinary, really.  It’s happening all over Australia right now, kids doing the ordinary things that Orr captures in his story.  Making dioramas.  Unwieldy pencils writing compositions.  Colouring in.  Chattering to each other in the teacher’s brief absence, even venturing a ‘swear word’ with bravado.

But it’s not quite so ordinary everywhere, and Orr’s imagination has taken us to an unimaginable situation.

I need to go out into the peace of my garden to regain my equanimity….

Author: Stephen Orr
Title: The Boy in Time
Cover design: Stacey Zass
Publisher: Wakefield Press, 2023
ISBN: 9781743059685



  1. That story has stayed in my mind since reading it in the ‘Thrill Me’ anthology (Glimmer Press). It’s shockingly good, isn’t it?
    Looking forward to reading ‘Boy in Time’.


  2. You’ve made me so curious about it now. But the whole book is so expensive here in the UK…


    • I know. But if you do come across anything by Stephen Orr, he really is one of our best.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This book is on my library list!


  4. I’ve never read a Stephen Orr. All the discussion around The Hands put me off. I wonder how long since teachers – Australian teachers anyway – used blackboards and chalk. The 1970s?


    • Ah…
      Feeling responsible that my review might have put you off The Hands, I read your comments there:
      “I had issues with the Snippets but if The Hands comes to my library as an audio book I’ll certainly give it a try. I like your analysis of the issues around farming and inheritance. Lots of my uncles and aunts were farmers but not so many of their children.”
      Oh, and since we’re nitpicking instead of responding to the importance of this story… which I’m sure you can guess at because there was another one in the US reported today … I was still using chalk when I started at my final school in 1994. I always taught in disadvantaged schools and they would have been the last to afford whiteboards.
      But the point is, that these atrocities have been going on for a long time!


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