Review: Love & Other Dramas by Ronali Collings (2022)



West London. Tania Samarasena (recently divorced), her mother Helen (recently widowed), and her best friend Priya (recently nearly sacked following The Outburst) are three women at a crossroads in their lives.

As they make plans to reinvent themselves, a series of shocks, old secrets and surprises plays havoc with their relationships, as well as their futures.

A warm, witty and wonderful debut about second chances, Love & Other Dramas tells the story of three women dealing with the drama of life, love, family, friendship and keeping people out of your business in a culture where Aunty knows best.


Many thanks to Embla Books and the author for providing me with a beautiful proof copy of Love & Other Dramas in exchange for an honest review. I was thrilled to get a chance for an early read of this debut novel.

This is a wonderfully character-driven novel, and all three protagonists have complex, nuanced storylines that balance each other extremely well. The way their stories are woven together is very clever, and I found I was equally invested in each of the three women. The author has chosen their starting points intelligently, avoiding cliches by moving beyond the usual narrative openers. For example, rather than being on the cusp of discovering her husband’s affair, Tania is already divorced; her mother, Helen, is already in the process of trying to reinvent herself after the death of her husband. Similarly, when characters meet their new partners, it isn’t presented as a happy ever after – there is plenty that needs unpacking before their relationships can progress. The book probes the question ‘what comes next?’ in various ways, and it does so with an emotional maturity that is refreshing.

I loved all three main characters – Tania is so relatable in her struggle to carve out an identity for herself away from motherhood and marriage; Priya is so strong and yet so vulnerable in ways she doesn’t even realise at first – but I think Helen is my favourite character. I really admire the way the author has taken the ‘side character’ of the meddlesome mother and given her depth and nuance, exploring her issues and traumas with a sensitivity too often only reserved for younger female characters. I felt for her so much, and longed for her to see herself as the lovely Oscar does (again, proof that mature characters can be wonderful romantic heroes!) – and I also enjoyed the way that her relationship with Tania evolved as mother and daughter get to know each other properly – it’s very naturally done, a gradual erosion of the barriers they’d put up between them.

Love & Other Dramas is a beautifully subtle, moving, portrait of three women moving towards finally understanding what they deserve. It shows the work that goes into overcoming past mistakes and learned behaviours, and I finished the book with so much admiration for these three women for finding their truth. It’s an inspiring, intelligent book, written with grace and humour and the kind of empathy that we should all aspire to. I can’t wait to read more of Ronali Collings’ work.

Love & Other Dramas by Ronali Collings is published by Embla Books and is available to purchase here.


Spotlight: Oh, I Do Like to Be by Rachel Canwell (2022) – Author Q & A and Extract

I’m delighted to be bringing you a spotlight post on Rachel Canwell’s fantastic flash fiction collection, Oh, I Do Like to Be. Published by Alien Buddha Press, here’s what people are saying about this brilliant book:

“Rachel Canwell’s “Oh, I Do Like to Be” is a stand-out debut flash fiction collection from an accomplished and masterful writer. Unfolding against the evocatively rendered backdrop of a seaside town, these stories are daring, often magical, at times humorous, and utterly compelling. Canwell grapples with themes of motherhood, disability, and women coming into their own, among others, with skill and precision. “Oh, I Do Like to Be” showcases the very best of what flash can be – exquisite, powerful, rule-breaking, breath-taking – and I absolutely loved it.”
– Kristen Loesch, author of The Porcelain Doll (Allison & Busby, 2022)

“A wonderful set of flash fiction where the author skilfully carries the reader from shock to laughter to empathy for her cast of characters by the seaside. From the fantastic originality of Cold Hard Cash to the humour of Stone Tales 2, I really enjoyed this collection.”
-Orla Owen, author of ‘Pah’ and ‘The Lost Thumb.

“Clever, insightful and laugh out loud funny. Rachel Canwell will have you flipping through the pages of her flash fiction faster than a seagull can crap on the promenade. If you’re like me, you will revel in the compelling and poignant tales of the seaside dwellers and visitors, sipping your tea and feeling grateful the worries and torments of these folk are not the same as yours. Then you’ll find yourself grinning at their antics. By the end, Rachel will have you zipping back to the beginning to enjoy it once again, maybe this time at a more leisurely pace.”
-Sidra Ansari, author of Finding Peace Through Prayer and Love

“In this fantastic collection, Canwell captures the tiny details and inner workings of a range of women living by the sea with succinctness, tenderness and intrigue. She takes us through many emotions and situations in few words, with skilful story telling that keeps you turning the pages. While, sometimes she also throws in a twist that takes you in a completely different direction.”
-Nikki Dudley, Streetcake editor, author and poet.

Author Q and A with Rachel Canwell

I caught up with Rachel to ask her some questions about Oh, I Do Like to Be. Many thanks to the author for lending her time!

Q: What inspired the collection Oh, I Do Like To Be?

The sea and my slight obsession with it. The collection evolved when I noticed that there was a definite theme to my stories both in content and setting. The British seaside is such a vibrant and complex place. A real mix of pleasure and pain. Fun and often real deprivation. I love the idea of two sides of a coin and hidden stories.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the stories?

The stories are all based by the seaside; the British Seaside to be exact. They are the stories of women, some visitors, some local. All living both ordinary and extraordinary lives, not matter what their age or circumstances.

Q: Do you have a favourite story in the collection?

That is like asking for my favourite child!! It’s very hard to pick. I do have a soft spot for the four linked pieces of flash ‘Stone Tales’ and the second piece, told as post on a local Facebook feed was great fun to write.

Q: How did you get into flash fiction?

Laura Beasley basically!!! I did a wonderful course with Laura and Sidra Ansari last year. They both encouraged me to think of myself as a writer. Reading Laura’s book The Almost Mothers opened my eyes to a whole genre I had never known existed.

Q: What was the hardest thing about writing the book?

Believing in my words. Not getting bogged down the end product and it’s destination but trusting in myself and what I was creating.

Q: What was your journey to publication like?

The collection was turned down on several occasions. I am not very patient and I was starting to think about cutting my losses and breaking the collection down into smaller submissions. Then Alien Buddha came alone and the process shot off like a rocket.

Q: What’s the best thing about being a published author?

Simply having a book with my name on it. It is a life long dream.

Q: What kind of books do you like reading? Any current favourites?

Flash fictions and short stories are great. They pack a punch and fill up the word bank. I love good historical fiction and books with strong female characters, particularly those women who are doing remarkable things in plain sight. The kind of women we all know. I’m currently reading Sweet Home by Wendy Erskine and Bad Relations by Cressida Connolly 

Q: When do you find time to write? Do you have a ‘writing routine’?

I work full time so that can be a challenge. Weekends and evenings. The school holidays are hives of creativity for me. My children are older and I teach, so when other writers on Twitter are bemoaning they school holidays coming I am rubbing my hands. No real routine but I try to write something or think about writing everyday.

Q: What are you working on at the moment?

I am just about to launch into the second draft of my first historical novel. I am also playing with some ideas for a new flash collection and have a couple of untamed ideas for novellas in flash.

Extract from Oh, I Do Like To Be

Thanks again to Rachel and to the publisher, Alien Buddha, for letting us read one of the stories from the collection. I asked Rachel to tell us about the story she’s chosen:

“This story is about a very reluctant clairvoyant, who has been left the business by her mother and grandmother. She is in no way at peace with what she is doing and the place she finds herself in. It’s really about the ties that bind us and how we break out of being a square peg in a round hole.”

You Can’t See The Join

Tina opens up the booth, spilling coffee as she goes; red hot macchiato right down her jeans. Instinctively and instantly she blames this one on Gran, exacting her own brand of scolding judgement from the other side. 

Telling Tina she should be drinking tea. 

Telling Tina she is getting nothing right.

 ‘Fuck it’ 

The shock makes her drop the cardboard cup and liquid puddles, running towards her brand-new suede boots. The ones she knows her Mum would have told her she can’t afford.

 She leaps backwards, smacking her head on the booth’s low swinging sign. 

‘Fuck again.’

She attracts the attention of an early morning dog walker; all muscle vest and ear buds, who laughs out aloud and says, pointing at the words above,

‘Didn’t see that one coming then did you?’’

Palmist and Fortune Teller – Third Generation 

Tina gives him the finger and takes great pleasure in imagining his future. 

She crafts for him some really grizzly bullshit and tells herself it’s the beginning of her gift.

He laughs and shakes his head, and Tina turns towards the door, bracing herself for the smell of the incense and the clatter of the beaded curtain. The one she should replace.

Few people have an office that looks like hers. 

A place where people come cradling desperate hope, waiting to hear that things are on the up, to hear that they are saved. 

A place where Tina is reminded of her failure every single day. 

She opens the door and edges around the velvet covered table, heading for the furthest corner. Here Tina squats and wedges herself. Hoping she is hidden from view, she awkwardly pulls off her stained and stinking jeans. Usually she wears them under the oversized robes hanging on the back of the chair, but today she guesses she’ll go commando. 

She has no time to go home and change. Her first appointment is in ten minutes and she has to prepare. Light the candles, polish the ball, shuffle the cards. Give everything around her the appropriate other-worldly glow. 

For all the good it does. 

This space makes her sick. It fills her with anxiety, with a feeling of being entirely trapped and having precisely nowhere to go.

 Nothing in these cramped, salt-damp four walls belongs to her. And today, just like every day other day, she is wearing other women’s clothes.

Oh, I Do Like to Be by Rachel Canwell is published by Alien Buddha Press and is available to purchase here.