Review: Ravished by Anna Vaught (2022)

Blurb

Ravished, subtitled A Series of Reflections on Age, Sex, Death, and Judgement, is the second collection from Anna Vaught. These are peculiar tales, weird fiction, gothic, unusual, full of literary allusion, threaded through with classical and Welsh reference, occasionally starring the author’s relatives and the Virgin Mary. Sometimes funny, morbid, potentially inspiring, Ravished is both revolting and pretty; both awful and yet optimistic in the stress it places on playful language and the abundance of the imagination. The stories explore revenge, angels, an encounter with faith, death and loss and are full of off-kilter experiences, such as a chat with the holy spirit on a bench, a love story in an embalming parlour, passing the time with the man who’s going to bury you and why you should never underestimate the power of the landscape or the weird outcast you passed by.

Review

Many thanks to Reflex Press for providing me with a copy of Ravished in exchange for an honest review – I apologise sincerely for the delay! I did read this wonderful collection before publication, but have been a very slack book blogger these past few months. I promise to do better in 2023!

I’m a huge fan of Anna Vaught’s writing. I loved her 2020 novel Saving Lucia and her previous short story collection, Famished, so I was delighted to see that she had a new book coming out. The short stories I’d read by her before were beautiful and strange, mesmerising in their use of language, and this collection is no different.

The titles alone are works of art – the contents page reads like a poem. From ‘A Welsh Grave Digger Laments (or Why It Is Better to Be Dead in Wales)’ to ‘Love, Now and Then, on a Primrose Bank’ to ‘The Unguents of Ada Morgan,’ the richness of the treasure that lies within is hinted at from the very start. Death is threaded through the stories not as an abstract concept but a physical presence – graves, embalming parlours, the work of laying the dead to rest forms an integral part of the book. And yet despite this morbid fascination, there is comfort here, too – the beautiful shapes that Vaught sculpts with her words represent a brave, playful, intriguing engagement with all the strange dark corners of existence.

As in Famished, the narrator of the stories often engages directly with the reader – we are ‘my dears,’ ‘my sweet ones,” implicated in the tapestry being woven by the frequent use of “you” as a direct address. I think this speaks to the project that the author is undertaking (gravedigger pun intended) here – Vaught is delving deep into the realms of gothic-tinged horror and weirdness in order not only to bring to our attention the strangeness of it, but also the beauty – she is excavating what we might be too afraid to unearth on our own. In that sense the stories – and the author – function as a kind of gentle guide, a calm hand pressed against our backs as we confront the other-worldly, the inexplicable, the dark parts.

Anna Vaught’s prose often gives me the sensation of being rocked, the cadences and rhythms running through it lulling me into a kind of dream-like state, in which the peculiar nature of the stories becomes temporarily familiar, a new normal where nothing is, in fact, normal. It’s a fascinatingly immersive experience, and one that I struggle to articulate fully, as you can probably tell!

My favourite stories were the ones with Evans and Myfanwy, their relationship traced with such tenderness and delicacy, as well as the delicious interlude of ‘The Bookshelves of Amos Biblio’ – one for all book lovers to enjoy. But it’s the sum total of the work that has stayed with me more than any individual moment or story – I love how layered and carefully crafted the book is, and how well it sits beside her other works that I have read. I’ll read anything Anna Vaught writes, and luckily, she is prolific – with a new novel coming later his year from Renard Press – and I’d recommend her work to anyone wanting to discover a truly original literary voice.

Ravished by Anna Vaught is published by Reflex Press and is available to purchase here.

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Review: Bad Fruit by Ella King (2022)

Blurb

LILY IS A GOOD DAUGHTER

Every evening she pours Mama a glass of perfectly spoilt orange juice. She arranges the teddy bears on Mama’s quilt, she puts on her matching pink clothes. Anything to help put out the fire of Mama’s rage.

MAMA IS A GOOD LIAR

But Mama is becoming unpredictable, dangerous. And as she starts to unravel, so do the memories that Lily has kept locked away for so long.
She only wanted to be good, to help piece Mama back together. But as home truths creep out of the shadows, Lily must recast everything: what if her house isn’t a home – but a prison? What if Mama isn’t a protector – but a monster . . .

Review

Huge thanks to the publishers and the Squadpod for sending me a copy of Bad Fruit in exchange for an honest review. I’m sorry it’s been such a long time coming!

Bad Fruit is a fantastic debut – it is taut and compelling and fiercely original. What really elevates it is the level of detail, particularly of Mama’s quirks and whims. It’s all brought to life so vividly: I read the book with the taste of sour fruit juice in my mouth. And yet despite the intricate details, there is so much that is hidden beneath the surface – the novel hums with the weight of the unsaid. It’s really cleverly done – the trauma is deep and cutting, but never made explicit – and it’s all the more powerful for that.

Lily is a really interesting protagonist, allied as she is at the start of the novel with Mama and her strange ways. This complicity, and the difficulty of breaking away from it, is one of the most fascinating aspects of Bad Fruit – Mama gets away with her behaviour because she is allowed to do so, and in some ways Lily is her co-conspirator as well as her victim. The dynamics at play between all of the characters are nuanced and complicated, and there’s a kind of twisted pleasure in teasing them all out.

The unravelling of Lily’s memories, and the sense of the pieces of herself coming apart, especially towards the end of the book, makes for some of the most tense scenes in the book – at times there is an almost thriller-like feel to the narrative, as events unfold that you can’t look away from. It’s totally immersive, a book to be devoured in a couple of sittings, and one that will stay with me for a long time. I’m looking forward to reading more of Ella King’s work.

Bad Fruit by Ella King is published by HarperCollins and is available to purchase here.

Review: The Promise by Damon Galgut (2021)

Blurb

Winner of the Booker Prize 2021

Shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2022

A masterpiece of a family in crisis from twice Booker-shortlisted author Damon Galgut

The Promise charts the crash and burn of a white South African family, living on a farm outside Pretoria. The Swarts are gathering for Ma’s funeral. The younger generation, Anton and Amor, detest everything the family stand for — not least the failed promise to the Black woman who has worked for them her whole life. After years of service, Salome was promised her own house, her own land… yet somehow, as each decade passes, that promise remains unfulfilled.

The narrator’s eye shifts and blinks: moving fluidly between characters, flying into their dreams; deliciously lethal in its observation. And as the country moves from old deep divisions to its new so-called fairer society, the lost promise of more than just one family hovers behind the novel’s title.

In this story of a diminished family, sharp and tender emotional truths hit home. Confident, deft and quietly powerful, The Promise is literary fiction at its finest.

Review

Many thanks to Zara at FMcM and the Rathbones Folio Prize for sending me a finished copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Apologies for the delay!

I’ve read a couple of other works by Damon Galgut, and as a big fan of South African literature, I was thrilled to hear he’d won the Booker. My expectations were high on starting The Promise, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The most striking aspect of this novel is how skillfully the author manipulates the roving point of view, flitting between the characters with a modernist ease reminiscent of Virginia Woolf. Stylistically, the book is beautifully wrought, each sentence delicately laced with meaning. intricate and complex, a true lesson in the craft of writing. But it is not a case of style over substance: there is story here too, and character, and moments of tension and heartbreak.

‘The farm’ is a recurring motif in South Africa literature (I won’t punish you by dropping in my decades-old undergrad essay on this topic, though I have to admit this book did have me looking it out!) and here, the Swart family’s smallholding is not only a symbol but also a stage, where various family dramas play out at intervals across the years, shadowed by South Africa’s tumultuous history. The narrator’s role as ‘puppet master’ heightens this sense of theatricality – characters are dropped onstage and then summarily dismissed, and the ‘behind the curtain’ artifice of storytelling is directly commented on.

I think what I loved most about The Promise is that it showcases exactly what a novel, and only a novel, can do when the author is operating at the peak of their powers: it delves into the psyches of fictional characters in order to give us a better understanding of ourselves. The fiction provides a mirror for reality, and truths both beautiful and ugly are brought to light. It is an incredibly powerful book, and one that will stay with me for a long time.

The Promise by Damon Galgut is published by Vintage and is available to purchase here.

Blog Tour: Nobody But Us by Laure Van Rensburg

Huge thanks to Sryia at Penguin Random House for inviting me on the paperback blog tour for a book I read when it first came out and absolutely LOVED! I’m re-sharing my review below – do check out the other stops on the tour over the next few weeks! And if you haven’t read Nobody But Us yet, you’re in for a treat!

Blurb

He’s a well-respected college professor. She’s a young and eager-to-please student.

He knows she would do anything for him. She knows his certainty is his weakness

He thinks he’ll get what he wants. She thinks he’ll get exactly what he needs.

Two liars.
One twisted path.
A game of cat and mouse.

BUT WHO IS THE HUNTER? AND WHO IS THE PREY?

Review

I’m not sure if I devoured this book, or if this book consumed me, but either way, I could not put it down. This is one of the most tense – and intense – reading experiences I’ve had for a while, and I loved every second of it. From the dramatic opening to the gradual unveiling of what has taken place, Nobody But Us is an absolute masterclass in creating narrative tension. It’s a tricky book to review in terms of the story, because so much of the twisted pleasure comes from discovery as you read, so I’ll keep this brief and focus instead on what I love about Laure Van Rensburg’s writing.

There is a sharpness to the prose, a piercing accuracy – each sentence has the ability to startle, to awaken new ways of seeing. It is beautiful, clever writing – shaped and polished, with the glassy sleekness of the house itself. The descriptions of the house where these disturbing events unfold are some of the sharpest writing in the novel: the author could not have chosen a more perfect setting for Ellie and Steven’s weekend away. Its stylish modernity contrasts with the wildness of the landscape around it, and the visual quality of the writing creates a cinematic effect. I really felt like I was watching the events unfold rather than reading about them – it’s a very powerful effect.

Nobody But Us isn’t my usual type of book – but I have come to realise that I pretty much only have a ‘usual’ type in order to attempt to manage the ever-growing list of books I want to read! Every time I step outside my comfort zone, I realise how much can be learned from books outside my typical genres. This is some of the best writing I’ve read in a long time, and Laure Van Rensburg is a debut author to watch. It’s a book that will have you messaging your friends to say “text me when you’ve finished!” – a book you’ll want to talk about and recommend to everyone you know.

Nobody But Us by Laure Van Rensburg is published by Penguin Michael Joseph – the paperback is out NOW and is available to purchase here.

Review: All About Evie by Matson Taylor (2022)

Blurb

Evie Epworth is ten years older. But is she any wiser?

Ten years on from the events of The Miseducation of Evie Epworth, Evie is settled in London and working as a production assistant for the BBC. She has everything she ever dreamed of (a career, a leatherette briefcase, an Ossie Clark poncho) but, following an unfortunate incident involving a Hornsea Pottery mug and Princess Anne, she finds herself having to rethink her future. What can she do? Is she too old to do it? And will it involve cork-soled sandals?

As if this isn’t complicated enough, her disastrous love life leaves her worrying that she may be destined for eternal spinsterdom, concerned, as she is, that ‘even Paul had married Linda by the time he was 26‘. Through it all, Evie is left wondering whether a 60s miseducation really is the best preparation to glide into womanhood and face the new challenges (strikes, power cuts, Edward Heath’s teeth) thrown up by the growing pains of the 70s.

With the help of friends, both old and new, she might just find a way through her messy 20s and finally discover who exactly she is meant to be…

Review

Many thanks to the author, publisher and the lovely Squadpod for my copy of All About Evie in exchange for an honest review.

I was so excited to catch up with Evie again, having adored the first book The Miseducation of Evie Epworth. It also provided another opportunity to bake, and to celebrate with Matson and the Squad, which is always a joy!

It can feel like a bit of a risk to catch up with a beloved character, but I knew I was in safe hands, and this second installment is just as joyous and jubilant as the first. The time jump works well, giving Evie a gap to settle into her London life, and when we meet her again it is in full 70s, Biba-frocked glory. I was hooked from the wonderful opening paragraph to the very last page.

Despite initial setbacks of a typically unique and hilarious nature, Evie has lost none of her lust for life, her enthusiasm, or her kindness. She’s just a pleasure to spend time with on the page, as are the new characters we are introduced to, and the old ones we meet again.

There are some beautifully written flashback sections that cast new light on the backstories of certain characters, and it is these sections in particular that evoke the strongest emotional response. I think in a way that is representative of Evie herself – she is not just the star of the show, but she also shines her light on other people, allowing them to step into the spotlight. We root for Evie so strongly because she roots for others – she’s exactly the sort of person you want to have on your team.

I don’t want to give anything away about the plot, but if you enjoyed Evie’s first (mis)adventure, you will not be disappointed with this sequel. And if you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her yet, you need to get right on it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: EVERYONE needs Evie Epworth in their life.

All About Evie by Matson Taylor is published by Simon & Schuster and is available to purchase here.

Review: Every Trick in the Book by Iain Hood (2022)

Blurb

There’s only control, control of ourselves and others. And you have to decide what part you play in that control.

Cast your eye over the comfortable north London home of a family of high ideals, radical politics and compassionate feelings. Julia, Paul and their two daughters, Olivia and Sophie, look to a better society, one they can effect through ORGAN:EYES, the campaigning group they fundraise for and march with, supporting various good causes.

But is it all too good to be true? When the surface has been scratched and Paul’s identity comes under the scrutiny of the press, a journey into the heart of the family begins. Who are these characters really? Are any of them the ‘real’ them at all? Every Trick in the Book is a genre-deconstructing novel that explodes the police procedural and undercover-cop story with nouveau romanish glee. Hood overturns the stone of our surveillance society to show what really lies beneath.

Review

Many thanks to the author and to Renard Press for my spot on the blog tour and for sending me a proof of Every Trick in the Book.

I was a massive fan of Iain Hood’s previous novel This Good Book so I jumped at the chance to read more of his work. I also really like the link between the titles (I’m having fun thinking of what his next book might be called) and the gentle intertextual reference to Susan Alison MacLeod which appears early on in Every Trick. These little touches of playfulness are what the author does so well, and it sets the reader up nicely for the meta, modernist journey that Hood takes us on.

To borrow from the artistic theme of his previous novel, reading Every Trick feels like wandering through an eclectic art gallery. From the camera-panning opening, in which we zoom in on the everyday objects that represent the family’s ‘Sunday supplement’ life; to Paul’s interactions with Sarge and the Chief; to his surreal spell in an institution; to the Woolfian consciousness-flitting of imagined passers-by: each set piece has a different tone, and yet the author manages to pull it all together through clever mirroring techniques (of plot, character and indeed whole passages).

This is definitely a book you have to concentrate on, and I’m sure my brow was deeply furrowed while reading (except when it relaxed for the humour that is liberally sprinkled throughout), but like This Good Book, Every Trick wears its intellectual credentials lightly, and the play(fulness) is the thing. And just when you think it has wandered too far into stylistic trickery, it pulls you back in with a sucker punch of emotion, bringing Olivia and Sophie to the forefront at just the right moment.

I think what I admire so much about Iain Hood’s writing is that rather than ‘making you think,’ it invites you to do so, with a wink and a nudge and the comforting hand of levity laid gently on your shoulder. Yes, it is deeply intelligent, self-referential, stylistically daring work, dealing with large, important themes, but it is also tremendous fun, and pulling off this particular trick is no mean feat. I’m so glad that Renard Press has given us the opportunity to enjoy his work, and I look forward to His Next Book

About the Author

Iain Hood by Jeremy Andrews

Iain Hood was born in Glasgow and grew up in the seaside town of Ayr. He attended the University of Glasgow and Jordanhill College, and later worked in education in Glasgow and the west country. He attended the University of Manchester after moving to Cambridge, where he continues to live with his wife and daughter. His first novel, This Good Book, was published in 2021.

Every Trick in the Book by Iain Hood is published by Renard Press and is available to purchase here.

Review: That Green Eyed Girl by Julie Owen Moylan (2022)

Blurb

1955: In an apartment on the Lower East Side, school teachers Dovie and Gillian live as lodgers. Dancing behind closed curtains, mixing cocktails for two, they guard their private lives fiercely. Until someone guesses the truth…

1975: Twenty years later in the same apartment, Ava Winters is keeping her own secret. Her mother has become erratic, haunted by something Ava doesn’t understand – until one sweltering July morning, she disappears.

Soon after her mother’s departure, Ava receives a parcel. Addressed simply to ‘Apartment 3B’, it contains a photo of a woman with the word ‘LIAR’ scrawled across it. Ava does not know what it means or who sent it. But if she can find out then perhaps she’ll discover the answers she is seeking – and meet the woman at the heart of it all…

Review

I’m extremely grateful to the publisher and to the Squadpod for my review copy of That Green Eyed Girl. Apologies for the lateness of this review – I did read the book and get my cake made in time, though, so perhaps that compensates a little!

This was one of those books that I’d been looking forward to for a long time – something that always makes me a little bit nervous, just in case I don’t love it as quite much as I hoped. Fortunately, the opposite was true, and Julie Owen Moylan’s debut exceeded my high expectations.

It takes a lot of skill to thoroughly immerse the reader in a certain era, and in this story, the author manages this trick beautifully not once but twice. We flit between the New York of the seventies, all sweltering heat and teen anguish as we follow Ava on her quest to find the owner of the photograph, and the same city, streets and apartment in the fifties, with all the smoky jazz-filled glamour you could wish for. The dual timeline is handled so deftly – I could almost see the cinematic fade from one era to the other – and, rarely for me, I was equally invested in both timelines.

There is so much quiet elegance in this book, so much careful heart-breaking, an assembling and dissecting of feeling done with a masterfully light touch. Dovie and Gillian’s story would be enough to crack the hardest of hearts, but counterpoised with Ava’s mother’s tragic mental illness storyline, the emotional resonance of the book is so thick it hums. I really felt a kind of throbbing, aching urgency as I read this book, despite the gentle, almost lyrical tone. It is a book that taps into the core of what it means to feel, to love, and I was deeply moved by it.

It would be impossible to review this book without mentioning that there is a character you’ll love to hate – I suspect many other readers did a similar thing to me and shouted out loud at her! It is another strength of That Green Eyed Girl – there’s beauty and love and kindness, but also the messier, uglier side of humanity – betrayal and jealousy and dishonesty. It’s the perfect New York novel in that it encapsulates so much of life within its pages.

It’s a real pleasure to read a novel that feels so well-crafted, so elegant and stylish, and yet so full of emotion. It’s like music, each note perfectly placed, drawing out unexpected feelings with its careful pattern. I’m so glad to have discovered a new favourite writer, and I can’t wait to see what Julie Owen Moylan brings us next!

That Green Eyed Girl by Julie Owen Moylan is published by Penguin Michael Joseph and is available to purchase here.

Review: Hope & Glory by Jendella Benson (2022)

Blurb

Glory arrives back in Peckham, from her seemingly-glamorous life in LA, to mourn the sudden death of her father, and finds her previously-close family has fallen apart in her absence. Her brother, Victor, has been jailed; her sister, Faith, appears to have lost her independence and ambition; and their mother, Celeste, is headed towards a breakdown. Glory is thrown by their disarray, and rather than returning to America she decides to stay and try to bring them all together again. However, when she unearths a huge family secret, Glory risks losing everyone she truly cares about in her pursuit of the truth.

Hope and Glory is a rich, heart-warming story of loss, love and family chaos, and marks an exciting new voice in fiction.

Review

Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a proof copy of the book in exchange for an honest review, and huge apologies for the delay!

Glory is my favourite type of protagonist – complex, engaging, and flawed. Watching her navigate her return to London and the various complicated relationships she left behind, I felt by turns sympathetic and frustrated, not always agreeing with her actions but always keen to find out what was going to happen next.

The writing hooks you immediately, and the story carries you along – it’s one of those books that you think to yourself, “I’ll just read a few pages,” and then suddenly you find you’re over halfway through. The prose has an easy flow to it that is deceptive – it’s the kind of writing that seems effortless but is in fact the mark of great talent. What struck me most about the story was just how intricate it is, each strand connecting the characters delicately woven, and yet nothing feels contrived, it all feels absolutely real. Glory’s relationship with Julian is especially well done – I really enjoyed that aspect of the story.

This is a character-driven novel that does not shy away from the complexities of family dynamics – even without the shocking secret at the core of the story, there are myriad other examples of the difficulties of negotiating relationships with parents and siblings, and wonderfully perceptive depictions of how the past shadows the present, and how tricky it can be to ‘start over.’ And yet – if you’ll excuse the pun – there is hope – a realistic, tempered kind of hope, that leaves the reader with a sense of optimism at the story’s close. The characters – especially Glory, Faith and Celeste – have stayed with me long after reading, and I’m looking forward to reading more by this talented author.

Hope & Glory by Jendella Benson is published by Trapeze Books and is available to purchase here.

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

Blurb

THREE WOMEN. TWO CULTURES. ONE SECOND CHANCE.

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.

Review

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.