Bone China by Laura Purcell

Laura Purcell: Bone China

Published By: Bloomsbury Raven

Available online and from all good bookshops

What They Say:

Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft’s family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken.

But Dr Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the same disease in the cliffs beneath his new Cornish home.

Forty years later, Hester Why arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralysed and almost entirely mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try and escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers that her new home may be just as dangerous as her last.

What I Say:

‘Can a woman control a house, a family, through something as brittle as porcelain?’

If you have learned anything about me in our time together, you will know that The Silent Companions is quite possibly my favourite novel. If you need to know why, you can read my review here. I also adored Laura’s next novel, The Corset – and of course I reviewed it!

What you also need to know about me, is that if everyone is raving about a novel at a particular time, I tend to put it to one side to read later. If there is a lot of hype, I need to step away and read the novel when I’m ready without everyone else’s opinions! With Bone China, I wanted to appreciate it when I was ready to read it without everyone else telling me what I should think because I wanted to make my own judgements.

I decided that I wanted to read Bone China before Christmas, and I’ll explain why on Twitter and Instagram very soon.

Well, what can I tell you?

Laura Purcell has written another novel that is so perfectly pitched, which draws you in from the first page and holds you in its thrall to the last. I loved the fact that her writing of landscapes, of lives, of a world which is so close to our own, yet so far from our understanding is one which you cannot help but sink in to from the first chapter.

This is the story of the Pinecroft family, who live in the family home called Morvoren in Cornwall. When Hester Why arrives to take up a post there, she is assigned to look after Miss Pinecroft, who is vulnerable and unable to speak, and sits in her room surrounded by piles and piles of blue and white bone china.

Hester is not an innocent woman who happens to find herself here, she has a past and former identity as Esther Stevens, and as a maid to Lady Rose. She has left behind her a trail of destruction and damage, and has picked up an addiction to gin and laudanum which makes her far from a paragon of virtue – but endeared her even more to me!

For me, the notion of a woman who is slightly disclocated from the world is a delicious and absorbing one. Hester finds herself in this world that is so far removed from the society she has come from, but at the same time, she brings with her the understanding and acceptance of how servants should behave. Her departure from Lady Rose’s employment was far from auspicious, but at the same time, she knows in order to survive, she has to fit in with what is expected of her.

Morvoren is a house creaking with secrets and unspoken understanding. We learn that Miss Pinecroft has a young charge called Rosewyn who is hidden away from the world, and although in her early twenties, is like a child and is fiercely protected by the ferocious Creeda. A woman who has been with the Pinecroft family for a very long time, and rules the house with a devotion that is bordering on the obsessive.

Added to this domineering woman at the head of the household, there are unexplained noises and lights when the household tries to go to sleep, and Miss Pinecroft’s refusal to communicate or move from the room filled with china. This is why Laura Purcell is such a brilliant writer, her talent is the teasing of the unknown, the suggestion of something that we want to discover, but at the same time unsettling us so we are reluctant to confront it.

The narrative switches between the time of Hester Why, and Miss Pinecroft’s story as an assistant to her Father, who is a Doctor on a mission. He has decided that he wants to find the cure for consumption, a disease that left him widowed and without two of his children. Louise is enlisted to help him tend to a group of convicts who are suffering from consumption, and her father has decided to bring them to the caves that are under Morvoren in an attempt to cure them.

In my opinion, this is where Bone China elevates itself above a traditional gothic novel. Louise has not been allowed to ever express herself, she has always had to follow her father’s wishes and help him in his quest to find a cure for consumption. What we see in these pages is an intelligent and inquisitive young woman who has no choice in her destiny other than to appease her father. Her sense of duty means that she has pushed all her feelings and emotions away functions only as a living reminder to her father of the wife he has lost.

As preparations are made for the arrival of the prisoners, a young woman called Creeda is sent to Morvoren to serve the family in exchange for medical help from Dr Pinecroft. As the reader, we soon realise that this mysterious woman who is so entrenched in the traditions and folklore of the Cornish people is the catalyst for a chain of events that will permeate the whole of the Pinecroft family and Morvoren forever.

The prisoners are treated by Dr Pinecroft and Louise, and as the days pass, unexplained things start to happen. Cupping glasses find their way from the treatment table back into boxes, marks appear on the men, and they are convinced that there are fairies trying to drag them away.

Could this be true? After all these men are seriously ill and could be hallucinating, but also they are criminals who could be lying as a means to escape. Added to this sense of confusion and tension, Louise finds herself attracted to one of the prisoners called Harry, and in this underground world unlike any other, she starts to discover who she really is as a woman with devastating consequences. The caves are filled with the sensation that the Pinecrofts and the prisoners have disturbed something no one can explain, and that all of them will have to pay the price.

In the present time, Hester is aware that even though she cannot be certain as a woman reliant on drugs and alcohol, something is very wrong in Morvoren. The way that Creeda exerts control over the household, fixated in her belief that the fairies are intent on their desire to take back with them any woman of child bearing age, disorientates Hester even further, as we are never quite sure what is real and what is the product of Hester’s drink and drug induced reality.

Laura Purcell’s measured and controlled writing means that Bone China is a novel that never falls into the unbelievable. It is not a tick the box clichéd gothic novel, but a sublimely disturbing piece of fiction that disorientates and delights with each chapter. Every character is flawed, hiding from a world they don’t fully understand, but that only serves to make them believable and relatable.

Bone China is an exquisite exploration of a world we cannot explain and do not want to face. As you race to the conclusion, you understand just like Hester, that sometimes the only way to confront your demons is to face them head on whatever the cost.

I loved it.

The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award – The Shadow Panel Winner.

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For the past three weeks, I have been reading and reviewing The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award Shortlist.  It’s been an incredible experience – to read books that have challenged me, frustrated me, and made me sometimes stop in my tracks and love the words inside them.

As you may or may not know, on Thursday 21st November, I met with Anne , David, Linda and Phoebe at a meeting chaired by Houman Barekat to discuss who we wanted to be the Shadow Panel Winner.  It was a lively discussion, and it was fantastic to finally meet the very people who I knew so well on Twitter and Instagram! I really found it intriguing to see what we all thought of the Shortlist, and at times how similar our views were, but believe me, there were a few instances where we were poles apart in our opinions!

Before I reveal who we chose as our winner, here is a recap of each of the shortlist for you.

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Kim Sherwood was born in Camden in 1989 and lives in Bath. She studied Creative Writing at UEA and is now Senior Lecturer at the University of the West of England. Her pieces have appeared in MslexiaLighthouse, and Going Down Swinging. Kim began researching and writing Testament, her first novel, after her grandfather, the actor George Baker, passed away and her grandmother began to talk about her experiences as a Holocaust Survivor for the first time. It won the 2016 Bath Novel Award, was longlisted for the 2019 Desmond Elliot Prize and shortlisted for the 2019 Author’s Club Best First Novel Award.

Testament by Kim from riverrun which is an imprint of Quercus Books, was actually the first book from the Shortlist that I decided to read.

You can read my review here,

If you would like to buy a copy, you can of course buy one from all good bookshops, or online or from the riverrun website here.

 

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Yara Rodrigues Fowler is a British Brazilian novelist from South London. Her first novel, Stubborn Archivist, was published in 2019 in the UK and USA. It was called ’stunning’ by Olivia Laing, ‘visceral and elegant’ by Claire-Louise Bennett and ‘breathtakingly written’ by Nikesh Shukla. Yara was named one of The Observer’s nine ‘hottest-tipped’ debut novelists of 2019 and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize. Yara is also a trustee of Latin American Women’s Aid, an organisation that runs the only two refuges in Europe for and by Latin American women. She’s writing her second novel now, for which she received the John C Lawrence Award from the Society of Authors towards research in Brazil.

Yara’s book, is published by fleet, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group. It was my next choice to read and review for the Shortlist, and here’s my review of Stubborn Archivist.

If you would like to buy a copy, you can do from all good bookshops, online, or from fleet directly here

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Julia Armfield lives and works in London. She is a fiction writer and occasional playwright with a Masters in Victorian Art and Literature from Royal Holloway University. Her work has been published in LighthouseAnalog MagazineNeon Magazine and The Stockholm Review. She was commended in the Moth Short Story Prize 2017, longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Prize 2018 and is the winner of The White Review Short Story Prize 2018.

Julia’s book of short stories Salt Slow, published by Picador was my third read for the Shortlist, and you can read my review here.

It is available to buy from all good bookshops, online, or from Picador directly here

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Raymond Antrobus was born in Hackney to an English mother and Jamaican father. He is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Complete Works III and Jerwood Compton Poetry. He is one of the world’s first recipients of an MA in Spoken Word Education from Goldsmiths, University of London. Raymond is a founding member of Chill Pill and Keats House Poets Forum. He has had multiple residencies in deaf and hearing schools around London, as we as Pupil Referral Units. In 2018 he was awarded the Geoffrey Dearmer Award by the Poetry Society (judged by Ocean Vuong). The Perseverance (Penned In The Margins, 2018), was a Poetry Book Society Choice, the winner of the Rathbones Folio Prize and the Ted Hughes Award, and was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and Forward Prize for Best First Collection.

Raymond’s book of poetry, The Perseverance, is published  by Penned In The Margins and was my final read for the Shortlist.  You can read my review here.

It is available to buy from all good bookshops, online, or you can buy it directly from Penned In The Margins here.

There you have it, the four finalists and the four works we as Shadow Panel Judges had to read and review.

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I am very proud and honoured to reveal, that The Sunday Times/University Of Warwick Young Writer Award Shadow Panel Winner Is…

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield from Picador Books!

Many Congratulations to Julia and Picador Books!

I am not ashamed to admit that I am absolutely thrilled with this decision.  I also have to tell you that once I finished this book, as I was writing my review I read some of the stories again, and it just confirmed what I already knew, that they are brilliant.

The panel was unanimous in their praise for Julia’s book, and it was really interesting to see not only how we all loved the same and we all loved different stories, but that we all saw something that spoke to us in them. For me, it was the amazing untapped power that the female protagonists have within them, and that their transformations and experiences show us that we all have the potential within us to achieve what we truly deserve.

I have slowly started to read short story collections recently, and Julia’s book has made me want to read even more.

It is a book I will absolutely recommend endlessly, and is one that undoubtedly can be re-read and treasured.

Trust me when I tell you that this was a really difficult decision, all the works on the shortlist are brilliant, unique works that I would urge you all to read. They are all very different, but the one thing they have in common is that they reveal the wealth of literary talent that is all around us, and that for me, the most important thing I can do as a reader, is challenge myself to read more widely, and take a chance on something completely different.

So, what do you think of the Shadow Panel decision?

The final decision now rests with The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Judges – Andrew Holgate, Kate Clanchy, Victoria Hislop, Gonzalo C. Garcia and Nick Rennison.

The Winner will be announced on 5th December at the London Library, and I wish the judges and the shortlisted authors lots of luck – trust me, it is not an easy choice to make!

Follow #youngwriterawardshadow and @youngwriteryear on Twitter and Instagram to hear more about The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Shortlist, and of course, to find out who the Overall Winner will be..

The full article about the Shadow Panel is here

You can also read the blogs of the other Shadow Panel Judges to see what they thought too..

Anne Cater at Random Things Through My Letterbox

David Harris at Blue Book Balloon

Linda Hill at Linda’s Book Bag

Phoebe Williams at The Brixton Bookworm

I will be letting you all know what I think about the Winner too, in my final blog post as part of the Shadow Panel (sob!)!

 

Miles of Sky Above Us, Miles of Earth Below by Steve Denehan

Steve Denehan: Miles of Sky Above Us, Miles of Earth Below

Published By: Cajun Mutt Press

Buy It: Here

What they Say:
Steve Denehan is an extraordinary poet. In this debut collection, he writes about ordinary everyday events in his life and does so in a way that will resonate with the reader. His poetry brings unforgettable impact into small spaces, reveals the fabric of solitude in epic proportions, and tells stories of the moments where life truly exists

What I Say:

I have to admit that the prospect of reviewing poetry is always an unsettling one. How can you do the poet justice when all of their poems mean something to them, and you are constrained by the acceptable length of a blog post!

In Miles of Sky, Steve has written a book of poetry which is accessible and heartfelt. For me, the main driving force behind the selection of these poems is the theme of family – especially the relationship that he has with his daughter Robin. We see how Steve is learning to be a father and discovering all the joy and disappointments that go hand in hand with his caring role. The reader is privy to his thoughts on being a dad at school, while another details his experience of having a daughter at Christmas, and all the joy and stress that being a parent can bring.

In his poem half eaten cookies and carrots, he gives us an insight into what it is like being a member of his family at Christmas time:

“I look at her, bundled into her car seat

fading with every passing streetlight

as we drive toward the Christmases to come”

The poem is successful because it taps into what we all know and understand about Christmas. The need to be part of the family, the traditions and customs that every family has, and the idea that as a father, he is experiencing these with his daughter for the first time. There is a sense of nostalgia and comfort taken from this poem, which makes us not look only to ourselves, but also to those around us to understand what it means to be part of the family.

The poems featured in this collection, have many different themes, but I feel the main one that is subconsciously in all of them, is the idea that underneath our skin and the way we act, we all have the same hopes and fears. It is the belief that we are all constantly trying to find our way in the world when everything around us is changing. Parents are getting older, children are growing up, and our memories constantly changed in the retelling of them.

The poem Dublin airport for me, was a perfect example of this. We see how as a child, Steve would watch the aeroplanes fly above his head, and as all children do, they would not only be absorbed by the sheer size of the planes, but also keep looking at believing that the pilot and the crew would be able to see him. A trip to the airport is seen as a wonderful magical and mystical thing:

“we would watch the planes from the viewing gallery

impossibly huge, almost prehistoric

their rivets gleaming

the pilot setting settling into the cockpits

as if it were not a magical thing”.

Of course, as a child the gigantic aeroplanes, and seemingly mystical and hypnotic airports were things of complete wonder. As you grow up becoming an adult, these ideas lose their appeal, and you’re simply a person getting onto a plane. Life is not exciting anymore. However, when Steve is on a plane, and he looks down and see his mum hanging out the washing, that magical element returns to his life. I found that this poem which reminiscences about the naivety of childhood, (and having looked up at the sky many times as a child to follow the trails of the aeroplanes!) really resonated with me.

Steve’s poetry is very easy to read. Short sharp verses that sing across the page. They take on a rhythm of their own, and it is impossible to read them in your head, because you want to read them out loud. They are at times joyous, at times thoughtful, but always with a very heavy sense of Steve’s personality permeating the poetry.

I have to say for me, the poems I liked the best, were those that focus on his family. You can see how intensely personal this work is to him, and in writing this poetry about his daughter, I had the sense that he was trying to create a legacy for her to look back on and understand what her childhood meant to him. Increasingly, so many of us forget to write down what happened in childhood, and we are relying on the photos we might have taken on our phones rather than some tangible remembrance of our days gone past.

In Miles of Sky Above Us, Miles of Earth Below, Steve has put on paper his innermost thoughts and feelings about what it means to be a father, a son, and an observer of the life around him. It is very poignant to read, intensely personal and is a book of poetry that is imbued with his sense of self and his need to ensure that his family is never forgotten. To make poetry accessible is very difficult, and in this collection, Steve has done just that.

I get the sense as a reader that this work was not an easy one for him to curate, but that in doing so, it has perhaps not only helped us understand about what his life means to him, but has provided him with a tangible body of work that helps him to articulate how he perceives his place in the world and his relationship with his family. It is a wide ranging collection of poetry that is impressive in its scope and ideas, and taps into many themes that will strike a chord with lots of readers.

Thank you to Isabelle Kenyon for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

Here are the other amazing bloggers taking part in this blog tour. Please do follow them to find out what they thought too.

The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Shortlist – The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus

Raymond Antrobus: The Perseverance

Published By: Penned In The Margins

Available to Buy From All Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say:

An extraordinary debut from a young British-Jamaican poet, The Perseverance is a book of loss, language and praise. One of the most crucial new voices to emerge from Britain, Raymond Antrobus explores the d/Deaf experience, the death of his father and the failure to communicate. Ranging across history, time zones and continents, The Perseverance operates in the in betweens of dual heritages, of form and expression emerging to show us what it means to exist, and to flourish.

What I Say:

I think the idea of reading this collection was something from the start of my experience as a Shadow Judge that I was slightly anxious about. I was aware that Raymond Antrobus had burst onto the British Poetry scene in a blaze of glory, but having to review his collection for the Sunday Times/ University of Warwick Young Writer Award was absolutely out of my comfort zone. The last time I read poetry critically was probably when I was in University over 25 years ago.

Right from the start, and the very first poem, Echo, you are aware as a reader that this is an intensely personal and autobiographical collection from Raymond Antrobus. He is deaf and as if that was not isolating enough, he is also the child of an English mother and a Jamaican father. Raymond Antrobus has always been at the edge of a society that seemingly continues to move all around him, not understanding either his needs or his heritage. How do you attempt to find your place in a world when you are not recognised by it at all?

The Perseverance is an unapologetic debut that not only recounts his own experiences as a deaf British-Jamaican poet, but also makes the reader (as I did) stop and look up the references to other people from history to understand the importance of their inclusion in the work. We learn about his fractured relationship with his father, the life of his family, and there are also poems which feature deaf people who have their own stories to tell. I thought that this was an eclectic mix which worked well – quite simply because it often disrupts the rhythm of the poems, and whereas in one I could understand and appreciate it, others made me stop and read about the subject and then apply that knowledge to my re-reading of them.

What I thought was very clear about the work, is that Raymond Antrobus wants us to listen to him. How can we possibly understand what it means to be deaf, when we are hearing? We cannot possibly know the reality of being deaf – we may be able to make sweeping generalisations, but it is the minutiae, the day to day things that we take for granted that we need someone to articulate for us, to help us truly understand what we need to do to foster inclusion as oppose to exclusion. The addition of sign language symbols, and the redaction of Ted Hughes’ poem ‘Deaf School’ which was filled with misconception and ignorance, immediately addressed by his poem After Reading ‘Deaf School’ by the Mississippi

In the poem Dear Hearing World, I felt it was really Antrobus’ manifesto, a way of detailing exactly what the hearing world need to understand in order for us to make any progress. It is raw, visceral and real, borne of a life lived and ignorances exposed. The writing is sublime, the imagery is authentic, and there is the absolute sense that our inability to fully appreciate what barriers we have created in our society, that there is a whole world of experience which has been denied a history.

He says:

“I mulled over long paragraphs because I didn’t know

what a natural break sounded like, you erased

what could have always been poetry

This for me is a theme that runs all through his collection. That you have standing in front of you a man who wants to be heard – not only for his own story, but for all of those other deaf people who have come before and after him. There is no one better qualified to educate others about the reality of being deaf than those who are.

In the title poem of the collection, The Perseverance is the pub where his father spends a lot of his time, with Raymond stood outside, waiting for him to return. Theirs is a difficult relationship – it seems that this is a pattern of behaviour that is usual in their lives, and interestingly, Antrobus is excluded from that world too. He is neither Jamaican nor British, not allowed inside the pub as he is a child, but cannot hear what is going on anyway. His own perseverance is deeper than simply waiting for his Dad to emerge and take him home. Even knowing that he is beaten by hs father, Antrobus seems to simply want to be acknowledged and loved by him. There is no doubt that Antrobus’ father loves him, and is fiercely defensive of his son, but their relationship is far from a traditional one, with his father open about his sexual conquests and his treatment of him is at times upsetting to read.

We learn that Antrobus’ father has dementia, and I thought it was incredibly poignant that the final poem in the collection Happy Birthday Moon, is about that most intimate and traditional idea, of a Dad reading his son a bedtime story. In that moment, where they are completely alone and just being with one another is the most real and exquisite recollection of what every child wants. To be heard.

“I’d like to be the Moon, the bear, even the rain

Dad makes the Moon say something new every night

and we hear each other, really hear each other,

As Dad reads aloud, I follow his finger across the page.”

Perhaps this is the point of The Perseverance. Antrobus has honestly and unapologetically showed us what his life is like. The passion and determination that permeates the poems in this collection is a way of standing in front of us and asking us to hear each other. Truly hear each other. It is at times, not an easy work to read, and honestly, at times I was frustrated with Antrobus for making me stop to find out what he was talking about. I felt it disrupted my experience as a reader, but it was balanced with moments where I was just blindsided by the most beautiful poetry that just mesemerised me .

The Perseverance is a poetry collection unlike anything I have ever read. In its pages it encompasses so many themes such as love, loss, grief and the unique life that Antrobus has lived. To read it is to be party to his world and his frustations, his realities and his relationships, and his desire to ensure that his history and those of deaf people is no longer sidelined by those who should know better.

Read it and learn from it, let it make you understand the way in which our society has not listened to those who don’t automatically fit in, and then like Antrobus tells us, understand that that we need to really hear each other.

Raymond Antrobus was born in Hackney to an English mother and Jamaican father. He is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Complete Works III and Jerwood Compton Poetry. He is one of the world’s first recipients of an MA in Spoken Word Education from Goldsmiths, University of London. Raymond is a founding member of Chill Pill and Keats House Poets Forum. He has had multiple residencies in deaf and hearing schools around London, as we as Pupil Referral Units. In 2018 he was awarded the Geoffrey Dearmer Award by the Poetry Society (judged by Ocean Vuong). The Perseverance (Penned In The Margins, 2018), was a Poetry Book Society Choice, the winner of the Rathbones Folio Prize and the Ted Hughes Award, and was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and Forward Prize for Best First Collection.

Follow #youngwriterawardshadow and @youngwriteryear on Twitter and Instagram to hear more about The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Shortlist, the authors and what the Shadow Panel think too.

The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award – Salt Slow by Julia Armfield

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Julia Armfield: Salt Slow

Published By: Picador

Available from All Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say:
In her brilliantly inventive and haunting debut collection of stories, Julia Armfield explores bodies and the bodily, mapping the skin and bones of her characters through their experiences of isolation, obsession, love and revenge. Teenagers develop ungodly appetites, a city becomes insomniac overnight, and bodies are diligently picked apart to make up better ones. The mundane worlds of schools and sleepy sea-side towns are invaded and transformed, creating a landscape which is constantly shifting to hold on to its inhabitants. Blurring the mythic and the gothic with the everyday, salt slow considers characters in motion – turning away, turning back or simply turning into something new entirely.

What I Say:

“When I was twenty-seven, my Sleep stepped out of me like a passenger from a train carriage, looked around my room for several seconds, then sat down in the chair beside my bed”.

When I first started reading Salt Slow, (which by the way has one of the most beautiful covers that I think I have EVER seen}, I found the collection really easy to read, fast paced and extremely accessible.

Women are at the heart of all of these stories, but they hold the power and strength, while men are secondary, disposable characters that don’t really matter. Each of the stories are all so different, but at the same time, Julia Armfield has woven a sense of unease and other worldliness that permeates all of them. The world the characters inhabit feel close enough to ours to be recognisable, but it also feels slightly futuristic too.

In this book of nine short stories, you are absolutely immersed in the world that exists on the edge of ours. In Mantis, a teenage girl slowly morphs into a preying Mantis and uses her power to seduce a young man with devastating consequences. It works so well because it is written in a calm and understated way. Her Mum deals with it all very pragmatically, understanding that this is her fate, and attempts to help her daughter ease the pain of transformation with different creams and balms. Her teenage friends, obsessed with what they look like, and who does what with who, do what teenage girls do – if she doesn’t bother them, they generally leave her alone. This is why it works so well – if she had been marked out as different, and excluded from her world, the story would have been a much more traditional story in the vein of wronged outsider wreaks her revenge. Mantis is all the more powerful for the fact that her difference is accepted, and when her changing body embraces her different physicality and sensuality, you feel the change is constantly bubbling under the surface, and it has almost an air of inevitability which permeates the whole story.

This idea of young women undergoing transformations is an interesting one, and it is a theme which runs through Salt Slow. I loved the notion that these women were all on the cusp of discovering something about themselves, or those who are close to them, and the transformations make them stronger and define who they truly are.

In Formerly Feral, a young girl gains not only a stepmother, but also a wolf as a step-sister after her mother and biological sister leave. The wolf is called Helen, and although the girl is not named, they become closer and start to share similar traits. Their apparent differences serve to bring them together, and the wolf is more of a sister to her as time goes on. Helen understands the isolation and independence that the girl craves, and warns off those who get too close and scare her step-sister. Little by little, Helen and the girl become more alike and are the daughters that her father and step-mother have no qualms showing off to visitors. Julia Armfield’s skill means that this does not seem preposterous at all – because the world the narrative is set in does not treat them as outsiders. This is what makes the whole of Salt Slow so plausible – that everyone in the stories does not react to the seemingly incongruent relationships or happenings, they just accept them for what they are.

I have to say, that there were two stories which really resonated with me. The first was The Great Awake.

Imagine a world where not only does insomnia become a world wide epidemic, but that for those people who cannot sleep, you see a physical manifestation of your Sleep. This Sleep is not necessarily a peaceful being, but one that will make your life as uncomfortable as possible because they don’t rest either. The world is now full not only of people who cannot sleep, but also these beings who occupy even more space in an already disordered world. Trains are full, with Sleeps occupying all the seats, they all walk the streets and time no longer means anything because what’s the point if you can’t delineate day and night by the act of sleeping?

Janey, the protagonist of the story befriends a woman called Leonie in her block. She is a rare creature in that she is still able to sleep through the night, and even though they become friends, Leonie is desperate for a Sleep of her own so she can fit in with everyone else.

The Great Awake is a brilliant story which made me really stop and think about things. I am suffering with insomnia at the moment, and the notion of my sleeplessness as a human like object, is an intriguing concept. How would I react if I could see the very thing that was stopping me from sleeping? Would I want to rant at it, reason with it, or try to get rid of it? Are we all so wired and atttached to our screens and need to be connected 24 hours to the social media and internet that this notion of a world where we can’t switch off and fall asleep is in danger of becoming a reality?

As a teenager, like many others, I was devoted to following different groups – Wham, Culture Club, Wet Wet Wet and Spandau Ballet to name a few (Nearly 49 and not afraid to admit it!), which is why Stop your women’s ears with wax was such a perfect read for me!

It follows a girl band, who has slavishly devoted fans, so much so that they become more like a pack of out of control animals, determined to ensure that they protect their band at any costs. Mona is a young filmaker responsible for documenting the band on tour. The increasingly unsettling and violent devotion of the fans to the group mean that they almost become cultish in their behaviour, animalistic and sneering to anyone – especially any men who get in the way of the progress of the band as they become more and more successful.

All through the story, the power of the teenage girl is seen as key. They are the all encompassing sense of power for driving the story forward as the band move seamlessly through the story trying to be the most successful group they can. It is chilling to read the shared recollections of the people working with the band as they tell the reader what strange things have been happening as the band tour from city to city. A man from a previous gig is found asphyxiated, the tour bus toilets are clogged with feathers, and the crew are sleeping badly and having the same dream.

For me, the sense of hysteria and claustrophobia was entrenched in every page of this story.  It was unnerving to see how the girls are so utterly devoted to the band which holds them in their thrall.  It is as if they are being subliminally instructed to bind together and deal with any men who obstruct the band in their mission to be successful in which ever way they choose.

Salt Slow is a delicious short story collection that deserves to be savoured and re-read, as I think it is one of those books that will reveal something different to my reading experience every time I open it. Sharp, witty and defiantly different, Julia Armfield unapologetically puts women at the front and centre of all of the stories, and dares you to challenge them as to why they shouldn’t be.

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Julia Armfield lives and works in London. She is a fiction writer and occasional playwright with a Masters in Victorian Art and Literature from Royal Holloway University. Her work has been published in Lighthouse, Analog Magazine, Neon Magazine and The Stockholm Review. She was commended in the Moth Short Story Prize 2017, longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Prize 2018 and is the winner of The White Review Short Story Prize 2018.

Follow #youngwriterawardshadow and @youngwriteryear on Twitter and Instagram to hear more about The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Shortlist, the authors and what the Shadow Panel think too.

The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Shortlist – Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler

Yara Rodrigues Fowler – Stubborn Archivist

Published By: Fleet

Available From All Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say:
A bold debut novel exploring the nuances and the spaces between ourselves and our bodies, told through the shards collected by our own stubborn archivist. When your mother considers another country home, it’s hard to know where you belong. When the people you live among can’t pronounce your name, it’s hard to know exactly who you are. And when your body no longer feels like your own, it’s hard to understand your place in the world. This is a novel of growing up between cultures, of finding your space within them and of learning to live in a traumatized body. Our stubborn archivist tells her story through history, through family conversations, through the eyes of her mother, her grandmother and her aunt and slowly she begins to emerge into the world, defining her own sense of identity.

What I Say:

“Love your child and give them everything, but build a life that is your own first.

This is what your mum had told you, telepathically, all your life.

But you weren’t sure you wanted a husband

Or a child

Or to wrap your life around another person’s life”

Of all the works I have been asked to read as a Shadow Judge for The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award, the Stubborn Archivist is the novel I already knew about. I was lucky enough to see Yara in conversation with the amazing Zeba Talkhani (Author of My Past Is A Foreign Country) and Daniel Hahn at the Henley Literary Festival earlier this year, and it was a captivating and illuminating talk. It asked what does identity, family and belonging mean to us when you are not sure where you fit in the world.

I was thrilled when I found out that Stubborn Archivist was on the Shortlist, and have to say that it is a novel I won’t forget for a long time. It is unlike anything I have read before in terms of structure and style, and that passion and emotion comes through every page, in an inexhaustable supply of memories, family and home.

Words tumble out of pages, large spaces are left, pages are blank, and the spaces in between words and chapters are just as important as the words that are printed. There is dialogue in Portuguese with no translation – why should there be? This is the Archivist’s story and her language should not have to be explained.

There is the constant refrain of : ‘What’s your name? He repeated the syl-la-bles.’ Showing us how having to constantly spell your name means you are not totally part of the society you live in – you are here, but not quite seamlessly. The frustation of language as an impediment to relationships and closeness peppers this book, whilst at the same time the refusal to compromise identity as a means to fit in more easily is always present, and it is at times gloriously defiant.

The construction of our identities and remembrances add to the authenticity of the novel – memories are not neat, linear, resolvable and formulaic structures. They meander and link seemingly unrelated pieces of information and time, short handed by the people who remember as they recollect the past, as families talk about jokes only they understand, of experiences they have shared and memories that exist only for them. It is raw, real and very truthful which is why it works so well, and always in the back of our minds is the notion of the protagonist having to heal her body which has been traumatised- something we discover in the most understated but most powerful way.

The Stubborn Archivist is the female narrator of the novel. She is the daughter of a Brazilian mother and an English father, and as we follow her forwards and backwards through her life, we start to understand who she is and how her life experiences have helped shape her. It is the sense that she doesn’t quite fit in to either culture that drives the narrative forward – in England she is living, learning and loving, whilst her time spent in Brazil means she goes back to be with her grandparents Vovô and Vovó who want her to remember her roots and where her heritage is. One scene that really stuck in my mind is when the Narrator is visiting Brazil and someone assumes she doesn’t speak Portuguese, because she is living in England, and she has to assure them that she does – that although geographically she is removed from them, emotionally she is still part of that culture too.

This for me is the whole crux of the novel, that she inhales life in London – the growing up, the all consuming friendships with Jade, Gee and Elena, the teenage way of just being with each other and knowing what each other needs, the desire to be part of the world around you so that you belong in that moment. Yet similarly when she is in Brazil, she is very much still a Brazilian girl who happens to live in London. As she grows up surrounded by the love of her grandparents Vovô and Vovó and Aunt Paula, they are thrilled she has come to see them but they also feel slightly displaced, as they are not part of her everyday life.

The Stubborn Archivist is not only her story, but that of her family too. We see how her parents met, the way in which two cultures come together – when the Brazilian in-laws come to the United Kingdom for Christmas and how they all learn to co-exist, each with different expectations, but neither wanting to upset the other. The most endearing scenes are tinged with awkwardness where no one quite knows what to say, but what binds them together is the unspoken familial connections we all yearn for.

One of the many things I loved about this novel, is that we are never really able to say that we absolutely know the Stubborn Archivist, because what we learn is what she has allowed us to read. That really resonated with me – how often have we kept things hidden, behaved one way with a certain group of friends, and another with someone else. Personal history is always going to be subjective, and that is what makes this novel so relatable – whether we realise it or not, we are the Stubborn Archivists of our histories.

The Stubborn Archivist is a novel that surprised and enthralled me from the very first page. Hand on heart, I wouldn’t have picked it up had I seen it in a Bookshop, but do you know what? I am so very glad I have read it, and isn’t that what reading is all about? The notion that as well as falling back on the familiar and the loved, that sometimes we need to read outside of our comfort zone to see what else can inspire and educate us.

The Stubborn Archivist has absolutely and defiantly achieved that. It has made me aware of the legacy I will leave behind and the stories others will remember about me – and I believe that is what truly inspiring writing does.

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Yara Rodrigues Fowler is a British Brazilian novelist from South London. Her first novel, Stubborn Archivist, was published in 2019 in the UK and USA. It was called ’stunning’ by Olivia Laing, ‘visceral and elegant’ by Claire-Louise Bennett and ‘breathtakingly written’ by Nikesh Shukla. Yara was named one of The Observer’s nine ‘hottest-tipped’ debut novelists of 2019 and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize. Yara is also a trustee of Latin American Women’s Aid, an organisation that runs the only two refuges in Europe for and by Latin American women. She’s writing her second novel now, for which she received the John C Lawrence Award from the Society of Authors towards research in Brazil.

Follow #youngwriterawardshadow and @youngwriteryear on Twitter and Instagram to hear more about The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Shortlist, the authors and what the Shadow Panel think too.

The Sunday Times/University Of Warwick Young Writer Award – Testament by Kim Sherwood

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Kim Sherwood: Testament

Published by: riverrun

Available online and from all good bookshops.

What They Say:

The letter was in the Blue Room – her grandfather’s painting studio, where Eva spent the happier days of her childhood. After his death, she is the one responsible for his legacy – a legacy threatened by the letter she finds. It is from the Jewish Museum in Berlin. They have found the testimony her grandfather gave after surviving the labour camps in Austria. And, since he was one of Britain’s greatest twentieth century artists, they want to exhibit it. But Joseph Silk – leaving behind József Zyyad – remade himself long ago. As Eva begins to uncover the truth, she understands the trauma, and the lies, that have haunted her family. She will unravel what happened to József and his brother, who came to England as refugees. One never spoke of his past – the other couldn’t let it go. Their story – and that of the woman they both loved – is in her hands. Revealing it would change her grandfather’s hard- won identity. But it could also change the tide of history. This testament can lend words to wordless grief, and teach her how to live. 

What I Say:

“It’s not a choice,’ László said “what’s a man without memory?’

Silk told him: “Happier”.

To be asked to be a Shadow Judge for The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award is a huge honour, but when faced with the shortlist sitting in front of you, all of the books you cannot wait to devour, the issue is which one do you choose?

How will my choice appear to others – is there some reason why I chose this one and not that? Does that mean I was most keen to read the one I picked, or is it that I wanted to get the longest book read first?

I decided to read Testament, because I believed that I knew about the Holocaust and the Second World War. I naively thought my limited reading of a history textbook in sixth form could adequately educate me as to the impact and brutality of this war on the Jewish people and the world.

Testament is a novel that unapologetically shows you the human reality of war.  It is not on the battlefields or the war rooms that this novel’s war is fought, but in the towns and countryside, in the homes and the lives of those ordinary people who were at the mercy of the German soldiers.

Eva Butler is the granddaughter of the famous painter Joseph Silk who has recently passed away, and as her father John refuses to help, it is left to Eva to deal with his estate and possessions he has left behind.  Eva is a documentary maker, and before Silk’s death, they were in the process of making a film together about him. She has always been aware that he was once József Zyyad, a young Hungarian Jew who together with his brother László survived the Holocaust, but he refused to revisit that part of his history.

When Eva is going through Silk’s possessions, she finds a letter from the Jewish Museum in Berlin, who wanted to talk to him so they could add his testimony that he gave during the Second World War to create a history of those who were in the Holocaust.  Whereas László was now in a place where he wants to remember what has happened to him, Silk wanted no part of it.  He wanted to forget his life during that time, and any attempt Eva had previously made to try to get him to talk about his life before he arrived in the United Kingdom is ignored.

To say that Testament is just a straightforward novel about a woman’s search to discover the truth about her grandfather simply does not do it justice.  It is a novel about the human spirit, the connections that families have, and how in times of extreme suffering and devastation that all we seek as humans is the notion that we are belong to the human race either through blood, or a shared experience however difficult that might be.

As Eva travels to Berlin to meet the people in the Jewish Museum, you absolutely feel Eva’s unease and confusion as she realises in reading the letter, she may have uncovered something in Silk’s story that nothing could have prepared her for.  In making this choice, to uncover the truth about her family, that the whole of her own history could be about to change forever.

The narrative moves between Eva’s story and that of József and László, punctuated by pages of questions that József was asked which formed part of his testimony. The pages are placed in the novel without warning or context, and bring into focus both the reality of what the brothers went through, but also the enormity of the devastation that War has brought for everyone.  Life for the brothers during the war is unimaginably cruel, they are treated no better than animals, and their Jewish heritage is what marks them out as fair game for the German soldiers. Men are shot as soldiers ‘test’ their guns, they are forced to work in mines waist deep in water for eleven hour shifts, with only the water that engulfs them as the way of staying alive. They are moved around the country like a pack of animals that have no value other than to serve as amusement and inconvenience for the German officers.

This is not a sanitised, convenient version of the Holocaust experience.  Kim Sherwood unflinchingly challenges us to read the stories of József, László and many others, and to try and understand the unimaginable horror and degradation these people went through simply due to their religion. It makes us see the true inhumanity of war, and dares us to look away, knowing to do so would let these people down.

For me, the most emotional part of the novel was the aftermath of the Second World War.  László and József have been separated, and László, with a girl called Zuzka has managed to get to the Lake District, and become one of the Windermere Boys.  For László and Zuzka, the war may have ended, but they still fall between society’s cracks, not quite fitting in in England, but unable to return to their homeland either.  The relationship between them is gentle and tender, and although both have been changed by what they have seen and experienced, they slowly turn to each other for comfort, to feel a human connection again.  However, when József manages to find his way back to his brother, Zuzka realises that it is József she is truly attracted to.  They are unable to hide their feelings, and as they edge ever closer, László realises that he can do nothing except watch the two people he loves most in the world find each other with devastating consequences for all of them.

Eva is also finding that as she delves deeper into the past her Grandfather fought so hard to hide, that she truly knew very little about him, and his testimony reveals a former life that turns everything she has ever known upside down.  When she visits Berlin to find out more about Silk’s life, she is regarded as a Jew first and a person second and starts to understand the notion of being marked out from the crowd, and the importance of our personal histories as a testament for future generations.

Testament is at times a very difficult and emotional read.  It is a novel which is filled with beautifully poetic and measured prose, which draws you in close and then when it switches to the most horrific scenes described in a straightforward and unemotional way, it is all the more shocking and unnerving. We cannot understand man’s inhumanity to man, and bear our own witness to a world we know can never be allowed to exist again. The history and massive themes it tackles within its pages are complex and the relationships contained in the pages are far from easy. It is due to Kim Sherwood’s immense skill as a writer, that as a reader you become so invested in Eva and Silk’s story that you feel you owe it to them both to not only read it right to the very end, but to also do your own research of the world Silk has tried so hard to forget.

However, for me, at the heart of Testament, and what is so evident in every single page, is a young woman’s desire to truly understand the history of her Grandfather who she loved so deeply.

Follow #youngwriterawardshadow  and @youngwriteryear on Twitter and Instagram to hear more about The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Shortlist, the authors and what the Shadow Panel think too.

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Kim Sherwood was born in Camden in 1989 and lives in Bath. She studied Creative Writing at UEA and is now Senior Lecturer at the University of the West of England. Her pieces have appeared in Mslexia, Lighthouse, and Going Down Swinging. Kim began researching and writing Testament, her first novel, after her grandfather, the actor George Baker, passed away and her grandmother began to talk about her experiences as a Holocaust Survivor for the first time. It won the 2016 Bath Novel Award, was longlisted for the 2019 Desmond Elliot Prize and shortlisted for the 2019 Author’s Club Best First Novel Award.