Fell – The Making Of

By Jenn Ashworth

 

Fell arrived out of the blue. Just one scene. It happens like that sometimes. The scene was this: Jack, Netty and their daughter Annette are sitting on the concrete terraces over Grange-over-Sands old lido on a hot afternoon in August. I saw it all before I wrote it: the murky dark blue of salt water pool, the glare of the sun giving Jack the worst headache he’s ever had, and Netty watching a good looking young man swim lengths of the pool like a sleek white dolphin.

As soon as I started to write these details down (they demanded to be written – it’s a cliché, I know, but it was also true for me) the character spoke and moved and acted: Netty was sick and Jack was worried about her overdoing it. Annette went down to the lido to swim and Netty was worried about her, in the pool with the big boys who were messing about. Netty sent Jack to ask the boys to calm down an the strangest thing of all happened: this beautiful strange boy who introduced himself as Timothy Richardson (where did the names come from? I don’t know) laid a hand on Jack’s face and not only wiped away his headache – as if by magic – but cured in one fell stroke his life-long short sightedness.

What happened next? I typed in order to find out. Jack was nearly struck dumb with the shock of the strange healing – but not dumb enough to fail to seize the opportunity and to ask Timothy to come home with him and take a look at Netty. The doctors can’t help her, he says, but perhaps there’s something you can do for her…? The scene ended there.

I didn’t write anything else for six months. But these characters waited at the lido and I was tormented with questions about them. What was wrong with Netty? Did Annette know her mother was sick? How seriously was she sick? Who was Timothy Richardson and had he really cure Jack, or was it just a trick? Would he be able to help Netty, and if he could, what would he ask in return? Would the price, whatever it was (and there is always a price – I knew enough about angels-in-disguise to know that) be worth paying?

I spent days and days at Grange-over-Sands, looking at the boarded up and now derelict lido and inhaling the salt-and-mud smell of the unbiddable, dangerous Morecambe Bay. I travelled to London and spent a day on Savile Row speaking to cutters and tailors and watching them chalk outlines of suit jackets and trousers on rolls of grey cloth. I visited a retired nurse who told me what caring for someone dying at home was like in the early 1960s, before chemotherapy, before palliative care, before the hospice movement.

A few months later I went back to the scene, and started to write. I didn’t have much of a plan, which meant tonnes and tonnes of drafts, following my nose, and letting characters and the landscape they lived in shape the structure and tone and plot of the novel. In an early draft, Timothy Richardson, the butchers boy and aspiring tailor from Edinburgh, had an entire backstory: much of that was cut because in the end I wanted him to be as mysterious to the reader as he had been to me. After a few drafts, the ‘frame’ of the novel developed – a present day strand where grown-up Annette returns to her parents’ empty house in Grange and attempts to come to terms with her past, with the stories her parents never told her, with the magic she was never allowed to see. She isn’t quite haunted, but the house certainly is, as I would be, until three years had passed and I was able to close the computer and say goodbye to the novel.

 

Jenn Ashworth’s first novel, A Kind of Intimacy, was published in 2009 and won a Betty Trask Award. On the publication of her second, Cold Light(Sceptre, 20011) she was featured on the BBC’s The Culture Show as one of the UK’s twelve best new writers. Her third novel The Friday Gospels (2013) is also published by Sceptre, as is her fourth and new release, Fell. She lives in Lancashire and teaches Creative Writing at Lancaster University.

You can find her at jennashworth.co.uk, or on Twitter @jennashworth

 

 

 

 

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Fell – Jenn Ashworth

Fell is the new release by acclaimed literary novelist Jenn Ashworth (Sceptre 2016). On one hand it’s a dark tale of love and loss narrated in first person plural and omniscient third person by the ghosts of those long dead. On the other it’s an intense exploration of power and the struggle to attain and maintain it in interpersonal relationships. But, perhaps more than either of these, it’s an elegy for a life unnoticed.

The story centres on the lives of Netty and Jack, who become undone both physically and mentally, and their relationship with a young man who provides a particularly aggressive form of hope. Desire and desperation meet and lay bare the raw howl of humanity.

The story dances in time and perspective but every leaf-like dart and flutter is clearly signalled; we always know where we are and who we are. Throughout the story runs the thread of decay in a beautifully handled metaphor of house and home and the dark and brooding destructive power of nature. This darkness can be overwhelmed but never removed – unlike the Sycamores which dominate the skyline – and it exists in every mixed motive and flare of ego, every doubt. Every character in this novel is uneasy and the unease grows in pace with the disease until we reach a fraught crescendo.

There is life after death, both literally and figuratively, but there is a sense of great cost.

Jenn Ashworth does a superb job of evoking the spirit of the age in this novel. The descriptive passages ground you in a very real world, against which backdrop the preternatural sings. The relationship between Netty and Jack is entirely believable and the strengths and weaknesses of each character lead to a carefully nurtured sense of emotional investment. The story may not be entirely born of its landscape but it breathes it, lapping at the edges of our perception like the tides. Grange-over-Sands and Morecambe Bay show an expanse of horizon which provides a counterpoint to the increasingly insular nature of the Clifford home.

There are wonderful moments of dialect- plooks, moider and mollycot – when one of the characters is ‘gattered’. A moment of unguarded voice which raises the question of whether any public face is a true face. Is every voice a decision, an attempt to be accepted?

And the life unnoticed?

For some it will be the child, forever on the edges of the adult drama, putting aside her own voice out of duty and love. For others it will be the young man, at once observed and unobserved, damaged and damaging, desirous of anonymity and fame. Both, cursed with the same burden.

 

Jenn Ashworth’s first novel, A Kind of Intimacy, was published in 2009 and won a Betty Trask Award. On the publication of her second, Cold Light (Sceptre, 2011) she was featured on the BBC’s The Culture Show as one of the UK’s twelve best new writers. Her third novel The Friday Gospels (2013) is published by Sceptre. She lives in Lancashire and teaches Creative Writing at Lancaster University.

Jenn can be found at

http://www.jennashworth.co.uk

@jennashworth  on Twitter

 

Review – The Shadow Owner’s Companion by Eleanor Hooker

This is poetry born of Ireland and all its beautiful contradiction. There are few places in the world where Christianity, Paganism and Mythology collide with such force and rain their colours into the literature. With the poet we walk the boundary between the seen and the unseen, the known and the unknown. We walk on the water and between two worlds. There is wonder in both and fear in both. And there is an anxiety here that a sideways step will lead to an unintended crossing. The battle is between the old gods and the oldest God, creator, creature and land. And always we return to the water, the point of passage.

The poet uses her understanding of form to isolate and highlight the uncanny. She draws out the emotion of fear and turns it over and over in her hands, looking deeply into it for truth, however that comes. Truths that are sometimes easier to see with the eyes of a child. Remembered knowing. We learn that strong does not mean never lost, that adult does not mean fully grown. She turns over the experience of endings and leaves them open and questioning.

This is poetry of the boundary. This is poetry of balance, of gain and loss, afraid and unafraid of pain. The poet has a gentle gift for repetition that sings her intentions into each poem. The structure is precise and studied but at no point does it overwhelm or even distract from the message.

This is way-finding.

The Shadow Owner’s Companion is available from Dedalus Press. http://www.dedaluspress.com

Eleanor Hooker can be found @eleanorhooker_ on Twitter

Letters to my Husband – by Stephanie Butland – Debut Novelist

Today I have the pleasure of heading up the Blog Tour for debut novelist Stephanie Butland.

ButlandBlogTour (2)

I had the opportunity to ask Stephanie about her journey from idea to novel and this was her reply:

‘Letters to my Husband’ is my first novel (it was originally released in hardback as ‘Surrounded By Water’). It’s the first of three novels set in a small town of Throckton, and it’s a story about loss, love and the unexpected places that life can take us to. It begins when Michael, a well-respected police office, drowns, saving a teenage girl who had fallen into a lake on a cold January night. We follow his widow, Elizabeth, as she struggles to come to terms with his death, and the shocks and surprises that come to light in the aftermath of his death.

This novel had a prologued journey from my head to the page to publication. It began as a comic novel about a committee – I had made an impulse decision to take part in Nanowrimo in 2011 and hadn’t really given a lot of thought to what I wanted the book to be about. 20,000 words in it stalled, and an insightful reader suggested that the committee – which I had thought would be a great way to bring together a group of diverse characters – might be holding the story back When I took the idea of the committee away from the book, I found that the real content was in Elizabeth’s bereavement. So I started again, writing a series of interlocking first person narratives which told the story much better – although once the book was bought by Transworld, my editor suggested that a third-person narrative would be even more effective. She was right. But the letters of the title have remained unchanged since the very first draft.

I’m now writing my fourth novel. I’ve learned a lot about the writing process, and the way I write is now better organised, and less wasteful of words, which is a great relief ( there are few things more dispiriting than spending 6 hours working on a book and ending up with 18,000 words less than you started with). But ‘Letters to my Husband’ taught me something really important about writing, and it’s this. Start somewhere. Write something. Keep going. If you do that, you’ll get there eventually.

Letters to my Husband  by Stephanie Butland is published by Black Swan 9/4/15.

Stephanie can be found at

http://www.stephaniebutland.com   or  @under_blue_sky on Twitter

The next Blog in the book tour is http://www.shazsbookboudoir.blogspot.co.uk

The Transformation from Written to Audio – by Jane Isaac

When I received the news last year that the audio rights to my second book, The Truth Will Out, had been sold, it was met with a mixed response. Of course, I was excited – who wouldn’t be? But it also delivered a huge dose of apprehension too. Who would they select to read the book aloud? Would it be a good fit? Would their voice create the right level of suspense and tension for a thriller? How would they cope with the different accents in the book?

Scroll forward several months and a box of author copies landed on my doorstep. I opened it with trepidation, but was pleasantly surprised when I saw the finished product. It looked wonderfully professional, something I might see on a shelf in a library, or for sale in a bookstore, and is beautifully finished.

The unabridged box set contained eight CDs spanning almost nine hours and is read by Cathy Sabberton, whose bio claims numerous theatre and TV credits including Emmerdale and Cold Feet.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I placed it in the machine and pressed play. I admit, when the CD started it did feel rather strange to hear my own words read aloud. But Cathy’s beautifully engaging reading voice quickly allayed any nerves. Very soon I became lost in the story and it felt like I was listening to a play, or ‘Book at Bedtime’ on Radio 4. And how did she cope with the different accents? With great ease. Even with DS Pemberton’s Yorkshire accent, she seemed to adjust her voice effortlessly, allowing the story to flow.

I’ve only listened to the first few CDs, but I have to say I’m truly delighted with the results so far. It’s such a huge thrill for somebody like me to hear my words being read by an accomplished actress.

Jane Isaac is a crime fiction author of An Unfamiliar Murder and The Truth Will Out. She lives with her husband, daughter and dog, ‘Bollo’, in rural Northamptonshire, UK. Jane’s latest title, Before It’s Too Late, will be released on 1.6.15

Jane loves to hear from readers and writers. Visit her website at http://www.janeisaac.co.uk, where you can email her through the contacts page or peruse her blog ‘Caffeine’s not a crime’.

Alternatively you can find her on Twitter @JaneIsaacAuthor

The Truth Will Out – Paperback and Audio versions are available on Amazon.

Review – Meridian – by David Rose

After the first few breathless sentences you relax into the arms of a storyteller who knows his craft, not that this is a gentle ride. Thought darts like a swift, weaving and tracing an order in the blue. This novel is about order and pattern, the natural and the constructed, the concrete and the ephemeral. It is also about purpose and permanence. We are involved in a literary Brownian motion, skipping and colliding between stories, between lives. It remains to the reader to decide which if any of these lives is altered in the observing. The narrator asks the same question of his own observations. Does it ultimately matter?

Matter is dual intent. The writer is building a microcosm of experience for the purpose of understanding. He does this by deftly layering first person accounts of experience and bleeding them into each other, at first precisely and obviously, as if to teach us the rules of engagement, and then freely and with added pace. My suggestion would be to trust each wave, trust the flow of thought. It is taking you ever onward.

Flow is such a gentle term for what is, in places, a flood of thought.

There are flood defences.

Each of the minute glimpses of a life could be unfolded into a complete story. Something which won’t surprise you if you are familiar with David’s short story work. And although you may be tossed in the current but you won’t be overwhelmed.

This is gifted, beautiful writing.

I defy you not to learn something.

Meridian – by David Rose is published by Unthank Books,  who can be found here

http://www.unthankbooks.com

@UnthankBooks

Richard Skinner – Terrace

Richard Skinner is a novelist, essayist and poet as well as being one of the driving forces at the Faber Academy. His new pamphlet ‘Terrace’ is due to be published by Smokestack in April 2015.
I had an opportunity to ask him what this new collection is about.
Here is his reply:

The 22 poems in ‘Terrace’ were all written 2008-14. I didn’t put in any poems written before then into the collection because they seem distant to me now, almost as if written by someone else. It’s other people who are best at identifying any common themes running through your work and my editor at Smokestack, Andy Croft, describes ‘Terrace’ as a ‘book about the meanings of perfume, light and colour, exploring the world in a series of striking images, and juxtaposing them in unexpected ways to reveal at the end a ‘bigger picture’ that was always there, only hidden.’

The 22 poems published together allow me to see what interests me most in terms of form and technique. For example, I love lists and the idea of ‘list as litany’ and there are a couple of poems that are just lists of objects, but these objects take on a special significance, a near-sacredness even. In “Death in a French Garden”, the bottles of medicine are metonyms of a mysterious death. We don’t see what happens, only what remains after the event. “My grandmother’s things” is a list of things belonging to her that I have kept and which now act as aides-memoire. In making these lists, I’m writing about what’s tangible and visible as a way of talking about what’s intangible and invisible.
There are a couple of poems based on Greek myth/Biblical characters. I have always been fascinated by the Orpheus myth and every poet has to write a poem about him, don’t they? Orpheus’ ‘mistake’ lies in his desire, which leads him to see and possess Eurydice when he is only destined to sing about her. Only in song does Orpheus have power over Eurydice, but he loses Eurydice because he desires her beyond the power of the song, and he loses himself too. “Nefertiti” is a very earthy poem about sights, sounds and the smell of: ‘neroli, of oris butter,/ the roots of iris-floral,/ obscenely fleshy, like the odour/ beneath a breast or between buttocks.’

Some poets whose style and subject matter are close to my own heart are: Wallace Stevens, Sylvia Plath, Ian Hamilton. More recently: Pauline Stainer, Michael Symmons Roberts, Marion Tracy. And whichever way you turn, there is always TS Eliot. Short poems work best for me. I love the super-condensation of a short lyric or imagist poem. Short dense poems can expand your mind in every direction and the shorter the poem is, the more expansive it is. For me, that’s what David Burnett was getting at when he said,
‘Prose adds. A poem multiplies.’

You can find further details here
http://richardskinner.weebly.com/terrace.html
@RichardNSkinner