Short Story of the Month – ‘Sugarcane for My Sweetheart’ by Maggie Harris

Our new Short Story of the Month is ‘Sugarcane for My Sweetheart’ by Maggie Harris which features in her short story collection Writing on Water.

Writing on Water Maggie HarrisMaggie Harris’ short story collection Writing on Water  is informed by the Caribbean, where she was born, and Britain where she has lived as an adult, and through them, the wider world. Issues of belonging and migration feature, but alongside these are growing interests in voice, narrative, gardening and botany, music and family. There are both UK and Caribbean voices in these tales, told by children, migrants, mothers, grandparents.

This is an excerpt, read the full story for FREE on the Seren website here.

Sugarcane for My Sweetheart

Maya is dreaming of kitchens. New kitchens. Not open to the air, wood-smoke kitchens; not kerosene stoves or coalpot kitchens. New kitchens. Kitchens of pine and oak and beech. Kitchens with solid wood doors and MDF shelves, kitchens with laminate and chrome, Mediterranean tiles, Victorian pulleys, cork and slate floors, quarry tiles.
In her dreams she enters those kitchens as she has taken to entering all those showrooms on lunchtime Sundays: with the slow excited steps of a traveller arriving. Eyes stray past customs, the loitering salesman, the swing doors past Immigration. Gleaming glass-fronted doors hold her gaze like shimmering tarmac. They draw her in like mirrors, framing the new arrival. Excitement is mixed with fear and longing, slowed by the shuffling progress of the queue.
Her kitchen measurements are clutched tight in her hands like a passport; over and over she checks them: the permit, the invitation letter, traveller’s cheques crisp and new in their plastic sleeve.
She has reason to feel afraid. On her return from the island the eyes of the officer had scalded Maya. They highlighted her like a spotlight, running her up and down as if they could see right through her. A chorus had risen from the queue like the tide, washing over her with a high Atlantic wave. In this dream her mother is by her side, her spirit hands even more frantic in death, fluttering a British passport that only Maya could see, tickets and boarding passes scattering on the desk like the plucked feathers of a broiling bird.
In her dream the showrooms stretch: long corridors of gleaming perfection. Miles and miles of shining flooring glide her on its conveyor belt, kitchen after kitchen smiling like models, preening their leaded light and bubble-glassed doors, their plaited cornices like wooden pigtails, their panels in Bermuda Blue, Nevada Blond, Pine Forest. Her dreams have kept up with fashion, solid pine and farmhouse oak that had once beamed their rustic Englishness, Middle England Agas nestling securely like the Cotswold Hills, no longer feature. Now chrome and beech and Shaker kitchens lure her, will her to run her fingers on their smooth fine grain, their granite and Corian worktops combining style and utilitarian twenty-first century designs.
The salesman disappears. Other dreamers have re-commissioned him; they sit in the conservatory-style office with their dream kitchen coming alive on a computer screen, Mr and Mrs Doggy nodding, car-window heads beaming. Their Cheshire smiles fill Maya’s vision and suddenly she is horizontal, being whisked along white corridors with ceilings of ceramic hobs, their halogen spotlights steaming her face like Granny’s Vicks. Perspiration is running down her cheeks, the small of her back. The steward has opened the aircraft door and Maya is descending. Heat washes over her like invisible rain. Tarmac ripples in the haze. The redcap boys run with their luggage trolleys. Water runs down her back. She is a dog in the shadows, turning over and over in the liquid heat, an insistent voice riding over the surf.
‘Maya! Maya!’
Denver is nuzzling his face into her neck. His hand rests on her hip. Her eyes flutter into a still-dark morning. She senses his body wakening. He is not yet, fully. In a minute he will be, and remember. He’ll turn away then, face his own wall, summon the energy to rise, get ready for work.
Beneath her the towel is damp and hard. Many washes in this limescaled water has wrung any softness out. She thinks of the towels in Uncle Danny’s bathroom, the white fleshy softness, her body cosseted, white tiles reflecting her face. There was no limescale back there. How she loved to hang the washing out then! Hook them on the line, watch them dance like kites in the wild wind, sing in a soft breeze. She had washed everything in sight, tea cloths, Uncle Danny’s clothes, her own. Just to smell them, feel them, watch them dry face up to the sun, unaccustomed in cold dank London.
The first thing they tell you when you return is to tek it easy, you back home now. So fill your eyes with the coconut trees, the endless beach, the boats turning out to sea. Lone fishermen pushed their bikes across the sand, their dogs nosing alongside. And the sky, the sky! That brilliant cobalt blue, stretching a panorama between memory and reality. Tourists didn’t make it this far. Here it was too rough to swim, the waves still angry at history, guarding the wrecks viciously. Their anger had moved from scuttles to schooners and jet skis, to slippery fishing boats with secret cargoes. And you try and take it easy. Borrow that inherent ambiance, live one day at a time. But soon you realise that what you’re doing is waiting. Waiting for time to stand still. Time has stood still for Maya in this particular place.
Waiting. Watching the shifting blues, the white haze, the fisherman becoming a dot. The clothes on the line have dried, her swimsuit a kitten at play, relishing this now-time, this brief sojourn before being folded into a drawer, nestling in the dark like a hyacinth bulb.

Finish reading ‘Sugarcane for My Sweetheart’ on the Seren website here.

Writing on Water is available on the Seren website: £8.99

Short Story Extract – ‘The Tribe’ by Jaki McCarrick

This extract is from Jaki McCarrick’s short story ‘The Tribe’ which is featured in her Edge Hill-shortlisted collection, The Scattering.

The main character’s rationale is unnerving and extreme – yet may hold some resonance with the situation we find ourselves in at the moment.

Jaki will be joining us for a special Q&A as part of the Seren Stay-at-Home Series tomorrow night at 6:30pm where she will be discussing her fiction and plays which include the award-winning Belfast Girls. Tickets are only £5 and are available here*.

 

A stranger from another time trespasses in an ancient landscape, where a primitive tribe live their modest lives. He has a dark yet necessary mission – but will he manage to complete it?

 

The Tribe

The American Dream has run out of gas.The car has stopped.
It no longer supplies the world with its images, its dreams, its
fantasies. It’s over. It supplies the world with its nightmares
now: the Kennedy assassination,Watergate,Vietnam. J.G. BALLARD

The images that came up on the screen were of a cold, forested environment. Beside me the lake was iced over and wide as a sea. There were trees all around frozen ponds and up and down mountainsides. I wondered if there was human life here at all. Nothing stirred outside, except for the unmistakable shape of an owl flying across the almost-full moon. I wrapped up in my boots and Gore-Tex and kept my gun close. Into a compartment of my backpack I placed another, more lethal gun and clasped the bag to my front. I secured my mask and hood then exited the POD (shorthand for the small machine that had brought me here, with its state-of-the-art Personal Odyssey Drive® system).
Outside, it was freezing. I’d never known cold like it. Not even on the coldest days in New York. In fact, it was not like any cold I’d ever experienced on the earth, anywhere (including the Northwest Territories where I had prepared for this trip).Yet it was so clean, so newly clean. I could distinctly smell pine, and the ice had a fragrant quality, close to mint. I knew that the tundra that covered the earth at this time had beneath it a multitude of flowers and plants, and it was as if the air now was full of the possibility of them. The season, of course, was spring.
​        I had begun to ascend the mountain when I saw what appeared to be a light. At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. (I wasn’t hungry but I was tired and had considered returning to the POD, though it would have been dawn before I got there.) I thought perhaps the moon reflected off the snow, but the light was orange. Within a few steps I saw that a fire burned just beyond a redwood copse. (The snow on the trees’ laden branches made the copse seem like some outlandish installation, like those I’d seen years before in galleries in the Village.) My first instinct was to rush towards it. It had to signify human life – no animal as far as we knew had learned how to make fire. But what kind of beings had made this one? And what would they make of me? If they were the beings we sought, that I had hoped to find here, then could they speak? (We had presumed, perhaps conservatively, that I might encounter at best a protolanguage, and not, at this point, actual lexical structure.) I suddenly became afraid of what I might find, though I could feel the gun against my thigh, and it felt warm, as all security is warm, and that I was so quick to think of the weapons I’d brought with me gave me quite a jolt.
​        I gathered myself and tried to remember my purpose here. I checked that the vial was where I had packed it. It was. Cold and deadly as the modernity that had made it.

*

I saw them sitting around the fire, their backs against a circle of high stones. Some of their young ran from caves and were followed by females who evidently disapproved of them out in the cold air. I could smell something roasting on the fire and saw within the flames a long slim-headed beast. Suddenly, the group rose to their feet.They began to make sounds out of the back of their throats which reverberated throughout the hills. The sounds seemed to pass from being to being in a perfect choreography of polyrhythms; it was quite like what I’d heard of Flamenco music. They were covered from head to toe in taupe, grey and dark-red furs, which looked to be the pelts of rabbits, some kind of arctic-like fox, and bears. The group sang its song to the fire, to the beast roasting on the spit, and to the moon and icy expanse – and though I could not understand a word (in so far as their song was composed of words), I felt, somehow, that this was a song of praise, perhaps, even, of welcoming the spring.
​        After a while, one of the older males loosened the beast from the two thin poles it hung from and set it down on a long flat slab. He cut furiously into it with a hand-axe made of what seemed in the moonlight to be quartz or river-flint. He made many piles of meat, and only when he gestured did the group gather around the slab to eat. They were talking. The sound was unmistakable: laughter, grunts, jesting, the aural characteristics of human engagement, all the sounds that one might hear in any modern crowd. These hominids were clearly enjoying their food. It was then I realised that other than the energy biscuits and apples in my backpack, I’d no further supplies until I returned to the POD. The POD itself had enough food for a few more days of my explorations here; the rest held in reserve for the journey home (if I would, indeed, return). I slowly unclasped the pack and squatted down beside it. I was so hungry I devoured two of the three biscuits and washed them down with a small bottle of chemical-tasting water.
​        Within a few minutes I could hear a commotion. I stood up and saw a fight break out between two males, between them, a young female clinging tightly to a rock.The smaller of the two males was eventually trounced by the other and stole off like a honey badger into the woods. The tall, rangier male brought the female towards two older females who laughed as they walked her back to the caves. Quickly, the peace returned. After the meal, the taller male quenched the fire and moved the stragglers along. There was something civilised and quite authoritative, I thought, about this creature hanging back to tidy up the remains of his tribe’s revels.
​        As I would need daylight in order to proceed with my task, I decided to remain where I was. Below me nothing stirred except three or four brindled dogs that looked like small wolves gathering in the centre of the valley to finish off the meat.There seemed also to be a constant rumbling sound, which I supposed was a distant ice storm (perhaps signifying some kind of metamorphic activity in the region). It was as I found an over-leaning bank of earth, under which I planned to sleep, that I heard the other sound. It was terrible and gurgling and instantly recognisable. I looked down and saw that the tall authoritative tribe-member stood in the empty valley below, a pole pierced through his chest, pinning him to the white earth. The others began to emerge from their caves and the sides of the valley. The young female and the group she had been with ran to him. They screamed and cried and pulled the pole from the tall male, at which he dropped to the ground. I heard a sound, if not an actual word, repeated again and again by one of the older females. ‘Orvey! Orvey! Orvey!’ she seemed to cry, as she continually tried to wake him. And I knew, somewhere in the depths of my being, that the sound – for how could I call it a word when I was yet to be convinced that this tribe was in possession of what could feasibly be called language? – meant: child.

*

This is an extract, read the full story on the Seren website

*All ticket holders for the Seren Stay-at-Home Series get an exclusive 30% discount code to use on the Seren website. Get your tickets here.

Four Books to Celebrate International Jazz Day

Today is International Jazz Day, a worldwide celebration of jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe. Here are four Seren titles you can celebrate with.

On the Beach with Chet Baker by Robert Seatter

“Presence and absence, some sort of together” (‘On the Beach with Chet Baker’). These are the three places that Robert Seatter’s second book of poems explores, with deftness, insight and artistry. They move from places of stasis and memory, through the uneasy proximities of love captured in the moody jazz trumpet of the title poem, and out to the uncharted spaces that loss and death can create.

“…emotional engagement in abundance”.  –Planet

 

Out of Nowhere by Roger Granelli

White British guitarist Frank Magnani arrives in fifties New York to break into the smoky world of jazz. Coming home from the austerity of post-war Europe to a land of plenty he finds there’s plenty to learn. His education is not confined to music alone, he also finds himself in a world where ego is everything, the musicians are black, and the drink and drugs are the fuel of creativity. Caught up in the violence of the city, Magnani flees on a journey through the southern provinces and his own mental state too. His personal odyssey is complete when he returns to the club scene of New York in a dramatic climax to his career and this atmospheric novel.

 

Sax Burglar Blues by Robert Walton

Sax Burglar Blues by Robert Walton is packed with memory, incident, observation, opinion, humour, outrage and elegy. Subjects include: woodlice, jazz, teachers, grandparents, a canary who runs for President, Sisley’s lovely painting of the Gower, the iconoclastic poet John Tripp, a night bus named after Dusty Springfield, a Dad who loves Cardiff City, the annoying closure of bookshops and much more.

​‘Dip into Walton’s jazzed-up version of the world and you will inevitably surface from the pages in a brighter hue.’ – Wales Arts Review

 

The Roots of Rock by Peter Finch

The Roots of Rock, from Cardiff to Mississippi and Back Peter Finch follows the trail of twentieth century popular music from a 1950s valve radio playing in a suburban Cardiff terrace to the reality of the music among the bars of Ireland, the skyscrapers of New York, the plains of Tennessee, the flatlands of Mississippi and the mountains of North Carolina. The Roots of Rock mixes musical autobiography with an exploration of the physical places from which this music comes. It is a demonstration of the power of music to create a world for the listener that is simultaneously of and beyond the place in which it is heard.

 

Find these and many more great titles on the Seren website

Don’t forget you can get 20% off when you sign up to be a member of our book club. 

Happy International Women’s Day 2020!

Over the year’s we’ve been fortunate enough to work with a long list of fantastic female authors, all of whom bring something unique to the Seren list. There are too many to mention each by name in a single post, and so for International Women’s Day 2020 we’re shining a light on some of the women writers we are publishing in the first half of this year. Keep an eye out for their books coming your way soon.

Katherine Stansfield
We Could Be Anywhere By Now, March 2020

Katherine Stansfield grew up in Cornwall and now lives in Cardiff. Her poems have appeared in The North, Magma, Poetry Wales, The Interpreter’s House, And Other Poems, Butcher’s Dog, and as ‘Poem of the Week’ in The Guardian. Katherine’s debut collection Playing House (2014), a pamphlet All That Was Wood (2019), and her second full-length collection We Could Be Anywhere By Now (March 2020), are all published by Seren. She is also a novelist, with five novels published to date. Her latest titles are The Mermaid’s Call (third in her historical crime series set in Cornwall in the 1840s) and Widow’s Welcome (a political fantasy novel co-written with her partner and published under the name DK Fields). Katherine is the recipient of a Writer’s Bursary from Literature Wales. She teaches for the Open University and is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow.

Cath Drake
The Shaking City, March 2020

Cath Drake lives in London and has been published in anthologies and literary magazines in the UK, Australia and US. Sleeping with Rivers won the Mslexia Women’s Poetry Pamphlet Competition in 2013 and was a Poetry Book Society Choice. She has been short-listed for the Manchester Poetry Prize, and was second in the 2017 Resurgence Poetry School Eco-poetry Prize (now called Ginkgo) and highly commended in the same prize in 2019. Her work has included campaigning, copywriting and storytelling for good causes, environmental writing and award-winning journalism.The Shaking City, forthcoming from Seren at the end of March 2020, is her first full collection.

Sarah Wimbush
Bloodlines, March 2020

Sarah Wimbush comes from Doncaster and currently lives in Leeds. After winning the Yorkshire Post Short Story Competition in 2011 she began writing poetry. Her poems are rooted in Yorkshire with tales of childhood, colliery villages, and Gypsies and Travellers, and they have appeared in a variety of magazines including; the North, The Rialto, The Interpreter’s House, Stand and Strix. She won first prize in the Red Shed Poetry Competition 2016, and second prize in the Ledbury Poetry Competition 2019 where the judge, Daljit Nagra, described her poem as ‘linguistically charged’. A winner of both the Mslexia Poetry Competition (2016) and the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition (2019), she received a New Writing North – New Poets Award in 2019. Her debut pamphlet Bloodlines (Seren, March 2020) is the winner of the Mslexia/PBS Women’s Poetry Pamphlet Competition 2019.

Sarah Philpott
The Seasonal Vegan, April 2020

Sarah Philpott is a freelance copywriter and proofreader for a variety of organisations, and a fluent Welsh speaker who has appeared on S4C and ITV Wales to talk about vegan cooking. She is a regular guest on Radio Cymru, has written for Wales Online and writes restaurant reviews for the Wriggle app and website. She has a recipe column in Cardiff Now magazine and was featured in an article about vegetarianism in the Sunday Telegraph magazine, Stella. Sarah also has a vegan food blog, Vegging It. Her first vegan cookery book, The Occasional Vegan was published in 2018 and her second The Seasonal Vegan is forthcoming from Seren this April.

Kate Noakes
Real Hay-on-Wye, May 2020

Kate Noakes is a poet whose seventh and most recent collection, The Filthy Quiet, was published by Parthian in 2019 and was reviewed by the Poetry Book Society. Her work has been widely published in magazines in the UK, Europe and beyond. She was elected to the Welsh Academy in 2011. She lives in London where she acts as a trustee for writer development organisation Spread the Word. She reviews poetry for Poetry London, Poetry Wales, The North and cultural website London Grip. She can be found reading from her work all over the country, notably most recently at the 2019 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. Kate has degrees from Reading University and the University of South Wales. She teaches creative writing workshops in London and beyond and offers one to one poetry coaching. Real Hay-on-Wye (May 2020) is her first non-fiction title.

Katrina Naomi
Wild Persistence, June 2020

Katrina Naomi has published four pamphlets of poetry, including the Japan-themed Typhoon Etiquette (Verve Poetry Press, 2019). Her collection The Way the Crocodile Taught Me, (Seren, 2016) was chosen by Foyles’ Bookshop as one of its #FoylesFive for poetry.  Katrina was the first writer-in-residence at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in W Yorks, and since then has been poet-in-residence at the Arnolfini, Gladstone’s Library and the Leach Pottery. Her poetry has appeared on Radio 4’s Front Row and Poetry Please, BBC TV’s Spotlight and on Poems on the Underground. In 2017 she was highly commended in the Forward Prizes. She has a PhD in creative writing (Goldsmiths) and tutors for Arvon, Ty Newydd and the Poetry School. She received an Authors’ Foundation award from the Society of Authors for her new collection, Wild Persistence (June).

Rhian Edwards
The Estate Agent’s Daughter, June 2020

Rhian Edwards is a multi-award winning Welsh poet, renowned for bridging the gap between page and stage poetry. Her first collection Clueless Dogs (Seren) won the Wales Book of the Year 2013, winning the hat-trick of prizes. It was also shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2012.  Rhian also won the John Tripp Award for Spoken Poetry, winning both the Judges and Audience award. Rhian’s pamphlet Parade the Fib (Tall Lighthouse) was awarded the Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice for autumn 2008. Rhian’s poems have appeared in The Guardian, TLS, Poetry Review, New Statesman, Spectator, Poetry London, Poetry Wales, Arete, the London Magazine, Stand and Planet. Her second collection The Estate Agent’s Daughter is forthcoming from Seren in June.

Sue Gee
Just You and the Page: Twelve Writers and their Art, June 2020

Sue Gee is a novelist and short story writer. She has published eleven novels, including The Hours of the Night (1995), winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year award, The Mysteries of Glass (2005), long-listed that year for the Orange Prize, and Reading in Bed (2007) a Daily Mail Book Club selection. Her most recent novel is Trio (2016). She ran the MA in Creative Writing at Middlesex University from 2000-2008 and was awarded a Royal Literary Fund Fellowship at the University of London Graduate School in 2008. Since 2010 she has taught at the Faber Academy, and worked as a mentor for the Write to Life group at Freedom from Torture. With the novelist Charles Palliser she has for some twenty years run monthly author events at Stoke Newington Bookshop, under the umbrella N16 Writers & Readers. She is a frequent contributor to Slightly Foxed.

Jayne Joso
Japan Stories, June 2020

Jayne Joso is a writer and artist who has lived and worked in Japan, China, Kenya and the UK. Now living in London, she is the author of four novels, including My Falling Down House (2016) and From Seven to the Sea (2019). Her journalism has been published in various Japanese architectural magazines and in the UK’s Architecture Today magazine. She has also ghost written on Japanese architects for the German publisher, Prestel Art. She is the recipient of the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation Award, given to artists whose work interprets Japan to other cultures and was longlisted for the Rathbones Folio Award 2017. Her forthcoming short story collection Japan Stories (Seren, June 2020) reveals Japanese life in city and countryside through a variety of characters notable for their shared humanity.

 

Find more amazing books written by women on the Seren website

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Seren Gift Guide: Give the Perfect Gift this Christmas

We all have them. That one person in the family who is impossible to buy presents for. They’re very particular so food or alcohol is out of the question and you bought them novelty socks last year so what are you going to do? Buy them a book of course!

Here at Seren we’ve got books to suit everyone: fiction addicts, nature lovers, poetry fanatics, art & photography connoisseurs, history buffs, current affairs enthusiasts, fans of biography & memoir – the list goes on. Here are a selection of our top suggestions for those difficult to buy for family members to help you give the perfect gift this Christmas.

 

Books for Fiction Addicts

Significance by Jo Mazelis £9.99 

significanceLucy Swann is trying on a new life. She’s cut and dyed her hair and bought new clothes, but only gets as far as a small town in northern France when her flight is violently cut short. When Inspector Vivier and his assistant Sabine Pelat begin their investigation the chance encounters of her last days take on a new significance. Lucy’s death, like a stone thrown into a pool, sends out far-reaching ripples, altering the lives of people who never knew her as well as those of her loved ones back home.

Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray: £8.99 

Sugar Hall Tiffany MurrayEaster 1955 and Britain waits for a hanging. Dieter Sugar finds a strange boy in the red gardens at crumbling Sugar Hall – a boy unlike any he’s ever seen. As Dieter’s mother, Lilia, scrapes the mould and moths from the walls of the great house, she knows there are pasts that cannot be so easily removed. Sugar Hall has a history, buried, but not forgotten. Based on the stories of the slave boy that surround Littledean Hall in the Forest of Dean, this is a superbly chilling ghost story from Tiffany Murray.

Brief Lives by Christopher Meredith £9.99 

Brief Lives Christopher MeredithFrom the nightmarish first story set in the South China Sea in 1946 to the final piece, set nowhere at the end of time, Brief Lives demonstrates in a short compass a huge range in technique and milieu and a unity of theme and sensibility. It opens naturalistically but is distinctly non-realist by the close. We meet an ex-collier in 1950 anguishing over whether to return to the pit, a young mother in the early 1960s quietly shepherding those around her through a bleak Christmas day, an industrial chemist in this century plunged into vortices of memories that cause him to question his grasp of the world, and more.

New Stories From The Mabinogion – The Complete Box Set (Unsigned): £80 

In New Stories from the Mabinogion ten great authors take the Celtic myth cycle as a starting point to give us masterly re-workings with a modern twist in a series both various and wonderful. In these retellings of medieval stories from Celtic mythology and Arthurian Britain, we reach the orbit of Mars, the Tower of London and the edges of India, travel in time to WW2 and forward to the near future, see Iraq in drug-addled dreams, and view Wales aslant, from its countryside to its council estates. Each author makes the story entirely their own, creating fresh, contemporary novellas while keeping the old tales at the heart of the new.

 

Books for Home Birds

The Seren Real Series: £9.99

First started by Peter Finch with Real Cardiff and now containing over 20 volumes, the Seren Real Series is a collection of psychogeographic guides that take a closer look at beloved towns and cities from all over the UK. Always insightful and full of interesting observations, made personal by each author’s connection to the place, these books discover the essence of what makes our towns and cities tick.

 

The Living Wells of Wales by Phil Cope: £20.00 

Author and photographer Phil Cope takes us on a journey through the sacred wells of Wales, from the Anglesey to the Gwent. On his way he discovers wells in city centres and, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere – on mountainsides, in deserted valleys, on the coast, in sea caves. They include healing wells, cursing wells, and wells named for saints, Satan, witches, angels, fairies, friars, nuns, hermits, murderers and hangmen. Packed with colour photographs, including some of long-forgotten wells now rediscovered, The Living Wells of Wales is the new definitive volume on a subject gaining a new popularity.

Walking Cardiff by Peter Finch and John Briggs: £14.99 

Join Peter Finch and John Briggs on twenty walks around Cardiff, the bustling capital of Wales. Together they visit the new and the ancient, the difficult, the undiscovered, the lesser-known, the artistic, the entertaining, the quirky and the unexpected. They criss-cross the city, informing, discovering, exploring, and enduring, reviving old routes as they go.Their journeys encompass the city’s history, and record daily life on its streets, in its parks and its famous and not so famous, buildings.

 

Books for History Buffs

Conflict, War and Revolution: My Life by Alessandra Kozlowska: £12.99 

Discovered by the author’s grandson, and written originally in Italian, Conflict, War and Revolution: My Life is the memoir of Baroness Alessandra Koslowska (1892-1975) and is a vivid depiction of her life from childhood to the end of the Second World War. In essence it is the story of her struggle to keep her family together through the huge and sometimes deadly social and political changes of early twentieth century Europe including the survival of two revolutions in Russia and the subsequent civil war, her travels in central Europe during World War One, her life in Italy during the inter-war years, and her internment there, which was almost terminated by German forces.

Forbidden Lives by Norena Shopland: £12.99 

Norena Shopland Forbidden LivesForbidden Lives is a fascinating collection of portraits and discussions that aims to populate LGBT gaps in the history of Wales, a much neglected part of Welsh heritage. In it Norena Shopland reviews the reasons for this neglect while outlining the activity behind the recent growth of the LGBT profile here. She also surveys LGBT people and their activity as far back as Giraldus Cambrensis’ Journey Through Wales in the twelfth century where he reports on ‘bearded women’ and other hermaphrodites. Other subjects include Edward II and Hugh DeSpenser, seventeenth century poet Katherine Philips, the Ladies of Llangollen, Henry Paget, artists Gwen John and Cedric Morris, and actor Cliff Gordon.

Caradoc Evans: The Devil in Eden by John Harris: £19.99 

Caradoc Evans Devil in Eden John HarrisIn Caradoc Evans: The Devil in Eden John Harris has written the definitive biography of Welsh author Caradoc Evans. He investigates what lay behind his writing, and its impact on Wales and beyond. Evans is revealed as a polemicist on issues like the rights of workers, the conduct of the Great War, and the status of women. A leading London journalist, Evans had a popular weekly column in which he responded to readers’ views in trenchant fashion. As Harris argues, challenging convention was his life’s work. Extensively researched and brilliantly written, it is a revelatory and necessary insight into the man, his country and his times.

 

Books for Nature Lovers

Wild Places UK: UK’s Top 40 Nature Sites by Iolo Williams: £19.99 

In 2016 television naturalist Iolo Williams brought us the definitive guide to the top nature sites in Wales. Now he returns with a guide to his top 40 sites in the UK. From Hermaness on Shetland to the London Wetland Centre, from Dungeness in Kent to Loch Neagh, Williams criss-crosses the country. Lavishly illustrated, author and book aim to introduce a new audience to the delights of the UK, be they armchair naturalists or, more importantly, visitors to the forty sites Williams has selected.

Waterfalls of Stars by Rosanne Alexander: £12.99 

Waterfalls of Stars Rosanne AlexanderWhen Rosanne Alexander’s boyfriend Mike was offered the job of warden of Skomer Island, they had just ten days to leave college, marry (a condition of employment) and gather their belongings and provisions for the trip to the island. With great sensitivity, and humour, Rosanne Alexander relates their experiences, including her observations of the island’s wildlife and landscape. With her lyrical evocation of the natural world and its enthusiastic and resourceful approach to the problems of island life, Waterfalls of Stars will inspire and entertain anyone who has felt the need for escape.

Once by Andrew McNeillie: £9.99 

Once is the journey from boyhood to the threshold of manhood of poet Andrew McNeillie. From an aeroplane crossing north Wales the middle-aged writer looks down on the countryside of his childhood and recalls an almost fabulous world now lost to him. Ordinary daily life and education in Llandudno shortly after the war are set against an extraordinary life lived close to nature in some of the wilder parts of Snowdonia. Continually crossing the border between town and country, a fly-fisherman by the age of ten, McNeillie relives his life in nature during a period of increasing urbanisation.

 

Books for Poetry Fanatics

Erato by Deryn Rees-Jones: £9.99 

Named after the Greek muse of lyric poetry, Erato combines documentary-style prose narratives with the passionate lyric poetry for which Rees-Jones is renowned. Here, however, as she experiments with form, particularly the sonnet, Rees-Jones asks questions about the value of the poet and poetry itself.  Erato’s themes are manifold but particularly focus on personal loss, desire and recovery, in the context of a world in which wars and displacement of people has become a terrifying norm.
Shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize.

Gen by Jonathan Edwards: £9.99 

Jonathan Edwards GenGen is a book of lions and rock stars, street parties and servants, postmen and voices. In the opening sequence’s exploration of youth and young manhood, the author sets his own Valleys upbringing against the ’50s youth of his parents and the experience of a range of pop culture icons, including Kurt Cobain and Harry Houdini. Other poems place a Valleys village and the characters who live in it alongside explorations of Welsh history and prehistory, and the collection concludes with a selection of sometimes witty, sometimes heartfelt love poems.

Regional Poetry Pamphlets: £5.00

Our new series of poetry pamphlets celebrates the beauty, history and lively everyday goings-on in four areas of Wales: Pembrokeshire, Snowdonia, the Borders, and the capital city of Cardiff. Each pamphlet comes with an envelope and a postcard – the perfect stocking filler for your loved ones this Christmas.

 

 

Twelve Poems for Christmas: £5 

This sparkling selection of Christmas poems is the perfect stocking filler for any poetry addict. These are poems full of feeling that resist cliché, that touch on classic ‘Christmas’ themes, but bring them to life from fresh perspectives. The pamphlet opens with Pippa Little’s lyrical and tender poem, ‘St. Leonore and the Robin’, and features poems both humorous and contemplative. Small enough to send with (or instead of) a card, this is the perfect festive treat for your loved ones.

 

Books for Cooks

The Occasional Vegan by Sarah Philpott: £12.99 

The Occasional Vegan Sarah PhilpottThe Occasional Vegan is a collection of 70 simple, affordable and delicious recipes, suitable for newcomers and long-time vegans alike, that will keep you well-fed and healthy. Author Sarah Philpott’s recipes are accompanied by the story of her own journey to becoming a vegan, exploring the ethical and lifestyle arguments for a plant-based diet.  Food lover Philpott shows that embracing veganism certainly doesn’t need to break the bank. Her recipes are homely and easily cooked, suitable for old and young, gourmet cooks and the kitchen novice.

 

Books for Music Lovers

Just Help Yourself by Vernon Hopkins: £9.99 

Just Help Yourself Vernon Hopkins1960. Britain stood at the cusp of new times. In Pontypridd, sixteen-year-old Vernon Hopkins had just found a new singer for his band: a local boy who would come to be known as Tom Jones. Just Help Yourself tells the full story of The Senators – soon to become The Squires – and their lead singer Tom Jones. Vernon Hopkins’ authentic narrative is a revealing look at the highs and lows of the music business, and of London in the allegedly Swinging Sixties. Full of gritty detail about life in Pontypridd, and with great insight into the music business, it is a cautionary tale of ambition and success. Illustrated with previously unseen photographs from the author’s archive.

The Roots of Rock, from Cardiff to Mississippi and Back by Peter Finch: £9.99 

The Roots of Rock, from Cardiff to Mississippi and BackPeter Finch follows the trail of twentieth century popular music from a 1950s valve radio playing in a suburban Cardiff terrace to the reality of the music among the bars of Ireland, the skyscrapers of New York, the plains of Tennessee, the flatlands of Mississippi and the mountains of North Carolina. The Roots of Rock mixes musical autobiography with an exploration of the physical places from which this music comes. It is a demonstration of the power of music to create a world for the listener that is simultaneously of and beyond the place in which it is heard. It also considers how music has changed during this time, from the culture-shaping (revolutionising) 50s and 60s to the present day.

 

Books for Horizon Gazers

No Far Shore: Charting Unknown Waters by Anne-Marie Fyfe: £9.99 

No Far Shore is no ordinary exploration of coastlines. Anne-Marie Fyfe combines travel writing, history, memoir and poetry in an intriguing meditation on the sea, that explores the unsettledness of living on the boundary between two elements. She explores countless coastlines, her own family history and the works of a number of writers for whom the coast has been influential along the way.

 

Losing Israel by Jasmine Donahaye: £12.99 

In 2007, in a chance conversation with her mother, a kibbutznik, Jasmine Donahaye stumbled upon the collusion of her family in the displacement of Palestinians in 1948. She set out to learn the story of what happened, and discovered an earlier and rarely discussed piece of history during the British Mandate in Palestine. Losing Israel is a moving and honest account which spans travel writing, nature writing and memoir. Through the author’s personal situation it explores the powerful and competing attachments that people feel about their country and its history, by attempting to understand and reconcile her conflicted attachments, rooted in her family story – and in a love of Israel’s birds.

The Road to Zagora by Richard Collins: £9.99 

When Richard Collins was diagnosed with a progressive incurable disease in 2006 he decided to see as much of the world as he could while his condition allowed. The result is The Road to Zagora, a singular travel book which takes in India, Nepal, Turkey, Morocco, Peru, Equador and Wales. With ‘Mr Parkinson’, as Collins refers to his condition, by their side, he and his partner Flic decide to continue to travel ‘close to the land’ post diagnosis, leaving the tourist trails and visiting places of extremes: the Himalayas, rainforests, deserts. The story of their travels is collected here in a memorable journey around the world, and the self.

 

Books for Fans of Biography and Memoir

The Longest Farewell by Nula Suchet: £12.99 

When Nula’s husband James, an Irish documentary filmmaker, becomes forgetful they put it down to the stress of his work. But his behaviour becomes more erratic, and he is eventually diagnosed as suffering from Pick’s Disease, an early onset and aggressive form of dementia. The Longest Farewell is the true story of Nula’s fight with her husband’s disease, and how this terrible time held a happy ending.

 

Tide-Race by Brenda Chamberlain: £9.99 

Tide-Race is a remarkable account of life on Bardsey (known as Ynys Enlli to Welsh speakers), a remote and mysterious island off the coast of North Wales. Brenda Chamberlain lived on the island from 1947 to 1961, during the last days of its hardy community. The combination of Bardsey, ancient site of Christian pilgrimage, wild and dangerous landscape, and Brenda Chamberlain, Royal Academy trained artist, results in a classic book, vividly illustrated by the author’s line drawings.

Jim Neat: The Case of a Remarkable Man Down on his Luck by Mary J. Oliver: £9.99 

Jim Neat is a remarkable evocation of the seemingly fractured life of Mary J. Oliver’s father. Tinged with the tragedy of his partner’s death and an orphaned daughter, it ranges across the history of 20th century England and Canada. Using the few documents of Jim’s life and a combination of poetry and prose, Oliver adopts a legal structure, making ‘the case’ for the worth of his life. The result is a fascinating and engaging book unlike any other memoir.

 

Books for Art Connoisseurs

Welsh Quilts by Jen Jones: £12.99 

Welsh Quilts Jen JonesWelsh Quilts is an authoritative guide to the history and art of the quilt in Wales. It is the result of expert author Jen Jones’ researches into the subject and her desire to revive what had been a gloriously high-quality craft. Illustrated with beautiful images of the bold designs and intricate stitching of the quilts in her own collection, Welsh Quilts is the essential book on the subject, whether you are a quilter yourself, or simply interested in quilting heritage.

Jonah Jones: An Artist’s Life by Peter Jones: £14.99 

Sculptor, painter, letter cutter, stained glass artist, novelist, academic and administrator; Jonah Jones (1919-2004) was a twentieth century renaissance man. His son Peter looks back on his life, from growing up in a mining family in Newcastle, through his experiences in a non-combatant role in the Medical Corps during the Second World War, to the people and places that fired his passion to become an artist. Jonah Jones: An Artist’s Life is a considered look at the life of one of Wales’ most successful artists.

Try the Wilderness First : Eric Gill and David Jones at Capel-y-Ffin by Jonathan Miles: £12.99 

Try the Wilderness First is the only study devoted to controversial artist Eric Gill’s artistic and religious community in the Black Mountains of Wales during the 1920s, told through the character and work of Gill himself and David Jones, two of Britain’s most significant twentieth century artists. In it, Jonathan Miles explores the influences of place, culture and religion on artistic practice and investigates the effect of the Black Mountains and of Gill’s community on the work of these two important British artists, both at the time and in the future.

Books for Photographers

Living in Wales by David Hurn: £25.00 

Living in Wales is an album of one hundred and one duotone portraits of people who, in the words of David Hurn ‘have enriched my life and that of Wales.’ It is a roster of the famous and distinguished in the fields of science, business, the arts, sport, the law, health, media, politics and religion. Beautifully composed, and shot with David’s characteristic flair for detail, the photographs linger on the physicality of the person, a telling prop pushing the image towards the possibility of narrative. Here is a photographer on inspirational form.

Taken in Time by John Briggs: £14.95 

Photographer John Briggs continues his project to document change in the Cardiff docklands, revisiting the sites and people memorably recorded in Before the Deluge. In the last thirty years landmark buildings have been demolished, docks filled in, the barrage built, maritime businesses closed, and streets disappeared. In their place, a huge redevelopment scheme, gentrification, and tourism. With characteristic honesty and an eye for compelling detail, John Briggs brings these changes to a wider audience in this not to be missed book.

 

Still not found what you’re looking for? Browse our website for more inspiration.

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Seren Christmas Pop-up Shop Returns to Chapter!

From the 16 – 20 December our Christmas pop-up shop will be back at Chapter in Cardiff to satisfy all your last minute present buying needs.

You’re guaranteed to find something for everyone amongst the books on sale so come along and have a browse. From stocking fillers like our fantastic regional poetry pamphlets, to gripping new fiction like Alexandra Ford’s What Remains at the End and fascinating non-fiction titles like the new Wild Places UK by Iolo Williams. Or for something extra special, why not trust us to do the choosing for you with one of our mystery fiction or poetry bundles?

Already got all your presents? Then come along and top up your 2020 to be read pile or find some fantastic books to fill the blissful amount of reading time you’ll have over the holidays.

We’ll see you there.

An Interview with Alexandra Ford

A forgotten history, a lifetime of secrecy and one woman’s search for the truth.

Alexandra Ford’s debut novel What Remains at the End sheds light on the lesser-known history of the former Yugoslavia’s ethnic Germans – the Danube Swabians – and the horrors inflicted on them in the aftermath of World War II under Tito’s partisan regime. In this interview, we talk to her about writing the book, its themes and what she might have in store for us with her next novel.

 

What Remains at the End focuses on the forgotten history of Yugoslavia’s ethnic Germans—the Danube Swabians. What first drew you to this topic?

Like Marie, I have a family connection to this history. My grandparents were survivors of the expulsion. And much like Marie’s grandparents, my Oma and Opa, while they spoke a lot about the war, didn’t go into detail about what had happened to them, to their communities. So, in many respects, researching for and writing this book was my own way of grappling with and understanding my family’s history.

What was it like doing research for this book and where did you focus your search? Have you visited any of the places Marie travels to in her own search for answers?

Researching for this book was a challenge. I interviewed my grandparents when they were still alive, but unfortunately, we’re at the point where many of the people who lived through World War II are gone. At least in the English language, there aren’t many written resources available, and the resources I did find were often written and compiled by people with a strong connection to the history. So, they weren’t academic texts, you could say, and there was a lot of understandable emotion—anger, indignation, horror—written into them. Which didn’t always make them reliable sources. But they were human, and they were primarily composed of personal stories as told by victims. Which is what I was most interested in as a writer—that and those grey areas of morality in Western culture.

And yes, I visited pretty much all of the places Marie travels to in her search for answers. I think it would have been very difficult to write this book without having seen Vojvodina and these places where so much horror took place—both for the historical short pieces and for the modern narrative, to understand what Marie would have felt living her experience.

The book shifts between 1940s Yugoslavia and modern day, connecting Marie’s journey with the experiences of her grandparents. What made you decide on this structure to tell their story? Are the historical sequences based on real events?

This book began with the historical pieces. The first one I wrote was the one about Emma Marzluft and her family being forcibly removed from their home. I created the characters and put them into very real, researched circumstances. A number of my stories came in this way. Others drew heavily on personal accounts. Which is a very roundabout way of saying yes, these stories are based on real events, real people, real places, often real details.

The structure didn’t take long to follow. I knew I needed something to balance the bleakness and violence of the historical pieces, something that wouldn’t trap me in the same place as my resources: coming across as indignant or self-righteous, leading me—and readers—down a path that doesn’t differ terribly from hate. The book needed to make room for complication in the landscape, and paradox, if only because it’s arrogant to believe we are incapable of the things other people have done, that we are better. Maybe we’re not. Western culture as a whole has a lot of blood on its hands.

I also felt it was important to show who these surviving victims became and perhaps why their stories have remained unspoken into the present day. So, I knew what I needed, but I didn’t know how to build it. It was actually in conversation with one of my mentors that I realised Marie was my way forward. I told my mentor about my upcoming trip to the former Yugoslavia, my connection to this story, and she said, ‘That’s it. That’s the answer.’ And it was like someone pulled open a window blind and all the light came rushing in.

You often opt to describe the horrors inflicted on Yugoslavia’s ethnic Germans through the eyes of a child. What was it about the child’s voice that made you choose them as key narrators of these events?

Part of this, I think, is that, of the personal accounts I’d heard or read, many had come from people who were children during the war. If they were old enough to be telling me their stories, as my grandparents were, they could only have been children at the time. And sometimes in their retellings, I could hear the childhood language they may have used to describe it all before they grew up. It made sense for me to tell it from that point of view. But also, I find something particularly compelling about a child’s perspective. They can be much wiser than adults. They speak a language more evocative and open than grown up language allows.

What Remains at the End makes the reader consider several moral themes that will be challenging for some: ethnic cleansing, racial prejudice, infidelity. Do you think it’s important to challenge readers by discussing difficult/undiscussed topics?

Absolutely. Where, if not in books, can one wade through these things? I love the space fiction leaves for the reader to think and feel their way through complicated issues. I look for that, as a reader. Life is complicated—both personally and on a macro level. Getting stuck into moral dilemmas is part of what it means to be human. But I acknowledge that some of the themes in this novel are particularly challenging. They were challenging for me as well. I asked myself often if anyone would even want to read about ethnic German victims of World War II. If it was right to tell the story of German victims, if the process of doing so would belittle the millions of victims of the Holocaust. But what I came to, and what I hope readers come to as well, is that it’s important for us to look at our history in its entirety. Because if we don’t look at all the things that have made us, how do we know who we are?

Your book has a dual purpose, firstly to entertain readers, secondly to shed light on a lesser known but significant part of history. Why did you think it was important to bring the horrors of these events to light and why now?

It certainly feels relevant to share this story today. We’re in the throes of Brexit, after all. So much has changed in the decades since WWII, but not as much as one might hope. Donald Trump, the rise in anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, right-wing populism—Western society is swinging the pendulum back toward nationalism and the rhetoric of otherness. I never thought I’d quote Mark Twain, but here I am. He said, and I’m paraphrasing: history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

Sometimes those rhymes are riddles. Sometimes they’re terrifying echoes. But we have to know the lines that came before to feel the rhyme. And this seems a pretty good time to brush up on our poetry.

This is your first novel, although you have been writing for a while. How did the process differ from what you have done before and how did you find the process? Was it harder than you expected?

The biggest difference between the writing I had done before and What Remains at the End was moving from short forms into writing a longer narrative. I felt comfortable in the world of short and very short fiction, where you have to be super economical with your writing to pack a whole story into a small space. Longer narratives don’t work in quite the same way, so there was definitely a learning curve. Weaving the historical short pieces through Marie’s story was surprisingly one of the more intuitive parts of the process. But I suppose the thing that was most difficult, and definitely harder than I expected, was how long it took to revise. It took two years to write what I felt was a strong first draft—and five years of revisions after that before it was finished. I learned the importance of embracing a book’s evolution and to accept that that evolution takes time. And it needs people. Writing a book is not a solitary journey.

You are currently working on your second novel. Will it be exploring similar themes or are you looking at something different the second time around?

It’s early days for my second novel, so it’s difficult to talk about with clarity. I’ll continue exploring challenging themes, but with a much more acute scope. It will tell the story of two women isolated together in a rundown house—a mother and her grown daughter—as they navigate life, death, grief, and healing from past trauma. I don’t know if it will be a book about forgiveness, but it will be a book about the idea of home, about memory and longing. And about morally complicated people doing the best they can and coming to terms with the possibility that their best isn’t enough for their loved ones. If it turns out as planned, it’ll be a bit of a dysfunctional Marches pastoral. But one thing I’ve learned is that the process of writing a book is full of surprises. So, we’ll have to wait and see, but it feels really good to be writing something new, not knowing where it might lead.

 

What Remains at the End is available to pre-order on the Seren website: £9.99.

Join us for the official launch of What Remains at the End at The Hurst (The John Osbourne Arvon Centre, SY7 0JA) on Saturday 23rd November from 4pm. Alexandra will be reading from the book and there will be wine, cake and a signing afterwards. 

Short Story of the Month – ‘Jumping Off’ by Sarah Evans

Our new short story of the month is ‘Jumping Off’ by Sarah Evans.

Emma, a female wildlife photographer, is filming a family of barnacle geese. As the fluffy chicks take their first steps into the world, the cliff-edge of uncertainty lies before them. But what lies ahead in her own life, and is it worth the risk?

Sarah Evans has had many short stories published in anthologies, literary journals and online. She has been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and been awarded prizes by, amongst others: Words and Women, Stratford Literary Festival and the Bridport Prize. Her work is also included in several Unthology volumes, Best New Writing and Shooter magazine.

 

Jumping Off

This is an extract. Read the full story for free on the Seren website.

Emma trained her binoculars on the ledge set high into the cliff-side. The grey was flecked by mustard-coloured lichen, the monotony broken by twigs poking out from a sprawling nest. It was one heck of a hike.

‘You OK with it?’ Chris asked, eyes creased with concern; clearly she looked as crap as she felt.

‘Sure.’ It was her turn, she had sod-else to do and no way was she playing on feminine weakness.

‘Best route starts just behind that outcrop.’

She strapped her camera across her back and listened with impatience – unfair, he was being helpful – as nausea rose; if she was about to puke, she didn’t need an audience.

‘I’ll be fine.’ Only one way up.

It felt good, stretching thigh muscles and easing into the climb, following the path that meandered round the side of the sheer face. Breathing in the frozen nothing helped to settle the rebellion in her gut. A boulder barred her way and she sought hand and footholds to scramble up. Her foot slipped as she heard the penetrating rise and fall of a wolf-whistle. What the hell…? She twisted her head to peer down. Simon’s long-nosed lens was pointed her way – on her stuck-out arse no doubt – and his arm was waving mockingly.

Damn it! How could she have been so mind-blowingly stupid.

She reached the top of the rock and paused to sip water, swallowing all that idiocy down. Now was not the time to dwell on her current disaster.

Eventually, she reached the stone-strewn top, hauling herself up into the blast of wind. She was heaving for oxygen, muscle-sore and sweat-drenched as she bent into the gale and stumbled towards the cliff-face. Getting closer, she crouched onto all fours. Closer still and she was crawling on her stomach like a lizard.

Her hands grasped the edge, rocks crumbling under her grip. Cautiously she eased herself forward until she could see the line of the drop. The nest was below and to the right. She unstrapped her camera, securing it in a hollow, the lens providing a magnified view. Sticks and moss stuck out from beneath the black-white body of the female goose. No sign either of eggs, or of the male, though he would be out there, somewhere, faithfully performing his duty, finding food – somehow – amidst the desolate landscape. The nest-site was optimal in terms of avoiding predators; in every other respect the choice seemed downright irresponsible.

Just as she had been. She clenched her hands, inhaling the scent of sour clothes. Six weeks ago, she’d spruced herself up for the TV awards ceremony. She’d mingled with the bubbling crowds and answered questions about her job. How exciting, people gushed. All that visiting far flung places and capturing spectacular sequences on film.

The reality was months away from home in the most inconveniently remote locations. No sanitation, shelter or communication. Always too hot or frozen solid, too dry or dripping with deluge, crawling with insect life or harbouring predators. But the worst of it was the mind-numbing tedium. Wildlife neither appeared nor performed on demand.

Small rocks spiked her breasts, thighs and belly; her neck was stiff from craning. Come on goose! Budge! She couldn’t leave without an update. The barnacle goose stood, unsteady on her spindly legs, and waddled to the edge of the nest. Two eggs lay there. Dirt-yellow. And starting to crack.

Continue reading ‘Jumping Off’  for free here

Short Story of the Month | ‘Hands’ by Rebecca Ruth Gould

Our new short story of the month is ‘Hands’ by Rebecca Ruth Gould.

 

‘What struck her most about him were his hands. They were long and lanky, like his body. Even more remarkable than their shape was the way he used them.’

 

Rebecca Ruth Gould’s work has appeared in NimrodKenyon ReviewTin HouseHudson ReviewWaxwingWasafiri, and Poetry Wales. She is the author of Writers and Rebels (Yale University Press, 2016) and translator of After Tomorrow the Days Disappear: Ghazals and Other Poems of Hasan Sijzi of Delhi (Northwestern University Press, 2016) and The Death of Bagrat Zakharych and other Stories by Vazha-Pshavela (Paper & Ink, 2019). A Pushcart Prize nominee, she was a finalist for the Luminaire Award for Best Poetry in 2017. She lives in Bristol and teaches at the University of Birmingham.

 

Hands

 

This is an extract. Read the full story for free on the Seren website.

 

What struck her most about him were his hands. They were long and lanky, like his body. Even more remarkable than their shape was the way he used them. When they first met, he shook her hands boldly and directly, as if it were a perfectly normal thing to do and not a violation of the law in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Taken aback, she forgot to respond. Her hand hung limply in his palm, until he dislodged it.

Just the day prior, she had read about a poet who had been arrested after returning from abroad, for shaking a woman’s hand. She wanted to warn him: You shouldn’t do that. You might end up in jail for shaking my hands. But he must know what he was doing, she reasoned, and who was she to tell him how to behave in his own country?

His hands didn’t fit anywhere, not in his pockets, or at his sides. They dangled oddly from his arms, like an expert swimmer more at home in a lake than on dry land. The lines on his palms were long, stretching from his wrist to his index fingers. If a fortune-teller—like the one she had just consulted with in Hafez’s tomb in Shiraz—had been asked to read his palms she would have predicted for him a long life, a fulfilling marriage and many children. His hands were like an autonomous body. She imagined them keeping her warm at night, soothing the aches in her back, providing a resting ground for her lips, caressing her hips.

Before they said goodbye that magical night in Tehran, she asked him why he decided to shake her hand. Without answer he waxed lyrical, in a different direction. “I dream of working wonders with my hands,” he said, “I want to become a perfumist. I want to make magic potions and aphrodisiacs based on ancient Iranian traditions.” Although it was not an answer, it opens a new mysterious horizon onto his soul. She wanted to know more.

Continue reading ‘Hands’  for free here

Short Story of the Month | ‘The Purging’ by Drew Martyn

Our new Short Story of the Month is ‘The Purging’ by Drew Martyn.

 

‘One cloud and a couple of vapour trails lazed against a heat-paled blue sky and a warm afternoon slid slowly into evening; I was aware of none of it. I was seventeen and cool, she was sixteen and hot: that’s all you can see at that age.’

In the lazy days of summer, two teenagers are forced to grow up quickly as they are thrown into the real world by events beyond their control.

 

Drew and his family live in Wales where he enjoys writing, football, music and real ales. He’s had dark fiction published in a number of print anthologies including Horror Library volume 5 and Fortune: Lost and Found as well as online and in magazines including Isotropic Fiction and Dark Tales. In Heroic Fantasy Quarterly (May 2017) he toyed with sword and sorcery prose-poetry. In the past he’s also contributed articles and conducted interviews for a UK soccer website. If asked about inspiration, he’d witter on forever about Ray Bradbury, William Trevor and especially Georges Perec, so probably best not to…

 

The Purging

This is an extract. Read the full short story for free on the Seren website.

One cloud and a couple of vapour trails lazed against a heat-paled blue sky and a warm afternoon slid slowly into evening; I was aware of none of it. I was seventeen and cool, she was sixteen and hot: that’s all you can see at that age.

Her name was Alison. She had a body to turn heads and a face to turn hearts, and I swallowed hard and said something inane at the first smile she gave me. It was summer holidays, no school, time for fun. Time for growing up into the real world – and I had a lot of growing up to do and not much time to do it in.

She took me home to meet her family.

I’d heard a few things about them, mostly from Alison. That was ok: listen to her stories and her family were okay. But I heard rumours too. And then someone told someone else who told someone who told me… and those rumours I didn’t like one bit.

But, anyway, we were here, walking onto her estate. The people we passed looked surprisingly ok. Normal. They didn’t have two heads, or bite the heads off kittens or carry machetes or grenades. They didn’t snarl or even growl as we walked past. Most of them didn’t even frown.

It was a typical housing estate: a warren of streets, narrow alleys and short cuts, cars half-off half-on the pavement, some tidy front gardens, a few of them anyway, some just rubbish tips for the couldn’t care less brigade.

“My house is just up here,” Alison said as we turned a corner. I slowed the pace.

“It’s ok,” she reassured me, laughing. “Honest.”

We passed a few bedraggled houses, the ubiquitous mattress in one of the front gardens, a rusty pram in another. And then, for no apparent reason, the houses suddenly looked cleaner, more looked-after. It took me a few yards to realise it was because they didn’t have flaking paint on the doors and windows. And the cars were parked properly. And the lawns were mowed. Lawns? I realised these houses here had the first grass and flowers in front of them that I’d seen on the estate.

“Mine,” said Alison, opening a wrought iron gate. It squeaked a bit as we walked through. I suppose it had to give some sort of nod to the neighbourhood. Or a warning to those inside the house.

That thought both scared me and made me realise I was being a snob. Ew no; one didn’t tolerate unoiled hinges where I came from, certainly not.

I can be a prat sometimes, I reminded myself.

On the other hand this house even had coaching lamps, shiny and polished, each side of the front door. Nice. Bit over the top, common maybe, but nice.

I can be judgemental, too. Goes with being a prat.

Shit, she was opening the front door! I hung back but she grabbed my hand and pulled me along like some toy dog. A waft of soap and Brut hit me as we walked in. I was about to meet the family.

 

This is what I knew of them:

Da had a reputation that could scratch diamonds, and fists to match. This town was his town.

Ma loved her own. For everyone else there were razors and bullets, mostly wielded by her tongue. Mostly (apparently).

Big brother Paul took one look at me and said: “Get her pregnant and you marry her, or you’ll never see her again.” This wasn’t a threat, this was a vision.

I didn’t listen. I didn’t care. After all, I reasoned, what’s sight worth, when love itself is blind? Oh yeah, I’m a romantic. Bit of a poet, me.

In other words, an all round total prat.

 

Inside, her house gave no indication of being anything special. It looked sort of nice. Tidy, like. No dead bodies. No suitcases full of money. And definitely no guns.

“Hi Da,” said Alison.

Da stood in front of a large sideboard mirror shaving with a cutthroat razor, a bowl of soap suds in front of him, his white vest splashed grey with soapy water, his braces hanging to his knees.  A radio in an upstairs room spoke loudly of last year’s moon landing and something about The Beatles disbanding.

As soon as I appeared, Da turned into a statue, the razor blade slicing my reflection, only his eyes moving, following me.

“You Mike?”

“Yessir.”

Even if I wasn’t, I’d have had to say “Yessir” to that voice.

“Don’t call me ‘Sir’. Don’t call nobody ‘Sir’. When you’re with my girl, other people call you ‘Sir’. Understand?”

I almost said “Yessir.” Instead, I said “So they should.”

It was the right thing to say. He chuckled and carried on shaving.

“Thanks Daddy!” Alison said, grinning.

Mam called out “Alison” and Alison led me into the kitchen. Mam wiped her hands on a tea-towel and threw it onto the sink before turning around to face us.

She looked at me for a second, then “Why don’t you sit down, love?” in a way that said, quietly and gently, “Sit down or I’ll rip your throat out.”

So I sat down.

She looked me up and down. Like Alison, she had big blue eyes, but Mam’s were a mother’s eyes, an assessor’s eyes, looking for weapons and chinks in armour.

I looked at Alison.

Mam leaned forward. That meant “Stop looking at her. Look at me, good boy!”

She said “Still in school, love?”

I nearly lied, saying I had a job, maybe that would go down better. Mothers liked that sort of thing: mature young man and all that.

What came out was “Yes, I am.”

Mam’s eyes smiled then and she nodded. “It’s good you didn’t lie to me,” she whispered. I felt like she could see into my soul, and I blushed. Not cool.

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