Sunday, 17 November 2019

A Guest Post About Nothing: Nancy Schumann

On 29th November, we’re having a belated birthday party for Nothing, an anthology of short stories I edited for Hic Dragones (writing as Hannah Kate). In the run-up to our not-quite-a-launch party, I’ve invited some of the authors whose work is included in the book to tell me a bit about their story.

Today’s guest is Nancy Schumann, author of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Square’, one of the stories in Nothing.

How do get your ideas?

Every writer gets asked that question. It’s common that people want to know where the ideas for stories come from. The truth is that ideas are everywhere. Ideas are the easy part. Turning the idea into a story is what makes writers writers.

Publishers make things interesting by putting out calls for stories on occasion. So what you get is a short brief for a themed collection that doesn’t exist yet. It’s a tantalising challenge asking you to come with a story that fits under that theme (while also fitting a more or less specified format).

I love those, not the format specs, the themes. Hic Dragones have come up with a few great ones. None more so than this recent collection: Nothing.

What a marvellous title for a book. What a great title for a story. A word literally describing the absence of anything opens endless possibilities for what that story could contain. I read that title for the collection and immediately started thinking ‘nothing’ for days.

In my head ‘Nothing’ was the title of my story, but there wasn’t a story yet. There was just this beautiful word dancing around in my head waiting, trying to make contact. Because ideas are easy. Writing is not. So ‘Nothing’ existed as an idea long before it was a story.

Now, my story that is now in the anthology Nothing has a different title. It’s called ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Square’. One, and possible the only real reason, for that is that, well, Hic Dragones had chosen Nothing to be name of the book. Can’t very well steal that title for a story within that book then. And I really did want to have a story in this anthology both because of its beautiful title and because of the lovely people that are Hic Dragones.

So how did that nebulous idea turn into a story? Well, I went on a little holiday. I stayed in a very nice hotel. The bathroom of our room had an interesting design. It was a bit like stepping into a very stylish disco. The walls and floor had black tiles that sparkled is if there was a disco ball spinning from the ceiling. There was no disco ball, just to be clear on that point. The effect looked quite stunning to be fair. It was also kind of irritating. Wherever I looked in that bathroom things were sparkly. Also, the wall and floor tiles looked the same. I had to really concentrate on stepping out of the bath carefully to not fall over, to not feel dizzy.

You may have guessed from that pretty long paragraph about a hotel bathroom that those tiles did take their toll on me. All that pretty sparkliness kept me entertained for days. And on one of those days there was one particular sparkle on one particular tile. I expect it was nothing but the position of the light in relation to the position of myself, really, but that little sparkle kept sparkling right at me. As if it was trying to communicate. Of course it wasn’t. Not really. It couldn’t. It’s just a bit of silver in a black tile. It’s nothing.

Nothing. There it was. Right there, ‘Nothing’ turned into a story. Well, I didn’t know where the story would take me yet but I did know where it started. So I got out my trusty laptop and started to write about that little, sparkly spot in the bathroom. Much to the amusement and irritation of the friends I was with, who couldn’t help but observe that I’d started writing. Well, yes, I am a writer. It’s kind of what I do. I was furiously typing on, not letting the conversation interrupt me. I didn’t react when the furious typing was commented on. The conversation continued, as the next observation followed, that clearly an idea must have struck me just prior to my starting to write. At this point, I started to threaten dire consequences to my mood for the rest of the day should I not be left alone to finish my writing.

Well, my threat was never realised. We are still friends and the story was finished, albeit not all in one sitting in that hotel room. Once the idea found words, the story flowed onto the page without so much as making conscious contact with my mind. I just told it until it was finished. And then, then, I spent a really long time trying to come up with a name for it that was not ‘Nothing’. That, in the end, was probably the hardest part, all things considered. It was the last thing I finished before the submission deadline. It was the thing I definitely expected I’d be asked to change about the story if it was accepted. But there you are, the story did get accepted and the title wasn’t changed. It’s one of my favourite stories that I’ve written, because of its odd creation story and because I really like what became of it. I’m happy and proud to be a part of the finished anthology that now is Nothing. Happy belated book birthday!

In addition to academic texts on female vampires, Nancy Schumann enjoys writing fiction in both German and English. A number of poems have been published in a variety of books and magazines, such as the Frankfurter Bibliothek des zeitgenössischen Gedichts, annual German poetry collection from 2000 to present, and Gothic II and III. Short stories include ‘The Hostel’, published by Hic Dragones in the Impossible Spaces anthology, and Fanged Flowers (available for Kindle). Nancy also does translations between German and English.

The Belated Birthday Party for Nothing is on Friday 29th November, 7pm, at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Cambridge Street, Manchester. It’s a free event, with readers from the authors and launch party discount on the books. For more information, or to book a ticket, please click here.

A Guest Post About Nothing: David Turnbull

On 29th November, we’re having a belated birthday party for Nothing, an anthology of short stories I edited for Hic Dragones (writing as Hannah Kate). In the run-up to our not-quite-a-launch party, I’ve invited some of the authors whose work is included in the book to tell me a bit about their story.

Today’s guest is David Turnbull, author of ‘Traps’, one of the stories in Nothing.

Happy belated birthday to the editors and all the authors featured in Nothing.

My story in the anthology is called ‘Traps’. It’s about the traps the main characters set and the traps they get caught in. It takes place in the bleak, ash covered landscape of a post-apocalyptic world.

I have a penchant for post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction, both reading it and writing it. I could cite dozens of influences, ranging from iconic works by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley and more recent classics by Margaret Atwood and Cormac McCarthy.

But I wanted to take this opportunity to sing praises of a reasonably well-known author who is not widely recognised as being one of the pioneers this type of fiction. Namely, Jack London.

As a fiction writer, London is best known for nature-driven adventure novels such as The Call of the Wild and White Fang. He is equally known as a political essayist and campaigning social commentator, particularly with The People of the Abyss, a 1902 exposé of poverty in London’s East End.

He is lesser known, however, for his forays into what would now be considered the science fiction genre. The two Jack London novels I want to mention here are very much precursors of how later writers would develop the post-apocalyptic and dystopian themes he explored.

The Scarlet Plague is a short novel first published in the London Magazine in 1912. It’s set in San Francisco in the year 2073 and takes place in the aftermath of a global pandemic which has depopulated the world. The main character is a former English Professor who survived the scarlet plague and is travelling through an overgrown and transformed landscape with his 2 grandsons. He attempts to recount what life was like in America before the coming of the plague, but this all seems extremely far-fetched to the boys who have grown up in a primitive society with limited language skills and no access to technology.

Released 4 years earlier, The Iron Heel, is also set in San Francisco.

A much longer novel than The Scarlet Plague, its structure is quite unique in that the main story takes the form of a manuscript introduced by a scholar living in a socialist Utopia in the year 2600. The manuscript itself has a female protagonist, Avis Everard. It depicts the struggles of herself and her husband in the underground resistance during the terrifying rise to power of a totalitarian right-wing dictatorship in the two decades from 1912 to 1932. Like his contemporary H.G. Wells had managed in novels such as The Shape of Things to Come, London in The Iron Heel eerily predicts events that would actually come to pass. The rise of Fascism, Japan’s conquest of South East Asia, and Indian independence to name but three.

Given both these novels were written over a century ago it’s both surprising and frightening that their central themes are so close to our gloomy present-day reality. Both novels have stood the test of time and remain enjoyable and thought-provoking reads.

So, if you are looking to go back to the beginning and trace the lineage of both post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction, I would recommend giving Jack London’s classic science fiction outings a read. Who knows? They may inspire you to either predict your own bleak version of the future or even destroy civilisation in some unique and original manner.

David Turnbull hails originally from Scotland, but now resides in London. His short fiction has appeared in dozens of anthologies, magazines and online sites, as well as being performed at live events such as Liars League, Solstice Shorts and Alt Fiction.

The Belated Birthday Party for Nothing is on Friday 29th November, 7pm, at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Cambridge Street, Manchester. It’s a free event, with readers from the authors and launch party discount on the books. For more information, or to book a ticket, please click here.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

A Guest Post About Nothing: Tony Rabig

On 29th November, we’re having a belated birthday party for Nothing, an anthology of short stories I edited for Hic Dragones (writing as Hannah Kate). In the run-up to our not-quite-a-launch party, I’ve invited some of the authors whose work is included in the book to tell me a bit about their story.

Today’s guest is Tony Rabig, author of ‘The Hole is Waiting’, one of the stories in Nothing.

It’s been a while since ‘The Hole is Waiting’ inched its way out of the keyboard. Did I write it with the Nothing anthology in mind? I don’t think so; as I recall, it was already in progress, either partially written or in the notion-bouncing-around-the-brain stage, when I ran across a mention, I think in James Everington’s blog (and if you haven’t read his stuff, you’re missing one of the good ones), that Nothing was in the works and open for submissions. Dark, they wanted. Bleak, they wanted. Sounded like my kind of book. So I submitted the story and another, also dark and bleak and simmering on the back burner around the same time as ‘Hole’, called ‘The Death Machine’, waited a while, got the emails back, was not at all surprised to see that ‘The Death Machine’ was rejected, and was gobsmacked to see that ‘The Hole is Waiting’ was accepted. I read the email twice before it really registered that, hey, wait a minute, this is an acceptance, not a rejection.

And for me, this was where things got a little interesting.

Why was I a) not surprised by the rejection and b) gobsmacked by the acceptance? Because I’d expected two rejections – that’s just the way things worked. On the infrequent occasions when I’d written something that I thought good enough to submit to a magazine or book publisher, it would invariably be rejected. Invariably. Failure wasn’t an option, it was a given.

Now, that wasn’t something that worried me much. I didn’t punch my wife or kick the cats or put away a fifth of bourbon every other hour. It was simply a fact of life and one that really wasn’t all that hard to live with; after all, I had a ‘real’ job that paid the bills. Writing was something done on the side, and when self-publishing for Kindle took off, I put some of the stories out there and some of them sold a few copies to, and were favorably reviewed by, people who were not friends or relatives (only strangers’ money counts in this game) and that was nice.

So there were some stories out there, as singles and in a collection, and a novel, and there were more stories and another novel in the works when I submitted those two stories to Nothing.

The acceptance came in, and I dried up. The other short stories I was working on suddenly seemed idiotic beyond belief, or too similar to stories already done, or both. The novel hit the one-third-mark wall and fell apart. Everything begun since that point (a few stories, a different novel) fizzled almost before I’d started.

So what was going on? Beats me. But only in the last month or two has anything I wrote begun to seem worth trying to complete. What I said in the author’s note for ‘Hole’, ‘… does not get enough writing done, but he’s working on it’ is still the case. I’m hoping that the year-long dry spell that followed acceptance is finally over and that a couple of the aborted projects filed away on the computer will see completion in the not-too-distant future, or that newer projects will work out. Of course that’s assuming they don’t start looking too stupid to me about halfway through.

As to any ideas, influences, or inspirations behind ‘The Hole is Waiting’ – well, I’m not sure I have a lot to say about that. I’ve just hit 70, and there’s a constant awareness of time passing, chances missed, and roads not taken; some of that is there in that story and in a number of others I’ve written. Considerations like that are never very far away at my age; they go with the territory. But then, I’ve always loved a good downer, so ‘The Hole is Waiting’ is the kind of story I’d have expected myself to write.

And I’ll probably write more downers if and when I get back up to speed. That year-long dry spell might actually provide some material. Why dry up like that? Some comic-book psychological quirk telling me that I can take myself out of the picture now? Is that just an individual thing, or does it work on a species level too? (We landed on the moon 50 years ago, so why aren’t there already manned colonies on Mars? And why are we seeing articles these days suggesting it would be better if the human race went extinct?) Maybe there’s a story there. Something dark. Something bleak. A good downer. Something I might actually finish in time to submit to Nothing 2. It could happen…

I’ll have to start playing around with that, or with some of the other stalled projects tucked away on the computer, and get myself back on track. After all, time is short and getting shorter, and the hole is always waiting.

Tony Rabig is a transplanted Chicagoan now living in southeast Kansas; he is a former bookstore clerk, former librarian, and an almost-but-not-quite retired computer programmer. When not programming, he annoys his family and tries to catch up on his reading; as noted above, he doesn’t get enough writing done, but he’s working on it. Other titles available: The Other Iron River, and Other Stories, Doorways: A Novel, ‘The Death Machine’ (a short story).

The Belated Birthday Party for Nothing is on Friday 29th November, 7pm, at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Cambridge Street, Manchester. It’s a free event, with readers from the authors and launch party discount on the books. For more information, or to book a ticket, please click here.

A Guest Post About Nothing: Amanda Steel

On 29th November, we’re having a belated birthday party for Nothing, an anthology of short stories I edited for Hic Dragones (writing as Hannah Kate). In the run-up to our not-quite-a-launch party, I’ve invited some of the authors whose work is included in the book to tell me a bit about their stories.

Today’s guest is Amanda Steel, author of ‘The Empty People’, one of the stories in Nothing.

It might have been the first time I wrote a story for a specific theme. Before writing ‘The Empty People’, I used to adapt stories I had already written to fit whatever the theme was for a submission call. That might be why I never had much success.

I remember thinking of ideas to suit the ‘nothing’ theme.

At the time, I was working in social media and liked a guy I worked with, despite getting mixed signals from him. I thought it would be great if I could just forget about the guy I worked with, because like most things (or people) you try to forget about, you end up thinking about them even more.

That’s how the idea for my story began. It was around the time I’d just self-published a novella called After the Zombies. I combined the two ideas of a zombie apocalypse and people having their individual memories removed. Of course, it all goes wrong and although they don’t become zombies, they are very much like zombies in the way they can no longer think for themselves.

Since writing this story, I’ve written several novels and short stories. I’ve self-published some, had a publisher take on one of them (my YA book First Charge), and I’ve had various poems and stories in anthologies and online publications. I even had a short horror story recorded on a podcast. That was a surreal experience, to hear my story read by professional voice artists. I also met someone who I didn’t want to forget about, and we’ve been together for almost three years now.

When I wrote ‘The Empty People’, it helped to meet Hannah Kate (on her radio show, Hannah’s Bookshelf) and get a sense for what she might want in the anthology. Writing for a specific publication is something I’ve continued to do and seems to be how I get most of my acceptances. ‘The Empty People’ was also my first taste of the editing process, which prepared me for having a full-length novel accepted by a publisher and working on that with an editor.

It’s strange to look back at my short story now. Not only has my writing changed and expanded since then, but when I was writing the story I couldn’t imagine ever standing up and reading it (or anything else) in public. I wouldn’t even have considered reading an extract in public. Now I’ve gone on to perform at several regular open mic events, try out new nights, and I’ve even done a reading in my hometown of Bradford. So it doesn’t seem too daunting.

If you’re wondering how ‘The Empty People’ ends… you’ll have to read the book. I can tell you that my characters don’t end up winning the lottery and riding to Disneyland on a unicorn.

Amanda Steel is a multi-genre author based in Manchester, UK. Her books include: First Charge, After the Zombies, Not Human, and Love, Dates and Other Nightmares. Amanda is the author of Lost and Found (under the pen name Aleesha Black). She co-hosts Reading in Bed, a monthly book review podcast. This is available on Bandcamp and Mixcloud. Her books are available on Amazon and various e-book platforms, including Apple, Kobo and Nook.

The Belated Birthday Party for Nothing is on Friday 29th November, 7pm, at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Cambridge Street, Manchester. It’s a free event, with readers from the authors and launch party discount on the books. For more information, or to book a ticket, please click here.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Launch Party for Nothing Anthology (Hic Dragones)

Join Hic Dragones for a belated birthday party for Nothing, an anthology of dark fiction edited by Hannah Kate, on Friday 29th November, 7pm, at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester.

Bleak landscapes, empty hearts, insignificant lives, dystopian futures, extinction, limbo, uncertainty, death. A beautiful void or a horrific state of being. The simple complexity of nothingness.

A new anthology of short stories that take place when everything has gone, in the empty spaces that are left, and with the people that cling to a last deceptive semblance of something—anything—in the face of the void. Embark on a journey to nowhere, with no one, meaning nothing.

Come and join us for a belated birthday party for Nothing, an anthology of bleak and anxious fiction from Hic Dragones. There'll be readings from contributors, free drinks, discounts and some party surprises - there's really nothing left to do but party.

Readings from Hannah Kate, Valentine George, Amanda Steel, Melanie Stott, Jeanette Greaves, Sara L. Uckelman and Daisy Black, plus a special contribution from K Bannerman.

Friday 29th November, 7-9pm
International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Cambridge Street, Manchester M1 5BY
Free event - booking required.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

3 Minute Santas - Festive Flash Fiction Wanted!

A call for seasonal submissions to be broadcast on the radio!

Can you tells a festive story in just 3 minutes? Hannah's Bookshelf presents 3 Minute Santas - back for its third twinkling year on North Manchester FM!

I’m looking for recordings of festive (not necessarily Christmas) stories for inclusion on my radio show on Saturday 14th December – but they can only be 3 minutes long! Stories are welcome from anywhere in the world, and in any genre. A selection of 3 Minute Santas will be broadcast on the show on 106.6FM (in the North Manchester area) and on digital (for the rest of the world) – and don’t worry, there’s always ‘listen again’ feature if you’re in a different time zone!

3 Minute Santas isn’t a competition, but a call for submissions. It’s open to anyone, and the more the merrier! For details of how to submit a story, just click here. The deadline is midnight on Thursday 5th December.

And please do share this info with anyone you think might be interested!

Saturday, 2 November 2019

My Year in Books 2019: October

Once again, I didn't have much time for reading for pleasure this month. I think I managed one more title than last month, but still not a lot of books on the list. Hopefully, I'll get chance to read a bit more next month, as my to-read pile is getting scarily high!

In case you're interested, here are my reviews for the rest of the year: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September

And here are my reviews of the books I read in October...

The Image of You by Adele Parks (2017)

For reasons I’m not going to go into here, I recently found myself alone somewhere late at night with nothing to do. As if by magic, I wandered past a Help for Heroes charity book sale with an honesty box and a couple of titles still left for sale. I paid my £2 and took the one that looked most readable. Admittedly, The Image of You very much looks like one of those domestic noirs I’ve been trying to avoid… but it was this or Andy McNab. The blurb promises a story about identical twins – Anna and Zoe – who have a close bond, but polar opposite personalities. When Anna (the trusting, romantic one) meets Nick on a dating site, Zoe (the outgoing, edgy one) decides he’s not to be trusted and plots to prove Nick is lying to her sister. To be honest, if you haven’t already started to guess the twist, you’ve not been paying attention. The Image of You is quite a long book for the genre – which feels longer if you’ve already guessed what’s happening. Anna is impossibly sweet and perfect; Zoe is hyper-sexual and unrestrained. Nick is a sort of Patrick Bateman-lite character who uses online dating to get casual sex. He falls for Anna on their first date and proposes within months; he falls for Zoe on their first meeting and ends up in bed with her that night. Of course, he never sees them both in the same place at the same time. Hmmm…

The Taken by Alice Clark-Platts (2016)

This next book marks a return to the stash of books I got from charity shops in Cleveleys earlier in the summer. I wasn’t sure what to expect of this one – and I certainly didn’t know it was the second in a series. The Taken is a detective novel featuring D.I. Erica Martin – who I now know is Clark-Platts’s series character. Martin is called is when a celebrity preacher/faith healer called Tristan Snow is found dead in his B and B, his head stoved in with an unknown weapon. Snow is the charismatic leader of a church called Deucalion, and he was in Durham for a live show as part of a national tour. With him in the guesthouse are his wife Sera and daughter Violet, plus his sister-in-law Antonia and manager/business associate Fraser Mackenzie. But which of them might have a motive for bumping off the much-loved preacher? And why – given Snow’s fame – are they staying in such a downmarket establishment? From the blurb, I thought this one might be a bit OTT and far-fetched. It has its moments, but mostly it’s just a really compelling and entertaining story. I struggled a bit understanding the detective’s private life (having not read the first book in the series), but I loved the atmosphere created, particularly in the glimpses of the Riverview guesthouse and Snow’s suspicious church. I wouldn’t say The Taken is the most original mystery novel I’ve ever read, but it’s definitely well-written and a bit of a page-turner.

Pier Review: A Road Trip in Search of the Great British Seaside by Jon Bounds and Danny Smith (2016)

I picked this book up at the RNLI Lifeboats shop on a daytrip to Blackpool in June. The blurb promises an ‘eccentric’ road trip, in which the two authors travel England and Wales in an attempt to visit all remaining piers in just two weeks, and a ‘nostalgic’ take on ‘Britishness’. It’s fair to say I went into this expecting one thing, but got something quite different. It’s also fair to say that’s no bad thing. Yes, to some extent, this is a travelogue about a journey around 55 piers (plus a couple of ‘bonus’ ones), but it’s also an exploration of class, masculinity and insecurity. If it engages with ‘Britishness’, it’s as a vague, intangible concept, and the ‘nostalgia’ is always delivered with a knowing bite. This is a road trip in the Hunter S. Thompson mould, with as much attention given to the constant booze consumption and unwashed clothes in the car as there is to the marine architecture outside it. But it’s a compelling tale (not quite non-fiction travelogue, not quite novel), with a thought-provoking sense of darkness and detachment that culminates in a just brilliant chapter at Pontins in Southport. At times, I felt that the exploration of class and masculinity could’ve gone further – some points hint at profundity but don’t quite dive down to its depths – but the book makes up for this with some wonderfully evocative and somewhat virtuoso descriptions. And, appropriately, Blackpool is a highlight (for the reader, if not for the writers).

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Ten Tales: Ghost Stories for North Manchester

A new show for North Manchester FM!

I am very pleased to announce my brand new show on North Manchester FM - Ten Tales: Ghost Stories for North Manchester. Every Wednesday at 10pm, I will be sharing a new and original piece of fiction, written by yours truly exclusively for North Manchester FM.

The nights are drawing in now, and there's a bit of a chill in the air. Perfect weather for old-school ghost stories on the wireless. Ten Tales very much belongs to the classic tradition of spooky stories for the season... but with a uniquely North Manchester flavour. From Crosslee to Crumpsall, Hollinwood to Harpurhey, these stories draw on settings and history from around the local area.

Essentially... imagine if M.R. James had visited Dam Head instead of the British Library...

Ten Tales: Ghost Stories for North Manchester begins on Wednesday 23rd October at 10pm. The first story is entitled The Threat of Blossom. It's set on the Crosslee estate in Blackley, where the cherry trees have blossomed early...

Episode List

The Threat of Blossom (Wed 23rd Oct)
Turkey Red (Wed 30th Oct)
Help the Poor Struggler (Wed 6th Nov)
The Singular Disappearance of the Old Man from Jumbo (Wed 13th Nov)
Corporation Pop (Wed 20th Nov)
The Occultation of Saturn (Wed 27th Nov)
The Lost Map of Doctor John Dee (Wed 4th Dec)
Tinker's Gardens (Wed 11th Dec)
At Booth Cottage (Wed 18th Dec)
Christmas in Gotherswick (Wed 25th Dec)

You can listen to Ten Tales: Ghost Stories for North Manchester every Wednesday at 10pm on 106.6FM (if you're in the North Manchester area) or online (if you're further afield). Episodes will also be available on the station's 'Listen Again' service for a limited time after broadcast.

Draw the curtains, make some cocoa, try to ignore that rapping, tapping at your chamber door, and tune in the wireless for a brand new story every Wednesday night... only on North Manchester FM 106.6.

Friday, 11 October 2019

My Year in Books 2019: September

I didn't seem to get much time to read in September. And I haven't been able to find the time to write this post until now, either. Not my strongest month on the old reading-for-pleasure front, but at least I've got something to show for it in the end!

My posts for the rest of the year are here: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August

But here are the two novels I read in September...

The Dark Room by Minette Walters (1995)

Having really enjoyed all the Minette Walters books I’ve read so far, I thought I’d give The Dark Room a go. Jane Kingsley (known as Jinx) wakes up in hospital following a car accident. She is badly injured, and the staff tell her that she tried to kill herself by crashing her car. Jinx finds that hard to believe, but she can’t remember the accident itself. She also can’t remember any of the events leading up to it – she doesn’t even remember that her upcoming wedding has been called off, as her fiancé has jilted her for her best friend. Jinx’s rich, overbearing (and vaguely threatening) father has paid for her to stay in a private hospital, under the care of Dr Protheroe (who claims he’s not a psychiatrist). When the bodies of Jinx’s ex-fiancé and ex-friend turn up – murdered in a similar manner to Jinx’s late husband – the police start to wonder whether her amnesia is entirely genuine. The Dark Room has a lot of the hallmarks of Walters’s fiction that I’ve loved in the other books I’ve read – unreliable narration, snippets of newspapers articles and reports interspersing the narrative, careful character studies broken up by a pervasive nastiness (in this case, a subplot involving a series of brutal attacks on prostitutes) – but sadly there was something missing here, and I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as The Sculptress or The Scold’s Bridle (and definitely not as much as The Shape of Snakes, which is an incredible book).

The Sewing Machine by Natalie Fergie (2017)

My mum lent me this one, as she’d really enjoyed it. I know why she liked it – The Sewing Machine is the story of a series of people from different points in the twentieth century, whose lives are connected by a Singer sewing machine. The book is set (mostly) in Edinburgh, so it combines two things my mum loves – her hometown and her old hand-crank Singer. She thought I’d enjoy it because it has multiple narrators, and an interweaving of past and present (and she’s right… I do like those things in fiction). And I did enjoy the way the book switches between the different times and characters: from Jean, who works in the Clydebank Singer factory in the early part of the twentieth century, until her boyfriend is forced out of work following the 1911 strike, to Kathleen and Connie, a mother and daughter in the mid-century, who both rely on sewing to make ends meet, and then Fred, a young man in the early twenty-first century, who arrives in Edinburgh to clear our his late grandfather’s flat and discovers an old sewing machine (with a story to tell). It’s a charming story in many ways, and I love the central conceit. However, I found the book almost impossibly overwritten. The most mundane and everyday actions and objects are described with overly elaborate language and artificial gravitas that I found rather grating. Not a lot happens in The Sewing Machine – and this should have been part of the charm.