In the latest instalment of Wrapped Up In Books, Getintothis’ Cath Holland talks to Adam Lock, Lizzi Doyle, looks at ways to balance the world out, and talks about mayhem and murder.
It’s not every day one picks up a book of poetry curated by a consecrated virgin.
But seeing the late Sister Wendy Beckett‘s Speaking to the Heart on the shelf of my local British Heart Foundation charity shop for 99p ticked it off my list of achievements this month.
Sister Wendy, who died last December, is best known for her infectious enthusiasm for art. In the 1990s she visited art galleries, presenting documentaries for Auntie Beeb about the paintings hung on the walls.
In 2006, she was asked to do something a little different but also esentially linked; that is, to collate a collection of her favourite poems, explaining why she loved each.
Speaking to the Heart might have the cheesiest title known to man, but the book is as engaging and true as the telly shows she presented.
To paraphrase Sister Wendy, art and books and creative beautiful things are there for us when maybe life isn’t going so smoothly or is humdrum. Creative things exist to remind us there’s something else to lean on. They play a role in counteracting the negative or sad with a slice of the good stuff.
It balances the world out, somehow. Which is a rather wonderful way of looking at it all.
With that in mind, the books in this month’s Wrapped Up in Books play the role Sister Wendy applied to art very well.
Elizabeth Haynes‘ historical novel The Murder of Harriet Monckton rewrites the wrongs done to a murdered young woman from Victorian times, by issuing a sense of justice after all these years.
Merilyn Davies‘ debut When I Lost You shows us that actions have consequences, even if those events happened decades ago.
Adam Lock talks about his novella-in-flash, a new emerging literary form of linked flash fictions keeping things fresh and challenging, and award-winning producer of The Anfield Wrap podcast Lizzi Doyle tells how she’s getting back into reading.
Award-winning flash fiction writer Adam Lock’s debut novella-in-flash, Dinosaur, follows the lives of Rebecca and Erik, intertwining their stories in a way only flash fiction can. Although their lives are held close within the pages of this novella-in-flash, they meet for only a short, albeit life-changing, time.
Adam writes in the Black Country, UK. He’s been nominated for the Best Small Fiction Anthology, and has had over fifty pieces of short fiction published in a variety of online and print publications.
Why did you decide to write a novella in flash rather than a conventional collection of flashes?
I was at a point when I wanted to start something from the beginning. When I heard of the novella-in-flash I was drawn to it straight away. It sounded such a neat and special form. The idea of creating stories within in a larger story really got my mind working. When I started to look around, there weren’t that many out there, and I realised it was a relatively new form. There are a few great examples, but if you search on Amazon for ‘novella-in-flash’ you will notice a scarcity. This really excites me
Thunder, from your novella, first appeared over at Fictive Dream. Was it written as a standalone story, or as you wrote it did you know it was part of a wider narrative?
The story ‘Thunder’ was always a part of the overall narrative. It comes at an important moment in Rebecca’s life: when she realises her husband isn’t the right man for her. It was one of the first stories I wrote, but comes a little later in the overall narrative. I didn’t work through the stories in any order, but was drawn to specific moments in the characters’ lives that I thought would be interesting for the reader.
In Dinosaur, your characters Erik and Rebecca meet for a short time, which is a pretty perfect metaphor for flash in itself?
It’s funny because in my head, in the beginning, the main focus for the novella was going to be the relationship between the two protagonists. But I found myself going further and further back into their lives, that in the end, the moments they are together are only fleeting compared with their histories. I became fascinated with the idea that when two people meet, particularly if they are near middle age, they have each lived separate lives for so long. Neither one of the two protagonists knows what the reader knows about the other person, and this really interested me.
What is about reading and writing flash that appeals to you so much?
The great appeal with reading flash is the completeness you can experience in a short space of time. They are so immediate, stripping away the unnecessary elements of story and offering the truths we all look for in literature. The joy in writing flash is rooted in the same idea: that somewhere in amongst the rambling first drafts there might be a truth that you recognise and you think the reader will too.
Why do you think flash is picking up pace? A couple of years ago it felt that the only readers were those who wrote it. There’s a wider readership now. I personally don’t believe it’s because people have short attention spans now; readers inhale full length books and binge watching Netflix is a national pastime in 2019, so that can’t be it.
I think you’re right — I don’t think there’s much in the short attention span argument. In fact, I think there is something in the idea that we are getting better and better at knowing what a good story is. Thanks to the influx of great TV, people are talking about long running series, narrative arcs, cliffhangers, character development, pacing, and all kinds of narrative devices. Maybe flash is coming of age because we appreciate the tightness of a well told story. Add to this, the internet and the availability of technology. Flash is perfect to read on a phone, tablet or computer screen. I quite often read flash in between doing other things, when I have a few minutes.
Why do you write about sex so much? Do you get questioned over it? I only ask as I do and some people don’t seem to understand fiction is fiction, not a diary entry.
The S E X question… I’m starting to get this a little more now. Sometimes I ask myself why isn’t everyone writing about sex. In all seriousness, it is not something I have thought, or think about consciously; although now I am starting to. I’m drawn to stories about relationships, and in the end, sex is a sort of language of relationships. I’m not interested in describing the act of sex itself, that is too far, but it only takes a gesture, a nod to the politics of sex to really see the mechanics of a relationship. I think this is why I use it in my stories. There’s also the taboo element, and sometimes I simply can’t resist. People just don’t talk about sex in a serious way. Which when you stop and think about it, is quite remarkable. In public, sex is either Benny Hill or Fifty Shades; and I’m guessing most of our experiences with sex bears no resemblance to these manifestations.
Have you ever thought of going over to the dark side and writing poetry, or longer fiction? If not, why not?
I am currently working on the longer form and genre fiction: a series of dystopian novels. I have written a couple of novels in the past but have since cannibalised these for flash fiction pieces. I love reading novels myself and hope to have written some that work in the future.
Dinosaur is published by Ellipsis Zine. Read Thunder from the novella here.
The Murder of Harriet Monckton – Elizabeth Haynes
In this book, based on a true story, we meet 23-year-old Harriet Monckton in her final minutes, ones wracked with indecision and pain. Duped into drinking a potion which she hopes will end her problems, the act instead ends her life.
The mystery of Harriet’s death has remained unsolved since 1843; the churchgoer and schoolteacher lived and loved to the full.
Harriet’s body is found in a privy, a metaphor if ever there was for how an unmarried woman ‘in the family way’ was regarded in Victorian times. That said, there was much fuss around the death, public inquests and a postmortem, and the book seeks to uncover who may have persuaded the young pregnant woman to drink a potion which would kill her.
The suspects are numerous, and of course, as readers, we want to know who author Haynes suspects did it, but the power in these pages above all else is knowing that Harriet, after almost two hundred years, has a voice.
It’s a re-balancing of the scales for all the invisible and silenced women in the past, if you like.
A justice of sorts for them all.
Harriet is a woman ahead of her time. She has a former lover she regards a friend. She knows fellow school teacher Frances is in love with her and values their friendship.
In The Murder of Harriet Monckton we see both reflections and comparisons to modern times – predators were as a prevalent then as they are now, for example.
And going by Harriet and the other women’s experiences, Victorian men were bloody appaling in the sack. Or against a wall. Or over a table. Anywhere really.
Let’s not go back to those times, men.
It’s with delight we learn Harriet is no simpering passive murder victim; she is trapped by her sex and biology and the time she lives in. It’s both good and heartbreaking to find out that Haynes’ Harriet found love at the time of her death with a man who wants her for her fabulousness and not for a handy shag. This brave young woman fought to find a way out of her circumstance, investigated all avenues but is ultimately let down by others and placing her trust in absolutely the wrong person.
The Murder of Harriet Monckton is published in paperback on 18 July
When I Lost You – Merilyn Davies
This book was a different read from others enjoyed this year. Due to a technical failure on the tablet front, I read this on an archaic Kindle – what generation exactly I’m not quite sure but they sure as hell don’t make them anymore. It was touch and go whether the battery had any life in it at all, but luck was on my side. It’s somewhat ironic and encouraging given the steam-powered ye olde worlde nature of the e-reader to find that When I lost You, the debut by former Crime Analyst Merilyn Davies, is very much a book for contemporary times.
The first in a series featuring DS Nell Jackson and crime analyst Carla Brown – there’s something very satisfying about two female protagonists – kicks off with the sudden death of a baby. As with all good crime novels, the death has consequences and there are painful connections with events from decades past when two teenage girls who met in care home many years ago became fast friends, as close as blood. The first time either had given or received love, the harshness and cruelty of the world around them put an end to that.
With short, punchy chapters, it’s the flashbacks from the girls’ care home years piqued my interest for the bulk of the book, and built up a growing sense of anger and injustice for each girl. Actions even from a long time ago have consequences, and the book’s conclusion is both disturbing and bit bonkers, but made all the more enjoyable for it.
When I Lost You is published in paperback on 22 August
Bookworm of the month: Lizzi Doyle, producer of The Anfield Wrap
Lizzi is a multi-award winning radio producer. Last year at Radio City Talk, she produced the biggest broadcast in the history of Bauer Media, the 24 hour Mental Health Marathon, the first of its kind in the UK.
In 2017 she oversaw UKIP leader Paul Nuttall exposure over lies on his website about the Hillsborough disaster. Radio City Talk‘s coverage went viral across social media platforms as well as national TV, radio and newspapers.
Lizzi won the UK wide We Are The City Rising Stars award in Media and Journalism and featured on Northern Power Women’s 2018 Future List.
‘I think the first book I remember liking was The Twits by Roald Dahl. I used to love reading so much as a kid, it was one of my favourite ever things to do. My mum used to take me to the library nearly every week/two weeks when she went the Asda and I’d have a field day!
‘I’m not a big reader, I’m ashamed to say considering I was so into it as a kid. If I’m being completely honest, I have to choose a series of books from when I was a teenager called Wicca Series by Cate Tiernan. The reason I’ve chosen them is because I haven’t been captured by a book or series of books since them, but maybe I haven’t give anything the time of day! They’re very of their time and I couldn’t re-read them now, but from the age of about 12-16 I re-read them about 3 times.
‘I try to stick with it for as long as possible because I have a terrible case of FOMO. For example, I started reading one called The Light Between Oceans and I just felt myself checking my phone every couple of pages. Everyone kept telling me how good it was but I just couldn’t get through it. I left it and read 2 books before I even thought to go back to it. It’s still sat there now and I’m feeling guilty that I’m not attempting to finish it!’
‘Not necessarily no. Maybe at the time but I was a student and I felt like my time was for drinking, partying and university. Books never fell into my hobby list as a student. I always treated the books I read as necessity or as research, I treated them differently to how I did fictional books. However, I still didn’t find the time for them.’
‘It really helps me in my job. As producer of The Anfield Wrap, a lot of my job is content and researching content for shows. Because we produce so much content each week, I have to constantly try and find new angles, stories and ideas. I keep across a lot of sports articles and even some sports books too. Sports authors always make for good guests as they have the best stories!’
‘TV series are my new thing. That’s what’s stopping me reading if I’m being honest! I’m investing too much time into series. Again with the FOMO, I hear how good something is and I’m dying to watch it. So I’ve got 2 episodes left of Chernobyl and I’ve just finished the incredible When They See Us.
‘I’ve probably answered a bit already but I used to love it, and there’s no way I have fell out of love with it. I just wasn’t using my time to do it! And when I found some backs I started enjoying again, it made me realised how good it felt to read.