Robin Ince. Holly McNish. Tom Ryan, HenleyonThomas Instagrammer. John Mitchinson, Backlisted Podcast. Kerry Hudson for The Guardian Read full review. The Quietus Read full review. Bookish Chat Read full review. Rachel Darling for Faber and Faber Read full review. Kit de Waal. Shropshire Star Read full review. Morning Star Read full review.
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Literary Sofa Read full review. Mike Garry on Johnny Dangerously. The judges selected the story because, in Boyd's words, "it knew exactly how to play with and exploit the potential of its naive narrative voice—what to say but, far more importantly, what not to say—quite apart from its wit, and the undercurrent of sadness it explored without ever being sentimental. Johnson describes with alarming clarity the array of poor and downtrodden outside her window, waiting to receive her thirty seconds of optimism and a bacon buttie.
Detail lifts these stories above the page. They play out in front of you like half-forgotten memories, just out of reach but always threatening to rear up and storm your senses. They benefit from a strong thematic core. And you will return to it. The characters and locations adopt the burnished patina of a slowly disappearing, post-industrial Midlands, evoke Northern towns wreathed in the foggy output of factories and no-nonsense, what-you-see-is-what-you-get-attitudes.
The world outside continues to turn but without their input. They stand like lost tribes at the edge of a forest, watching strangers stake a claim for a future they will never be offered. On the odd occasion that contact occurs, it generates a sense of bewilderment and frustration, a lack of understanding of what it takes to move to the rhythms, the speed, the all-encompassing madness of the twenty-first century.
These are also stories about women. Matriarchs, losers, no-hopers; the dreamers, the down-trodden and the damned, sometimes all in one character. For the most part we enter unannounced on crises of varying importance and by the time the lens withdraws, we are clutching desperately at the final paragraphs, begging to be allowed to stay and see it out, however grim the denouement may be.
There very much is. Regardless of demeanour, these women light up these pages with that curiously indefinable charm associated with West Country lip, Mancunian swagger or Merseyside scally, a wholesome, affectionate and self-mocking humour very much associated with the counties north of Milton Keynes. Blower maps this physical and human geography with a light touch and a lifetime of knowledge.
Every street, every tidy parlour, every well-swept front step or dead-end office are framed by the characters that walk, clean and curse in them. Even when characters stray beyond the reach of home and hearth they return, as if held on the end of a bungy line, ready to snap back into place; their place. Their manufactured sass, all spit and shallow, has no place in these towns. These are people of the earth, grounded; they rarely fly.
And yes, these are stories of the working class, and family. Extended, broken, displaced or despised, but with a core strength and an innate understanding of safety in numbers, the importance of staying or being together, even, sometimes, the grim acceptance that the Devil is better known.
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A mother in need of surgery, an alcoholic daughter with a baby and an immigrant boyfriend, and a second daughter quietly keeping a diary are thrown continually against the rocks of an overworked social worker and an ex-soldier with a closed mind. One is out of control, one has lost all hope and one stands outside the drama observing the quickening collapse of her family.
Bitterness, lack of understanding and recklessness combine, but where you might expect a conflagration, the soft salve of acceptance blows through the finale and the reader is left wishing for something better for almost all of them. Mam rang her mobile fifty-three times until Isis fell asleep then Uncle Chalky crept out of his room and stared at the baby for a very long time. Then he woke up Mam.
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Nothing short of a psychological thriller, these fourteen pages throw a mentally ill out-patient and a palliative care nurse, whose own life is more than complicated, together in a spiral of separate worlds. Then you fill in the main picture. Again though, Blower subverts the tendency of the reader to think ahead to a natural conclusion by flipping events on their head, pulling the pin and walking away so that you can observe the debris in a moment of stunned silence.
This story is a fantastic example of how Blower works detail again, picking out threads you might initially think inconsequential before returning to them with simple, devastating effect. It stands out from the other stories as a true genre piece.
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Even here there is the hint of a matriarch, in this case ignored, towards the end. You care about these people in the space of a paragraph. Perhaps the most crushing of all the stories in the collection is the last one. His short journey with a volunteer is a brilliant dissection of what makes us different and what might bring us closer, a cultural yin and yang with an ending that leaves the reader with more questions than answers, just, I suspect, as Lisa Blower planned it.
These stories are about the little earthquakes people get caught up in, the fault-lines beneath their feet that open up without warning and threaten to close around them, and how they reach for the light and an escape, or just the promise of one. Kerry Hudson for The Guardian 20 May W hen I used to tell people my books explore the working-class experience and the communities where I grew up, they often assumed they were miserable tales of drugs, drudgery, violence, fecklessness and sink estates.
They also explore the hope, intelligence, humour and tenacity that are found in those same poorer streets. Two recent anthologies by writers who call themselves working class show just how wide this perspective can be.
There are academics and autodidacts, people who are now financially comfortable alongside those who are still stony broke. These bestsellers have already disproved the idea that working-class fiction is somehow niche, that it will struggle to find readers or critical engagement. It always feels to me like a way of putting us in our place when people call working-class writing miserable, or gritty, or urban — the same accusation is rarely made when authors from other backgrounds write about heartache, hardship or conflict.
His novels are full of rib-cracking, tar-black humour as they follow the trials and triumphs of the Rabbitte family. This tender, joyful love story, with a heroine from the wrong side of the tracks, abounds with hope for adults and young people alike. Her account of growing up in a small Ayrshire town is as perfect as any book has a right to be. Both of these writers are firmly rooted in their lived experience, but transcend all the limitations and preconceptions surrounding work from communities seldom represented on the page.
With a long-overdue resurgence of interest in regional writing, the stories and novels of Lisa Blower, which centre the lives and histories of the people left behind in the wake of successive government austerities, should be of paramount importance in putting the literature of the West Midlands on the map. I first came across Lisa Blower when I was asked to review a book of short stories on the science of sleep Spindles , Comma Press In this new collection of stories spanning nine years of published writing, Blower fulfils this first promise and then surpasses it.
The overarching theme uniting this collection is family. Her father is made redundant, then her parents divorce. The story works itself out through repeated patterns of language that are both painful and comforting, reflecting how family is simultaneously nurturing and an entrapment. The story is structured in seventeen truncated episodes. Juke is in thrall to Moth but he fears him, too.
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His mother is so deeply immersed in her own misery she is driving in circles. Her emotional appeal to Juke at the end of the story may yet offer a way of moving forward, for both of them. The story is told by a young girl whose beloved Nan has just been taken into hospital. She conceals her anxiety about her sick grandmother within a fantasy about Nan and Margaret Thatcher being in hospital together.
Those people are called bullies Maybe my Nan is bullying Margaret Thatcher and drinking all her Lucozade.
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I hope my Nan has better pillows and more Get Well cards. That would be weird. Margaret Thatcher would say our house was too small and needed a good bottom clean. She might even send my mum to war.
In this story, we are Nan, looking back at the Thatcher years, still not able to properly process the damage that has been inflicted. In lives that have been shaped by such shattering blows, the trauma that recurs most often through these stories is the stress of redundancy. In words made brittle through anger, she charts the decline of living standards for ordinary people since the closing of the kilns. I remember standing in the shop, shortly after he left, seven pence short of a split bag of rice. Seven pence short of a split bag of rice.