Guest Post: Layers: A Collection of Short Stories by Zuzanne Belec

61MDrHotGBL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Eight short stories on the power of the human spirit.

Layers is a debut collection of imaginative short stories celebrating life and the human spirit despite the ever-present spectre of melancholy in our lives today. With their distinctive blend of wit and humour, they light up any underlying darkness. From the Americas to India, from Africa to Europe, and through a range of genres, voices and styles, layers are unraveled, revealing the textures and contrasts of old and new in the environments and cultures of today’s fast-paced world. With vivid descriptions, we are drawn into enchanting worlds with characters that leap off the page, leaving the reader lingering long after the pages have been read.

  • In The Christmas Charge: Instead of enjoying their Christmas preparing eggnog cream pie and sipping sherry by the fireside, three batty grannies go on an African safari. At this stage of wisdom in their lives, nothing can go wrong. Right?
  • In Paths Taken: When her grandmother ‘kills’ a man on a busy town square, Hecate is forced to face her worst fears and use her own unsettling powers to help her. But where will these new paths take her?
  • In White Noise: All Earl needs to do is hand his work over to his successor. But is it that easy to let go? And where does one hide from one’s inner noise when things go wrong?
  • In The Old Man and the Donkey: Deep in northern Portugal, an old man and his donkey go about their lonely routine. When an unexpected visitor shows up, everyone is given a new chance of happiness. But have they all been stubbornly avoiding it for too long?
  • In The Arctic Haze: Since he was little, bad luck has stuck to George’s soles like clingy dog mess. Some of us are luckier. Or are we really?
  • In Penny’s Purple Robot: A loving father exceeds himself to make his daughter happy after her mother passes away. But can he force himself to face a brutal truth?
  • In Mothers: Deep in Africa, a desperate mother accepts her own fate, but refuses to face an even harsher reality. Mothers will do anything for their young. And things may not be as they seem.
  • In Yeehaw: Running from their regular lives, Sam and Patsy end up in an artificial town – Yeehaw Theme Park. Will they find their true selves in this synthetic world?

If you like a minimalist and dark, yet humorous look at the contrasts we face in the world today, you will enjoy this collection of mixed-genre stories. 

Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog, Zuzanne Belec, who has very kindly written a guest post for me on the writing process behind her debut collection of short stories, Layers.

Now, over to Zuzanne for her guest post:

My writing process by Zuzanne Belec

How I began writing

To keep a very long story short: mine is not one of wanting to write ever since I was little. I’d always thought that writing was a gift allocated only to the gods. Also, times were busy, so there was no room for any creativity whatsoever (nor even for reading, besides the obligatory academic material).

And now suddenly I am a published author of Layers: A Collection of Short Stories. How could that happen when I hardly knew what creativity was? I haven’t a clue. All I can determine is that the creative energy must’ve been accumulating somewhere within me all those years, only to let off a major creative blast once the tornado that’s life had settled down. And what a mess this blast left behind – I had the urge to delve deep into creativity of all sorts and I didn’t know why, I didn’t know how. But I took it slowly, step by step and patiently learned the craft of writing over the years. And gradually that mess transformed into what is a published book today (which is not doing too shabbily in the reviews department either). See? Anything’s possible!

What inspires me

Among the creative splotches to clean up from the ceiling after that blast was the question of ‘what to write.’ I had no clue either. This is the point, perhaps, when my upbringing in the African bush came to the fore: I used that survival instinct and put to work all the senses to really ‘see’ the details of my surroundings, I began listening to the noise outside, the noise inside of me, and also to my creative urges. That’s when all the people and places I’d visited really began to ‘speak’ to me.  They showed me their hearts – both their joys and their tribulations. That is what inspires me the most, and which forms the basis for most of my stories: the contrasts and dynamics between nature, cultures and societies today. I especially enjoy taking a minimalist and, where possible, a humorous look at some of these dark realities.

We have a lot to learn from one another still, no matter whether we’re educated/uneducated, rich/poor, male/female/other, black/white, animal/human…  So here’s a big thank you to the people and places that have inspired me, and will still inspire me!

What I write

I admit that I began writing short stories because they said it’s the quickest way to learn the craft. Specifically contemporary mixed-genre stories – the best way to learn the genres! As difficult as writing short stories has turned out to be though, I really enjoy writing them. And the upside: I can get a lot more stories written in the time I have left.

Either way though, I like to keep my stories short. And I like to keep my stories simple.

Short because life is short. Because when it’s our time to go, we won’t go remembering the entire duration of our life. We will remember the short bits.  So, in this light, that’s what I try to capture in my short stories: small, memorable bits of life lived.

And simple because when it’s our time to go, we won’t be pondering all the detailed complexities of our lives – we will remember the simple things. And so, in this light too, my short stories attempt to reflect just that: simple, wonderful bits of life lived.   

All in all, it is just as Ali Smith says, “short stories consume you faster...” I like that brevity and impact.

I am trying my hand at the long form too, but I’m pretty hopeless at that still. I’m finding it very difficult to stay focused when I reach the more ‘long-winded’ filler, sections. Maybe I have a short attention span, I don’t know. Perhaps one day I’ll manage it though.  I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, I still have some writing to do before I reach those 10 000 hours anyway…!

My writing process:

First thing every morning, after having my cup of tea, I do my morning pages (which I started doing about a decade ago after reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way). I owe a lot to them because I know that all those morning pages written over the years are what allowed me to connect with my creative side. Full stop. This ritual still yields surprises, with valuable ideas and insights still popping up every now and then. This is my favourite part of the day.

Once I have a story idea, this is how I develop it into a story: I determine the ‘why’ of the story using Jennie Nash’s excellent Author Accelerator method. Once I have this deep and solid foundation to build my story on, my next step is doing my character profiles. I use the OneStop writing tool for this. Then, with characters brought to life as deep as I can, I plot my story out using the GetPlottr visualization tool to make sure all my timelines, ages, dates, sequences, etc. correspond. Then I finally get down and write the actual story using that fabulous Scrivener.  See? Tools! Maybe one day, when I have more books behind me, I won’t need those tools to help me along my newbie path, but for now they’re a life saver!

Who are my favourite authors?

I still have many to catch up on, but a few of my favourites so far are George Saunders (mainly his excellent non-fiction), Theodor Seuss Geisel, Roald Dahl, Marina Lewycka, Niklos Kazantzakis, Terry Pratchett …. Oh, and Czech author Evzen Bocek, who is author of the hilarious Aristokratka series (unfortunately not translated into English yet).

Thank you for having me on, Julie, and giving me the opportunity to connect with your audience. And thank you, dear reader, for taking the time to check out this post. 

******************

On 3-5 May, 2021, Zuzanne’s highly rated collection of short stories, Layers, will be available to download for FREE on Amazon.  To get your eight short stories on the power of the human spirit during this period, please click here: https://books2read.com/u/4A77zd

To subscribe to her newsletter, get access to her members-only Zuu Zone, and receive a FREE download of her short story The UnAdorned – a warm, modern tale of ancient good, set in modern India – you can click here: https://zuzannebelec.com/books-and-signup/

About the Author

5O0A3215

Zuzanne is a writer, poet and translator who survived growing up with large critters in Africa.  She has two beautiful daughters, and now lives in the heart of Europe with her very patient partner.

Connect with Zuzanne:

Website: https://zuzannebelec.com

Twitter: @ZuzanneBelec  

Instagram: @zuzannebelec 

Pinterest: Zuzanne Belec

A Little Book Problem banner

Blog Tour: The Lynmouth Stories by Lucy V Hay #BookReview

FINAL The Lynmouth Stories Cover

Beautiful places hide dark secrets … 

Devon’s very own crime writer L.V Hay (The Other Twin, Do No Harm) brings forth three new short stories from her dark mind and poison pen:

– For kidnapped Meg and her young son Danny, In Plain Sight, the remote headland above Lynmouth is not a haven, but hell.

– A summer of fun for Catherine in Killing Me Softly becomes a winter of discontent … and death.

– In Hell And High Water, a last minute holiday for Naomi and baby Tommy  becomes a survival situation … But that’s before the village floods.

All taking place out of season when the majority of tourists have gone home, L.V Hay uses her local knowledge to bring forth dark and claustrophic noir she has come to be known for.

Did You Know …?

Known as England’s ‘Little Switzerland’, the Devon village of Lynmouth is famous for its Victorian cliff railway, fish n’ chips and of course, RD Blackmore’s Lorna Doone.

Located on the doorstep of the dramatic Valley of The Rocks and the South West Cliff Path, the twin villages of Lynton and Lynmouth have inspired many writers, including 19th Century romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who honeymooned there in 1812.

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for The Lynmouth Stories, a short story collection by Lucy V Hay. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the author for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is a very brief book containing just three short stories but it packs a punch that greatly belies its length. Tightly woven with impressively realised characterisation in such a small word count, Lucy V Hay has produced here a masterclass in the art of the short story.

All three stories are set in the tiny, coastal village of Lynmouth, popular with tourists. However, we visit during the low season, when the village shuts down and empties out, giving it a deserted and melancholy air, which provides the perfect backdrop for this collection  of dark and brooding stories. Focusing on the kind of threats that lurk behind closed doors, they remind us that appearances can be deceptive and we never know what dangers are lurking unseen in the most ordinary of settings.

All three stories have female protagonists, who are all very different. Some strong and determined, some finding strength they never knew they had and some crumbling under pressure, the stories explore different reactions under stress and what women can do in protection of themselves and those they love. Probing the darkest aspects of the human psyche, the author manages to convey an awful lot about these women in a very compact word count so you can feel exactly what they are going through in that moment. I really enjoyed the fact that the focus here was entirely on the women and their experiences, with the men largely remaining nameless, shadowy figures whose feelings and motives exist only in relation to the women’s.

This book left me feeling very unsettled. The author has produced an oppressive atmosphere throughout the stories, asking the reader to put themselves in the far from comfortable shoes of the protagonists and walk a little way in them. The stories will shake you out of your complacency and ask you to think about what other women may be dealing with in places we don’t see, even in the cosy seaside towns that the rest of us visit on happy family holidays for reasons of pleasure. It’s easy to sail along, forgetting that our fellow women may be struggling and fighting against enemies we can’t envisage. Maybe we should be more alert for the signs that may be laying in plain sight. The stories are asking us to look and ask, to think about what we are actually seeing. 

A short, uncomfortable but enthralling read.

The Lynmouth Stories is out now as an ebook and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure to visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour:

Lynmouth Stories BT Poste

About the Author

LUCY V HAY AUTHOR PICTURE

Lucy V. Hay is a novelist, script editor and blogger who helps writers via her Bang2write consultancy. She is the associate producer of Brit Thrillers Deviation (2012) and Assassin(2015), both starring Danny Dyer. Lucy is also head reader for the London Screenwriters’ Festival and has written two non-fiction books, Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays, plus its follow-up Drama Screenplays. Her critically acclaimed debut thriller The Other Twin was published in 2017.

Connect with Lucy:

Website: https://linktr.ee/lucyvhayauthor

Facebook: Lucy V Hay Author

Twitter: @LucyVHayAuthor

Instagram: Lucy V Hay Author

random-thingstours-fb-header

Book Review: Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde #BookReview

Backstories_finalfrontcover - Copy

CAN YOU FIND THE FAMOUS PERSON HIDDEN IN EVERY STORY?

Dreamers, singers, heroes and killers, they can dazzle with their beauty or their talent or their unmitigated evil, yet inside themselves, they are as frail and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them? Can you unravel the truth?

It’s publication day for Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde, a unique and novel collection of stories that are a mysterious peep inside the lives of some people you might think you know. But can you work out who they are? Happy publication day, Simon, and thank you for providing me with a digital copy of the book for the purposes of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

When Simon approached me about reviewing this book, I can say I was intrigued. It is a concept I haven’t come across before – a collection of stories about the early lives of famous or infamous people, revealing clues about who they are, and little known facts about their early lives, but leaving the reader to try and guess who the author might be talking about. A curious but fascinating mix of fact and fiction, it was definitely something I needed to take a look at.

The book comprises fourteen short stories, giving us a snapshot in time in the lives of well known or notorious characters who will be familiar to most of us, but maybe not in the ways portrayed here. An interesting mix of fact woven into fiction, the author writes as if he is telling a story, and it is for the reader to dig beneath the prose to find out who is hiding behind the mask, and possibly find out things about popular figures we never knew before. This was certainly true for me. Whilst I am sure I worked out who each story was talking about, there were certainly some facts in there that I hadn’t known before, and sent me scuttling to the internet in search of confirmation that the author hadn’t made the basic facts up. The story, Banjo Boy, in particular had me saying, ‘Well, I never knew that about him before!’ From this perspective alone, it is a fascinating book to pick up.

The collection of characters that Simon chooses to explore is a curious one. Some I can understand why he wanted to discuss, a couple were less obvious, and a couple of them made me incredibly uncomfortable. Simon really gets under the skin and into the minds of the people he is talking about, and this is disturbing in the case of a couple of the less savoury characters. Being able to stir an emotion in the reader is the sign of a good writer; this is no less true when the emotion stirred is disquiet. I’m not sure I want to be in the skin of some of these people.

This is a book that is good for dipping in and out of, rather than reading through in one go, and would make a great topic of discussion between friends. I have already seen a fellow blogger saying she can’t work out who one of the subjects is and, since I think I know, I will reach out and see if she agrees with my theory later. Some of them are more obvious than others and, I think some of them will be easier to suss out for people of my generation than younger folk. It is a concept that played out well against my expectations and I applaud the author for achieving something new and interesting.

Backstories is available in all formats from today and you can buy a copy here.

And, if you need any additional reason to buy the book, beyond my review above, Simon is donating 30% of all profits from Backstories to Stop Hate UK, The North East Autism Society and Friends of the Earth.

About the Author

AuthorImage2020

Simon Van der Velde has worked variously as a barman, labourer, teacher, caterer and lawyer, as well as travelling throughout Europe and South America collecting characters and insights for his award-winning stories. Since completing a creative writing M.A. (with distinction)

in 2010, Simon’s work has won and been shortlisted for numerous awards including; The Yeovil Literary Prize, (twice), The Wasafiri New Writing Prize, The Luke Bitmead Bursary, The Frome Short- story Prize, The Harry Bowling Prize, The Henshaw Press Short Story Competition and The National Association of Writers’ Groups Open Competition – establishing him as one of the UK’s foremost short-story writers.

Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, with his wife, Nicola, their labradoodle, Barney and two tyrannical children.

Connect with Simon:

Website: https://www.simonvandervelde.com/

Facebook: Simon Van Der Velde

Twitter: @SimonVdWriter

Instagram: @simonvdvwriter

A Little Book Problem banner

Tales of What The F*ck by D. A. Watson #BookReview #BlogTour (@davewatsonbooks) @WildWolfPublish @RaRaResources #RachelsRandomResources #TalesOfWhatTheF*ck

Tales of the What the Fck

I’m happy to be taking part in the blog tour today for Tales of What The F*ck by D. A. Watson. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey from Rachel’s Random Resources for the blog tour invitation and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

tales of the wtf cover

Billionaire terminal cancer patient John Longmire’s going to die today, and he’s going out in style in the classiest euthanasia clinic in the world. But the strange nurse with the clipboard and the look of a goddess is spoiling the mood, with all her irksome questions about how he’s lived his life.

Recent retiree Gerald loves his wife Barbara and he loves his garden, but Barbara hates the garden. Because the garden’s taking Gerald over, and Barbara says he has to stop before he has another ‘incident’.

Bullied, ridiculed and unloved, moustachioed schoolgirl “Hairy” Mhairi Barry has never had any friends but the ones she finds on the shelves of the library where she’s spent most of her lonely childhood. But tonight, she’s going to a party with all the cool kids, to show them what she’s learned in all those books.

A suspicious smelling smorgasbord of lovelorn psychopaths, vengeful mugging victims, pawn shop philosophers and rhyming Glaswegian alien abduction, Tales of the What the Fuck is a dark, touching, horrific and hilarious collection of short stories, flash fiction and epic poetry from People’s Book Prize nominated author D.A. Watson. Things are about to get weird.

Well, I stepped well outside my comfort zone with this book, but that is always one of the pleasures of book blogging, reading things you would not normally pick up. This is definitely a book that would not usually find its way in to my reading schedule, and I’m still not 100% sure what I just read, but it certainly shook me out of any reading complacency I may have found myself in!

This book is extremely hard to categorise, such a random mix of flash fiction, poetry and short stories across a very diverse bunch of genres, with not much to link them except the perverse mind that wrote them all. And I think that the mind which came up with all of these may be something we don’t want to dwell on too much, because a lot of the stories are very dark and twisted!

Any one of a squeamish disposition should steer well clear, along with anyone offended by swearing. However, readers of a more robust and curious nature may wish to dip a toe in and explore this unique compendium of dark tales. If you do, you will encounter the unexpected at every turn, come face to face with criminals, psychopaths, aliens and much, much more around every corner, and wonder how you ended up where you find yourself.

The big draw for this book is that parts of it are very funny, if your sense of humour takes a turn towards the black side, and there are a lot of wry observations on the vagaries of modern life and relationships. This book will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is certainly different, and the author is obviously talented, lending a hand to a lot of different styles. One for those times when you fancy stretching the boundaries of your experience and opening your mind a little.

Tales of What The F*ck is out now as an ebook and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you follow the rest of the tour for the reactions of other bloggers to this book.

Tales of the WTF Full Tour Banner

About the Author

fav1

D.A. Watson was halfway through a music and media degree at the University of Glasgow and planning on being a teacher when he discovered he was actually a better writer than musician. He unleashed his debut novel In the Devil’s Name on an unsuspecting public in the summer of 2012, and plans of a stable career in education left firmly in the dust, later gained his masters in Creative Writing from the University of Stirling.

He has since published two more novels; The Wolves of Langabhat and Cuttin’ Heads, a collection of short fiction and poetry, Tales of the What the F*ck, and several acclaimed articles, poems and stories, including Durty Diana, which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in the US in 2016, and the Burns parody Tam O’ Shatner, prizewinner at the Falkirk Storytelling Festival and Dunedin Burns Poetry Competition, and nominated for the People’s Book Prize in 2018.

Watson’s writing has appeared in several anthologies and collections including 404 Ink, Dark Eclipse, Speculative Books, Haunted Voices and The Flexible Persona, and he is also a regular spoken word performer, with past gigs at Bloody Scotland, Tamfest, Sonnet Youth, Express Yourself, Clusterf*ck Circus, and the Burnsfest festival in 2018, where he appeared on the main stage as the warm up act for the one and only Chesney Hawkes, a personal milestone and career highlight.

His fourth novel Adonias Low will be released by Stirling Pubishing in 2021. He lives with his family in a witch infested village on the west coast of Scotland, and continues to write some seriously weird sh*t.

Connect with Dave:

Facebook: Dave Watson Books

Twitter: @davewatsonbooks

Tempted by….Being Anne: Help The Witch by Tom Cox @cox_tom @Williams13Anne @unbounders #bookbloggers #bloggerlove #readingrecommendations #booklove #HelpTheWitch

IMG_0206 51G14JiX-7L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

Inspired by our native landscapes, saturated by the shadows beneath trees and behind doors, listening to the run of water and half-heard voices, Tom Cox s first collection of short stories is a series of evocative and unsettling trips into worlds previously visited by the likes of M. R. James and E. F. Benson.

Railway tunnels, the lanes and hills of the Peak District, family homes, old stones, shreds fluttering on barbed wire, night drawing in, something that might be an animal shifting on the other side of a hedge: Tom has drawn on his life-long love of weird fiction, folklore and nature s unregarded corners to write a collection of stories that will delight fans old and new, and leave them very uneasy about turning the reading lamp off.

I know this is usually a Monday feature but yesterday was impossible so I’m sharing it today instead. Surprise! A change is as good as a rest, they say, and I’m relaxing into the Christmas holidays.

Anyway, today on Tempted by…. I have Help The Witch by Tom Cox and the review which inspired me to buy it was this one written by Anne Williams on her blog, Being Anne. Anne is a hugely respected and inspirational book blogger, who also talks quite openly about things going on in her life in general so you really feel like you get to know her through her blog. I have been lucky enough to meet her in person and she is as lovely as she comes across on the blog. her reviews are always very detailed and honest about what works in a book and what doesn’t, so I completely trust them. No flannel here!

This was the main draw of the review for me, the pulling out of the positives and the negatives; the emphasis on what worked for her and what didn’t; the quirkiness of the stories. I do like a short story collection that you can dip in and out of when you are short on time or don’t have the brain space to embark on a longer literary journey and these sound like something out of the ordinary. I’m very drawn to something a bit different, although I’m not sure I will read them late at night while I am on my own! This book was published by Unbounders and I have found that their unique publishing model have produced some very diverse and interesting books this year, including some of my favourite reads, so I am looking forward to dipping in to this over Christmas.

If, after reading Anne’s review, you would like to get your own copy of this book, you can buy it here. And please do visit Anne’s wonderful blog, Being Anne, and get to know her, I know you’ll love her too.

 

Bittersweet by Veronica Henry #BookReview #ShortStories #Freebie (@veronica_henry) @orionbooks #Kindle

41Fi77INOEL

A chance encounter on New Year’s Eve brings one woman’s dream alive; a woman begins her new life by the sea; and one strawberry tart can change everything…

From forgotten loves to second chances, new happiness and old friends, this is an uplifting and moving collection of short stories about how love changes, and how it changes us – from Sunday Times bestseller Veronica Henry.”

** Features an exclusive extract of her upcoming novel Christmas at the Beach Hut! **

Just a quick review today of Bittersweet, a delightful collection of short stories by one of my favourite authors, Veronica Henry. The book also has an exclusive extract from her new novel Christmas at the Beach Hut which will be published on 15 November.

There are seven short stories in this little collection, and everyone of them is delightful. It is really hard to write a short story but Veronica manages to imbue each of these with an impressive range of activity and emotion; I defy any of you to read them and remain unmoved. Despite the restrictions on the length of each, Veronica’s trademark warmth and empathy is obvious in each one, no one else could possibly have written these stories.

Each of these has a different twist on relationships, some of them happy, some more melancholy, but all of them ultimately uplifting. I think my two favourites were Escape to the Country, where I found myself inwardly cheering as Holly finally takes her future in her own hands, and A Certain Likeness, where we are left believing that it might never be too late.

I must admit, I didn’t read the extract from Veronica’s new book because I have it on pre-order and I didn’t want to have to wait three weeks to be able to carry on reading once I was drawn in to the story. However, if you haven’t read either of the two Beach Hut novels (and if not, why not, they are wonderful!), the extract will be a great taster of the seaside town of Everdene and I am sure you won’t be able to resist diving in to the series.

The best thing os all about this little collection is that it is FREE to download on Kindle. Yes, you heard that correctly – it is absolutely free to download, so what on earth could possibly be stopping you? You can download it here, then grab a comfy chair, cosy blanket and a mug of your favourite hot beverage and settle down for treat. You can thank me later.

If that wasn’t enough, Veronica will be guesting on my blog on Friday 16 November as part of my new Friday Night Drinks feature, to celebrate the launch of her new book, Christmas at the Beach Hut, so make sure you check that out. Veronica’s new book is available for pre-order here.

About the Author

Veronica Henry-detail

Veronica Henry has worked as a scriptwriter for THE ARCHERS, HEARTBEAT and HOLBY CITY amongst many others, before turning to fiction. She won the 2014 RNA NOVEL OF THE YEAR AWARD for A NIGHT ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. Veronica lives with her family in a village in north Devon.

Connect with Veronica:

Website: www.veronicahenry.co.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/veronicahenryauthor/

Twitter: @veronica_henry

Instagram: @veronicahenryauthor

 

A Snow Garden & Other Stories by Rachel Joyce #BookReview (@R_Joyce_Books) @TransworldBooks

cover.jpg.rendition.400.615

“In the course of a fortnight at the end of a year; a woman finds a cure for a broken heart where she least expects it; a husband and wife build their son a bicycle and, in the process, deconstruct their happy marriage; freak weather brings the airport to a standstill on Christmas Day; a young woman will change her life by saying one word; a father foolishly promises his sons snow; the most famous young man in the world goes back to his childhood home; and a law-abiding old man discovers guerilla gardening…”

I have to start this review with a humiliating admission – I have not read any of Rachel Joyce’s other work. I know this is awful. I have a copy of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry sat in my TBR pile and for some reason I just have not got round to reading it yet. I intend to rectify this very soon, having read A Snow Garden & Other Stories.

This is a small book containing seven short stories which revolve around peripheral characters that were cut from her other works, but whom she has been unable to let go of completely. She describes them as ‘making a nuisance of themselves’ so she decided to try and quieten them by giving them short stories of their own. I love that idea – the thought  that these characters have a life of their own and won’t settle until their story has been told.

In the foreword to this book, Joyce says, ‘We are at the centre of our own stories. And sometimes it is hard to believe that we are not at the centre of other people’s. But I love the fact that you can brush past a person with your own story, your own life, so big in your mind and at the same time be a simple passer-by in someone else’s. A walk-on part.’ This is the theme that binds these stories together – they intersect almost imperceptibly, but the link is there, cemented by one recurring image throughout the book, so the book feels whole and not discordant despite the seven divergent story lines.

Joyce’s writing is very clever, she brings the various protagonists fully to life skilfully in the brief span provided by the short story form, and she manages to give us a very clear insight into their experiences and characters through a snapshot of a single moment in their lives. The stories are poignant and bittersweet, with an indefinable air of magic and melancholy about them, whilst at the same time as being totally real and relatable, and very, very moving. I was left affected by each story for a long while afterwards. ‘A Faraway Smell of Lemon’ and ‘A Snow Garden’ were my particular favourites and resonated deeply with me for personal reasons, and it is testimony to Joyce’s expertise that her writing has managed to connect with her reader in this way in such a short space of time.

I particularly love her use of language, and the way she manages to communicate a very clear image with the use of only a few words. This is a complete contrast to some of the unnecessary verbiage and over-wrought imagery I have seen in a good deal of literary fiction recently, where I sometimes feel figurative language is used for the sake of cleverness rather than clarity. I especially loved her description of ‘...birds sat pegged on the black branches of the trees.‘- can’t you just precisely imagine the scene.

Each of the stories is set in the period between early December and New Year’s Eve and it is the perfect winter book. However, I would not let this put you off picking it up now – it would be a great read at any time. I devoured it in one afternoon, curled in a cosy armchair, but it is one of those books that you continue to think about long after you have closed the final page. I loved this book and would highly recommend it. I look forward to reading Joyce’s other books that I have so sorely and misguidedly neglected until now.

A Snow Garden and Other Stories is out now.

About the Author

Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Perfect and The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and has been translated into 34 languages. Rachel Joyce was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 2012 and shortlisted for the ‘Writer of the Year’ 2014.

She is the award-winning writer of over 30 original afternoon plays and classic adaptations for BBC Radio 4.

Rachel Joyce lives with her family in Gloucestershire.