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Lost City

Book reviews: Issue 50

22 January 13 words: James Walker
2012 was meant to be the end of the world but this certainly wasn't the case for the Notts literature scene

Jon McGregor takes the Impac Award, Alison Moore shortlisted for the Booker, Sillitoe Trail nominated for top content on The Space, Sarah Jackson nominated for the Guardian First Book Award and Ian Douglas commissioned for the V&A exhibition 26 Treasures of Childhood. So 2012 wasn't the end of the world then...  

Nottslit blog is passionate about literature with a Nottinghamshire connection so we asked them to review three titles from Pewter Rose Press
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Standing Water
Terri Armstrong 
Winner of the 2010 Yeovil Literary Prize, Standing Water is a captivating tale of loss, the nature of relationships and the struggle to change. Dom has spent eight years distancing himself, geographically and emotionally, from his family’s farm in the Western Australian outback. After the death of his mother, he returns to find his once thriving hometown in serious decline and the farm’s existence under threat. Custodian of the farm is Dom’s brother, Neal, a man as hostile as the harsh rural setting. Told from the perspective of three compelling characters, Armstrong skillfully handles the narrative as secrets are revealed and unresolved tensions resurface. This is an accomplished first novel from the Australian born author. NottsLitBlog.
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Amelia and the Virgin
Nicky Harlow
It is 1981 in the city of Liverpool; a perfect setting for a novel that embraces both comedy and tragedy. A large catholic family of oddballs - think the Boswells meet Mrs Brown’s Boys - are introduced through the eyes of Amelia, a regular thirteen-year-old girl. Well, regular apart from her visions of the Goddess Irena. An unexpected pregnancy has Amelia convinced that she is destined to give birth to a girl, the new Messiah no less, a belief that gains support after a series of assumed miracles. The male characters were, to a man, unlikable but I found Amelia to be engaging. Her mix of innocence and intelligence had me rooting for her throughout. This is a well-paced, poignant story. The constant presence of humour helps to counter the bleak mood but this is a novel shrouded in blackness and should be avoided by those on suicide watch.  NottsLitBlog.
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Heather Shaw
Cultural aspirations are thwarted by the everyday frivolity of modern Britain in the eighteen slices of life that comprise Heather Shaw’s first collection of short stories. Humour and pathos collide as we meet characters at different stages of life. Many of these recognisable situations illicit an immediate emotion and there are more rewards to be had as the reader fills in the gaps. From the superb Brushstrokes and snappy dialogue of One Small Regret, to the cliché ridden Snapshots and bizarre A Disturbance Of Dirt, this Derbyshire author displays a lightness of touch throughout. Given their brevity, many of the stories could be coined flash fiction, making this an ideal collection to dip in and out of. I found the ragged right alignment of text to be a distraction but this is a hugely enjoyable collection. NottsLitBlog.
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Some Kind of Fairy Tale
Graham Joyce  
Gollancz, £9.99
Do you believe in fairies? No, not little Tinkerbells fluttering at the bottom of the garden. Strapping, adult-sized strangers with an appetite for abduction, unfettered sex and fighting. When fifteen-year-old Tara goes missing she is presumed dead. Then, twenty years later, she turns up not a jot older than the day she vanished to confess a tale beyond belief. Only the tale is far from over…While reinventing the faerie world for a modern audience, Joyce also captures compelling insights into youth, middle-age and failed ambition. Yet really this is a love letter to the Leicestershire county. Charnwood Forest is transformed from an ancient woodland on a bed of dormant volcanoes in to a portal to an enchanted land, where bluebells are always in season and lakes shimmer with life. The storytelling is stoked up with a suspense that makes for a real page-turner. One of the best reads this year.  Ian Douglas
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The Open Door
Alan Sillitoe
Five Leaves, £12.99
Meet Arthur Seaton’s brother, Brian – older, wiser and back from a stint as a wireless operator in Malaya. He’s looking forward to ditching the uniform and going home … or at least down the pub. Brian has a wife who doesn’t want him, a son who doesn’t know him and a shadow on his lung. Demob on hold, he’s sent to a sanatorium; the diagnosis is TB. Alan Sillitoe’s semi-autobiographical novel gets a new lease of life courtesy of Five Leaves Publications. The narrative traces Brian’s intellectual education, his affair with a sympathetic nurse and his literary ambitions. But the past is never far away and his return to Nottingham is inevitable. The Open Door is compassionate and unflinchingly honest, showing us Arthur at fifteen on the cusp of his belligerent adulthood and Brian already there, aware of the fragility of life but burning with the possibilities of the future. Neil Fulwood
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Write Short Stories and Get them Published 
Zoe Fairbairns
Teach Yourself, £9.99 
In your head, it’s a great story.  Now it’s time to tell it. Nottingham Writers’ Studio member Zoe Fairbairn’s new ‘Teach Yourself’ handbook is designed to help you turn your thoughts into words on the page.  Her chapter by chapter approach to gradually developing your writing works well, with relevant anecdotes, references to short story collections and exercises (yes, you do have to work) in each section. Techniques to encourage motivation and maintain stamina should ensure you are able to fully develop an idea and take advantage of every writer’s favourite chapter: how to get published. If you’ve got some experience of writing, it’s worth a look for the exercises - a good way to help you get your stories ‘match fit’, or moving again if you’re stuck mid-draft. Andrew Kells
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