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November 2019

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Grandmothers by Salley Vickers
7th November 2019

Beautifully observed and written with a sparkling clarity, Grandmothers is the touching new novel from Salley Vickers

The Grandmothers by Salley Vickers

 

Grandmothers by Salley Vickers tells the interwoven stories of three very different women and their relationship with the younger generation. The outlook of all three women subtly alters when through their encounters with each other, they discover that the past is always with us and that we go on learning and changing until the very end. Here you can read an exclusive extract taken from chapter four, that gives a flavour of fiercely independent Nan

 


 

Nan called round to her daughter‑in‑law’s to collect Billy to take him with her to inspect the latest candidate for her coffin. She had advised him not to tell his mother the purpose of the trip.

Nan was on a mission to teach Billy how to lie. ‘It’s not that I want you to deceive,’ she had explained. ‘It’s for self-protection. Sometimes you have to say or do things to look after yourself. And remember, you are the only person truly entrusted to care for yourself. Others will tell you otherwise but in the end it’s all down to you.’

Billy had listened without comment to this and to connected advice: ‘The important thing, Bill, is to know you’re doing it. Most people lie to themselves more than anything. That’s the royal road to ruin’ and ‘If you’re going to lie the first rule is don’t be found out.’

The young Nan had early recognised that much of what passes for human relationship is really a form of blackmail. Her Scottish grandmother, who had never lapsed into the frailty of old age, had been an example to her. All but bald, certainly toothless but with her marbles almost shockingly intact, she had commanded her life right up to the point of leaving it, which she had done with exemplary timing on the cusp of a new year, in the middle of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Her grandmother had brought up her three children single-handed after her young husband was drowned while helping to save a craft in trouble off the coast near St Abbs. Resisting all offers of help in her widowhood, she had relied on her own shrewd cunning, an invincible charm – even in great old age – the stark realism of the Scottish border ballads and the certitude of the sterner Old Testament prophets, whose moral terms she interpreted liberally.

Nan had inherited her grandmother’s strength of character, her capacity for endurance and keen ear for cant. But her grandmother’s most practical legacy had been this pearl: ‘Muddle them, Annie. Muddle them is what I do.’

For much of her adult life Nan had followed this sage advice. She had divined that to be free from human interference some form of disguise is necessary. In her view, her grandson was one of those born with a skin too few and this, along with his intractable honesty, meant that he was badly in need of camouflage.

 


 

Salley Vickers

 

Salley Vickers is the author of many novels, including Miss Garnet's Angel, The Cleaner of Chartres and Cousins. She has worked as a teacher of children with special needs, a university teacher of literature and a psychoanalyst. She now writes full time and divides her time between London and Wiltshire.

 

 

 

The Photographer of the Lost by Caroline Scott
3rd November 2019 - Caroline Scott

 The Photographer of the Lost by Caroline Scott - an epic novel of forbidden love, loss, and the shattered hearts left behind in the wake of World War I

 

The Photographer of the Lost by Caroline Scott

 

An incredibly moving account of an often-forgotten moment in history, The Photographer of the Lost tells the story of the thousands of soldiers who were lost amid the chaos and ruins of the First World War, and the even greater number of men and women desperate to find them again. Here you can read a piece from author Caroline Scott giving some real background to the period, which illustrates how she was driven to research and write such a moving first novel.

 


 

The longest journey: the story of women travelling to cemeteries and searches in the wake of the First World War

 

For as long as the First World War continued, it was impossible, in most cases, for bereaved families to visit the graves of servicemen who’d died overseas. Unable to attend a funeral, or see a gravesite, many felt an agonising lack of closure and the unanswered questions wouldn’t go away. A groundswell of unsatisfied grief built up while the war went on, and so, as soon as hostilities ended, journeys were planned. But months would pass before civilians would be permitted to enter some of the former conflict zones. All the hardware of war had to be cleared away first, bodies exhumed, trenches and shell holes filled, and the demobilisation of the troops tied up transport networks.

 

Some women did find ways to travel, though. In April 1919 Lady Londonderry spent five days touring the battlefields, and her diary shows why it was that the authorities wanted to hold the public back. She wrote: ‘The only signs of life were salvage parties of men exhuming dead bodies, or burying them, or else digging cemeteries. Two bright splotches of colour caught the eye in the near distance. Flags! Yes. They were Union Jacks which lay over the floor of two wagons, they covered poor shapeless lumps of clay carefully placed in sacks, the remains of those who had fought their last fight on this famous field.’ She concluded: ‘I know I cannot adequately transplant my feelings into words. My last impression, as it was my first, of the battlefields, was the feeling of death pervading everything around us.’

 

Author and journalist Ethel Tweedie crossed the Channel in May 1919. She was there to write a series of articles for an American newspaper syndicate, but also to visit her son’s grave. Like Lady Londonderry, she observed the battlefields to be insanitary places (‘blue bottle and mosquitos reign’), and the hotels were ‘mighty unhealthy’ too. She stayed in the only hotel in Arras that offered guest accommodation at this time – or accommodation of a sort: ‘One sleeps in a room in which the parquet flooring is standing up in ridges from the convulsion of shells, the windows are of paper, interlaced with string, with the connecting floor so broken away that one looks straight out on to the street below.’ She advised that ‘no one should visit these places before 1920’.

 

But in July 1919 travel restrictions were finally lifted and bereaved families wanted to make the journey. That autumn, Angela Farmer set off to look for her husband, Jack. She knew that he’d been buried somewhere around the village of Longueval, but finding his grave was another matter. ‘I never expected this,’ she wrote. ‘I have tried to think of it, and of him in it, and of what hell looks like. But I never imagined such loneliness and dreadfulness and sadness in any one place in the world. One cannot imagine it.’

 

This was clearly a challenging and distressing place, but despite the difficulties and the warnings, 60,000 people made trips to the Western Front in 1919. For those in mourning, often with only scant details of a death and burial, there was a pressing need for answers and resolution. Those who had a grave to go to were the fortunate ones in some ways. Mrs L. M. Orton found her brother, Christopher. ‘The photograph we had with us was a clue,’ she recorded, ‘and we could read the name, “C. Wicks” on the white painted cross for some little distance. Three-and-a-half years have elapsed since Christopher was put in that narrow military grave, but memory is very keen, and it only seemed to us, as we stood there, a few days since we heard the news of his death on April 14th, 1918. But the well-kept cemetery with its neat flower beds was all that we could have desired for a last resting-place for him.’

 

Finally seeing a grave allowed the stalled cycle of mourning to move on. But for all too many women this would prove to be impossible. 526,816 British and Commonwealth Great War soldiers have no known grave. Some just disappeared, leaving their relatives not knowing if they were dead or alive, while other families were looking for graves that had vanished. After being static for so long, the war lurched into a last dying struggle in 1918, and over those tumultuous final months many cemeteries were destroyed. Families who had already received photographs of their loved ones’ graves would then never be able to find them. Thousands of men were lost all over again.

 

At Easter 1920, the old battlefields were busy and so many people were searching. A journalist observed: ‘A father and mother and daughter from Manchester have been searching for three days around Flers. Their boy fell there, and they thought they might find a wooden cross with his name on it. A Liverpool mother has spent a whole day at Thiepval, passing along trenches, heedless of pouring rain and mud, in the hope of finding her boy’s grave. I found several pilgrims round Albert engaged in the same sad quest, some hopeful, others despondent.’ The Salvation Army offered help to those trying to find missing men. All too often the search was fruitless; but sometimes there was a result.  In 1924 they assisted a Scottish mother who had come to Belgium seeking information about her son. After prolonged enquiries, the man was identified among six others who had been buried as unknown soldiers near the Menin Gate at Ypres. The mother identified the body by the shirt, ‘every stitch in which I myself had sewn.’

 

Many women carried wreathes over with them from Britain, while others brought plants from their own gardens. In 1921 a party of widows from Aberdeen brought heather to France to place on their husbands’ graves, but a grieving mother amongst them also carried a hot-water bottle. She used to put in her son’s bed at home, she said, and her intention now was to bury it in his grave. Tokens were left, but also taken. In return, women pressed poppies between the pages of books, picked moss and mould off graves, and came home with pebbles, fragments of barbed wire and flower seeds. One elderly woman wrapped her muddy boots in paper after visiting her son’s grave. She made the return journey to England in her slippers, explaining that she regarded the mud on those boots as ‘too sacred to be removed’. Ethel Richardson filled a bottle with soil and grass from her son’s grave in Fricourt. She then managed to get it placed below the foundations of the village war memorial in Purton, Wiltshire. She wrote, ‘When late at night, with the stars brilliantly shining the cross stands, whitely gleaming in the foreground.’ It was a homecoming of a kind.

 


 

Caroline Scott

 

Caroline Scott completed a PhD in History at the University of Durham. She developed a particular interest in the impact of the First World War on the landscape of Belgium and France, and in the experience of women during the conflict - fascinations that she was able to pursue while she spent several years working as a researcher for a Belgian company. Caroline is originally from Lancashire, but now lives in southwest France.

 

 

Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley
30th October 2019 - Andrew Michael Hurley

Isolation, folklore and loss; the potent factors of folk horror.  An exclusive essay by Andrew Michael Hurley, author of Starve Acre

Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley

 

This Halloween sees the publication of Andrew Michael Hurley's third novel, Starve Acre, a devastating novel of loss and building menace, which treads a similar chilling path to his breakout novel The Loney, and follow-on Devil's Day. Across literature and film folk horror has organically emerged in recent years, and in an exclusive essay written especially for Foyles, Andrew gives us his thoughts on the genre, while at the same time giving plenty of tips for further reading and viewing

 


 

The question, what is folk horror? is a difficult one to answer, not least because it is a recently coined term and therefore its parameters are still very much open to debate. General consensus credits Mark Gatiss with popularising the phrase in his 2010 BBC series, A History of Horror, though he was picking up from a 2003 interview given by the director, Piers Haggard, who used the appellation to describe his film, Blood on Satan’s Claw.

 

Either way, it means that any so-called “folk horror” produced before this century is only “folk horror” in retrospect. This includes the film classics of the genre, the “unholy trinity” of Witchfinder General (1968) Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and The Wicker Man (1973).

 

Like most labels, “folk horror” is fairly inadequate to account for everything that it purports to bind together. What exactly links, say, Kill List and The Signalman, or The Blair Witch Project and The Box of Delights?

 

All are considered “folk horror” in Adam Scovell’s seminal work on the sub-genre, Hours Strange and Things Dreadful. In the book, Scovell proposes a “chain” of common themes which connect folk horror texts together: namely a rural location, a sense of isolation, a skewed belief system and a summoning (of something usually malevolent). You’ll notice that there’s nothing overtly “supernatural” in this list and indeed it’s often the case that the “horror” in folk horror stems from the worst excesses of human behaviour as much as anything demonic. In this sense, Fiona Mozely’s Elmet and Sarah Moss’ Ghost Wall can be read as folk horror, as both novels are as characterised by the features of Scovell’s chain, as more obviously “supernatural” stories like The Woman in Black or M.R. James’ The Ash Tree. This diversity leads Scovell to concede that despite there being some patterns to folk horror it remains a “prism of a term”. In fact, the detection of it in any particular work might even be instinctive. Andy Paciorek in his introduction to Folk Horror Revival: Field Notes suggests that it can be “felt intuitively rather than defined logically”. In other words, you know folk horror when you see it.

 

Of course, arguing over whether a particular book fits into a particular category is never as interesting as why it has been written in the first place, or why it is that writers sometimes seem to have the same preoccupations at any given time. In the last ten years or so a significant amount of fiction has focused on the exploration of specifically rural British landscapes in a manner that seems to fit with Scovell’s folk horror chain. Apart from the novels already mentioned, we can add Kerry Andrew’s Swansong, The Gallow’s Pole by Benjamin Myers, Fell, by Jenn Ashworth, Lucie McKnight Hardy’s Water Shall Not Refuse Them, Lanny, by Max Porter, my own books, The Loney, Devil’s Day and Starve Acre, and anthologies of folk horror tales such as Fiends in the Furrows and This Dreaming Isle.

 

Why folk horror is enjoying such a resurgence is complicated. In some ways it has returned for the same reasons it emerged in its initial heyday in the late 1960s to the late 1970s. Politically, there are certain similarities between then and now: financial meltdown, social upheaval, the rise of right-wing populism, catastrophic foreign wars, dangerous tensions between East and West. All of which have driven people to distance themselves – often literally, by relocating to the isolation of the countryside – from a system corrupted by the moral bankruptcy of those in authority.

 

But there are differences too. Indeed, many of the fears present in folk horror today stem from fears in their infancy then.

 

We are, for instance, far more conscious now about the damage we’ve inflicted on the environment and the amount that we stand to lose. It’s no coincidence that the interest in folk horror has risen with the popularity of “nature writing”. To a large extent, both are interested in recording the peculiarities and particulars of a location. In different ways, they are both engaged in an act of preservation, taking a specific place and producing records of its botany, history, memory and folklore – real or imagined – before they are all lost.

 

Perhaps we’re looking to nature because now more than ever we want to experience something real. Day after day we send virtual versions of ourselves through the cyber-ether as binary code and receive other disembodied voices into our inboxes. We are reduced to soundbites on Twitter. Life is ameliorated through filters. In the natural world we think we see the opposite of this soul-numbing techno-fakery, a place of sanctuary, a space in which we can bring about the restoration of our true selves. But folk horror shows up such romanticism for what it is and shatters the illusion of the bucolic idyll completely.

 

In Starve Acre and so many other folk horror stories, an escape to the countryside in the pursuit of hope or healing only leads to a confrontation with a more profound darkness, one that crawls out of the past, as if by our very presence in the natural world we awaken old ghosts.

 

Folk horror feels timely. Not only is it a rebuff to a sentimental Vicar of Dibley type image of Britain but a check on the insidious and toxic jingoism of nationalists who see the British landscape as an emblem of all that was once “right” and “proper”. No, the moors, woods, fields and valleys are infused with a problematic, violent and ignoble history and our relationship with it must involve addressing this version of ourselves and acknowledging that our brutality and strangeness lie buried in very shallow graves.

 


 

Andrew Michael Hurley (credit Hal Shinnie)

 

Andrew Michael Hurley is based in Lancashire. His first novel, The Loney, was originally published by Tartarus Press as a 300-copy limited edition, before being republished by John Murray. It went on to sell in twenty languages, win the Costa Best First Novel Award and the Book of the Year at the British Book Industry Awards. Devil's Day, his second novel, was picked as a Book of the Year in five newspapers, and won the Encore Award.

Photo © Hal Shinnie

 

 

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver is a Gothic Treat, Perfect for Halloween
28th October 2019

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver is a gothic treat, perfect for chills at Halloween

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

 

Wakenhyrst is the latest novel from Michelle Paver, and like Dark Matter and Thin Air before it it is guaranteed to send shivers down your spine. Its heart is pure gothic and the writing pulses and writhes with malignancy and uncertainty. Deep in the Fens in the early years of the twentieth century an old evil is let loose, one that will result in a battle of wills and wits. Told primarily from the viewpoint of Maud, a lonely, motherless child, and intercut with extracts from her stern and repressive father’s notebooks, Wakenhyrst will keep you gripped from beginning to end. The extract below, from Edmund’s notebooks, gives a flavour of the chilling tale.

 


9th June


This morning, Ivy found an eel in my washbasin – or so she says. She says that as she knows my dislike of the creatures, she made haste to remove it. A likely story. The chit either put it there herself, or else it never existed and she concocted the whole thing to alarm me and make herself appear indispensable.

 

When I confronted her she became indignant, insisting that she’d found a large black eel coiled in my washbasin. ‘Stone dead it wor,’ she assured me. She swore to it on the Bible. I scolded her severely for that, but she still wouldn’t confess. I had to threaten to dock her wages, and even then she admitted her guilt so grudgingly that one would have thought her confession were the falsehood, not the prank itself.

 

But it must have been her. None of the other servants would dare perpetrate such a trick. I shall have to watch Ivy. She is (in vulgar parlance) ‘getting above herself’.

 

Strange how the mind works. I find the notion of an eel in my washbasin so revolting that I had Daisy scrub it out with lye.

 

When I was a boy I once saw Cook making eel pie. After the creatures had been cut up, the parts continued to move. ‘Nowt so strong as an eel,’ Cook said. In Pyett’s time they believed that eels arose spontaneously from the ooze in the fen. Perhaps therein lies my dislike of the creatures. They inhabit the slime, and will eat any dead, rotting thing that sinks into it.

Gargoyle illustration

10th June

 

I had that dream again. As before, I was standing beside the Mere, and although I haven’t been near the place in thirty years, it felt extraordinarily real. I smelled meadowsweet and I was conscious of reeds brushing my naked calves. I heard the high thin screams of swifts.

 

As before, I was terrified of something that was rising from the deep. I couldn’t move, I could only watch it come closer. Nearer and nearer it rose, until it was floating just beneath the surface. Its face was obscured by a clotted mass of hair that shifted and swayed in a manner I found indescribably horrific. I tried to flee but my legs wouldn’t move. I knew that in another moment the hair would part and the thing would see me with its dead white eyes and my heart would burst...

 

With a cry I awoke. In my confusion I fancied I heard a dreadful wet snuffling somewhere nearby, and I saw waterlight on the ceiling, a shifting green glimmer inter- twined with the trailing shadows of weeds. What can have happened? I wondered. Has the Lode invaded the grounds during the night and crept up to the very walls of the house, bringing with it some denizen of the fen? Is it there now, crouching like an incubus on my windowsill? Glaring at me?

 

Then I came fully awake – and of course there was no waterlight on the ceiling and no web-footed demon crouch- ing on the sill. It was simply greenish sunlight filtering through the leaves that stirred and trembled around my windows.

 

To my consternation I perceived that the window opposite my bed was partially open, its blind half-raised and its curtains flapping. Drifting in from the fen came the most revolting marshy stench.

 

How could this have happened? Since I became Master of Wake’s End it has been my fixed rule that all windows giving on to the fen must remain shut. Any servant who dis- obeys me is dismissed forthwith. They all know this. Who then could have raised the sash?

 

Later

Whoever it was, they must have done it while I slept. I find that thought peculiarly disturbing.

*

Illustration © Stephen McNally

 


Michelle Paver author photograph

Michelle Paver was born in Central Africa but came to England as a child. After gaining a degree in Biochemistry from Oxford University she became a partner in a city law firm, but eventually gave that up to write full time. She is the bestselling author of the adult Gothic novels Dark Matter and Thin Air and the prizewinning, million copy selling children's series Chronicles of Ancient Darkness.

Photo © Anthony Upton

 

 

Ghostland by Edward Parnell
25th October 2019

Ghostland by Edward Parnell - grief, memory and longing, hauntingly woven together with the redemptive power of stories and nature

 

 

A beguiling blend of personal memoir, history, travel writing, literary tales and not so much haunted houses as haunted people, Edward Parnell's Ghostland is a perfect non-fiction read for Halloween. With atmospheric photos and illustrations to provide depth and context, this is a unique book which will keep you turning pages long into the night. 
Here you can read an exclusive extract taken from the beginning of chapter five

 


 

Memento Mori

 

I arrived with the dusk on a biting, slate-skied afternoon, a mixture of sleet and snow starting to fall as I made my way up the path that coiled around the hillside. The light, dim to begin with, grew steadily darker as I wound higher. Three redpolls – small finches I picked out from their highpitched, questioning calls – flew over my head, looking for somewhere to roost, though they would have more luck down in the shelter of the mound than at its summit.

 

I was visiting Glasgow’s gothic monument to death, its sprawling memento mori (from the Latin ‘remember you must die’): the Necropolis. The site covers a hill behind St Mungo’s Cathedral, giving an impressive panorama of the city. Formerly rocky parkland, in 1831 it was given over to afford ‘a much wanted accommodation to the higher classes’ that would be ‘respectful to the dead, safe and sanitary to the living, dedicated to the Genius of Memory and to extend religious and moral feeling’. Since then, various extensions to its original area have been made, alongside fifty thousand burials in 3,500 brick-partitioned tombs.

 

No one else was about – they probably had more sense on this bitter afternoon at the back end of 2014. I’d gravitated here, pulled by the name, and by the pictures I’d seen of the place’s impressive architecture – as well as the melancholia of my own mood – after tagging along to the city with my partner, who was here for a work conference.

 

In particular, I was drawn to one of the Necropolis’s most imposing structures, the Aiken Mausoleum, its classical pillars and portico half-hidden by tangled ivy and creepers. Peering through the wrought-iron gates that locked across its front I could just read some of the words on the memorial plaques inside.

 

More disconcertingly, in the darkness I could also make out a rectangular opening that presumably marked the steps down to the graves themselves, though the paltry torchlight from my phone did not show any detail. Was it spooky? Perhaps a little, but the lights of the city, multiplied at this time of year by those of Christmas, were close. And I was used to wandering in such places – albeit not quite as grand as this – as, for five years as a boy I had been a chorister, for a dare we would sometimes run through the graveyard of the town’s thirteenth-century church after evensong on winter Sunday evenings, pausing midway to touch the top of the coffin-shaped tomb with the foreboding cleft through its lid.

 

In my present, too, walking back from the train station to my own house after dark I have to pass along an unlit lane that runs beside the local cemetery. Just before the darkest point, where the trees crowd in from both sides, the curve of the road and the low flint wall to the left look almost identical to the Victorian artist John Atkinson Grimshaw’s Moonlight Walk – the self-taught Yorkshireman specialised in realistic, slightly unsettling nocturnal scenes – which features on the cover of my paperback copy of M. R. James’s Collected Ghost Stories. Sometimes as I enter that last stretch I picture myself as the painting’s lone figure, dwarfed by the darkness.

 

 


 

Edward Parnell lives near Norwich and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. He has been the recipient of an Escalator Award from the National Centre for Writing and a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. His novel The Listeners was the winner of the Rethink New Novels Prize.

 

 

Things We Say in the Dark a chilling new short story collection from Kirsty Logan
23rd October 2019

Some things can't be spoken about in the light of day; but we can visit our fears at night, in the dark

 Things We Say in the Dark a chilling new short story collection from Kirsty Logan

 

 

Following the success of her recent novel The Gloaming, Kirsty Logan returns with a new short story collection Things We Say in the Dark, that is sure to get under your skin. Ranging from chilling contemporary fairytales to disturbing supernatural fiction, this is Logan at her most powerful. Often likened to Angela Carter, with this new work, a powerful contemporary collection of feminist stories, ranging from vicious fairy tales to disturbing horror and tender ghost stories, those comparisons are sure to continue. And rightly so.


Kirsty has exclusively allowed Foyles to share one of the stories from the collection, only available online for a short period of time, that oh-so effectively chills while it entertains​. Enjoy.

 


 

The Only Time I Think of You is All the Time


It was hard for Brigitte to get to me at first. She’d push against the barrier for hours, getting more and more frustrated at me for not being able to see her or hear her. When she finally appeared to me, waking me in the night, she’d have been talking for so long with no one listening that the words had turned to slush and mutter. Before Brigitte, I woke calmly, to the morning sun or birdsong or the natural end of my dreams. Now it’s a sudden fall awake, her hands gripping my shoulders, her face right up close to mine. Her constant tumble of words, an avalanche of scree, falling out in a low mumble, steady as earth.

 

I know how Brigitte died. She drowned. I don’t know if it was an accident, or she did it to herself, or someone else did it to her. But I know she drowned because she was underwater for so long that her eyes turned milky, and they still look like that now. In our afterlives we’ll all look the way we did at the moment of death, I guess. It’s strange to see her in water; I feel like I should try to save her from it, keep her dry and breathing, though it’s far too late for that.

 

It’s hard to remember now what baths used to be like. The book, the bubbles, the fizzing glass: it’s like something I saw in a film once. Now Brigitte climbs in after me and chatters in my ear. Once I lost patience and tried to hold her under, just for a moment of silence. But she just laughed at me and then there was a hell of a mess with the water on the floor and I’m the only one who can clean it up, after all.

 

I don’t know who Brigitte is. Who she was. She seems to be – to have been – in her late thirties, early forties. She has long brown hair and small hands. Her face is bloated from the water and I can’t tell what colour her eyes were, but I’m sure I never met her. She wears a nightgown, ankle-length and white and always drifting around like she’s falling in slow motion, but it’s a timeless design so it’s hard to place it. I think she might be from a long time ago. Decades or centuries, many generations. Perhaps it takes a really, really long time to work your way back to here from wherever you go. I don’t know who she is and I don’t know what she wants, other than to be near me and talk to me always. What kind of monster am I for resenting that? For resenting a love so obsessive, so all- encompassing, so perfect? Most people go their whole lives without being loved like that. I should appreciate it.

 

She can come to me whenever she wants to, and what she wants is all the time. If I’m asleep or distracted or trying to do something, it’s harder for her to get my attention. Her words are still there but I’ve stopped hearing them. That’s when she gets frustrated. I work from home now; it wasn’t a good look for me to suddenly respond to her in the middle of a meeting or while on the phone. I still don’t know whether other people could see her and were frightened at the sight, or if they couldn’t see her and were shocked by me suddenly shouting shut up shut up please for fuck’s sake shut up at nothing. I don’t know how you ask people something like that.
 

I still live in the house I grew up in with my mother, which is also the house my mother grew up in with her mother. They’re both dead, so it’s my house now. I had a wonderful childhood here. My mother and I loved each other so much; it was just the two of us, a tiny team, together all the time. My grandmother died when my mother was small so I never met her. My mother died when I was small too. I miss them both. I know it might not make sense that I miss my grandmother when I never met her, but I do. I miss how much I would have loved her.

 

There’s only one place I can go where Brigitte can’t find me. Behind the house is a long, rambling, overgrown garden, and at the end of the garden is a pond. On top of the pond is a layer of algae, summer-stinking, blanketing the black water. Over it hums a constant shift of black flies. There is nowhere now that she is not – nowhere except here. I have to make sure she won’t find me. It’s not enough to just be beside the pond. I slide into the water, feeling the wet algae slime up my calves, my thighs, my belly, my breasts, my throat. Under the water, invisible things squirm. The water is the colour of stewed tea. I close my eyes and take a big breath and dip my head under the water. Silence. Darkness. I feel my heartbeat pulse in my ears. The water presses on my eyes. I am alone, finally alone, if only for the length of a breath.

 

I know I shouldn’t go to the pond so often. She will get suspicious. I know she will eventually find me here, and every time under the water is a new risk. But the constancy of her. It drowns me. Here under the algae in the stale water, I have peace. Insects flick along my arms. Weeds tangle around my ankles. I know it’s ridiculous to feel so suffocated by her. It should be nice. Comforting. A middle- aged woman watching over me, keeping me company. It’s not like she’s got yellowed claws or black eyes that drip blood. It’s not like she hides in corners facing the wall or cackles at strange moments or runs her talons through my hair as I’m washing it. She’s just – there. Wherever I go, whatever I do. I walk down the street and I feel her toes stepping on the backs of my heels. I type emails and I feel her fingers on top of mine. I read a book and she bends the cover back so she can read it too. I get in the bath and I see the water rise as she climbs in after me. I go to the toilet and she slides her fingers under the door, calling my name. The constant presence and noise of her. She chatters, chatters, chatters, day and night, never pausing for breath because she doesn’t have to breathe. Her voice fills my head until there’s no space for anything else. I’ve been under the water too long, but I’m not ready to come out. I know, I just know, that she has found me. If I surface, there she will be, ready to reach for me: to stroke my face, to kiss my cheek, to twine her hand in mine. Wanting me, needing me. Bright lights flash inside my eyes. My heart throbs. Just one more second, please. Just one more moment of space and silence. I press my hands hard against the walls of the pond to hold myself under.  I think of my mother, and how much I loved her as a child – obsessively, all-encompassingly, perfectly – and how much I love her still, even after she drowned in the pond. 

 


 

Kirsty Logan credit Simone Falk

 

Kirsty Logan is the author of the novels The Gracekeepers and The Gloaming, the short story collections A Portable Shelter and The Rental Heart & Other Fairytales, the flash fiction chapbook The Psychology of Animals Swallowed Alive, and the short memoir The Old Asylum in the Woods at the Edge of the Town Where I Grew Up. Her books have won the LAMBDA Literary Award, the Polari First Book Prize, the Saboteur Award, the Scott Prize and the Gavin Wallace Fellowship, and been selected for the Radio 2 Book Club and the Waterstones Book Club. In 2019 she was selected as one of the ten most outstanding LGBTQ British writers for the International Literature Showcase. Her short fiction and poetry has been translated into Japanese and Spanish, recorded for radio and podcasts, exhibited in galleries and distributed from a vintage Wurlitzer cigarette machine. She lives in Glasgow with her wife and their rescue dog.

 

 

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