Note Added April 29, 2015. The Long List for The Frank O'Connon Prize was announced yesterday. Avril Joy's collection, Millie and Birds - Tales of Paradise was on the list. In May I hipe to do a major post on her full collection. Also please look for a Q and A session with Avril Joy coming soon.
Sometimes a long path leads us from one writer to another, the reading life can take us down many an unexpected road. About five and a half years ago I was just starting to overcome a very misguided life long disinterest in the short story. I used to check almost daily to see what the short story of the day would be on the webpage, East of the Moon Short Stories. One morning the story was "Miss Brill" by Katherine Mansfield. I liked this story so much I ended up reading and posting on all of her short stories in her four collections. I was just getting into short stories and I realized she was not just a great writer but a figure of significant cultural importance. I very happily was given the opportunity to read a just published biography Katherine Mansfield - The StoryTeller by Kathleen Jones. Ever since then I have looked to the webpage of Kathleen Jones for other new to me reading ideas. Recently after reading of her great admiration for the work of Avril Joy I felt a strong need to read Joy's 2013 Costa Award Winning Story, "Mille and Bird". Once I knew the central characters were two sisters 16 and 13 I thought being the father of three daughters, two still teenagers, I really felt this was a story I really should read right soon.
Having now read "Millie and Bird" three times I can give it my highest endorsement. The girls are from a at least partially dysfunctional family, their mother is a heavy drinker and their father is, in this story at least, missing. The narrator is the sixteen year old. As any parent can tell you, the gap between a 13 year old and a 16 year old is huge. Joy does a great job of showing us the many subtle nuances in the relationships between the girls and their mother. The conversations are small gems. The sixteen year old is growing up a little to fast, for me as a father at least, but with an often passed out drunk mother she does not have a lot of options. I don't want to tell very much of the marvelous plot of the story but the starting event is when a neighbor gives 13 year old Millie a bird, which she calls just "Bird". There are interesting minor characters in the story and all is not bleak with the mother either. Something terrible and a bit mysterious happens that really intrigued me. I very much enjoyed this great story.