Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Overboard by Ivy Ngeow - 2020 - 392 pages

Overboard by Ivy Ngeow - 2020

"Crunchy, Crunchy Special" - A Short Story by Ivy Ngeow from her collection The  Power Ballads and Other Stories, 2020 - my first venture into The World of Ivy Ngeow Is here.

Opening Day Presentation by Ivy Ngeow

Ivy Ngeow's Website (from which you can obtain The Power Ballads and Other Stories)

From Asian Books Blog - Elaine Chiew's very interesting interview with Ivy Ngeow

Ivy Ngeow released this book when many of us, including the author, were under lockdown.  In her opening day video, linked above, we learn her book can take us far from our confines to posh London,Thailand and Cambodia.  Overboard really is a perfect lockdown book.

As the story opens, we are aboard a boat off the coast of Thailand, a powerful storm wrecks the ship.  There is only one survivor, a man, badly injured with severe facial injuries that will require several surguries.  Thai authorities take him to a hospital in Thailand where they ascertain his identiy. He has no memory of his life at all.  He is English and a person of affluence.  His Chinese wife, Phoebe, arrives from London, he does not recognize her, they are not terribly close, and right away mysteries begin to emerge.  There was a Thai woman on the boat with him.   The wife wants to know if she was a prostitute or a mistress.  She was much younger than Phoebe’s husband.

From Thailand we travel back to London, with a Cambodian excursion thrown in, where we gradually learn of complicated life of the man.  Ngeow is a marvel at creating settings through details. The narrative is structured in a very interesting  fashion, through the perceptions of four characters, Phoebe, Dominique and Przemek as well as the injured man.

  The chapters are brief, each one draws us further into the mystery.
The victim, his story is told in the second person, slowly pieces together what seems to be his life history.

We meet Dominique  in London.  Her husband  is in Singapore producing a documentary.  She is 48 years old and has just lost her job.  Very well off, she decides to fly to Nassau to stay at her favourite hotel, $1700.O0 a night for a suite.  She gets a call from Singapore.  She needs to go there right away to identify his body.  They have a child together, in college.

Przemek is an emigrate from Poland living in London and working as a plumber. He plays an important part in the unfolding plot.

There are so many interesting things in Overboard. We learn about London “Sugar Babies” who seek out online older rich men, exchanging companionship and more for rent, fancy cars, and tuition.  We see how home improvement projects are often a pain, even for the rich.  Foodies will find lots to like in the descriptions of Thai, Cambodian and dare we say it, English food.  There are several sexual encounters cinematically described. All the characters are well developed.

I see this as a cubist novel, similar in someways to The Good Soldier, in which we must be active readers putting together events.

I loved Overboard, the characters, the plot turns, the food, the posh apartments and much more.  The people are of diverse ages and homelands.  I have been to the countries in the plot and Ngeow made me feel I was back there even though I am locked down in Metro Manila.

If you are looking for a good book to help get you through these times, I totally endorse Overboard.

About the Author

Ivy Ngeow was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. A graduate of the Middlesex University Writing MA programme, Ivy won the 2005 Middlesex University Literary Prize out of almost 1500 entrants worldwide. She has written non-fiction for Marie Claire, The Star, The New Straits Times, South London Society of Architects’ Newsletter and Wimbledon magazine. Her fiction has appeared in Silverfish New Writing anthologies twice, The New Writer and on the BBC World Service. Most recently, her story was published by Fixi Novo in an anthology.

Ivy won first prize in the Commonwealth Essay Writing Competition 1994, first prize in the Barnes and Noble Career Essay Writing competition 1998 and was shortlisted for the David T K Wong Fellowship 1998 and the Ian St James Award 1999.

Ivy has been a highly-accomplished multi-instrumental musician since childhood and won fifth prize (out of 850 entrants) in the 2006 1-MIC (Music Industry Charts) UK Award for her original song – Celebrity, when she formed her own band, Satsuma (2005-07). Her songs are funky, modern and eclectic, with strong urban grooves and lyrics. Satsuma has played headlining gigs at top London venues such as: The Marquee Club, The Troubadour Club, The Water Rats, The Betsey Trotwood, Plan B and Clockwork.

Follow @ivyngeow on Twitter, on Facebook, on Amazon, on Goodreads, Visit, Buy Overboard

Mel u

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Imagining Chekhov - three short stories by Alison MacLeod from her collection, All The Beloved Ghosts - 2017

Imagining Chekhov - three short stories by Alison MacLeod from her collection, All The Beloved Ghosts - 2017

“Woman With Little Pug”

“Chekhov’s Telescope”

“The Death of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov”

Anton  Chekhov

January 29, 1860. Taganrog, Russia

July 15, 1904. Badweller, Germany

“Lady with a Dog” by Anton Chekhov - 1899

I first read Anton Chekhov’s “Lady With a Dog” very long ago, in days before the fall of Atlantis.  I just read it again.  It id a very acute account of the motivations for and perils of adultery.  We see how, at least in 1898, adultery was very different for men versus  women. (I wonder if the current pandemic is lowering rates of adultery, it certainly makes intimate contact with near strangers not  a good idea.). The man in Chekhov’s story is a serial philander.  He is skilled at finding vulnerable women and in past has avoided emotional entanglements. Chekhov shows us what happens when he loses control.  In the process we learn about the privlidged
lives of affluent late Romanov Era Russians”

“Woman With a Pug” is set in modern Brighton, a seaside resort in England.  Never having been there, i believe Brighton would be preceived as a bit tacky and downscale if the man and woman from   Chekhov’s story were to visit there as Ghosts.  Like the lady in Chekhov’s story, the woman in this story has (maybe?) a little pug.  Pursuing the theme of down scaling, she won a week in the hotel where she meets her lover.  In 1898 it meant considerable to call a woman a lady, this is also now a ghost of the past.  We learn about the life of both parties, like the man in Chekhov’s story, he is motivated as much by boredom as sexual need.  Something very perplexing happens with her dog.  Certainly we are provided with a mystery.

As I read this story, and if I had not read Chekhov’s just before i read MacLeod’s my focus would have been different but I was haunted by the ghost of Chekhov.

“Chekhov’s Telescope”

Olga Knipper - married to Anton Chekhov from 1901 to 1904, when he dies of Tuberculosis.

Born 1868 in Glaszov, Russia

Died 1959 in Moscow

She was a very succesful actress, preforming in three of Chekhov’s plays, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, and The Cherry Orchard.  She met Chekhov while in The Cherry Orchard.

“Chekhov’s Telescope” begins on a passenger yacht headed for Yalta.  Russia’s most famous literary writer and a celebrated actress  , Olga Knipperare, they are not yet married but very much in love are heading for a visit to a  resort.  The water is choppy
as Chekhov tells Olga to look through his Telescope at Yalta.  His return to Yalta is being covered by the media.  A reporter has been told to get details on the famous writer and the actress.  They do stay in different hotels to avoid scandal.  The reporter has been told, as modern tabloid writer might be,to get “The Goods” on the famous couple, even in 1898 scandal sales papers.

He shows Olga in the Telescope the reporter who is stalking them,
“Sergei Rogov had a ruthless eye, long legs and his quarry in view.”

In the conversation of Olga and Chekhov she teases him about other women attracted to a famous writer.  Chekhov enjoys the clean air of Yalta over Moscow.

The reporter resents the good life of the couple, compared to his edge of starvation existence:

“He followed the Great Writer, first to the genteel home of Dr Sredin, where Chekhov had arranged lodgings for Olga, so that she, an actress, might appear respectable during her stay in Yalta. Such hypocrisy, thought Sergei. Nearby, Chekhov booked himself into a balcony room on the third floor of the Hotel Marino. The youth had waited on a bench opposite the hotel for five hours, sustaining himself on cured sturgeon and day-old bread, when his efforts were at last rewarded. A carriage drew up and Olga stepped out, her head bowed. Oh, the elaborate ruses of the middle-aged, thought Sergei, spitting out his crusts.”

It was great fun to listen in on the conversations of Olga and Chekhov.  Olga makes a prediction of the great story he will be inspired to write.  We get a look at Life of Chekhov, MacLeod’s desciption of a visit to The Imperial Palace was a wonderful interlude.  We also get to read letters exchanged between Olga and Chekhov, copied by reporter who bribed a courier to read them.

There is a foreshadowing the closing lines of the story:

“And when Chekhov doubled over in Olga’s arms, racked with coughing, Sergei felt too the shock of it: of the wide world telescoping into a blot of blood on the white beach.”

“The Death of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov”

This story is told in the first person by Anton Chekhov.  It truly is a story of a beloved Ghost, a masterful work, chilling.

Olga and Chekhov, now married,  are checking into the very grand (and still open) Hotel Römerbad. It is  just a 5 minutes’ walk from the Spa Park in Bad Salzuflen, Germany where on the advise of his
doctor, Chekhov will be treated in hopes it will defeat the tuberculois  that Chekhov himself knows will soon kill him.

Chekhov begins to see Ghosts from this youth:

“But Olga and my physician agree a German spa is what I need, not the wilderness of the Steppe – and I suppose I am no longer fit for sleeping in gullies or in the lee of ancient burial mounds. When I was fifteen, my brother and I spent one last summer there, lodging with the family of a long-standing tenant of my father’s. They were Cossacks and owned a ranch, and were as wild and uncouth as my family were pious and fearful. The floor was earthen, the roof was made of straw, their goat shared the rug on which we slept and the walls of the house were covered in sabres, pistols and whips.”

The hotel tells Olga that she and her husband must leave, his coughing and sickly appearance are bad for business.

As his illness increases so does his love for and dependence on Olga:

“In the mornings, Olga finds me the Russian papers, and translates the German ones. In the afternoon, I play patience, and she narrates the daily dramas that unfold outside the Badenweiler post office. I tell her that Germany is incapable of drama. Everyone is far too well-behaved. But she assures me that a man is hurriedly posting a letter, that a dog truly does lift its leg against a lamp post and that a child falls down and scrapes its knee. I tell her the tedium of Badenweiler will kill me even if the TB does not. How I long for the dirt and commotion of Moscow. Later, we sit in the park until the sun goes down. Then, in our room, Olga injects me with morphia and rubs my feet. Sometimes I sleep.”

The relationship of Olga and Chekhov is just so real, it reminded me a bit of that of my wife and I.  I see from this how lucky I am.

We see how Russians in 1904 viewed Germans.

I do not want to tell more of this story.  It takes an artist of great skill to speak in voice of a master, MacLeod stunned me with this work.

There was recently a BBC production based on these stories. I am geographically blocked from The BBC so I do not know if it is still online.

Alison MacLeod is a novelist and short story writer. Her most recent book, the story collection 'All the Beloved Ghosts', was shortlisted for The 2018 Edge Hill Prize for best story collection in the UK and Ireland. It was a 'Best Book of 2017' for the Guardian, and a finalist for Canada’s 2017 Governor General’s Award for Fiction.
Her website has a detailed bio.

Mel u

Sunday, May 24, 2020

“In the Bedroom” - A Short Story by Rokhl Bernshteyn writing Under The Pen Name of Yehudis - 1908 - translated from Yiddish by Jordan Finkin in 2020 - published by The Yiddish Book Center

 “In the Bedroom” - A Short Story by Rokhl Bernshteyn writing Under The Pen Name of Yehudis - 1908 - translated from Yiddish by Jordan Finkin in 2020 - published by The Yiddish Book Center 

You may read this story here 

Yehudis (pseudonym of Rokhl Bernsteyn)

Minsk -1869

Minsk - 1942

The Yivo Encyclopedia of Eastern European Jews article 
on her is here.

Yehudis was born into an intellectual Minsk family.  She wrote short stories, dramatic pieces and poems. After the Russian Revolution she wrote articles for Soviet Yiddish language publications.  The article on her in The Yivo Encyclopedia of Eastern European Jews says she is today virtually forgotten.  This story appears to be the first of her works to be translated into English. I offer my thanks to Professor Finkin for allowing those not literate in  Yiddish to read this really quite amazing story.

As “In The Bedroom Opens” two young women, Mirel and Gine, are talking from their beds.  Mirel shares some gossip:

“Mirel crooned quietly to herself and then burst out laughing. “Gine, are you asleep? Get this, Sarah just found someone to surrender her sanctum to, her innocence which she was guarding so daintily. Till her hair turned grey, ha! Oh, what a virtuous soul!”
            “Why are you laughing, Mirele? You think old people can’t love?”
            “Oh, no, I don’t think that. Just the opposite. I like to think of her first hot breaths, and for him—oh, the unfortunate man—hot breaths, wild kisses, and moldy innocence, ha-ha!”

This opens the women up to a conversation about their own sexuality.

“Gosh, the way you talk.” Gine scolded
            “Do my words shock you? Not so elegant? You prefer holy talk!”
“So you’ve got a fiancé yourself, Mirel?”
            “A sweetheart? Yes, no harm in that. A sweetheart for a while,” Mirel laughed.
            “Stop talking nonsense.”
            “It’s not nonsense. Love’s only worth it for a while; longtime love is sad. You see, love spoils when it lasts too long, it turns sour, moldy.”
            “How old are you, Mirele?”
            “You’re worried about my innocence? Too late. I lost that a long time ago.”
            “What do you mean by that?” Gine asked as she sat down.
            “Don’t be afraid, my little kitten, a pair of fine strong arms took it from me. An electrical current passed from those arms right through me. I felt something new. I stared so searchingly into those eyes, as if I might discover the secret of my new feeling.”
            “What play is that from? What role are you playing?”
            “My own. I’m being serious.”
            “You loved? And now?”
            “Did I love, you ask? Yes, I loved. Myself. You see, I loved myself, my feeling, my pleasure.”

From here they begin to dicuss whether sexual passion reauires the sanction of marriage, on sexual feelings for other women and self gratification.  As conversation goes on women open up more about their own experiences.

For 1908 in Jewish culture in Minsk this must have been very shocking.  I hope Professor Finkin will bring out a collection of her work.

I could not find an image of her online, if you can Help with this please contact us.

Jordan Finkin is Rare Book and Manuscript Librarian at the Klau Library of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. A specialist in modern Jewish literatures, he is the author of several books as well as numerous scholarly essays and articles. His most recent book, Exile as Home, explores the work of the Yiddish poet Leyb Naydus. He is also the director of Naydus Press, a non-profit publisher of Yiddish literature in translation.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

“Mapping Three Lives Through a Red Rooster Chamber Pot” - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew from her amazing debut collection,The Heartsick Diaspora - 2020

“Mapping Three Lives Through a Red Rooster Chamber Pot” - A Short Story by Elaine Chiew from her amazing debut collection,The Heartsick Diaspora - 2020

Gateway  to Elaine Chiew on The Reading Life,

“My Mother’s Ashes” - flash fiction by Elaine Chiew.  Click here to read

“Mapping Three Lives Through a Red Rooster Chamber Pot” is the final of foureteen Short Stories in Elaine Chiew’s highly regarded debut collection of Short Stories.  The stories deal with various aspects of the Diaspora that created modern Singapore, a superlative place by any measure, and the subsequent Diaspora of children of immigrates to London and New York City.  Some stories feature people in desperate poverty, where life is a struggle just to eat.  In a way we see the grandchildren or great grandchildren of immigrants into Singapore from Malaysia or China now living, some as “Crazy Rich Asians” in London, starting chic resturants in New York City, trying to be a writer or a corporate drone.  The stories Show us people trying to keep in touch with their ancestral culture, food plays a big part in this, while trying to fit in their new homes.  Chiew shows us a vile xenophobic attack on an elderly Malay/Singapore woman living with her son and daughter in Law in London who wants to go home, a neophyte  writer visited by a Hindu God, and much more.  I have visited Singapore and now, I think understand it better.  One story was a lesson in modern Singaporian art, another showed us life under Japanese occupation.  Another took us into the life of a woman working in a resturant in Florida.

Writing historical Short Stories is not an easy task.  To do it successfully, you must develop both the background and characters with economy.  Today’s story, “Mapping Three Lives Through A Red Rooster Chambef Pot” is one of  the best such Short Stories I have yet read.  It tells the story of a very important group of women imm  igrates, The Samsui Women, from China to Singapore.
I was not famliar with this group so i did a bit of Research.

From Wikepedia

“The term Samsui women (三水妇女; 三水婦女; sān shuǐ fù nǚ) broadly refers to a group of Chinese immigrants who came to Malaya and Singapore between the 1920s and 1940s in search of construction and industrial jobs.[1] Their hard work contributed to the development of the Straits Settlements, both as colonies and later as the new nations of Singapore and Malaysia. Samsui women did manual labour similar to coolies but were more independent.

Around 3,000 Samsui women are believed to have moved to Singapore from China between 1934 and 1938. This migration continued until 1949 when emigration from China was declared illegal.[2]

Samsui women mainly came from Sanshui (Samsui) in Guangdong (Kwangtung) Province, but also from Shunde and Dongguan.[3] About 90% of them were Cantonese, while the rest were Hakka.
In Chinese, these women are referred to as Hong Tou Jin (红头巾; 紅頭巾; hóng tóu jīn), which means "red bandana", because of the red cloth hats they wore.
Coming to Singapore as cheap labourers between the 1920s and 1940s, Samsui women worked mainly in the construction industry and other industries that required hard work.”

A standard cliche in writing about immigrates is to say they helped build a nation.  That is exactly what the Samsui women did.  Their contribution is very much now recognized.  The Singapore Broadcasting Corporation has produced an Award winning 24 part series (partially available on YouTube in Chinese.) The very good 25 minute documentary produced by The BBC has English subtitles.

The story is divided into three segments.

The first segment, Min Fong, samsui woman, 1938 details the very hard life of a young immigrate woman.  She works on a construction site, carry heavy loads.  She lives with numerous others in a communal House.  All the older women are in her business. She has a never correctly diagnosed menstural problem which necessitates her bleeding into a chamber pot brought from China.

The middle section, Katharine, bookkeeper, 1969, takes us 29 years ahead.  Katharinle’s life history has tragic elements but a real estate agent trying to sell her a shophouse thinks she and her husband “reek of money”.  I will leave her story unspoiled but to quote a bit on her connection with the Red Chamber Pot:

“The coffin sat in a death house, and a washbasin with a rooster design had sat on a stool in front of a portrait of the deceased, who was a young-looking samsui woman with a stern expression, as if ever ready to cudgel you around the ears if you sassed her. Inside the washbasin was a cup, complete with toothbrush, toothpaste and a towel. Katharine remembered thinking, what the heck is this, are you supposed to wash your face and brush your teeth before you kowtow to the dead?”

It is the chamber Pot from part one.

The final segment, Heidi, documentary filmmaker, 1996 deals with a woman making a documentary about several very old Samsui women on a return trip to their home area.

All three have trouble frought relationships with men.

There is much more in the story.

As i write my last post on the fourteen stories in Elaine Chiew’s The Heartsick Diaspora I finding myself wishing for many more.  This wonderful collection has helped me get through now 73 days of lockdown and taught me a lot along the way.

From her publisher

“Elaine Chiew is a writer and a visual arts researcher, and editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015).
Twice winner of the Bridport Short Story Competition, she has published numerous stories in anthologies in the UK, US and Singapore.
Originally from Malaysia, Chiew graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a corporate securities lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before studying for an MA in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, a degree conferred by Goldsmiths, University of London.
Elaine lives in Singapore and her book The Heartsick Diaspora, and other stories, will be published by Myriad in 2020.”

I expect great things from Elaine Chiew and hope to follow her work for a long time.

Mel u

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

“Kingdom Come” - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant. First published in 1986

“Kingdom Come” - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant. First published in 1986

This story is Included in Selected Stories as well as in Across The Bridge

Buried in Print’s Mavis  Gallant Project

Mavis Gallant

August 11, 1922 born in Montréal, in 1950 she moves to France to pursue her dream of being a writer

February 18, 2014, dies in Paris, a place she dearly loved

"In her preface to the present collection, Gallant advises her readers: “Stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.” Such advice may be superfluous. When you finish each of Gallant’s stories, it’s instinctive to stop and regroup. As much as you might wish to resume and prolong the pleasure of reading, you feel that your brain and heart cannot, at least for the moment, process or absorb one word, one detail more." Francine Prose in her introduction to The Collected Short Stories of Mavis Gallant

I have been reading short stories by Mavis ‘ft-    since 2013.  I was delighted when a blogger I have happily followed for years, Buried in Print, announced they would be reading and posting on all her many short stories (116 published in The New Yorker alone) on a scheduled basis.   I am reading along with Buried in Print as I can. I have access to sbout half her stories.

This, to me, was among the most poigant of her stories I have so far read. I really like this story, maybe as it reflects the sadness of life now or because the central character is an elderly man contemplating his life history.  At 73, I can relate.  A very big difference between me and the man in the story is a am highly connected to my family and feel my blog is something I can take pride in.  He has nothing.

Here are the opening lines:

“AFTER HAVING SPENT twenty-four years in the Republic of Saltnatek, where he established the first modern university, recorded the vocabulary and structure of the Saltnatek tongue, and discovered in a remote village an allophylian language unknown except to its speakers, Dr. Domini Missierna returned to Europe to find that nobody cared. Saltnatek was neither lush nor rich nor seductive, nor poor enough to arouse international pity. The university survived on grants left over from the defense budget, and even Missierna had to admit he had not attracted teachers of the first order. He had wasted his vitality chasing money for salaries and equipment, up to the day when an ungrateful administration dismissed him and the latest revolutionary council, thanking him for nothing, put him on a plane.”

Missierna sees in his own end times the decline of Europe

“During the years when he was so obsessively occupied, Europe had grown small, become depleted, as bald in spirit as Saltnatek’s sandy and stony islands. The doubting voices were thin and metallic. No one was listening. His colleagues said, “One step after the other,” and “One at a time.” They trod upon discarded rules of address, raked the ground to find shreds of sense and reason. Salvation was in the dust or it was nowhere. Even if he were to reveal twenty new and orderly and poetic methods of creating order by means of words, he would be told, “We had better deal with matters underfoot, closer to home.”

He has children and grandchildren but he got a divorce long ago so he has no real family connections.

Like in so many of her stories in just a few pages Gallant sums up not just a life but a period of history.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

“A Wedding in the Cemetery” - A Short Story by Joseph Opatoshu - 1929 - translated from Yiddish by Jeffrey Shandler - published in Jewish Currents - May 6, 2020

“The Wedding in the Cemetery” - A Short Story by Joseph Opatoshu - 1929 - translated from Yiddish by Jeffrey Shandler - published in Jewish Currents - May 6, 2020

A story about another lockdown from 1929.

You can read today’s story here 

As I read the opening words in this story I was reminded of life now in cities all over the world. 

“THE ENTIRE JEWISH COMMUNITY, over ten thousand people, were imprisoned in their homes. They were afraid to be out on the street or in the marketplace, where the gutters had been spread with lime. Their sealed-up houses and windows testified that the epidemic spared no one, young or old, poor or rich.
Family after family stood beside their shuttered windows. They gazed fearfully at the stretchers and wept as they were borne away, carrying patients to the hospitals. As the wailing of family members gradually diminished and then stopped completely, the streets grew emptier, more silent. It was rumored that no one taken to the hospital ever returned home. ....

The epidemic grew stronger, attacking like a well-armed enemy, moving from one street to the next. There wasn’t a single house in the city without someone who had the disease. The members of the burial society were exhausted, drained of all their strength, as corpses lay out for four to five days, waiting to be prepared for burial.”

Jeffrey Sandler’s introduction very succiently explains the folk brliefs that lead community to arrange a wedding for a very poor man to a equally poor woman.  Both are disgusted by the spouses the rich of The community pick for them.  It was very interesting to learn why the wedding was held in a cemetary.

Joseph Opatoshu (1886–1954) was a prolific author of Yiddish fiction. Born in Poland, he emigrated to the United States in 1907. For decades he contributed hundreds of stories to the Yiddish daily Der tog, in addition to writing major works of historical fiction and accounts of immigrant life in America.

Jeffrey Shandler is Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University. His translations from Yiddish include Yankev Glatshteyn’s Emil and Karl, the first Holocaust novel for young readers. His next book, Yiddish: Biography of a Language, will be published this fall.

This Is third Short Story by Joseph Opatoshu posted upon in The Reading Life.

I hope to read his 1938 novel In Polish Woods one day.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Romance of a Horse Thief by Joseph Opatoshu (1912, 67 pages)

One of the stars of the movie version was the author's son David Opatoshu, a very successful Broadway and motion picture actor.  This is sometimes shown on the Turner Classic Channel. 

Ruth Wisse in her introduction to Romance of a Horsethief described it as one of the first attempts to portray a criminal underworld in Yiddish literature. The central character of the story is a horsethief.   It can be seen as a corrective reaction to the perhaps overly romantic  works of Sholem Aleichem and others who depict the world of Fiddler on the Roof.   

One of the standard features of literatute devoted to criminals is an attempt to portray people and society in a very realistic fashion.  Some equate realisism with literature that stresses only the negative aspects of human nature but Opatoshu avoids that.  His villain has been a professional horsethief all his adult life.   He steals horses in Poland and takes them to Germany and vice-versa. There are two thieves in this story. Shloyme is in many ways a decent man.  He is a devout Jew, a good father who wants to find decent spouses for his children.  Zanvl, a much younger man, says a thief has no need for prayers or the rituals of the temple.  He is single and he attracts women drawn to the excitement of a "bad boy".   He has a lot of raw energy.   He and Rachael fall in love but Rachael cannot accept the life of the wife of a professional criminal and ends up marrying a Rabbi, as her father wants.  

The real villain of the story is a middeman, a former thief now considered a respectable businessman, who brokers the stolen horses.   

There is a lot of action and excitement in the story. The characters are not perfect. The village is controlled by a Cossack chief in exhile from his homeland.  He tolerates the widespread horse thiefery until his own prize horses are stolen.  I am glad to have read The Romance of the Horse Thief and hope to see the movie one day.

       1886 to 1954 born Poland, died New York City 

Joseph Opatoshu

(Yosef Opatovski)
O. was born on 1 January 1887 in Mlawa, Plotsk Gubernia, Poland. His father was a lumber merchant (the family lead yikhusfor the [tusfut] holiday, a Jew, a scholar, one of the first meschilimin Poland, he wrote songs in Hebrew. From age ten to twelve he attended the trade folkshul in Mlawa, learning with his father. At age fourteen he entered into a trade school in Warsaw. At the end of 1905 he went away to Paris, then went to the politechnium in Nancy, but after several months he returned to Mlawa. He began to write, and he became acquainted with Peretz.
In March 1907 he immigrated to America, where he worked for several weeks in a factory, carrying [fanander] English newspapers, and he became a Hebrew teacher, completing in 1914 his studies as a civil engineer, occupied, however for only a short time with a profession and he dedicated himself to literature.
In "Tsukunft" in 1920 he published programs for a drama "Beym toytn bet", in "Tsukunft", March 1922 he published a one-acter "In salon", and when in 1922 A. visited Poland, he collaborated with the material for a three-act drama "Heynt blut", which was staged on 25 October 1922 in the Central Theatre in Warsaw (Director: Zigmund Turkow).
In the same hear through "amateurs" there was staged in Poland a dramatization of A.'s "Roman fun a ferd-gnb".
 In December 1928 he was in Warsaw through the society "Forbert-film" under the direction of Jonas Turkow, who produced a film from A.'s novel "Di poylishe velder" with the participation of  Yiddish and well-known Polish actors. The same novel was dramatized by Jacob Vaksman and staged in 1928 in Lublin.

There are five novellas in the collection from which this comes.  Here is the publisher's (Wayne State University Press) description.

The five short novellas which comprise this anthology were written between 1890 and World War I. All share a common setting—the Eastern European Jewish town or shtetl, and all deal in different ways with a single topic—the Jewish confrontation with modernity.
The authors of these novellas are among the greatest masters of Yiddish prose. In their work, today's reader will discover a literary tradition of considerable scope, energy, and variety and will come face to face with an exceptionally memorable cast of characters and with a human community now irrevocably lost.
In her general introduction, Professor Wisse traces the development of modern Yiddish literature in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and describes the many shifts that took place between the Yiddish writers and the world about which they wrote. She also furnishes a brief introduction for each novella, giving the historical and biographical background and offering a critical interpretation of the work.

I think anyone with a serious interest in Eastern European literature would love this book.

Mel u

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Day 21” - A Short Story by Ruby Cowling - first published in Wasafiri - A Journal of Contemporary International Writing - May 21, 2018 - By the Author of This Paradise

  Day 21” - A Short Story by Ruby Cowling - first published in Wasafiri - A Journal of Contemporary International Writing - May 21, 2018 - By the Author of This Paradise

I completely endorse Ruby Cowling's collection of short stories, This Paradise to all lovers of the form.

You may read this wonderful story here 

My post on Biophile by Ruby Cowling includes a link to the story

This is a story those for those who sometimes feel boxed in, trapped by the consequences of the pandemic.  If you ever seek refuge in the internet, in your devices, as I for sure do, or wish others in your world sometimes had off switches you could flick when they annoy you, tben you will relate to the troubled mother and wife narrating "On Day 21".  The story is about what happens on the 21st Day in a row rain has kept her inside.  

As I read this very intriguing story for the third time, I was faced with the same question the narrator was, has she been driven crazy.  Like most of us she has a machine that sends her notices.  She has three  young children, she calls them C, D, and E.  Here is where I began to wonder has she gone mad or is this a slightly alternative world where children come with off switches.  

"The switch was my secret. I’d told myself I wouldn’t resort to it so much, especially with E, who was already small for her age, and such a lovely, milk-scented little thing – though so were the other two; don’t get me wrong, they were the sun in my sky. But the minutes of my days were long and difficult, full of complexity and murk, and the switch was a way to get through. It was a way to sharpen the edges of life, to know where and who I was when things got fuzzy. It cleaned; it freshened. What helped wasn’t the switching off as such, it was the fact of the switch itself.
I’d come to rely on it. And now, for the first time, I’d used the switch on all three children at once.
I arranged C and D’s little limbs so they wouldn’t cramp. Then I returned to the machine. It was the machine that had shown me the possibility of this kind of ease. The machine’s world was either/or, yes or no, on or off, zero or one. It was the antidote to uncertainty: that devious mould that grew everywhere if I didn’t keep on top of it."

Now the narrator begins to snap.  Her husband, who is a department head in some sort of technical company, that is all she knows, comes home.

"Darkness was coming when my bladder forced me up from the chair. I’d left my phone in the bathroom, and there was a text from B saying he’d be home early. My husband was a departmental head – some technical department, I wasn’t sure which. He said his responsibilities ‘spilled over’. When he came home tired I’d tell him he should have boundaries, but he’d say it wasn’t that simple. I didn’t see why not. His days were a grid of meetings and targets; the entire company was founded on crisp, black numbers. It should be wonderful."

  On day twenty she takes the children shopping and her escape device fails her along with her precarious hold on to what passes for reality:

"On day twenty the sky lifted to dove grey, and I drove us out to the big Asda, spinning arcs of water from the wheel-arches. As I parked, the rain hardened again. C thought his cagoule felt ‘squishy’ and refused to put it on, then refused to be put into it, and when he started shouting my fingers reached for the switch, and nothing happened.
I flicked it up and down, up and down, but nothing. I took hold of his contorting face and turned it to me, looking for an answer from him, as if he had overcome the switch by his own will. This sudden gesture took him aback, and he did in fact stop crying. For a second we held each other’s gaze and I was struck by the absolute strangeness of him, this person who had come from me, and it seemed he saw the same strangeness in me.
I lifted his sister from the other side. I tried the switch. Nothing happened. She squirmed away from me and went to peer into the tiny convex mirror set in the side mirror, enjoying her own distorted face. E was asleep in her carseat and I didn’t want to trouble her.
I looked around the car park, hoping perhaps to see another woman in the same situation.
There must have been others like me, but who would admit it? Certainly those around me seemed fine. They sloshed back and forward with the tides of each day like happy seaweed, while I was up there on the surface, clinging to a broken raft, gazing into tarry liquid that would one day take me down. Without the switch, I couldn’t see how I’d be able to navigate the days."

I will leave further event of Day 21  for you to discover.  

"On Day 21" was written before the Covid 19 pandemic changed the lives of millions, maybe billions but it is a perfect story for these times.  

It is a puzzle, do the children really have off switches or is this just the way the harried narrator tries to cope?
She does live in a very confined way, no books, no stories, no music, no Netflix to help her keep her sanity.

Ruby Cowling was born in Bradford and now lives in London. This Paradise is her first book. Her stories have won The White Review Prize (2014) and the London Short Story Prize (2014) among others and been widely published in journals and anthologies, including Lighthouse, The Letters Page, Unthology, and The Lonely Crowd. . 

Print Media Praise

‘Admirably ambitious in scope, Ruby Cowling explores big themes – climate change and natural disaster, technology and survival – using strange and sometimes fantastical imagery to trace the obscure edges of human experience.’ Alice Ash, Times Literary Supplement
‘The most original short stories I’ve read in a long time … current, entertaining, and relevant. Highly recommended.’ Jimena Gorraez, Litro
‘The range of Cowling’s style and subject matter is impressive … This Paradise is a beautiful and highly original collection.’ The Spectator
‘Ruby Cowling offers a call-to-arms, an urgent encouragement to breathe complexity back into a human experience made simple. We will be recorded, we will be flattened and reduced. But we can record too.’ Jon Doyle, Review 31
‘Most stories have their ‘home’ audience. But when fiction crosses that inner ring, and survives to tell its tale, well – that’s art. And This Paradise achieves that handsomely.’
Tamim Sadikali, Open Pen

I look forward to following her work long after this 
period is just a memory.

Mel u

Sunday, May 10, 2020

“In Praise of Radical Fish” - A Short Story by Alison Macleod - From her collection All the Beloved Ghosts - 2018

“In Praise of Radical Fish” - A Short Story by Alison Macleod - From her collection All the Beloved Ghosts - 2018

Gateway to Alison Macleod on The Reading Life 

To anyone looking for a collection of short stories to help get you through quarantine, I highly recommend All the Beloved Ghosts by Alison Macleod.  

It is often said reading fiction helps develops empathy, allowing us to see the world as those different in important ways from us.In this story I developed empathy for three young men who were planning a terrorist attack killing people at random in support of their version of radical Islamic ideology.  

The story is set in Brighton Beach, an English beach
 front resort town.  Our narrator, a young man born in the UK to Middle Eastern parents, fancies him self as radicalized.  He and two friends of similar backgrounds are waiting on a phone call to preform a suicide mission.  He admits he is having a problem keep his friends focused. 

“It was the Bank Holiday weekend, and I had coaxed Omar and Hamid to Brighton from Peterborough on the promise of a pre-jihad team-building weekend. If we could maintain our anger there, I told them, we could maintain it anywhere. Except I was the weak link. I still had to find the flame within. On Brighton Pier, while Omar and Hamid brooded like ayatollahs, I struggled with an embarrassing excess of good cheer. The day was bright, the tide was high. At the shooting gallery I managed to take out an entire row of ducks – only to spoil everything by returning to my brothers bearing cuddly toys.”

His friend Hassid, all are 19, is a student of Islamic philosophy.  He is the one the recruiter will contact and instruct.  Their other friend Omar is mad at his father, a dealer in dried fruit.  None of them have a sound reason to become terrorists.  Their degree of commitment varies but they would lose face to each other if they backed out.  There is very entertaining encounter between our narrator and a young English woman working in a food place in a mall.  This will come back at the end of the story combined with a delightful play on words.

We tag along with the three young men as they wait for the recruiter’s call.  MacLeod takes us along as they spend what they think maybe their last day.  We go along as they visit an aquarium, I learned where the story title came from.

In a brilliant touch the narrator quotes The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám. His friends don’t recognize the lines and he tells them it is from an ancient Persian poem.  The irony is it is mostly the creation of a 19th century Englishman, Edward Fitzgerald.

I very much enjoyed the story.

I look forward to reading much more of the work of Alison Macleod.

Alison MacLeod is a novelist and short story writer. Her most recent book, the story collection 'All the Beloved Ghosts', was shortlisted for The 2018 Edge Hill Prize for best story collection in the UK and Ireland. It was a 'Best Book of 2017' for the Guardian, and a finalist for Canada’s 2017 Governor General’s Award for Fiction. 
Her website has a detailed bio.

Mel u


Friday, May 8, 2020

Sugra - A Short Story by Farah Ahamed - from The Mechanics Institute Review - May 2020

Sugra - A Short Story by Farah Ahamed - from The Mechanics Institute Review - May 2020

You may read this delightful story here

Sugra is the seventh Short Story by Farah Ahamed upon which I have posted.  I have been reading her work since April, 2015. Obviously I see Ahamed  as writer of significant talent and insight.  I was very happy to have an opportunity to read another of her stories.

Sugra is one of four daughters from a very poor family in Lahore.  Here is how she describes herself:

"To tell you the truth, I don’t like to remember that day, or the days that followed, but the memory of it is fresh. I can recall that hot afternoon vividly and in detail, when that man showed up at our doorstep. I suppose I could blame him or my parents for what happened later, even though you could say they had nothing to do with it. 
However, to return to that day, I was sitting on the floor chopping potatoes for a soup. This was my daily chore with my mother scolding over my shoulder. 
‘Chop the vegetables smaller and add more water to the pan,’ she said, ‘unless you want to give up your share.’ My sisters were playing outside, but because I had been born with a bad leg I was always kept indoors."

Her parents are not literate.  They have one room with mattresses on the floor, a nonworking TV, a working computer.  They share a bathroom with neighbors as well as a water tap.  A man, claiming a connection through marriage of third cousins shows up.

After some acrimonious remarks by Sugha's mother who at first things the man wants a wife, we learn he wants to hire Sugra to be a security guard at a tourist site.  After being assured he is not planning to put her in a brothel, the mother agrees under the condition that all her wages beyond maintenance be sent home.
They see being a security guard as a highly prestigious job.

The story is both sad but there is an hilarious side also.

Here is how her new boss explains why he wants to hire her and his the bargain is settled between the man and the mother:

"Job, what job?’ my father said. ‘She isn’t fit for anything.’ 
My mother shook her finger at Joseph. ‘I know what kind of work you’re thinking…’
Joseph leaned forward. ‘Allow me to explain dear sister. At Reliance Security, we have a “quota policy,” and we must recruit a certain number of people with disabilities. I want to employ your daughter, and if you agree, I will take her to Lahore with me today.’
‘Please mother, no,’ I said. ‘Sorry for everything. I’ll be good.’
‘Keep quiet, no one asked you,’ my mother said to me. 
‘Her work will be to sit at the entrance to Jahangir’s tomb and check ladies’ handbags for lighters, bombs, guns and alcohol. She’ll be a security guard.’
‘Security guard? Who knew my prayers would be answered in this way?’ my mother said. ‘Praise the Lord, I knew he would not let me down.’ She kissed the crucifix around her neck.
‘Are you saying women in the city carry such things in their purses?’ my father said. ‘What’s  the world coming to?’
‘Shut up,’ my mother said. ‘Who cares what they carry or they don’t.’ She looked Joseph straight in the eye. ‘How much will her salary be?’ 
‘Ten thousand rupees a month, minus my commission as her sponsor,’ Joseph said.
‘Ten thousand,’ my father said. ‘That’s too little.’
‘What do you want?’ Joseph said. ‘A little while ago you were complaining she was a burden.’
‘Why do you interfere?’ my mother said to my father. ‘Let me handle this. You’ll spoil everything.’
‘No,’ I cried. ‘No, please no…’
My mother came over to me. ‘You listen to me and listen carefully. Whatever we decide is what will happen, and your tears and whining won’t help.’ She turned to Joseph, ‘You can take her today. The money is fine, but you better not be lying to us. If you’re secretly planning to take her to one of those dirty places, then we should know. I don’t want people saying we sold her to you…’

Sugra has an adventure of sorts on her new job.  I laughed so much over the idea of Sugra being told that if she finds a bomb in a ladies purse she should confiscate it and then return when she leaves.

This is a wonderful story.  I hope to follow Ahamed's work for a long time.

Farah Ahamed's short fiction and essays has been published in Ploughshares,The Massachusetts Review, Comma Press, and Kwani?. Her stories are bound by an overall sense of oppression and rebellion and explore how culture, religion, and politics constrain and determine the lives of her characters. The stories range in time from the early days of independence in East Africa to the present.

Recently she was shortlisted for the Primadonna Festival Writing Award, and longlisted for the Canadian CBC Books Short Story Award. Previously, she was joint winner of the inaugural Gerald Kraak Award and highly commended in the London Short Story Prize. Her essays and stories have been shortlisted for the Thresholds Essay Prize, Screen Craft Prize, SI Leeds Literary Prize, DNA/Out of Print Award, and The Asian Writer Short Story Prize. She has been nominated for The Pushcart and Caine prizes.

Farah is a lawyer with a Diploma in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. She was born in Kenya and has lived in Nairobi, Vancouver, Kampala, London and Bilbao. She is currently between London and Lahore, working on a short story collection inspired by Lahore. She is also compiling an anthology on menstruation experiences in South Asia which will be published by Pan Macmillan, India.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Alison Lock - A Question and Answer Session with the author of Above the Parapet

Today I am very honored to be able to publish a Question and Answer Session with Alison Lock, author of Above the Parapet, a collection of short stories.  I a while ago read  and posted on a story from this collection, "Ashes for Roses".

The story centers on a brother and sister, living together in their deceased parents English house, in their sixties.  They are both very into the cultivation of roses and are nearly self sufficient from the produce they grow. They quarrel a little as natural but basically they get along.  An announcement comes on the radio. A volcano has erupted not to far away and will produce dangerous fumes and huge volumes of ash.  

The brother and sister are both getting ready for the county flower show, planning to win.  Suddenly the sister realizes the ash will destroy her roses.  The story takes a very interesting and exciting turn and I will leave it for you to enjoy and ponder over.  Her prose is very carefully wrought. 

Lock lets us see with just a few sentences into the dynamics of the family and into the long ago past.  We wonder if either sibling ever married, how they wound up in their living together. 

Alison Lock is very much a writer of great refinement and subtle intelligence which is very much evident in her story "Ashes for Roses".

I relished this story so much I read it three times.  

Official bio

Alison Lock writes poetry, short fiction and creative non-fiction. She is the author of two short story collections, three collections of poetry, and a novella, as well as a contributor to several anthologies. Her writing focuses on the relationship of humans and the environment connecting an inner world with an exploration of land and sea. Her most recent publications are a short story collection A Witness of Waxwings, Cultured Llama Press (2017); and Revealing the Odour of Earth, Calder Valley Poetry (2017).

My post on her superb story "Ashes for Roses" can be read HERE.  (There is a link in my post to the story.)

Interview: Alison Lock



Can you tell us a bit about your writing routine. Do you typically set aside a certain period to write, always write in the same place, do you listen to music while you write, do you need solitude to write?


I prefer to write in the mornings. I had a long period when I got up in the middle of the night to write – it helped to fill the hours of insomnia, but I realised that ultimately it is detrimental to health. It might work if the rest of the world has a flexible routine – but life's not like that.I need solitude.


"in the name of a humanism hypocritically turned champion of the reader’s rights. Classic criticism has never paid any attention to the reader; for it, the writer is the only person in literature. We are now beginning to let ourselves be fooled no longer by the arrogant antiphrastical recriminations of good society in favour of the very thing it sets aside, ignores, smothers, or destroys; we know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author."

What is your reaction to these very famous lines from "The Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes?


I can understand why Barthes argues that the writing and the author are unrelated. The Classic way of interpretation is only one way of finding meaning and it is bound to be limiting. Of course, there is inevitably a connection: the views and background of the author are bound to infuse the writing, but I believe that the result – and by that I mean, the text and universally accepted interpretation – must be a combination of writer/text/reader.


When I have given readings of my stories or poetry and people come to talk to me afterwards, I realise that their interpretation of the work comes directly from their life experience and that they relate most strongly to the ideas and stories that they recognise as being like theirs – these are the ones that resonate with them. Sometimes, they areminor parts – single lines, words, rather than whole stories, or, pieces that linger longerand simply leave an impression of the whole.



"It is the habit of approaching works of art in order to interpret them that sustains the fancy that there really is such a thing as the content of a work of art" - from "Against Interpretation" by Susan Sontag


As a writer, how do you feel when people Interpret your work, attribute meaning to it?, see things in it you never thought about?



I am always surprised, sometimes delighted, and occasionally dismayed when people mistake my original meaning, but then it is not surprising as my writing tends to linger on the ethereal, the half light – that is what I am interested in – the thoughts that seep in when we are not looking. I know people who have read my stories have mistaken my sense of humour for something darker and that makes me want to explain.


When I chose my stories for the collection, I carefully ordered them so as to form a slow fall and then a rise towards the end – what I did not take into account was that a reader often picks out a story at random rather than read from beginning to end. Inevitably this affects the interpretation.



Who is your ideal reader?


What is an ideal reader? A person who reads a book from cover to cover, perhaps? Or one who gives it a 5 star review?


My favourite review on Amazon is from the writer, Iain Pattison. He writes re: Above the Parapet, that it 'keeps the reader tense and unsure in a world that seems to shimmer between reality and ominous fantasy'. He gives it 4 stars and I really appreciate his comments.



It seems more and more writers have MAs in creative writing, some PhDs. Education is a great thing but is there a negative side to this, will it produce in few years a literary culture where lacking this degree will make it hard to get published?. Is it homogenizing writing styles? Will the day of the amateur writer who comes from nowhere and changes everything be over because of this?



My MA in Literature Studies/Creative Writing gave me a chance to focus on my writing in an environment that was both stimulating and supportive. I studied part-time over two years in order to fit it into the rest of my life. I really felt that having spent many years bringing up children and working that I needed to engage with the world beyond my own.  Taking this course was a credible means of achieving my aim. Nevertheless, I can see that with so many people studying an art form that is ultimately assessed under academic criterion that it could lead to a homogenization of creative writing. But writers, like all artists, have to live in the real world, and find the ways that work best for them.




How important is seeing different parts of the world to you in terms of stimulating your creativity?


As we were saying before, it is inevitable that our writing emerges from our beliefs and views and the ways in which we see the world. Many of our notions of the world are now seen through the TV news and other forms of media. I love travelling and experiencing the world for myself – nothing can replace that.  



Where can we find you online?




Please tell us something about your recent publications and/or works in progress.



I have two books published: a collection of poetry A Slither of Air (2011), and a short story collection Above the Parapet (2013).


I have a forthcoming poetry collection, Beyond Wings (2015 Indigo Dreams Publishing); and a fantasy novella Maysun and the Wingfish (Mother's Milk Books 2015).

A busy year ahead!




Who are some of your favourite contemporary short story writers, poets or novelists?  What classic writers do you find your self drawn to reread. If a neophyte writer in your primary focus were to ask you who to read, what might you suggest?



Short Story Writers: Anton Chekhov, Katherine Mansfield, Cate Kennedy, Sarah Hall, Hilary Mantel, Kevin Barry, George Saunders


Poets: Mary Oliver, Kathleen Jamie, David Morley, Moniza Alvi, Fleur Adcock, WS Merwin.Really, there are too many to name..



Frank O'Connor in The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story said short stories seem to be about marginalized people, the lonely, those with with little voice in society. Do you think he is on to something illuminating about the format? Why is there so much loneliness in the short story?



It is true that because of the nature and the length of a short story it is often very focused, intense, atmospheric, and from a single character's viewpoint: of an event, an interaction, or a relationship with self or another character. A short story is often static in that it can bebased in a precise geographic setting whether relating to the real world or a fantasy creation. Of course, this is not always the case: they can be a travelogue in time or/and place i.e. the stories of Henry James, or Guy de Maupassant – where author is intermediary and stories describe the exotic.


I am most drawn to stories where I feel that the author is in the shoes and body of the character and respects them. The characters created by the Australian writer, Cate Kennedy, are like this. It is as if we are invited to empathise with them, to understand their human frailty: they are people who might be similar or different from ourselves. This is the delight of writing – exploring new territory, taking off from the familiar.



I sometimes wonder why such a disproportionate amount of the regarded as great literature of the world is written in the colder temperate zones rather than in the tropics. I cannot imagine The Brothers Karamazov being written on a tropical island, for example.


I think extremes of any kind push the mind a little bit further and that applies to climate too, but it is not the case that it is only in the colder temperate zones that 'great' literature is produced. There are great African writers: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chinua Achebe come to mind; South American writers: Gabriel García Márquez, Pablo Neruda – for example.



Many cultures are permeated with references to seemingly supernatural creatures, some kind of malevolent. Do you feel any sense of these entities in the world you look out on in your daily life or in your writings? Do you sense a continuity between the natural and supernatural worlds. Is a belief in the supernatural just escapism and wishful thinking?



It is definitely the case that I like to explore the borders between different worlds in my writing, and my more fantastical stories include ghosts and time travellers. I like the idea of a continuum between the supernatural and what we generally accept as reality – probably a result of my Catholic upbringing – I can remember as a child, quite vividly feeling a sense of 'other'. I was never afraid, just comforted and curious.



If you found out that a favourite writer of yours was grossly bigoted would you lose interest in them?


Yes. I think personal politics is important. I would feel I could no longer trust them.




When you write, do you picture an audience or do you just write?


I just write – if I thought about an audience I would stop writing – I would feel far too exposed to reveal myself at the point of creating.




Assuming this applies to you, how do you get past creative "dry spells", periods when you have a hard time coming up with ideas or when things seem futile?


I find there is far too much to write about and too little time to do it – that's how I am feelingat the moment. I guess it might change.



What are the last three novels you read?


I am currently researching for a fantasy fiction novel and so my reading reflects this:


Something wicked comes this way by Ray Bradbury

Z is for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien

Ingo by Helen Dunmore



If you could give your eighteen year old self one suggestion, what would it be?


I have always enjoyed writing; poems and stories and sometimes I filled daily journals for several months at a time. But I never thought I could take writing seriously as a career. I would say to my eighteen year old self: 'Call yourself 'a writer' – even if it is only a whispered voice in the back of your mind.' That way I would be giving myself permission to take the time to write.



If you could live anywhere in the past for six months, or forever, and be rich and safe, where would you pick and why?


Somewhere very different, sometime long ago – Ancient Egypt – where women had better status than other ancient societies.



Are you open to e mail, Facebook or Twitter, contact with your readers or do you fear stalkers or don't want to be bothered?


I like to share interesting articles and news about poetry, novels, and short stories,particularly on Twitter: ali_lock_



Quick Pick Questions


A. tablets or laptops or smart phones?




B. E readers or traditional books?


Traditional books


C. American Fast Food- love it, hate it, or once and a while?


I prefer fresh, whole foods, any day!


D. Cats or dogs?




E. best city to inspire a writer- Paris, London, Dublin, or?


Vienna – only because I was there last summer at the 13th Conference on the ShortStory in English. I loved it.


Thank you for this interview, Mel – The Reading Life site is an inspiration!





My great thanks to Alison Lock for taking the time to provide us with such interesting and insightful responses.

I plan a major review of her collection, Above the Parapet in March