“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language /And next year’s words await another voice.” (TS Eliot)

Today marks a year since my first blog post.  During the year I’ve got so much more out of blogging than I ever thought possible, and that is due in no small part to my fellow bloggers, you gorgeous bunch.  So I thought it would be apt to commemorate my first year by looking at a piece of writing by another WordPress blogger.

First birthday

(Image from http://www.juicyoccasions.co.uk/2012_02_01_archive.html)

Becky Mayhew blogs at Becky Says Things.  Her blog is funny, insightful and truly original.  Do check it out, I promise you will be better for it as Becky points and laughs at the absurdities of life, and has something interesting to say about it all too. In 2011, Becky had a collection of short stories published by the lovely Treehouse Press, Lost Souls.   It is collection of three stories, “Shelves”, “Ramona” and “Roses”.

“Shelves” is told to us by a librarian, whose sexual encounters are intertwined with her job and the reading matter of her partners.  So she sleeps with the “insipid, vole-like” Geoffrey when he takes on board her suggestion to abandon John Grisham for Jane Austen, and later, after Wuthering Heights:

“I think the dynamic impression of hot-blooded Heathcliff had gone to his head a little, as he had the audacity to suggest we go back to mine. I conceded, and took him round the corner along the twelve houses to my flat, almost entirely for my own personal interest in what a week of Heathcliff does to a man; as it turned out, less than I hoped.”

As the passage above shows, there’s a wry, dry humour running through the tale, and the librarian’s voice is strong and distinctive.  There are some beautiful images and Becky has an original turn of phrase:

“His eyes slid like oil over titles, one black eyebrow raised; occasionally he paused to finger a book spine or to bend to a lower shelf, and then he moved on, disappearing and reappearing in and out of bookcases like a thief.”

Fellow bibliophiles, didn’t we always know that libraries are hotbeds of sexual tension?

The narrator of “Ramona” is a middle-aged teacher, struggling to assert herself in all aspects of her life.  I know enough teachers to know the description of how “it is depressing trying to teach a class of idiots who are far more interested in their social and sexual status than in how Margaret Atwood develops her characters” rings true.  The narrator’s interest in one of her pupils, Ramona Manson, is slightly baffling to her, as Ramona “is not charming, she is not beautiful, she is not even particularly threatening”, and yet, she goes through life with an ease the narrator cannot achieve, and with a sense of authority that continually evades the older woman.  The plot of “Ramona” is a simple one, and yet through this largely unremarkable time the fracture lines in the teacher’s life become fully exposed.  The story is an artfully constructed portrait of an ordinary life teetering on the edge.

I loved the first line of the final story, “Roses”: “There he is, inside a flaming scarlet halo.” It’s a perfect example of what is to come – a beautifully written, unnerving, and insidiously violent tale. Unlike the other two stories, “Roses” is told in the third person, from the point of view of Elizabeth, a florist and fantasist, for whom the flowers are people:

“The bamboo chuckles raspingly under its breath.  The lilies poke out their tongues; the sunflowers nod on their aching necks, shoulders shaking with weary laughter…”

Elizabeth spends her day obsessed with a man who uses the coffee shop opposite her florists:

“Sometimes she can feel him, in the long stretches when she is alone with her flowers; she can feel a presence, a warmth about her, as though he is sitting right there beside her, breathing her perfumed air.  Their worlds beautifully interlaced like the coiling infinity of an open rose.”

That last sentence is such perfectly balanced writing: an image of originality and meaning without any pretension or heavy-handedness. I don’t want to say too much more about “Roses” as it would give the plot away, but the final page of this book, containing the last four short paragraphs of this story, was breathtakingly well-written.  The images are startling and evocative, and I absolutely loved this story.  Becky has blogged in the past about her tendency to procrastinate.  I can only hope she is more successful than me at beating this behaviour, because I want to read more of her work very soon…

On their website, Treehouse Press say “we want our books to be unique and beautiful objects, a thing you’d want to hold in your hand, and also for the writing and the artwork to engage you”.   Hopefully I’ve convinced you of the engaging quality of Becky’s writing.  In the book the stories are alongside the haunting images of Paul G. Vine’s photographs, certainly making it a lovely object. You can buy Lost Souls direct from the publisher at http://www.treehousepress.co.uk/products/lost-souls , so if you’d like to get Becky’s book can I enter a plea that you buy it there and not from a certain tax-avoiding multi-national company?


(Image from http://www.treehousepress.co.uk/products/lost-souls )

Thanks to everyone who’s looked at the blog/followed/commented/re-blogged etc and made the last year such a joy!

12 thoughts on ““For last year’s words belong to last year’s language /And next year’s words await another voice.” (TS Eliot)

  1. Libraries, ‘hotbeds of sexual tension’. Love it. And just to prove that you are correct, here’s another winning quote from Siri Hustvedt’s ‘The Summer Without men’ –

    “Libraries are sexual dream factories. The languor brings it on. The body must adjust its position – a leg crossed, a palm leaned upon, a back stretched – but the body is going nowhere. The reading and looking up from one’s reading brings it on; the mind leaves the book and meanders onto a thigh or an elbow, real or imagined. The gloom of the stacks brings it on with its suggestion of the hidden.”

    Happy blog birthday!


  2. I HAVE INTERNET!!!! I’M HERE!!!! And huge congratulations on your 1st birthday (you look great for it), and if I say thank you again for your amazing and humbling review of my writing I’ll explode, so I’ll whisper it……. damn, I can’t whisper on here. I’ll shout it instead. THANK YOU 🙂


  3. Thanks, Madame B, for the thoughtful and generous review of Becky’s book and for the kind words about the work we’re doing here at Treehouse Press. And yes, me too, I wait in anticipation for Becky’s next book. Warm greetings from the treehouse 🙂


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