East meets West

Article published on July 25, 2016.

Dorothy Anderson (an nb reviewer of some distinction) and Ali Bacon are sisters, born in Scotland, who now live in Suffolk and the West Country respectively. Both have a lifetime’s love of reading. ‘All the family were great readers’, says Dorothy, and we always discussed what we were reading, long before there were reading groups!’ Ali is a published novelist (check out alibacon.com) and Dorothy still reads obsessively and writes reviews. Here’s a recent exchange of emails about a newly discovered author.

AB – I have just been reading a book of short stories which I loved. It is Sandlands by Rosy Thornton. I know you always say you don’t like short stories and I’m a bit the same, but these are set in your part of the world and I’m sure you’ll relate to them.

DA – The problem with short stories is that just when I’m getting to know the characters, it’s all over, but I’ll give it a go!

A week later

DA – I loved it too!

AB – I’m so glad! But you know Suffolk better than I do. Have you been to the places mentioned in the book?

DA – Not to Blaxhall, but next time we are in that area I will be paying it a visit. The pub ‘The Ship’ was probably originally called’ The Sheep’ as there are several called The Ship which are a long way from the sea. Others are called The Boot which would have been The Boat. Suffolk is a funny old place and the local accent is very particular to each area!

Snape, Aldeburgh, Dunwich and Rendlesham Forest are all places where George and I have walked and I can vouch for the authenticity of Rosie’s writing.

AB – It does feel totally authentic and to me the rhythm and pace of the writing seem to mimic the turn of the seasons and the lie of the land. And what great characters: the teenage bell-ringer and the WW2 pilot, the Dibley-esque preacher and the Cambridge don in his Martello Tower. I think the recurring place names and settings give the stories an overall coherence – almost like a novel. And I like the use of past and present.

DA – I quite agree. The past sits very visibly in the modern landscape and I think that is why the supernatural references in some of the stories never jar. There is a footpath in my village where people have walked to the church along the brook for a thousand years. When I walk there on my own I am conscious of that fact – never seen a ghost though! We did once see a rider in the distance on a black horse……… but I am sure there is a rational explanation for that!

AB – Yes, there’s spookiness but it isn’t overdone. Which stories did you like best? I liked The Watcher of Souls , when Rebecca encounters an owl in the woods when she stops to spend a penny (nice realistic touch!) and Nightingales Return about the returning POW. But it’s difficult to choose favourites when they are all so satisfying to read.

DA – I liked Kathy doing up her cottage with builder Nick, Mr Napish who saved a fox from the flood and the last one, Mackerel, about a Granny getting ready for a visit from her beloved granddaughter Hattie. It made me think of our grandma and her sister bustling around making our favourite food. It brought a lump to my throat.

AB – Yes! And it made me think of Ailsa in my own novel who has a fishy obsession (and whom I consider a real person, of course!)

DA – The music threads its way through the stories too. Did you get that?

AB – Not so much, but you always did like folk music!

DA – How would you sum up this collection? In five words?

AB – Beautiful, evocative, fascinating, poignant. Stunning actually.

DA – Yes, you’ve nailed it. As Rosy lives near here, I am hoping she will come and speak at our reading group’s Literary Lunch next summer. This will be our ninth!!

AB – Save a ticket for me – and let’s visit the Sandlands too!

 

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