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Category Archives: English Fiction

The Backstreets of Purgatory by Helen Taylor (Unbound)

The Backstreets of Purgatory by Helen Taylor (Unbound)

In The Backstreets of Purgatory, Helen Taylor takes us on an emotional journey that brings joy, pain and laughter along the way. Her mellifluous prose is a joy to read, and each of her characters are incredibly life-like, from overachiever, anxious, psychology student Lizzie to nonchalant, arrogant artist Finn, resourceful but nuanced ex-drug addict Tuesday to crude yet elegant Kassia. By writing each chapter from the viewpoint of each of her characters, Taylor builds empathy for them, creating a distinct, complex personality and set of emotions for each in turn. Throughout the book, there is a clear love for the city of Glasgow, and the book is very much rooted in its Scottish identity. The book is not a retelling of the life of Caravaggio in a modern setting as there is little of Caravaggio in the main protagonist, Finn. The Backstreets of Purgatory is much more about Glasgow’s art school scene and, as such, is a compelling read for its less well known and ordinary, gritty struggles.

A sense of light and darkness throughout the book is embodied in the interweaving of the character’s lives and their community. Her characters are memorable. The relationships between them are sincere and authentic, as well as being complex and nuanced. She creates a sense of family in strangers and shows the relationships between each of them in their complete truth, both toxic and healthy.

By introducing magical realism through the weaving of Caravaggio into the fabric of the story, Taylor explores the idea of meeting one’s heroes. She develops the plot, creating a strong empathetic link between the reader and the characters. Whilst the plot builds consistently, there is a strong feeling of anti-climax at the end with all the characters ending up in a worst place than they had started. This can make you question the idea of meeting your heroes and whether this will truly bring happiness to your life. Caravaggio becomes a violent truth of his time, and Taylor explores the idea of culture not only from the Scottish perspective but also from the Italian sixteenth century side, and the dangers of entering in the shadows of one’s hero.

Overall, this book, which is published by crowdfunded publishers, Unbound, is a strong reflection and exploration of Glaswegian culture. Helen Taylor’s lyrical prose embodies the struggles of the backstreets of Glasgow well and I look forward to her second novel.

Hannah Miller 28th June 2019

Tears in the Fence 69

Tears in the Fence 69

Tears in the Fence 69 is now available at https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward/

This issue has a front cover designed by Westrow Cooper from a photograph entitled, God and Man, and was designed by Westrow Cooper. The creative section consists of poetry, visual and prose poems, fiction, flash fiction and creative non-fiction by Martin Stannard, Valerie Bridge, Marcin Podlaski, Sharon Olinka, Sheila E Murphy, Jeremy Reed, Clive Gresswell, Gerald Killingworth, Michael Farrell, Serena Mayer, Will Hall, Holly V Chilton, Annemarie Austin, Robert Hirschfield, David Harmer, Maria Stadnicka, Jazmine Linklater, David Felix, Jasmina Bolfek-Radovani Mina Ray, Jennie E. Owen, Regi Claire, Emma Stamm, Drew Milne, Peter Dent, Tess Jolly, Charles Wilkinson, Basil King, Yvonne Litschel, Arpit Kaushik, Richard Foreman, Ceinwen E.C. Hayden, Amy Acre, Mandy Pannett, Jane R Rogers, Louise Wilford, John Brantingham, Laurie Duggan, Andrew Shelley, Ezra Miles, Greg Bright and Beth Davyson.

The critical section consists of Ian Brinton’s Editorial, Jennifer K. Dick’s Of Tradition & Experiment XIII: Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Caroline Clark’s In Praise Of Artifice on Veronica Forrest-Thomson and Olga Sedakova, Sarah Connor on Poems For Grenfell Tower, A Tale of Two Londons, Norman Jope on Games Across Frontiers: Twitters For a Lark, Andrew Duncan on Edge of Necessary, Martin Thom, Barbara Bridger on JR Carpenter, Sheila Hamilton on Melinda Lovell, Tim Allen on Andrew Duncan, Seán Street on Eleanor Rees, Guy Russell on Martin Gray, Simon Collings on Alan Baker, Jessica Mookherjee on Rachael Clyne, Mandy Pannett on Reuben Woolley, John Welch on James Sutherland-Smith, David Pollard – What Is Poetry? A Response, Why are we writing and who are we writing for? A Conversation between Lisa Kiew and Amy McCauley, Notes on Contributors and David Caddy’s Afterword.

Tears in the Fence 67 is now available

Tears in the Fence 67 is now available

Tears in the Fence 67 is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward

This issue is designed by Westrow Cooper and features poetry, fiction, flash fiction and talks from Peter Riley, Angela Gardner, Jeremy Reed, Geraldine Clarkson, Mike McNamara, Khairani Barokka, Caitilín Gormley, Beth McDonough, Nigel Jarrett, Mark Dickinson, Colin Honnor, Jessica Sneddon, Lesley Burt, Charles Wilkinson, Colin Sutherill, Doug Jones, Radka Thea Otipkova, Maria Stadnicka, Richard Makin, Fiona Moore, Tess Jolly, Gerald Killingworth, Norman Jope on Lessons From A Left-Behind Laureateship, L. Kiew, Rupert M. Loydell, Jill Abram, Harriet Parker, Gram Joel Davies, Judy Darley, Charles Hadfield, Amy McCauley, Lucia Sellars, Tim Allen, David Ball, Jay Ramsay, Lydia Harris, Rosie Jackson, Rachael Clyne, Maitreyabandhu, Michael Farrell, Andrew Henon, Anna Backman Rogers, Andrew Shelley, Alexandra Sashe, Kris Hemensley, Cat Conway, Morag Kiziewicz and Jeremy Reed on Starman: Temenos Academy Talk.

The critical section features Ian Brinton’s Editorial, Isobel Armstrong on Carol Watts, Andrew Duncan on Steve Ely, Frances Presley on Hazel Smith, Rosie Jackson on Cora Greenhill, Melinda Lovell on Sheila Hamilton, Richard Foreman on Leonora Carrington, Vanessa Gebbie, Ian Brinton on Douglas Woolf, Elaine Randell on John Muckle, Lesley Saunders on Josephine Balmer, Mandy Pannett on Jay Ramsay, Fiona Owen on Matthew Barton, John Freeman, Andrea Moorhead on Pansy Maurer-Alvarez, Charlie Baylis on Rupert M. Loydell, Richard Foreman on Alan Moore, Suzannah V. Evans on the 2017 T.S. Eliot Summer School, Elizabeth Stott on Kathleen Jones, Jonathan Catherall on Robert Vas Dias & Julia Farrer, David Caddy on Stairs & Whispers, Morag Kiziewicz’s Electric Blue 3, Notes on Contributors and David Caddy’s Afterword.

Tears in the Fence 66

Tears in the Fence 66

Tears in the Fence 66 is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, prose poetry, fiction and flash fiction from Rachael Clyne, Camilla Nelson, Steve Spence, Isobel Armstrong, Anna Reckin, Jeremy Reed, Greg Bright, Adam Fieled, Maurice Scully, Zainab Ismail, Michael Henry, Sarah Cave, Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese, Paul Kareem Tayyar, Jinny Fisher, Alison Frank, Bethany Rivers, Nick Totton, F.J. Williams, Vahni Capildeo in Conversation with Suzannah V. Evans, Mike Duggan, John Welch, Jill Eulalie Dawson, James Midgley, Richard Foreman, Andrew Henon, Cora Greenhill, Peter J. King, Jane Wheeler, Jonathan Chant, Martin Stannard, Kate Noakes, Jonathan Catherall, John Goodby, David Clarke, Ren Watson, Claire Polders, Flash Fiction 3rd Prize winner, Keith Walton, Flash Fiction 2nd Prize winner, Sheila Mannix, Flash Fiction 1st Prize winner.

The critical section features Ian Brinton’s editorial, Jennifer K Dick’s Of Tradition & Experiment XIII, Steve Spence on Poems for Jeremy Corbyn, Norman Jope on Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry, Andrew Duncan on Seditious Things, Nick Totton on J.H. Prynne & Non-Representational Poetry, Lesley Saunders on Jane Draycott, Geraldine Clarkson, Jeremy Hilton on Sharon Morris, Alfred Celestine, Ulrikka S. Gernes, Scott Thurston on Allen Fisher, Steve Spence on New Plymouth Poetry, Will Daunt on Amos Weisz, Oliver Dixon on James Byrne, Cora Greenhill on the Scottish Women’s Poetry Symposium, Suzannah V. Evans on Richard Price, Mandy Pannett on Trumbull Stickney, Morag Kiziewicz’s Electric Blue 2, Kat Peddie on The Sovereign Community, Notes On Contributors and David Caddy’s Afterword

The Meaning of Things: Poems and Prose by Elaine Randell (Shearsman Books)

The Meaning of Things: Poems and Prose by Elaine Randell (Shearsman Books)

There is an old saying about not judging other people until you have walked a mile in their shoes. In her reminiscences about her father, the concluding section of this powerfully moving new book, Elaine Randell puts it slightly differently:

“If anyone ever behaved badly or was criticised by my mother or me, he would always say, to know all is to forgive all, you have to understand why people do certain things and behave in a certain way before jumping in, Elaine.”

Elaine Randell’s career in social work and psychotherapy complements her substantial work as a poet which stretches back to Nos 3 & 4 of The Curiously Strong in November 1971 where she appeared alongside Barry MacSweeney in ‘The official Biography of Jim Morrison’, Just 22 And Don’t Mind Dying. Two years later a short book of poems appeared from MacSweeney’s Blacksuede Boot Press, Telegrams From The Midnight Country, and it is one of these short pieces that lingers in my mind as I read Randell’s new volume from Shearsman Books:

“See how the tree comes to
ward.
A heavy wind here pesters
loose wood.
Sky steps are light.
The birds fly up ex
static.”

In an interview the American Objectivist Charles Reznikoff suggested that poetry presents the thing in order to convey the feeling: it should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling. Of course the feeling is there in the selection of material: you pick certain things that are significant—that’s your feeling. You don’t go into the feeling; you portray it as well as you can, hoping that somebody else reading the poem will get your feeling:

“Now, as part of that, I should perhaps say that I try to be as clear and precise as possible….my own belief is to name and to name and to name—and to name in such a way that you have rhythm, since music (and I think George Oppen would agree with me) is also part of the meaning”.

I’m sure that Randell would certainly agree with Reznikoff and that early poem, titled ‘For You – Today’, would not look out of place in the 1934 Objectivist Press publication Jerusalem the Golden. For instance look at the three lines of ‘July’ in that Reznikoff volume:

“No one is in the street but a sparrow;
it hops on the glittering sidewalk,
and at last flies – into a dusty tree.”

Randell’s The Meaning of Things is divided into four sections the last being two autobiographical pieces of memory of the poet’s mother and father. In section II that naming and rhythm which mattered so much to both Reznikoff and Oppen is placed securely in ‘Easter 2014 Romney Marsh’:

“On such a day the skylark
heard above the tractor before seen
up that high.
Who could not be charged
by his ecstatic salute to life
upwards and yet further up he shows how to sing while flying
while
plummeting
vertically effortlessly hovering before parachuting back.
On such a day you had also heard this
known perhaps that despite their aerial activities,
skylarks nest on the ground not in trees which may catch the wind.”

Forty-four years ago in ‘For You – Today’ the second line opens with what might be perceived to be the second syllable of the word “toward”. However, by being placed where it is that word becomes a verb “ward” and the note of warning and care held in both sound and meaning of that small word leads the reader forward to the third line’s reference to “A heavy wind” and the repeated ‘w’s, agitated by the use of “pesters”, take us to the fragility of “loose wood”. In this new poem there is a contrast between the firm placing on a ground, “On such a day”, with the following nine syllables of line two ending in the open music of “seen”. The poem echoes the surge of movement and song as the lark moves “upwards and yet further up he shows how to sing while flying”.
George Oppen was a great admirer of the slightly older Reznikoff and in a 1959 letter to June Oppen Degnan, his half-sister and publisher of San Francisco Review, he wrote:

“Rezi wrote

Among the heap of brick and plaster lies
A girder, still itself among the rubbish.

Likely he could mull along and tell you what he had in mind. But how other than with this image could he put into your mind so clearly the miracle of existence—the existence of things. It is only because the image hits so clear and sudden that the poem means what it means. I don’t know that he could make it any clearer by talking about it.”

Elaine Randell’s new publication presents the reader with poetry and prose. The poetry stands clear on the page, THINGS. The prose, reminiscent of John Berger’s account of a doctor in the Forest of Dean in A Fortunate Man, gives us human voices that unsettle us with their convincing presentation of emptiness and perseverance, loss and determination. This is an important book.

Ian Brinton 4th March 2017

Tears in the Fence Flash Fiction Competition Results

Tears in the Fence is delighted to announce that the winners of its first Flash Fiction Competition are as follows:

First Prize: Many a Pearl is Still Hidden in the Oyster by Ingrid Jendrzejewski
Second Prize: To Thee Do We Send Up Our Sighs by Niamh MacCabe
Third Prize: Coeval by Jackie Sullivan
Highly Commended: Found in the Street by James Bell.

Congratulations to the winners. Their flash fiction will appear in Tears in the Fence 65, due out in February.

The Tears in the Fence Flash Fiction Competition was judged anonymously by three judges. The judges were looking for inventive use of the form and to be drawn into and surprised by a fictional world. There were many striking and moving entries with some unusual plots and arcs. Many entries combined strong characterisation with unpredictable plots. Each judge produced a long list and then a short list. A great many entries made the long lists indicating that the general standard of entries was fairly even. From the combined shortlists a final shortlist emerged, which each judge reread and produced a top five. From the top fives and an agreed top four emerged.

The final shortlist was suitably diverse with many unpredictable stories and comprised of the following entries:

Strange Creatures by Keith Walton, Those Little Details by Ren Watson, Too Close for Comfort by Emma Norry, A Fine Goodbye by Ren Watson, Ten Ways to Prepare for Your Brothers’ Visit by Judith Higgins, Molly and the Toe Rag by Catherine Edmunds, Found In The Street by James Bell, Campanula Capratica by Phil Knight, To Thee Do We Send Up Our Sighs by Niamh MacCabe, Then It Was Autumn Again by Sherri Turner, Many a pearl is still hidden in the oyster by Ingrid Jenrzejewski, Spy Film by Alan Beard, Ladybird by Alan Beard, Snowdrop by Jacqueline Haskell, Jack’s Hat by Robert Vas Dias, and Coeval by Jackie Sullivan.

Congratulations to all those whose work was recognised by the judges.

We will be holding a second Flash Fiction Competition between issues 65 and 66.

Tears in the Fence 64

Tears in the Fence 64

Tears in the Fence 64 edited by David Caddy is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, fiction, prose poetry and translations from Jeremy Reed, Jim Burns, John Welch, John Freeman, Sally Dutton, Chris Hall, Michael Henry, Beth Davyson, Kinga Tóth, Paul Kareem Tayyar, D. I., Lydia Unsworth, David Pollard, Mike Duggan, Jeff Hilson, Sheila Mannix, I.S. Rowley, Richard Foreman, Jay Ramsay, Alison Winch, Andrew Taylor, Alan Baker, Sophie Herxheimer, L. Kiew, Ric Hool, S.J. Litherland, Rachael Clyne, Andrew Shelley, Tom Cowin, Morag Kiziewicz, Matt Bryden, Jessica Mookherjee, John Phillips, Ian Brinton & Michael Grant trans. Mallarmé, Terence J. Dooley trans. Mario Martin Giljó, Greg Bachar, Jennifer K. Dick, Matthew Carbery, Mark Goodwin, Aidan Semmens, Peter Dent, Sarah Cave, Julie Irigaray and Maria Isokova Bennett.
The critical section features John Freeman on Jim Burns: Poet as Witness, Andrew Henon on Timeless Man: Sven Berlin, Mary Woodward on Rosemary Tonks & Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Jeremy Reed on John Wieners, Norman Jope on Chris McCabe, Marsha de la O in conversation with John Brantingham, Neil Leadbeater on Jeremy Hilton, Nancy Gaffield on Geraldine Monk, Lesley Saunders on Alice Miller, Belinda Cooke on Carole Satyamurti, Steve Spence on Dear World and Everyone in it David Caddy on Andrew Lees’ Mentored by a Madman, Nigel Wood & Alan Halsey, Duncan Mackay on E.E. Cummings
, Notes on Contributors, and Ian Brinton’s Afterword.
The front cover is a black & white detail of a Sven Berlin watercolour (1982, private collection) and the magazine is designed by Westrow Cooper.

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