Blue Tide Rising by Clare Stevens
Gradually, the relationship develops: she tells him how she got to this point while he sets her tasks to get her out of it, small steps towards engaging with the world. Amy certainly hasn’t had it easy: orphaned at ten, she’s palmed off on an aunt she barely knows and has a low opinion of her parents. But she makes friends at school, and is almost another member of Hannah’s family, too young to recognise the dad is grooming her. He holds back till she’s legal; when the “affair” comes to light it’s Amy who is ostracised and forced to move away. More abuse, neglect and loss follow, until she tries to take her own life.
When Jay sends her to North Wales, with instructions not to mention him, Amy is unsure. But, immediately welcomed by the owners of the coastal eco-farm, she begins to mend. She feeds the chickens, weeds the vegetables, is lulled by the sound of the sea. But, although Tom and Rita are warm-hearted, they too have their pain. A child’s death, and then her twin brother a decade later; Rita’s refusal to accept the latter as suicide has ruptured the relationship with their other son, Adam, who rarely comes home. But Amy is able to heal that rift, until Jay turns up again with a strange request, as payback for how he’s helped her.
I bought my copy of Clare Stevens’ debut a week prior to publication, when we shared a stall at a Leicester book fair. We’d met at another event in Nottingham a couple of years earlier, when she was considering submitting to (my publishers) Inspired Quill. If I remember rightly, she said back then her novel was about “a ghost who thinks he’s real”. Regular readers will know I’m not a fan of the supernatural in general, but I had no problem accepting Jay, reminding me of How to Make a Friend.
Quirky characters, with lovely descriptions of the two main settings, urban grit and rural idyll, with bits of Nottingham too, and a redemptive resolution, Blue Tide Rising perfectly balances light and dark to make for an enjoyable effortless read. I was a little distracted by some of the author’s choices about punctuation and capitalisation around direct speech, which might reflect her journalist background. Less picky readers might not even notice.
Island Song by Madeleine Bunting
In a parallel narrative, Helene is newly married but her husband, along with her beloved brother, has left his native Guernsey to enlist in the Second World War. As German troops threaten to occupy the island, Helene too considers leaving for England, but remains instead to support her elderly father and to teach in a school.
The strands connect through Roz’s research into her origins but, when she enquires about her mother, it’s clear the islanders are holding something back. She might learn more by joining forces with Antoine, whom she meets in London’s Imperial War Museum. The young Frenchman’s research covers similar territory, although his focus is the paintings purloined by the Nazis from Jewish homes; a painful area for Roz since the man she knew as her father was involved in passing them on.
Although this is Madeleine Bunting’s fiction debut, she has published four acclaimed non-fiction works, one on the Channel Islands under German rule. She’s made good use of this in Island Song: learning about Guernsey under Occupation is what I liked best about this book. The ins and outs of Roz and Antoine’s research drags a bit, rather like a police procedural, although there’s an extremely satisfying twist at the end. It’s a bit different to Granta’s usually more literary output; thanks to them for my advance proof copy.
There are a few stories about the twists and turns of the journey to selfhood in my short story collection, Becoming Someone. There’s even one in which, rather than seeking the story of his parentage, it’s the son who sets the record straight about his origins. You can hear me read the opening of “Telling the Parents” here ------>