Here I propose to post reviews of Sheffield novels as I get round to them: there are more than I first thought: it may take some time. Any thoughts or recommendations most welcome: it would be no good if everyone agree with me. Comments can be posted below.
Coming next: ? Any suggestions anyone?
A F Stone - Strong Stuff
Strong Stuff is a fitting title. There is a nod to the Sheffield setting, borrowing the Henderson’s Relish strapline, but it also describes the main character, Ruby, and her abilities as a survivor. Ruby is a young teenager and carer who is thrust by circumstances into a difficult world. This teen/YA novel has a strong plot and plenty going on to keep the reader turning the pages – even if it seems unrelentingly grim at times. But – keep going - it is not too much of a spoiler to say that “Strong Stuff” Ruby comes through it okay in the end.
There are quite a few typos and so on in the version I read, which is always disappointing in a professionally published book, but that won’t spoil things for most readers.
Though the book is set in Sheffield, there isn’t much in it to tie it there – Strong Stuff could be set pretty much anywhere. Speech patterns aren’t noticeably “Sheffield,” only one or two locations are non-fictional: making it difficult for a reader who knows the city to place the action. (One exception being the scene on the excellent front cover – but then anything in red, white and black looks great!) Nonetheless, a good read for those who like a bit of gritty realism in their fiction.
Helen Mort - Black Car Burning
I wondered about the extent to which you’d consider this to be a novel at all; following Forster’s widely accepted definition it is, in so much as it a piece of fictional writing of a certain length. Using the “aspects” of Forster’s discussion it ticks the box of following the stories of three characters over time, and it has a story, but for me what was missing was that there was nothing much by way of plot. To use Forster’s example: “The king died and then the queen died” is a story, “the king died and then the queen died of grief” is a plot. Black Car Burning is mostly a sequence of largely unconnected events: stuff happens but causality is thin. While the reader can appreciate the quality of the writing (and Helen Mort’s ability to write is beyond question) there is not much to make the reader wonder what will happen next, now that such and such has happened. There is a story thread related to climbing, some relationships, and a largely incongruous thread about the Hillsborough disaster but does the reader care that much? Interspersed with the “action” are a series of “postcards” from various locations around the city. You can appreciate these as you would any good descriptive piece of writing and Mort’s skill as a poet and writer shines through, but is that in itself enough to sustain a reader? Nor did the characters keep this reader gripped: they were, all three, a bit of a much of a muchness. I never really engaged with any of them and at times forgot which was which, they were so indistinct.
Susan Day - Watershed
Sue has come up with another novel showing her skill
writing about and exploring complex family relationships.
Watershed is told from the point of view of Pamela, a teacher at the end of her career, following the death of her twin sister and the fall-out from that: its impact on the wider family, and her own slow and difficult coming to terms with it.
The story intertwines back-story from the floods of 1953 with the Great Sheffield Flood and the more recent flooding in 2007. The title also refers to watershed moments in a life.
Readers may find one or two issues with the book: the main character is not very endearing, and so not the most relatable. Pamela is rather prickly, closed and self-centred and quite hard to root for – if that is what you are looking for in a novel. Also it was published in 2020 and brings in a contemporary thread of reflections on the Covid-19 pandemic. For me, that is not something I particularly want to read about – it irritates rather than provides insight. It is too close, too raw, to shed any light – give it another 10 years and fiction writers might be able to say something useful about it. But each to his/her own. What Susan Day always delivers is a thought-provoking well-written book.
Danuta Reah - Bleak Water
Steven Kay - A Collier and a Gentleman
Susan Day - Hollin Clough
Tony Williams - Nutcase
Steven Kay - All Measures Necessary
Steph Henley - Boy in Blue
Guy Balguy - The Bantams of Sheffield
Jacqueline Creek - The Girl with the Emerald Brooch
John Harris - Covenant With Death
Kate Mitchell - The House Fell On Her Head
Susan Day - Who Your Friends Are
Lauren Woodcock - Those Who Will Not See
Barry Hines - The Gamekeeper
CF Connolly - Felix Noonan - Sheffield Poet
Berlie Doherty - Granny was a Buffer Girl
Bryony Doran - China Bird
Kevin Paterson - Touretti Spaghetti
Kate Hanney - Someone Different
Michael Wood - For Reasons Unknown
John Foster - Scholar's Mate
Brian Sellars - Mother Goose Murders
Paul Adam - Enemy Within
Berlie Doherty - Dear Nobody
Ben Cheetham - Blood Guilt
Susan Elliot Wright - The Things We Never Said
Kate Jones - Pocket Full of Stones
Sunjeev Sahota - Year of the Runaways
Marjorie P Dunn - Abe's Legacy
Martin Bedford - Exit, Orange and Red
Evelyn Orange - Secrets and Shadows
Kate Hanney - Safe
David Fine - The Executioner's Art
Chris Rose - Wood, Talc and Mr J
Nick Holland - The Girl on the Bus
Brian Sellars - Dance Floor Drowning
Lynne Whiteley - Pocket Full of Hope
Roger Dataller (Arthur Eaglestone) - Steel Saraband
A J Oates - Bolt-hole
My interview with A J Oates is at: http://stevek1889.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/interview-with-j-oates-author-of-bolt.html