Last night my wife couldn’t sleep so I read her a story. Then I had to read her another one because the first one wasn’t conducive to restful dreams.
Both came from the Bluemoose collection Seaside Special, edited by Jenn Ashworth, of stories from the North West coast. I started reading it at the tail end of Summer 2018, and finished it in the Spring of 2019, looking out over the sea. I suspect it’s a good way to read an anthology like this, to let the stories breathe, to let connections and comparisons rise from the memory, details mixing with your own memories of places, times.
I’m in Arnside, waiting for a walk across the sands one Bank Holiday (in Melissa Wan’s The Husband and The Wife Go to The Seaside, an Arnside shopkeeper gossips about cross-bay walks). I’m in Southport as a kid, entranced by pre-video age arcade amusements. And in Andrew Michael Hurley’s Katy, a father searches for his missing daughter in a Blackpool arcade where ‘with so many people there and every bell and buzzer declaring itself, voices and machines congealed into a vile discord’.
What’s there, beside the seaside, beside the edge of the sea? Angels and suburbs. Blackpool and Morecambe Bay give us postcards not only from the edge of the land but the edge of the mundane, morphing into the tragic, the transcendent, the funny, the violent. People still work here, move to a new house, go to church, have days out. It’s the North West we know, and the North West we recognise. But that recognition comes with a jolt. In Pete Kalu’s The Keeper of Books there are evasive memories of the Atlantic slave trade. And in Kirsty Logan’s Two Wakes and Anita Sethi’s Blackpool Lights we find the vulnerable psychic edge lands of fairground rides.
My two favourite stories – the ones I read out – couldn’t be more different. The narrator of Paul Kingsnorth’s Destroying Angel has ever closer encounters with beings who have been here far longer than people, and sees ‘the old form, the old shape’. Finally, he’s waiting on the sands, the bore coming in, dog walkers and children oblivious, as the angel comes for him. It’s a masterclass in less-is-more suspense. Meanwhile, Bethan Ellis’s A Kinder Light, set around a shabby church in Morecambe, centres on a relationship between a younger and an older, dying woman. Its picture of community, belonging and what we can know of each other has a heart-breaking twist.
The book mixes established writers with those making their names. I’ve paid more for a pint and a half in that there London than the cost of this book. You could read some of the stories in a 20-minute bus ride. But it’s worth taking your time over the collection. Let it breathe.
Seaside Special: Postcards From The Edge, edited by Jenn Ashworth, is published by Bluemoose Books.