Reviews of the Ephemeral

Posts Tagged ‘Cherry Potts’

Mosaic of Air by Cherry Potts

In Short Stories on October 19, 2013 at 1:30 pm

-Reviewed by Andie Berryman

Mosaic of Air is a lesbian collection originally released in 1992 with its re-release in 2013. So why re-issue stories from a particular era, in this case the 1980s: would the stories now be a bit dated? In her foreword, author Cherry Potts examines this decision herself, she points out which particular lines are now mercifully obsolete (such as ”He couldn’t very well marry Phillip, could he?”), but also points to the stories which still, sadly, portray elements of contemporary lesbian life.

Mosaic of Air by Cherry Potts

There’s a short piece called ‘Second Glance’ about a woman ‘cautiously searching for the cues’ before speaking to a woman in a bar (which the author points to in the foreword), I passed it around some LGBT friends (in their 20s and 30s) to gauge a reaction, they all read the piece, nodding their heads and simply saying ‘yes’.

The ground-breaking era of the second wave of feminism and the elements of women’s lives is present throughout the collection. In ‘The Ballad of Polly and Ann’ that element is incest. Not many words are wasted on the perpetrator, rather the main protagonist’s unorthodox journey takes precedence. This (to my mind) mirrors the rise of rape crisis centres during the 1970s and 1980s, which started life primarily tackling incestuous abuse.

Then there’s the reclaiming of myths. The great joy in reading a Feminist collection like this is the re-imagining, from Woolf to Winterson, Cherry Potts also reimagines Helen of Troy as a mere beautiful pawn in the powerplay of the ancient world, but who, like most women in today’s society, negotiates the system. If you read nothing else in this book you must read ‘Arachne’s Daughters’; this takes apart a myth about Arachne (a human) challenging Athene (the goddess): ‘ ”Now, can you believe anyone would be so stupid?” ‘. It’s set as a speech given at a women-only meeting with a clever twist on why so many women shouldn’t fear spiders despite the extra legs and pincers ‘ ”Forgot something though didn’t they?…[Men]… How many Cancers and Scorpios are in the audience?” ‘.

Throughout is the filling of silence through the writing of experience. That’s quite clearly laid out in ‘Winter Festival’, a piece about being alone on what should be a day of being with a loved one: ‘ ”A day like any other, except perhaps for our expectations of it: unreasonable, companionable expectations”. One couldn’t imagine that story being relevant to the here and now, but it’s happening somewhere, to someone.

Another element in the canon of feminist writing is science fiction. There always seems to be a reaching out to space, a place which shouldn’t replicate patriarchal norms, but somehow does and distorts them slightly. ‘Mosaic of Air’ is an interesting parable featuring a proto-post-feminist lead, a computer programmer whose programme becomes sentient which surprisingly encases an abortion debate.

There is longing, there is the blessing of lust requited, written to my mind on a low frequency; this is what happened, it’s important that it’s displayed as an everyday facet of life. Cherry Potts’ writing quite rightly points out that lesbian life has been portrayed like an old postcard left behind the carriage clock on the mantelpiece for years; visitors have noticed it and yet not bothered to pick it up and discover the message on it, because it’s from Hebden Bridge and not Brighton’s clubs.

‘London Lies’ (ed. Cherry Potts & Katy Darby)

In anthology, Short Stories on September 15, 2013 at 1:17 pm

-Reviewed by Claudia Haberberg-

The Liars’ League is a monthly live literature night held in central London, where actors read stories that have been written for the event. I specify this for those who, like me, are not particularly hip to the live literature scene. London Lies is a collection of stories by nineteen authors who have been showcased in the event’s six-year lifespan, and pays homage to the city where it has made its home.

London Lies Arachne Press

There is a lot to be done with a theme of ‘London‘, even for those authors who do not live here. As someone who was born and brought up in London, and has lived there for the best part of 26 years, it would have been easy to take it somewhat personally if this collection had in any way failed to deliver. Luckily, this is one of the most enjoyable story collections I’ve had the pleasure of reading in several years.

It is clear that the Liars’ League is a select group. Each piece, lasting only a few pages, boasts a completeness that only an accomplished writer can achieve. The breadth of styles, settings and subject matter is excellent. We have repeat viewings of the same film; we have a ‘two blokes in a pub’ story gone horrifically wrong; we have a football riot and a street party of two; we have an apocalypse scenario and a mysterious plague. Many writers have published more than one story in this same book, and they are skilfully arranged – and written – so that we are never given a chance to tire of one person’s voice.

In some ways, the consistently high quality of London Lies makes it difficult to review. Every time I have sat down to start writing, I’ve wanted to highlight different stories. I will, however, begin with a constant favourite: as a lover of fairytales, I particularly enjoyed Emily Cleaver’s ‘The Frog’, a 21st century re-imagining of the story of the Frog Prince. It is, by turns, disturbing and sad, bringing some of the realities of modern dating into harsh relief. Several stories in this anthology are about romance and dating, but this was by far my favourite – like London, it is older than the hills at the same time as being new.

Those stories that are either faintly surreal, or introduce an element of the bizarre to an otherwise regular situation, are the ones that have stayed with me most easily. ‘The Escape’ (Cleaver again), in which an ordinary London market is introduced to the bull chases of Seville by a strange and ill-conceived prank, is one of the more memorable. ‘Rat’ (Liam Hogan), a story about talking rats, reminded me of nothing so much as Terry Pratchett, but the concept of every Londoner having a rat familiar was sweet and the twist in the tale was very well presented.

This is not to say that the more realistic stories are less impressive. There was something sweetly convincing about the idea of riot police turning up to a street party held in the rain (‘O Happy Day’, David Bausor); something thrilling about Simon Hodgson’s ‘Thieves We Were’, a story of Irish gangsters in the 1930s; and something horribly compelling and familiar about David Mildon’s ‘Red’, in which children of football fans are taunted simply for cheering for the ‘wrong’ team. This last, in particular, shows how unfriendly and forbidding this city can be to those who’ve come from outside. This story was immediate, well-paced, and left plenty of food for thought.

If someone asked me to define London, I would unhesitatingly point to the ethnic and cultural diversity of its population. One of the things I love most about my city is that people from all over the world, and from across the spectrum of gender and sexuality, rub shoulders together on a daily basis. If anything is missing from London Lies, it is a firm sense of that diversity. The love stories appear to focus on heterosexual couples, and any characters from minority ethnic backgrounds tend to be incidental. I would love to see a little more of the richness of London’s people in future anthologies from the Liars’ League.

[Ed: Review edited to credit David Bausor for ‘O Happy Day’]

‘Stations’ (ed. Cherry Potts)

In anthology on July 10, 2013 at 10:00 am

-Reviewed by Rebecca Burns-

The backcover blurb for Stations states that that the anthology contains “[A] story for every station on the Overground line in East and South London […]”. There are twenty-four in all and the first point to be made about this collection is to note an absence – of a route map. For readers not living in London or familiar with the Overground Line, a visual aid as to how these stations (and stories) link together would have been very useful and might have provided a sense of cohesiveness to the collection as a whole.

Similarly, the inclusion of a brief biography of each author would have been welcome. I like to read more about the authors contained in an anthology, particularly if I’m struck by a certain story. It’s a personal preference, but one usually met in other anthologies.

Stations Arachne Press

The stories themselves vary in quality though are of similar length – around seven pages, some shorter, some longer; possibly the perfect length for a journey between stations. Carol Hardman’s ‘Bloody Marys and a bowl of Pho’ (Hoxton) is a modern-day, urban take on the vampire narratives so current at the moment. It is well-written and funny. ‘Platform Zero’ (Haggerston) by Michael Trimmer also offers a quirky version of another, familiar theme – that of the parallel universe. ‘The Beetle’ by Ellie Stewart (Wapping) is also well-paced and moving in its portrayal of a broken relationship. Peter Morgan’s ‘Mr Forest Hill Station’ (Forest Hill) also stands out due to its tender depiction of the bond between strangers, meeting occasionally in the big city.

A common theme the stories share is the sense of locale; all stories give a real sense of London’s enclaves, those small areas threaded together by transport links. In some stories the topography is described in minute detail: ‘ ‘Left out of the station entrance,’ she had said, ‘not far until a sort-of-small-road-kind-of-more-like-an-alley which you need to go down all the way, then through the gap-between-the-shops to cross the big street, then to the right for a bit until you get to a shop with a kind-of-old-fashioned-green-sign and some little writing in the window […].’ (‘Three Things to Do in Surrey Quays’, Adrian Gantlope). It is enlightening to the non-London resident to think of London in such small terms, as described above.

Many stories also focus upon the fragility and fleetingness of relationships. For example, Rob Walton describes an odd kind of love affair in ‘Yellow Tulips’ (New Cross Gate), between the narrator, and John and Alex. The affair itself seems unsatisfactory and temporary, based on hurried meetings. Walton is effective at capturing the instability of the relationship: ‘It is possible to live in a city, a town, a village, an area of a city for a short time and make new friends, close friends, have altogether deeper relationships. Without the shared past or common references you can dive into the here and now, establish a new sort of relationship, one you haven’t tried before. Do all the things you didn’t do in the other places you lived. Then move on and become a new you, or be one of the other yous [sic] in another new place.’

The difficulty in describing these kind of brief, random relationships, in short stories only a few pages long, is that the reader does not have long to inhabit the characters, to really get inside their skins and empathise with them as a friendship or love affairs shatter or flare into view. The writing has to be crisp, the author at the top of their game for a story so short and with such subject matter to resonate. Stories like ‘Yellow Tulips’ and ‘Mr Forest Hill Station’ achieve this, with their touching portrayal of how fragmented, passing moments can leave a lasting impression. In other stories where this is not achieved, the reader consumes them easily and moves on.

Perhaps this was the ambition of the editors: to meet the need of a busy commuter, seeking entertainment on their voyage in and out of the heart of the metropolis. To readers outside of London, some stories stand better than others, lingering past the journey’s end.

‘Lovers’ Lies’ (ed. Katy Darby and Cherry Potts)

In anthology on July 7, 2013 at 12:14 pm

-Reviewed by Richard T. Watson

With a colourful, cheerful front cover, somewhat at odds with its ominous, dark-sounding title, Lovers’ Lies is a varied and multi-faceted anthology from Arachne Press. The lies – or stories – have all been contributed by members of the Liars’ League monthly events held in London (with franchises in Leeds, New York and Hong Kong), where the stories are read aloud by actors. Those appearing in Lovers’ Lies are united by the theme of love, and have been selected from five years of events.

Lovers' Lies Arachne Press

As you’d expect from asking a collection of writers to respond to such a wide-ranging theme, there’s a wealth of variety here. No two stories are quite the same, nor do they even seem to have much in common, except that someone feels love at some point. But the differences are actually an advantage, and as a result the anthology isn’t slavishly devoted to its theme; it has the freedom to take off on tangents and flights of fancy. Love is treated as a springboard rather than an anchor to hold the anthology in place.

The Lovers’ Lies are often short and snappy stories, quick to read but leaving a lasting, heartfelt impression. They deal perhaps with an obvious and common theme (”not another love story!” I hear you cry), but each story has a different take and few of them handle their theme in an obvious way.

Alright, so there’s some fairly standard boy-meets-girl stuff, for example Michael McLoughlin’s ‘The Sacred Duty of Mexican Mothers’ – which livens things up by having the boy almost more interested in seducing the girl’s mother, half an eye on persuading her to let him have a second date and more. That’s not to say that the sultry Mexican air doesn’t throb with some hormonal, teenage desire, but McLoughlin raises the bar with his boy who is ‘at least two steps ahead of any mother in Mexico’.

Alongside all that, though, there’s some thwarted desire – in ‘Takeaway’ by Alison Willis – some girl-meets-girl stories – like ‘Taking Flight’ by Catherine Sharpe and Jessica Lott’s ‘Dara’ – as well as doses of loneliness – in Mi L Holliday’s ‘Surf and Turf’ – and plenty of heartbreak – for example, in Clare Sandling’s ‘Under the Influence’ and ‘Monsieur Fromage’ by Rosalind Stopps. As the title may imply, that last one features a man selling cheeses, but it still manages to be a touching story of a marriage inevitably collapsing inwards despite the desperate desire to stay together.

In amongst the heartbreak, though, there’s some room for humour. Rosalind Stopps, with her other entry, supplies some of this in ‘How to Survive The Olympics With a Broken Heart’, providing its story through a series of tips specific to one particular break-up. It also captures some of the cynicism surrounding the London Olympics before they actually started and national euphoria kicked in. Meanwhile, there’s a certain dark humour in possibly the kinkiest story here, ‘By the Horns’, with its tragic Spanish matador role-play, courtesy of Darren Lee.

Lovers’ Lies, as a collection of love stories, doesn’t neglect the realm of high romance either. Co-editor Cherry Potts provides a story with overtones of Tennyson and epic loves played out across a lifetime in the surprisingly small and closed world of neighbouring farming estates. ‘Mirror’ takes place with the First World War in the distance, but able to act only as a sideshow to the real conflicts and dramas playing out in rural England and in the hearts of two men.

Not all of the types of love involved in Lovers’ Lies are passionate, romantic affairs, and it’s more true and balanced for that. So we’ve got the slow-burner love that’s more comfort than passion in ‘Mrs Murdoch and Mr Smith’ by Peter Higgins, or the decades-old love that overcomes impending death in Nathan Good’s ‘Games I’ve Played and the People I’ve Played Them With’. Then there’s the almost magic-realism of ‘Skin Deep’ (Michelle Shine, featuring a mermaid) or ‘This Isn’t Heat’ (Richard Smyth, featuring a Buddha statue playing Cupid in sweltering Manhattan), and the tolerance built up over years together in Rob Cox’s ‘Things’.

Rebecca Gould’s ‘Speaking in Tongues’ makes a good stab at capturing the changeable nature of love and the way a relationship can be seen so differently from different angles. In a rich, concentrated little story she touches on the divides between East and West and between men and women, but her protagonist is doing more than learning about the new culture she finds herself in; she’s learning about the man she loves and about love itself. More than that, she’s learning about truth and lies and the gap between translation, which isn’t quite either.

The final, redemptive twist of Jason Jackson’s ‘A Time and Place Unknown’, the last, sci-fi, entry in Lovers’ Lies, leaves the anthology with a final note of optimism. It ends by letting us believe that love is a force for good and that it can overcome time, space and perhaps even death itself. Over the course of its 138 pages Lovers’ Lies shows both the darker side of love and the way it brings out the best in us. If that was the intention of the Arachne Press editors, then they’ve done a fine job.