My review of Sandlands by Rosy Thornton

book cover

At that, the crease smoothed away and she smiled at him. ‘Oh, don’t worry, we’re still appalling know-it-alls. We dig things up, but then we photograph and catalogue, record and document, and as often as not we put things back. It’s not the finds so much as the findings. Not the objects but the stories they tell.’

Sandlands is a collection of sixteen linked short stories, all taking place in and around the small coastal village of Blaxhall in an area known as the Sandlings in Suffolk, England. Life and death, past and present, overlap in these stories, coming full circle. The victories, losses and betrayals of past generations come back to haunt the present, forever imprinted upon both the physical landscape as well as the realm of memory and imagination.

In ‘Nightingale’s Return,’ birdsong fills the air as a recently retired clerk travels from his native Italy to visit the farm in Suffolk where his father worked as a prisoner of war during World War Two. In ‘Mad Maudlin,’ one of the more unsettling stories in the collection, a pub lodger stays up late to compare old video footage of the pub from decades before. ‘Silver Studded Blues’ is a story of regeneration and renewal and the surprises which nature sometimes brings, wrapped up in the story of a man who has spent his entire life in (nearly) the same place.

Thornton’s stories are quiet, delicate and full of wonder. They slowly weave their way into your heart, where they remain.  They are poignant, poetic, lush with the landscape, wildlife and history of Blaxhall and beautifully written but, above all, they are perfect. By perfect I mean perfectly composed—each word earns its place, and then some. Each character, each setting, each paragraph hearkens back to another, lending a satisfying, almost musical, quality of resonance within the stories and, indeed, within the collection.

As I read, I found myself turning each story over, wondering what had really happened. This wasn’t because the writing was unclear at any point but more a result of the writer wanting the reader to make his or her own mind up as to what had occurred. Thornton’s stories are multi-layered and nuanced in such a way that they lend themselves to varying interpretations, a feature I very much enjoyed.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Thornton’s work and, perhaps, even visiting the Sandlings someday.

Sandlands is published by Sandstone Press and is available from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B017KU9E9K/ 

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Sandlands-Rosy-Thornton-ebook/dp/B017KU9E9K/

You can follow Rosy Thornton on Twitter: @rosy_thornton

Visit her website: http://rosythornton.com/

 

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Short stories vs Novels: Which do you write?

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Every writer of fiction has been asked at some point if they are a writer of novels or of short stories. So, which are you?

When I began writing I set out to mostly write short stories. Why? Because they’re short, and, I figured, there are lots of magazines which publish short stories, and that should make my job as a writer easier. Right? Wrong!

No matter how short the story, it won’t be a satisfying read without a well-rounded protagonist, an interesting plot and a strong climax. And trying to fit all of these elements into just a few thousand words (sometimes even less these days with the advent of flash fiction) is no easy feat.

In a novel you have more space to flesh out your characters and storyline, you have room to manoeuvre, so to speak.

Or do you?

These days with novels, if it’s not getting a reader’s attention straight away, they’ll put it down. I’ve always wanted to do a survey of present day novels and compare them to the novels of previous times (say, the 1940’s) to see how they compare. Is it true that we have to be punchier now, or is it just a sense of nostalgia making us believe this?

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A different audience

Many short stories are read online, in magazines or anthologies whereas novels must stand alone. If a reader isn’t sure about your book they won’t buy it, but a short story might be stumbled upon in an anthology and read almost by mistake. Novels require a considerable commitment on the part of the reader in terms of the time they take to read. If they don’t like your characters, or where your plot is going, they won’t invest that time.

Of course, not all short stories are published in magazines, some of them are published as collections, like these.

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Although several of the stories originally appeared in literary magazines such as The New Yorker.

Short stories which turn into novels and vice-versa

When I began writing about the main character of The Forest King’s Daughter, it was in a short story. From there I went on to write more short stories about her and this progressed until I knew she needed a novel. I know some writers who do this in reverse, writing a series of short stories based on their novel’s protagonist after they’ve written the novel. Whichever way round it is, I think character driven fiction is important. If a character wants to take you someplace else, maybe somewhere new where you’re not sure if you’re comfortable going—follow them! It’s our only hope as writers, to follow our ideas through to the end, to explore all possibilities and to discover what we can achieve.

So, which are you? And do you think it’s necessary to specialise in one form or the other? If you’re a novelist, do you ever dabble in short stories? And if you’re a short story writer, have you ever attempted a novel? I’d love to hear your thoughts!