Fell by Jenn Ashworth

I blooming loved Fell. Loved it. What a treat to read such an engaging and immersive story. Jenn Ashworth has always been an interesting writer, but it feels to me that she’s hit new heights of awesome with this novel.

The book begins with the awakening of Netty and Jack who have spent death in a place of nothingness and are startled into a watchful, skittering existence by the arrival of their adult daughter at the old family home. Annette has inherited the house from Candy, Jack’s second wife, and, uninhabited for years, it’s a decrepit building; rotting, damp, mouldy, invaded by nature and filthy. The huge Sycamore trees outside have encroached and pushed inside. It’s dangerous and will cost a fortune to fix up. Annette calls a tree surgeon, Eve, who refuses to agree to set to it before a structural engineer takes a look, leading Annette to take matters into her own hands.

Meanwhile, Netty and Jack seem helpless to do anything other than watch scenes from their lives play out, which they narrate with one voice. We see Netty’s struggles to look after lodgers as her terminal illness progresses. We watch as, on a rare family day out to the lido, Jack meets Tim, an enigmatic young man who moves in with them after displaying mysterious powers, bringing hope and and intrigue to the story. As Jack tends Netty, Annette is left alone to entertain herself and Tim works on his dreams of becoming a tailor.

Switching between past and present, Morecambe Bay isn’t so much a backdrop to the novel as a surrounding atmosphere and Ashworth’s descriptions of it are superb, rendering it vivid in all its beauty and ugliness.

“The woods seem to last forever. He finds his pace and continues upwards, tripping over roots and slipping, sometimes, on exposed slabs of limestone, greasy with moss. All the while he is relishing the cold muddy smell of the first fresh air he’s had in days. Netty is rotting; she stinks, and there was no way to cover it up any more. In the spring these woods will reek of bluebells, wild garlic and fox bitches in heat, but there’s nothing in the air today except the scent of musty leaves and stagnant pools of rainwater. It’s still early; a hard bluish light shines between the stripped boughs. The fell slopes steeply upwards, covered in close cropped grass and heather. The sky is low and almost white. No one would put this on a postcard…”

She’s equally magical at conjuring the bits and bobs that make up our day to day – the sweets, crockery, pencils, leaves, the ordinary things that forge our connections with the world.

Forced to bear witness to their daughter’s isolation can Netty and Jack somehow help?

All in Fell is flawed; the characters, the landscape, even the magic. What shines through is the hope, that necessary ingredient that keeps us pushing on through life come what may, and kindness, which may be the best that humans have to offer each other.

I want to write this post without appearing to be vain in drawing your attention to a nice thing said about me, but the nice thing is relevant!

Jenn Ashworth
was interviewed at Dogmatika
part of the interview is reproduced below:

AK: There are some fantastic female writers of the Offbeat Generation, Emily McPhillips, Sally Cook… Do you feel female writers are overlooked in the underground writing scene or on an equal footing with the lads?

JA: Sally Cook and Emily McPhillips and Sara Crowley and Emma Lannie are doing sparkling, vivid, original work and although they are hardly overlooked, I do think there should be more of a fuss made over them. I can’t speak for them, but I wonder if this lack of online attention is about gender, or if it’s about our unwillingness to get into that kind of ’scene’, a scene that is very incestuous and doesn’t quite represent what we do.

The definition of ‘offbeat’ is becoming narrower and I wonder if as readers and writers we are growing up and if it might be time for something else now. I don’t know what that something else is going to be, but I think the women we’ve mentioned are among the writers who are going to be doing it.

Now obviously I am enormously chuffed that she has said such kind things about my writing, but also I am fascinated by her response in general. I wonder what you think? Is there a boys club? I have been musing about this since I first read the interview, a week ago I think. The problem is that the whole world I live in is a bit of a boys club. When younger I thought all was equal and would remain so. I am entirely comfortable calling myself a feminist, despite the negative connotations some people add to that label. I have always had many male friends, they would not feel that I am inferior, or I that they are superior. The world that surrounds me though, that is different in many ways. It can be subtle, it can be blazingly obvious, but especially since becoming a mother it has been ever more clear to me.

Last Saturday I went for a drink after work with a female friend. We sat in a pub in Brighton, and at a nearby table three men yelled and swore and pushed and rowed with each other. A couple of tables away three men I work with were sitting drinking beers. Their presence comforted me, I wasn’t worried by the rowdy guys, if they had bothered me I knew my work mates would have helped me. I was with neither group of men, but still, them being there meant something to me, one a threat, one a protection. I left earlyish as I don’t like to brave a late train back from Brighton, so at nine thirty I got on a train. Two drunk guys sat in front of me, one wanted to be sick and I was concerned he was going to puke on me. Across from them sat a muttering older guy. A young bloke got on and stood despite there being plenty of available seats, and he stared at me, making me feel nervous. There was no direct threat, but I felt uneasy all the way to my station. When I got off the train I went to the cab office. Five guys sat inside the small cabin and made jokes about who the lucky one to take me home would be. I smiled, uncomfortably. The man whose car I got in started revving his engine and told me he was going to give me a smooth, fast ride. He then started ranting about the police and told me how his friend had punched one. I got home and felt utter relief at closing the door.

Sometimes when I go for drinks with male friends I become suddenly aware that I am the audience, they like me when I appreciate how clever they are, how funny. Sometimes I am “one of the lads”, and that is meant as a compliment. I don’t want to be one of the lads though, I want to be me, I want to be one of the humans. It’s not all men, it’s not all the time, but it is what surrounds.

What this has to do with writing is debatable, but I think that online can be a bit like being in the pub, sometimes women are included and at other times shown off to, flirted with, sometimes women are protected, and sometimes, sadly, bullied. Women only things like The Orange Prize and Mslexia magazine are derided, the assumption being that females need a separate competition or whatever because they are not good enough to compete with men. Many women agree with that too. I have no conclusion, this is more a wondering, meandering thought that could change at any moment! I’d love to hear yours.

Two real reviews, and one fake!

Two reviews of mine have just gone live at Pulp Net. Kuzhali Manickavel and Tania Hershman have written very different debut story collections, but I can whole heartedly recommend both, and its not often I can say that!

I contributed a fake review to Jenn Ashworth’s collaboration with Tolu Ogunlesi. You can read the whole online dual blog story at Adore Adorna and here.

Brilliant post by Jenn Ashworth

I read this today over at Every Day I Lie A Little. 

MA in ‘Creative’ Writing.

I am starting a MA in creative writing. You can apply for it by emailing me and if I accept you, you will be allowed to drink my tea at my house and do all the modules. It will cost £3085 and the learning will be ‘experiential’.

Module 1: Dealing with Rejection

I will lock you in my cellar and scream ‘you are crap’ at you at random intervals. Sometimes I will throw things. Every now and again I will come down into the cellar and give you a cuddle and stroke your hair. I will say, ‘such talent!’ and when you are relaxed and smiling I will quickly punch you in your stomach and say ‘but still crap!’

Module 2: Writing Process

I will tie you to my writing chair. I might let you have a cushion. You are allowed to get up to go to the bathroom and to drink water. But nothing else. Your phone will beep a lot and eventually the friends you are ignoring will get angry with you, give up, and go away. When you are trying to write I will randomly delete paragraphs of your work and whisper things like ‘all your friends think you are a pillock’ into your ears.

Module 3: Drafting

Every time you write something I will print it out and show it to all my friends. We will sit in a pub and laugh at it. We will make notes on it in coloured pens. Everything we write will be instructions on how to make it better. We will send you back the pages. You won’t be able to read our writing. You will need to implement all the suggestions into future drafts, even when they are contradictory. We will print out your future drafts and take them back to the pub. This will take a very long time.

Module 4: Publicity and Promotion

I will teach you how to Google yourself. You will do this every day, until you are banned from using the computer at work. At the end of the course you will have to drink a bottle of gin and then read your work to me. I will talk loudly and send text messages to random people while you are reading. I will ask you to sign your book and then sell it on ebay. I will send you the ebay link. No-one will buy your book even though the bidding starts at 1p and the postage is free.

There might be some more modules. I am not sure yet. For the full MA experience I will loose your final submission and give you a certificate I made on MS Word and laminated at work. I will look you up a few years later and me and all my friends will tell you you can’t write because you did my MA course and you now sound just like everyone else who has done it. Then I will ask you for some more money in return for providing ‘editorial help’ with your manuscript.

Jenn Ashworth is very funny and clever, and this sounds like an excellent course for any budding writers. 
You can also find Jenn and her lies at Sh