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Two Tall Tales and One Short Novel

Heidi James, Kay Sexton, Lucy Fry

"I played at being a hairdresser and brushed her human hair just to look more thoroughly for wolf tricks. I looked for gaps in her pretend skin where wiry fur might poke through. She was very thorough. I never found a thing. "

Reviewed by Vanessa Gebbie

Without wishing to pun, Heidi James’s The Mesmerists’ Daughter is just that, mesmerizing. This writer’s prose is lovely, a tumble of sensuous images describing the world of the story through the eyes of a damaged child who believes her mother is a wolf. The characters are strong and engaging. They drew this reader in completely, allowing me to let go into the consciousness of the child as we journeyed in the fictive dream through some critical discoveries. And isn’t this what reading is about? To let us escape for a moment into another world, to walk alongside new characters, learn something about life through them? 

Kay Sexton’s Smokin’ The Queen is an equally strong piece of writing, but very different. I was willingly transported, thanks to this writer’s skills, into the life of Darius, a drug-damaged black DJ, and his deeply moving relationship with an elderly neighbour, a relationship that leads indirectly to an extraordinary formative episode in his life. I loved this character! He is a wonderful invention, and through him, when I put the story down, I knew I had had my eyes opened a little, and would see the world slightly differently from now on. The prose is crisp, clear. Some very acute observations. 

I did not have the same reactions to the third piece in this anthology, Lucy Fry’s novella, In the Clear. It is long, taking up just over half of the book, and for this reader, was not nearly as engaging as the rest. It is written in second person, a hard thing to pull off. This piece reads like a teenage diary to me, and I found it impossible to engage with or care for the characters. Indeed, one of the characters is Lucy Fry herself and as the piece is dedicated somewhat coyly to ‘you of course’, I wondered on many levels what this was doing here. There are places where the text is set ‘cleverly’, words all over the place… but the words are anything but clever. Then there are other places, hidden away, where the writer shows flashes of stronger writing. But I wonder how many readers will find them?


Vanessa Gebbie's short fiction is widely published and has won many awards including prizes at Fish 2007 and Bridport 2007. Her first collection is forthcoming from Salt Publishing, Cambridge, in March 2008. Her novel in progress won a first prize at The Daily Telegraph novel competition 2007.

PublisherApis Books

Publication Date: July 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

Author bio:Heidi James is Arts Editor of 3:AM Magazine, and a recipient of the Sophie Warne Fellowship. Publications include: the novel Carbon, Wrecking Ball Press, 2007, a collaboration with photographer Tara Darby and designer Damien Piulien, We Are Only Human (2007); and short stories in Paris Bitter Hearts Pit, Dreams That Money Can Buy, Ambit, The Off Beat Generation, City Sickness, Open Wide Magazine, and Full Moon Empty Sports Bag.

Kay Sexton writes for the UK’s premier sustainability journal, Green Futures, and has recently completed Green Thoughts in an Urban Shade, a collaboration with painter Fion Gunn that explores and celebrates the parks and urban spaces of four cities in words and images. Green Thought was given residencies in London, Dublin, and Beijing. A prolific writer of short fiction, she is widely published, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has written at least one novel.

Lucy Fry holds two degrees in English Literature, and has wanted to be a writer since she was a child.