Monday 18 July 2016

Sandlands by Rosy Thornton #BlogTour #MyLifeInBooks

Folks who aren't from hereabouts always make out that Suffolk's flat. Buy my Suffolk's not flat at all.
From the white dove appearing through the dark wood to the blue-winged butterflies rising in a cloud as a poignant symbol of happier times, the creatures of the Suffolk landscape move through Rosy Thornton's delicate and magical collection of stories.
The enigmatic Mr Napish is feeding a fox rescued from the floods; an owl has been guarding a cache of long-lost letters; a nightingale's song echoes the sound of a loved voice; in a Martello tower on a deserted shore Dr Whybrow listens to ghostly whispers. Through the landscape and its creatures, the past is linked to the present, and generations of lives are intertwined. 

Sandlands by Rosy Thornton is published by Sandstone Press on 21 July 2016, available in paperback and eBook.

I was delighted to hear that Rosy Thornton was to publish a collection of short stories, I've always enjoyed her writing and it seems such a long time since her last book was published. I've read and reviewed a couple of her novels here on Random Things; The Tapestry of Love (April 2011) and Ninepins (April 2012).

Sandlands is a collection of sixteen short stories, all linked to the village of Blaxhall on the Suffolk coast. Whilst geographically, Suffolk and my home county of  Lincolnshire are miles apart, I get the feeling when I read these stories that they are very similar places, with the coastal towns and villages, the flat fenland, the rolling hills, the wonderful wildlife and the abundance of legends and ghost stories.

Blaxhall, and indeed Suffolk are brought to life by the author, her knowledge of the landscape and the people is obvious and her details are wonderfully vivid. Ancient history with scents of magic and ghostly goings-on are woven into each story and I have a special fondness for All The Flowers Gone which is set on a disused RAF base and although it is just fourteen pages in length it captures the unique essence and eeriness of the setting. I spent four years working on three ex RAF base villages in the Lincolnshire Wolds and the author has perfectly captured the sense of place whilst incorporating a poignant story of three generations of women.

Sandlands is an apt title for this elegant collection of stories. Just as the sand slips around and is fragile and delicate, these stories slip from era to era and place to place.

Beautiful, gentle, mystical; Sandlands is a collection of stories that capture the heart.

My thanks to the author and the publisher who sent my copy for review and invited me to take part in the Sandlands Blog Tour.

I'm delighted to welcome Rosy Thornton to Random Things today. She's sharing the books that have made an impression on her life  (and a song!).  Here's her My Life In Books:

My Life In Books ~ Rosy Thornton

I discovered very early the indulgent pleasure to be had in crying over a good book. In primary school days, this mainly meant sad things happening to animals. I read and re-read Grey Owl's Sajo and her Beaver People, and the pages of my copy of Anna Sewell's Black Beauty were crinkly with dried tears - especially the chapter entitled 'Poor Ginger'. These books also fed a youthful tendency towards campaigning zeal, although there wasn't much call for marching with banners in 1970s Suffolk about the shooting of beaver for the fur trade or use of the bearing rein with carriage horses (We had a Hillman Imp.)

I know this isn't Desert Island Discs, but am I allowed a song? Because my urge to find causes to fight for found more concrete form in my late teens. In fact, I can pinpoint it to the day, and a time - on 2nd May 1982, watching rescue helicopters winch Argentinian sailors from a churning South Atlantic Ocean following the sinking of the General Belgrano, and realising that this was not the aftermath of some storm or accident but the deliberate act of my own government. The soundtrack to that turning-point for me is the UB40 song Burden of Shame. My reading around that time was earnestly political, and it fell along a sort of red-green axis, with the twin beacons being E F Schumacher's Small is Beautiful and Nye Bevan's In Place of Fear.

It was perhaps a similar sympathy for the plight of the downtrodden Victorian farm labourer and factory hand which led me in my early twenties to the great 19th century social reformist novelists. I dabbled with Hardy, couldn't get on with Dickens, but gradually fell in love with two women who remain my favourite authors - George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell.

Years later, at the age of 41, it was Gaskell's North and South which first set me on the road to writing fiction of my own. In 2004, the BBC screened Sandy Welch's adaptation of the book with the gorgeous Richard Armitage smouldering dangerously in the lead role of John Thornton, and going some way towards banishing my ten-year obsession with Colin Firth as Mr Darcy. I went online to discuss the series and the book and discovered a hidden world of North and South fanfiction. I took a stab at it myself and posted an initial chapter - and three months later found to my surprise that I'd completed a full-length pastiche sequel to Mrs Gaskell's novel! It was utter tosh, of course, but by then I was hooked. I had to keep on writing.

Having gone to Cambridge as an undergraduate to study Law, I found I didn't want to leave, staying for a PhD and then a lectureship. My impulse to change the world took a different channel through a developing academic interest in women and the law, in which I still run a seminar course at Cambridge. One book which has inspired me in this enterprise, along with generations of my students, is barrister Helena Kennedy's Eve Was Framed: Women and British Justice - both a personal memoir and a political polemic.

Although I've spent my working life in Cambridge, Suffolk is where I grew up and has always felt like home. I maintained my links through family and friends, as well as by the annual every-hopeful renewal of my season ticket at Ipswich Town FC. The Suffolk landscape - which, contrary to popular belief is
not flat but diverse, beautiful and endlessly surprising - has always felt part of my soul, and a long-time companion of mine has been Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay, George Ewart Evans' classic picture of the ways of rural life in a Suffolk village, told through pen portraits of the residents, their memories, stories, sayings, and superstitions. Coincidentally, when five years ago I took a step closer to my roots, shifting my life back to Suffolk at weekends and during university vacations, it was to the very village of Blaxhall in the coastal sandlings when Evans' book is set. The move proved an inspiration to me. The landscape, the wildlife, the people and the cultural heritage of the place all crept under my skin and the stories which form my collection, Sandlands, were born. Many of them came to being inside my head during long rambling walks with one or other of my two spaniels (both of them Suffolk born!) through the countryside around Blaxhall. From gently rolling farmland, through woods and lowland heath to estuarial salt marshes and shingle beaches, these are the places with form the heart of Sandlands.

My writing has been described as gentle, thoughtful, quiet in a way which is perhaps out of fashion in this era of the page-turner, or the compulsory, immediate delivery of thrills. This tendency may reflect my own fondness for women's period fiction of a less outspoken age, and espeically that of Barbara Pym. Jane and Prudence is a particular gem.

On the other hand, I've always harboured a weakness for a nice haunting. I love the ghost stories of MR James. A Martello Tower on the Suffolk coast looms dark and forbidding in A Warning to the Curious - and one of the stories in Sandlands (entitled, appropriately enough 'A Curiostiy of Warnings') is written in homage to James.

Finally, I couldn't complete this list without reference to two of the brilliant contemporary collections of short stories which I read and which inspired me when I was starting to turn my hand from novels to 'the short form' (as they say). Both are sets of linked and themed stories, just as Sandlands aspires to be, and both conjure the atmosphere of their landscape in a way I can only dream of emulating: the flat fenlands of Norfolk and Lincolnshire in Jon McGregor's This Isn't The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You, and the Cornish coastline in Lucy Wood's Diving Belles.

Rosy Thornton ~ July 2016

Rosy Thornton is an author of contemporary fiction, published originally by Headline Review and more recently by Sandstone Press.
In her novels and short stories she enjoys exploring family relationships (especially mothers and daughters), and the way people relate to place and landscape.
In real life she lectures in Law at the University of Cambridge, where she is a Fellow of Emmanuel College.
She shares her home with her partner and two lunatic spaniels!

For more information about Rosy Thornton and her writing, visit


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