Monday 22 April 2019

Snegurochka by Judith Heneghan @JudithHeneghan BLOG TOUR @saltpublishing #Snegurochka @EmmaDowson1

‘Something terrible is happening here. Something terrible has already happened.’
Kiev 1992. Rachel, a troubled young English mother, joins her journalist husband on his first foreign posting in the city. Terrified of the apartment's balcony, she develops obsessive rituals to keep their baby safe. Her difficulties expose her to a disturbing endgame between the elderly caretaker and a local racketeer who sends a gift that surely comes with a price. Rachel is isolated yet culpable with her secrets and estrangements. As consequences bear down she seeks out Zoya, her husband's fixer, and the boy from upstairs who watches them all.
Home is uncertain, betrayal is everywhere, but in the end there are many ways to be a mother.

Snegurochka by Judith Heneghan was published by Salt on 15 April 2019. My thanks to the publisher who invited me to take part in this Blog Tour - I am delighted to share a guest post from the author on Random Things today.

There’s a scene in Snegurochka where Rachel, my main character, walks into a state-owned general store and sees a queue. It’s 1992 and she has lived in Kiev for just enough time to know that a queue is always worth investigating. She stands in line, hoping for butter or baby wipes, but when she reaches the front she discovers that the day’s hot ticket is a consignment of Donald Duck push-along toys, manufactured, most probably, in North Korea. 
Consumer goods play a key role in my novel. When I began writing, I knew the daily trawl of local shops, roadside stalls and kiosks that was part of life for most Ukrainians would need to be woven through the plot. I had lived in Kiev with my freelancer husband and our baby during the early 1990s, and while I was fortunate to have some dollars in my purse, there wasn’t much to buy. The country had just declared its independence from a collapsing Soviet Union. Hyperinflation and the black market surged while pensioners traded jars of pickled cucumber or a few frostbitten apples on upturned crates at street corners. Some opportunist opened a ‘Tesco’ shop in a basement, with most items long past their sell-by date. Items such as books, nappies and tin openers that I’d previously taken for granted took on a new and pressing significance. 
While in Kiev I was contacted by the local UN mission and asked to carry out a survey. The survey was to determine the cost of living for its expatriate personnel. It turned out to be a thick file of around 300 items and I needed to find three separate prices for each of them, though quite honestly I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I saw columns for ‘Brie, French, 100g’ or ‘sandwich toaster, Breville, silver’. Nevertheless, that survey seeded all sorts of story ideas. With my son in his pushchair I trudged across the city, ticking off bananas purchased beneath the high walls of the monastery or Liptons tea bags from the recesses of the cigarette kiosk. Then, one afternoon, as I searched in vain for ‘lightbulbs, screw fitting, 60 watt’ I stumbled upon a white goods shop in a narrow side street. Fridges and washing machines were stacked up to the ceiling. As a particular brand of washing machine was an item in the survey I asked a man sitting at a desk how much they cost. He quickly drew me towards a back room and, stroking my baby’s head, told me in broken English how very sorry he was that none of his machines were suitable. 
That salesman has since morphed into Mykola, my fictional racketeer. 
I completed the survey eventually, guessing a few prices and cobbling together the rest so that the UN expats got their so-called hardship allowance. My shopping odyssey proved a turning point for me, however. I had criss-crossed our neighbourhood countless times with my son in his pushchair and those streets were now part of my imaginative geography. I’d learned to count to one million in Ukrainian. I’d learned to carry a string bag with me at all times and if I joined the back of a queue I knew to take whatever was on offer. It might be cheese. It might be tights or a Donald Duck push-along toy or it might, if I was patient, be a story.

‘An unforgettable story. The claustrophobia is palpable, and the characters are utterly convincing in this beautifully observed novel. Outstanding.’ —Claire Fuller 

Judith Heneghan is a writer and editor. 
She spent several years in Ukraine and Russia with her young family in the 1990s and now teaches creative writing at the University of Winchester. 


Twitter : @JudithHeneghan

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