I really enjoyed my interview with Britain’s Best Independent Bookstore Five Leaves Bookshop (national and regional winner several years in a row) which premiered last night. I got to yak about life and sleep and children and buses and travel and opera and books with poet and publisher Pippa Hennessy. And about growing older and growing up…
An excerpt from the book, Strange by Shreya Sen-Handley...
“Huh?’ barked the policeman who’d originally interrogated old Jay, almost apoplectic. ‘So, he’s been slipping you songs and not body parts? He lured you into dingy carparks to ply you with music, not drugs, and NOT sex?’ The youngest of the children looked at the policeman horrified that he had said the S word. Hadn’t the same man lectured them two weeks ago about avoiding pervs? The kids had never imagined that was why everyone was making such a fuss. The very utterance of the scary word, however, caused a seismic shift in the room. The focus of everyone’s distaste shifted to their bungling police force that had handled the case so badly. The parents announced that they were dropping charges. They would communicate that to the missing family too, that of the girl who’d been sick since the incident. They were confident the latter would go along happily. Back to being perfect, untampered families, they felt bad about having put the misunderstood man through the rigours of arrest and incarceration, even though they didn’t like his clothes, his taste in music, or the fact that he was taking money, however small (since they hadn’t noticed any missing), off their kids. They wondered if they should invite the unfortunate fellow to dinner. They had heard he had once been one of them, with a picket fenced home and a white-collar job in IT. His wife had left him apparently, taking their children with her in an acrimonious split, and it had all fallen apart for him. Perhaps if they embraced him to the bosom of good society again, he might cease and desist from his minor crimes…” Please click on image to read the rest of this excerpt from the short story ”Beyoncé and Jay-ji’ in ‘Strange’, HarperCollins, 2019.
“Former television journalist and producer for CNBC and MTV, and East India head for Australasian Channel [V], Shreya Sen-Handley is the author of two books with HarperCollins, the recently published short story collection Strange, and the award-winning Memoirs of My Body, published in 2017. A librettist for the Welsh National Opera, the first South Asian woman to have written an international opera according to the international press, their multicultural opera Migrations will go on tour in the UK in 2021. Shreya is also a columnist for the international media, writing for the National Geographic, CNN, The Hindu, Times of India, The Guardian, and more, a creative writing teacher for British universities and other institutions, and an illustrator for Hachette, HarperCollins, Welsh National Opera, Arts Council England, and Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. Her short stories have been published, broadcast, and shortlisted for prizes in Britain, India and Australia. This year she wrote her first ever poems, which went on to be published and broadcast in Britain and India, as well as spearheading a British national campaign against hate crimes. She is currently working on a new Welsh National Opera production Creating Change in which she combines poetry and illustration, and writing her third book for HarperCollins, the travelogue The Accidental Tourist, alongside her monthly column for top Asian newspapers The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle.”
Please click on image to read an excerpt from ‘Strange’, HarperCollins, 2019.
The Best Independent British Bookstore of 2018 (and regional winner before and after), Five Leaves Bookshop, interviewed me this week as part of a new online series on British authors. It was a wonderful half-hour chatting and laughing with the amazing Pippa Hennessy who plays a pivotal role for literature in the region, spearheading the campaign that brought Nottingham its UNESCO City of Literature status. In the course of the interview, I was asked to read from my HarperCollins collection of modern tales of the unexpected, ‘Strange’, and judging by the broad smile on Pippa’s face, it went down well. Please do watch the interview when it premieres on September 29th, and all the other fabulous interviews that are already out. Here, in the meantime, is a picture of us with Henry Normal, the BAFTA winning creator of popular British sitcoms like ‘The Royle Family’ and ‘Alan Partridge’, Oscar-nominated film ‘Philomena’ starring Judi Dench, and more, on a panel discussing writing. Henry Normal is another of the authors interviewed in the Five Leaves series. Please click on the pic to know more.
“Like many women, I have known psychological, sexual and physical abuse. The knowledge of what goes on in our ‘everyday’ lives beneath the unruffled surface that patriarchal society forces us to maintain is key to why women write horror, crime, and the supernatural so often and so well. We not only know what lies beneath, we have learnt to cope with it, gently and silently building up to a startling dénouement, both in our lives and our fiction.” says Sen-Handley…
Please click on the picture to read more.
EC: What draws you to the strange, the surreal, the ominous and the macabre?
SSH: ‘Strange’ ideas come to me quite naturally, I suppose, because I’m neuro-atypical. To think within the constraints of convention or ‘normality’ is a stretch because my brain is wired differently. But I also feel that the mainstream that seeks to exclude those they perceive as ‘different’ is secretly not that well-adjusted or ‘normal’ themselves. That all of us have quirks and angularities that we deny, or are unaware of. I sympathise with both the overt misfits and the secret ones. I have empathy for those who find that life, and their own nature, and the lack of understanding from the world around them, have derailed their plans of leading a contented, conventional life. A ‘normal’ life. But as we acknowledge differences more and more, whether in sexuality or culture, or anything else, perhaps we see that there is no such thing as ‘normal’. My imagination teems with those on the margins for reasons of genetics, ostracization, illness, economics, and more, and in my work they find a home.
(Please click on pic for rest of the interview)
“Greta Garbo, and Monroe
Dietrich and DiMaggio
Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean
On the cover of a magazine”
Always fun to find yourself on the cover of a magazine, especially under the headline ‘Strange and Beautiful’. Since model/actor Milind Soman is next to me, I can safely assume I’m strange and he’s beautiful!
“It is hard to articulate an emotional response towards Strange, Shreya Sen-Handley’s collection of short stories. The collection oscillates between sci-fi, fantasy, horror, romance, mental health, surrealism and dystopia. The closest one gets is an eerie head tilt, the kind that you see a dark-coloured cat do when it seems to be staring right through your soul.
What Handley has perfected is the art of deliberate obfuscation to throw the reader off. She creates an ether-like environment by revealing minimal detail. A most reluctant narrator and an accomplished illusionist, she shows only what she wants you to see. Halfway through the collection, the reader starts fearing what she holds in her other hand, the one she hides behind her back. Thematic parallels can be drawn to Black Mirror and Love, Death and Robots. Similar to these shows her stories begin from a point, in reality, a surrounding that is relatable and then it is her prose that lifts her universe just a few inches above the ground until it floats above our own, shimmering and within it a constant, sinister reflection of our own. In Handley’s worlds, the reader is a sleepwalking tourist completely at her mercy, walking with only a hazy image in front of them…..
Another tool that Handley employs rather well is the penultimate twist. It is a fine balancing act she pulls off ensuring the penultimate twist is devastating enough to appear to be the final one and yet the final twist still builds up. In a short story structure where pacing is key achieving this requires special mention. In Lean On Me, a wheelchair dependent man enters into a relationship with his healthcare worker and moves into her home. Erratic behavior on his part soon leads to a discovery of many other potential lovers being cultivated online and his exit from her home. What he leaves behind is shockingly poetic. Handley also has a few zingers by way of opening lines peppered through this collection including my favorite, “Tom Hiddleston and Idris Elba walk into a bar…” Often she uses unconventional words and structure to hammer home the strangeness of the collection which has a wonderful effect, such as the word ‘un-undressed.’
Shreya Sen-Handley’s Strange is a lovely little eccentric collection that merits a place on any bookshelf. One would call it a success simply by how badly one wants to invite the author to tea point at various passages and demand more details. Such as what was on the chit that was passed to Arnie. Each story is so well interlinked so finely constructed that the reader tends to go back and forth to ensure there is no tiny detail that has escaped the first read. Handley’s is a refreshing voice in the scares department and one hopes it will only get louder and creepier. If you are into the ‘chills’ this is not to be missed.”(click on picture for full review)