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)
“With 2019 on the verge of its end, a decade is coming to a close. Whether the political upheavals, social initiatives or economic ups and downs, everything adds to what the decade meant for us. What better way to look at the year going by, than through the lens of literature? Since women writers flourished this year, churning out best-sellers and winning major literary prizes SheThePeople.TV reached out for recommendations for books written by women in 2019 through Facebook and Twitter.” Click on image for full list!
“…Writing gives me joy like nothing other than my little family can. This year, I have been fortunate to have worked on two projects that have been a thrill – my book of short stories ‘Strange’ which is out now, and my opera for the Welsh National Opera which goes on tour in Britain in 2020. Both completely different, both challenging in their own way, and a complete delight to me, both in their fashioning and in the final product.
In the context of the opera, writing has also enabled me to score a first and pave the way for others after me. With the writing of this opera, I am reliably informed, I became the first and only South Asian woman writer to have written a libretto for a major international opera house, and the central characters in my opera will be the first modern Indian characters to grace the international operatic stage. Writing, therefore, has allowed me to strike a necessary blow for diversity and equal opportunities in the arts!
But writing is as much about the sheer joy of it. I have had so much fun writing the short stories in ‘Strange’, letting loose with my imagination, my arsenal of words, and mischievously twisted ideas, and then taking a chisel to them in the end to hone it to as near-perfection as I can, that I hope my enjoyment shines through these stories and warms the reader. Because that too is why I write – to share my pleasure in our weird and wonderful world.”
(Please click on pic to read the rest – another brief paragraph!)
“Shreya Sen-Handley’s latest book, Strange Stories, a book of 13 short stories was launched in Kolkata a couple of months ago at Starmark. It follows her first book, Memoirs of My Body, released in 2017. Shreya is now engaged in opera writing in partnership with the Welsh National Opera that will tour the UK in 2020. Clearly, the writer, originally from Kolkata and now living in the UK is on a roll. Her ability to write in such diverse genres with such confidence and finesse is quite remarkable.
Memoirs of My Body was a bold book where Shreya spoke of her sexuality, the wanted and unwanted attention she received, with brutal honesty; Strange, while not autobiographical, is as bold in the range of often unsettling stories she tells with audacity. Shreya does not shrink from the seamier side of life and treats her often very dark characters with subtlety and sensitivity.
Each story, some set in India or among the Indian community in England, is pithy and in the short span of the telling takes the reader through many unexpected twists and turns in the plots that left me unsettled, not knowing where the tales would end…”
Please click on image for the rest of this original, astute review by author Jael Silliman!