23 thoughts on “Sparks From The Fire – Rosalie Parker


    “‘Oh, how quaint,’ he warbled. ‘Do people still open real shops?’”

    For me, a rather run-of-the-mill curse tale about the eponymous (squinty and smug) object that our heroine (the rare – rare and historic artefacts – shopkeeper) buys from an olive-skinned visitor to her shop. An object that spreads ‘sexual jealousy’ among her customers and contacts, including her ex Mark. But I often think, with this author, there is something lurking that maybe even she has not realised or has indeed realised but smugly (like this object) thinks we will not spot. Something barely noticeable like the squint. A reader’s squint, too, upon the texts that the reader reads.


    “If we just slipped through time.”

    This story is like that Zeno’s Paradox of a sentence spoken by one of the teenage boy victims. Girl victims, too. An intriguing account of the socially anxious aftermath of an incident or series of incidents at a community’s regular fell race, fell perhaps in both senses – and their “paths to enlightenment” in the light of Gaia’s need for healing? …. and a theme and variations on Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (my review here).


    “I would prefer to feel pain than nothing at all.”

    I found this a powerfully dark slice of the narrator’s life, a struggling writer – beset by the memory of a more successful writer as partner and his (to us) inscrutable crime for which he has been arrested – a narrator visited here in Scotland by a couple who have stayed friends. The couple besotted with their wonderful view of the view from the narrator’s study window overlooking the Scottish wilds. A view is in the eye of the beholder, but can one change the other, both the view and its beholder, or is there some synergy at work? The beholder making the view susceptible to becoming a metaphor of inundating darkness and apprehension rather than the Wordsworthian view that Wordsworth might once have thought it to be.
    (Perceived the partner’s gallows on a hill in Galloway?)


    …being this story itself, after that previous one. A holiday from what I normally read and get into mental tangles about when putting on my reviewing cap. This tells of a recently stressed man released from his girl friend and job for a nonce. A hotel miles from home, on his own, a book fair where he browses a gothic blurb, but then some disarmingly easy sexual flings with women. At least one of them might have been with a ghost… Thinking about it, I might now be getting into another tangle. Best to leave this as just a lightsome tale, as the refreshing change that it has been for me. I must not give birth to what it might become if I try too hard to think into being more things about it…


    AKUI: A word used to describe a meeting in which only decided facts are made public.

    A bit like Chequers today? (The Brexit meeting underway and still in purdah as I write this.)

    Meanwhile, this fable, told by a self-described rambling old man like me, around the sparks of the campfire lit by Akui, tells a tale of a fantasy timbre. Of young love. A seventeen year old girl who avoids the tradition of an arranged marriage – for a marriage of truer love with lower caste Selim (smile or miles?) – and she achieves this by dint of kicking against the pricks. Shifting the taboos, for others to follow…
    Yet, what of that acute squint of perception again?


    “Several of the German tourists didn’t realise what was happening and, thinking it was some local custom, threw their lager bottles on the floor.”

    A lager-than-life Fawlty Towers sort of comedy based on a pub with a poltergeist as a selling-point. A selling-point that keeps re-making by re-faking, or vice versa. An empty birdcage is still a birdcage.


    “I like meeting people who are interested in learning about the Scilly Isles and Tresco.”

    Fabian with long dark eyelashes, the tour guide for motley ages and types of people, through the tropical gardens on Tresco. Some of the tourists flirting with him. A sort of herd mentality. People who seem beyond silly. And no sign of any gardeners to answer questions, Keep any such questions to the end of this tantalising trip, I suggest. You may have already been satisfied by then. Or not.


    A mixed relationship with real or virtual flying throughout his life so far, he eventually grounds to a halt, recalling childhood’s grand strides, yogic leaps, but marital stallings, and jealousies across the sky from wing to porthole and back again, and swifts winging everything they do (swifts still flying when sleeping, even dying?) – wing man as glider or wing man as rugger player? A try at being a swift. Even cripples can score such tries. Disarmingly simple, even naive, this story works on a complex haunting level, too.


    “, but this time it’s a charm offensive.”

    A charm or hex? A strange story, and I mean strange not in an Aickman sense, although this and other stories have at least a soupçon of Aickman, but strange in the sense of not being able to fathom why any writer would actually feel the need or desire to write this effectively unended story of a Helmand veteran, now turned to drink and living on the streets, needing TLC of some kind, and he becomes a mercenary ping pong between a man and reputed witch of a woman, the latter with hands, when massaging him, subtly seeming to be those of both a man and a woman. My review of this tantalising story needs to be unended, too. Please infer from that what you will.


    “The trouble was that he wasn’t sure how to write what was essentially horror, subtly.”

    A ha ha, too, one with a ditch, in the vicinity of a large cut-off Scottish house where the retreat takes place each retreat award winner given a ‘cell’ in which to write, interspersed with decent meals and each other’s company, although a relatively strict regime of writing is encouraged. A mix of interesting characters, plus an atmospheric soupçon of Aickman’s Hospice, and there is a premonition in the novel being written by the main protagonist (Joel, a struggling writer with a wife and baby at home), a premonition of something that may be happening in this house? WRITER’S RETREAT is a longer story than usual. Perhaps the author attended this retreat to write it. Meanwhile I wonder if it is true dolphins are the most intelligent creatures in existence? A fountain of knowledge?


    Jamie staying with Diana and her crass husband Gavin and their two sons, and surely we can infer even from that summary the potential relationship between Jamie and Diana, during which period he looks after the boys after Gavin has a shooting accident, two fingers missing in real life and in Jamie’s dream of a shot stag, a rainy period making this house party one of sparks from a cosy fire, ruthless or ruleless snooker, snakes and ladders, marmite sandwiches, Wildfell whiskey and whist. Who is tenant of whom, who the surrogate replacement and husband? Which the stag? What the priapic symbol of two fingers? Tantalising, perhaps naive.


    A slice of life without beginning or end. But much to be inferred from nothing much – which I intend as a compliment. Complexity or eeriness lurking behind naivety, often a unique feature of this whole book. This story of three male flat-mates trying to find jobs after being students. One downsizes his ambitions and becomes factotum to a married heterosexual couple called Sioned and Simon – and their small daughter – and their infant twins who sing eerie songs. A story you need to jumpstart.


    “Overhead the swifts flew in a long formation, screaming over the garden as they dipped to catch the midges.”

    Melissa’s partner Greg has left, while friends Olla and Government worker Martin (a couple) separately help her with advice, including on the garden she and Greg had once planned, during this SF like scenario where Government enforced vegetable patches begin as a result of general (global warming?) food shortages. Melissa is determined to keep some of her flowers…. This seems to be a sister story to that of the paid and bartering work in JOB START. With satisfyingly echoing thoughts and inferences on my part.


    “We’re having a picnic on the train!”

    Smoke and steam (and sparks?) flowing by outside, an intrinsic magic or faith inside. This is a heart-warming story of a disabled party under voluntary care on a steam train trip, wonderful for someone like me who recently travelled on a steam train trip, a railway system in this day and age as worked by eager volunteers. My reviews are voluntary work, too.


    “Today I am tired. I slept badly and when I dozed off my head was full of dreams. In one I watched a dolphin disporting in a small pool.”

    Amid the “Christmas tat” we find ourselves in the insidious shoes of this male narrator being ‘stalked’ by gnomic messages being delivered to him in ‘manila’ (not manilla) envelopes. A sense of paranoia as he hires a locksmith. We learn his backstory, too, from when he ran a dubious night club. A backstory that becomes the front. A slowly unfolding curse for travelling to Manila (we know what might happen or be gathered there!) and/or for doing or creating something now eventually released? A ‘she’ becomes ‘we’ in the last sentence.


    “Practically nothing.”

    Naive narrative, sometimes clumsy with different points of view, about Alicia a commoner at Oxford University going out with Chris, an Honourable, a posh flippant insincere petty thief, it seems, plus a cold avenging woman ghost on the stairs, (or a retrospectively hot ghost on the cold stairs?), the relationship of Chris and Alicia then taken to Italy, family country villa to Rome, Chris’s earlier punt skills, the circumstances of his inheritance or not … a naivety and clumsiness forgotten as transcended by the story’s last line. Not going out perhaps with Chris, after all, but going out into the open towards a ghost that followed her to Rome…? And who stole whom from whom?


    “‘Swords are more fun than guns, even it is harder to kill someone.’ Oliver swished his stick in the air.”

    A family: two parents, two boys and a girl, where ‘going solo’ means without means of electronic communication and having ‘an adventure of the mind’ means you can be unsociable and not go on a family trip. Well, this story is clunky, the father a busy banker, with the boys often in the garden fighting against imaginary soldiers that eventually become medieval after a family visit to a medieval castle, and the girl studies the supernatural, and wonders whether she is mentally disturbed enough to encourage poltergeists… and, after the temporary disappearances of the boys, we end up with the whole family at Maiden Castle in Dorset (where my own family visited when my children were small, my daughter being disappointed that it wasn’t a real castle but a flyblown mound in the grass!) The end of this story at least had a medieval pageant to make Maiden Castle seem more real. Too real for castle and maiden alike, perhaps. With a throwaway deadpan ending that would be spoilt even more than it is already spoilt if I told you exactly what happened. A bizarre experience, this story, both clunky and eccentric, yet worthy of my longest capsule review so far in respect of the stories in this book. I am intrigued why I am so intrigued.

  18. I previously read and reviewed the next story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2017/04/28/shadows-and-tall-trees-vol-7/#comment-9659 and below is what I wrote about it in that context…


    Once I had finished this relatively short story, I thought to myself: this is a classic, one that we shall all remember reading for the first time. I have now allowed my mind to dwell on it, without re-reading it, and I still think the same.
    Involving a lake that seems as large as an inland sea, one that ices over sufficient for walking upon (save at its middle?), and two children, brother and sister, about their vying for the world record of reaching the other side and about the toys that they play with in their own model town at home. It is Sarban to the power of co-efficient. And something unique. I can’t do it justice here. Simply only to ask you to read it…
    I shall now attempt to read it for a second time.


    My view of it is unchanged on a third reading, even more positive, perhaps, in contiguity with the previous story above in ‘Sparks from the Fire’, a story that now itself takes on a more positive light in hindsight.


    “…follow the reproductive imperative.”

    …. as we all do if we are (as I am) creatures as well as creators of fiction. The previous neat handleable Swan River Press book was named after a dummy (my recent review here) – and this last Parker story is a probably unintentional recognition of that fact, a story of a woman acquiring a dummy of a sexless older man with dowdy 1960s dress sense and takes him home and ironically calls him Handsome, after which there ensues a touching relationship, one against the crassness and imperatives of life and sex elsewhere, but who is the creature or creator of the other one’s fiction of the other? This whole book poses that question for the reader and in many ways the two contiguous Swan dummy books share their own deadpan and disarmingly naive relationship. Except this Parker one sometimes is more clunky, but now I see that as a plus not a negative. A book that is certainly unique and often powerful in spite of itself. An eerily absurdist classic manqué. A series of flawed masterpieces. But this manqué quality of flaws is only part of a larger gestalt provided by the Parker-simplified, plainly wordcut narration with a soupçon of Aickman or Royle. As I say, in spite of itself.
    A book I now talk with.


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