Reading matter with Anna Caig

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Welcome to your book club from the Sheffield Telegraph, and thank you for all your contributions.

This fortnight we have our first helping of Literary City: The Sheffield Connection, where we celebrate all things book-related in our city. So many talented writers from a huge range of genres, booksellers and even a bookbinder have been in touch. I am excited about sharing the work of these literary experts.

Do keep your reader reviews coming too. Write and let me know what you make of Elizabeth Is Missing, written from the perspective of a dementia sufferer. And send me any problems you would like me to solve. You can email me, or get in touch via Twitter.

I look forward to hearing from you, and happy reading.

Emma Healey’s Elizabeth Is Missing

I used to volunteer as a befriender.

Once a week I would take out an amazing lady called Agnes for a cup of tea and a chat. Agnes was in her nineties, with severe dementia.

She was one of the most kind-hearted and funny ladies I have ever had the privilege to be friends with. But she never remembered me.

She would tell me and my children the same stories many times (we didn’t mind, she had good stories – including about the time she spent working in a Sheffield munitions factory as a crane driver when she was a teenager during the war).

People with dementia remember their early lives much more clearly than yesterday.

Our protagonist in Elizabeth Is Missing, Maud, has dementia, although her condition has not yet progressed as far as my beloved Agnes’s had.

Maud is conscious of her short-term memories slipping away. Which makes for almost unbearably sad reading.

One of the most poignant moments in the book is when Maud goes for coffee with her granddaughter Katy. As Katy orders their drinks, Maud daren’t take her eyes off her in case she forgets who her granddaughter is. Heartbreaking.

Healey draws a convincing portrait of Maud as she struggles to piece together what is happening to her.

Why she has mud on her hands; why she has a bruise on her arm; why she can’t stop thinking about marrows or her good friend Elizabeth. The book is at its strongest on the mundane; the everyday challenges and the relationships between Maud and her increasingly frustrated and long-suffering daughter Helen.

The plot in which Healey places Maud is a good one; it’s a clever way to illustrate the impact that dementia has. A mystery from the present and a mystery from the past, all swimming around in a mind that is disintegrating.

One unfortunate side effect of reading a book about dementia is that you start to feel a bit like you have it.

It’s a similar effect to leaving the cinema after watching a James Bond film and driving home faster than you normally would, imagining yourself in an Aston on a winding Alpine road (even if you’re in a Skoda on the A57).

That we feel a degree of what Maud feels is testament to the immersive quality of Healey’s writing.

But it was scary. Maybe I’d better go back to Sherlock Holmes next.

Literary City: The Sheffield Connection

Sheffield has a well established, and growing, literary scene. We have some outstanding bookshops in the city, our very own literary festival in the superb Off The Shelf, not to mention a community of talented writers, both published and unpublished, who called Sheffield home. The aim of this new section is to celebrate all things literary in the steel city, and shine a light on some stars of the Sheffield literary show.

Please get in touch if this applies to you, and you would like the opportunity to bring your work to a new audience.

Our first Sheffield connection is writer Katey Lovell, and her book The Singalong Society for Singletons.

Katey lives in Sheffield, and has set her book here. Described by bestselling author Miranda Dickinson as “a joyful, funny, feel-good story, packed with show tunes, romance and a wonderfully warm cast”, this is the story of Monique and Issy: teachers, housemates and lovers of musicals.

When Monique’s boyfriend moves to America for a year, and her sister Hope moves in because of her own relationship woes, Friday nights get a new name: ‘The Singalong Society for Singletons’.

But when Issy shares the details of their little group further afield, they get some unexpected new members who might just change their opinions on singledom for good.

Katey’s primary reason for setting the book in Sheffield was to create something relatively rare within the commercial fiction market, an urban romantic comedy set outside of London.

She says “So many books in this genre are either based in the capital, or set against the backdrop of a country idyll, and I was keen to allow my experiences of living in this wonderful city to enrich the sense of place within the novel.

“Favourite places within the city including, but not limited to, the Lyceum, the Botanical Gardens and the wonderful Cocoa Wonderland get name-checks within its pages.

“The novel centres around a group of friends who love musicals, and as a keen theatre-goer myself I feel blessed to live in a city which not only regularly attracts big-name touring productions but also values the importance of original shows.

“Sheffield is a city rich with creativity in all forms, from wonderful street poetry proudly displayed on prominent buildings, to street art, to burlesque shows, and of course the diverse musical heritage which continues to put the city firmly on the map.

“It feels like the city is continually developing its own unique identity, and that in itself is both exciting and inspiring. I’m proud to be able to call it home.”

If you’re in the mood for a charming, feel-good novel about the healing powers of friendship and Frozen, then this Sheffield-set romantic comedy could be just what you’re looking for.

Reader Reviews:

Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study In Scarlet

I really enjoy reacquainting myself with classic characters I first discovered years ago, ranging from Just William to Frodo Baggins. High on my list is Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

A Study in Scarlet, the first of the Holmes stories, begins by introducing us to Holmes and Watson. An ex-army doctor looking for lodgings, John Watson meets Sherlock Holmes who devotes his considerable intellect to the study of crime using amazing (and entertaining) feats of deduction. They team up and Watson assumes the role of reporter of Holmes’ triumphs. In this story Holmes is invited by the police to help in the case of a contorted corpse found in an empty room. Holmes studies the room and the body in minute detail and then describes the murderer!

Further enquiries proceed at a rollicking pace, and result in the arrest of the killer. Along the way Holmes also manages to show that a suspect arrested by the police is innocent.

We then go back in time to hear the story of the events which led up to the murder. John Ferriers and a small girl, Lucy, are saved from death by a band of Mormons and subsequently join the sect. Later, Lucy, now a young woman, is courted by an outsider, but before they can marry, the sect insists that she marry a Mormon.

In an exciting passage, the two fugitives escape. However, they are tracked by the Mormons: Ferrier is murdered and Lucy captured.

The two sections of the book are then neatly combined in an exciting conclusion. An action packed, page turner from the 1880s.