Review of Seventy Percent Water by Jeanette Sheppard
This debut collection of 31 flash fiction stories is beautifully bound by publisher EllipsisZine, its cover designed by Jeanette herself. It well illustrates the water of the title story, that human beings are fluid, and meanings elusive.
This is not a collection to be rushed through. Each story is distinctive, its vocabulary matching the narrative and its emotional content. Many of the pieces are about loss, and the grief associated with that. Many have a sharp edge – anger perhaps – many are tender. Some images are direct, others are as haunting as a dream.
Like water, the moods of each piece differ. The Viilagers opens with a straight forward, ‘They sent him into the forest to gather wood for the fires. After a week, he had not returned.’ But, I wonder, Who was Angharad’s husband? Why did ‘they’ send him? Why didn’t he return? And how was his disappearance linked to the mysterious ‘wooden creature’ that Angharad sees in the sky? There are often no quick answers in these stories.
The tone is different again In How to Enter Another Galaxy, as the narrator tries to phone a social worker, the tone is sombre, relieved and intensified by the unexpected image of a kangaroo that ‘claws at the tangle of TV wires’… Another shift of style, in Kelly Loves Traffic Light Jelly. It begins innocently with a child complaining that her friend’s party jelly isn’t proper because it doesn’t wobble properly. As we learn the basis of her complaint, our mood and sympathies shift.
Life is beyond our control. Just as we grasp what it’s about it changes. The Last Time I visited my Mum is humorous unless you’ve recently tried to use a phone helpline. It begins, ‘Dial the number you found on the website – the one that took forty-five minutes to find.’ I could quote from each line something which made smile or squirm in sympathy.
Trumpets and Rattle and Spin show Jeanette’s skill with words and how she melds images to emotion. She piles them, one after another so you feel what the narrator is feeling.
Two poems exemplify her range. Travel Flash which describes a mundane situation on a busy railway station where one person loses another and struggles to meet back up with them. Out of Sight is more surreal. ‘An orange shape blurs behind the iced window, dips out of sight. Ailsa steps nearer.’
This collection is enjoyable and one that I’ll return to for the stories, the skill with words and images and despite, or perhaps of the sadness, the joy and love of life.
The launch of this collection took place on-line in October 2020. It was time to celebrate Jeanette’s achievement in winning the Ellipsis competition which led to the publication. Despite setbacks, Jeanette had done it and along with her many friends and supporters, it was a joyful occasion. Though Jeanette has been a friend fro about 20 years, I’m not familiar with her flash fiction, indeed as the review may demonstrate, I’m not familiar with flash.
Jeanette used the launch to thank those who had helped her, but also to showcase flash, which I discovered, like poetry and novels, has several forms. ‘Flash’ suggests to me, that it’s written quickly. The reality is not the case. Like poetry, it can take up to (and presumably longer than) a year to write. Publication of course is never certain. I was interested in how a piece came to be written. The stories and inspiration behind the composition. Several seem to have arisen from Kathy Fish’s workshops. Several were written specifically for this publication.
I’ve attended four launches during lockdowns, and all have introduced other writers in their genre. I noted two in particular, Alison Woodhouse and Diane Simmons, at Jeanette’s launch who read pieces from their novellas in flash. This added variety, especially if it widens the audience understanding of what flash fiction can consists of.
Jeanette has a beautiful reading voice which added to the craft of her pieces. I first read Rattle and Spin in Bare Fiction magazine and loved it immediately. Listening to some of the story behind it, – Jeanette’s mother had dementia, as did my mother – added to the piece. She saw her mother, as well as the person who is losing their memory. It’s my current fav.
Seventy Percent Water is well worth £5.00. Please leave a review on your favourite book site.
Alison Woodhouse – the House in the Corner – a novella in flash
Diane Simmons – Finding a Way and An Inheritance – V press 2020
Kathy Fish runs two-week intensive Fast Flash Workshops are highly recommended by Jeanette.