It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s

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Highly Commended   —Bridport Prize for ‘The Land of Make Believe’2015

Longlisted   —The Sunday Times Short Story Award for ‘Abdul’2018

Longlisted   —BBC National Short Story Award for ‘Fron’2018

Shortlisted   —BBC National Short Story Award for ‘Barmouth’2013

Winner   —The Guardian National Short Story Award for ‘Broken Crockery’2009

‘Her stories are at times the laugh-out-loud funny of Alan Bennett and at others, the achingly sad of the great, David Constantine.’—Paul McVeigh

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With a sharp eye and tough warmth, Lisa Blower strikes a new chord in regional and working-class fiction.

This fabulous collection of her award-winning short stories is dominated by the working-class matriarch. From the wise, witty and outspoken Nan of ‘Broken Crockery’, who has lived and worked in Stoke-on-Trent for all of her 92 years, to happy hooker Ruthie in ‘The Land of Make Believe’, to sleep-deprived Laura in ‘The Trees in the Wood’, to young mum Roxanne in ‘The Cherry Tree’, she appears in many shapes and forms, and always with a stoicism that is hard to break down.

Lisa Blower celebrates her characters with stories they wouldn’t want told. She makes the bleak funny, and brings to life the silent histories and harsh realities of those living on the margins.

‘It’s gone dark over Bill’s mother’s’ is a Potteries’ saying that means it’s looking a bit bleak, a little like rain. With origins as a footless and random as the barflies trying to find their meanings in ‘Happenstance’, it is an expression that sums up this fabulous collection.

William Boyd on Broken Crockery

4 December 2019
The winning story, Broken Crockery by Lisa Blower, is written from the perspective of a young girl whose beloved "nan" has been admitted to the same hospital as Margaret Thatcher. "I'm a bit tearful," Blower said on learning of her success, "because the story was inspired by my own nan, and I lost her a month ago." Blower, 35, a full-time creative writing student from the Wirral, gave up her career in radio marketing three years ago to pursue her life-long dream of writing. "I'm one of those writers who's been hacking away for years, and never won anything or had anything published," she says. The judges selected the story because, in Boyd's words, "it knew exactly how to play with and exploit the potential of its naive narrative voice—what to say but, far more importantly, what not to say—quite apart from its wit, and the undercurrent of sadness it explored without ever being sentimental."
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Bookish Chat

8 April 2019
When my good bookish pal Clare from Years Of Reading Selfishly brought this short story collection to my attention it made me feel quite emotional. My lovely Dad who is no longer with us used to say ‘It’s gone dark over Dick’s mothers’ whenever the sky looked gloomy. He was called Bill…. Apparently the phrase is one that developed in the Stoke potteries area, often uttered by the working classes. Which was another huge draw for me to this book. The stories are all told by the northern working classes, many of which are matriarchal voices. I ADORE this! The very first story ‘Barmouth’ tells of a working class family’s road trip to their annual caravan holiday. Within the first 3 pages I had read things which sparked memories of my own childhood holidays. It was like a warm comforting blanket despite the story going on to become not so chirpy! Each of the subsequent stories are told through strong working class northern voices, be that matriarchs, children, men. Some of them are written in a northern dialect and come across as conversational, a lot of them told in the first person perspective which makes the reader feel like they are being drawn into a secret conversation. Interestingly one of the stories Dirty Laundry Is written in the second person which is a perspective I don’t often come across but which I really enjoy, I think the last time I encountered this was with Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary. The general themes of the stories in this collection are of normal family struggles, secrets held over a number of years and the difficulties encountered in normal family life when lines of communication breakdown. I often say that with short stories I don’t always ‘get’ them but I enjoy the way they make me feel. With these stories there was a lot of reading between the lines and making assumptions about what could have happened, I love this. I enjoy a story that makes me think. The exception with this collection was a story called Happenstance which is a back and forth unpunctuated dialogue between two people in a bar. This was the one story that I didn’t quite gel with. These stories are in equal parts comedic and achingly sad.  The Cherry Treeand Smear Campaign really stand out as extremely poignant stories in my mind. Good examples of the types of stories I went away to think about and ponder. Dripping with nostalgia and a real sense of place, told through the down to earth northern voice, this is a collection about real folk and real struggles that will always have my heart, not least for the stunningly engaging writing, but also for the memories it stirred for me. Thank you do much to the publisher for my advanced review copy. See you all soon. Amanda – Bookish Chat xx
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Rachel Darling for Faber and Faber

29 March 2019
I’ve read a few from this collection of stories – the title is an old potteries’ saying that means the outlook is bleak, a little like rain – and look forward to seeing more of Lisa Blower’s raw and starkly funny narratives, most of which feature working-class matriarchs so tough and uncompromising they make you weep.
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The Literary Sofa

24 January 2019
Lisa Blower celebrates her characters with stories that they wouldn’t want told. She makes the bleak funny, in a voice reminiscent of Alan Bennett, and strikes a new chord in regional and working-class fiction. With a sharp eye and tough warmth, Lisa Blower brings to life the silent histories and harsh realities of those living on the margins. The matriarch dominates these award-winning stories in Lisa Blower’s debut collection. From the wise, witty and outspoken Nan of Broken Crockery, who has lived and worked in Stoke-on-Trent for all of her 92 years, never owning a passport, to happy hooker Ruthie in The Land of Make Believe or young mum Roxanne in The Cherry Tree, she appears in many shapes and forms, and always with a stoicism that is hard to break down. The title is a Potteries saying that means it’s looking a bit bleak, a little like rain. This is top notch short fiction, showing remarkable depth of voice, character and human bonds.  The first story, Barmouth, is magnificent and made more of an impact on me than many novels.
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Nina Allan discussing Trees in the Wood from It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s

27 December 2018
‘This leaves me in the kitchen with the twins, Margot and Henry, who have just turned five and are still in their school uniforms squabbling over jigsaw pieces under the kitchen table where they also now like to eat. I have told Mia that I don’t agree with them eating off the floor like dogs, but she says at least they’re eating and it keeps them quiet and I spot a few rubbery-looking pasta twirls on the floor and a dollop of what looks like hardened ketchup.’ Laura lives alone. She hasn’t been able to sleep since the death of her mother. She’s spending the night at Mia’s house on the advice of her doctor, that she should undergo a course of ‘sleeplessness with someone you trust’. Mia is a palliative care nurse with five-year-old twins, a teenage daughter, and a never-there husband. She’s completely exhausted. The two women share an evening. From between the cracks, secrets emerge. The details and textures of the women’s lives are utterly different—and yet there is something that each can give the other. An emotionally draining, hard-hitting story with an unexpectedly positive outcome. Brilliantly written.
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Shropshire Star

1 March 2018
I'm terribly excited about this. A collection of short stories by the brilliant writer Lisa Blower who is based in Shrewsbury. The arresting title of the book is It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s. Puzzled? It’s a Potteries saying that means it’s looking a bit bleak, looking a bit like it might rain. Now, I absolutely loved Lisa’s last book, the highly-acclaimed novel of working class life in Stoke-on-Trent, Sitting Ducks. I've met Lisa a couple of times. Interviewed her once for a Chronicle article. Popped along to one of her creative writing talks. You know how it is. I now tell people that she's a personal friend of mine .... a bit like those people who went to school with Ringo's next door neighbour's cousin and then told everyone they were personal friends of The Beatles. Awww. Bless. Anyway. Look out for this. With a sharp eye and tough warmth, Lisa Blower brings to life the silent histories and harsh realities of those living on the margins. The book isn’t officially out until next spring, but you can pre-order it at the Myriad publishers website.
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Morning Star

UNFLINCHING descriptions of sex, violence and addiction are less controversial than in the past but writers and publishers remain reluctant to tackle important aspects of human experience. Their refusal to talk about class led the writer James Kelman to accuse the literary establishment of treating people without money as if they should be swept under the carpet. Lisa Blower lifts that carpet to explore lives deemed superfluous by business, media and government. Her well-rounded and convincing characters have limited choices as they face deprivation, disappointment and a relentless struggle for survival. Blower has been compared to Alan Bennett — the monologue is her preferred form and she shares his knack for revelation through detailed observation and telling omission. The similarity ends there. Blower’s purpose is to find a voice for people often dismissed as inarticulate. Her narratives are direct and accessible but there’s variety of both situation and style. Some are traditional monologues, others more dialogue driven; some are related from the first-person point of view, others use second-person; some are related by people struggling to survive, others by observers who have escaped the circumstances of those less fortunate. Handled badly, a second-person narrative reads like a choose-your-own adventure game but Blower’s deft writing creates deeper engagement with the dilemmas of her characters. There's a nod to Great Expectations in story The Land of Make Believe, in which the talented but struggling working-class Dee tries to fit in at Cambridge University and wants to understand her mother Ruthie, who works as a prostitute. A touching and powerful tale, it’s freighted with wit and subtle complexities. Blower’s stories are grittily realistic but she relishes ambiguity and enjoys injecting humour into the darkest of situations. Her readers are treated with as much respect as her characters. In another standout story, The Trees in the Wood, Mia experiences sleep deprivation as a result of grief, while Laura’s sleeplessness is caused by panic and anxiety. An affecting tale of women’s resilience in the face of tragedy, its many-layered narrative assesses the power of character-driven fiction in increasing our understanding of science and, as it does so, it highlights the risks modern life poses to sleep and health. Alma’s life spirals out of control when she loses her job due to the Icelandic banking collapse in Dirty Laundry. Gradually, we learn of her other source of anguish and the story ends with a sense that all may not be lost. This is a fine collection of 20 tough but tender tales by a writer who celebrates the lives of uncelebrated people with compassion and caustic wit. It’s by no means a depressing read — there are moments of hope as well as hardship.
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Literary Sofa

This is the final guest post from my first Sofa Spotlight of 2019 and (much later than usual) the first Writers on Location piece of the year, so I’m very pleased to be featuring award-wining short story writer and novelist Lisa Blower and her new collection It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s from independent publisher Myriad Editions.  Lisa’s many accolades include winning The Guardian’s National Short Story competition in 2009 and being longlisted in last year’s Sunday Times Short Story Award.  She also has a piece in the crowdfunded Common People anthology of working-class writers from Unbound – out in May – which I am really looking forward to both as a supporter and because it also includes my talented former mentee Jenny Knight. There’s currently a big movement underway to increase opportunity and exposure for under-represented voices, including the working class and regional kind central to Lisa’s work; whilst this and anything celebrating them is great, I also hope the day comes when they’re as ‘common’ in publishing as in the real world.  It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s is proof of the ordinary yet extraordinary storytelling we cannot afford to miss out on, showing remarkable depth of voice, character and human bonds.  The first story, Barmouth, reveals a woman’s life over many years through the recurring motif of family caravan holidays; I re-read it this morning and was no less moved and awed than the first time by everything it manages to convey.  It’s Brokeback Mountain good.  As Lisa explains, place can be the ideal starting point for a short story that hugely messes with your heart. Stoke-on-Trent. It’s a sneeze south from where the ‘north’ begins and skirts the arctic tip of where the Midlands ends. One of the most accident-prone sections of the M6 snakes around its west edge. To the east, the Peaks. Smoke-on-Trent. It was a good day if you could see Longton, as the saying went, being one of the six towns – Burslem, Fenton, Hanley, Longton, Tunstall and Stoke; six hearts that beat disharmoniously, says Linden West, which makes the place somehow placeless. It was recently rubbished as the most ardent Brexit city in the UK. According to Orwell, it was uglier than Sheffield. Even The Sentinel ran a tongue-in-cheek article on why you shouldn’t visit. No history, apparently. Nothing to see or do, and you might remember the Garden Festival washout in ‘86. Rather like a Staffordshire oatcake recipe and the correct way to eat it, everyone has an opinion on Stoke-on-Trent. As Arnold Bennett wrote, “Beauty was achieved. But none saw it.” It’s why It’s Gone Dark over Bill’s Mother’s felt like an apt title for a collection of stories that mine the pits, pots and poets I grew up with. Where I played in the Backs behind the Leek New Road, or sat listening to my Nan’s stories and scruffy wisdom. We’d spend weekends walking the towpaths around Stockton Brook before heading home to tape the charts, a pan of lobby on the stove. Not since Arnold Bennett has a writer given what was the pride of every dinner table a voice, yet I hear all my stories in that voice. They come to me in a broad Stoke accent and mid-conversation because unless I specifically inform you otherwise, Stokeys are always talking, to poach from Martin Amis’ John Self. And I’m stood outside Hunt’s sweet shop where I was too small for a gobstopper surrounded by a chattering of matriarchs with their strong communality and confounding sense of accepting rather than expecting, yet waiting all the same. For what? That would be telling. Because it was a peachy childhood, despite the smog, strikes, and Thatcher gunning for the unions back in the early 80’s; my mum making us all wipe our feet on a Vote Conservative board before she put it out for the dog to do his business on. We lived in Baddeley Green with a downstairs bathroom, galley kitchen and a twin-tub pulled out every Monday; a place cuddled by two main roads that peeped out from between Milton (where we did our big shop), Endon (where we went to school) and Light Oaks (where we went sledging): and green it was on the A53 heading out to Leek, and from there we looked back in at our past generations: the stalwart citizens of the Potteries working-class who owned neither a car, passport or mortgage but were the vital participants in its industry. Any potter worth their salt will flip over a plate seeking Made in Stoke-on-Trent because at least someone in their family will have had a hand in making it. And that’s what I wanted to capture. The voices of those for whom life generally happens elsewhere, to paraphrase Alan Bennett, but were living nonetheless, and contributing to history. Those too busy to go in for all that ‘woman’s stuff’ as they called it, or told me that ‘with too much education comes too much choice,’ and that ‘no-one wants to be retired with no grandkids.’ If you got ill, you didn’t dwell on it because that would make you ill. If you’d bought yourself a new hearth rug for the front parlour you never sat in, you were ‘that smug you’d think her Auntie’s up from Brighton.’ Nope, I still have no idea what that means, as I was too young back then to understand the impact of their words upon me now. I guess that’s how the stories in Bill’s Mother’s came about. ‘Put big light on, duck,’ I thought. What was really going in those hope-thin walls behind that new Roseby’s net as everyone sat around the telly as if it were a vital organ? Because no-one really went anywhere in Stoke-on-Trent. ‘We’ll go when it’s warmer,’ they’d say, as if other places had no central heating. And then this mass pilgrimage to static caravans in North Wales during Potter’s fortnight and knowing that this was as abroad as you were ever going to get. The trick to writing about Stoke is not to observe but to listen, and then whilst you’re listening, help yourself to an oatcake with melted cheese. You’ll find real beauty in that simple slice of life. A big thank you to Lisa for this gorgeous piece.  All I can recall of a long ago journey through Stoke-on-Trent is the bus station so definitely feel I’ve got more of a handle on the place now!
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