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Longlisted   —Not the Booker Prize2020

'Funny, moving, philosophical and wise. A road trip through life, loss, and the murky depths of the human heart. Utterly charming and utterly hilarious.'—Emma Jane Unsworth

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A love story in the slow lane about loss and getting lost—two childhood sweethearts take a trip via pints, ponds and pitstops to find their future on a road less travelled from Stoke-on-Trent to Wales.

With a nod to ‘Last Tango in Halifax’, this ‘last tango in Wales’ is loosely based on Lisa’s widowed Great-Granny Gladys, who got chatting to an elderly gentleman at the bus stop who turned out to be her childhood sweetheart.

One Monday afternoon, around three o’clock, pond supplies salesman Selwyn Robby  arrives home towing the Toogood Aquatics exhibition caravan and orders his like-wife, Imogen ‘Ginny’ Dare, to get into the car. He’s taking her on a little holiday, he says. To Wales.

So begins their road trip west, via blasts from Selwyn’s past, and a fortnight’s journey of self-discovery for them both. But it’s a fishy business towing this caravan, with its saucy mermaid curtains and fully stocked bar, and Ginny must untangle the pondweed to get to the bottom of it, even it does mean unearthing her own murky past to find out.

Dan Brotzel, iNews

3 August 2020

The story follows two endearing and idiosyncratic sixty-somethings

Lisa Blower is a highly regarded short-story writer whose new novel tells the tale of an unlikely road trip undertaken by Selwyn and Ginny, two endearing and idiosyncratic sixty-somethings.

Neighbours in their youth, they once courted and have now got together again, after a fashion, following a 50-year interval. They think they know each others’ distant pasts intimately but are not so strong on anything since.

In the interim, Ginny has had a daughter but not much else happened for her; Selwyn developed his passion for ponds.

Cheated by his business partner out of his pension, Selwyn decides to take the pair of them off on a trip down memory lane in the direction of Wales, armed only with a stolen caravan full of booze and ornamental fish.

The road trip quickly turns out to be a painful yet charming journey through the couple’s past, as a series of apparently impromptu stop-offs trigger forgotten memories, unresolved conflicts, and only partially buried secrets. Blower has drawn an unlikely romance between two people who are meant for each other, but don’t know how to be together.

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The Biblio Sara, Bookstagrammer 5/5 star review

29 July 2020

'Not everything needs to be sewn together to make a past. We don't always need to know everything about each other. We found each other again. Let that be enough.'

Every once in a while you come across a book which is riveting from the first page. The words entrap you completely, leaving you in a state of reverie. I can say without reservation that this title lived up to the hype for me and it is definitely another five-star book that I have the pleasure of reading this year.

Pondweed by Lisa Blower is a multilayered story which follows the journey of Selwyn and Ginny, an odd couple in their sixties reunited after five decades, as they embark on a trip to Wales. Narrated by Ginny, the story begins as Selwyn rushes home after being betrayed by his business partner Louis and losing most of his life's possessions. In order to strike back, he steals Louis' caravan along with pond equipment and declares going on a sudden road trip to Wales from Stoke-on-Tent. Along the route, they make several pitstops with each destination revealing more secrets and anecdotes from the past. It is a quest in the purest sense. A quest for answers, a quest to grapple with the past, a quest to make peace with the years lost and a quest to retrieve love. Selwyn and Ginny's relationship is laden with misunderstandings and conundrums. Will their bond survive the ravages of time? That is the question.

Blower powerfully captures a kaleidoscope of emotions as the characters continue to work through the tiffs, reflect on their patterns and discover their way back to each other. She has knit together an extremely raw and moving narrative. The twists and turns jolted me. It felt like I was watching a film while being perched at the back of Ginny's mind - such is the marvel of her writing. One of the things which I loved the most was how each chapter began with a quote from Selwyn Robby’s The Great Necessity of Ponds; halfway through I found myself looking forward to it and mulling over his words.

Pondweed is unlike anything that I have read and it exceeded all my expectations. Achingly beautiful storytelling and a greatly humanizing portrait of love and loss. Thank you

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Book Bound

10 July 2020

I open this review with a confession…

This is the first Lisa Blower book I have read. In fact until I stumbled across Pondweed on my Twitter feed and the lovely Emma Dawson, at Myriad very kindly sent me a copy, I hadn’t hear of this author at all.

What an addition to my life and my bookshelves this discovery is! I love coming across new authors, but when you find someone whose writing is sharp, original and wholly clear sighted, writing infused with wit and empathy in perfect balance, the joy is very real.

So bookish friends let me tell you about Pondweed, released on 9th July by Myriad Editions.

This is the story of Selwyn and Ginny. They are both of retirement age and have recently found each other again after having a relationship in their youth. Although they are currently living together, there is an unease within their relationship. It seems immediately unorthodox, filled with tension and the boundaries are not clear. As a reader I was continually attempting to define their roles; old friends or lovers? Or something between the two and altogether more complex ?

The story begins with Selwyn, arriving home unexpectedly in the middle of the day, towing a caravan. It is a van that belongs to the aquatic supplies business he has recently become a partner in, investing all his retirement fund. Selwyn is agitated and demands that Ginny get in the car immediately.

Something is wrong. Ginny is confused and angry. Why are they leaving? Where are they going? All Selwyn will tell her is they need to leave now and they are going on holiday to Wales.

Against her better judgement and resentfully, Ginny gets in the car, and so begins a strange journey. Filled with many detours of both an tangible and emotional nature, this is journey across the country but also into the past. A journey that will begin to define and redefine the couple’s relationship.

It quickly becomes clear that the business has failed, Selwyn has been cheated out of his nest egg by his unscrupulous business partner. The journey seems to be punctuated by visits to various ponds, where Selwyn always seems to be meeting up with old friends, completing favours, business transactions and encountering the past. Ginny is frustrated, often angry, that Selwyn doesn’t share his plans and their route with her. The air of unease and tension between the couple grows, but there is an underlying sense that they need each other in some unexplained but instinctive way.

The plot, the journey, the relationships within this novel are all gloriously fragmented. And it is the tension that is created by this that pulls you as a reader into the slipstream and propels you forward. The story is filled with strange, half explained facts and relationships; the two mothers that Ginny grew up with, the fact her daughter, Mia, is living in New Zealand with one of Ginny’s old flames. All these references are cast out casually like nets into the prose and you are hooked, puzzled and primed to seek answers.

Ginny pushes continually for answers and clarity from Selwyn but is not prepared to reveal any level of truth about herself. Wrapped in decades of damage and repression the journey and it’s events slowly peel back layers until the secrets of both the present and the past are slowly revealed. Ginny and Selwyn slowly begin to expose , assimilate and come to terms with events. This story may be framed by days but really it spans a lifetime .

Edgy, raw and just a little bit dark Lisa Blower’s prose is biting and fresh. This is a book that makes you work, and it’s a joy. It is a book to lose yourself in, filled with simple yet devastating truths and razor sharp observations. And it is funny, laugh out loud funny. In that way that snatches of life and over heard conversations take on meaning and mirth. For every pool of darkness, there is a glorious patch of light.

Without a doubt one of my reads of the year.

Rachel x

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Big Issue North

8 July 2020

One Monday afternoon, pond supplies salesman Selwyn Robby arrives home towing the Toogood Aquatics exhibition caravan and orders his sort of wife, Ginny Dare, to get into the car. He’s taking her on a little holiday, he says, only later revealing it’s to Wales. The newly reacquainted childhood sweethearts take the trip from the Midlands via pubs and ponds.⁠

Now senior lecturer in English and creative writing at Wolverhampton University, @lisablowerwrite won the Guardian National Short Story Award in 2009. Her characters are wry and complex, despite the apparent mundanity of their surroundings.⁠ Kevin Gopal finds out more in this week's issue.⁠

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Ninja Book Box

8 July 2020

Tomorrow is publication day for our July book of the month, and I am very excited to be talking about it as our first post for the Indie Book Network. I was gifted this book by Emma, the publicist for Myriad Editions, because she knows how much I've enjoyed every single Myriad book I've ever read (seriously, never read a bad one across fiction, non-fiction and many graphic novels), and I was engrossed from the first page.

Firstly can I just say how much I love the cover of Pondweed? It's simple yet entangling, with a hint of hope at the top where you can see the sun shining through the water. Excellent work from Clare Connie Shepherd, who has designed lots of Myriad's covers. If you've been reading our blog for a while you'll know that my reviews tend to be more emotional responses than what you'd technically recognise as a standard book review, so please bear with me.

One afternoon, Selwyn Robby arrives home with a caravan that isn't his and demands his 'not wife' Ginny leaves with him. Selwyn and Ginny are teen sweethearts who go their separate ways and meet about fifty years later and resume their relationship,and the book is told from there in a very backwards and forwards kind of way through memories and stories about the people that they meet as they travel across the country.

Lisa Blower is an excellent storyteller; captivating and pacy, and her writing pulls the story along despite itself. We hear everything from Ginny's point of view as she tries to figure out how she fits into Selwyn's life after most of their lives apart, and many secrets kept by both of them. Their secrets gradually come to light over the course of their frantic and mysterious trip and the conversation, or lack thereof, between them is a major feature in the development of the story.

I have to say I found Selwyn infuriating for most of the book, and if I were Ginny I would have left him! He's a very well drawn character, and his superiority and refusal to accept that he might be in the wrong about anything was entirely believable and incredibly annoying. It's completely reasonable to want to know where you're going and why, but throughout almost the entire book he seems to want Ginny to just do everything he tells her to without asking any questions at all. The novel is made up of push and pull - Ginny asks questions, Selwyn refuses to give reasonable answers, and every now and then they arrive somewhere, seemingly at random but is it really? It's a phenomenal talent, to be able to to make people care about the history of people that they don't necessarily even like that much, and Lisa Blower manages it brilliantly.

I think this is the perfect book for the kind of summer that we are currently having, full of questions and uncertainty! It's an easy read - even with my current distraction levels it only took a couple of days to finish - and I think Selwyn and Ginny will stay with me for a long time.

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Mandy Sutter, New Welsh Review

When pond salesman Selwyn comes home one afternoon towing his firm’s exhibition caravan and tells his ‘like-wife’ Ginny to get into the car, all she can drag out of him by way of explanation is that he’s taking her on a little holiday to Wales. In fact, this late middle-aged couple, once childhood neighbours and sweethearts, are setting off on a B-road trip like no other. They both hope the trip will close the emotional distance between them. Perhaps it will, but in a neat metaphor, they struggle initially to get very far from Stoke-on-Trent.

Their many stops and diversions are part of Selwyn’s hidden agenda. As the trip unfolds, the couple, who have lived together for nearly a year in an unconsummated relationship, encounter sundry characters from Selwyn’s past, all of whom are overjoyed to see him and in whose company the often-infuriated Ginny feels excluded. While Selwyn confronts his own history in a physical sense, Ginny has the chance to confront hers via memory.

In a fragmented narrative peppered with colourful flashbacks, the question is always there: is their relationship the true love Selwyn takes it to be or is it a fantasy that can’t stand up to the pressures of people with two very different pasts coming together to create a shared present?

So far, so intriguing. The start of Lisa Blower’s third work of fiction is well handled. A tale of the extraordinary within the ordinary is clearly signposted by the premise of an unexpected journey in an unlikely caravan, by Ginny saying of Selwyn that ‘the world had pushed him to one side, as it had with me’ and by the sparkling, dancing quality of Blower’s writing. ‘I once read that you can kill a man with a single blow to the temple with a frozen sausage,’ says Ginny, in an early laugh-out-loud moment. Later, she describes a cat as having ‘large amber eyes like burning cigarette tips.’

Blower’s sketches of minor characters are delicious. She writes with a Dickensian eye for the telling dark detail. Of next door neighbour Val, Ginny says: ‘She chuffs gamely on a Consulate… she has her arms folded, a polo neck of maroon velour and looks at me as if measuring me up for a coffin. There are moccasins on her feet. Bunions, I expect. Splayed toes.’ We are thrilled by Ginny’s cattiness, suspicious as she is of all the women Selwyn seems to know with a familiarity she can’t fathom or explain.

The strangeness of these larger-than-life characters is often extended to their settings too, and scenes take on a dark magical quality. My favourite scene in the novel takes place mid-way, on The Sixth Day and the Sixth Night (all the chapters are titled like this, recalling the Book of Genesis) where in the pitch dark in the middle of nowhere, the couple visit Corbet Hall. Selwyn is effusively welcomed by a very elderly couple and to Ginny’s horror disappears with the man, Hugh, for the entire night, leaving her alone with the uncommunicative, brown-draped Maisie, ‘an old, old woman, peeping around the corner of the next life.’ They go into a kitchen of exposed brick lit by ‘a washing line of dangling bare bulbs of all different watts’ where it is ‘cold, really bloody cold.’

Creepy details abound, and when Maisie takes Ginny into a room that contains a massive fish tank housing six hundred and fourteen fish, the strangeness only deepens.

These set pieces are brilliantly done. My problem is with the in-between scenes, where Selwyn and Ginny drive from place to place and where their arguing takes on a soap-opera feel. Their conflict is peppered by redeeming moments of longing and tenderness but the scenes have a repetitive quality. There is too much storming off and too much ‘get back in the car!’ The high emotional tone here and the ease with which the anger flares seems monochrome and I would have welcomed subtler ways of highlighting their tensions and misunderstandings.

But in fairness, Blower didn’t set out to write a novel of understatement, and her taste for drama, when present in her scene descriptions and characters, works brilliantly. Talking of which, back at Corbet Hall, Selwyn’s explanation about Hugh and Maisie comes the next day and at last we learn something important about his life and motivations. Things from now on make more sense. It was here that I began to care about the characters. Towards the end of the book, I surprised myself by crying my eyes out.

In the end, the novel worked for this reader. If it had worked more completely, I would have liked it even more.


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