The Haunting of Strawberry Water

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Special Mention   —Best Novella, Saboteur Awards 2020

‘This dazzling series shows that if the barriers can be vaulted there is true beauty to be had from the lesser-walked streets of literature. These works are both nourishing and inspiring, and a gift to any reader.’—Kerry Hudson

A gripping tale of post-natal depression, this short story reads like a modern retelling of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and has much in common with Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger in its realisation of psychological distress as a supernatural phenomenon.

A new mother, traumatised by an arduous labour, tries to come to terms with being abandoned as a baby by Olivia, the mother she never knew. Set in the eponymous ‘Strawberry Water’, a mysterious 1920s country bungalow which overlooks a fast-flowing river, the story begins with a faded photograph of the woman our narrator assumes to be her mother.

Spotlight Books is a collaboration between Creative Future, New Writing South and Myriad Editions to discover, guide and support writers who are under-represented due to mental or physical health issues, disability, race, class, gender identity or social circumstance.

In the same series: Stroking Cerberus by Jacqueline HaskellMemories of a Swedish Grandmother by Sarah Windebank; Summon by Elizabeth Ridout; Crumbs by Ana Tewson-Bozic and Cora Vincent by Georgina Aboud.

Buy the six Spotlight Books for £25.00 HERE.

Kirsty Hewitt, NB Magazine

26 August 2020

In The Haunting of Strawberry Water, short story writer and playwright Tara Gould focuses upon a new mother ‘in the throes of post-natal depression’.  The protagonist’s pregnancy has thrown up past turmoil, in which she is trying to understand why she herself was abandoned as a baby ‘by the mother she never knew’.  Gould’s story sounded wonderfully mysterious; it is set in a 1920s bungalow in the countryside, in which ‘supernatural forces begin to take hold in this gripping and heartrending tale of the uncanny.’

The Haunting of Strawberry Water has been well reviewed, and the following comments made the story appeal to me even more.  Jeff Noon believes that ‘Tara Gould knows an essential truth, that ghosts exist in the darkness of the mind.  And that sometimes those ghosts can exit the mind and take up residence in the world…’.  Hannah Vincent notes Gould’s ‘elegant and profound’ story, which she sees as much of a piece of nature writing as ‘a compelling ghost story, and an expertly handled meditation on the prickly nature of intimate relationships.’

The unnamed narrator’s childhood bungalow home is named Strawberry Water, after a phenomenon which occurs in certain weathers ‘in late spring and summer’ to the river which runs along the bottom of the garden.  In an odd twist of fate, the house comes up for sale, and she and her husband decide to move there from their cramped city apartment with their baby daughter, Freya.  This throws up a lot of memories for the narrator.  When they first move there, she relates the following: ‘In the woods on the other side of the river, I looked at the grey collection of shapes between the black silhouettes of the trees and I thought I saw a dark form flitting chaotically between them.  No doubt a fox or a deer, but it sent an unpleasant shiver through me.’

The story opens with the single Polaroid picture which the narrator has of her mother: ‘All that’s visible is a section of leg where the knee pushes forward, the point of a black, shiny shoe protruding at the base of the wooden door, and three slim fingers clutching the door half way up.  The rest is simply the vague impression of the form and presence of a person.’  She has never seen her mother’s face, even in a photograph.  As a child, she touchingly collects pebbles from the river, which ‘represented a piece of information about my mother that I’d gleaned over the years.’  She goes on to say: ‘I needed desperately to believe that she was decent.  She had left her husband and her baby daughter, but perhaps she had secret reasons.’

We are led from the narrator’s motherless childhood into the more stable period of her twenties, in which she married and fell pregnant: ‘During the whole of my pregnancy,’ she tells us, ‘I was unquestioningly happy – a deep contentment I had never before experienced…  I felt connected.  I felt… never alone.’  After a difficult birth, in which she states ‘nature revealed her true unmodified self to me’, she visualises herself as follows: ‘… I saw myself putting on a bathrobe and slippers and escaping out of that window, and down the fire escape and away from my baby and the impossible job of being a perfect mother.’

Gould successfully uses a series of short vignettes to weave the story together.  The narrative is interconnected, as one vignette leads into the next.  Gould’s prose is beautiful, and her story feels like such an honest one, as she relates the everyday struggles of motherhood.  Once the more sinister elements start to creep into the narrative – strange noises heard around the house, the baby being unable to settle – I was absolutely invested in the story.  By this point, I felt as though I really knew what moved and motivated the bewildered protagonist, and the fear she had surrounding her baby.  The inclusion of herself being motherless added an interesting element to the story, and I felt as though it was well explored by Gould.

The Haunting of Strawberry Water is a highly successful short story, which does and says a lot.  It is an enjoyable piece of prose, which is beguiling from start to finish; I only wish it had been longer.

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4/5 star review by The Coy Caterpillar Reads

26 August 2020

The Haunting of Strawberry Water catapults you into an ethereal memory of an important figure.  A Mother.  An extension of yourself, connected by genes and love.  Someone that will stand by you until their last breath.  They can protect you or they can destroy that link forever.  Tara Gould depicts an elegant but deeply heart-breaking tome that displays the links between motherhood and mental health.  It’s disturbing but so very perfect.  Gould is an artist of trauma, she knows exactly how to inject a longing and flaw to her character.  Is our outcome in life more of an inevitability due to our childhoods or can it be altered?

An extremely toxic relationship between a girl and her forgotten mother.  It’s the kind of novel that will capture your attention and have you examining your own relationship with your mother.  It’s deeply claustrophobic.  The regimes that the abandoned daughter goes through to keep that one link to the forgotten one.  The narrative voice is strong, with a sense of melancholy that seems to escalate as the character ages.  It was interesting to see a child grow right before our eyes.  Her mannerisms, her growth, her constant longing for answers to a broken link in a chain.  Her own change into a mother herself.

It really is a story of growth and change.  A coming of age story.  However, I felt the story was directed more towards Olivia, the mother.  Why she left, who she was, where did she go?  She was the ever-present ghost in the life of a girl that shaped how she lived her own life.  Becoming a mother is a massive event, it changes you in ways you never knew were even possible.  You suddenly have this little bundle that you are completely responsible for and it can weigh heavily on you.  Your previous life is never going to be the same again.  You must change and adapt.  It was a highly emotional study of relationships and hardship.  Regret and longing.

The Haunting of Strawberry Water is a totally original, emotionally charged short story of incredible loss of potential.  The potential of love.  It’s dark and layered.

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Anne Hill, Sussex Life magazine Must-Reads for May 2020

25 April 2020

Sussex independent publisher Myriad Editions has joined forces with Creative Future and New Writing South to produce Spotlight Books, a collection of stylish, pocket-friendly novellas and poetry by writers from under-represented backgrounds.

Of the first six books, five are by Sussex-based authors. Tara Gould is one, with a beautifully-written tale of a motherless girl growing up to become a mother struggling against her destiny.

Hove resident Georgina Aboud’s story is very different: a disjointed account of scenes and events in an actress’ life as she prepares to return to the stage.

Judging by these excellent little books, Spotlight Books deserves success.

Short Books and Scribes

23 January 2020

Today’s review is of a short story, The Haunting of Strawberry Water by Tara Gould. This is one of a new series of Spotlight Books.

Spotlight Books is a collaboration between Creative Future, New Writing South and Myriad Editions to discover, guide and support writers who are under-represented due to mental or physical health issues, disability, race, class, gender identity or social circumstance.

In the same series: Stroking Cerberus by Jacqueline HaskellMemories of a Swedish Grandmother by Sarah Windebank; Summon by Elizabeth Ridout; Crumbs by Ana Tewson-Bozic and Cora Vincent by Georgina Aboud.

My thanks to Emma Dowson and Myriad Editions for the review copy of the book which is published on 29th January in paperback and ebook.

A gripping tale of post-natal depression, this short story reads like a modern retelling of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and has much in common with Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger in its realisation of psychological distress as a supernatural phenomenon.

A new mother, traumatised by an arduous labour, tries to come to terms with being abandoned as a baby by Olivia, the mother she never knew. Set in the eponymous Strawberry Water, a mysterious 1920s country bungalow which overlooks a fast-flowing river, the story begins with a faded photograph of the woman our narrator assumes to be her mother.


This is a fabulous little read. With just 48 small pages of text (the book is only 64 pages in total) you might think there’s not going to be much to it but you’d be wrong. It’s a really thought-provoking story.

It’s a story of motherhood and abandonment with hidden depths that are still making me think. Our narrator’s mother left when she was very young. All she has is a Polaroid photo where just a small trace of her mother is visible. Despite that, she clings to it as she grows up. What’s particularly interesting is her own response to motherhood and how she deals with what we presume must be post-natal depression.

Strawberry Water is her childhood home and is not necessarily the typical setting for a story such as this with a slight supernatural theme. That’s what I loved about it!

The Haunting of Strawberry Water is a rather chilling story of a mental breakdown, of dealing with the trauma that comes with being a new mother particularly with a lack of support, how difficult it can be to cope. I thought it was fabulous.

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Liz Robinson, LoveReading

6 January 2020

This haunting book focusing on motherhood and post-natal depression is small enough to slip into a pocket, yet the 48 pages really do pack an emotional punch. The narrator quietly builds a picture of her childhood before the story subtly moves in an altogether more chilling direction. A photograph sits centre stage, with memories constructed to fit a need, a want. The supernatural tone builds as the story continues, while the reality of post-natal depression hits home. The Haunting of Strawberry Water is part of the Spotlight collection of books. Spotlight is a collaboration between Creative Future, Myriad Editions and New Writing South to discover, guide and support writers whose voices are under-represented. A ghost story with a difference, The Haunting of Strawberry Water slips into thoughts and throughly provokes feelings.

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