What a great, great occasion it was for me to launch Lisa’s first short story collection, Growing a New Tail, in the Pearse City Library, Dublin, on Thursday 3 September, where she shared the evening with Susan Knight and her new collection, Out of Order.
It was in a small cottage in Carna in 2009 where we had to stand up on the table to get a phone signal that I first experienced the power of Lisa's fiction. Virtual strangers, we were there to work on our Poetry collaboration, The Other Side of Longing, which was to be published by Arlen House. Sitting by the fire one of the many damp summer evenings, Lisa read me an extract from a story and the voice was so exciting, I was surprised that she wasn't writing a lot more fiction. The power of her work was evident back then and two poetry collections plus the collaboration since, I am so delighted that she has finally opened the door to the extraordinary characters who were crammed in behind it, clambering away to be let out and came tumbling onto the pages of Growing a New tail. Stories that were snatched up by prestigious journals before their ink was dry and ‘Mosaic’ went on to win the Hugo House Flash Fiction Award just before the book went to print.
The act of writing opens up the world in surprising and revealing ways. In any collection worth its salt, a reader is looking for something that goes way and beyond the ordinary. In stories that expose the tiny lacerations of the human heart, Lisa burrows right through the shell of life's experience and into the kernel of literary truth where she effortlessly tackles weighty topics such as rape, mental illness, death and life after death with an intelligence and energy that shimmer with intensity.
Hybridision of form is something Lisa is very passionate about and this is evident in the opening story ‘Visible Wounds’ where her weaving of poetry with prose, echo and re-echo off lines in such a poetic way that gives the story a rhythm, a music that makes it sing.
She aims the arrow straight to the target in each narrative, bringing her characters to the edge. In ‘Five Percent’ we meet the character who is able to make people disappear when she closes her eyes. We meet Jerry, the OCD sufferer who is more upset by the dander and sloughed-off skin of his wife’s infidelity in his freshly-made bed than he is by the infidelity itself. I am thrilled to see that the very first story I heard in Carna is there to under the title ‘Storm’ where the wonderfully sympathetic character Peggy is. ‘… as nice as home-made ice-cream in a July afternoon, always a smile and maybe some peach muffins.’ The voices are always wildly original ‘as the pill-in-the-mouth kind of pretending character’ of ‘Leash Laws’ who gets to make her escape from the home for the bewildered in a most creative way. And such stealable lines as ‘Sometimes ten years (in a relationship) can make a woman feel like life has caught her in a headlock and she’s choking on the monotony.’
Her ability to portray layers of complex relationships and emotions are clearly shown throughout as in her ekphrastic story ‘House the Colour of Dusk’ inspired by the stunning painting by Robert Sparrow Jones that now graces the front cover.I love her play on the word tail/tale. Yes’ the salamander grows a new tail in the title story but each tale she writes exponentially develops to get such masterpieces as ‘Narrow Paths Somewhere’ or ‘Ten Minutes’ that tell the main stories slant and make it all them more powerful for it.
One of the things that was also brought to my attention was the repeated motif of food. Her characters love their waffles, their hot and sour soup; their almond croissants; their pot roast; their cheese and tomato sandwiches. And in the way of the characters, this is a collection to be savoured, like a rare truffle or vintage wine or a double espresso over ice. In reading them, the natural instinct is to be greedy to read them all in one go. Take each one slowly, each nuance, each scintillating trope; each mouth-watering image. Until the hunger drives you back for more.
I would like to congratulate, Alan Hayes of Arlen House, who is responsible for publishing this beautiful collection. A big congratulations to Lisa for pushing out the boundaries and getting this collection into the hands of readers, greedy for good stories.