Monday, 15 January 2018

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

Book review by Greenacre Writer Mumpuni Murniati



Jonah Hancock has lived a merchant’s life. From his wedge-shaped counting-house in Deptford he sends vessels to the Far East that return with valuable commodities. He continues in the tradition of bringing fortunes from the investments his father and his grandfather built. He knows no other way. In autumn 1785, one thing makes him anxious: for eighteen months there has been no news of The Calliope. Nor does he receive any communications from the ship’s captain. Until on a stormy night Captain Jones knocks on his door bringing in the most peculiar creature the merchant has ever seen.   

Somewhere a tide is turning. In that place where no land can be seen, where horizon to horizon is spanned by shifting twinkling faithless water, a wave humps its back and turns over with a sigh, and sends its salted whispering to Mr Hancock’s ear.

This voyage is special, the whisper says, a strange fluttering in his heart. 

It will change everything. 

Sitting at her dressing table, Angelica Neal stares at her reflection in the mirror. After three years with her patron and following his death, her ‘term of employment’ has ended. What’s more, he seems to have forgotten her in his will. The high-class courtesan is pondering over her options; her money is dwindling and yet there is also a new sense of freedom whereby no man has claim to her body but her. Either she is to return to Elizabeth Chappell’s Temple of Venus or hasten to seek another patron. This time, however, she wishes for a lover and dreams of marriage.

In Eighteenth Century London, Hancock and Neal would have brushed past each other on the streets. One a widower and childless, a man who knows money but does not spend it in the embrace of women. The other carries on an ‘adventurous’ life in the embrace of men and values them by how much they would spend on her. In a nutshell, their worlds are like two blinds that stand parallel. Nevertheless, Imogen Hermes Gowar believes they should meet. 

Coined as Vintage’s Lead Debut for 2018, The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock spins a bewitching narrative with a fairy tale thrown in. Based on a classic legend sung in various rhymes by seafarers and in the dreams of explorers, it’s something familiar to everyone but a kind of tale that might have been unheard of before.  

Imogen yarns the plot that entices readers to regard a period of time years before Andersen’s Little Mermaid was published but some time after the tales of the Mermaid of Amboina reached the ears of Tsar Peter The Great and George III of England.

It might have surprised Imogen that there hasn’t been a mermaid character in English fairy tales, but the public have an insatiable curiosity of the mysterious embodiment. And so it goes: how about a London mermaid - her own very tale?

‘But what am I to do with it?’

‘Why, exhibit it!’

‘I am not a showman,’ says Mr Hancock primly. ‘I shall notify the Royal Society. This must be an important development for science, and I am not a scientific man either.’

Captain Jones waves his hand in disgust. ‘And then how will you recoup your cost? Listen, ‘tis common sense. Find a coffee-house, charge a shilling per view, and say three hundred view it in a day – I am being conservative- why that s ninety pounds in a week. ‘You might tour the country with it. Take it to fairs. The provinces’ appetite for such things has never been quenched.’

‘Ninety a week, though?’ wonders Mr Hancock.                    

Mermaid for profit. A dead mermaid for hire. Imogen might have had this idea after she set eyes on a mermaid taxidermy at the British Museum where she used to work. The idea of hiring a place to display a curio, let alone artefacts in designated premises might possibly be far-fetched. Through her depictions Imogen is inviting us to foresee particular circumstances wearing different thinking hats. 

Imogen is painstaking in her details. Her fruitful labour gives birth to a new tale that is brought together because of her protagonists’ distinguished viewpoints. Her mermaid has a voice; she conjures not a prince for the immortal soul but men with attitudes; an unscrupulous abbess for a mer-grandmother and the sisterhood of the Temple of Venus’ girls to replace the Little Mermaid’s sisters. Consequently, she shies herself not from dwelling into judgment on moralities; racism and class or hypocrites and thieves. Her minor characters are assertive and audacious, seemingly strong but vulnerable people that shadow Hancock the mermaid man and Neal the courtesan and pull them in different directions.
     
There’s more to Imogen’s mermaid than meets the eyes; pages that oftentimes would be understood better after a second reading. Her approach in blurring the world between the mer-people and humans’ is a departure from Andersen’s firm inclination to the opposite.

In the excitements of unfolding events, however, Imogen’s subplots are ripped at the seams. In spite of flowing dialogues, she makes the audience extend their patience a little while anticipating the climax. After so much has happened, is the denouement going to be a little flat?    
   
‘Mr. Hancock?’ Mrs. Neal turns restlessly, and lays her face upon her arm. ‘Were you ever in love?’

He tugs his cravat. He feels that Henry has walked beside him all the day, and many hours after waking, his mind is still so distracted that the word love on the lips of a beautiful woman puts him in mind of nothing that it ought, but instead lays in his arms once more the weight of his little boy, Henry, as he cradled him that one and only morning. The child was already dead at that time, his poor blood crisping at the jag in his head that the instrument had made.

Be that as it may, Imogen is skilful at building up moments which then deliver unusual openness as the above depiction would testify. Her stitches might occasionally be imperfect, but they will hold together. More importantly, the book is far from a saga of a young mermaid giddy in love and chasing her immortal prince at all cost. After all, a happy ever after isn’t what the book has intended.  


The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is published by Harvill Secker, we'd like to thank them for the review copy.

Follow Imogen on Twitter: @girlhermes

Monday, 1 January 2018

Greenacre Writers Round-up of 2017

Greenacre Writers has had another busy year, in April Ingrid Jendrzejewski, ran a flash fiction workshop ‘Writing the Iceburgs Tops’. The course covered how we can craft floes of compressed prose that may look tiny on the page but still have the power to sink ships.

Josie Pearse, of Pearse & Black, ran a Sex Scenes Workshop which proved very popular. We looked at what makes sex scenes work or not; sex as an aspect of relationship between your novel’s characters; and sex as plot development - including the implications of writing about non-consensual sex. There were giggles and double-entendres and lots of fun.

Our members have been busy with their writing and we are always pleased when they achieve success.

Lindsay Bamfield, joint founder of GW, has had quite a few writing successes this year including, the Great British Write Off (flash fiction) longlisting in Reflex Fiction (flash), winning Senior Travel Writing competition, winning Hysteria 2017 short story comp, and inclusion in Stories for Homes 2. She says: “[It’s] my best writing year yet. Though I haven't actually done much writing this year!”

Anna Meryt was joint editor for Highgate Poets 28th anthology Naming the Clouds and organised a launch evening of music and poetry at The Big Green Bookshop in April. To mark the Highgate Poet's 40th Birthday in November, Anna organised an evening of poetry and music. In December, her new book Memoir Writing. How to tell a story from your life, was published.

Rosie Canning was 
longlisted in two competitions, Reflex Fiction and The Casket of Fictional Delights. One of her short stories was included in a podcast. She also received various awards, one for a flash fiction conference and others for her research into care leavers.

Some of us had fun at Halloween when a friend of ours, Richard Reeve asked us to do some ghostly readings for at his new Micro Pub The Little Green Dragon in Palmers Green. Anna read a lovely poem about a Spriggan, inspired by a Greenacre Walk along the disused railway to Finsbury Park.

2017 was a year when Allen Ashley focused on poetry, flash fiction, micro fiction (anything below 100 words) and songs. He had published a whole range of the above in places like “Speculative 66”, “The Fenland Reed”, “BFS Horizons”, “101 Fiction”, “Dime Show Review” and the many Christopher Fielden writing challenges on his website. In terms of songs, Roger Tichborne and Allen, brought three new songs “Her Question”, “Old Bones” and “Espresso Soho” into The False Dots live repertoire. Their debut album is scheduled for February 2018 release.

Mr Greenacres and Rosie Canning organised six Greenacre Walks many of which had a railway theme starting with A Branch Line Walk in February, Highgate to Highbury Railway Walk in April, Disused Railway from Mill Hill to Edgware in June, Walk the Nicky Line in July, Walk the Alban Way in October and the Judges Walk in November. Mr Greenacres also organised a walk for the UTA. If you’d like to be added to his list of walkers, email: mikegee1967@gmail.com

Our regular groups continue to grow and blossom. Helen Barbour, a member of some years left the group and moved to Derby to be near her parents who both have dementia. We wish her well. And also sending our good wishes to James Connelly who found that with work now sending him around the UK, he could not make the meetings regularly. We welcomed new members: Deborah Freeman, Emma Levin, Vasundra Tailor and Tricia Atkin.

Finish That Novel2
FTN 2 meets the third Monday of every month
This group is for writers aiming for publication and working on a novel, memoir or autobiography. (Full)

Writing Workshop
Writers Workshop meets every six weeks on a Tuesday
This group is for writers working on short stories, novels, and autobiography or memoir. (1 vacancy)

Writers Meet-up
Meets the first Saturday of every month in Finchley
10.15-Midday, Write for 40mins, have tea, write for 40 mins.
Email greenacrewriters@gmail.com for the address. (All welcome)

Allen Ashley continues to run six successful creative writing groups – Novel Focus Group; fiction and poetry groups in Barnet, Enfield and Alexandra Park; a Distance (email) group; and the advanced science fiction and fantasy group Clockhouse London Writers. Anyone interested in joining / attending one of these groups should contact Allen directly on:
allenashley-writer@hotmail.co.uk

Finally we had some wonderful conversations with writers including Claire Fuller, Allan Jenkins, Jane Rogers, Sarah Hilary, Stephanie Butland, Jason Hewitt, Imogen Hermes Gowar, Leone Ross, Sheena Kamal, Ruth Hogan, and Dreda Say Mitchell to mention just a few.

We look forward to more achievements next year -

Wishing all our followers a peaceful and joyous 2018

Follow us on Twitter: @GreenacreWriter