Recommended Reads: Table Manners and other stories

Every year at Dahlia Publishing we provide a placement for two students from University of Leicester to undertake a 70 hour project. The placement forms part of a publishing module and offers students the opportunity to gain some valuable hands-on experience at a small press. 

This year, Ella March spent ten weeks with us. She was particularly keen to work with short stories and has written a short blog about her favourite short story from  Susmita Bhattacharya’s debut collection, Table Manners and the connections she found to her other favourite books.

It’s not exactly an uncommon experience to wake up to the sound of someone you love calling your name. It’s a little bit more so if that someone is dead. That is what happens to Mouli, the main character of ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’.

It takes her a little while to work out what’s happening- and if you don’t know, then you should read the story! But if you have read it, then you’ll know that hearing her husband’s voice helps Mouli come to terms with his sudden death, and her isolation from her family in its wake. Here are a few more books which deal with similar themes.

The obvious connection between ‘Good Golly’ and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is the isolation experienced by both of the main characters. They are perfect examples of how grief can make you feel trapped, but they also eventually find a way to let other people help them. Neither of them can be said to have truly happy endings, either- you come away feeling that you understand the characters, and wishing them well beyond their stories.

‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ is in many ways similar to PS I Love You, by Cecilia Ahern. If you enjoyed reading about how Holly came to find a way forward in her life without Gerry, you’ll also enjoy reading about Mouli’s journey. There are a lot of parallels between their stories, not least the peace it brings them both to feel like their husbands are still a part of their lives and the way they renegotiate their relationships with their friends and family. However, there’s a more humorous edge to ‘Good Golly’ that’s bound to make you smile.

The suddenness and brutality of death, which Mouli cannot really cope with, is also a struggle for the family of Maddy in I Liked My Life, by Abby Fabiaschi. Just as Maddy’s daughter Eve and husband Brady wonder how their beloved mother could disappear so abruptly, so there is an air of shock in the way Mouli reflects on her husband’s death. There is also an element in both stories of loved ones never fully leaving, and the knowledge that the only way of honouring a life loved is to move forward.

Finally, another story about accepting death is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. This is a book which can be equally enjoyed by children and adults, and features a main character who feels just as isolated in his grief as Mouli does. Both characters also choose to find refuge in memories of their loved ones in happier times. They are both heartbreaking tales, but ultimately rewarding to watch the characters accept the magnitude of their loss.

Like many of the other short stories in Susmita Bhattacharya’s anthology Table Manners, ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ is not a happy story, but it is a hopeful one. It reflects on human life and love and pokes into the corners of how we deal with loss.

‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ is a short story in Table Mannersavailable from Dahlia Publishing.

Ella March is a final year student at the University of Leicester. She studies English and Creative Writing and is hoping to go on to a career in publishing.

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A Sense of Place in Short Fiction

Dahlia Publishing is delighted to be publishing Susmita Bhattacharya’s short story collection, Table Manners. I’ve been a fan of Susmita’s work for years and had the pleasure of working with her on our Beyond the Border anthology in 2014. It was only recently that I plucked up the courage to ask Susmita whether she had plans to work on a collection. I was delighted when she said yes. In this short blog, Susmita Bhattacharya tells us more about her fascinating life, moving from place to place on oil tankers, and how this informs her short fiction.

“Maybe you had to leave in order to miss a place; maybe you had to travel to figure out how beloved your starting point was.”
― Jodi Picoult

When I began my writing career, I had no idea how true Jodi Picoult’s quote would be and how much it would relate to me. I had no idea, in the first place, that I’d be leaving my home in Mumbai and travelling around the world on oil tankers for three years with my husband. I had no idea that I’d live in five cities in three different countries that I’d call home. And I certainly had no idea how much I’d miss the place where I was born. Where I’d grown up. Until I moved so far, far away from there.

I lived in Cardiff, back in 2004, when I wrote my first short story that was published. It was filled with nostalgia for Mumbai, the place I had left. I remember feeling so homesick while writing that story that I cried and ached to go back home. I also wrote about Singapore, where I had lived prior to Cardiff and that had a different feel to it. It was more to do with the culture, the sights and sounds and tastes – because that’s how I had experienced the city. It did not pull me emotionally like my city, Mumbai, did.

While in Cardiff, I did my Masters in Creative Writing at Cardiff University. I was putting together a collection of short stories as my submission. I realised most of my stories were set in India – one in Singapore. But I couldn’t set any of my stories in Cardiff. I lived there for nearly five years, but I didn’t dare to. I didn’t feel like I had immersed myself enough to be able to do justice to it. Except the one where the protagonist lived in Cardiff but pined away for Mumbai. That was kind of autobiographical, and I learned to move away from such themes quickly.

Finally, after moving to Plymouth, I got the distance I needed from Cardiff and did not hesitate to set my stories there. I realised that not being present in the place I was writing about gave me a new perspective about the place that I missed while actually living in that city. I still haven’t got that distance form Plymouth, having moved once again, to write about it. But I will – soon enough.

My days of sailing gave me the distance I needed from myself. It put me in an extraordinary position of leaving the ordinary life behind and experiencing new adventures. It was a fantastic opportunity for me to reflect and think about my life and my goals. It gave me time and space to write and to experience the world quite organically. It helped me see new worlds and cultures, and it definitely helped me figure out how much I valued my starting point.

The stories in my debut collection, Table Manners are my attempt to capture some of these experiences, physical and emotional, my starting points and create fiction that explores this sense of place.

Susmita Bhattacharya was born in Mumbai. Her short fiction has been widely published, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Her novel, The Normal State of Mind, was published in 2015 by Parthian (UK) and Bee Books (India). It was long listed for the Words to Screen Prize by the Mumbai Association of Moving Images (MAMI). She teaches contemporary fiction at Winchester University and also facilitates the Mayflower Young Writers workshops, a SO:Write project based in Southampton.

Reviews for Table Manners

“Graceful, poignant and beautifully wrought – a masterful debut.” Angela Readman

“These triumphant, sharp eyed humorous stories mark the arrival of an intriguing new voice; tender, poignant and wry.” Irenosen Okojie

“A winning collection. These stories are delicately shaped around sharp and tender moments rendered in rich, vivid prose.” Mahesh Rao

Table Manners launches on 28th September 2018 at P&G Wells Bookshop in Winchester. Everyone is welcome to join us for an evening of readings and refreshments.

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