June Considine is the author of twelve books for pre-teens and young adults. These include the best-selling trilogy, When the Luvenders Came to Merrick Town, Luvenders at the Old Mill and Island of Luvenders. Her novel View from a Blind Bridge was short-listed for Bisto Award and was followed by The Glass Triangle. She also wrote the popular Beachwood series. Her children’s books were published by Poolbeg Press. Her short stories have been broadcast on RTE’s Fiction 15 series and have appeared in a number of teenage anthologies, including The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror Annual Collection. She gives regular workshops on creative writing and is on the board of the Irish Writers’ Centre. She has also contributed to the popular radio programme, Sunday Miscellany, and had worked as a journalist and editor. Her novel for adults When the Bough Breaks was published by New Island. Aka Laura Elliot, she is the author of three novels, Stolen Child and The Prodigal Sister (published by Avon HarperCollins) and Deceptions (e-published by JuneConsidine) Her novels have been widely translated and she has ghost written a number of high profile non-fiction books. She lives in Malahide, Co Dublin.
A Review By June Considine
Review of SaltWater . Author Lane Ashfeldt
One of the many memories my late father carried with him from his service in the merchant navy during World War Two was an attack in neutral waters from a German bomber. Fortunately for the crew, who were huddled only a few feet away in a cement-encased wheelhouse, the bomb passed through the funnel of the ship but did not explode. Whenever I asked him how he felt during those terrifying moments he simply said, “My mouth was dry.”
He never elaborated on that most mostprimal response and when I read SaltWater, the story that gives the title to Lane Ashfeldt’s debut collection of short stories, the reaction of Jim―when he comes under the same attack as he plies his boat through the Irish Sea ―resonated immediately with me. As the bombs fall and Jim faces the possibility of his own mortality, he tastes bile. Ashfeldt’s sparse prose allows us to taste the sour bile of his terror and it is this precise detail, this ability to hone her narrative that lends such dramatic tension to her collection.
From the opening story The Boat Trip it is obvious that SaltWater is not going to be a relaxing read. Tension runs like a fine seam through the lives of her characters, who are connected to and bound by the vicissitudes of her most dominant character–the sea. And what a character she has created. We see, hear and experience the salt, the spray and the surf. The sea rages and lulls, laps gently to shore or heaves with random, destructive energy and indifference. Bad things happen and we soon realise that Lane Ashfeldt is an unflinching writer. But miracles also occur – so we are buoyed by this knowledge as we meet the people who interact with the water when it roars or when it is life giving―and when it rises again to threaten but also to allow them new perspectives on their lives.
Ashfeldt’s landscape, as well as her seascape, is an essential backdrop to her stories. The instability of a volcanic surface is as tenuous as the decisions her characters make. As a writer, she is equally at ease in the vast reaches of New Zealand, the fragility of Haiti, the sultry lure of Greece, the pace of New York and the ebb and flow of dangerous tides in such diverse locations as the Thames Estuary and the North Carolinian Outer Banks.
Many of these stories are based on real life occurrences which she crafted into fiction–like the young girl Gwynn, escaping the floods in Dancing at Canvey, which won the Fish Short Histories Prize. In stories like The Boat Trip and Sound Waves we glimpse snapshots of lives that will never be lived. We experience the thread of hope that clings to the disembodied voices of Agnes and Lucien trapped in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in Catching the Tat-Tap to Cayes de Jacmel.
Ashfeldt shifts effortlessly between disparate characters in Outer Banks Riptide and achieves a seamless weaving of unrelated lives moving towards each other, unaware that they will experience nature at its most beautiful and brutal.
The earth shakes throughout SaltWater, sea walls collapse and salvation depends on the toss of nature’s coin. We meet Anna in God Mode, who lives on a precarious volcanic terrain and says, “When something really bad happens it can’t be fixed. But you learn to live another kind of life, around the edges, you know.”
That is the essence of SaltWater, finding new ways around the edges. Some characters succeed, some don’t. It is the initial shiver of anticipation, this steadily paced tension that keeps us turning the pages and racing towards the end until we find out how they will deal with whatever nature or life throws at them. But these stories should be read a second or a third time to fully appreciate the lyricism which Ashfeldt uses with such rigour and subtlety in her remarkable debut collection.
SaltWater is published by Liberties Press.