Recommended Reads: Leading the Dance, by Sarah Salway

by Caroline Smailes

I’ve been a fan of Sarah Salway for a while now and so was thrilled when the independent publisher Bluechrome printed Leading the Dance.

Leading the Dance is a collection of short stories that are laced with domesticity, yet they all have an edge that marks Salway’s skill as a writer. I am left intrigued by the craft and the skill required building convincing worlds, narratives and characters within such limited space. I guess that’s the joy of being a writer who reads. I’m looking at words and loops, and I’m trying to figure out how the writer managed to pull it off so splendidly. Salway writes of a bulimic who has the inside of her fridge painted, an affair that smells of pear drops, sexual suspicion leading to bondage, visions of Jesus blessing aubergines, the fragments of an affair through letters. There are more. But even as I write this, I’m left with a smiling comfort and wonder how many times (over the last month alone) I’ve wished that I could write like Sarah Salway.

There is something about Salway’s ability to give life and depth to words, I sound bizarre when I say that the book breathed. I hadn’t contemplated writing short stories and how, when they are combined into a book, the tales should unite and compliment. But Salway managed it, she made it appear effortless. The characters became real, recognisable and the narrative voices were refreshing, sharp, subtle and, above all else, convincing.

I guess for me the feeling that has stayed is that I didn’t want the stories to end. It was a book that I didn’t want to rush through, that I didn’t want to skim. I was forced to slow down my reading speed and enjoy. I read with chocolates, a pot of tea and felt indulged.

The stories are original, yet the characters have a familiarity that connects them to the reader. We are drawn into each world and forced to experience emotions through the lexical choices made. I’m waxing lyrical, but I was blown away and I know that others were too. Sarah Salway’s writing has a delicacy that appears effortless and natural, yet each and every word is perfect. I last felt like this reading The PowerBook (Jeanette Winterson) for the first time. And I know that I’ll read Leading the Dance again and, probably, again.

Sarah Salway’s blog is here. And I bought my copy direct from the Bluechrome.

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Caroline Smailes was born in Newcastle in 1973. She moved to the North West to study English Literature at Liverpool University before going on to specialise in Linguistics. A chance remark on a daytime chat show caused Caroline to reconsider her life. She enrolled on an MA in Creative Writing in September 2005 and began to write her first novel, In Search of Adam, which was published by The Friday Project in 2007. Caroline is currently an Associate Lecturer for the Open University, author of two novels and lives in the North West with her husband and three children. Her website is here.

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