‘Sylvia Wears Pink in the Underworld’ by Alison MacLeod

This story by Alison MacLeod is the one we read as part of the Word Factory short story club that provoked the strongest response from members. ‘Sylvia Wears Pink in the Underworld’  is from the Canadian-born writer’s 2017 collection, All the Beloved Ghosts, which was shortlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. The narrator takes the reader to Sylvia Plath’s grave in Heptonstall, Yorkshire, and conjures up a supernatural conversation by holding a wine glass to the poet’s headstone. She goes on to re-imagine a happy ending for the late poet, who committed suicide in 1963. And in doing so, Sylvia is seen with her husband, Ted Hughes, travelling the River Styx. The title refers to Sylvia’s pink dress, which she wore on her wedding day. The language at times is reminiscent of Plath’s poetry: “In suburban-esque gardens, clumps of forget-me-nots insist as delicately, and as forgettably, as they do every year. (They are pale things compared with the wild alkanet that has colonised your grave.)” A real-life and much-loved subject can be a challenge for a writer, but can connect powerfully with readers if done with sympathy and finesse, which MacLeod achieves.

First published in All the Beloved Ghosts, Bloomsbury, 2017. Also available to read on LitHub

‘Portrait: Eric Gill Dreaming’ by Alison MacLeod

With the daring and délicatesse of a master surgeon, MacLeod examines the life of Eric Gill, the man, and the work of Eric Gill, the artist. Conceived for radio, this story is a mixed-media artwork of sound and image. “Listen!” instructs a nameless narrator at the story’s start: trees creak, the latches of bedroom doors rattle, and whitewashed walls whisper for hush. MacLeod lifts the lid on this singular household, shrinking neither from the shadows of Gill’s life nor from the light of his work.

Broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on 19 January 2018