‘To All Their Dues’ by Wendy Erskine

In ‘To All Their Dues’, Mo has opened her own beauty treatment room, precariously starting out and trying to make ends meet, before finding out there’s a hidden cost she hasn’t bargained for. A wonderful starting point, but the story becomes so much deeper, as Mo runs through in her memory the previous version of herself she is striking out to escape from: working in a call centre giving “mystical advice” in sometimes heart-breaking circumstances, only one step away from answering the sex lines. And the same goes for the next characters we encounter. Everyone in the story is trying to run away from what haunts them, no matter how weirdly violent or utterly straightforward they seem. I loved that. 

First published in Sweet Home, Stinging Fly, 2018/Picador, 2019 and available online here

‘Observation’ by Wendy Erskine

Wendy Erskine’s humane and wonderfully funny stories are set in Belfast, a city of church-run coffee shops, DIY superstores, hairdressing salons and community centres. Her characters are ordinary people doing their best to cope under pressure, but bizarre and fantastical things are never too far away. This particular story focuses on teenager Cath and her friend Lauren. The girls meet regularly in a café called ChipShop. On the day the story begins, they’re in there with a crowd of boys who are “occupied with downloading porn ringtones to their phones” and then ringing each other “so that they could hear the elaborate crescendo of female gasping”. Lauren’s mum, Kim Cassells, is beautiful, bad tempered and exhaustingly sexy. Kim Cassells goes on adults-only holidays and has lots of boyfriends. Lauren confesses to Cath that the current boyfriend Stuart is only twenty-six and has kissed her in passing on the stairs. Cath’s knowledge of guys is “pretty theoretical” but here is a real live sexual drama playing out right under her nose. She starts dropping in to see Lauren on various pretexts and finding reasons to stay overnight, sleeping on the floor of Lauren’s room. She regards Kim Cassells with a mixture of horror and fascination, and she can hardly take her eyes off Stuart. The claustrophobia of small houses where you can hear people getting up to go to the toilet yards away from you is beautifully evoked. The story captures the intensity and the boredom of teen years in a small town. 

First published in Sweet Home, Stinging Fly, 2018, Picador, 2019

‘Inakeen’ by Wendy Erskine

This collection blew me away by how observation of the parochial can be so simply amplified into a bigger picture, resonating with the world as it is. This story, of loneliness, imagination and the power of the other to fascinate us, is funny sad, and being written in a minor key allows us to expand on it, bringing our imagination to bear on hers…

In Sweet Home, Stinging Fly, 2018/Picador, 2019