As the year draws to a close and the nights draw in, candlelit reading becomes an absolute essential. November marks the launch of the perfect accompaniment: Sarah Schofield’s Safely Gathered In. Published by the incredible Manchester-based Comma Press, this electric short story collection is definitely one to add to your winter reading list.
“A woman grows increasingly annoyed by her husband’s emails, offering advice and reminders even months after his death… A taxidermist dreams of preserving one of his clients after she takes him out for a coffee… A grieving nurse is troubled by her daughter’s fascination with The Iron Lady…”
With style comparable to Sarah Moss and the ability to evoke unease like Naomi Booth, Schofield’s storytelling certainly leaves a mark on her readers. One of the potent threads running through the collection is an obsession with objects. Schofield interrogates how they define us, our relationship to them and what they can eventually come to represent. This is the feeling delivered by the title story – Safely Gathered In – crafted in list formation to depict the contents of a series of storage units. While the idea seems simple, I loved how these inventories brought people and personalities to life without making their presence known. Powerful and unsettling, this story really sets the tone for the whole collection.
My favourite story opens the collection, cleverly entitled Dead Man’s Switch. Emmy, the plot’s protagonist, grows increasingly annoyed by her husband’s emails offering advice and reminders even months after his death. Whether it’s home insurance or her upcoming MOT, David’s words of wisdom continue to arrive in her inbox. Sharing the annoyance with her sister Kath as she tries to move on with new partner Gary, the speight of emails allow Emmy to reflect on her old relationship as well as the new. I loved how this story sparked thoughts about technology and how the modern age we’re living in allows us to extend our lives beyond expiration. Schofield also played with objects in this story to experiment with ideas of memory, loss and grief. Fisherman’s Friends, knitting needles, old books. All of these objects define something, and the author allows the reader enough space to decide what that is.
“It’s their last day on the beach and Emmy slips out her phone while Gary goes to get ice creams. There is another email from David. It is a reminder to cancel or renew their wine subscription. She scrunches her toes into the sand, heat flashing behind her eyes. She presses reply.”
Another critical theme reflected in Schofield’s stories is motherhood. Keenly observed and told with captivating honesty, she captures the trials and tribulations of family life. In Termination Happy Meal, a mother takes her teenage daughter to a McDonalds, presumably after visiting the abortion clinic. Told over less than two pages, the story casts a searing light on the wrought
nature of mother-daughter relationships. Again explored through objects in the story, Schofield brings to life the conflicts of growing up and the decisions that define our lives. For a story of so few words, it really is a triumph.
I was lucky enough to hear Sarah read from her collection at a pre-launch event: a short story salon hosted by Blackwell’s Manchester. Reading alongside the incredible Lucie McKnight Hardy and Vanessa Onwuemezi, it was a fantastic opportunity to hear more about the collection in real life after such a long time without in-person book events. Schofield read eloquently and gave some key insights about her craft, particularly how she likes to write and how her stories come together. If you’re looking for a true example of how to create haunting, bold and brilliant short fiction, Sarah Schofield is the beacon to look to.
Safely Gathered In was published in early November 2021 by Comma Press. Support your local bookshop or buy your copy here.
Words: Beth Barker
Beth wanted to contribute a monthly review to NRTH LASS in order to shine a light on Northern women writing great books. The North is very much underrepresented in publishing and she hopes a monthly review throughout 2021 will showcase the talent Northern women have to offer.