Recipe for a short story in Russian

I’ve always felt this natural affinity with Russian culture and literature (not the most popular thing to say in the current climate, I admit, but culture has nothing to do with the present regime in Russia; regimes come and go, culture endures despite their efforts to thwart it). Ever since I discovered that Anna Legat, the greatest prima ballerina of all times, happens to be my namesake, I have been having this irrational fantasy that maybe – just maybe – my dad’s ancestors hadn’t arrived from Germany, but from the glitzy St Petersburg, wearing tutus and humming tunes from Swan Lake. And that may explain why I felt so at home with the characters from Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida.

There is nothing to rival the breadth and the depth of the Russian soul captured by some of the greatest of Russian writers. You feel swept away and carried into the depths of every story, only to come up for air at the end of it and be instantly pulled in again by the next one.

There are several master strokes to each story one can only hope to emulate.

Firstly, each story has something to say, something to contemplate, something to register at the back of the reader’s mind. It is usually a deep philosophical question which is very cleverly reduced to a small, everyday occurrence that somehow manages to burst out of the straight jacket of triviality. It leaves you deep in thought.

Secondly, the plot yields to the character. People come to life in these stories. They are all sorts of them – such richness of personalities and their quirks and secrets; their delusions and their simple-mindedness, their vulnerabilities and their killer-instincts. It’s all there, throbbing and competing for air. The landscape – the famous Russian landscape – isn’t a setting; it is a character too. It plays its part to perfection.

Thirdly, humour. It is only ever so subtle. It lives in the undertones of the language (excellently captured by Chandler), in situational comedy and in the characters’ minds. It also lives in the shadow of the darkness and fear that are never too far, squatting in that bigger, grander house next door.

Fourthly, the silence and the understatement have their role to play too. The stories don’t quite end. It’s up to the reader to conclude them in her mind. The stories rely on an intelligent reader who can take them further.

Bobok is probably my favourite, but then I am biased towards Dostoyevsky as one of my idols (no, not as the flawed, prejudiced human being he was, but as an amazing writer). It is a story of a little man overhearing the dead in a graveyard. The dialogue brings them all to life! This quote makes you think, The wisest person of all (..) is the one who calls himself a fool at least once a month – an unheard of ability in this day and age. In the olden days a fool understood at least once a year that he was a fool, but nowadays – not a hope!

My First Goose by Babel left me covered with goose-bumps! Try it to learn about the survival of the fittest in Bolshevik Russia – read it.

Whilst Chekhov’s The Lady with the Little Dog made me think that life was too short to waste it, Lermontov’s The Fatalist made me reflect on whether any of it really mattered because as he put it, After all, the worst that can happen to you is death – and death is inescapable.

But then again, just contemplate the afterlife for a minute, as in The Greatcoat by Gogol, and that may put even death in its place. Perhaps revenge lives just that little bit longer than death? And if revenge does, then why not everything else?


Audio extract from Swimming with Sharks

Swimming with Sharks in the audio book format, beautifully read by Emma Fenny, is now available with the free trial on Audiobooks.

Don’t let life get away from you

don't let life get away from youLife Without Me is just about that – Georgie is trying to take a grip on her life that is slipping away from her. But taking a grip when you’re in a coma is easier said than done! Then again, there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of…



Five star review of Swimming with Sharks


Swimming with Sharks has earned itself a fantastic 5* review from none other than Deborah Swift, an acclaimed historical fiction writer.

What a treat!

A friend lent me this book and I enjoyed this quick crime read whilst sunning myself on a beach in Greece. I particularly liked the character of DI Gillian Marsh and think she’ll be an interesting detective to follow as the series develops.

The story doesn’t go where you expect it to go, which keeps the reader guessing as to what has happened to Nicola on her dream holiday. There were some interesting minor characters who all had plausible motives for murder, and a fast paced denouement. Ideal beach read for those not swimming with sharks!”

Deborah Swift

Nothing to Lose – a great story for mystery fans.

I am absolutely delighted with, and grateful for, this fantastic new review of Nothing to Lose. Thank you, Sue Dawson!

“I had not read the first DI Marsh book but that wasn’t a problem as apart from a couple of times when it was obvious that certain characters had a background together this is a stand alone novel.

Gillian Marsh is a single mother that is doing her best to hold down a demanding job while keeping track of her daughter as she moves from the family home to start her university life, never an easy transition.

Gillian’s next big case at work as a DI is when a quite country road becomes an inferno as 4 vehicles collide. The how and why is told in several backstories that weave in and out of one another in intriguing ways and although I had an inkling of what had happened near the end it wasn’t until the very end of the book that the whole story came together in a surprising way.”


Swimming with Sharks by Anna Legat – a brilliantly written mystery

“This was a brilliantly written mystery. I was caught up in the story from the start. The author crafts a suffocating psychological thriller with Nicola Eagles, a timid, gauche woman as the victim. The author keeps us so tightly inside Nicola’s head it’s nearly claustrophobic but it fits the story perfectly.

We are given glimpses of her surroundings – the lush, tropical holiday resort, the people who interact with her, her deepest fears, her most intimate thoughts – but we are shut out from anything else. So when DI Gillian Marsh is called to investigate Nicola’s disappearance, we have no idea what really happened. It’s a rare author who can keep me guessing until the end – and the ending was a shocker.

DI Gillian Marsh is an interesting character, and I will be more than happy to continue to follow her adventures. But what drew me into the book and kept me there was the author’s mesmerising prose. I started reading for the mystery, and finished with the impression of having lived a whole other life in Nicola Eagle’s skin. Fascinating.”

Jennifer Macaire


Bargain Alert: Nothing to Lose kindle price slashed!

“Real, complex, gripping, unpredictable…” – what reviewers say about Nothing to Lose.

Now you can get the whole story for half the price on Amazon kindle!

Life Without Me – trailer

Life Without Me is a prequel to Paula Goes to Heaven. It introduces Paula in all her earthly prima donna glory.

Life Without Me is currently on special at £0.99/ $1.25 kindle and £7.99 paperback on Amazon

Paula Goes to Heaven

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Does this woman belong in Heaven? Don’t answer it – it’s a rhetorical question.

Do you remember Paula from Life Without Me? The washed-up actress with a chequered past and a ferocious sexual appetite? You may remember that she is dead. Your memory does not deceive you – she is. And she is on her way to Heaven. It’s a long and bumpy road, considering that her starting point is in Hell. Plus she has a lot of baggage: two men and a child.

So, this is my summer writing project: a story of Paula’s journey to Heaven. Will she ever get there or will her past catch up with her? Do you have the nerve to find out? Huh?

BTW: Life Without Me is now on special at £0.99 Kindle and down to £7.99/£6.60 for a paperback. A chance to discover Paula’s humble beginnings!

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon: charming and heart-warming


The premise of this story is simple but brilliant: Mrs Creasy has gone missing; Grace and Tilly, a pair of ten-year-old sleuths embark on a search, but instead of looking for Mrs Creasy they are searching for God. After all, He knows everything, including where Mrs Creasy is hiding. Once God if found so will be Mrs Creasy. I found great affinity with the girls – similar notions bumbled about in my head when I was their age.

Joanna Cannon puts the whole Avenue under a magnifying glass. The reader has insight into the lives and personalities of all residents. Secrets seep to the surface, skeletons fall out of the closet. The author handles difficult themes aptly and without sentimentality. Bigotry. Prejudice. Sense of community. Social ostracism.

I revelled in Cannon’s prose, which is refreshing, elegant and lyrical. She is the queen of anthropomorphism. An example: “Before she disappeared, he never said I love you. Unsure of themselves, the words had become trapped and awkward, and reluctant to leave. Instead of saying I love you, he said Take care of yourself, and When will you be back? Instead of saying I love you, he placed her umbrella at the bottom of the stairs, so it wouldn’t be forgotten, and in the winter he put her gloves on the chair by the door, so she would remember to pull them on to her hands before she left. Until she disappeared, this was the only way he knew how, but since she had gone, he found that the words had become untethered. They fell from his mouth in the silence, certain and unashamed. The rattled under the bridge at the canal and tripped across the towpath. They waltzed around the bandstand and chased along the pavements as he walked.”

This a charming, heart-warming story about our inherent obstinacy and our equally inherent goodness of the heart.