Ploughing Songs: Damian Croft

When a book pierces the outer membrane of one’s consciousness, like a computer the brain rattles through a multitude of reasons why one should, or should not, open the cover, glance at the title page, read the opening lines and………………  read or not to read it? I generally find a friend’s recommendation a powerful reason for embracing a book, and when it comes from the author himself, one who once sat in your classroom many years ago pretending to be absorbed in the learning of Spanish irregular verbs, your inducement becomes conclusive.

But much more than a favour to a former student, I found myself re-reading this volume of locally-inspired short stories simply because I wanted to re-visit some of the locations I know so well as a local resident and inveterate cyclist. But if I could ride a bike as eloquently as Damian writes, in his evocation of the local countryside and its people, there would be a certain poetic charm about turning the cranks. A short story writer faces a number of literary challenges: to engage you from the very first line of each narrative, to ensure you have connected with the main character(s) before you turn the first page, to harness your attention over the short-term, and enthuse you sufficiently to keep you turning the pages onto succeeding narratives that require a repetition of all the above.

Ploughing Songs is a book of short stories whose roots lie deep in the soil of Cambridgshire and, as you read them, like the coming of Spring, they burst into flower adding remarkable hues and tones to the sometimes undistinguished prairie landscapes of this part of rural England. And the engagement of the reader is achieved not only through intriguing tales that appear to come from the author’s local experiences, but also  through his bewitching use of descriptive language.  In Slip Jig I loved the description of Jessica: “her hair was growing wild and great long strands of a clematis-like mane flowed round her punky pre-Raphaelite face”. And in Ploughing Song, the solitary character of Stokes is beautifully encapsulated with: “Stokes barricaded loneliness, quietude, emotion from his soul by way of a singular, life-consuming hobby. I doubt it was a solution he’d meditated on, just one he’d arrived at with the slow, inevitable passing of years. As if it were a smouldering vocation that welled inside him like an unquelled violence”.

Ploughing Songs is a most eloquent memorial to the author’s deceased friend, Stephen Morley, thatcher.

To purchase a copy, click here.

About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on November 26, 2011, in Book reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Thanks, Frank, for a very nice write up.

    Both the writing of it and the events themselves seem to belong to another life now but it is nice to know the book still has resonances. I always recall Edward Faulkner’s words on reading it: “a kind of requiem of pockets of Englishness people can still recall but don’t expect to see again”. I think he was right – which makes me all the fonder of this volume.

  2. I must read this book now that I have spent such a short time in Cambridgeshire, so fondly remembered too. How wonderful to have a writer in one’s classroom – the gift of the Gods no doubt. Olivia

  3. Jonathan Belbin

    Stuart Henson lent me ‘Ploughing Songs’ a couple of years ago. I thought I’d read it out of duty (ex-Kimboltonian and all that), but was transfixed from the first page The experience was very much all pleasure. I am surprised that the book does not have a wider constituency. Perhaps Mr Croft needs a more effective publicist – I would have thought you would be ideal for the role Frank!

    • …….ah, the machinations of publicity! I would like to think that this very minor blog might catch the attention of one or two lovers of short stories who might buy the book. I understand from Damian (and others) that volumes of short stories simply do not have the marketability of longer works of fiction, and seldom feature in the long or short lists of major literary prizes. Which is a great shame because short stories have the attraction of providing ‘reading-bites’ for those who have little time for reading, or sporadic gaps to fill (ie commuting on the train), or who simply like to read themselves to sleep at night, having discovered the denouement of the 5-10 page story they’ve managed to complete.

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