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.
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