Joanna Lilley’s craft extends beyond poetry. With the publication of her new book, The
Birthday Books (Hagios Press), the author shows she can write prose too.
Lilley’s short story collection is a book like no other. It touches readers and makes them fall in love with the North, but it also shows people in relationships, and the challenges life can bring.
The book begins with the story, “The Birthday Books”.
Lizzie has just lost her father, who left the family when she was a child. But he sent her books each birthday, mostly English literature. After his death, Lizzie discovers that her mother sent the books back to her father because she didn’t want to have pieces of him around. But now Lizzie starts reading her birthday books.
Some of Lilley’s characters have Scottish or British background, and are fascinated by the North, like Fiona in “Silver Salmon”.
She is travelling from Scotland to Juneau, Alaska.
Asked what brings her to Alaska, Fiona decides, “She won’t tell him she came because she loves the word Alaska because it felt like a palindrome even though it isn’t and it makes her think of mountains perfectly reflected in glassy water.”
She meets Ray who says that he comes back to Alaska every year like a silver salmon. Descriptions like this are what make the book shine.
Another character is circus artist Ruby, in “Rearranging Rainbows”, who is collecting colourful post-its and falls in love with the North on a trip to Whitehorse.
The environment is also one of Lilley’s topics. In the story, “The Magnetic North”, she writes about a Scottish geophysicists on an oil exploration in northern Yukon. It is his mother who points out the consequences of his job. She has breast cancer and her last wish is to see the Yukon.
On their trip his mother tells him: “You are part of this place now. You can resign, if you want, it’s up to you, but you’ll never actually leave here, not completely.”
There are a broad variety of topics in Lilly’s book but the recurring theme is the North’s power to change lives.
The book also holds plot twist and surprises, like in “Travelling Light”, when a backpacker looses her passport.
Others are touching, like “The Accents of Birds”, a story about Antonio and her blind daughter, Cassie.
Lilley writes prose like she writes poetry, with precise and unique descriptions.
It is a book to be read twice. And readers will be curious what is coming next from Joanna Lilley’s pen.