Trouble Crossing The Bridge by Diana Powell

Trouble Crossing The Bridge by Diana Powell

Beautiful, dark, visceral, fantastical and sumptuously described. Richly imagined and a nightmare feast for the senses.

The characters in ‘Trouble Crossing the Bridge’ are separated by time, place, age, gender, and yet they are brought together here, making this debut collection a melting-pot of personalities, voice, setting, and plot.

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About the Book

The characters in these fifteen stories, while separated by time, place, age and gender, are brought together in this collection, making it a melting-pot of personality, voice, setting and plot.

All the characters have been damaged by life in some way – whether by their own psychological problems or by external circumstances such as possessive mothers or abusive fathers. The various ways in which they rise up to meet their particular challenges lies at the heart of all their stories. And they are as diverse as the individuals themselves.

Diana Powell was born and brought up in Llanelli, South Wales.

She is the winner of the ChipLit Festival prize, the Allen Raine award, and the 2014, PENfro prize.

Stories included: Risk Factor, Crying at Three Minutes To…, Herr Munch visits the Zoo, The Woman Who Never Begs, The Cabinet of Immortal Wonders, Jesus in a Tree, Watching me Watching you, The Woman who Turned out to be Me, In the Warehouse of the Unloved Dead…, Rules for Going Skipping, Lifting Nefertiti, XXX, [W + (D-d)] x TQ/MxNa, Whale Watching, and Trouble Crossing the Bridge. (less)

Series: Fiction
Tag: Fiction
Publisher: Chaffinch Press
Publication Year: 2020
Format: Paperback
Length: 153 Pages
ASIN: 1916154549
ISBN: 9781916154544

List Price: €10.50
"In this collection of short stories, Chip-Lit Festival short story winner Diana Powell continues her exploration of lives we don’t see enough of, telling the stories of people we want to know more about..." See Jacci Gooding's full review at her site
These short stories follow a variety of characters as they trudge through the thick, muddy, murky path that is their nonexistent life. All in the hopes that they will safely cross the bridge up-ahead, despite the troll living under it in wait. They are all casualties of a broken heart that stems from a damaged home. It’s gritty as Powell portrays a realistic world similar to our own. The harsh fact that young children are abused, affairs are sordid and newborns are left in skips like rubbish is all too real as you start asking yourself what on earth is wrong with the world we live in? Powell’s writing is filled with sounds and noises that overwhelms the reader which creates the illusion of how these tragic characters must feel. Constant voices filling their heads with self-doubt and negativity. When I read Risk Factor it was hard to believe that people would get so worked up for Black Friday but then I remembered they really do. And in worst case scenarios knives and guns have been pulled out, taking lives all over a £200 flat screen. It makes you sit up and think about what actually is important in life. It’s not the material objects but the people. No amount of money or things will ever fix that which is broken. The ever impending ticking of the doomsday clock is echoed throughout. There is also a strong theme of regret buried throughout these stories. Characters often dream and wonder what life would have been like should they have taken a different path. But do little to change it and become happier. Powell writes strong, bold images that are at times gory to look at yet tasteful. She combines art and flesh together creating a vision that is hypnotic and disturbing to read. In The Woman Who Never Begs and The Cabinet of Immortal Wonders you can’t tear yourself away despite the shivers going down your spine. Powell creates hauntingly beautiful imagery that shows you how stuffed birds and handless mannequins can be a thing of enchantment. To us they are horrifying but to the artist they are a masterpiece, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. No matter how much make-up or surgery we have done to ourselves, there’s no escaping the fact that this is the face we were born with. Our face is unique to us because it is the only one. In Watching me Watching you the narrator remembers every single face they have ever encountered. In contrast The Woman who Turned out to be Me can’t remember any face and struggles to recognise herself in the reflection of mirrors. Powell encourages the reader to accept themselves and take pride in who they are and what they look like before they struggle to recognise their own reflection. The lengths we will go to to turn back time on a few wrinkles is astonishing. I couldn’t believe what I was reading in Lifting Nefertiti. The strong belief that a venomous snake bite will help make you look younger. That’s insanity yet the character is driven to this conclusion because of her faded looks and unfaithful husband. Powell plays on the madness that has become self-image and just how far we are willing to put ourselves in danger to smooth out a few lines. It’s shocking but eye opening. These stories force the reader to take note and have a look at their own lives. In The Warehouse of the Unloved Dead…they meet Hamer who safeguards crates which contain corpses, still clinging onto their valuable possessions. If you have no one to leave your beloved belongings to they often end up buried with you or at the dump. The reality of objects losing purpose and gathering dust demonstrates how in the grand scheme of things they are just junk. We come into this world alone and go out the same, everything else in-between is distractions to the loneliness we all face at the start and end of our life. I give Trouble Crossing The Bridge By Diana Powell a Four out of Five paw rating. Thought provoking and intriguing, Powell’s stories make you think and relate to a world we are all far too familiar with. You feel deeply for her characters that are followed by stormy rain clouds and hold out hope that everything will work out for them in the end. But thats not life is it? Life doesn’t work that way and not everyone gets a happily ever after. It’s a cold hard shock of realism and makes for intense reading.
The titles alone are intriguing! – ‘Herr Munch Visits The Zoo’; ‘Lifting Nefertiti’; ‘[W + (D-d)] x TQ/MxNa’ stand out amongst others. And the author certainly knows how to start a story: – ‘I’m putting the baby back in the skip tonight - ’ is one example. ‘Somewhere in the deepest reaches of the planet, a creature without a face nuzzles in the ooze and the dark’, is another. And a third: ‘Tiger chases him down the street. Death and sinew, wrapped in fur’. And the contents are as extraordinary and unusual as they sound. In these pieces we are taken from ancient Egypt through 18th-century France to 20th- century Germany, and we learn a great many things about a great many subjects, from art to zoology. But all the stories feature characters, real or imaginary (sometimes a combination of the two), with a disturbed mind; inadequate, lonely or frightened, or suffering from real mental problems. There are some gruesome details here and there, and definitely no sentimentality - yet some of these stories tug at the heart. Often, their meanings emerge gradually and movingly from their exotic settings. But wherever the stories are set, there is always an emphasis on the workings and disturbances of the mind. The title story, ‘Trouble Crossing the Bridge’, takes us deep into the thoughts of a woman damaged by child abuse, her half-suppressed memories of her father’s perversions confused with the fairy stories he told her. ‘Jesus In a Tree’ is a moving piece about a woman trying to come to terms with childlessness, while ‘[W + (D-d) x TQ/MxNa’ is a study of the effects of sleeplessness – and Powell doesn’t spare us details of the cruel scientific experiments on animals in this field. (The equation of the title helps the sufferer to make some shape of her chaotic life.) Another story, ‘The Woman Who Never Begs’ concerns an artist’s model, and the conflict between her personal feelings as a woman and her experience of modelling. She describes her complex relationship with the painter she lives with: ‘Courtesan. Madonna. Bride. Day after day of dressing, styling, posing. Night after night of undressing, unravelling, abandonment.’ Some stories have a wider scope. In ‘Herr Munch Visits the Zoo’, the mental disturbance is suffered this time by the artist, Edvard Munch, who was haunted by his family’s history of insanity. We can sense his famous painting ‘The Scream’ behind this story. And ‘XXX’ is an extraordinary piece which brings a great international tragedy into one home where the tragedy is repeated but turned inside out. It is a study of control and obsession, historical and personal, and its consequences. ’15 volts… “It’s nothing,“ he tells her. “No more than a tingle, a sensation…”’ ‘Whale Watching’ is an unusual study of memory and illusion, dream and reality, time and age. The reader – like the protagonist – is not quite sure finally what happened that day in the Welsh harbour, when the film crew came… In this and other stories, we must work some things out for ourselves – Powell does not solve all the mysteries for us. This is the author’s first collection. Many of these stories have won prizes, and ‘Whale Watching’ will be published in the ‘Best British Short Stories’ anthology later this year.
I was alerted to this author's work by her story "Whale Watching" in the latest Best British Short Stories 2020, which I admired so much I tracked down more of her work. That story, based on actual events, the filming of part of "Moby-Dick" off the Welsh coast, and the glimpse of that artificial whale by a young girl, describes the way her memory of it, and the response to her memory of successive generations of family, shape and define her life into old age, is included in the collection. The question was: would that level of skill be sustained over a full collection? No need to fear - this is excellent throughout, many of the stories even stronger than that example, centring on domestic abuse - of wives, of children, from malignancy or neglect, or the ravages of ageing, loneliness, or the failure to respond to others. They are made powerful by the restraint and control of the writing, the structuring, and the handling of detail. For example, a story of domestic violence which yokes together a scientific experiment on response to authoritative command, Nazi brutality, and the I Love Lucy show, with no straining for effect. Two of my favourites are art-based (in the ghastly fashionable term, "ekphrastic"), one on Edvard Munch, in old age, at the zoo, the other a fictitious artist and the relationship with his model. But two more stand out, partly because they are paired, mirror-images, in gender and theme. The first concerns a man who is unable ever to forget a face, who has even been employed by the police for his power of recognition surveying crowds, now a free lance tracer of missing persons; the other a woman who suffers the opposite - an inability to remember faces at all, her family's, even her own. These are both, we learn, actual scientifically defined conditions. The stories explore the human cost of the conditions - the first reminded me of Borges' story "Funes the Memorious", the second ends on a macabre suggestion of harm. It is the scientific underpinning and factual detail that gives them their plausibility, and that same scientific basis is evident in many of the stories. A number of them incorporate quasi-mathematical equations (often given as the title) which form the thematic content but also provide the structure: the terms in the equation forming the sequential narration. Even without that scientific/technical basis, theme/plot and voice are enough in themselves for the stories to convince. "Rules for Going Skipping" (a clever pun in itself), about a feral girl discovering a baby in a skip - which I initially felt might not work, ended up moving me profoundly. As indeed did so many - a very high success rate, banishing any suspicion of "Whale Watching" being a flash in the pan. Strongly recommended.
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About the Author
Diana Powell

Diana Powell was born and brought up in Llanelli, South Wales, and studied English at Aberystwyth University.

Her stories have won, or been featured, in a number of competitions, including the 2020 Society of Authors ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award (runner-up), the 2020 TSS Cambridge Short Story Prize (3rd place), the 2019 Chipping Norton Literature Festival Short Story Prize (winner), the 2019 Bedford International Writing Competition (3rd place), and the 2014 PENfro award (winner). In 2016, she was long-listed for the Sean O’Faolain, short-listed for the Over-the-Edge New Writer Prize, and was a runner-up in the Cinnamon Press Award.

Most recent publication credits include two Arachne Press Solstice Shorts anthologies; New Short Stories 11 – Willesden Herald; ‘Citizens of Nowhere’ – an anthology of utopic fiction, by Cinnamon Press; ‘Heartland’, containing the winners of the 2019 Penfro competition. And her prize-winning story, ‘Whale Watching’,will feature in the 2020 Best of (British) Short Stories (Salt).

Her novella, ‘Esther Bligh’, was published in 2018 by Holland House Books.

She now lives with her husband in beautiful West Wales and when she is not writing, she works in her woodland garden, or walks on the coast.

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