KISS AND PART is an anthology of short stories inspired by Michael Drayton’s celebrated sonnet “Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part”.
The anthology was commissioned by Sarah Hosking, the founder of Clifford Chambers, a creative writing centre for women in a small village near the River Stour, where some of the contributors have spent residencies. The surrounding neighbourhood features strongly in the collection. “A Merrie Meeting” by Salley Vickers draws on Drayton’s local connections, his supposed rivalry with Shakespeare, and his devotion to his ageing muse, Lady Anne Rainsford, of Clifford Manor.
As you might expect, the stories are very varied. Maggie Gee is the only writer to write in verse: her contemporary tale of unrequited love, “The Visitation”, was inspired by Drayton’s use of the sonnet form. Marina Warner’s story about a wounded fawn, “Buck Moon”, refers to Tibor Reich, a Hungarian-born textile designer who settled in Clifford Mill, near by, in 1945, after escaping the Nazis.
Some are ghost stories, evoking a strong sense of place, and often with humour. Elizabeth Speller’s “The Incumbent” probes beneath the surface of modern village life, finding that all is not as it seems. In Maria McCann’s “Colossal Wreck”, a successful romantic novelist suffers writer’s block on retreat, where her phobia of corpses catches up with her. In Jill Dawson’s “The Creature”, a recently bereaved woman house-sits for a friend (“This was the break before the bigger break, before the new life began”), and, while looking after his melodramatic cat, Georgio, encounters the sad ghost of her younger self.
Joan Bakewell’s “And the River Flows On” is a captivating account of the funeral at the neighbouring church, St Helen’s, of a celebrated actor, narrated by one of his four ex-wives, Liza, and led by the Revd Simon Simmons, who “For five years . . . had been the lead singer in the group Simon and the Stylites, his explicitly sexy lyrics sitting incongruously with tunes not too distantly derived from hymns of his Methodist childhood.”
Fans of Catherine Fox’s Lindchester Chronicles will not be disappointed by her story, “The Turn”, which features its own camp and theatrical priest — Christy — who suffers a crisis of vocation.
As Margaret Drabble writes in her introduction, these stories “add up to more than the sum of their parts”. A celebration of rural Englishness, they evoke the nostalgia of lost but remembered love. The stories are witty and engaging. I enjoyed reading them in between preparing for Advent and Christmas services.
The book is attractively produced, and would make a great Christmas present for someone who enjoys writing that is not unsympathetic to church and by a group of eminent women writers.
Canon Anna Macham is Precentor of Salisbury Cathedral.
Kiss and Part: A collection of short stories
Jo Baker, Joan Bakewell, Jill Dawson, Lucy Durneen, Catherine Fox, Maggie Gee, Maria McCann, Elizabeth Speller, Salley Vickers, and Marina Warner, introduced by Margaret Drabble
Canterbury Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30