Gondwanaland: stories by Brenda Ray

My second book, a short story collection called GONDWANALAND, was published by Circaidy Gregory Press in 2013.


Gondwanaland contains 16 stories and can be obtained from Amazon, high street booksellers, and direct from Circaidy Gregory or from me. It’s also available as an e book and a taster can be found on the Amazon Kindle site. It’s in stock  at a number of libraries.

My previous short story collection, THE SIREN OF SALAMANCA, was published by Leaf Books in 2008, and contained 14 stories. Some used copies are still available, via Amazon and a couple from me, but Leaf Books are no longer operational.

GONDWANALAND – an introduction

Gondwanaland is the product of about 3 years’ work and the stories are a rich variety of styles and subjects, some funny, a few sad, some simply evocative of time and place. The title story won second prize in the HE Bates Short story Competition in 2011. It’s a simple, gently humorous story, describing a few hours in the life of a young mother, which should offer many women a decided sense of déjà-vu, and I wrote it after taking my grandson to school, shortly after his little sister was born, on a very cold winter morning.

Some stories are mildly autobiographical, while others are drawn from family history. And my family seem to have been both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. The Moon Shone Bright on Charlie Chaplin is one of these stories, and is based loosely on the fragments I’ve finally gathered together about my long-lost great grandmother, who disappeared off the radar screens, so to speak, from a Derbyshire village, about 1885. For many years, she was the skeleton in the cupboard, the picture with its face turned to the wall. Not even the Ancestry website could find her, disappearing as she did, shortly after the birth of my grandmother. Then one day, I idly typed her name into a search engine and, voilà, came across someone else who’d done exactly the same thing. And then another….until, after some mutual correspondence and double-checking, I and several distant descendants finally managed to piece together a partial story – and what a story it turned out to be! For various reasons, I’ve brought the fictionalised version forward in time some 20 years, and The Moon Shone Bright is the result.
For the record, my great grandmother did not, as far as I know, run away to become a movie actress – she did, in fact, find employment as a pianist and music teacher – on both sides of the Atlantic, changing names and husbands several times on the way. Not to mention leaving a trail of broken hearts and babies in passing, before ending up back in Britain, existing in relative poverty somewhere on Tyneside, and living, to my amazement, until around 1950. However, she had a cousin, whose life I have also been researching, who really did make it to Hollywood, at the tender age of almost 50, and had a quietly distinguished career as a supporting actress which lasted from the silents until her death in 1934. Her name was Edith Yorke, and yes, she really did make a film with Chaplin! So a combination of what I know of these two very different lives has contributed to this story.
Several other stories were inspired by people or places observed on journeys by train or bus, especially the latter, and it’s possible that if I’d been able to drive, I might never have become a writer! The Weight of Clouds, a story in my previous book, was generated during a particularly long traffic jam on the way to work (Derby, where I live, is the road-works capital of the UK), and thinking of a case I’d read about involving a possible murder some years earlier. Looking at the streets, buildings and derelict sites passing very slowly by, I imagined how they might look to someone returning after a long absence, particularly if they had a heavy weight on their conscience.
The Siren of Salamanca, which involves a vengeful spirit who isn’t actually dead, was written some years after a journey through Spain, when we had stayed for a while in that beautiful city, where my middle daughter was studying. Salamanca, with its shimmering sunset-coloured buildings, is a strangely hallucinatory place, and the story of a two-timing husband and his suspicious wife almost seemed to generate itself. Siren won the Cornhill Allianz Short Story at the Guildford Book Festival in 2005.
The Hot Tub, on the other hand, is an entirely different story about a vengeful woman, and was inspired by a rejected planning application in a local newspaper. I wondered how I might feel if a neighbour installed a noisy Jacuzzi right next to my fence, and what steps I might take to get rid of it. My heroine can find no depths to which she wouldn’t sink, not even in an outdoor Jacuzzi!
So – am I a vengeful woman with a lot on my conscience? Heavens no, but have a look at the stories and judge for yourself!