This month’s tip is Ghost Signs by Stu Hennigan, published by Bluemoose, a fellow founding member of the Northern Fiction Alliance. The tip comes from Sammy Wright, Northern Book Prize Winner and author of Fit, described by Toby Litt as ‘quietly, modestly one of the best books about being young, beautiful, and damaged that you’re ever going to read.’
Here’s what Sammy Wright says:
I remember at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic reading something about Spanish Flu – about how it kind of vanished from the public consciousness in the years after it happened. How, somehow, the experience was too unnerving to be commemorated and remembered in the way the war had been. Reading Stu Hennigan’s Ghost Signs reminded me of this. The moment it describes – the eerie emptiness of the first lockdown – feels impossibly distant. But the anger that blazes from the pages of this book speaks to the fierce rage many of us feel right now. Because it isn’t really a book about Covid. It’s a book about how Covid peeled back the layers of pretence to reveal a society slowly rotting underneath.
The book is a diary of sorts. Stu Hennigan spent nine weeks delivering parcels of food to the poorest areas of Leeds, and he takes us through the scenes he saw, day by day. And while there is humanity and hope, there is also the grim inevitability of what happens when you spend twelve years cutting services to the bone.
There’s a phrase I hear in my head sometimes: ‘It won’t be that bad.’ It’s not that anyone in particular has ever said it to me. It’s just that, as a child of the nineties, I have this sense of the durability of peace and prosperity. A sense that when people talk up the great catastrophes, they’re probably exaggerating a bit. I used to listen to the news and think, really?
But I’ve had that beaten out of me. Because it is that bad. Brexit was that bad, austerity was that bad, and the tidal wave of poverty that will hit this winter is that bad. I’m a teacher, and I see it in schools already. None of it is new – it’s what I wrote about, in fictional form, in my own book – but the scale of it is terrifying.
Ghost Signs is the real deal. Raw, direct and urgent. Read it and recognise the world we live in – and then do something about it.