Fiction

Rainsongs

UK editionUK editionUS edition

ALA Booklist review (American Library Association) in advance of the American edition of Rainsongs:

‘For her keen and gracious insights into the relentless grieving process, for her transcendent evocation of the rough charm and enduring splendor of Ireland’s rural treasures, Hubbard deserves a place in the literary pantheon near Colm Tóibín, Anne Enright, and William Trevor.’
Carol Haggas, ALA Booklist

‘A compelling story, freighted with heartbreak and loss’
Shena Mackay

‘A beautifully-written and evocative novel about grief and greed, art and life, isolation and emotion’
Amanda Craig

‘A lyrical evocation of Ireland’s fragile, ancient coastline reveals a poet’s sensibility. This multi- layered story of love and loss, of a woman ‘erased by grief’, who finds solace in the heart of a community that is threatened from within, is exceptionally moving. This book will stay with you.’
Eleanor Fitzsimons

Newly widowed, Martha Cassidy has returned to a remote cottage in a virtually abandoned village on the west coast of Ireland for reasons even she is uncertain of. Looking out her window towards the dramatic rise of the Skellig Islands across the water, Martha recalls the losses in her life: Brendan, her itinerant husband and charming Curator, and her ten-year-old son, Bruno, who met an untimely death twenty years earlier. Alone on the windwept headland, surrounded by miles of cold sea, the past closes in.

As the days unfold, she finds herself drawn into a standoff between the entrepreneur Eugene Riorden and local hill farmer Paddy O’Connell. As the tension between them builds to a crisis that leaves Paddy in hospital, Martha develops a relationship with Colm, a talented but much younger musician and poet – roughly the same age that Bruno would have been if he’d lived. Caught between its history and its future, the Celtic Tiger reels with change, and Martha faces choices that will change her life forever.

Rainsongs conjures the rugged beauty of County Kerry’s coastline and the inner landscapes of its characters in richly poetic and painterly language, moving effortlessly between the lives of people and the life of the terrain; between the forces that shape character and those that shape the world. It unfolds as a compelling tale of grief, art, and the fragile, quiet ways in which time and place can offer a measure of redemption.

Programme 2019 – Write By The Sea Literary Festival

Sue Hubbard talks about the inspiration behind her novel Rainsongs:

Sue Hubbard reading from Rainsongs at The Tyrone Guthrie Centre Annamakerrig, Ireland:

Publication details

UK edition
Published January, 2018
Demy paperback, £11.99
242 pages
ISBN: 9780715652855

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US edition
Published autumn 2018
Overlook Press NY

Press

Ken Krimstein in The Star Tribune: www.startribune.com
The Irish Echo: www.irishecho.com
Sipora Levy in The Jewish Chronicle: www.thejc.com
Maniza Naqvi in 3 Quarks Daily: www.3quarksdaily.com
Leah Shaya in The London Magazine: www.thelondonmagazine.org
Anthony Cummins in Daily Mail: www.dailymail.co.uk
Stevie Davies in The Guardian: www.theguardian.com
Justine Carbery in The Irish Independent: www.independent.ie
Jean Morris in Shiny New Books: www.shinynewbooks.co.uk
Martina Evans in The Irish Times: www.irishtimes.com
Sue Hubbard writes in The Irish Times: www.irishtimes.com
Sue Hubbard talks about Rainsongs: RTE Radio Arena
Barton’s Bookshelf: www.twitter.com

Fiction

Girl in White

Interview with Sue Hubbard about Girl in White
Elatia Harris 3 Quarks guest blog

‘The poet and art critic, Sue Hubbard, has written a richly layered book about Paula Modersohn-Becker, … In Hubbard’s moving imagining of Paula’s story, she creates a believable, parallel tale about Paula’s daughter Mathilde, a violinist.’
Sipora Levy Jewish Chronicle 27th February 2013

‘Imagine a chest of drawers – unopened for a hundred years. Inside small garments carefully folded. A woman today opens the drawers, unfolds what she finds and, as she does so, the garments become stories. The chest of drawers belonged to the painter, Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907). … (and contain) the secrets of some exceptional, very lonely paintings, which had a considerable influence on “modern” German art. …those intimate folds become interstices of History, beyond any notion of what is modern or not. I recommend this haunting book.’
John Berger

‘Beautifully written and wholly knowledgeable – Girl in White is a triumph of literary and artistic understanding, a tour du force: masterly, moving. ‘Hubbard goes where few dare go, and succeeds. You are the less for not reading it.’
Fay Weldon

“In art,” the Expressionist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907) declared, “one is usually totally alone with oneself.” For a female artist in the early 20th century, such aloneness was radical in itself. It is Modersohn-Becker’s radical aloneness, as artistic pioneer and independent woman, which particularly fascinates Sue Hubbard in her new novel, a fictionalised account of the artist’s life.

During her most productive period – her last stay in Paris – she is destitute, and repeatedly compelled to appeal for financial aid from others, including her estranged husband. Ultimately, she returns from Paris to her husband in Germany, forced by history into this “compromise”. As one character puts it, “I don’t believe the world is yet ready for a woman artist to make it alone.

Yet it is precisely this “aloneness” that is a prerequisite for art. “Art without pain, without sacrifice, without loneliness,” says Rainer Maria Rilke, one of Modersohn-Becker’s lovers, is “impossible”. It is the impossibility of Modersohn-Becker’s position – torn between the loneliness of art and enforced selflessness of her role as wife – that destroys her. After returning to her husband, she falls pregnant, and dies shortly after childbirth.
The power of Hubbard’s novel for contemporary readers is in its distillation of dilemmas which, of course, are still pressing for women today. As Rilke wrote of Modersohn-Becker in his great poem “Requiem”, it is her spirit which, of all his dead friends, most seems to haunt the future.
Jonathan Taylor The Independent

Set against the backdrop of the darkness of Germany 1933, Girl in White begins its narrative with the character of Mathilde, a young woman pregnant by her married Jewish lover. Fleeing to the remote village of Worpswede, previously a commune for artists, she begins the emotional journey of unravelling the life of her mother – the artist Paula Modersohn-Becker.

Paula Becker is not a well-known artist, nor was she much admired by many of her contemporaries. Reading this novel I have no doubt you will wish she was. Hubbard, having studied the events of Becker’s life through her paintings and letters, obviously believes this is a story that needs to be told and how right she is. Using knowledge she has gained from her study of Becker, as well as, admittedly, a little of her imagination Hubbard’s skill here is to literally bring Becker back to life. The depth of the narrative reveals the tortured and lonely soul of Paula as she struggled to gain the revered status she desired. The reader feels her pain and sacrifice as she fails time and time again to reach her own ridiculously high standards, yet her unwavering belief in her potential to get there shows an admiral level of self-courage and belief. Often lonely, often brave and often selfish the reader gains real insight into Becker’s ambitious and obstinate mind, desiring her success as much as she does.

This novel is an incredible testimony to the tortures and struggles many artists see necessary to put themselves through.


‘Any artist reading this book will feel a great amount of empathy with Paula. I particularly recommend this to those with an interest in the art world as it captures perfectly the romance and excitement of the industry while sympathetically capturing the dark emotions, poverty and confusion that often follow alongside. With particular nostalgia it delves into the Expressionist’s community of isolated and beautiful Worspswede; thus emphasising the alienation of many of the Expressionist poets and artists and the strong bonds they formed between one another. The use of characters such as Rilke and Rodin shows how the novel is a great exploration of this great cultural movement.

Hubbard’s use of the entirely fictional character of Mathilde creates a deeply emotional resonance within Paula’s story as it is slowly revealed in alternating chapters. As the reader delves into Paula’s secrets and thoughts so is her daughter – now just as vulnerable and lonely herself. Paula’s unsettled mind and the conflicting society of Worpswede become reflected in the unsettling Germany that now exists and the uncertain future that awaits Mathilde. What is never called into question though is the strength and courage of the Becker women. This is an incredibly nuanced and intense work and one which I strongly recommend.’
Francis Smithson Cardiff Studentmedia 28 November 2012

‘I have just read a beautiful novel about a real person. In The Girl in White, the English poet Sue Hubbard has written an imagined life of the German expressionist artist, Paula Modersohn-Becker; it’s an art form with the unattractively scientific sounding handle ‘biofiction’. I already knew a little bit about Paula’s work, but from a historical perspective: after her premature death in 1907 her work was denounced by the Nazis as degenerate. What I did not know was how she was in fact just beginning to find her confidence as an artist after an intense inner struggle to balance her many roles as daughter, mother, wife – and, above all, painter. In trying to live independently and survive on her earnings in an intensely male dominated world, she was ahead of her time. This was little more than a century ago but in some ways the difficulties she faced appear medieval, in others merely variations on the same struggle many women still face today… (click here to read the full review)’
Anna Seba 22 October 2012

Publication details

Published 1 October, 2012
Cinnamon Press
Paperback 288 pages
198 × 130 mm
ISBN: 978-1-90709-068-4

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Fiction

Depth of Field

‘Highly evocative… the rare quality, not of a text but of a place. It surrounds its readers and waits until they see in the dark and make their own discoveries.’
John Berger

“This is the first novel of a writer with genuine talent. Sue Hubbard’s originality lies in the gritty detail of the imagined past she pursues amongst the realities of a contemporary East End. This gives a remarkable freshness to a theme of a lost Jewish identity underlying Hannah’s moving story’
Elaine Feinstein

‘Depth of Field is a poet’s first novel in the best sense of the word; lyrical highly visual and beautifully observed. At its heart is the profound and moving study of one woman’s struggle for self determination…’
John Burnside

‘Highly evocative… the rare quality, not of a text but of a place. It surrounds its readers and waits until they see in the dark and make their own discoveries.’
John Berger

Depth of Field is an acute observation of the nature of identity and memory. Hannah’s close observation of the physical world, both in the country and the East End, embues it with a deep sense of both history and place. John Berger has described the novel as ‘highly evocative’ giving ‘the rare quality, not of a text, but of a place. It surrounds its readers and waits until they see in the dark to make their own discoveries.

Having grown up in the Home Counties, with her Jewish identity submerged and largely unidentified, Hannah experiences a sense of alienation and otherness. An early marriage to an emotionally repressed academic and their subsequent move to rural Somerset in search of the idyll of family life and self-suffiency, is shattered by her husband’s infidelity.

Hannah returns to her embryonic career as a photographer, moving from the country to London’s East End – convinced that if she can find her roots, some connection with her grandparents’ Jewish past – that she will make sense of her life. A failed affair leads to a breakdown, and to her ex-husband gaining custody of her two children. Left alone to rebuild her life she begins to realise that we each have to construct our own lives. Identity is not dependent on spurious notions of ‘roots’ or ‘romance’.

Depth of Field is an accute observation of the nature of identity and memory. Hannah’s close observation of the physical world, both in the country and the East End, embues it with a deep sense of both history and place. John Berger has described the novel as ‘highly evocative’ giving ‘the rare quality, not of a text, but of a place. It surrounds its readers and waits until they see in the dark to make their own discoveries.’


Opening Section of Depth of Field

Setting the focus

I am in the dark. This small room is like a nun’s cell. Everything in its place. Neat, spare and entirely functional. There is a sink, the developing trays, a shelf of chemicals. Above the workbench the safety lamp glows a womb-like red. 1 have got used to doing things by feel or touch, by intuition. On the other wall, away from the water is an enlarger and a stack of boxes containing different grades of photographic paper and my books. The walls are bare except for a small spot where the paint peeled when I finally took down the photo of Liam. It left a small patch like pale new skin after a sticking plaster has been removed. In the developing trays black and white shapes are beginning to emerge from the bromide like thin ghosts. They seem to come out of nowhere, fragile as those transparent moths that gathered in our garden porch, clustering round the storm lantern on late summer evenings. They surface silent as memories and like the moths will only last for a while until they too perish; their paper yellowing or torn, lost or crumpled at the back of some dark damp drawer. Born from silver grains, they will eventually begin to age, will suffer attacks of light, of humidity; fade, weaken, and then vanish. Once transcendence was achieved through remembrance; through the images we keep in our head, or a smell, a taste, the chance sound of a voice. Perhaps it isn’t coincidence that this is the century that invented both photography and history. But whereas history is simply a construct, the photograph is a device through which we try, for a brief moment, to hold time still before it moves relentlessly, indifferently on.

Sometimes I work listening to music. To Bach’s late cello concertos or a Brahms intermezzo. But this morning I need quiet. Being here in this silence, among the faint whiff of chemicals reminds me of the labour room, of all that whiteness. Only the dull electronic blip, that thin line pulsating on the green screen monitoring the foetal heart beat, the sound of my own breathing; the icy tiles and starched linen.

Through my lens I have raised them from murky obscurity. Particularised and named them. In a way given them birth. Mary, Winston, the small girls with black braids like oiled rope, in pink nylon dresses, skipping. The abandoned synagogue in Princelet Street.

In order to obtain a positive picture, in which the light and shade corresponds to the original subject, it is necessary to print the negative. Everything contains the potential to be its opposite.

Content and Text © Sue Hubbard 2011
Images maybe subject to copyright 

Publication details

Published 2000
Originally published by Dewi Lewis
192 pages
ISBN:1-899235-82-5 (paperback)

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Fiction

Rothko’s Red

‘Evidence of the poet’s gift for imagery – “the wind snaps at the washing, filling out the drying shirts like the bloated bodies of the drowned” – is in plentiful supply. Of the ten stories, only two are in the first person. The second and last in the book is nakedly personal, and all the more powerful for it.’
The Independent, 9th September 2009

‘Each story in this, Hubbard’s first collection of short fiction is nominally centred around art. But what truly links the pieces herein is the themes of longing, loss and melancholy, and a sense that not even an intimate knowledge of the beautiful and the sublime can protect one from the daily tragedies of life. The collection is quiet, almost to the point of defiance, but in its understated, delicate descriptions of the mundane, Rothko’s Red has an acute power.

While several of Hubbard’s protagonists ultimately find redemption, it is always at a cost to themselves; the academic who gets away with cheating on his wife, but not without being fleeced by his mistress; the widow who realises that she is content alone, but only after a disappointing sexual encounter with a man she meets on the internet; the middle-aged divorcee who has an affair with an immigrant you enough to be her son and who she regards with distant amusement.

With Hubbard’s background in art criticism and poetry, it is not surprising that her writing is painterly and vivid. She lingers on colours and textures, edges and scents: “Mummy grew tomatoes, red gems, that what she called them… I remember that special smell when she watered them in the early evening after a day of sun.”

The collection is quiet, almost to the point of defiance, but in its understated, delicate descriptions of the mundane, Rothko’s Red has an acute power.
The New Statesman

‘She certainly fashions an arresting opening in which Adam and Maggie gaze at a large magenta Rothko that prompts him to utter a paean to her genitals. But Adam is just the first in a long line of disappointing men blundering naively or selfishly through Hubbard’s stories. Inability to commit, unreliability, unfaithfulness – just some of the character faults her protagonists encounter in male partners.

Other recurring motifs are mildewed books and broken frames, silvery stretch marks, women washing under their breasts and their armpits, doing up ruins in Italy. Art links the stories and all the artists invoked are men. Unexpectedly, perhaps, the most powerful results are achieved when Hubbard ventures beyond her middle-class creative types. Janice, the farm worker’s abused wife whose knowledge of art is limited to the lid of a biscuit tin, wins our hearts when she starts stockpiling apple chutney in her son’s toy cupboard as a hopeful means of escape.

Evidence of the poet’s gift for imagery – “the wind snaps at the washing, filling out the drying shirts like the bloated bodies of the drowned” – is in plentiful supply. Of the ten stories, only two are in the first person. The second and last in the book is nakedly personal, and all the more powerful for it.’
Nicholas Royle, The Independent, 9th September 2009

‘The ten stories in this dazzling collection share a connection – sometimes direct and sometimes oblique – to a painter or painting, ranging from Goya to Rothko, from Bernini to Jackson Pollock. Sue Hubbard is an art critic as well as a fine poet, and her understanding of human motivation is as highly developed as her feeling for language and art. She writes with perception and sensitivity about contemporary English women, and about the men who give them so much pleasure and pain.’
Ruth Fainlight

‘Compelling and authentic, Sue Hubbard’s stories have the unmistakable feel of reality. Bleak, yet always tinged with love, the reality comes from the joining of distinct skills: the artist’s eye and talent for composition, and the poet’s touch, with imagery which is never laboured but always the perfect expression of a story’s theme. Not a word or picture is out of place.’
Bernard O’Donoghue

Rothko’s Red is a collection of ten stories, subtly linked by painting and art, about the lives of women: their hopes, fears, failures and challenges. They reveal the choices and destinies of a number of characters from very differing backgrounds, embracing the harsh realities of desire, loss and ageing. Powerful, yet tender, psychologically intricate and emotionally perceptive, these fearless stories examine the complex lives of modern women. Substantial, moving and beautifully written they call upon both Sue Hubbard’s wide ranging knowledge of and feel for art, as well as her skill as a poet.

Extract

Goya’s Dark

The light is fading as the evening draws in across the banana plantation. It laps round the walls of the Marimanti Rural Methodist Centre where she is the only guest like the incoming tide. Down the long hallway she can hear the tinny amplification of the TV at full volume where the caretaker is taking advantage of the single hour of electricity, provided by the ineffectual generator, before they are plunged into complete darkness. He is sitting in his vest, his dark skin covered with beads of sweat; his dusty feet up on a white plastic chair in the middle of the large room that is used for Bible conferences. Swatting flies and swigging beer from the neck of a bottle he scratches his groin as he watches the election rally, which flickers in the corner on the black and white set that’s normally covered by a lace nylon cloth.

She doesn’t much like him. There is something insolent and over familiar about his manner; quite different to all the other Kenyans she has met. The other evening he had walked into her room without knocking as she was standing wrapped in nothing but a towel, to tell her to stop using her hairdryer.

‘Makes TV picture go,’ he had said without apology.

The sound of the set bounces off the lino floors and metal window frames, echoing through the empty rooms of the long concrete bungalow that’s the only substantial building for miles amid the scattering of wooden shacks and mud huts with their corrugated tin roofs. She can hear the voice of the opposition leader Raila Odinga haranguing President Mwai Kibaki. There are still months to go before the election, but her heart sinks every time she hears the obvious barefaced lies about bringing electricity, roads and secondary education to all the people of Kenya. For ever since she has been here she’s watched the women trudging in the heat backwards and forwards from the river with oil drums of untreated water strapped to their backs and the barefoot children in patched uniforms trailing the five miles to school in the early morning along unmade roads.

She looks out of the window and sees a young boy in a torn T-shirt, grubby shorts and battered flip flops making his way home in the fading light over the dusty fields with a bundle of firewood. The fields are cracked and dry as the soles of his feet and he is caked in red dust.

She gets up and gathers her torch, her mobile phone and glasses and places them under the mosquito net next to her pillow. Her room is clean but spare. There is a desk, on which there is a copy of the Gideon Bible in fake green leather, and two beds covered in incongruous pale blue flowered satin bedspreads ruched with pink nylon, the sort of cheap decorations that she images you might find in a brothel. Hanging above each is a blue mosquito net. She searches for some matches and melts the stub of a thin candle onto a chipped saucer so that she will be prepared when the lights suddenly go out. That has been the hardest part, the dark. When she’d arrived here in the charity land rover from Nairobi all she had been able to see was a huddle of shacks and groups of shadowy figures lit by the occasional paraffin lantern.

Content and Text © Sue Hubbard 2011
Images maybe subject to copyright

Publication details

Published 15 September, 2008
saltpublishing
Trade Hardback 160 pp
Short Stories
B format (198 × 129 mm)
ISBN 978-1-84471-444-5