Troubador Sometimes When I Sleep

Released: 28/10/2021

ISBN: 9781800464780

eISBN: 9781800466593

Format: Paperback/eBook

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Sometimes When I Sleep


For Harriet, Eden university is a chance to escape the shadows of a family tragedy and reinvent herself, even though she doesn’t know exactly who she is or where she belongs. She’s grown up hiding from curious eyes, and seeking refuge in the music of Dark Island, who appear to be the only ones who have words for her hidden traumas. She’s escaped into hockey and being an A* student, found companionship and adventure in role-playing games, but somehow she’s never been able to run far enough to avoid the night-time terrors which haunt her. Spurred by a promise from Dark Island that she’s leaving the shadows, Harriet is convinced that university will be the place where all this changes. And yet, finding where she belongs is not easy. Hockey is dominated by the arrogant Mark Collier, and relationships prove as difficult here as at home.

As the structures which have kept Harriet safe start to crumble, she is drawn somewhat against her will towards the cold, mysterious and compelling Iquis. It’s a tumultuous relationship – full of conflict and misunderstandings. And yet, as Harriet starts to recognise a matching brokenness in Iquis, she becomes convinced that their paths are entwined, and that only by rescuing Iquis from what binds her can she, Harriet, ever find freedom from the chains of her own past. But as the girls’ journeys take them across the night-time landscapes of Cumbria, and then deeper into the frozen north, the questions arise: how much of what the girls fear comes from inside and how much from outside, and what is the price of redemption?

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‘Think long and hard about the secrets you keep buried within you.’ Andre Malreux

The above quote isn’t this novel’s epigraph, but it’s precisely what comes to my mind having just finished reading SOMETIMES WHEN I SLEEP by HELEN SALSBURY. The book is a deep psychological drama in which first-year ‘fresher’ student at Eden university HARRIET is pursued by – and finally faces – her demons of family tragedy. Her unlikely collaborator in this quest is the grim, abrupt, and downright farouche Iquis.
In almost all other circumstances the reader might easily write IQUIS off as a -fairly typical – untogether, and mixed-up teenager. After all – as it struck me, once I was a third-way through this 400-page narrative - almost all its characters – with the exception of Harriet’s mum, dad, her course tutor Dr Drake, and ponytail swishing night club owner Glyn - are eighteen-year-olds, or near enough. But clearly, there’s something big going on with Iquis; a hint at a gangster family, and an unhealthy relationship with a Goth band by the name of DARK ISLAND (whose ages are perhaps older than eighteen, but not necessarily – despite the impressive credentials we find they hold at the end of the tale) and whose music Harriet has built an emotional dependence upon. Family tragedy it appears, is mirrored, Iquis too has a history of it, and it seems than any relationship with Iquis is a forced engagement into a series of unspoken dares. Role-playing – something which Harriet is keen on, but at which Iquis scoffs as if she is determined to show Harriet the real world.
The cast may be little more than large children with developing minds, but the stage (if a novel can be called that) which Salsbury sets is that of a Wagner opera, plot and events teetering on the brink of myth, characters vulnerable rather than heroic, and dominated by an immense rain-lashed and frozen landscape. There are dramatic scenes at a Cumbrian waterfall, a graveyard, a mysteriously isolated nightclub, a concert venue in Newcastle, a Scottish dance hall, and the landscapes of the far north of Scotland. One gets the impression that even though this novel is a substantial number of words, that these are just a fraction of what it could be, such is the enormity of the subject matter and the bigness of the landscapes which the reader finds themselves inhabiting.
Yet the pace of Sometimes When I Sleep is measured. There’s ample opportunity for the reader to climb aboard the narrative, the scene with Harriet’s Christmas holiday with her parents in Sheffield is calmer, quieter but no less worrying and always serving the quest, helping to build to its climax. There’s some stunning original and creative prose; “…his voice is directed into the thickness of Iquis’ shut door,” and “…she scatters words over Harriet in a comforting shower,” and my favourite, “…the memory that rushes through her like a bore tide.” There’s also a vivid procession of colour visual images woven in to the fabric of the later text which help propel the reader toward its denouement; a red telephone box, a red van, a red bucket, and there’s red hair, and red blood. Nicholas Roeg would be impressed were he still around to read it.
There are other characters in Sometimes When I Sleep; there’s the athletic but emotionally immature and insecure Mark and his hole-in-the-air coach and sidekick Paul, and once again family – specifically sibling – tensions are given a further dimension through other ‘student chummage’ chums, twins Marcia and Jenna.
This is just my kind of novel, and a serious piece of work. Oh, and I recommend you read the Acknowledgements at the end. It sincerely smashes the public perception nay myth that writing is a lonely activity.

by John Brooke Fieldhouse

Helen Salsbury

Helen Salsbury is a published short story writer, spoken word performer and community journalist. She's been longlisted for the Mslexia novel competition and shortlisted for the Impress Prize for New Writers. She's the founder of environmental writing project Pens of the Earth and a director of the Portsmouth Writers Hub.

Her debut novel Sometimes When I Sleep will be published on September 28th, 2021.

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