I first encountered Jenefer Heap when I was part of a public reading event at the Evesham Asparawriting Festival last year (now revamped for 2016 as the Evesham Festival of Words, at which I’ll be running a seminar about self-publishing). Though at that point she hadn’t published this collection, the calibre of her writing was demonstrated by her having won the prestigious short story competition run by Good Housekeeping magazine, so it was no surprise when it was her turn to read her story aloud that it was very good indeed. She also performed it very well, and I logged her in my mind as “one to watch”.
A Welcome Debut Collection
I was therefore very pleased to learn that she’d taken the plunge in the autumn and published her debut collection. I’ve just finished reading it, and found it a very engaging and thought-provoking collection of stories. She’s presented it in an intriguing format that takes you full circle from the opening story back to its central characters, on a journey via minor characters that appear in each story along the way, like a literary game of tag.
Although many of the stories are about thwarted characters looking back with regret on their life choices and chances, there are still sufficient hopeful episodes and outcomes to satisfy a lover of happy endings like me! There is also quite a lot of humour, with the odd throwaway line and witty or spectacularly clever turn of phrase to temper the melancholy.
Full of Surprises
The variety in characters and settings keeps you guessing the whole way through, so the endings are seldom predictable – though on the odd occasion when I did recognise in advance how a dilemma would turn out, the denouement was so well done that my enjoyment of the story was by no means spoiled. Rather, I felt like a partner-in-crime with the author – very satisfying. I also enjoyed the sprinkle of magical realism thrown in along the way, which adds more possibilities to the outcomes.
Another feature I particularly liked about this book is that due to the structure, it encourages the reader to think again about characters they might have dismissed as minor or uninteresting, discovering their hidden sides and secrets in subsequent stories. Fiction like this can do real social good – having read this book, you’d think twice about dismissing an underdog or a shy, dowdy person, and be more likely to treat them with more consideration.
Meet Jenefer Heap at Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival 2016
All in all, a very competent and compelling first collection, and I very much look forward to reading more by this author. I’m also delighted that she’s going to be joining us at the 2016 Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival to share another of her stories in public, and to help with the children’s part of the festival. (She also writes for children.)
To find out more about Jenefer Heap and her writing, visit her website: www.jeneferheap.wordpress.com.