An extract from The Black Country, Published by Salt 2015
He says he walked past the bus station, through the subway and then up into the town he felt sure hadn’t fundamentally changed in hundreds of years. Yes, there were cars and single mothers with buggies and a shopping area with a fountain, but Harry talks about it like this – and we have to agree – he says if you stripped away all that ‘metropolitan glaze’, underneath was the grime of industry and a certain attitude of self-preservation and something like despair. That’s what he says. To him, it leached out from every paving slab, every bit of tatty flapping bunting, and wheedled its way into the flat vowels and creeping intonation. At once a dead and alive place. And all its glass-making, chain-making, chain-smoking inhabitants look basically the same to Harry on that day. All of them old before their time with perilous expressions, thinning hair and lardy, fleshy midriffs. These were Harry’s thoughts as he walked through his home town that Saturday, past the bargain clearance shop, the building society, the tiny jeweller’s; past the pub with the almost inevitable all male clientele spilling out onto the narrow pavement, holding pint glasses of cloudy flat beer, and talking in surprisingly high-pitched voices with thin own-rolled cigarettes glued to their lips; past the ugly dog-walking, pot-bellied women with headscarves and no teeth; past the youth of the town, mental kids with asymmetrical eyes and crew cuts and nits; past the girls, crowds of them – what is the collective noun for this type? Posse? – posses of girls with dyed hair, too much mascara, and piercing clearly visible in parts of their bodies not meant for public display, whose command of English would only ever remain as enclosed, as limited as the area would allow. Harry admits he slowed to look at them. And one of them, a girl who looked about fourteen going on forty, seemed to spring out from the crowd, stopping Harry in his tracks. This part, according to Harry, is important because as a reflex, he held up his arms, palms outwards, and skipped back. The girl, having been shoved by a heftier friend, first giggled, then feigning sudden disgust at the thought of being thrust into the open arms of a complete stranger (and more particularly, probably a stranger who look like Harry) said, ‘Ewwww,’ and squirmed away, to the light of her pals. According to Harry, as he walked on shaking his head, he heard the girl shout ‘Perv!’ or something like it. And right at that moment, just as Harry was receiving the full brunt of adolescent rebuke, Maddie appeared. Actually she emerged from one of the many charity shops, but to Harry she just seem to appear in front of him, like an angel.
Kerry Hadley-Pryce has a talent for putting her readers on edge … on edge of what we cannot be sure of, but it has edges – the kinds one falls off. In this extract we’re placed in a very recognisable, modern setting – the local high street. Nothing, at first glance, seems out of place. But, as we start to uncover the “metropolitan glaze” we see this part dead – part alive place, populated by half-beings with “perilous expressions”. This sense of dread and of feeling on edge is a trademark of this great local author. She expertly manifests this in the settings she uses – locations that are, on one hand, safe, everyday and knowable, and on the other, forged with some secret bubbling underneath. This unease is felt best when we consider Kerry’s narrative style – what this editor (Rob) calls the Hadley-Pryce Hear Say Style. As readers, we’re let in on the secret, but kept at bay too. We’ve been pre-warned of the conspiracy but need to earn our stripes as we pass through the pages.
Kerry Hadley-Pryce is a Black Country wench who studied for her MA at Manchester Writing School MMU, where she won the Michael Schmidt Prize. She’s currently researching her PhD at the University of Wolverhampton. Her novel, The Black Country, received enormous amounts of well deserved praise – leaving the literary world biting its nails for her next. Salt Publishing have recently confirmed her forthcoming novel, Gamble, will be hitting bookshelves in 2018.