I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.

On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.

May 1, 2019: Louise Ells

It’s such a pleasure when a reader of Catching Days publishes his or her first book and writes a post for this series. Huge congratulations to Louise Ells, a Canadian writer, whom many of you may know from her wonderful comments here.

Notes Towards Recovery is a beautiful book, comprised of twenty-one stories that explore loss and the spaces around loss.

At the centre of these stories are everyday women who must navigate these spaces and their shifting boundaries, often redefining themselves in the process.

The stories start quietly, each word a small stitch around the edge of your heart, but then somewhere toward the end of the story, it all pulls tight and you just have to sit there for a minute, sit with how the accumulation of words on a page can create such immense feelings.

Stories like these are difficult to discuss without spoilers. But you can read the opening story “Erratics” online, and then you will know what I mean. For the first three-quarters of the story, pay attention to the ordinary words and paragraphs, to the slow build, and then, take a deep breath to make it to the end.

Then pop over to The Masters Review Blog to see what Louise can do in 670 words with the question: “How long did it take you to write your short story collection?” I loved her response so much I printed it out.

If you are averse to feeling things, do not read this book.

That’s what it was about trees, you tried to explain. The rough bark, the smooth petals, the stickiness of the budding leaves, things that made you believe if you could feel something so tactile maybe there was a way back into feeling emotions as well. (“Grafting”)

Look at these sharp and engaging first lines.

I thought I’d manage without a map. (“Mirrored”)

I could have said no. (“Moon Jellies”)

And here’s a first line that goes straight to that first stitch around the edge of your heart.

It was, as it turned out, my very last summer living at home and perhaps that’s why I remember the wild blueberries as bigger, sweeter, than any I’ve seen since. (“Family Tree”)

Here’s an entire first paragraph that does the same.

Most of all you miss that moment last thing at night when he put his hand on the small of your back and said goodnight, Mrs. Potato Head. You used to believe that meant something, that so long as he briefly touched that curve at the base of your spine and whispered that silly nickname, you, your marriage, would make it. For eighteen years that ritual survived. (“Fruits of the Nightshade Family: a Twelve Step Programme”)

And endings, wow. I can’t tell you what they are, of course. But you’ll find some of my favorites in these stories–“Erratics,” “Melting,” “Grafting,” “Notes Towards Recovery.”

I can tell you three of my favorite lines.

While I was nervous and shy and worked at the art of being unnoticed, Deborah flaunted her quirks and became exotic, popular. (“Melting”) How great is that–“the art of being unnoticed.”

I’d discovered that infrequent dinners with lots of alcohol was the best way to merge my past and my future. (“Moon Jellies”)

You never know what you’ll learn over the course of your life. (“Notes Towards Recovery”)

Louise is actually Dr. Ells, having earned her PhD from Anglia Ruskin University, writing her dissertation on the work of Alice Munro. She has her MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. In 2017, she was the recipient of a Hawthornden Fellowship–which is a residency in a castle just south of Edinburgh. She has also been a chef, a roofer, and a co-pilot on a submarine, as well as a teacher of grammar, poetry, and fiction, and a presenter at academic conferences in London, Cambridge, and Vienna. Currently, she works for Cambridge Programmes, teaching at Churchill College, Cambridge, for two weeks every summer, and she lives in a cottage on a lake in North Bay, Ontario.

Come back on MAY 1st to read how LOUISE ELLS spends her days.