Sentance, N. (2014) Water and Sky: Voices from the Riverside co-published Caught by the River and Little Toller Books ISBN 978 1 908213 23 5

I’d been looking forward to the publication of the first joint venture between the Caught by the River operation and Little Toller Books. I’m a regular reader of the CbtR website and admire the consistent high quality of writing from contributors.

Water and Sky does not disappoint. It collects together a series of essays by regular contributor Neil Sentence which first appeared on the CbtR website. It’s a book where quality rather than quantity counts. In just under eighty pages Sentence’s essays or short stories explore the history of his family and his native Lincolnshire riverlands, farms and fields that shaped them, and him.

In the foreword Richard Benson, author of The Farm rightly celebrates Sentence’s ability to capture the blend of toughness and tenderness that readers who know England’s working country people will recognise as a defining characteristic without falling into the trap of 40-something mawkish nostalgia when returning to his childhood haunts.

The two sections of the book ‘Town River’ and ‘Country River’ both blend memoir,  biography and research into imaginative evocations of the past, and the present. In a Sentence short story history and time are fluid, they interweave and merge, there are traces of the past in the stories of the present, and vice versa. There’s also a powerful sense of legacy, respect, love and a willingness to listen and learn.

Each short story, whether past or present, is an exquisitely achieved (crystalline even) fragment, that reflects the trauma and rapid change faced by our rural community towards the end of the  20th C. most particularly the devastating decline of it’s small farms and the communities that relied on them.

“I grew up a few streets away from the River Witham, and though I haven’t lived there for many years, belonging has a steadfast grip. It was a place of mossy banks and murky water, where sunburnt summer kids played among the shoals and riffles, piratical with wooden swords, dangling from one bank to the other on tyre-and-rope swings…” pg. 13 the opening lines of 1980: Abandoning the Shade



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