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Information about Unusual Places

About the book

  • Title: Unusual Places
  • Genre: Short stories, Literary fiction
  • Publisher: Cultured Llama Publishing
  • Publication date: 1st Aug 2018
  • Images: available below and on request. Please credit the photographer / designer.
  • To request a review copy of Unusual Places write to me here.

A short description of Unusual Places:

Grandma’s stories, ‘…would always start in the place where we were,’ and so it is with Unusual Places. Human remains are concealed in the Greenwich Tunnel in a world where London is a prison; a market is the setting for sexual and sensual awakenings; a professional picnicker finds love. Louise Tondeur’s stories skip along, rich with detail and musical prose, only to trip us up with turns and surprises: the unusual lurks in the most ordinary of places.

I wrote these stories on location in various places, mainly in London, including Greenwich Park, the Tate Gallery, outside the Roman Amphitheatre and in a café near the smallest house in London. I ended up with a set of intriguing characters – such as woman conceived in a marmalade factory, a girl who finds true love (and a bed for the night) over a card game called Scrummage, and a professional picnicker who finds love because of a blue plastic bag.

Author biog

Louise Tondeur published two novels with Headline Review The Water’s Edge (in 2003) and The Haven Home for Delinquent Girls (in 2004) that were widely reviewed. Then she did a PhD and worked full-time as a university lecturer, and started a family, publishing mainly articles, as well as short stories and a book for her students. Unusual Places is her first full-length work of fiction since The Haven.

Praise for Unusual Places:

These are the stories you might feel surging around you as you walk down a crowded city street, every one its own world of tenderness, violence, absurdity and joy. – Joanne Limburg, author of Small Pieces, A Want of Kindness and The Woman Who Thought Too Much

Tondeur’s eye for detail is so precise, you might fear being in her presence, lest she see your secrets, too. What a tender, dark, nuanced book: a quiet storm. – Leone Ross, author of Come Let Us Sing Anyway, All the Blood is Red and Orange Laughter

Praise for The Water’s Edge:

‘I found this book utterly transporting. Tondeur has a truly original, fresh style that is full of surprises and delights’ Julia Darling

‘An utterly charming, strange and subtle love story’ Emma Donoghue

‘Reminiscent of works by writers … such as Angela Carter … an engaging debut.’ The Times

‘Louise Tondeur’s debut … is unusually good at capturing the insolence of a distressed teenager,’ as well as the dilapidated glory of the B&B and the enticement of the sea, season after season … The Water’s Edge is as full of surprises, of twists and turns, as the south coast sea itself. But while the story is compelling, it is really the quirkiness and quiet beauty of its characters that make this such an unusual debut’ Big Issue

‘Anyone who knows the sweet melancholy of a fading seaside town will feel a strange warmth in reading Louise Tondeur’s debut novel … a story that covers familiar territory – the teenager coming of age, the awkward unfolding of first love — with unusual and delicate charm’ Eastern Daily Press

‘Ambitious subject matter for a first novel, weaving as it does a magical contemporary coming-of-age story – complete with Adam Ant [and] Depeche Mode … with a lesbian reworking of the myth of Persephone’ Diva

‘Childhood memories come flooding back with the turning of each page in this haunting story of a ramshackle hotel in the heart of Bournemouth … a powerful finale’ Western Mail

‘Tondeur writes well, with a mischievous eye for description … side-stepping cliché to develop likeable, engaging female characters whose secrets and histories are revealed without melodrama and fuss. The result is a fresh and gentle book of awakenings, discoveries, connections and love – because, as Persephone says, “almost everybody in it wants to kiss someone softly on the lips’” Time Out

‘Utterly beguiling, haunting and tender … Beautifully written, The Water’s Edge is a novel rich in magic with spellbinding evocations of the English seaside’ Cambridge Agenda

‘Fascinating … dark secrets jostle with the dust beneath the hotel beds, but we are privileged that the book’s narrator, a modern Persephone … is gradually able to turn out the contents of the vacuum-cleaner bag’ Guardian

Praise for The Haven Home for Delinquent Girls:

‘Tondeur’s brand of homespun gothic and seaside camp is a memorable one… tender and eccentric’ The Independent

‘She manages an intriguing blend of nostalgia and knowingness, reminiscent of Todd Haynes’s film, Far From HeavenTLS

‘The smell of plum puddings, mince pies and marzipan wafts through Tondeur’s delicious second novel . . . this novel compellingly explores female friendship and insatiable human appetite’ Manchester City Life

‘Louise Tondeur breezes through her tale of girls who can’t quite work out what they want to be with nonchalant grace’ Elle

‘A story of confusion, love and self-discovery, this book is very readable’ Buzz!

‘Tondeur has researched her material well, and instantly evokes the atmosphere of other times . . . the struggles of the women are all the more moving for what’s left unsaid’ Diva

Me next to a beach hut! Photo by Ana Bohane Photography (Goring-by-Sea)

Unusual Places Cover

Photo by Ana Bohane photography (Goring-by-Sea) Cover design by Mark Holihan

Louise Tondeur

Photo by Marcus Jamieson-Pond, JamPond Photography. (Outside St Paul’s Cathedral)

How I wrote Unusual Places

– from a blog post I wrote for the Open University, March 2018.

When I wrote my short story collection, I mainly used a technique that I call ‘live writing’. (Others call it ‘writing in situ’ or writing ‘on location’ or site-specific writing.) I went to a particular place to write – Greenwich Park, Chiswick House and Gardens, the smallest house in London, the Garden Museum in Lambeth, the College Garden at Westminster Abbey, London’s Roman Amphitheatre, for instance. I usually wrote longhand in a notebook. Sometimes I spent the day writing a first draft of a story, on other occasions I got some ideas down and wrote the story at home – this depended on the environment itself. I wrote the second and subsequent drafts at home, referring to images of the places I had visited.

A patch of nettles: where it all started

I started using this technique at Totleigh Barton (the Arvon centre in Devon) when the tutors asked us to watch something outside for 45 minutes. This was a revelation to me (aged 19) as I had never watched anything for that long, and hadn’t meditated or anything similar. I realised how much detail you get involved in if you watch something for an extended period of time.

At Arvon we were simply watching – not writing. I watched a patch of nettles. I wrote afterwards. I began to understand that there was something about being in the environment itself that helped me to write. It wasn’t only the observation, it was also being immersed in the experience of being there.

The natural world

Most of the stories I have written using ‘live writing’ have been in towns and cities and weren’t – like my Arvon experience – about being thoroughly immersed in the natural world. However, nature does play a big part and I found that trees in particular were an unintentional theme throughout the collection. Again, unintentionally, most of my live writing excursions involved finding the natural world in an urban environment. I wrote at the Garden Museum in Lambeth, the College Garden at Westminster Abbey, in Chiswick Park, and in Kensington Gardens for instance.

Research

I had a few guide books to help me find my way to quirky locations in London. The stories aren’t all set in London, but it was where I was living when I started. I began writing my short stories this way a while back (in the early 2000s) – and there seem to be several more books about hidden or secret or unusual London now. Try searching with those key words and you’ll see what I mean!

A journey

The stories mark out a journey from 2002 (The House) to 2017 (Falling) – literal journeys to different places, and a writing journey where I discovered how to tell a story, and what stories involve.

Unusual Connections

I find I tend to make unusual connections between stories when I used live writing. For example, one character – someone whose face had been disfigured – came across very strongly and I realised that they were appearing in several of the stories, including ‘The Swim’. I turned this into one long short story called ‘Unusual Places.’ I named the whole collection ‘Unusual Places’ because of the way in which I set about writing the stories in the collection.

Four rules & several cafes

I had a few friendly rules which helped me to choose places to go and write:

  • The place had to be free to get into. (I only deviated from this once – at the Garden Museum in Lambeth! https://gardenmuseum.org.uk/ )
  • The place had to have something unusual, secret, hidden or quirky about it.
  • The place had to have access to tea and shelter from the rain.
  • There had to be somewhere to write – at least a bench, for instance.

This meant that I ended up writing in a lot of cafés, so cafés feature in the story somewhat. All of these are fictionalised. My favourite was the café in Redruth in Cornwall, with its cosy atmosphere and open fire place, which I think has since closed, and formed the basis of the story ‘Red Roof’ – of every fictional place I invented, I wish Red Roof was a real place!

Adventures by train

Now the collection is finished, I’m still using the technique to write. My most recent use of live writing was on a trip to the Cumbrian coast where I wrote on the train (it’s a long way from the South of England!). I find it very useful to write on a journey or an ‘adventure’ and to go somewhere I have never been before. I see this as a development of the live writing technique. I prefer to write short stories this way, rather than writing at my desk.