Written by Patsy Collins
Published by Creative Print Publishing Ltd.
Review by Charlie Britten
Although Patsy Collins is well-known as a writer for women’s magazines, with some 200 stories to her credit, Escape to the Country is her first novel to reach the shelves and the e-book catalogues. Published in May this year by Creative Print Publishing Ltd., it is available from Amazon in paperback (£7.49) and also in Kindle format (£4.11).
In Escape to the Country, Patsy remains true to her ‘womag’ roots, with a small number of believable characters, driving an uncomplicated – but watertight – plotline. Although this is an easy read, like Alexander McCall Smith, Patsy beguiles us into serious and thoughtful content and, as in his work, the more meaningful the point being made, the lighter the style of writing.
Patsy’s short stories tend to gravitate towards women at work and Escape to the Country is no exception. When financial adviser, Leah, is accused of mishandling the account of Mr Gilmore-Bunce, one of the most important customers of her employer – the exquisitely-named ‘Prophet Margin’ – she is disappointed when Adam Ferrand, her boyfriend and an employee at the same company, does not give her the support she needs. Suspended on full pay but feeling wretched, Leah takes a holiday with Aunt Jayne, farmer of Winkleigh Marsh. On her way there, she encounters tractor driver, Duncan, good-looking, wholesome and rural; she is attracted at once, because, amongst other things, ‘He didn’t smell of aftershave or fabric conditioner’. Leah expects to be refreshed by rural air, good food and the jolly company of Aunt Jayne, but, as she finds out, there is no escape, even to the country. Not only do her problems at Prophet Margin follow her in her head and on her cellphone, but Mr Gilmore-Bunce turns out to be Aunt Jayne’s neighbour and landlord, with whom, actually, she gets on very well.
Having herself grown up on a farm, Patsy demonstrates a thorough knowledge of modern farming. This work celebrates the slower and kinder way of life, but without the slightest trace of sentimentality. Birth a cow? Well, of course. How? ‘Presumably you don’t actually check her into the maternity ward at the vet’s and get her to fill in a questionnaire about epidurals and birthing pools.’ Get the cow pregnant again? Take her to the AI (artificial insemination) man, obviously.
The character that leaps off the page is Aunt Jayne, who is as unlike a traditional ‘maiden aunt’ as possible, giggly, feisty, with her own admirer, Jim, and full of ideas as to how Leah might facilitate her love-life. Jayne is strong, not just as a farmer who can lift heavy bags of animal feed, chop wood and use farm machinery, but in facing down possible cancer. Duncan is Darcy-esque, exuding male probity, although not as ‘proud’ or as distant, but, as women, we all embrace a Darcy. A wealthy yuppy, Adam has some of the attributes of a Wickham, but, unlike Jane Austen’s version, he never seduces the reader, not even for a few chapters. A potential criticism is that Adam comes across as ‘unsatisfactory’ too early in the story.
It takes time to get to grips with main character, Leah, because, although Patsy writes in the third person, the whole narrative is written from Leah’s point of view and she is the lens through which we see other characters. However, as the story develops, we gain insights into an intelligent, professional woman being belittled and emotionally stunted by her lover, and how she gains the confidence to drag herself out of that situation.
Patsy has completed two more novels, including Paint Me a Picture, which was published in September 2012. She is a lady to watch.
Charlie Britten has contributed to FictionAtWork, The Short Humour Site, Mslexia, Linnet’s Wings, CafeLit, and Radgepacket. She writes because she loves doing it and belongs to two British online writing communities.
All Charlie’s work is based in reality, with a strong human interest element. Although much of her work is humorous, she has also written serious fiction, about the 7/7 Bombings in London and attitudes to education before the Second World War.
Charlie Britten lives in southern England with her husband and cat. In real life, she is an IT lecturer at a college of further education.