Written by Patsy Collins
Published by Amazon and Smashwords
Review by Charlie Britten
Mavis Forthright surveys Portsmouth’s Round Tower with a view to hurling herself down into the swirling grey sea. The seagulls scream above her head, their raucous calls giving voice to her anguish in a way bottled-up Mavis cannot.
Recently released from years of isolation at home, caring for her bad-tempered mother, Mavis cannot cope with real life, other people and her new job. Nevertheless she delays her appointment at the Round Tower because… she’s promised to lend a book to someone… she falls into conversation with a stranger in a cafe… and she needs to paint pictures for her weekly art classes. Her workmates call her ‘old sourpuss’ but gradually she opens up, to a different sort of pain. Set in Portsmouth, England, the author mentions local landmarks and streets, which non-local readers cannot hope to follow, but which nevertheless reinforce the strong sense of place. Like the fog in Bleak House, the lashing rain builds up the atmosphere, of ordinary life carrying on, unsatisfactory and unspectacular. By rights, this should be a grim tale, but Patsy Collins’ optimism breaks through the downpour; in the same manner Dickens also takes his characters down into the depths of human degradation, then raises them up again.
Although Paint Me a Picture doesn’t follow a neat plotline, the strong narrative thread held this reader’s attention throughout. The author draws out the character of Mavis – a singular singleton, a real old maid in the twenty-first century – through a detailed narrative style, relating small happenings which loom large in her restricted mind, like buying a cake in a cafe and bringing Nescafe into her mother’s house where hitherto only tea had been drunk. Other characters pass in and out of the story, seen through Mavis’s judgemental eyes, all with stories of their own, like ‘the boy’ who convinces himself that she is his natural mother.
In Paint Me A Picture, Patsy Collins moves a long way from her women’s magazine roots. This is the novel she has taken ten years to write, interspersed between many short stories and her first book (Escape to the Country). It was worth the wait.
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.