THE LONG DELIRIOUS BURNING BLUE
Click here for Sharon Blackie's author page.
'I have been asleep for forty years. This is what I need: this fear, this risk, this wind rocking my wings. This is what I have been missing. This is what it means to be alive – up here, on the edge of death.’
Cat Munro’s safe, carefully-controlled world as a corporate lawyer in Phoenix is disintegrating, and she is diagnosed with panic disorder just before her fortieth birthday. In a last-ditch attempt to regain control of her life, she faces up to her greatest fear of all: she decides to learn to fly. As she struggles to let go of old memories and the anxieties that have always held her back, Cat faces a choice: should she try to piece her old life back together again, or should she give in to the increasingly urgent compulsion to throw it all away?
Several thousand miles away in Scotland, Cat’s mother Laura faces retirement and a growing sense of failure and futility. Alone for the first time in her life, she is forced to face the memories of her violent and abusive marriage, the alcoholism that followed, and her resulting fragile relationship with Cat. But then she joins the local storytelling circle. And as she becomes attuned to the mythical, watery landscape around her, she begins to reconstruct the story of her own life ...
From the excoriating heat of the Arizona desert to the misty flow of a north-west Highland sea-loch, Sharon Blackie’s first novel presents us with landscape in all its transformative power. An honest and moving exploration of the complexities of mother-daughter relationships, The Long Delirious Burning Blue is above all a story of courage, endurance and redemption.
Praise for The Long Delirious Burning Blue:
‘It is that rarity, a first novel that smacks of not merely confidence, but authority, a sense that the story is true and clearly envisioned, with the technique to make it seem seamless, dynamic and written with verve and a care for the English language … The ending is powerful (reminiscent of The English Patient), filmic, and achieving the kind of symmetry that novels often aspire to, but rarely reach.’ Tom Adair, The Scotsman
'Hugely potent. A tribute to the art of storytelling that is itself an affecting and inspiring story.' The Independent on Sunday
'[A] cleverly woven presentation of how violence and lies within a family work down the generations, cultivating abuse, addictions, and careers that are essentially displacement activities.' Scottish Review of Books
‘Sharon Blackie writes with a real sense of truth and emotional depth about relationships between individuals, and between individuals and their environment. Her characters are figures in a landscape brought vividly, vibrantly to life.’ Nicholas Royle
‘An inspirational literary début; empathetic and mature. Sharon Blackie vividly conveys the protagonist’s struggle to overcome her fear of flight to crack open the limitations imposed on her, not just by others but by the memory of others.’ Margaret Graham
For a review of The Long Delirious Burning Blue on the Lizzy Siddal book blog, please click here: http://lizzysiddal.wordpress.com/2008/02/14/
'It’s almost impossible to believe that The Long Delirious Burning Blue, published by Two Ravens Press, is a first novel. Sharon Blackie’s spare but elegant prose style seems to belong to a far more experienced writer. She evokes both the seared beauty of the desert landscapes and the rain-soaked mystery of the Scottish mountains with equal skill, weaving them into the fabric of the story ... The psychological and emotional journeys of both women are observed and told with an unsentimental but sympathetic accuracy which makes The Long Delirious Burning Blue compulsively readable ... This is an astoundingly accomplished novel which will live on in your mind long after you’ve read the final paragraph.' Vulpes Libris
Recommended read by Vulpes Libris blogger Moira Briggs on The Book Depository website: 'A simply superb debut novel, beautifully and intelligently written with a terrific sense of place and a clutch of engaging, believable characters.' http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/WEBSITE/WWW/WEBPAGES/
For a review on the Diving Deeper blog, click here: http://www.sulisminerva.org/2011/04/sharon-blackie.html
About Sharon Blackie
Sharon Blackie’s roots are in the north-east of England and in Edinburgh, though she has travelled all over the world and lived in France, Ireland and America. She now lives on a coastal croft in the Outer Hebrides with her husband, dogs and a growing collection of livestock. Originally trained as a neuroscientist, she has worked in a variety of corporate consultancy roles, practiced as a psychologist, after completing an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, she set up Two Ravens Press with her husband, David Knowles, in 2006. In 2008 she was selected as a 'woman of achievement' to attend the prestigious Woman of the Year lunch in London. She has also been a member of the board for HI-Arts, the arts and cultural development agency for the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
Once upon a time in the great American south-west Sharon struggled to obtain a pilot’s licence to overcome a fear of flying – an experience which led to the conception of her first novel, The Long Delirious Burning Blue. She was the recipient of a Scottish Arts Council Writer's Bursary to work on her second novel, The Bee Dancer.
Sharon has had work published in magazines as diverse as Waterlog and Country Smallholding. She is co-editor of Riptide: New Writing from the Highlands and Islands (Two Ravens Press, 2007) and editor of Cleave: New Writing by Women in Scotland (Two Ravens Press, 2008). She is translator from the French of renowned Franco-American author Raymond Federman's memoir of and tribute to his friend, Samuel Beckett: The Sam Book (Two Ravens Press, 2008).
Sharon also is an experienced storyteller, offering new and old myths, fairy tales and other stories in a Jungian/psychotherapeutic vein. See her website at http://sharonblackie.wordpress.com
An extract from The Long Delirious Burning Blue
‘The past clings to you, like a skin.’
That’s what you told me, in that last letter you wrote. You remember: the one that arrived just before the news came. The news that forced me into this final pilgrimage across the ocean, from the deserts of Arizona to this water-logged land where you chose to make your home. Where you came with my father as a newly-married woman, ablaze with your hopes and your dreams.
But I have my own take on skins. It’s a simple one: they’re there to be shed. Like the desert rattlesnake, which sheds its skin two or three times a year. To enable it to grow; to remove parasites. It’s a process of renewal, you see. It rubs its nose along the ground until it pushes the skin up over its head – and then it just crawls right on out of it. And leaves it there: a ghostly, inside-out skin. There are millions of them, all over the desert.
A sea of shed skins.
It’s just like your selkies, don’t you see? – your mythical seal-women. Shrugging off their skin for one night each month, they become another creature entirely. Seal becomes woman; woman becomes seal.
You and your fairy stories.
The truth is that we humans are so much less efficient. We shed our skins piece by piece, flake by flake. Slowly, over time; slowly enough that we never even notice that it’s happening. Did you know that we shed and re-grow the outer cells of our skin every twenty-seven days? I’m talking facts now – did you notice? I’ve always been more comfortable with facts. And I did some research, after that last letter you sent: by the age of seventy an average person will have lost one hundred and five pounds of skin. Seas and seas of shed skin.
‘Golf Delta Charlie, cleared for takeoff.’
The voice in my ear startles me. The sounds and smells of the cockpit leap back into my consciousness; once again I’m aware of your presence beside me. You’re unusually silent. Are you ready to go? I can’t see your face but I can picture it clearly – that same old small smile, one thin dark eyebrow tilted in amusement. Judging me. Testing. Come on, Cat – jump. Let’s see what you’re made of. Look – the other children can do it. Why can’t you? But you needn’t worry, Mother – I’m really not going to lose my nerve.
‘Cleared for takeoff, Golf Delta Charlie.’ My voice cracks and my mouth is dry, but this time it’s not from fear. I know you don’t quite believe it yet, but I’ve mostly dealt with the fear.
A firm push of the throttle and the engine begins to roar. We’re moving forward quite slowly now; we cross the line at the beginning of the runway and we are in a place of transition. But once we reach takeoff speed, throttle fully open – once I pull the yoke towards me and lift up the nose – well, then we’re committed. There is no turning back: we are quite out of choices. We move on and move upwards – or we crash, and the chances are that we die.
And there it goes again: that same old flutter in my stomach as the small Cessna lifts herself gently from the runway. Yes, we’re leaving the ground now – and do you see how it is? How all that’s familiar – all that’s known and understood – falls away there beneath as we hurl ourselves recklessly into this clear blue void. The earth recasts itself beneath us, it pitches and lists as we bank to the south and turn out of the airport traffic pattern. But it’s no longer the earth that concerns us here: it’s the cold crisp blue of the sky. We’ve transformed ourselves now: we’re creatures of air, and we’ll swoop and we’ll wheel and we’ll soar.
‘Golf Delta Charlie, clearing the zone en route.’
‘Golf Delta Charlie, roger. Have a good flight.’
Communication ends with a decisive click. We’re on our own now; we’re heading out west and there’s no-one out there to talk to even if we wanted to.
We were on our own for so long, you and I. You and me against the world, you used to sing. In the days before it became you and me against each other. And so here we are again – here, just the two of us; so very tightly strapped into the confined world of this tiny cockpit. Together again – now, when I finally get to show you that I’ve learned how to fly.
Such a perfect day. Do you see the firth down there below us? The water strangely becalmed after the night’s wind and rain; sea in the distance merging with sky. Everything so very still. And you – you’re so quiet over there; you seem quite relaxed. It’s a morning worth relaxing into: on a blue-sky day like this you can see clear into forever. The mountains shimmer in the morning sun, hovering in the distance like a mirage. Currents of air rush by, tumbling around the propeller, slipping under and over the wings, constantly shifting, ever-changing. For a little while longer there’s nothing to be done; nothing that will stop me from basking in the healing solitude of these high places.
You always loved planes, didn’t you? Sunday afternoons watching the old war movies on TV – The Battle of Britain; The Dambusters. They were your heroes, you always said. Pilots! Think how much courage they must have, Cat. To hover all the way up there, in those tiny, flimsy machines. Can you imagine how much courage it must take to fly like that? Taking their lives into their own hands?
So does it make you happy now, to be flying with me? Did I finally make you happy? I never was too skilled at that. Perhaps a better daughter might have succeeded, but I never could seem to do enough for you. So many ways I found to disappoint you. For heaven’s sake, Cat – smile, can’t you? Oh, Cat – don’t you have any emotions at all? Why won’t you play, like normal children? And sometimes I would think about the children you lost – all those babies that never were born. And find myself wondering if, somewhere among those lost children, there might have been the daughter you wanted.
I know what you’re thinking – that I’m talking crazy. But you were the crazy one; I was the rock. You – ah, but you had no fear. You threw back your head and your red shoes glittered and you laughed and you swung and you danced. You danced, and it seemed that you would never stop. You’re so wooden, Cat. Relax, why can’t you? Just close your eyes and let go.
Let go. Time after time, you said it. You said it that day when you were teaching me to swim: when I slipped off the platform and gashed my face on the side of the diving board. But I wouldn’t cry. Not once. Not once on the journey to the hospital; not once as the doctor put the stitches into my cheek. Let go, you said, your face flushed and hectic, eyes brimming with anger. For God’s sake, Cat – just let go now, and cry.
But I knew what happened when you let go.
The past clings to you, like a skin.
The trick is to learn how to shed it.