Tales of the Unexpected

John Baird
Fri 4 Oct, 2019

Nottinghamshire’s Shreya Sen-Handley has a new book out, one with a twist in the tales.

Shreya Sen-Handley has worn more hats than Boy George. The broadcast journalist (CNBC, MTV), print journalist (The Guardian, Times of India), libretto writer (Welsh National Opera), local media personality (NottsTV, Radio Nottingham), creative writing teacher (University of Cambridge), and senior communications manager, had her first short story, ‘Nimmi's Wall’, published in ‘These Seven’, an anthology that featured Notts writers. Shreya’s now had a collection of stories published, entitled ‘Strange’. It's the second of a three-book deal with Harper Collins, the first being the excellent ‘Memoirs of My Body’.

Described by Ruskin Bond as “masterful”, ‘Strange’ has had lots of press coverage in India and last week it launched in the UK at Five Leaves bookshop. Hosted by Deirdre, with Simon serving drinks and samosas, the event featured a select list of female readers. Shreya’s young daughter opened the show with a song and dance number that she’d written herself, its catchy chorus capturing ‘Strange’ with:

“Stories to chill you to the bone,

Really spooky in their tone.”

The other readers were Tanya Myers, a seasoned and award-winning audiobook narrator (‘Fingersmiths’); Bridie Squires, spoken word extraordinaire; the award-gathering YA author Paula Rawsthorne; and Shreya herself. The writer has lived in the UK for 19 years but English literature has been with her since childhood. ‘Strange’ is her attempt to revive the classic short stories she enjoyed in her youth. Its cover proclaims ‘Thirteen twisted tales of the unexpected’, bringing to mind Roald Dahl, one of those early influences, and if you’re a fan of those great Dahl tales, such as ‘Man From the South’, ‘The Landlady’, ‘Beware of Dog’ or ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’, then ‘Strange’ should be on your to-read list.

Each of the thirteen stories in ‘Strange’ ends with a revelation that encompasses a twist, prompting the reader to reread with knowing eyes. Typically, these twists land in the last sentence, or even the final word, in the best traditions. Prior to each finale the stories are deliberately ambiguous, the genres undefined. There are elements of the supernatural, crime, YA (and robots), but the book’s general theme is the weird and wonderful human psyche. Whilst rooted in the reality of the author’s experiences in India and the UK, the stories are imaginative and unsettling. It’s often what’s not on the page that makes these stories creepy, more what’s in the reader’s mind. For one knows there’s to be a twist in the tale, and this adds a sense of anticipation, an impending gasp.

Every story builds suspense, an ‘uh-oh’ factor, but as uneasy as we might feel, there’s much fun to be had in trying to predict the ending. My favourite stories in ‘Strange’ were ‘Lean On Me’, ‘The Lust List’, ‘The Scare’ and ‘Full Circle’, tales that drew me in then smacked me with surprise. Shreya Sen-Handley is a versatile writer with a talent to entertain.

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Shreya Sen-Handley

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