Guest Post: Debut novel by alumna S K Perry


S K Perry’s (MA Writer / Teacher, 2015) debut novel Let Me Be Like Water was shortlisted for the Mslexia Award and was published by Melville House this month. Sarah was longlisted for the inaugural London’s Young Poet Laureate and was Cityread Young Writer in Residence. She co-founded the masculinities project Great Men in 2012 and has worked on initiatives with teenage survivors of violence in schools and communities. From October she will be an AHRC-funded PhD student at Manchester Met, researching gender disruptive depictions of sex in literature, and writing her second novel. Find out more about Sarah’s works.

Stories have always been a part of my world. My dad used to cut our nails on a Sunday night and make up ridiculous fairy tales with characters like ‘Harry the Seagull’ that we’d receive weekly in serialised form. He’d never remember any of them and we’d have to remind him where we got to the week before for him to pick it up and tell us what happened next. I always loved this, and when I started to read I loved actual books too; we were given them as presents instead of eggs at Easter. It’s the weirdest thing to have written a book myself that will be out there (in hardback!) for people to buy and put on their bookshelves.

My book – Let Me Be Like Water – follows a woman in her early twenties, Holly, in the first year after her long-term partner, Sam, dies. It’s really a story about character and emotion, rather than things happening. I’m interested in form, and I aimed for the book to feel spoken, like Holly is talking to Sam. It is very intimate in this way, a young woman sharing her closest thoughts with the person she loves, who is gone, and the struggle she is having to accept that there is no-one there anymore, listening. In parts I was definitely interested in it feeling like a prose poem too, and experimenting with language and rhythm to make the writing quite intense, reflecting how chaotic and all-consuming grief can feel.

Sarah K Perry

The story takes place in Brighton, where Holly moves after Sam dies, and the coast plays an important part too, the landscape always the same and always changing, like grief, which lands in the body in constantly shifting ways but never really leaves. In Brighton, Holly meets a group of friends who sort of take her in, headed up by Frank, a retired magician. Whilst Holly and Sam’s relationship is at the heart of the book, it’s also very much about friendship and the ways that we hold each other up when the world falls apart. It’s about learning to cook and running and finding ways – through sex or alcohol or staying out all night in the cold – to escape ourselves. I think it’s sad but also funny in parts, and although I’m nervous for it to be out and about in the world, I’m also looking forward to handing it over to readers.

Part of my writing process means I am reading constantly, and one of the best ways to ground myself in the lead up to the launch has been to immerse myself in other books and remind myself of all the ways I still have to go and grow as a writer. There is so much brilliant stuff being written at the moment, particularly about the experience of being a womxn, in all their/her other co-existant identities, and that has been very inspiring. I’ve been working on this book on and off since 2012 and am looking forward to embedding myself in the next one and pushing myself further in terms of how I feel able to explore the experiences of being a womxn.

From Goldsmiths alumnae, I was so excited to read Ella Frears’ pamphlet with Goldsmiths Press, Passivity, Electricity Acclivity, which is tender and sharp at once, and melancholic without ever losing its intellectual tightness. To be writing in a moment where you can be in conversation with this kind of voice – and many other writers exploring similar themes with vigour and clarity – is very exciting.