Artefacts by Rebecca Burns

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Published: Odyssey Books
Date:  September 30th 2017
Format: e-Book
Pages:  157
Genre: Short Stories
Source: the Author

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A dandelion. A mayfly. A family, bereft. Items and mementos of a life, lived hard and with love, or long, empty, bitter.

In these sharply drawn and unflinching short stories, Rebecca Burns unpicks the connection between the lives we live and what we leave behind.

Artefacts by Rebecca Burns has seventeen short stories, each of them containing a small vignette – a window into the lives of people in different times and settings. I am not usually a short story reader, yet I found myself reading each story and relishing its evocative writing and characters who mostly somehow wormed their way into my heart.

One of my favourite stories as The Greatcoat. The story of a man returned from World War 1 and yet to hand in his greatcoat. An item of clothing that had seen him through the war and kept him warm. This story details the difficulty of returning to civilian life and the lost comrades. At the end of it I found myself truly very moved and swallowing a tear.

Another interesting story was The Bread Princess – it takes a series of bonnets displayed at a parish museum, describes it and then tells a little of the lives of the girls who wore these bonnets and how on a certain day they handed out bread to the poor.

Many of the stories have a little mystery in them, for example where did the shiny sequin come from – found in the shower by a woman living in the far north and her husband away as a salesman. What is a grandmother saying as she lays dying. What is the story of a blue baby bootie found as a woman cleans a gîte.

Another story I really was moved by was of a heart surgeon on leave because of a medical misadventure – on her part. Visiting Scotland she meets up with an older man who walks the beach and leaves with her what I think is a most outstanding and beautiful gift.

These stories explore death, loss, friendship, betrayal, greed, dissatisfaction, illness and important intimate moments. They look into human values, motives, desires, fears and hopes.

Rather like poetry these stories deserve to be revisited, lifted out one at a time; pondered at more depth. One reading of them does not do them justice.


The Bishop’s Girl. Rebecca Burns

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Published: Odyssey Books
Date: September 2016
Format: Kindle
Pages: 320
Genre: Historical/Contemporary Fiction
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The body had no name. It was not supposed to be there…

Jess is a researcher on a quest to give the one-hundred-year-old skeleton, discovered in the exhumed grave of a prominent bishop, an identity. But she’s not sure of her own – her career is stalling, her marriage is failing. She doesn’t want to spend hours in the archives, rifling through dusty papers in an endless search for a name. And when a young man named Hayden makes clear his interest in her, Jess has to decide what is most important to her.

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The Bishop’s Girl by Rebecca Burns was a fascinating and intriguing read. Weaving its way through various time periods in a way that wove together a complex story, which  linked together extremely well.
Jess is an archivist working for a demanding researcher – Waller, he has spent many years trying to find out the name of the mystery woman buried with a bishop in France during the First World War. How did that happen? DNA says they are related, but how?  Eventually Jess after much painstaking work links up with another researcher at her work place and together they begin to untangle the mystery.
At home Jess’ marriage is going through a time of crisis, her husband is remote, her older son a typical teen and her daughter a little bewildered from what is happening around her. I felt sorry for Jess, as the intimacy from her marriage seems to have disappeared, but will she find it elsewhere? 
We are also taken back to Greece, to England and to France in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century learning about the people who populated the letters that Jess was reading and researching. I don’t want to talk too much about the plot because much of the satisfaction of this book is seeing it all revealed.
The characters are very real and ordinary. Yet complex. What stands out is the question about how well do we know others? What secrets do they carry? What hurts? What are the motives for certain actions? People are multi layered. 
I appreciated Jess’ efforts to find and name the unknown girl, to give her a place and have her remembered. To ultimately care and respect this young woman.  
thought provokingpage turnerwell writtenfull of intrigue


The Settling Earth. Rebecca Burns

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The Settling Earth
Rebecca Burns
Shelly Davies
Published: Odyssey Books
Date: December 2014
Format: ebook
Pages: 128
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: From the author
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Marriage transplants Sarah thousands of miles from home; a failed love affair forces Phoebe to make drastic choices in a new environment; a sudden, shocking discovery brings Mrs Ellis to reconsider her life as an emigrant — The Settling Earth is a collection of ten, interlinked stories, focusing on the British settler experience in colonial New Zealand, and the settlers’ attempts to make sense of life in a strange new land.

Sacrifices, conflict, a growing love for the landscape, a recognition of the succour offered by New Zealand to Maori and settler communities — these are themes explored in the book. The final story in the collection, written by Shelly Davies of the Ngātiwai tribe, adds a Maori perspective to the experience of British settlement in their land.

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The Settling Earth is a collection of short stories, all linked, vignettes of colonial New Zealand. There are nine stories by Rebecca Burns, the tenth one is by Shelly Davies.
Each story is complete, more or less, in itself.  Yet each story carries a kernel of and a link to the previous story.  It was so interesting to see what would be the link.  It was like a window was opened on a particular event, and then closed.  The following story would do the same.  The first story opens on the Canterbury Plains, other stories move to Christchurch, then on to Onehunga in the North Island and then Auckland.  The final stories bring us back to the homestead on the Canterbury Plains.
A station owner’s wife, a station owner, a Maori man, a ‘boarding house’ girl, a woman who ‘cares’ for children that are born out of wedlock, a ‘boarding house’ owner, a mission Bible carrying lady, mothers of children, a ghost, a farm hand and his wife and two step daughters are some of the characters we receive an insight into of what life is like for them in this – to the majority of them – strange new land.
As we see into their lives we are made aware of society and how it operates, its hypocrisy and values. Many have come to New Zealand for a new life and with hope, only to find the reality tough. Women in particular are fragile and vulnerable, often ignorant and too trusting. There is often loneliness and too often pregnancy.  Some women are unscrupulous, in a chilling kind of way.  It seems there are not that many choices open to women.  The ‘haves’ are contrasted with the ‘have nots’.  
The men we mostly see are the ones with the power.  Colonial New Zealand is mostly a man’s world. A couple of the men we are introduced too, are weak bullies, abusive, insensitive and overbearing, prejudiced and unlikeable.  Contrasted with them is Haimoana, a maori trader who is an observer of this way of life and his behaviour and beliefs stand out as vastly more preferable.  
The writing is excellent, the stories evocative – opening up a time and place in New Zealand colonial history.  As a New Zealander I could identify with the settings and ‘feel’ of the stories, it rings with authenticity.  
I would recommend this to any reader who likes historical fiction, or is interested in history.  It would also make excellent reading for book clubs. I have placed a recommendation to my local library that they buy it for the library! You never know!

5 stars
Rebecca Burns is an award-winning writer of short stories, over thirty of which have been published online or in print. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2011, winner of the Fowey Festival of Words and Music Short Story Competition in 2013 (and runner-up in 2014), and has been profiled as part of the University of Leicester’s “Grassroutes Project”-a project that showcases the 50 best transcultural writers in the county.
The Settling Earth is her second collection of short stories. Her debut collection, Catching the Barramundi, was published in 2012 – also by Odyssey Books – and was longlisted for the Edge Hill Award in 2013.
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