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Carmen Marcus: How Saints Die

How Saints Die is my debut novel. It’s a magical real story set on the wind-bitten shores of Redcar, a ramshackle fishing town, in the 1980s. I wrote about my childhood because I was told I was damaged and even then I knew that was only half the story. It is how we mend that interests me. I wanted to start with the real, to write about what I know and I know about mental breakdown, I know about being a fisherman’s daughter, I know about growing up with very little stuff and a lot of imagination.

The real part of my story began in the summer of 1984 and Lady Di was just about to marry my toy gorilla, Gogo, my mum was stood watching the rain and then she did something extraordinary. She put her hands through the glass of the back door. Then my dad grabbed Lady Di’s (Barbie’s) long wedding train (pillowcase) to bind my mum’s wrists. Then the ambulance came and my mum was taken away and Di’s broken head was left on the floor.

The magical part of my story comes from the folklore and myths I was told as a child: lighting the Halloween Light to bring back the dead and gone; belonging to a family protected by a sea god; and the encyclopaedia of doings and beings that are good and bad luck for fisherman. So for ten-year-old Ellie Fleck, when her mother is taken away, she knows it’s not prayers that will bring her back but magic. My story is about how we use our imaginations, not to escape but to survive.

Carmen Marcus lives in the Victorian spa town of Saltburn-by-the-Sea. Her writing has been described as ‘crackling dangerously with inherited magic yet achieving contemporary vitality’. She is in much demand as a performance poet and has appeared at the Royal Festival Hall. Recently she has been commissioned by BBC Radio 3’s Verb New Voices. How Saints Die is her first novel, and as a work in progress it won New Writing North’s Northern Promise Award.


Acklam Library, Acklam Road, Middlesbrough, TS5 7AB
Tuesday 24 April, 7pm

Beverley Library, Champney Road, Beverley, HU17 8HE
Thursday 5 April, 1.30pm (2 hour writing workshop)

Advance booking is advisable and all events may be subject to change. See our individual event listings for further information.

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