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Naomi Booth: The Lost Art of Sinking

Winner of the Saboteur Award 2016

Naomi Booth introduces The Lost Art of Sinking

When I first started writing The Lost Art of Sinking, I’d been researching the literary history of swooning and had become fascinated by the way passing-out occurs at lots of crucial moments in literature: from medieval lovers swooning with passion, to delicate ladies in the novels of the 18th century passing-out at impropriety, to romantic poets being ecstatically transformed by a swoon.

I began writing the novella around the time that Fifty Shades of Grey was published – the heroine of which faints repeatedly – and I was annoyed by the clichéd use of female fainting in these books: I wanted to satirise this and also to explore passing-out as a sign of strength and intensity of feeling, so I decided to focus on a contemporary character who compulsively passes out. The novella developed as a dark comedy about Esther, a young woman who lives with her father and becomes obsessed with experimenting with different methods of fainting, from snorting Daz washing powder at school, to attempted auto-asphyxiation while dating. Her attempts to pass-out escalate as she tries to make her own way in the world and deal with the death of her mother.  

The setting was also important to the development of the book. I grew up in West Yorkshire and knew that I wanted the story to be located in the Calder Valley: the steep valley sides and dizzying heights of the moor-tops seemed like the perfect landscape for Esther’s initial experiments in being overwhelmed. I was reminded of Ted Hughes’ descriptions of the ‘wildness’ of the valley post-industrialisation, ‘the way … the whole region just fell to bits, the buildings collapsed, the walls collapsed, the chapels were sold for scrap and demolished, likewise the mills… the primeval reality of the region is taking over again’. While the Calder Valley is now thriving in lots of different ways, there’s still a haunted feeling to some of the blackened, abandoned buildings in the hills, and a residual sense of threat (often in the form of flooding) that the landscape might overwhelm its inhabitants. I wanted to explore that mix of beauty and desolation in the novella.

Naomi Booth was born and raised in West Yorkshire and is now based in York, where she lectures in Creative Writing and Literature at York St John University. Her debut work of fiction, The Lost Art of Sinking, was published by Penned in the Margins in 2016 and tells the story of a girl living in the Pennines who compulsively passes out. The work won the Saboteur Award for Best Novella 2016 and has been described as an ‘absorbing read about losing yourself that packs a punch’ (Grazia) and a ‘lyrical and witty novella that could be the next big thing’ (Prospect). Naomi has previously published short stories and is currently working on a literary history of swooning and on a novel about environmental change and body mutation.


Sunderland Museum and Winter Garden, Burdon Road, Sunderland, SR1 1PP
Thursday 6 April, 2pm

Denby Dale Library, Denby Dale, Huddersfield, HD8 8RX
Tuesday 9 May, Check with library for time

Lindley Library, Lidget Street, Lindley, Huddersfield, HD3 3JP
Tuesday 9 May, Check with library for time

Doncaster Central Lending Library, Waterdale, DN1 3JE
Thursday 18 May, 11am

Darwen Library, Knott Street, Darwen, BB3 3BU
Wednesday 7 June, 6.30pm

Penrith Library, St. Andrews Churchyard, Penrith, CA11 7YA
Monday 12 June, 2pm

Monkseaton Library, Woodleigh Road, Monkseaton, Whitley Bay, NE25 8ET
Tuesday 20 June, 5.30pm

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

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