Wednesday, March 17, 2021

"Skyward Inn"

Aliya Whiteley is one of the most exciting talents in the UK. The author of five books of speculative fiction, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlisted The Loosening Skin. Her novels have been shortlisted for many awards, including the Clarke Award, the Shirley Jackson Award and the James Tiptree Jr. Award. She lives in Sussex with her husband and teenage daughter.

Whiteley applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Skyward Inn, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I’m in the thick of it. The men ask for drinks, and I pour them; they flirt with me and I flirt back, just a little, just enough. How do I know what enough is? I’m good at this, I enjoy it: noise, business, the thunk of darts into the board like drumbeats calling me up, giving me music to which I can work. But all I can think of is the woman.

The match is over. The Away team have won and they’re lording it over the local lads, of course, but that’s the way the game is played, and everyone is cheerful. I head to the kitchen and find Isley finishing up the pork and apple pies, his shirt sleeves rolled back and his apron in place, tied in a double bow around his waist. He looks up and smiles at me as if I’m the only person he wants to see, and I remember why I asked him to come back here with me.

‘It’s ready,’ he says. ‘I’ll dish it, you carry it through.’

‘My brother found someone. The trade’s on.’ Is this really the right time? It doesn’t matter; I need to tell him.

He looks at me, a tea towel in one hand and a fish slice in the other. ‘That’s good,’ he says, cautiously.

‘It’s on for tomorrow morning. Early. Out by Wrecker’s Cave. I’ll go. Give me the stuff to trade and I’ll take it.’
Page 69 of Skyward Inn is a good taste of the first two-thirds of the book, I think. This is the Inn at work. The main character Jem is working front of house at the bar she’s opened back in her home town. She’s serving the drinks and her long-term partner Isley is out back cooking the food. The extract gives us the sense of her enjoyment of the job, and the balancing act it requires to keep everyone happy.

Maybe some readers would think this was set in the past. I doubt many would place it in the near future, or realise that Isley is, in fact, an alien from a planet Earth has invaded. Things are not as they seem, but that’s a key element of the book.

Then there’s the undercurrent of tension. Jem tells us her mind is elsewhere, and the drumbeats of the darts hitting the board builds a driving rhythm. I think you could read this page and get the feeling that something threatening is building.

It wouldn’t be possible from this to get a sense of what happens in the final third of the book, which is meant to be a bit of a surprise. I’d say it does give a sense of where the fracture points in the story will be – Jem and Isley’s relationship, and the intrusion of ‘the woman’. The desire to be together, part of a team. And the need to be alone, sometimes, too.

Even so, the book does head off in a different direction, but I’d say in this case page 69 certainly gives you clues to what terrain lies ahead, if not a roadmap.
Visit Aliya Whiteley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue