Certainly the promotional video has been very well made and Womack is a persuasive advocate for his own work.
When I was a teenager, I used to go with my friends to the beaches of Bamburgh and Beadnell. We’d camp in the dunes, have parties on the beach. We’d swim in the icy sea, watch seals, terns, oystercatchers. We’d sit by blazing fires as the beams of lighthouses swept across us and the astonishing stars glittered above. We’d talk of love, death, football, Tamla Motown, Allen Ginsberg, God, ghosts, grief. We’d talk of where we’d go, what we’d do, how we hoped we’d live. We went back to our ordinary lives on Tyneside: school, exams, families, council houses. Not so different, perhaps, from the lives of the young people in my book. They live by the Tyne. They are sixth formers in a comprehensive. They love music and each other. They yearn for joy and freedom. They travel north and have parties on the beach. They try to turn Northumberland into Greece. They try to think that the sun is warm and the sea is not icy. They sing and dance with abandon. Orpheus appears among them one morning as the sun rises over the sea, and he begins to sing them into a new understanding of themselves. Eurydice is Ella Grey, a girl who is not even there when he first appears. She hears his voice through the mobile phone of her best friend, Claire. It is enough: she knows she has always known him and he has always known her. The ancient love is recreated and so it all begins again. Claire is the narrator. She is also in love with Ella Grey. She watches, recounts, tries to share her friend’s joy and calm her own fears. But she can do nothing to stem the trajectory of the ancient, lovely, terrible tale.
This historical tale has a magnficently wintry opening:
The snow had come early, blanketing the land on All Souls’ Eve and re-covering it at regular intervals, up to and beyond the Solstice. Old Scratch had never known such a persistent piling up of the stuff. Day in, day out it came, with drifts touching what passed for his roof and no respite, not even on melt days, because the melting only went so far before the sky turned goose-grey again and down came another load, white upon white upon white.
When Tony Bradman reviewed this novel for The Guardian he said of it:
Julie Hearn writes with real skill, her style equally at home with the natural and supernatural, with rude mechanicals and over-reaching Tudor courtiers, with fairy-tale tropes and psychological realism. All the elements are familiar, but the final result is one of genuine originality.
A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond, reviewed by Marcus Sedgwick
The true test of a retelling is that the story must rise out of its origins to become something worthwhile in its own right. Furthermore, Orpheus’s venture into the underworld is itself, like the even older story of Theseus in the Minotaur’s labyrinth, a version of what I believe to have been the very first story told round the fire: of Man entering the Dark Cave. The hunter enters the cave to rid it of a wolf, bear, or lion; the hero ventures to the darkest space to face whatever lies in wait, be it triumph or tragedy. Happily for Almond, and for us, A Song for Ella Grey is a triumph.