Review: ‘Bella’, by R.M. Francis


A spectre has haunted Netherton for generations.

Everyone has a theory, no one has an answer.

The woods that frame the housing estate uncover a series of heinous acts, drawing onlookers in to a space of clandestine, queer sexuality: a liminal space of abject and uncanny experience.

A question echoes in the odd borderlands of being, of fear-fascination, attraction-repulsion, of sex and death…

Who put Bella down the Wych-Elm?

My Review

Thanks to the blog tour organiser, the author and publisher for sending me a copy of this book.

The plot is about growing up in the former industrial heartland of England after it all ended, of young people discovering their sexualities ang finding their way in the world, intertwined with the Bella story. ‘Bella’ was a woman found in a tree by some lads during the 1940s. She was a skeleton by then and had been there a while, obviously murdered, and the investigation never found out who she was or who had killed her. Not long after the phrase ‘Who put Bella down the wych elm?’ started appearing on walls all around the area. The tree probably wasn’t a wych elm, by the way. It’s been an enduring mystery. Unsolved Murders did three episodes on it last year.

I found the plot a slow starter, but the use of multi-character first person perspective kept my interest. The characters personalities are visible in the different way they speak.

The story is written in Black Country dialect, which is very different from my northern Lincolnshire dialect, so I found it a bit tough going at times. I had to imagine one of my friends from the area speaking and then parse it from there. Might be a bit difficult to get the nuances if you aren’t a native English speaker.

I’m probably going to re-read it at some point to see if I get things I’ve missed this time round.

Author Bio

R. M. Francis is a writer from Dudley. He completed his PhD at the University of Wolverhampton for a project titled Queering the Black Country and graduated from Teesside University for his Creative Writing MA.
He’s the author of four poetry chapbooks, Transitions (The Black Light Engine Room Press, 2015), Orpheus (Lapwing Publications, 2016), Corvus’ Burnt-Wing Love Balm and Cure-All (The Black Light Engine Room Press, 2018) and Lamella, (Original Plus, 2019).
Follow Rob on Twitter @rmfrancis

Published by

R Cawkwell

Hi I'm Rosemarie and I like to write. I write short stories and longer fiction, poetry and occasionally articles. I'm working on quite a few things at the minute and wouldn't mind one day actually getting published in print.

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