Waltham Forest Echo

Waltham Forest Echo

Walthamstow author's debut highly praised after tragic death

Uschi published her debut and received a shocking cancer diagnosis in the same month

Hero for Walthamstow author's debut highly praised after tragic death
Uschi Gatward (credit: Peter Mallet)
11 May 2022

After a decade of work, a Walthamstow author published her debut short story collection, just four months before her death.After a decade of work, a Walthamstow author published her debut short story collection, just four months before her death.

Uschi Gatward, 49, died in December, after publishing English Magic and also receiving a shocking diagnosis of late-stage cancer in September.Uschi Gatward, 49, died in December, after publishing English Magic and also receiving a shocking diagnosis of late-stage cancer in September.

The collection has since been shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, one of the oldest literary awards in Britain, and was listed by the Guardian as one of last year’s best works of fiction.The collection has since been shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, one of the oldest literary awards in Britain, and was listed by the Guardian as one of last year’s best works of fiction.

Her husband Matthew Krishanu told the Echo the collection is “very much an extension of who she was” and has East London, where Uschi was born, “threaded through it”.Her husband Matthew Krishanu told the Echo the collection is “very much an extension of who she was” and has East London, where Uschi was born, “threaded through it”.

He said: “She loved the old and numinous quality of the nature she found here, like Epping Forest, where we gathered after her funeral. One of the stories, Beltane, was inspired by seeing Maypole dancing at the May Day Fair in Lloyd Park.He said: “She loved the old and numinous quality of the nature she found here, like Epping Forest, where we gathered after her funeral. One of the stories, Beltane, was inspired by seeing Maypole dancing at the May Day Fair in Lloyd Park.

“Her work has a real connection to place and is quite rooted in the magical side of nature.”“Her work has a real connection to place and is quite rooted in the magical side of nature.”

Recalling their first meeting at an arts conference in 2006, he added: “She had a really strong presence, she owned the room. Whenever she spoke, people listened and she’s got that command in her writing as well.Recalling their first meeting at an arts conference in 2006, he added: “She had a really strong presence, she owned the room. Whenever she spoke, people listened and she’s got that command in her writing as well.

“Uschi was very present and never wanted distractions; she only had a smartphone in the last few months of her life and never had any social media. She wanted to observe what was going on around her and that fed directly into her writing.”“Uschi was very present and never wanted distractions; she only had a smartphone in the last few months of her life and never had any social media. She wanted to observe what was going on around her and that fed directly into her writing.”

Given her passion for short stories as a medium, and her refusal to write a novel despite pressure from literary agents, Matthew said it was gratifying to see her work celebrated alongside novels in awards and reviews.Given her passion for short stories as a medium, and her refusal to write a novel despite pressure from literary agents, Matthew said it was gratifying to see her work celebrated alongside novels in awards and reviews.

The Echo asked regular book reviewer, Sarah Fairbairn, to review English Magic for our May edition. She wrote:The Echo asked regular book reviewer, Sarah Fairbairn, to review English Magic for our May edition. She wrote:

English Magic is a remarkably apt name for the debut short story collection by the late East End-born author Uschi Gatward. The twelve stories, which range hugely in subject and setting, share a sure-footed rhythm that dances lightly between the earthly and ethereal, leaving you wondering if you can smell wood smoke on your clothes or if you caught a movement in the room from a corner of your eye.English Magic is a remarkably apt name for the debut short story collection by the late East End-born author Uschi Gatward. The twelve stories, which range hugely in subject and setting, share a sure-footed rhythm that dances lightly between the earthly and ethereal, leaving you wondering if you can smell wood smoke on your clothes or if you caught a movement in the room from a corner of your eye.

It’s easy to see why The Clinic was chosen as the collection's opener: its depiction of anxious parenthood, outsider status and desperation provides an excellent introduction to Gatward's great skill for restraint, holding back what she wants to disclose. Perhaps one of the most powerful stories addresses the famed Lammas day action of August 1892, when the people of Leyton asserted their rights by forcibly removing the railings that had been illegally installed on public land by the East London Water Company. This story, told in a dreamlike back-and-forth of time and voice, encapsulates the whole collection’s interest in tipping points and moments of change. Several stories are interested in the movement of seasons, things come too early or too late and there is a sense of being on the cusp of a new understanding.It’s easy to see why The Clinic was chosen as the collection's opener: its depiction of anxious parenthood, outsider status and desperation provides an excellent introduction to Gatward's great skill for restraint, holding back what she wants to disclose. Perhaps one of the most powerful stories addresses the famed Lammas day action of August 1892, when the people of Leyton asserted their rights by forcibly removing the railings that had been illegally installed on public land by the East London Water Company. This story, told in a dreamlike back-and-forth of time and voice, encapsulates the whole collection’s interest in tipping points and moments of change. Several stories are interested in the movement of seasons, things come too early or too late and there is a sense of being on the cusp of a new understanding.

One of the most unsettling stories in the collection, and the one that has stayed in my mind for the sheer power of its image, centres around a couple newly returned from their honeymoon, who find a bird trapped in their fireplace. In the eleven pages of the story, Gatward achieves an eerie sense of powerlessness and occupation that holds the reader from the inside out. It can’t be a coincidence that the title of this story – The Bird – is so close to that of du Maurier’s famous fable of man against nature.One of the most unsettling stories in the collection, and the one that has stayed in my mind for the sheer power of its image, centres around a couple newly returned from their honeymoon, who find a bird trapped in their fireplace. In the eleven pages of the story, Gatward achieves an eerie sense of powerlessness and occupation that holds the reader from the inside out. It can’t be a coincidence that the title of this story – The Bird – is so close to that of du Maurier’s famous fable of man against nature.

It's a tragedy that this is the only collection we will ever read from this clearly extraordinarily talented writer. Her work describes both places we know and places we feel we know, and invites readers to understand themselves and the world through a delicate balance of insight and intuition.It's a tragedy that this is the only collection we will ever read from this clearly extraordinarily talented writer. Her work describes both places we know and places we feel we know, and invites readers to understand themselves and the world through a delicate balance of insight and intuition.

English Magic is available for purchase from Galley Beggar Press here.English Magic is available for purchase from Galley Beggar Press here.