LAURA SOLOMON (28 June 1974 – 18 February 2019) was a bright, perceptive, witty writer, with a keen ear for dialogue and a wry and objective vision of modern life. She had an extraordinary ability to see the world from the perspectives of the marginalised and to comprehend their circumstances. Comedy and tragedy both flowed to her pen from the abundance of her imagination.
Laura was one of two winners of the inaugural International Proverse Prize (2009) with her novella, Instant Messages, subsequently published by Proverse in 2010.
Of her, Maggie Gee, when Chair of the Royal Society of Literature, United Kingdom, wrote, “Witty, clear-edged, both lemon-sharp and seductive, Laura Solomon is a writer to watch.”
Born in New Zealand, Solomon spent nine years in London before returning to her native New Zealand in 2007. She had an honours degree in English Literature (Victoria University, 1997) and a Masters degree in Computer Science (University of London, 2003).
She published two novels in New Zealand, Black Light (1996) and Nothing Lasting (1997). Her short story collection Alternative Medicine was published in the UK in 2008 and her novel An Imitation of Life was published in the UK in 2009. Her plays were produced at the Wellington Fringe Festival (New Zealand) and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (UK).
Among other writing prizes, she twice won a prize in the Bridport International Short Story Competition (UK).
Her work was accepted in the Edinburgh Review and Wasafiri (UK), Takahe and Landfall (NZ) and she judged the Sentinel Quarterly Short Story Competition.
Her short story Sprout, first published in the Bridport Anthology (2004), and then by Flame Books in the UK, was translated into Czech by Olga Walló and appeared in Krásná in the Czech Republic (2011).
Laura died before her time, having suffered for several years, first from a brain tumour and then brain tumour surgery and its aftermath.
Two young women from different social backgrounds switch personalities in Brain Graft (play).
Brain Graft centres around Isobella, who works at a publishing firm and is diagnosed with a brain tumour. She finds a surgeon to remove her tumour and decides to have a brain implant – that is, a segment of brain to fill the space in her brain created by the tumour removal. The segment is donated by another woman, Tracey.
After the transplant, Isobella begins to take on characteristics of Tracey’s personality. Isobella’s boyfriend, Tarquin, is horrified by this. Isobella begins a slow but steady slide down the socio-economic ladder, losing her job and sitting around the flat all day. Tracey’s trajectory is the opposite. She takes a job cleaning at a hospital, where she meets David, a nurse, who encourages her to study for a nursing diploma.
Tracey lands a job as a nurse at a psychiatric hospital, which is where, in the final scene, she crosses paths with Isobella who has been dumped there by an exasperated Tarquin. David has, by this time, dumped Tracey, claiming that he loved her only because he was seeing the world through rose-tinted spectacles due to the anti-depressants he was on. The two women decide to become lesbian lovers.
LAURA SOLOMON has written two previous plays. The Dummy Bride was produced as part of the Wellington Fringe Festival in 1996 and Sprout was performed as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2005.
Solomon writes, “I was interested in the topic of a brain graft because I was myself diagnosed with a brain tumour.”
Frida Kahlo’s Cry and Other Poems
Many of the poems in this, Laura Solomon’s second poetry collection, take the viewpoint of an historical person. The poems give voice, among others, to Lord Byron, Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, Howard Hughes, Joan of Arc and Jack the Ripper. Several deal with themes of depression and agoraphobia. ‘Apocryphal’ gives a voice to the words that have been locked out from the cannon, the words that have been ostracised and excluded but that somehow have managed to find a way in anyway, slipping through a crack in the door that has been accidentally left ajar. ‘Resurfacing From the Wreck’ alludes to the Adrienne Rich poem ‘Diving Into The Wreck’ and could be construed as being about the poet’s art of diving within to come up with ‘pearls.’ ‘The Crows and Me’ refers to the poetry of Ted Hughes and features a fire goddess swooping and diving across the London skyline. Most of the poems have appeared previously in print or in online journals in New Zealand or the UK, but this is the first time they have appeared together in a collection.
“Laura Solomon’s poetry holds a fascinating sharp edge, and much wry humour…. Most enjoyable, and a little alarming as well, prepare for an adventure.”
– Raewyn Alexander Prize-winner, Miles Hughes Achievement Award 2014
“Laura Solomon … expresses the plaintive lament of all of us who languish within the confines of a missed opportunity.”
– Andrew S. Guthrie, author of the poetry collection, Alphabet, Proverse Prize Finalist, 2013
Hilary and David
Epistolary novel: email correspondence with some straight narrative. Set in London and New Zealand.
In Hilary and David, David, a lonely elderly struggling novelist, contacts Hilary, with whom he has a friend in common, via Facebook, and an unlikely friendship develops via a series of messages. The two begin to share details of their past and current lives. Hilary is a solo mother with two children. One of the children has Down’s Syndrome and the other has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Both are struggling. David, who suffers from agoraphobia, is wrestling with his sixth novel, and is under pressure from a publisher to complete it. Hilary feels the pressure of raising two young children alone, whilst also trying to complete a distance degree.
Although they are on opposite sides of the world (David in London and Hilary in New Zealand), the two provide support and friendship for one another via their messages. Each shares secrets from their past.
Through a series of messages, Hilary and David share their thoughts on life, the universe, men, women and everything else in between and provide companionship and advice for one another.
“… a nice one or two-day holiday read” — Helen Watson White, “Making a connection”Sunday Star Times, Auckland, New Zealand, 22 January 2012.
“Absolutely unputdownable. Once you commence reading this England-New Zealand based novel you will find yourself carried on quickly via the impelling momentum generated by all the relationship and emotional hassles the two main characters have in their distinct yet interwoven lives on two sides of the World. Well-written. Interesting. Clever. Well done Laura Solomon.”
—Vaughan Rapatahana, author of the poetry collection, Home, Away, Elsewhere (2011)
“I found myself caught up in the story and read the book in one sitting.”
— Member, International Proverse Prize 2010 Judging Panel
“Author Laura Solomon has proved herself over the years to be an author of original and imaginative fiction. This… novel… is no exception.Told mostly in episodic form, the novel concerns the email correspondence between an elderly novelist based in London and a young mum in New Zealand. Although they are worlds apart in both a physical sense and life experience, Hilary and David are both lonely individuals.Hilary, as a solo mum, is struggling to raise two boys — Harry who has Down’s Syndrome and Wyatt with ADHD. Wyatt, especially, is so badly behaved it’s a wonder Hilary doesn’t push him off a cliff. Highlights include shooting a staple gun in class, slashing a sofa, and kicking in a door. No wonder Hilary is close to a nervous breakdown.’She feels fragile, skinless, a vulnerable leaf caught up in the swirl of a storm.’Yet Hilary has David’s ear to confide in, which makes all the difference. It is through his support that she gets through the hard times, and works hard on a university degree.David himself overcomes his agoraphobia, finishes his novel, makes new friends, and reunites with a long-lost son. This special correspondence helps both of them to extend and improve their own lives.This is an absorbing novel, as intimate as a personal conversation, in which two individuals share their ups and downs.”
— Tina Shaw, Author of The Black Madonna
In Vitro (poetry collection – 2nd Edition) is Laura Solomon’s debut poetry collection (first published by HeadworX, Wellington, New Zealand). It covers a wide range of topics:— the prophetess Pythia, England’s Guy Fawkes, an alternative reality for New Zealand writer Janet Frame, earthquakes, in vitro experiments, spiders, tigers, vampire bats. The themes are universal.
As Patricia Prime writes in Takahē, Laura Solomon is, “a tolerant, compassionate observer of nature and human nature. She is able to look into the lives, hearts and minds, not only of people, but of animals – using their thoughts and voices.”
Mainly written between 2003 and 2007 when the author was living in London, several of the poems have been placed in UK literary competitions and some have appeared in a number of international literary magazines, including Aesthetica, Broadsheet, Frost Writing, Sentinel, The Shop, Landfall, and the London Poetry Festival Anthology.
“The poems in this collection range across many subjects, from those of day-to-day events such as being locked out of one’s home to the extraordinary poems about the Wicker Man, cartographers and Guy Fawkes. Solomon is a tolerant, compassionate observer of nature and human nature. She is able to look into the lives, hearts and minds, not only of people, but of animals – using their thoughts and voices. She is able to draw the reader along with her. These poems give us vivid glimpses into grief and pain. They are deeply moving. Yet they are not sentimental. Whatever she writes about, Solomon always remains connected with the natural world and is sustained by it; the sense of wonder it inspires shines through her poetry. She uses language powerfully to make us experience the world as she does. Together, the poems in this collection form rich and thought-provoking material.”
– Patricia Prime, Takahē, 74 (2011)
“In Vitro is the debut collection of prize-winning poet, Laura Solomon. … In just over thirty poems she makes quite a number of bold statements. She hits hard and quickly and offers up plenty of excitement …. if you like your poems with extra muscle, In Vitro is the one for you. … packed with action and laughs. Christopher Morley once said, “The courage of the poet is to keep ajar the door that leads into madness.” Laura Solomon has begun to open that door in her very first collection.”
– Hamesh Wyatt, Otago Daily Times, 21 May 2011
“This is an accessible volume from a poet who is clearly not up herself, and enjoys communicating with her readers.”
– Nicholas Reid, Landfall, NZ, July 2011
“I read the book cover to cover in two sittings, my hands gripped the book hard and my eyes were wide a great deal of the time. The poems are so fierce, clean and strong, exhilarating, it felt like I had to hold on tight or fall off…. it’s like surgery with a pen.… every single page sings with something like the sound of saw-blades slicing timber… I loved this book.”
– Raewyn Alexander, MySpace
Instant Messages (Novella)
Winner of the Proverse Prize, 2009
Teenage twins experience life in London. (See also a sequel, University Days.)
Life is tough for fifteen-year-old computer nerd Olivia Best, a typical teenage misfit, very much a loner, who is being severely bullied by a gang of boys from a neighbouring estate. Together with her trusted ally, a stuffed toy green frog, Olivia attempts to navigate the stormy seas of her existence. Instant Messages is a fresh and contemporary look at a troubled London family.
“Its light and ironic touch makes Instant Messages a page-turner and gives it substance.”
– International Proverse Prize Judges
The Shingle Bar Sea Monster and Other Stories
This short story collection uses dicaments, emotions and aspirations, and to suggest solutions to life’s challenges. The situations are extraordinary, the aspirations and emotions are common, and the solutions debatable. Always interesting, these stories – with their often bizarre realities – prompt us to see our own lives from the perspective of others. Do we also live in a somewhat off-centre world?
“Laura Solomon’s stories inhabit the borders between the mundane and the magical. Whether looking for love, or trying to understand a sibling, these stories have a very human heart. Solomon’s characters are often looking for answers, and in the process of dealing with their dramas and disappointments they come across those things that can only be glimpsed from the corner of the eye. Sea monsters and angels, head grafts and werewolves, roses blooming from the tip of a blind man’s cane…. The fantastic exists, though the miracle can fade with a wrong decision, or an unkind choice. These stories do not provide easy answers: the fantastic does not compensate for foolishness, and there are not always easy explanations. You may be touched by the marvelous, Solomon seems to say, but what happens next is entirely up to you.”
—Viki Holmes, Author of miss moon’s class (Chameleon, 2008), co-editor of Not A Muse (Haven 2009), in “Early Response to “The Shingle Bar Sea Monster and Other Stories”.
(YA Sequel to Instant Messages)
One of a series of young adult novellas, set in London. Here, fraternal twins, Olivia and Melanie, are aged eighteen. Olivia is studying at Imperial College and Melanie at the Royal Academy of Music. Their father, a previously unsuccessful writer, has three books accepted by a major UK publisher and marries again. The girls’ mother also marries for a second time. The most dramatic moments are when Melanie announces she is pregnant and gives birth to a daughter, Zoe.The first volume in this series, Instant Messages, was Joint-Winner of the inaugural Proverse Prize.
Vera Magpie (Novella)
A female blue-beard describes her proclivity for murdering her successive husbands.
VERA MAGPIE explores the gap between childhood fantasies of adult life and the stark reality of life in a women’s prison. The eponymous narrator, Vera Magpie herself, is serving time for the murder of her three husbands, including Larry, a good man whom she loves, but doomed to die at Vera’s hands because she has acquired a taste for murder. In prison, Vera experiences the reality that here are politics and a pecking order, just as in society at large, but here also she finds redemption through literature. Like many women who kill, Vera is a product of her own flawed past. But aspects of this past also count towards her early release from prison, as her new female lawyer successfully argues Battered Women’s Syndrome as a defence.
An Imitation of Life
An unusual girl’s life changes when she is given a camera.
Celia is a grotesque, a giantess with progeria, a syndrome that makes her body age at three times the normal rate. Her horrified mother left her, newly-born, on the nearest doorstep. Let’s not feel sorry for Celia, though. She is in part responsible for the devastation of her home town, Provencia (although the earthquake was not her fault). And she has been saved from a pitiable life by the gift of a camera. With this she documents the everyday lives of the town’s-people as they pick their way through the wreckage that she has, to some extent, caused. Celia’s singular story is told as she prepares a narrative for her final retrospective photographic exhibition which will be shown at last in the capital.
An Imitation of Life takes the reader into a bizarre world where the extraordinary characters are lively distortions of people we may know. Aside from cockroach-eating Celia, Uncle Ed can “disappear” himself as well as objects in his magic show. Her adoptive parents Barry and Lettie together run the Butchette, a building created from the remains of Barry’s Butchery and Lettie’s Laundrette after the earthquake. Her two strong-minded grandmothers – Grandma Lolly, who ran a sweet shop and Grandma Stuff, the widow of a taxidermist – give moral support.
“Beyond emphasizing a litany of personal illnesses made analogous to social pathologies (progeria, giantism, schizophrenia; isolation, hysteria, murder), beyond exploring a host of literary genres (Grotesque, Gothic, Picaresque, Bildungsroman), beyond featuring a murmuration of maladied personae (a magician, a mortician, a whoremonger, a pornographer, a taxidermist, an imposter), Laura Solomon does that thing we dare not do. She does not speak for her first-person monster; she refuses to appropriate the voice of Celia Doom. Solomon lets this monster relate her own flawed, realist, human-all-too-human story.”
– Dr Jason S Polley, Hong Kong Baptist University. Polley is author of refrain, cemetery miss you, and Jane Smiley, Jonathan Franzen, Don DeLillo: Narratives of Everyday Justice.