Review: Scrap by Kathy Biggs
You would never know that Biggs is Yorkshire born from the way how she has captured Swansea. After studying creative writing courses at Aberystwyth University, Biggs has undoubtedly developed her talent for writing as this is her second novel, The Luck having been published last year.
I have spent most of my life in and around Swansea (it gets under your skin). Dylan said it best: ‘This sea-town was my world’, And it is precisely that world that Biggs has captured.
Biggs has certainly brought key locations around Swansea to life, from the Meridian Tower to Morriston Hospital, the 3M’s Water Tower, and even Merthyr and Aberystwyth get a nod too.
Scrap centres around Tranter’s scrap yard where Mackie and his best friend Sharon work. They are a little family, only the characters don’t realise it yet, and it’s heart-warming to read how that unfolds as the story progresses.
Biggs’ concept of setting her work in a scrapyard with characters who themselves feel like they, too, are written off, is quite beautifully poetic. What kind of story begins in a place full of broken things? I think the answer is a poignant yet hopeful one.
Right from the start, you are straight into drama and action, ‘The kid was in the back of the car for a week before they found him: the hottest July for years, the sun so fierce it made your head hum.’
After some of the temperatures this summer, I know that feeling well, and that is precisely what Biggs captures so well. How many times have you seen ‘people drift by at half-speed, clumsy in flip-flops and weighed down by bottles of water; drugged by the haze of sun cream, barbecues and sweat that lay like a lid of grease over the dazed city?’ Biggs’ observations of human nature is one of comedic lightness, and that isn’t where it ends.
A lot is going on, so keep up – Mackie arrives at work, and a teenage boy is discovered hiding in the back of one of the cars. See drama and action!
Later, Mackie feels compelled to visit the youngster in the hospital, and as the boy wakes up and looks at Mackie, ‘‘It’s you,’ the kid said, then closed his eyes.’’ The story leads on via twists and turns, slowly revealing that this boy has a gift. It’s a pretty remarkable special gift, too.
I was gripped by how well Biggs weaved heavy-hitting themes within the story, carefully balancing emotions and choosing the right time to grab you by the heart.
Imparting positive mental health messages, Biggs has bravely touched on the use of alcohol and drugs, suicide, and death, doing so sensitively and accurately. I commend her for not shying away, and it made me feel closer to the characters as their backstories were revealed.
Her character-driven work reflects the complexities of real life and trauma. I quickly found myself engaged with the main character, Mackie, and many times, I felt that I could be sat next to him on a bench somewhere around Swansea Marina, simply chatting. And, because I felt so much for him, I experienced some of his emotions too. He’s a good man and a devoted granddad.
I especially loved how excellently Biggs captured the platonic relationship between Mackie and Sharon. Never once veering into will they won’t they. It was so refreshing to have a beautiful friendship which simply exists through years of friendship and respect for one another.
Sharon is set at the heart of the book and has a story that is as compelling as Mackie’s and the well-written dialogue is exactly the type of Wetherspoons’ speak you would hear in The Bank Statement or The Potters Wheel.
In this novel, in the dialogue, Biggs showcases her ability to display her comedic flair. You cannot help but laugh and cry with the characters because they are the people you walk past and interact with pretty much every day.
Biggs’s writing is about humans at their best and at their worst. It’s the type of book you will end up sharing with your mates as you find yourself planning an afternoon tea in the city and a walk around the Marina afterwards…obviously with an ice cream cone and flake.
With themes of family, hope, fostering and mental health, it’s a book that has stayed with me long after I had reached the final page, and that is down to Biggs’ superb characterisation.
This novel has captured real life and at the same time woven in elements of magical realism that keep you engaged until the very end.
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