Ignore “Aisles” now in the picture – I’m onto the first in that arc of books behind me, “Marked for Life”, the second book Paul wrote but the first to be published (I think I’ve got that the right way around). It’s the first in the Phoenix Court series of magical realist novels set on North-East England housing estates full of precints and odd goings-on.

I first read this book a little while after it was first published, in around 1997. I was living  in New Cross Gate in my own flat, working up by London Bridge, and I used to catch the number 36 bus on a Saturday to Lewisham and go to the library. It was a Routemaster bus and I’d be havering away on the back platform, trying to steel my nerves to get off, and sometimes it’d whip me all the way round the back of the library and half-way up the high street before I could get off. I read all sorts of books in those years: Lewisham Library had an excellent collection and I broadened my horizons hugely in the books I read by writers of colour, LGBTQ writers and writers from different backgrounds to my own. I found Paul’s books and hoovered them up as they came out, and always remembered these fondly – although I have to say I didn’t remember much about this one apart from Mark, the man tattooed from head to foot (even his eyelids) but a gentle man. Having said that, if I read this book in 1997 that was 22-23 years ago, so I’ll have read around 2,500-3,000 books since then – so I’m sure I’ll be forgiven for a few memory lapses. 

While I’m on not forgetting I’ve only had two entries in my competition to win a copy of “Exchange” so you’re in with a good chance. Do pop over to my review of “Aisles” to enter – you don’t have to answer the competition question to have a go, that’s just a bit of fun.

Paul Magrs – “Marked for Life”

(11 April 2018)

It was so exciting when Lethe Press republished the Phoenix Court series (you can buy them from their website or on Amazon), and they’ve included introductions by Paul and special short stories, too, making a lovely keepsake.

In “Marked for Life” we meet tattooed Mark, settled down with his feisty wife Sam and their small daughter, but getting letters from his old best friend Tony, with whom he shared a passionate affair as teenagers. Meanwhile, Sam’s mum Peggy is shacked up with the somewhat mysterious Iris, who claims to be an Orlando-type ageless figure but with the odd touch of regeneration, and they’ve got into some wild walking about the place. Then Sally’s suddenly abducted and everyone, including Sam’s police officer lover, whizzes down to Leeds to get her from a weird old house full of funny objects and odd inhabitants. But where’s Tony? Is he in fact there?

It’s a joyful book, full of play and books and yes, the odd sex scene, but tenderness and family feeling, even if the family is far from traditional. I wondered if it might have dated but the only feel of the 90s, apart from no one having mobile phones, of course, is that it reminds me a touch of one of Angela Carter’s more readable novels: real, down-to-earth people mixed with just a smidgeon of magic.

The first short story, “Patient Iris” I think looks at a previous life of Iris’ and is full of seals and mystery. “Judith’s Do Round Hers” is fuller and reminds me a bit of “Aisles”, a lovely character study of a woman who works in a newsagents and comes home to her twins, a “sensitive” boy and a girl who’s handy with electrics, and, in a place where everyone’s lived there forever and no one seems to leave, has a good handle on everyone’s past lives as well as their present ones.


Are you joining me in the Magrsathon? Some of the books are sadly out of print but second hand copies can be got hold of and the Mars trilogy and the Phoenix Court series are available new.