Approaching 40, Annie Stanley is in the midst of a crisis – burnout, or existential angst. This former City financier and school teacher now spends her days in tracksuits at the local fleapit when suddenly her father dies, too soon after her mother.
Annie Stanley All at Sea is a kind, funny portrayal of a woman who’s stuck and doesn’t quite always get things right (who does?). When her father’s girlfriend announces she’s going to scatter his ashes somewhere meaningless to Annie, she takes matters into her own hands. In a fantastically comic set piece, she seizes the urn and on a whim takes her dad on a tour of the 31 sea areas that make up the shipping forecast, which he loved listening to, despite living in landlocked St Albans.
The unfolding story is reminiscent of the hugely successful Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, as Annie travels from Cromarty, Forth, Tyne etc. Along the way she looks up old friends and colleagues in a journey of self-discovery, working through her self-loathing, as she truly believes ‘making bad things worse’ is her default setting – as an ex in the Forth chapter helpfully tells her.
Sue Teddern is a Brighton writer – spot the character Simon living in a poky Seven Dials bedsit – and this is her first novel. Sue’s an accomplished scriptwriter and playwright (credits include The Archers) and her expertise shows in this charming book, with its crisp dialogue, light humour, deft characterisation and neat structure. We root for Annie, and we see what she can’t because of the sea fret of sadness – that maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem.
Dymphna Flynn is a development producer at Pier Productions in Brighton