Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 6, 2020

Dreams They Forgot (2020), by Emma Ashmere

I don’t seem to have much luck with Zoom.  I’ve avoided using it as much as possible, but because I loved Emma Ashmere’s novel The Floating Garden (2016) I did want to hear her talk about her new short story collection.  So I signed up for a beaut session hosted by Jo Case from Readings, in conversation with Emma and Laura Elvery, enticed by this description of it:

Both women have written short story collections that explore the lives of women who live outside traditional expectations, and move back and forth in time, drawing on history. Emma Ashmere’s collection Dreams They Forgot has stories of illusion deception and quiet rebellion with many stories exploring queer lives, or disability. Laura Elvery’s Ordinary Matter, is a collection of short stories inspired by the 20 times women have won Nobel Prizes in the sciences. (Links are to Readings Bookshop).

Only to find on the night that I couldn’t access it at all.

Oh well…

I’ve been dipping into the collection.  This is the blurb:

Two sisters await the tidal wave predicted for 1970s Adelaide after Premier Don Dunstan decriminalises homosexuality. An interstate family drive is complicated by the father’s memory of sighting UFOs. Two women drive from Melbourne to Sydney to see the Harbour Bridge before it’s finished. An isolated family tries to weather climate change as the Doomsday Clock ticks.

Emma Ashmere’s stories explore illusion, deception and acts of quiet rebellion. Diverse characters travel high and low roads through time and place – from a grand 1860s Adelaide music hall to a dilapidated London squat, from a modern Melbourne hospital to the 1950s Maralinga test site, to the 1990s diamond mines of Borneo.

Undercut with longing and unbelonging, absurdity and tragedy, thwarted plans and fortuitous serendipity, each story offers glimpses into the dreams, limitations, gains and losses of fragmented families, loners and lovers, survivors and misfits, as they piece together a place for themselves in the imperfect mosaic of the natural and unnatural world.

Some of the stories dealing with themes of mental illness are harrowing, and it is a melancholy collection, but the prose is always stunning.  This excerpt is from ‘After the Storm’:

They drove all night, slept all day, woke to egg-and-bacon pie, grey paddocks, yellow hills, dry creeks, stop-watch timed pisses, dogs on tuckerboxes, pink salt lakes, until they reached her stranger-cousins’ house on stilts, swaying over leech-laced ferns: a jungle world of pointed mountains and pillared clouds, where birds walked and foxes flew.  (p.97)

‘The Ends of the Earth’ ventures into the ‘unbelonging of early settlers:

Mrs James Palmer prays the land her husband is surveying has also settled back into silence with the coming of daylight.  She rises from her bed, exchanges pleasantries with Doctor Myles, who has weathered another busy night.  She hesitates by the tent door watching men mending canvas, attending to a broken cart wheel and severing the limbs of a leaning tree.  She steels herself with her Bible: The earth quaked and the rocks were split. She writes in her diary: Thursday evening, parakeet pie … One of the foremen, Abrose Asquith, cut his own throat on the Sabbath and was found by his son in a water-filled ditch.  The wretched man was known to Doctor Myles who had ministered to him during previous bouts of falling sickness. There is unpleasant talk of drinking and debts and a wife with child. (p.87)

The characterisation of the know-it-all Perth tourist with his latest edition of Fodor’s Indonesian in ‘The Relaxing Jar’ made me cringe because it was so true to life.  I loathe tourists who bargain with poverty-stricken hawkers over pitiful sums of money and complain about their souvenirs when they get home.  But ‘The Relaxing Jar’ is not a cheesy travel tale… far from it.

Theresa Smith reviewed the collection too, and there’s also a fine review by Hayley Katzen at Goodreads.

Author: Emma Ashmere
Title: Dreams They Forgot
Publisher: Wakefield Press, 2020
ISBN: 9781743057063, pbk., 235 pages
Review copy courtesy of Wakefield Press

Available from Fishpond: Dreams They Forgot, direct from Wakefield Press or your local indie bookshop.



  1. This does sound excellent, its a shame you couldn’t access the talk. Zoom definitely sometimes does its own thing! I’m grateful to the technology that’s kept me in work throughout the pandemic, and at the same time I’ll be very happy if/when I never have to deal with it again…


    • I got a reminder yesterday about one that told me to check access, and I can’t get in. I’ve got four email addresses , one of which I never use and the other is just for adverts, and none of them worked. Facebook says I didn’t log in with them, and I never use Google if I can avoid it. So I can’t get in, and of course it’s No Reply so there’s no way to get some help to sort it out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ugh, awful. I remember now I messaged Zoom about our work account and got a reply 3 months later! In fairness they’re probably rushed off their feet with all that’s happening. I hope you get it sorted – maybe a tech-savvy friend/neighbour/relative can come to the rescue?


        • (So far) it only seems to happen when it’s organised through a ticketing system, in this case Eventbrite. I’ll try again tomorrow when I’m not so tired.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m facing the prospect of delivering some workshops using Teams or the equivalent, and have also had some troubles with Zoom. Like the sound of this author, though I’m not sure what ‘leech-laced ferns’ are…


    • The reference to houses on stilts places it in tropical Queensland where there are large ferns (not like delicate little maidenhair ferns!) and ugh, yes, there will be leeches, in some places.


  3. I was going to say that description of driving all night and arriving at a jungle of pointed mountains was very clearly Queensland (and flying foxes).


    • Yes. We get it, but overseas readers have to work a bit harder! (And I’m fine with that, we have to work a bit harder with landscapes unfamiliar to us, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.)


  4. Thanks for the link Lisa!

    Liked by 1 person

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