The Vanishing of Margaret Small by Neil Alexander @Tr4cyF3nt0n @neilalexander_ @emblabooks

Meet Margaret Small: 75, plain spoken, Whitstable native and a Cilla Black super fan. Shortly after the death of her idol, Margaret begins receiving sums of money in the post, signed simply ‘C’.

She is convinced it must be Cilla, but how can it be? To solve the mystery of her benefactor Margaret must go back in her memories almost 70 years, to the time when she was ‘vanished’ to a long-stay institution for children with learning disabilities.

An absorbing and page-turning mystery with a dual timeline, The Vanishing of Margaret Small takes readers into a fascinating past, and introduces an unforgettable literary heroine.

Perfect for fans of Libby Page and Gail Honeyman.

Many thanks first of all must go to Tracy Fenton who wrote such an intriguing and captivating review that I knew I just had to read The Vanishing of Margaret Small. Without her, I wouldn’t have discovered one of the most interesting and beautifully written characters I’ve read about in a very long time.

Margaret Small is living in the community after a lifetime of being institutionalised because of her learning disabilities. She has a wonderful carer called Wayne who keeps an eye on her but she has her own routines and many acquaintances as she walks around her home town of Whitstable. I loved following her around the supermarket and other shops plus her trips to eat fish and chips on the seafront. Her lifelong love of Cilla Black is an interesting plot point and Cilla follows her on these trips out via audio as Margaret listens to her CD player. Cilla’s death has hit her hard but shortly after she starts to receive letters and gifts signed “C”. She thinks it’s Cilla but who is the mysterious gift giver and why are they following her from a distance?

I have also been a Cilla fan and loved watching her on tv in the many shows she brought her special brand of star quality to. My mum was often mistaken for Cilla when she was in the 30s and we saw her sing a few times together-she was so charismatic and refreshingly funny. So it was my past that drew me to this book but it was my present that kept me there-making me run a gauntlet of emotions! I veered between anger, frustration, sadness, empathy and shame-ashamed that our country ever treated human beings like they did up until very recently. I work as an SEN TA and an ELSA, making main stream education accessible and inclusive for ALL children so to read about children with disabilities (physical and emotional as well as those having learning difficulties) being sent away by their families to be locked away and out of sight from society one of the most shocking times in our recent history. I’m sure Margaret’s story was repeated many times in real life so I am so thrilled that Neil Alexander created this wonderful, strong woman in his outstanding debut novel and gave her a voice-and a heartbreaking voice it is too…

Using a dual timeline to great effect, we are sent back through time to see how Margaret’s life evolved in an effort to understand what has happened to her and solve the mystery of the letters she is now receiving. It was a tough read at times as the reader is able to interpret what went on around her in a way that she wasn’t able to, so we are able to see how she is treated by others and it isn’t a pleasant experience. But Margaret is who she is and I loved her so much for her kind heart and her innocent soul-I was so scared for her throughout and didn’t want her to be hurt anymore that she had been in the past.

This is a wonderful book that has left a Margaret shaped imprint on my heart. I adored it and her and highly recommend it.

Neil is a graduate of the Faber Academy ‘Writing a Novel’ course, taught by Esther Freud and Tim Lott.

His first book, The Vanishing Of Margaret Small (Embla Books, publishing Oct 2022) tells the story of 75 year-old Margaret. After the death of her idol Cilla Black, she begins receiving sums of money in the post from an unknown sender who simply signs-off as ‘C’. Margaret is convinced they are somehow being sent from Cilla! To solve the mystery, she must go back in her memories almost 70 years, to the time when she was ‘vanished’ to a long-stay institution for children with learning disabilities.

Much of the inspiration for Neil’s first book came directly from the voices of people with a learning disability, and the incredibly moving first person accounts of living in long stay institutions, which he heard while working for Mencap. As the charity’s Artist Liaison Manager, he was instrumental in bringing BBC Radio 2 presenter, Jo Whiley, on board as a brand ambassador (Jo’s older sister, Frances, is disabled). Together, with a small team, they created Little Noise Sessions, an annual series of acoustic gigs held at the Union Chapel, Islington (and later St John at Hackney church), to raise money for the charity. During the festival’s hugely successful 8-year run, Neil worked very closely with Jo to secure acts such as Coldplay, The Killers, Adele, Amy Winehouse, Noel Gallagher and Florence and the Machine. Neil began his career working in health journalism and occasionally still writes for newspapers and magazines. He has also had poems published in Magma, The Interpreter’s House and Southbank Poetry, and in 2013 his pamphlet 9 Blows to the Head was shortlisted for the Pighog Poetry Prize. He is a regular performer at LGBT literary salon Polari at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Neil currently teaches English at a Secondary School in South East London and is working on his second novel, publishing in 2023 by Embla Books.


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I am a Norfolk girl living in leafy Cheshire with my grumpy Scotsman. A mum and nana who lives for my family but who is also addicted to reading (and Marmite!) I will read almost anything but my preferred genres to review are psychological thrillers, crime procedural novels or women's fiction. My kindle is my life but I also have a substantial bookshelf in my cosy reading room where I can go to escape the stresses of family life with plenty of tea and chocolate. I am a member of netgalley and bookbridg. I review on Amazon, where I'm a Top 500 reviewer, and Goodreads. You can always find me over on Twitter @jocatrobertson for any review requests.