'Bonds' a new short story collection by Sarra Culleno - A small leaf review

Sara Culleno releases her first novel with Caab Publishing entitled 'Bonds'. This short story collection features three short stories and a novella, exploring universal ties and bonds between a parent and child, something Culleno feels very passionate about. Due to be released Nov 2021. Read our review below by Anushree Nande. Why do we write? Maybe because we have something to say, a story that compels sharing, a lack that needs to be remedied. We have always relied on stories and storytelling, through the long ages of this world, across cultures and crossing boundaries of geography and language and time. Sarra Culleno, the London-born, Manchester-based poet and writer, in an interview with Fevers of the Mind spoke about how she’s never found the “important theme of infant-maternal bonding” to be represented enough in her favourite genres. With Bonds, her new collection, she hopes she has “filled a hole”. Bonds features one novella and three short stories—Machina Ex Deus, The Legend of Baguley Brook, The Fledgling Heart, and The Hares of Horsenden Hill—all of which, in various ways and through various styles, genres, and time periods concern themselves with the parent-child bond, especially the mother-child connection. The versatility showcased in this collection is very impressive but, after a peek at her publication history, not as surprising. The mother-of-two English teacher has written fiction and poetry for print, performance, audiodramas, podcasts, radio, and more, and her themes encompass a similar width—children’s rights, motherhood, identity, gender, age, technology, the environment, politics, modern monogamy, and education. Bonds, then, is an “absurd, mythological and surreal” microcosm that perfectly reflects Culleno’s whole.

In ‘Machina Ex Deus’, the “action-adventure climate fiction” novella, we follow Sirona Aeson in a post-apocalyptic Abu Dhabi where a “New Order” has been established after the fall of the last civilisation and the qualities of attachment and emotional investment are considered inferior and unproductive enough to be rooted out of the human “algorithm”. Sirona finds that her new Igo robot is apparently malfunctioning and the search to solve the problem leads her on a mission, through the corrupt underbelly she hadn’t known existed, to reunite children to guardians, parents to their offspring. In a world that labels such connections weak, if she wants to truly help, she has to reprogram her own knowledge and embedded beliefs without collapsing from the betrayal and lies. ‘The Legend of Baguley Brook’ takes place in the north-west of England, deep in old Cheshire 500 years ago and, through a regional dialect of those times, weaves a mythological folk-horror tale of seven woodcutting brothers and their Oma. In the Land of the Brooks is born “the Hatchling”, the youngest of the seven, orphaned at childbirth and raised by his maternal grandmother, the local “cunning woman”. Much closer to home and time are the penultimate and last stories. In ‘The Hares of Horsenden Hill’ we accompany Ealine on the first day of Spring 2020, in a London on the cusp of the COVID-19 lockdown when she detours on her way home and finds herself at Horsenden Hill. As her worries about present and future combine and pulse and engulf her, they are met by the events from the ancient history of West London in this magical realism tale based on the Legend of Horsa Don (Horsa, meaning horse in Old English, is an Anglo-Saxon leader in British legend). On the hill, Ealine gains unexpected comfort and wisdom from the ancient hares that still inhabit these places of our world. My favourite of the four was ‘The Fledgling Heart’, a very Kafka-esque 21st century tale where Becky’s heart bursts right out of her chest one fine morning. Infused with dark humour, a sharp wit, and surreal surroundings, this story manages to simultaneously exist as a tragi-comedy and a scathing, but ultimately reassuring social commentary. Psychology states that the parent-child attachment bond is different from the bonds of love, that it is based on non-verbal emotional communication. Bonds is Sarra Culleno’s attempt at verbalising these links through diverse representation proving its ultimate universality. That her narration for each story mimics an aspect of the oral tradition of storytelling (while using some of the genre and style’s archetypes for familiarity and immediate orientation) makes this an even more layered collection to read and revisit.


Sarra Culleno is a British BAME poet, mother and English teacher who performs her writing at events across the UK. She writes about children’s rights, motherhood, identity, gender, age, technology, the environment, politics, modern monogamy and education. Sarra is widely published. She has written fiction and poetry for publication, performance, print, audiodramas, podcasts and radio. Sarra was longlisted for the Cinnamon Press Pamphlet Prize, for Nightingale and Sparrow’s Full Collections 2020, and nominated for Best of the Net 2020 by iambapoet. Sarra co-hosts Write Out Loud at Waterside Arts, and performs as guest and featured poet at numerous literary festivals. YouTube: youtube.com/user/sarra1978 Instagram: @sarracullenopoetry Twitter: @sarra1978 Email: sarra1978@hotmail.com Facebook: facebook.com/sarracullenopoetry Anushree Nande (she/her) is a Mumbai-born writer, freelance editor and publishing professional who has studied and worked in the United Kingdom, Spain and the United States. Her microfiction collection, '55 Words', was published by Underground Voices in 2015 and her other work (fiction, essays, football pieces, poetry) can be found in a range of online and print platforms. Anushree’s writing, in whatever form, tends to explore how we navigate the emotional landscape of our lives, and is always hopeful. Summer Melody, a novelette, is forthcoming in November 2021 from Alien Buddha Press. You can find her at @AnushreeNande (Twitter) and @booksinboston (Instagram).