Masthead Small.

Fiction

There is great confidence in the writing here, and it’s a joy to discover. These stories leap around the globe, roll backwards and forwards through time, plumb human despair and climb the heights of aspiration. Victorian marriage customs play off against those of India. New York vies with South Africa. Island life jostles with the urban. From gazing up in awe inside the big top, we shift onto vertiginous rooftops to work alongside slaters. An expanse of ocean played by a pod of dolphins gives way to the claustrophobia of narrow minds, one-track lives, a coffin, a railway carriage. Suicide, exile and death flare in the dark. There is variety in approach, from traditional to experimental. Attack, form, plotting and characterisation are robust, engrossing.

Here, in Rachel Hynd’s disturbingly accurate Cat’s Eyes, is a woman trying to make life work in the constant wreckage of routine violence. There, in William Letford’s revealing Rambo on the Moon, is a man, tough as the nails he hammers daily, disparaging assistance with the same ease as he holds out a helping hand. Here is the child of Grace Gourley’s chilling Tenement, deprived, bullied, caught between estranged, warring parents and inadvertently constructing her own ultimate loss. And there is the unforgiving madness that life can bring us to, irrespective of talent, poverty, intellect or circumstance, succinctly captured by ‘wee burst balloon Betty’ in Mandy Maxwell’s masterly Inmates. These are mature stories that would sit well in any mainstream collection of literature, finely drawn, superbly observed, beautifully told.

That gritty realism is lightened by fantasy, by stories with neat twists and those that speak of warmth, surprise and hope – always harder to capture than tragedy. Perhaps it says something about humanity that creatures other than human provide many of the uplifting themes and characters. Yet it’s the linguistic variety of voice that delights most.

English dominates, often cleverly crafted to suit setting, period and style. But we are also treated to smatterings of Hindi, Romany, and a variety of Scots from Shetlandic to Ayrshire, Glaswegian to Dundonian – all of which enlivens and authenticates, adding veracity whenever it appears. With it comes the automatic exclusion of flaccid over-writing, the inclusion of native bi-lingual mastery to the written page, providing much of the confident expression that is self-evident here. The national is global, the parochial is universal. It’s in the particular, most intimate telling, that stories capture what it is to be human. The short fiction here is rewarding and highly readable. Read and enjoy.

Janet Paisley

 

Pencils small.