Tag Archives: short story

#BookReview ‘Scratched Enamel Heart’ by @troutiemcfish #shortstories

Scratched Enamel Heart, the latest collection by award-winning short story writer Amanda Huggins, does not disappoint. Featuring ‘Red’, the story shortlisted for the 2019 Costa Short Story Award, the other stories include some gems. Amanda Huggins

There are three stories that stayed with me, returning to me at unexpected moments when I had moved on to another book.

‘Light Box’ is about Alice, a daughter grieving for the loss of her father but glad to be free of the stepmother she never liked, who had tried to wipe the house and their memories clear of Alice’s mother. Huggins has a wonderful simplicity of description that feels just right, such as the beach, ‘a slip of a thing, a nail clipping of pale sand beneath a wide sky.’

With a darker tone than any other story by Huggins that I recall reading before, ‘Uncanny’ is unsettling. When I remember it, it leaves a sense of discomfort. Like looking over your shoulder when walking in the dark, clutching your bag to your side. Perhaps she should try writing suspense fiction. Alan eats every night in the same café where Carol is a waitress. It starts when she comments that a blue shirt would suit him, would go with the colour of his eyes. He buys five.

The last story in this collection, ‘This Final Perfect Thing’ is unbearably poignant. A perfect, short, short story. This is what Huggins excels at, distilling human emotion into two pages that anyone can read and feel deeply too.

Huggins is a consummate story writer, as comfortable with the long form as with the briefest of flash fictions and poetry. Her settings vary from India to Japan, Istanbul to the English seaside and she makes each location real, real for her characters and real for me as I read. Coming in the New Year is her first novella, All Our Squandered Beauty. Watch out for my review.

Read my reviews of other short story collections by Amanda Huggins:-
Brightly Coloured Horses
Separated from the Sea

‘Out Chasing Boys’ is from The Collective Noun for Birds, Huggins’ first poetry collection. Read ‘Out Chasing Boys’ here.

Why is Amanda’s favourite comfort read is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry?

If you like this, try:-
Staying Afloat’ by Sue Wilsea
The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth’ by William Boyd
All the Rage’ by AL Kennedy

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:-
SCRATCHED ENAMEL HEART by @troutiemcfish #shortstories https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4ZY via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Staying Afloat’ by @SueWilsea #shortstories

Sue WilseaStaying Afloat, the first anthology of short stories by Hull-based writer Sue Wilsea, has as its sub-text her experience teaching English in schools, colleges, prisons, libraries and community centres and this breathes life into her stories. She writes about lost children, bereaved children, struggling parents and struggling teachers with sincerity and a touch of humour.

I’ve chosen three of the 19 stories in Staying Afloat. You can read more of Wilsea’s stories in her second anthology, Raw Materials.

‘Shapes. Colours’ is the story of Stephen who loves his teacher Miss Anderson dearly but avoids her gaze every morning when she points to the thermometer chart and asks how everyone is feeling today. Stephen has a Worry that started “as just a tiny spider of anxiety, scuttling around in his head at night when he couldn’t sleep.” To avoid attention in class, Stephen usually chooses yellow or orange rather than a dark colour.

In ‘Two Ophelias and Me’, first published in QWF magazine, an unnamed narrator thinks of two friends, Lin and Lyndsey, who jumped off the Humber Bridge. “I like to think of their hair and clothes streaming out like twin Ophelias (the three of us went to see Hamlet once. I thought I wouldn’t understand a word and actually I didn’t, but it was brilliant all the same) as they drift down deep, deep onto the riverbed.”

‘Lost’ is a heart breaking story about loss and memory. It starts “I’d lost my mother and was therefore in somewhat of a tizz.” When her mother is not in her room at her care home or wandering around the garden, Alice takes to the streets to check her mother’s haunts. It is a short, poignant story with an unexpected ending.

The settings for Wilsea’s tales are primarily the North of England and East Yorkshire, her characters including a vicar who discovers his true vocation in his forties; and a schoolteacher whose mischievous and disruptive pupil uncannily echoes her own son. ‘Paper Flowers’ won a BBC radio competition and was read on air by Judi Dench.


Read more about Sue Wilsea’s writing here.

If you like this, try these:-
‘The Story’ ed. Victoria Hislop
‘Odds Against’ ed. Bruce Willis
‘The Milk of Female Kindness’ ed. Kasia James

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
STAYING AFLOAT by @SueWilsea #shortstories https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3gu via @SandraDanby




#GuestPost ‘Short Story Talk’ by Amanda Huggins @troutiemcfish #shortstories #amwriting

A warm Yorkshire welcome today to my blog to short story writer Amanda Huggins, a 2018 Costa Short Story Award runner-up, who has clear ideas about writing the short form. Welcome Amanda! Amanda Huggins“There’s been talk in recent years of a short story renaissance. In January 2018The Bookseller magazine reported that sales of short story collections were up 50%, reaching their highest level in seven years. However, this turned out to be largely due to a single book — Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks. This January the news was all about poetry — sales were up 12% in 2018, for the second year in a row.

“It’s great to see a renewed interest in both forms — certainly a couple of independent bookshops I’ve talked to this week have confirmed that short story sales are up — and more collections are being featured in review columns. There was also the buzz around Kristen Roupenian’s short story, ‘Cat Person’, published in the New Yorker at the end of 2017, which really resonated with a younger audience. Whatever you thought of that story, it was all good publicity for the short form.”

Amanda Huggins

Four books on Amanda’s ‘To Read’ pile

“As a writer, I know that crafting a two thousand word story requires a different set of skills to novel writing, and the former should never be seen as practice for the latter — a short story isn’t a miniature novel any more than a novel is a protracted short story. Although short fiction is suited to the pace and attention span of the modern world, some readers say they don’t read shorts because they can’t lose themselves in the story the way they can in a novel. It is true that they demand your fine-tuned focus, they seek to be read straight through, and every sentence weighs in heavy because it has to earn its place. Yet all these things bring their own rewards. A cracking story will repay your time and attention by leaving you with something to think about for days after you’ve read it.

“When I’ve finished reading a novel I often pass it on, however I usually keep short story collections and return to them over the years in the same way that I do with poetry. I have countless favourites, many by established authors, but also a growing number by emerging short story writers. The collections on my shelves include books by William Trevor, Tessa Hadley, Helen Simpson, Helen Dunmore, Raymond Carver, AL Kennedy, Wells Tower, Stuart Evers, Miranda July, Yoko Ogawa, KJ Orr, Ernest Hemingway, Taeko Kono, Haruki Murakami, Richard Ford, Alice Munro, Flannery O’Connor, Anton Chekhov, Nikolai Gogol, Annie Proulx, Isaac Babel, Angela Readman, and AM Homes.”

Amanda Huggins

Amanda’s laden bookshelf

“Stylistically, Hemingway’s short stories are near the top of my list — his concise, declarative sentences; his restricted choice of words and sparing use of adjectives; the cadence, the deliberate repetition — all deceptively simple. He summed it up perfectly himself: “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.”

“For fresh contemporary writing, I really like Miranda July. Her stories are unsettling, quirky, alternately grounded and surreal, oddball, off-beat, skewed. Yet they betray vulnerability, and are both raw and poignant.

“I’m also a huge fan of Japanese writing — novels, novellas and short stories. Japanese literature is often poetic, quiet, unhurried, and that way of writing suits the short story form. Sparing and effective use of language, subtlety and nuance, a certain elusiveness, all demand that the stories are read slowly, and that they are re-read and savoured. These are the qualities that draw me back again and again, and the tales of yearning and loss, of not quite belonging, all resonate with the themes I explore in my own fiction. I admire Murakami’s short stories, and really enjoyed his recent collection, Men Without Women. Murakami is renowned for his surreal writing, yet I prefer his stories when he writes of single men and smoky bars, lonely hearts and enigmatic women. I also love the short stories and novels of Yoko Ogawa. Like Murakami, her writing is often surreal, and can be unsettling and even grotesque. She is adept at self-observation and dissecting women’s roles in Japanese society. Taeko Kono explored women’s roles too, burrowing deep beneath the routines of daily life to reveal a disturbing underbelly — and who could resist a collection called Toddler Hunting and Other Stories?

“One of the funniest scenes I’ve ever come across in a short story is in Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, from his collection, Five Nocturnes. The description of the protagonist pretending to be a dog in order to cover up the accidental damage he has caused in his friend’s apartment made me cry laughing. I’ve only read the story once — I think I’m frightened something will be lost if I read it again, that the humour was somehow magnified by my particular mood at the time I read it!

“To conclude, I’d like to talk a little about my favourite collection from last year, which was Helen Dunmore’s Girl Balancing. I’m a big fan of Dunmore’s writing and The Siege is one of my all time favourite books. My favourite stories in this final collection of her short fiction are in the first section, ‘The Nina Stories’— and in particular I love the title story, ‘Girl Balancing’. These stories are almost notes for a novel-in-waiting; a sequence of vignettes centred around a girl called Nina, set in the 60s/70s. They are painstakingly intense; attention is paid to Nina’s every moment and action, and there are some lovely period details that evoke a strong sense of place. The writing turns the mundane into something beautiful, and the final story soars. Seventeen-year-old Nina is left alone on Christmas Day in a house at the seaside. She goes roller skating along the seafront with her friend, Mal, and when the mood turns, she must outwit him. I’ll leave you to find out for yourself if she succeeds.”

Amanda’s Bio
Amanda Huggins is the author of the short story collection, Separated From the Sea (Retreat West Books), and the flash fiction collection, Brightly Coloured Horses (Chapeltown Books). She was a runner-up in the 2018 Costa Short Story Award, and has been shortlisted and placed in numerous other competitions, including the Colm Toibin International Short Story Award and the Bath, Bridport, and Fish flash fiction prizes. She is also a published poet and award-winning travel writer, currently shortlisted for this year’s Bradt New Travel Writer of the Year Award. Amanda grew up on the North Yorkshire coast, moved to London in the 1990s and now lives in West Yorkshire. She works full-time in engineering and is writing her debut novella.

Amanda’s Links
Twitter @troutiemcfish
Retreat West Books
Chapeltown Books 

Amanda’s books
Amanda Huggins
Read my reviews of Separated from the Sea

Amanda Huggins… and Brightly Coloured Horses.

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Book review: Separated from the Sea

Amanda HugginsAbout love, loss, partings and freedom. About yearning for a connection with another person but sometimes recognising it is better to walk away. Separated from the Sea by Amanda Huggins is a collection of poignant stories that cannot fail to touch you. Some of the stories spoke to me personally because of the Yorkshire settings, but locations range from Japan to America and Europe. Huggins has mastered the form; just enough detail, just enough emotion to pull you in and a well-disguised twist at the end.

I have chosen three stories to focus on. In ‘Whatever Speed She Dared’ a woman drives on an empty motorway across the Pennines in the dark of night. She is tempted by what lies ahead, a new future. But an encounter with a skittish rabbit gives her pause for thought.

In ‘Sea Glass’ two children walk on the beach. Alife tells Cathy that pieces of blue sea glass are the souls of fishermen lost at sea. Another two pieces, he says, are the eyes of ships’ cats swept overboard. ‘If you match a pair of eyes, and sleep with them under your pillow, then the cat’ll find his way back to land.’ A melancholic longing for love and belonging that cuts to the heart.

In ‘Already Formed’, a woman watches a boy arrive at the holiday cottage next door and his presence prompts memories of her son Rory. A child that never was but still exists in the core of the heart, more true than a true love that was a mirage. A sad story, totally believable.

Huggins is a highly accomplished writer who uses language both beautiful and at the same time sparing, there are no indulgent passages of prose to detract from the main message. Every word is weighed before inclusion. A delight.

Read my review of Mandy Huggins’ flash fiction collection Brightly Coloured Horses.

If you like this, try:-
‘Uncommon Type’ by Tom Hanks
‘You Think It, I’ll Say It’ by Curtis Sittenfeld
‘Men Without Women: Stories’ by Haruki Murakami

‘Separated from the Sea’ by Amanda Huggins [UK: Retreat West]

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SEPARATED FROM THE SEA by @troutiemcfish #shortstories https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3qn via @SandraDanby

Book review: The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth

William BoydPartly good and partly disappointing: The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth, the latest collection of short stories by William Boyd, is a bit of a curate’s egg. The shorter the stories, the more satisfying.

Organised in three parts, the first comprises seven short stories. If asked for my favourite from Part 1, I would say the first, ‘The Man Who Liked Kissing Women’. Ludo Abernathy is an art dealer who has foresworn affairs, his previous dalliances having finished three marriages. Now, he sticks to kissing women. Except when he can’t resist the temptation of making a killing on a Lucien Freud painting.

The title story, the longest in the anthology, makes up Part 2. It is more novella than short story, and I almost wish Boyd had developed it as such with a full plotline rather than letting Bethany Mellmoth drift from scene to scene. Bethany is a naïve twenty-something who drifts from boyfriend to boyfriend, dreaming of what she can do with her life but failing to make it happen. Each time it goes wrong, she gives up and moves back with her mother. It was a pleasant read but I’m unclear of Boyd’s central message – perhaps, the over-reliance of young drifters on parents rather than being truly independent – which meant I felt no urgency to read to the end. Of course I did. Bethany’s drifting started to annoy me; perhaps that was Boyd’s point?

Part 3 comprised one story, ‘The Vanishing Game: An Adventure’ which stopped abruptly. It starts off well: Alec Dunbar is an actor who keeps being called to auditions, mistakenly for Alexa Dunbar. His bad day improves when an actress who is waiting for an audition for the same film, offers him £1000 to deliver a package for her to Scotland. Dunbar’s road journey is peppered with references to the various films he has appeared in, and this is humorous. But the action becomes increasingly oddball, and the ending was disappointing. I prefer stories and novels that don’t tie up all the loose ends, but this one finished with too much remaining unexplained.

Read my reviews of Any Human Heart and Sweet Caress by William Boyd, and try the first paragraph of Armadillo.

If you like this, try these other short story anthologies:-
‘All the Rage’ by AL Kennedy
‘The Story’ ed. Victoria Hislop
‘The Milk of Female Kindness’ ed. Kasia James

‘The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth’ by William Boyd [UK: Viking]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE DREAMS OF BETHANY MELLMOTH by William Boyd#bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3jD via @SandraDanby





Book review: Brightly Coloured Horses

Mandy Huggins‘Twenty-seven very short human stories’ it says on the cover of Brightly Coloured Horses by Mandy Huggins. Many of them are competition winners. This is Huggins’ first anthology, but these are not the stories of a beginner. She is a talented writer of the human state of mind who chooses every single word with care, and makes every single word work hard to convey its meaning. It has to in a flash fiction story; there is no space for indulgence on the part of the writer.

Women, and men, fall in love, out of love, they grieve for what they have lost or never had, their attraction is instant, fading or lustful opportunity, they feel cherished, desired or neglected. I’ve chosen three stories to discuss. Huggins is excellent on the many shades of the human relationship and the titular ‘Brightly Coloured Horses’ is a key example. Marielle and Hugh arrive in Paris for a romantic weekend. ‘The food was mediocre: the bread was yesterday’s and their omelettes were overcooked. She smiled, and said it was fine, and they both drank too much wine because they knew it wasn’t.’ Their disengagement with each other is familiar to anyone whose relationship has broken down. Marielle knows what is happening, wills it not to, wonders why they are in Paris and decides to make her own memories of the city.

My favourites in this collection were often the shortest. ‘Flight Path’ is barely 100 words but conjures up such a clear picture of a place and a moment in time. To describe it is to spoil its effect, so I won’t. It is the first story in the collection, quite rightly.

I chose ‘Kisses’ as my third story, based purely on its opening line: ‘Kevin Healey’s kisses tasted like dunked biscuits.’ Julie is in Tesco when she sees a man she last saw, and kissed, at a teenage Christmas party. Huggins explores the memory of lost teenage years, the yearning promise of something that never was, the hesitant wonder if it could be again.

Read more of Mandy Huggins’ writing here.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Story’ ed. by Victoria Hislop
‘All the Rage’ by AL Kennedy
‘Odds Against’ by Bruce Harris

‘Brightly Coloured Horses’ by Mandy Huggins [UK: Chapeltown]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
BRIGHTLY COLOURED HORSES by @troutiemcfish #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3lS via @SandraDanby






Book review: Odds Against

Bruce HarrisOdds Against by Bruce Harris is not an ordinary collection of short stories. All have been shortlisted for prizes. All feature characters fighting ‘against the odds’. The theme is personal: all money raised by sales of the book is to be donated to the UK’s Huntington Disease Association. For Harris, whose partner suffers from the disease, the battle against the odds is personal.

The stories are divided into three sections so, rather than review each story, I have chosen one from each. The first third of stories feature women. In ‘Devil’s Evening’, Iana from Moldova is trapped beneath a bed. Asleep on the mattress is her captor, a bulky, boozy man who uses and abuses her. Desperate to flee, she remembers her mother and grandmother and hears their words of advice. ‘Then it was Mama again, telling her to use the opportunity, not squander it in meaningless gesture.’ A tale of modern-day slavery and what it means to escape.

In the section titled ‘Men’, ‘One Man’s Paradise’ tells the story of the captain of a patrol boat off the Italian island of Lampedusa, destination of refugees. As they approach a boat of refugees, a boat with dead and alive aboard, Captain Benedetti is challenged by his number two. Differing expectations: of the men aboard the patrol vessel – duty, lack of faith, misgivings – and eleven year old Dhaamin who hopes to arrive in a ‘good country’. Another tale about escape.

My final choice comes from the final third of the collection called ‘Both’. ‘Eyes Together, Eyes Apart’ tells the story of a wedding. Clare is the bride, her friend Sue remembers their college days. Rob is the bridegroom, watched by his former flatmate. We share the observations of friends on the joining together of two people, their motivations, their expectations, their characters. Then different perspectives from Clare’s Auntie Jo and Rob’s Uncle Michael. Hidden resentments, lusts, curiosity. An interesting take on the labyrinthine tensions and back-story within an ordinary family.

The settings of Harris’s tales range from current-day Italy and post-war Berlin, to a hospital and a retirement village. Characters include a drag-artist, an artist, a bridegroom, and a World War Two resistance fighter.

Read more about Bruce Harris’s campaign here.

If you like this, try these short stories:-
‘Diaspora City: the London New Writing Anthology’ ed. Nick McDowell
‘The Milk of Female Kindness: an Anthology of Honest Motherhood’ ed. Kasia James
‘The Story’ ed. Victoria Hislop

‘Odds Against’ by Bruce Harris [UK: Circaidy Gregory Press] Buy now

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My ‘Porridge & Cream’ read: Judith Field

Today I am pleased to welcome short story writer, Judith Field to share her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read.

“My book is Anybody can do Anything by Betty Macdonald. I’d read her books The Egg and I (which, like the Curate’s egg, is good in parts) and The Plague and I (which I love), so when I saw Anybody in a second hand bookshop in 1981 for only 25p, I grabbed it. I re-read this funny and uplifting boot, with its brilliant character descriptions. when I need picking up, but I leave it long enough between reading that I can’t remember the text word for word. When I do read it, I feel a thrill of recognition, like meeting an old friend. Judith FieldPublished in 1945, it’s a memoir of life in Seattle during the Depression, in the early to mid nineteen thirties. Betty leaves an unhappy marriage and, with her two small daughters, goes back to live with her quirky, warm, and supportive family of four sisters and a brother headed by Mother, who “with one folding chair and a plumber’s candle, could make the North Pole homey.”  Betty says “It’s a wonderful thing to know that you can come home any time from anywhere and just open the door and belong”.  The title comes from the positive attitude of Betty’s sister, Mary, who spends her time finding jobs for her sisters (especially Betty), and Betty often winds up in uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, work situations.

The character descriptions are wonderful. The book is often contemplative, for example when the electricity is cut off because they can’t afford to pay the bill, but it’s never miserable or preachy. The final sentence, of Mary’s, is wonderful. Betty has just had her first book accepted and tells Mary about her “strange, enchanted feeling”. Mary says “You just feel successful, but imagine how I feel. All of a sudden my big lies have started coming true!”

About The Book of Judith by Judith Field [Rampant Loon Press]
Judith FieldThe Book of Judith is a collection of 16 short stories: sometimes funny, sometimes poignant; sometimes whimsical and fantastic; sometimes romantic, and sometimes disturbing, and sometimes both in the same story!

There’s no better endorsement than that from a reader. One Amazon customer said: “A collection of tales of the fantastic that manage to be sweet, poignant and laugh out loud funny all at the same time.”

Judith Field’s Bio
Judith Field lives in London, UK. She is the daughter of writers and learned how to agonize over fiction submissions at her mother and father’s knees. She’s a pharmacist, medical writer, editor and indexer, and in 2009 she made a New Year resolution to start writing fiction and get published within the year. Pretty soon she realized how unrealistic that was but, in fact, it sort of worked: she got a slot to write a weekly column in a local paper shortly before Christmas of 2009 and that ran for a several years. She still writes occasional feature articles for the paper. She has two daughters, a son, a granddaughter and a grandson. Her fiction, mainly speculative, has appeared in a variety of publications, mainly in the USA. When she’s not working or writing, she swims and sings, not always at the same time. She speaks five languages and can say, “Please publish this story” in all of them.

Judith Field’s links
Luna Station Quarterly blog
The Mill Hillbillies blog
Buy The Book of Judith here.
For more about Judith’s publisher, Rampant Loon Press and its Stupefying Stories series, click here.



What is a ‘Porridge & Cream’ book? It’s the book you turn to when you need a familiar read, when you are tired, ill, or out-of-sorts, where you know the story and love it. Where reading it is like slipping on your oldest, scruffiest slippers after walking for miles. Where does the name ‘Porridge & Cream’ come from? Cat Deerborn is a character in Susan Hill’s ‘Simon Serrailler’ detective series. Cat is a hard-worked GP, a widow with two children and she struggles from day-to-day. One night, after a particularly difficult day, she needs something familiar to read. From her bookshelf she selects ‘Love in A Cold Climate’ by Nancy Mitford. Do you have a favourite read which you return to again and again? If so, please send me a message via the contact form here.


Discover the ‘Porridge & Cream’ books of these authors:-
Sue Moorcroft
Claire Dyer
Lisa Devaney

Judith Field


‘Anybody Can Do Anything’ by Betty Macdonald [UK: University of Washington Press] 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Why does author Judith Field love love ANYBODY CAN DO ANYTHING by Betty Macdonald? #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1MU

Book review: All the Rage

all the Rage by AL Kennedy 21-2-14What a treat, twelve stories about love by the inimitable AL Kennedy. Love:  looking for it, losing it, exploring what love is. Instead of describing the stories, I want to celebrate her writing. The way she tells us so much in just one or two sentences.

‘Late in Life’ features  an older couple waiting. They are waiting in a queue at the building society, waiting for him to pay off her mortgage, in a coming-together of two lives. She provocatively eats a fig, being sexy for him “to pass the time.” Despite his hatred of public show, he watches her, “he is now-and-then watching.” He gives her “the quiet rise of what would be a smile if he allowed it. She knows this because she knows him and his habits and the way the colour in his eyes can deepen when he’s glad, can be nearly purple with feeling glad when nothing else about him shows a heat of any kind.”

In ‘The Practice of Mercy’, Dorothy is lost, alone and approaching old age and contemplating her relationship. “She realised once more, kept realising, as if the information wouldn’t stick, realised again how likely it was that someone you’d given the opening of leaving, someone you’d said was free to go, that someone might not discover a way to come back.”

‘All the Rage’ is set on a train platform. A couple are delayed, travelling home from Wales, stuck waiting for a train that never comes. Kennedy tells us everything about their relationship by describing their suitcase. “Inside it, their belongings didn’t mix – his shirts and underpants in a tangle, Pauline’s laundry compressed into subsidiary containments. They had separate sponge bags too. Got to keep those toothbrushes apart.”

Simon, the narrator of ‘Run Catch Run’, considers his unnamed dog, he is at once a child teaching his puppy and also an adult with a mature awareness of inevitability. “His dad had suggested she could be called Pat, which was a joke: Pat the dog. Simon didn’t want to make his dog a joke.”

She shows us so much, in so few sentences.
‘All the Rage’ by AL Kennedy [published on March 6th, 2014 by Jonathan Cape]

Book review: The Story

The Story ed by Victoria Hislop 11-1-14I read this book over a number of weeks, on my Kindle, without really appreciating just how much reading was involved for 100 stories. It’s not like holding a hefty book. But I enjoyed every single one of them. Some of the authors were well-known, others were new to me. Some made me laugh out loud (I’m thinking of Dorothy Parker here), others stopped my breath with sadness. I discovered authors I want to explore further: one of the reasons I have always loved short stories.

The short story form is fascinating. As a writer, I find the form freeing, an opportunity to try something different, to focus tightly on a theme or character that has caught my interest, to play with structure, genre, voice. As a reader I am very demanding, like anthology editor Victoria Hislop I want to be instantly grabbed by a story. “Readers are allowed to be impatient with short stories,” she writes. “My own patience limit for a novel which I am not hugely enjoying may be three or four chapters. If it has not engaged me by then, it has lost me and is returned to the library or taken to a charity shop. With a short story, three or four pages are the maximum I allow (sometimes they are only five or six pages long in any case). A short story can entice us in without preamble or background information, and for that reason it had no excuse. It must not bore us even for a second.”

So, my favourite stories? Hislop has divided her selection into three sections so I have chosen three from each.

Jeanette Winterson’s ‘Atlantic Crossing’ – the gentle story of love and longing at a distance. My favourite story of all, I think.

Dorothy Parker’s ‘A Telephone Call’ – the stream of consciousness dialogue of waiting for a telephone call is an everywoman story.

‘The Artist’ by Maggie Gee is about Emma, an unfulfilled wife who employs an East European, Boris, as an odd-job man/builder. He says he is an artist, she doesn’t believe him.

‘The First Year of My Life’ by Muriel Spark. It starts, “I was born on the first day of the second month of the last year of the First World War, a Friday.” An account of war seen through the innocent but at the same time all-knowing eyes of an infant.

‘The Pill Box‘ by Penelope Lively is about the flexibility of imagination. A male teacher and writer is haunted by the past, remembering, wondering how the world would be now if things had happened differently when he was young.

‘The Merry Widow’ by Margaret Drabble tells the story of Elsa Palmer who, after the death of her husband Philip, goes on the summer holiday they had planned together. Grief overcomes her, but in an unconventional way.

‘G-String’ by Nicola Barker is about the triumph of the modern knicker. This made me laugh out loud.

‘Betty’ is the woman who captivates the teenage narrator of Margaret Atwood’s tale. “From time to time I would like to have Betty back, if only for an hour’s conversation.”

‘A Society’ by Virginia Woolf, about a group of young women on the verge of the Great War who make themselves into a “society for asking questions. One of us was to visit a man-of-war; another was to hide herself in a scholar’s study; another was to attend a meeting of business men; while all wee to read books, look at pictures, go to concerts, keep our eyes open on the streets, and ask questions perpetually.”
‘The Story: Love, Loss & the Lives of Women’ ed. by Victoria Hislop [pub by Head of Zeus]