Book review – Unthology 10

Unthology10 coverThe tenth instalment in Unthank Book’s excellent series of Unthologies is all about mental and physical journeys, and people on the brink of savagery.

An encounter at a playground has as much unspoken barbarity seething beneath the surface as a meeting with a bear, and a flight on a mythical beast. The characters in the tales selected by editor Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones have little to loose, which makes them all the more compelling. More than one have demons on their shoulders, and reckless bravado seems par for the course within a few pages. It’s a dizzying read, full of bile, venom and tantalising swoops of the imagination. These are worlds to visit, and then disentangle yourself from, breathless and relieved.

In K.M. Elkes’s Ursa Minor, the brutality of IVF treatment brings a primitive urge to the surface.

In The Best Way To Kill A Butterfly by Hannah Stevens, that urge breaks through as something enchanting is turned ugly with shocking speed: “At dinner parties it became customary to have butterfly centrepieces. The insects would be pinned to cork and cased behind beautiful frames.”

Looking at the way crazes take hold and how we can succumb or resist, this story feels like it’s about far more than an influx of insects, examining instead our desire to possess, and to belong.

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Submit to The Mechanics’ Institute

London Millennium Footbridge by Judy DarleyThe Mechanics’ Institute Review (MIR), University of London’s annual short story anthology, is inviting submissions for its next issue from writers across the UK.

MIR is a literary print and ebook publication that champions the short story as an art form, promoting diversity and opportunity for all while publishing new work of the highest possible standard.

They’re seeking unpublished short stories up to 6,000 words in length – there is no minimum word limit. Only one submission per person per issue is permitted, unless you’re submitting only flash fiction, in which case your submission may comprise one, two or three (the maximum) flash-fiction pieces, to a combined total per issue of 2,250 words.

Submissions are welcomed from both new and established authors, but you must live in the UK.

The deadline for submission is 5pm GMT on Friday 9th February 2018.

The publication date is 28th September 2018. Editors aim to contact everyone by Friday 11 May 2018.

Find full details and submit by 5pm GMT on Friday 9th February 2018 at mironline.org/mir15-entry-form/

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Book review – Unthology 9

Unthank_Unthology9_Cover_The tales in Unthank Books’ Unthology 9 are awash with troubled souls grappling with twisted ideas about love. From paternal to oedipal, the sensuality is fringed with unease. Protective love, manipulative love, obsessive, idealistic and thwarted, it’s all here, laid out between the pages of Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones’ latest masterpiece.

The introduction is itself akin to a beautiful flash fiction, rich in atmosphere and mood. It’s the perfect introduction to this archipelago of outstanding fiction, where every story is an island and each reader an elective castaway.

And, like all shipwrecked souls, we’re soon immersed in the preoccupations that make up human existence, starting with the mortal coil, and the twin barbs of love and loneliness.

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Book review – The End

The End coverWe’re often told to begin at the beginning, but in art, as in literature or film, sometimes it’s far more interesting to begin at the end, or, at least, the beginning of the end.

So it is with this upcoming anthology, The End, from the adroit Unthank Books, commissioned by Ashley Stokes, for which authors were invited to respond to the artwork of Nicholas Ruston. Each painting itself uses the words The End, imprinted on shadowy backgrounds that offer the sense of a narrative drawing the close.

With a subhead of Fifteen Endings to Fifteen Paintings, you know you’re not in for the sunniest of rides, but with contributors ranging from Tania Hershman to David Rose and u.v.ray, you’ll want to hold on tight, right till the actual end.

The variety is wonderful. Each story examines a different image, veering off in dazzlingly unexpected directions. Yes, there are deaths, but also near misses, recoveries and quiet moments of realisation.

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Book review – Unthology 7

Unthology 7The latest offering from Unthank Books fairly vibrates with the unexpected, the disconcerting and the downright disturbing. Crisp, sharp-edged sentences slide you into lives where the protagonists are struggling with the simple matter of existence, and only in some cases winning.

The book itself is beautiful too – elegant, intriguing and full of promise that’s more than met by the discerning selection process of editors Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones.

For me, there are two utterly different types of short stories that stop me in my tracks and lodge with me for days after I’ve read them – sparely written snapshots that flare up into dazzling but fleeting light, and leave you with more questions than answers, and those that coil in on themselves, layered up with all the depths and echoes of a novel. Unthology 7 brims with tales stemming from these categories, and it’s impossible to pick out favourites. Continue reading

Book review – Unthology 6

Unthology 6A lover grows upset about an increase in hairiness, a hiker must make a difficult choice about two lives, an old man uses spreadsheets in an attempt to unravel the mysteries of death, a father undergoes an unexpected transformation…

The stories in Unthology 6 celebrate the uncanny, the unnerving and the world we live in, set slightly askance.

The ones that stayed with me are those whose fullness offers up images I can see clearly in my mind. In Daughter, God Daughter by Chrissie Gittins, grief is mirrored in puddles “sealed with thin sheets of ice”, while the entirety of Roelof Bakker’s exquisitely taut Blue resonates with fine-tuned tension.

In Egor by Daisy Lefarge, a lonely woman in a foreign city makes excuses to herself for welcoming the advances of a man she’s not attracted to. As Lefarge explores the woman’s growing guilt, offset by a worrying listlessness, she lays out lines that seem drawn from poetry: “The meshes of the afternoon tighten. Outside men sing songs of themselves. I breathe in until evening.” Continue reading