Book review – Some of Us Glow More Than Others by Tania Hershman

Some of Us Glow More Than Others by Tania HershmanThis luminescent collection of short stories and flash fictions offers up Tania Hershman’s unmistakable blend of the poetic, the uncanny and the deeply human. Drawing from a background in physics and a fascination with other sciences, Hershman explores our predilections and imperfections with effortless eloquence.  Through her writing you’ll feel yourself at one with nuns, researchers and divers alike, not to mention gas molecules and eerie little immortal girls.

I often see colours when reading fiction, and Tania’s tales in this collection are shot through with shimmering shades – pools of silver, midnight blue, aquamarine and ultramarine are gorgeously offset by threads of vermilion and gold.

Each of the tales examines, in its own way, what it means to be human, and the potential kindnesses and cruelties lying in wait both around and within us. While many lead us into laboratories, other sneak us into more unexpected places of moral and quizzical reflection, sometimes under cover of darkness.

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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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The Sculptor – a short story

Unthology 8 coverI’ve been impressed by Unthank Books and their beautifully discerning and disconcerting Unthologies for many years. The tales they select and the books they produce inevitably stop me in my tracks. Right from the start, I yearned to see one of my pieces included among their number, and it’s taken a few attempts, some careful edits and just the right mix of narrative and imagery, but it seems I finally cracked it.

Quite simply, I’m thrilled that my short story The Sculptor is among the offerings of Unthology 8, due out on 28th January 2016. What a great start to the year! The Sculptor tells the tale of an ice sculptor coming to terms with her father’s semantic dementia.

I’ve already received my contributor copy  – an elegant black-sheathed volume crammed with fiction by Victoria Briggs, Kit Caless, Armel Dagorn, Sarah Dobbs, Clare Fisher, David Frankel, Rodge Glass, FC Malby, Amanda Mason, and other amazing authors.

Unlike many anthols, with Unthanks offerings it really is best to read the stories in the order in which they’re presented as editors Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones take care to curate the selection in a way that builds up and enhances the reading experience in the most exquisite manner. The book is now ready to pre-order from Book Depository, so if you want to treat yourself, just hop over to www.bookdepository.com.

If you sign up to the Unthank Mailing List (from Unthank’s website or Facebook page) you can get discounted copies and a discount on all other Unthank titles.

Here’s the write up from the publishers:

Live on a grand scale. Make deathless art. Scream paint. Sculpt ice. Let it melt and become a dynasty. Tarry with prophets and dreamers. Find joy in danger zones. Quit the stage of history. Tread the boards instead. Take a safari. Take a boat ride to the south of France. Work in the music biz, a chicken shack or cliff-top café. Fall in love, then out of love. Complete the jigsaw puzzle in a tiny room. Find yourself in a pris- on cell. Become a machine, loveable and servile. Realise that all the time, wherever you have been, whoever you’ve inhabited, you have been in a relationship with everyone there ever was or is yet to come and you can’t do one damn thing about it. Find fellow travellers here. Make friends with Unthology 8.”

I can’t tell you how excited I am to be a part of this.

Unthology 8, published by Unthank Books, is available from wordery.com and bookdepository.com.

Book review – Between Here and Knitwear by Chrissie Gittins

Between Here and Knitwear coverUnrolling from childhood and deep into adulthood, Chrissie Gittins’ autobiographical short story collection strikes at the heart of a family getting on with the business of living.

From the wonder of a nest full of curlew eggs to the difficulties of finding stockings long enough for her adolescent legs to the quiet sorrows of aiding ailing parents, author Gittins captures the preoccupations of each age and individual with such unflinching clarity that you’ll feel a jolt of recognition, even if you’ve yet to reach the part of life she writes of.

The 22 interlinked stories weave together beautifully to form a heartfelt family portrait, in particular the tales focused on the relationship between Gittins and her parents. At the same time, every story stands alone as a self-contained missive rich with layers of observation. We’re treated to the embarrassment of learning lurid lines of Shakespeare, experience the raw confusion of Gittins’ teenage self attempting to get to the bottom of “why my mum is how she is”, listen in on tender conversations with her father when, as he says himself, he is losing his reason, accompany Gittins through a debate on the disparate weightiness of two apparently identical lemon chiffon cakes.

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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 – Meridian by David Rose

Meridian by David RosePart novel, part interlinked short story collection, this immersive tale takes you into a world of people each deeply absorbed in their own lives. Whether it’s the architect seeing the beauty in the world around him, or the man building a wine rack and obsessing over a misadventure on a quiz show, each character is focused on their activities in a way that can’t help but draw you in.

Objects hold an emotive significance that becomes almost sensual – for the woman bidding at an auction items conjure up a nostalgia in which jam-making “means freedom, expansion of the soul. The clatter of copper pans in her grandmother’s kitchen was the comfort-zone of solitude”.

For me this is the sense the book as a whole offers up – a gaze at life’s minutiae that’s both intensely personal and dizzyingly universal. Often this is simply about our own sentiment and connections, but many ring out, following the protagonists’ rambling thoughts to uncover some wise observation or intriguing information. For example, a section about a remembered pair of binoculars becomes a wonderment over the aftermath of World War II “the returnees, the expulsions, the Displaced Persons housed in barracks, prisons, derelict halls”, finishing the paragraph with the simple, vivid sentence, “Life, he found, was a constant rippling out.” 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

Book review – Unthology 5

Unthology 5A flawless short story anthology is a rare thing, but this may well be it. Editors Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones have selected 14 startling, unsettling tales and strung them together in an order that best shows off their facets, of which, of course, there are many.

I’d expect nothing less from the duo who have already put together four excellent Unthologies. There’s a sense of them curating the book as an event, hanging each tale so that the preceding and following stories will enhance the impression each one leaves you with. In this scenario the first and last have added responsibility, drawing you in one end, and easing you out of the other, a little altered despite yourself.

The opening story, A Little More Prayer by Angela Readman, does this effortlessly with the story of a teenager in the aftermath of a kidnapping, subtly shifting your understanding of events until you emerge, troubled but intrigued. Continue reading

Submit to UNTHOLOGY 6

Unthank Books UnthologiesYou still have time to submit your stories to UNTHOLOGY No.6 – just! The deadline is May 1st 2014.

Unthank Books have an eye for the more unusual, risk-taking breed of fiction, so push yourself to your creative limits and send them your most unique pieces.

They say: “UNTHOLOGY allows space for stories of different styles and subjects to rub up against each other. It features the classic slice-of-life well told just as much as the experimental, the shocking and strange.”

So loosen up your mind and let the most uncanny elements of your imagination rise to the surface.

There’s no wordcount restriction for Unthology and you can send up to three stories.

Send your tales, formatted in Times New Roman and double-spaced, by post to Unthank Submissions (Unthology), PO BOX 3506, Norwich, NR7 7QP. Make sure you also include an SAE and personal contact details. Alternatively, email your stories to unthology(at)unthankbooks dot com.

And before you submit, take a moment to check out the first few issues first.

You can read my review of UNTHOLOGY 5, which came out in June 2014, here.