Today on the blog, Laura Waddell writes the latest article in our Spine series, a new regular book club feature for TYCI.
Short stories are having a bit of a moment. There are some striking collections being published at the moment, and buzz for the medium is emanating from short story competitions from the likes of The White Review literary magazine, Galley Beggar (one of my favourite indie publishers notably responsible for giving Eimear McBride’s extraordinary A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing its break) and the Bristol Short Story Prize, as well as publishers like Readux dedicating themselves entirely to printing the short form. You might have noticed finding time to read is a bit of a SPINE theme. Short story collections slot into busy lives like lunchboxes. Individual stories can be imbibed whole, satisfyingly, one by one; lessening the likelihood of reaching your stop before the end of the chapter.
For SPINE this month, from my recent reading I’ve chosen three debut collections from indie publishers.
On The Edges of Vision by Helen McClory
Helen McClory’s debut collection of short stories won the Saltire Society Literary Award for First Book of the Year recently – a prestigious and hard-fought accolade which immediately put it on my radar and reading list. Although they don’t always receive the UK-wide media attention they deserve, a recent tongue in cheek description of the awards described them as “Scotland’s book Oscars.” I started reading On the Edges of Vision late one night, and was glad of the accidental good timing – deep into the insomniac night is an ideal setting to read the dark stories beneath the sunny cover.
There’s a blend of influences in here. Gender stereotypes are prodded until they burst messily; a strand of fantasy or the supernatural is woven into the majority of the stories, and there’s the occasional setting straight out of film noir; motels and late night diners provide some of the most memorable stories filled with cinematic qualities of light and shadows and sexual tension. A line in the author bio picks up too on the gothic notes within; “there is a moor and a cold sea in her heart.” I ate this collection up, and recommended it to several friends I thought would love it – Helen McClory is a strong new writing talent worth checking out.
Pond by Claire-Louise Bennet
Pond by Claire-Louise Bennet is an elegant, minimal volume from indie press Fitzcarraldo Editions with creamy paper under a navy cover. You will want to stroke its interior. I did. The stories themselves, loosely linked, are rural disclosures from one character: the world she inhabits is of thatched roofs, isolation, a country kitchen, fruit trees, and relationships. We see her lying in her garden comfortable enough with her surroundings to listen to beetles and spiders (ordinarily, horrifying); at other times bothered by her isolation and the sexual suggestiveness conducted by boorish labourers working on one of the few houses nearby (a situation she turns on its head.) It is introspective and layered; confessional in tone: at times a path is cleared through the undergrowth and we understand her mind quite clearly; at others, branches snap back into place and obscure the path. At times I wished for less set-up and sprawling. There’s a habit of getting-going that’s most obvious in a section about what colour of ink she’s writing with, a story easily stronger edited down; but for telling the fears (real and imagined) of a down-a-farm-track existence that feels so remote to me (digitally occupied in the city) I appreciated the view.
Treats by Lara Williams
Treats. Oh, where to begin? To disclose my interest, this one is published by Freight Books (where I work.) I mentioned it briefly in my very first SPINE column. I said then, when it was still a grubby A4 print-off stained with coffee and bag-dust and I had just realised I had something special in my hands, “the way in which she manages to pull out all the weird moments of 20s/30s existing, working, and dating; all foibles and impulses and moments of heart singing and things lurking in the shadows, real and recognisable but not cliched (Yes! Me too!) made me fall for it.” These stories, often socially conscious, feminist, and empathetic, roam a range of topics including abortion, female friends, body image, taxidermy, trying to make a career in the arts, sex, alienation and more: a recent early reviewer brilliantly summed the collection up as “something Katherine Mansfield might have written, if she lived in a world with iphones and Topshop”, really pinpointing its blend of intelligent, classic storytelling for the modern age.
Sometimes publishing is a strange, lonely business. I first read this book last summer: ever since then I’ve been waiting for publication day to share it with others who might connect with it as strongly as I did; readers who might find themselves in it too and its illumination (by phone torch) of the everyday.
Treats is the kind of heart-singingly exciting writing that made me want to be a publisher. This and the other short story collections above, or other books I’ve featured in SPINE, exemplify why I’m so glad women’s voices are becoming more visible as publishing and media increasingly diversifies. I mean this not only for the sake of equality, but for what these women contribute to the pool of great
literary talent we’d likely have missed out on were they alive instead 100 years ago. (And if you
look closely at the cover of Treats, you might notice a copy of Men Explain Things to Me by
Rebecca Solnit on the table.)
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on these books or others. Do come to me with comments here or on Twitter at @lauraewaddell.
Read more in the Spine series HERE.