The Bath Short Story Award Anthology 2015 168 Pages Published by Brown Dog Books Publishing Date 22nd October 2015 £7.99 ISBN printed book 978-1-78545-054-9 ISBN e-book 978-1-78545-055-6
Review by Debbi Voisey
The Bath Short Story Award – currently in its fourth year – attracts writers from all over the world and is a well-respected prize. They also put out a mean anthology and their third, from 2015, is no exception. Now it’s a little off beam, I suppose, to write a review of a book that contains one of my own short stories, but this is such a rich and diverse collection that I am proud to declare that my story, ‘Death in the Nest’, is part of it.
There is much to love within these pages. It’s interesting to read an anthology of short stories from several different writers, as opposed to a collection from just one author, because it showcases so many differing styles and viewpoints – some lyrical, poetic and haunting; others stark and bleak.
First of these great voices is Safia Moore, with ‘That Summer’, set during a North Down heat wave. Moore skilfully pulled me into the story by evoking memories of the heat wave of my childhood back in 1976.
‘That Summer’ is a story about viewing life from the distance of childhood. Everything happening is seen through a haze of naivety and a desperation to fit in and be like everyone else. It’s about the wonders of youthful innocence and burgeoning sexual experience. In this troubled environment violence is commonplace, death ordinary, and yet the significance of the summer’s unfolding events subconsciously resonates.
Moore paints vivid pictures of the way a child’s mind deals with tragedy, fear, and insecurity – and of how their life goes on despite it. Drawing on a range of scenarios, she makes it easy to empathise with the child’s point of view. Whether the adventure in question involves missing children and copping a look at the next door neighbours boobs or not, every reader will find some part of themselves in this short story.
My favourite story, Dan Powell’s ‘Dancing to the Shipping Forecast’ is achingly beautiful but with a tension simmering, like a bow being pulled slowly and lightly across the strings of a violin.
Coping with the mysterious disappearance/death of a loved one, and dealing with the questions and insensitivity of his family who want her out of his house, our protagonist is bewildered, hurt and lost. She is not able to say goodbye, but knows she must.
In this story, nature plays an important part and acts as a metaphor for the grief that is destroying the family. This is beautifully demonstrated by the line One day the sea will swallow the very foundations of this place, which seems to simultaneously refer to her house, her heart, and very sanity.
This theme is further explored by Powell’s use of the weather. Brilliantly, he intersperses snippets of dialogue from the shipping forecast, expressing our helplessness among the elements; we have little control over what is and what will be.
In one scene a dog, keening for its lost master, stares out to sea, howling:
The sound seems torn from her, not something she gives willingly
Powell made it poignantly clear that this need, but inability, to express grief is echoed in our protagonist. The sea, the weather, and the rocks have taken her love and he is out there somewhere. Could he return, or is it time to let go?
In ‘A Woman of Letters’ by Angela Readman, a woman in a foreign land is giving young, desperate girls hope to find love and a new life away from their often brutal drudgery; their slavery in the only world they have known. She deals in dreams and the promise of a better life. However, she hides the ugly truth about the men, taking hopeful money and keeping the girls’ hearts raised in excited expectancy. Reading emails (and calling them love letters) from the men who might one day become their husbands, she translates tawdry, sexual words into the poetry of love: Onscreen, the man called Benji has replied: You look so hot in that new picture. I want to get you on all fours and… something that should not translate.
“He wishes you were here,” I say, “he needs you like air.”
Her own life is unfulfilled and she mourns the loss of her marriage and her youth, envying the way the young have of letting hopefulness in. She muses about one particular girl:
She makes smiling look so simple I ache.
I particularly loved her devotion to her own son, a slow developer, a man child whose hair is receding before it has known a woman’s fingers. He is in love with one of the girls and so this one, she decides, will never find her match.
As with the best short story collections, whether by one or several authors, The Bath Short Story Award Anthology 2015 takes you on many journeys and allows you inside the lives of remarkable people with remarkable stories to tell. A doctor helps a patient die with dignity; a mother and daughter murder a cruel father, a stale and bewildering marriage ends; a child learns the lesson of life, death and loss by caring for an injured bird… the list goes on.
Joining the Bath anthologies that have gone before (2013 and 2014) I found this a delightful round up of some of the best short stories from established and emerging writers alike.