Publisher: Chaffinch Press, an imprint of The Blue Nib (2020)
RRP: €10.50 146 pages
In this collection of short stories, Chip-Lit Festival short story winner Diana Powell continues her exploration of lives we don’t see enough of, telling the stories of people we want to know more about. Pixie, for example, in ‘The Rules for Going Skipping’: there is great sorrow and pain between the lines as we learn how outcast Pixie is one day included in the trawl of skips by a local gang, harvesting what has been discarded by those richer than herself. She is totally unprepared by what she finds – no upcycling likely to be happening here. Most harrowing in this particular story is what is left unsaid. What Pixie finds is terrible – but how and why did it end up there? We know how the story is going to end but are willing Pixie to make it end differently. It doesn’t of course – it can’t – but this story is so strong that it makes the reader think ‘these people are real, this actually happened.’ If pure fiction, then that amplifies the strength of Powell’s writing.
In ‘The Risk Factor’, Powell turns storytelling on its head slightly by including a few mathematical equations, and to brilliant end. Somehow seeing a short story expounded with maths only makes it more readable and relatable. The scenario is so very true and with our third-person mathematician in the room as well, a hint of humour filters through – until the story takes a dark turn. It’s a great short; a clever, witty and very dark comment on the constant drive to shop, buy and constantly consume.
All of Powell’s characters and scenarios are intriguing, and none more so than ‘The Woman Who Never Begs’. As is clear in this collection, each story title does not mean what we assume it to, and this one is no different. Powell makes the artist, Paul, burst off the page despite the story being told through the eyes and emotions of his muse, Magda. Powell’s use of language lets us know quite clearly what sort of person Paul the artist is: ‘…she understood it was something artists enjoyed – educating, moulding, the girls they picked up from the street.’ Yes, the artist’s damning ego shouts loud and clear through this story – and don’t we hate him for it! A bully in paint-splashed clothes. His model though, Magda, ah, well, we feel her emotions right to the very end, giving her a silent ‘hurrah’ when her task is complete. A terrific story of love and jealousy, and how the characters in this story deal with both.
In ‘Watching Me Watching You’ Powell explores a really unusual and real condition – don’t worry no spoilers – but the opening line ‘…a creature without a face nuzzles in the ooze and dark’ is an intriguing line to reel the reader in. As a reader, you get the feeling that Powell knows these people – that they are real – and could be living in any town or city near you. It is that insight, that observation, that makes them so authentic.
Jacci Gooding is busy on the live lit circuit in Leamington Spa and Warwick. Author and ex-editorial assistant, she can also be found in the summer months reading her short stories at The Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival and on the fringe at the Evesham Festival of Words. A Writers’ New competition winner and participant in Birmingham Rep’s Play in a Day. Self-published in both digital and paper format, her short stories can be found online as well as on her blog. When not writing fiction, she writes short articles for Mayhem! magazine.