I’ve read many stand-out stories this year so I’m limiting myself to one example from each of my categories.
Details: There are marvellous character details in the story ‘A Room With Many Small Beds’ by Kathy Fish, the first story in a newly published collection of flash fiction pieces, ‘Rift’, which also contains stories by Robert Vaughan. I’m eagerly waiting for Rift to arrive in the post, but you can read this first piece online. The narrator’s father’s girlfriend, Pearl, ” …sits cross-legged in front of the television with her cigarettes and her nail file. Her hair is set in empty frozen orange juice cans. She looks like a space alien or a sea creature.”
It’s the orange juice can rollers that do it for me.
A few sentences in Dancing to the Shipping Forecast, Dan Powell’s second prize winning story in the Bath Short Story Award 2015, gave me a heart-stop moment. The narrator’s great love has disappeared in a storm – we don’t know how. She is still living his house near the sea. His sister wants her to leave and eventually implies in a phone call, that because the relationship was new, she has no right to stay any longer. After a long, crackling silence we hear the narrator’s thoughts –
“Two months, three weeks, four days, fourteen hours and a few minutes. Two months, three weeks, four days, fourteen hours and a few minutes from the first kiss to the last…”
This account of time in the context of the piece, sums up the aching depth of the woman’s loss and desolation. It comes at around the mid-point. Read the whole story in the Bath Short Story Award Anthology, 2015.
There are many great paragraphs in ‘All About Alice’ one of Danielle McGoughlin’s stories in her acclaimed debut collection, ‘Dinosaurs on Other Planets’ Middle-aged Alice is trapped by the mistakes of her past, living without hope in the family home with her routine-bound father. In a rare week alone, when her father is on holiday, she ends up on a one-night stand with Jarlath.
“In the semi-darkness of Jarlath’s bedroom, Alice lay on her back. She saw a large amoeba-shaped stain on the ceiling and, on top of the wardrobe, an orange traffic cone. Downstairs the two young men that Jarlath shared the house with had turned the music up louder. Jarlath lay next to her, his jeans still around his ankles. The music stopped downstairs and for a while there was silence except for the sound of a car going by on the street outside. Alice was overcome by a deadly urge to talk.”
Says it all.
‘The Good Son’, by Paul McVeigh contains dozens of scenes that fizz with energy. He came to Bath for an evening of readings we organised at Bath Short Story Award and read from the beginning of the novel, making those initial scenes even more poignant and funny. Another scene I enjoyed describes Mickey, the ten-year old protagonist, playing in his mother’s bedroom and dressing Killer, his dog, in a confirmation dress. But there are so many. In other scenes, I learned new words and phrases: ‘ lumbering’ and ‘hitting a redner’. If you don’t know what they mean, read the novel. Read it anyway, it’s so good. My copy is still with my neighbour, who loved it too.
‘This Is How They Drown’
This title works well for a powerful piece of flashfiction by Eileen Merriman, which won second prize in the inaugural Bath Flash Fiction Award. Although we know from the title that more than one person will drown, we don’t know how. There are layers of ‘drowning’ in this piece – the story lingers – what will happen to the girl who survives this terrible event? Go to ‘Winners’ on the website menu to read the story and to ‘Views’ to read what Eileen has to say about how it came into being.
The whole Shebang
The Redemption of Galen Pike’ by Carys Davies won the prestigious Frank O’Connor award this year. I’ve just bought a copy and read two stories so far, both of which knocked me out. The ends of each are so surprising and powerful. ‘Travellers’ begins in Siberia but its heart is in Birmingham. Read the beginning of ‘The Quiet’, set somewhere in a remote homestead in Australia and you might think you know where the story is going to end. You’re wrong. Timeless themes in different landscapes. Can’t wait to read more. Buy this.
Read/ buy all the other pieces too. They’re all wonderful.