Afterthoughts: Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology Vol. 3

In a Nutshell: Coming with content that always feels fresh and original, this third offering from the Bristol Short Story Prize is about as close to the perfect short story anthology as it’s likely to get. There really is something in here for everyone, and I don’t just mean one or two of the stories. Sure you’re going to like some tales more than others, but whereas most anthologies are a bit hit-and-miss – with the content varying from the really good to the really bad – Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology 3 manages to remain consistently above average throughout; something which is rarely seen in most short fiction anthologies of this type, these days. If you don’t think short stories are your ‘thing’ then I urge you to give this one a try. I’ve a feeling it may well change your mind.

*****

This anthology is the product of an annual competition held by quarterly culture magazine, the Bristol Review of Books, in celebration and in promotion of the short story form, and the unpublished authors who pen those stories. I’ve already written a forethoughts post on the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology 3 so I won’t ramble on giving you any more background information. Instead I’ll dive straight in to my review on this anthology, beginning with a rundown on my reviews for each individual story. Links lead to my full review for each story, but for your convenience (because I’m incredibly thoughtful that way :)), I’ve also included a snippet from each review, together with a final rating for each story. If you want to find out more, then just click on a related link. OK, let’s go and please be aware that my afterthoughts on the anthology as a whole continues after these listings:

  • ‘Mum’s The Word’ by Valerie O’Riordan“If you’ve ever considered flash fiction to be an ineffective storytelling vehicle, then you REALLY NEED to read this one.” Rating: ★★★★½
  • ‘Only the Sure of Foot’ by Ian Madden“What I love most about the story though is how well Madden combines his wonderfully engaging storyline – which is quite sorrowful at times – with some beautifully painted descriptions of landscape.” Rating: ★★★★☆
  • ‘Gardening’ by Rachel Howard“I found the whole reading experience for this one to be somewhat surreal, yet at the same time wholly warming.” Rating: ★★★★☆
  • ‘Man Friday and the Sockball Championships’ by Mike Bonsall“Despite not really being a fan of anything sci-fi, this story turned out to be not that bad.” Rating: ★★★½☆
  • ‘Two Girls Under an Apple Tree’ by Kate Brown“There are some delicate little Dutch references in the story that both add to the feeling of cosmopolitan while giving the subtlest suggestion of ‘fairy tale’. If that’s not enough for you, then the story also comes with a clever little ending. Very enjoyable!” Rating: ★★★★☆
  • ‘Marrakech’ by Darci Bysouth“I admire Bysouth’s skill in instilling in the reader, a real empathy for the main character. I also adore her genius in twisting things so that the plot brings something entirely unexpected. Bravo to the storyteller!” Rating: ★★★★☆
  • ‘Struthio Camelus’ by Joanna Campbell“I’m a fan of Campbell’s writing ‘voice’. It has a certain vibrant bounciness to it, which makes it easy and enjoyable to connect with.” Rating: ★★★½☆
  • ‘Signs of Our Redemption’ by Tara Conklin“a good story, quite sad but very well written.” Rating: ★★★★☆
  • ‘A Sense of Humour’ by Rik Gammack“this a clever little story from Gammack, and it’s one that really gets you thinking.” Rating: ★★★★☆
  • ‘Conservation of Angular Momentum’ by Ashley Jacob“Bath-based Jacob really surprised me with this story. It has no rhyme nor reason yet it stands as a very well-rounded little tale.” Rating: ★★★★½
  • ‘Wine at Breakfast’ by Claire King“one of these stories that begins hazy before the mist gradually clears to reveal a rather shocking story. Such a storytelling technique is difficult to get right in my opinion, but King succeeds with much prowess.” Rating: ★★★★☆
  • ‘The Meek Inherit’ by Natasya Parker“The reader certainly won’t walk away from this one full of the joys of Spring, but how boring would life be if every story had a Disney ending?” Rating: ★★★★½
  • ‘rZr and Napoleon’ by Jonathan Pinnock“This is a wonderfully inventive story from Pinnock, and one which has a slight tinge of Edgar Allen Poe about it.” Rating: ★★★★☆
  • ‘Spring Tide’ by Marli Roode“South African-born Roode really has done a remarkable job with this story and aside from providing a few ‘morbid milestones’ as reminders that death can be imminent and sudden, she’s subtly seasons her story with a sense of impending doom, which does nothing but unsettle the reader to an even greater degree.” Rating: ★★★★½
  • ‘Born Not Made’ by Rachel Sargeant“the way in which Germany-based Sargeant describes how music affects the main character is sublime i.e. it [the car’s CD player] was giving off a sound like honey, sweet and slow that oozed into Mozza’s head and trickled down to the heart.” Rating: ★★★☆☆
  • ‘Ten Plastic Roses’ by Yana Stajno“Stajno possesses a wry and somewhat slapstick sense of humour, and she employs that humour well, making this story pleasurable and entertaining to read.” Rating: ★★★★☆
  • ‘An Experiment’ by Natasha Tripney“I rather enjoyed this story from this London-based writer, which has something of an element of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion to it.” Rating: ★★★½☆
  • ‘Being Mother’ by Sherri Turner“This is a great story, cleverly constructed by Cornish-born writer Sherri Turner, which comes with an ending (perhaps middle to ending is a more accurate description) that is so wholly unexpected” Rating: ★★★★☆
  • ‘Bitter Gourd Fruit’ by Ben Walker“This is a story which has a lot crammed into its short length, and I mean that in a good way, and it’s a story which definitely feels original and fresh” Rating: ★★★★☆
  • ‘But Then Again, Maybe it is’ by Clare Wallace” ‘Saving the best until last’ is an adage that almost rings true here, because this final story in this anthology is certainly one of the best of the bunch. I adored it, simply because it’s so well put together, and it reads so beautifully.” Rating: ★★★★½

So dear reader, what’s the first thing you notice about all 20 of these individual short story reviews? Well, probably nothing at first, except that your scrolling finger is aching a little :), but if you look closer (if you haven’t already), then you will have seen that ALL of my ratings for these stories remain consistently high. Now, that’s a bit of a rarity that. I don’t know what your reading experience of these things is, but I’ve always found that the quality of stories found in a short story collection/anthology such as this, varies greatly. There is usually a handful of good stories, a lion’s share of average stories, and dare I say it, a couple of rotten apples too. Well, not so with the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology 3. I found that the quality of the stories remained top-notch throughout, and that’s really only down to one thing – selection i.e. the exquisite taste and quality of the judging panel; those beautiful minds (Bertel Martin, Maia Bristol, Tania Hershman, Helen Hart, Joe Berger) who not only chose the overall winner of the 2010 Bristol Short Story Prize, but the other 19 shortlisted stories included in this anthology too.

And I guess that’s one of the reasons why I’m recommending this anthology for all to read (you do by now know that I’m recommending this anthology to all to read by now, right?), because as a consequence of the judging process that it’s gone through, this is one short story anthology that stands heads and shoulders above the sea of similar publications.

O’Riordan’s a worthy winner aka brevity triumphs
So what of the stories contained within Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology 3? Which ones stood out as outstanding for me, and do I think that the judges were right in choosing Dublin-born Valerie O’Riordan as the overall 2010 winner? I’ll begin with O’Riordan, and say yes, the judges were absolutely spot on in declaring her story to be the winner. Don’t get me wrong, in my opinion at least half of the stories in this anthology could have took the prize, but O’Riordan’s is special, not least because she packs a hell of a punch into a story of incredibly short length. ‘Mum’s The Word’ is a work of flash fiction, the briefest of all story forms, and O’Riordan gives one on the chin to the naysayers who claim that a story can’t really be told in so few words.

The ‘best’ of the rest
So what of the other stories in this anthology? Well, I’m not just saying it but such was their quality that ANY of the other nineteen stories in this anthology could really have taken the top prize. There are, however, some stories which touched me more than others. For instance, Ashley Jacob thoroughly thrilled me with his very unique, and very entertaining tale, `Conservation of Angular Momentum’ . It’s about a guy who quite suddenly and rather unexpectedly finds himself falling through the sky above the City of Bath. It’s a clever story, full of humour, wit and colour, and it’s one that will definitely stick with me.

Another story which will stick with me for completely different reasons is Natasya Parker’s ‘The Meek Inherit’. Poor Mariette lives in the slums of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, and if her life isn’t bad enough to begin with (to illustrate, mud cakes are a staple of her diet), it becomes a whole lot worse during the course of the story. Harrowing and mournful are the only words I can think of to describe this one.

Marli Roode’s ‘Spring Tide’ is also one of the stories which I will remember for a long time to come. What the South African author has given us here, is a contemplation on death and degradation, together with a reminder that we are continually surrounded by these ‘mortal milestones’. It’s powerful stuff and in many ways I felt that I could have been reading something penned by Dostoevsky, albeit with less stiffness and considerably more layers of colour and modernity.

A pleasing layout – ‘clean and uncluttered’
I really should mention how impressed I am with the presentation of the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology 3. The Bristol Review of Books have used a similar ‘clean and uncluttered’ layout for all of its BSSP anthologies so far, and it’s one that really works. You may have noticed in my individual story reviews that I’ve often added a personal snippet about each author, and that’s thanks to every story in the anthology coming with a brief bio of each author (which is accompanied by a ‘mugshot’ that I’m sure every author unnecessarily cringes at :)), which I like because it’s nice to know something of the person behind the pen (especially when the writer up to that point, has remained unpublished).

If you hate short stories then please pick this up
So I hope dear reader that I’ve worked enough to convince you that Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology 3 is one well worth picking up. I was more than pleasantly surprised at the consistently and quality of the stories contained within this anthology, and as such I doubt there will be many of you out there that would be disappointed with the Bristol Review of Books latest offering. I especially urge those who turn their nose up at the short story form – and I know there’s plenty of you out there – to reconsider, and to give this particular anthology a try. I think it may just change your mind.

Before I close these afterthoughts I just want to do one more thing – to pay tribute both to the Bristol Review of Books and the judging panel of the Bristol Short Story Prize. The short story form is sadly under appreciated in this country, and as a consequence it receives much less attention than it deserves. For a short story fan like me this is all hugely dispiriting, but thankfully, through the unfading efforts of Bristol Review of Books and all of those involved with the Bristol Short Story Prize, there’s a corner of the literary world that’s ablaze with love for the short story; where the form is exalted and celebrated and definitely not kept in the shade. This gives me a warm feeling, it makes me smile, and as such I will always be grateful to the Bristol Review of Books and the Bristol Short Story Prize for putting the most deserving of story forms on a pedestal. On behalf of all short story fans around the world, I thank you (I was going to say ‘salute’ but then I would have sounded to much like a gladiator :))

Rating: ★★★★½

Bristol Review of Books Ltd. | July 2010 | £10.00 | PAPERBACK | 180 PP | ISBN: 9780955955549

:: What others have said about the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology 3::

  • “I would urge anyone who is planning on entering a competition this year to buy, beg, steal, or borrow a copy of this fantastic anthology. Not because it will put you off entering, but because this collection is likely to inspire you.”A J Kirby, The Short Review.
  • “There is some good stuff here, and the book is well worth seeking out.”David Hebblethwaite, Follow the Thread
  • “Overall, I’d agree with other reviews of this anthology. It’s full of some truly beautiful examples of the short story form…” Tomas Furby, Ramblings of a Bibliophile
About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books)