In a Nutshell: I find it difficult to comprehend that this is a debut anthology from a new publisher; a publisher who not so long ago was nothing more than a ‘simple’ book blogger. Rod Redman has put together a short story anthology here that’s engaging, entertaining and wholly mature. The story mix is eclectic to say the least, but that’s a good thing because variety is undoubtedly the spice of life, and there’s certainly lots of life in this one. Highly recommended, even if Various Authors is almost a year old now.
I may have penned my forethoughts post for Various Authors (The Fiction Desk) close to a year ago now, but don’t let my slow pace in reading through this anthology reflect any unwillingness to read it. My snail’s pace simply comes from me trying to juggle too many balls at the same time. Finally however I have got to the end of Various Authors, and I’m ready to offer up my afterthoughts.
Realising a dream
Just over a year ago Rob Redman was a simple lit reviewer like me, but he harboured a desire to not only write about short fiction, but to become a major source in bringing fresh new stories to the masses. He came up with the idea of publishing a quarterly anthology of new short fiction – titles can be bought individually or as part of a subscription deal – and Various Authors is the realisation of Rob’s dream – the first quarterly anthology to be published under The Fiction Desk brand (at the time of writing, another two anthologies have been published (All These Little Words and The Maginot Line).
I’ll say from the outset that the quality of the stories in Various Authors blew me away. I wasn’t quite prepared for the level of reading enjoyment that I got from the anthology, simply because I thought it would take time for this new venture to get up to speed, but it’s clear that The Fiction Desk have set out to impress, and with Various Authors they seem to have succeeded.
Before I go on to speak about this anthology as a whole, I’d like to give you a summary of my individual reviews for each story in Various Authors, together with links to each individual review:
- Two Buses Away by Lynsey May – “I found this opener [to the collection] to be somewhat mundane and largely uneventful. But hold on, isn’t the mood of the average trip to the parent’s house for lunch on a Sunday pretty much like that for most people i.e. mundane and largely uneventful? Absolutely, so May has done a great job in capturing the mood perfectly.” Rating:
- How to Fall in Love with an Air Hostess by Harvey Marcus – “a thoroughly entertaining story, and it’s one in my reading experience, that’s wholly unique. Good job, that man!” Rating:
- Crannock House by Ben Lyle – “The real triumph of this story isn’t solely based on the success of one character. Rather, it’s Lyle’s sublime treatment of the relationship between one lonely schoolboy and an equally lonely academic that really puts the icing on the cake.” Rating:
- Rex by Jon Wallace – “If the rest of Wallace’s stories are as inventive and as humourous as this one, then I swear I’m going to keel over and die. I’ve not laughed so hard while reading a story for a long time.” Rating:
- The Puzzle by Alex Cameron – “I read primarily in order to moved emotionally, and this story certainly hit the mark in that respect.” Rating:
- Dave’s Tough Luck by Matthew Licht – “I like the pace of Matthew Licht’s prose. It skips along with speed and a sense of urgency, which is perfect for a story that’s themed around such an energetic activity [drumming].” Rating:
- Assassination Scene by Jason Atkinson – “[This] is one of these tales where not a great deal happens. That said, it captures a precise moment in a person’s life when a key spark is (hopefully) ignited….and in this story Jason manages splendidly, to shine a spotlight on one man’s minor victory.” Rating:
- Celia and Harold by Patrick Whittaker – “A surreal and nonsensical story this may be, but it’s a joy to read. It feels like a Kelly Link meets Blake Butler meets Alex Burrett kind of tale, and it’s just as entertaining.” Rating:
- All I Want by Charles Lambert – “What I like most about All I Want is the sizzling undercurrent of lust and passion which runs through the story. It’s something that lingers without really comes to the surface. As such the overall mood of the story is subtle but tense at the same time. Very clever writing indeed.” Rating:
- A Covering of Leaves by Danny Rhodes – “From [a] seed Rhodes has built a story that feels so ‘in memoriam’, not only to the lost souls of a fictional train crash, but to the victims of any disaster that has happened in the real world. The story and the feelings it arouses is quietly magnificent.” Rating:
- Sometimes the Only Way Out is In by Ben Cheetham – “One is inclined to think that Cheetham must have transgressed to his boyhood state when writing this story because he really does get into the mind of a ten-year-old. This is longest story of the collection by far, and it’s definitely one of the best in terms of readability and enjoyment.” Rating:
- Nativity by Adrian Stumpp – “I can’t ever remember reading a story on the fears of impending fatherhood, so this is a new one on me. And I think that author Stumpp has treated the subject brilliantly, raising all of the fears and the upheavals that impending fatherhood brings with it.” Rating:
Consistently high standard of story
So that’s a rundown of my individual reviews for each of the stories in Various Authors and you may have noticed how consistently high my individual ratings are. This is rare because in a work that contains stories from so many different authors, it’s difficult to maintain consistency. Such is the varied and fickle nature of most reader’s taste that they will enjoy some stories more than others, and significantly so. It’s almost impossible to produce an anthology where every story is a hit for the reader (the Bristol Short Story Prize anthologies are an exception because the stories in their anthologies – up to this point – remain consistently brilliant throughout), yet The Fiction Desk seem to have succeeded.
Sure, I may not have bestowed a single five-star-rating on any of the stories in this anthology which may make it look inferior, but many have 4 and 4.5 ratings, with the lowest scoring story still coming out with an not too shabby rating of 3 (and in retrospect I may have underscored that one by at least a 1/2 mark). That dear reader, is impressive.
Best of the bunch
So, onto a brief mention of my absolute favourite stories in this anthology. First off I was thoroughly entertained by Jon Wallace’s ludicrous tale, Rex. The story’s like a bizarre sketch from Monty Python, and it’s just as ‘laugh out loud’ hilarious.
Tears of another kind rolled down my face when I read Cheetham’s story, Sometimes the Only Way Out is In by. Ultimately it’s a tragic tale, but I love how profoundly the author gets into the mind of a ten-year-old boy. Although the main character in this one doesn’t have autism (only naivety) it reminds me in part of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. I loved that novel for its intimacy and power, and I loved this story in much the same way.
It was back to the surreal and wacky with Patrick Whittaker’s Celia and Harold, which is another story in Various Authors that I enjoyed purely for its entertainment value. Whittaker has a vivid imagination, and his tale brought some lighter relief and balance to the more serious stories in this collection.
With variety comes enrichment and freedom
As for my impressions on the anthology as a whole? Well there is no tying theme and so the stories in Various Authors are wide-ranging and eclectic – a mix of serious and of humourous tales – but I consider this to be a good thing. With variety comes enrichment and a certain sense of freedom, and in Various Authors the stories take the reader from different themes and situations and to different locations around the planet. One minute the reader finds oneself on a bus whizzing around the Glasgow suburbs (Two Buses Away by Lynsey May), and the next, he/she is reclining on the shores of Lake Garda with a glass of vino in hand (All I Want by Charles Lambert). No sooner does one share in the anguish of man who is trapped inside his lifeless body in a nursing home (The Puzzle by Alex Cameron), before one is whisked off to gather ‘tips’ on how to date an air hostess (How to Fall in Love with an Air Hostess by Harvey Marcus). Sure I like the framework of a themed anthology, but I also enjoy story anthologies such as this one where one doesn’t know what the next story may bring or where in the world it’s going to take one.
Keen eye for rooting out quality short fiction
So all in all then I’m really impressed with this debut anthology from this new publisher. It couldn’t have been easy deciding to launch a new publishing venture in this current economic climate however strong the desire, but it looks as though The Fiction Desk not only have a strong vision for success, but they also have a keen eye for rooting out quality short fiction. If the standard of story remains as consistently high as this one in subsequent quarterly anthologies, then short story connoisseurs will be ensured of a reliable new source from which they will be able to feed their passion.
The Fiction Desk | 18th April 2011 | £9.99 | PAPERBACK | 192 PP | ISBN: 9780956784308
:: What others have said about Various Authors::
- “I was encouraged enough by what I read in Various Authors to tune in for the next instalment.” – Pauline Masurel, The Short Review
- “A mixed bag. A few of the pieces I found a little underdeveloped or lightweight; several others were very polished and moving.” – Valerie O’ Riordan, Bookmunch
- “This first volume of Various Authors was an absolute delight to navigate, and I eagerly anticipate the second.” – Renee Beauregard Lute, The Review Review