Before I begin with these forethoughts, a disclaimer. I know both of the editors of this anthology series, not in a physical sense but we connect together online often, to discuss the glory of the written word and the beautiful minds who wield their mighty literary talents with poise and expertise. I tell you this not to show off or suggest that I regularly mix in prestigious literary circles, but to give you some kind of reassurance that these guys really know their sh*t. They’re extraordinarily knowledgable, and along with their tireless motivation they have talent and good taste literally pouring out of their ears (not a pretty sight, as you can imagine).
Does my connection with the editors mean I’m going to be reviewing Unthology 4 with any kind of bias or loaded agenda? Well, I’m disappointed that you would even ask me such a thing. My reputation and honour mean more to me than anything, and so you can guarantee that my impartiality remains at 100% at all times. I rate literature solely on merit, and no amount of connection or coercion (ha..that choice of word suggests I’m painting folks a bit Mafia-like, but really I’m just hooked on alliteration) will change this.
With that out the way, let’s have a look at the fourth anthology offering that comes from the stables of Unthank Books. Operating from the sunny climes of Norwich, Unthank Books have been around for a while now. They’re a member of the Independent Publishers’ Alliance, and along with organising the Unlit Festival that runs in Norwich over three consecutive days in November, they run the Unthank School of Writing where they provide courses in all aspects of fiction and online writing. To date they’ve published an eclectic range of titles, from their Writers in Conversation series, through novels by established and new writers, to collections and anthologies of short fiction, with one of the latest being A. J. Ashworth’s stunning anthology, Red Room, which features stories inspired by the Brontë Sisters.
It’s safe to say then that Unthank Books are committed to promoting the written word, and with their Unthology series it’s very much the short story that takes centre stage.
I’ve got to be honest here and admit that I’ve never formerly reviewed any of the previous Unthology anthologies (two words I bet you can’t say together three times fast without getting tongue tied :)), not because of lack of interest but because of time restraints. A feeble excuse I know, and so to make amends I’m setting off on a determined journey through this latest edition.
And it’s funny that I should mention setting off on a journey (I always do, but please humour me) because this edition of the anthology focuses in part on the theme of wanderlust. Here’s the complete blurb:
Unthology 4 continues Unthank Books’ celebrated series, drawing its energy from the wanderlust and shape-shifting tendencies of the contemporary short story.
Its thirteen stories involve cats, crows and angels; moments of realization and moments of doubt; bad moves, wrong turns and trips across the border. A fire-scarred war veteran enters the domain of a coked-up yuppie. A blind girl wakes up to find that the bird song has ended. A lad on the slide dates a cosseted schoolgirl and ends up teetering on a church roof. Safe-cracking stories by bold and stealthy writers.
Well, not a lot I can say to this really, aside from how eclectic and imaginative it all sounds. It’s always refreshing when the short story form is pulled into new shapes and taken off in new directions, and looking at the brief summaries of some of the stories contained in this anthology, I can tell that I need to throw my short fiction road map away (there’s that bloody ‘journey’ analogy again :)) and dive in with open heart and mind, which is exactly what I love doing with contemporary short story collections (unlike say a classic Chekhov collection which I read in part to study established form and technique).
It’s a journey (again, I know, but I’m ignoring it this time) into the unknown one might say, but in reality it’s not quite. I have read and/or acquainted myself with a few of the writers who have contributed to this anthology. I’ve had the pleasure of reading Rodge Glass (his latest collection LoveSexTravelMusik (Freight Books) is something else), and of entering the story world of Carys Bray through her Sweet Home story collection, published by Salt. Sarah Bower rings a bell, as does Sarah Evans. And I know Michael Crossan rather well, but have oddly never read any of his short fiction. It all seems very much as it says on the tin, ‘a collection from new and established writers’, and that’s always an exciting prospect for me.
Anyway, I’ve rambled enough I’m sure, and I should probably get going with this. I list the full contents of Unthology 4 below with the intention of linking to each story as I read and review it. When I’m done I’ll summarise everything and pass on my final afterthoughts on the anthology as a whole. Meantime, here’s an extra story from Rodge Glass that’s well worth reading. And here’s one from Carys Bray too. You’re welcome!
:: Contents of Unthology 4 ::
(links lead to individual reviews of each short story, when posted)
- A Real T.O.A. by Rodge Glass
- Treasures of Heaven by Carys Bray
- Eden Dust by Michael Crossan
- Finished by Sarah Bower
- Violet by Barnaby Walsh
- Burning Man by Rowena Macdonald
- The Cat by Adrian Slatcher
- Suicide Bomber by Melanie Whipman
- Administration: An Intern’s Guide by Joshua Allen
- The Murder of Crows by Marc Owen Jones
- The Laundry Key Complex by Aiden O’Reilly
- The Angel by Sarah Evans
- Little Things by Ruby Cowling
Unthank Books | 1 November 2013 | £12 | PAPERBACK | 194 PP | ISBN: 978-0-9572897-4-1
A note about forethoughts
‘Forethoughts’ offer an insight into what my initial thoughts and impressions of a book are before I begin reading it. Informal, and largely written as a stream-of-consciousness exercise in a single sitting, my ‘forethoughts’ capture an important stage of the reading experience for me – the anticipatory period before the book is first opened, when my excitement is piqued for the reading journey that lies ahead.
Blissfully ignorant my ‘forethoughts’ may well be, but when combined with my eventual ‘afterthoughts’, the result is a unique and comprehensive record of a very personal literary journey through a particular book; a literary journey which will hopefully be of some value to other readers.