Legends of the Short Story: 10 Journeys

Reader Logo by Jane Turley

I know the perimenopause is exacerbating the issue but I have a problem.

I can’t remember what I’ve read.

I also can’t remember, on a daily basis, where I’ve put my glasses, the car keys, my handbag and indeed my children’s names. It’s a nightmare. I’m trying to convince myself I’m just doing too much but the truth is I’ve probably got early dementia; it would be just my rotten luck. In fact, I’ve never been lucky except for the time I won a bowl of turkey pate at the church bingo when I was a teenager.

(Which isn’t really that fortunate if you’re 13 and fancy John Travolta.)

Anyway, yesterday I was rushing around the house when eventually I thought I should stop and take stock of the situation.
This is what I found; a partially cooked meal on the stove, half the clean laundry trailing out of the washer and the other half hanging on the line, the bathroom sprayed with cleaner but not cleaned, the ironing board up but no actual ironing done, my computer browser open on a search for second hand cars and water overflowing in the kitchen sink.

So everything and nothing done at the same time. Brilliant. If there was an annual award for incompetence I’d win by a mile.

Not that I’d been able to collect the award because I’d still be looking for my car keys…

My point (and yes I am getting there) is that a story has to be pretty good for me to remember it. Sometimes I can recall a book for years, even decades, and at other times it disappears without trace into a vacuum cunningly disguised as my brain. Nothing wrong with that; we all need a little light relief. I usually equate my slush reading with chick lit; enjoyable at the time but mostly as forgettable as a night out with Bill Gates.

My memory also plays tricks on me. Occasionally, I read a book and my first impression is a lack-lustre one but the story niggles at me and on a second reading I’m entranced. Of course, sometimes it’s vice versa. In fact, I once swore to liking a best selling chick lit novel and then subsequently found it skewered with a pitchfork on the compost heap. Bizarre.

Anyway, a few weeks have passed since I read 10 Journeys published by Legend Press. It’s the fifth in their annual The short story reinvented series and contains stories on the theme of a journey by 10 different authors. Short and sweet, with the individual tales averaging a reading time of a good soak in the bath, there’s something for everyone in this collection. Having just read a series of heavyweight literary novels, on the whole, I found 10 Journeys quite a refreshing read. But a month on, can they pass the Turley Memory Test? Let’s find out!

10 Journeys
The short story reinvented

Publisher; Legend Press 2010

1. Interview #17 by Cassandra Parkin. My overall memory of this story is one where I wished it would hurry up and finish; rather like when the washing machine is on spin cycle. (Unless I’m sitting on it.) Although the story was topical, tracing the rise and fall of a small town farmer in the banking world, the writing was a little too colloquial for my tastes. I felt it would have been much better placed later on in the collection and that readers needed something less challenging to engage with as an opening story.

2. I’m afraid to fly by Dave Foxall. During an air flight, a man recounts his relationship with his wife whilst mentally preparing his speciality dish of Winter Chilli. There’s a surprise ingredient at the climax and if you like the macabre, like I do, you’ll find this recipe particularly memorable.

3. The Willows by Guy Mankowski. I was looking forward to reading another story by Guy as he produced one of my favourites in 8 Rooms, the previous edition of the Legend series. Unfortunately, then I read the title. Instantaneously, a story about a retirement home popped into my head; I wasn’t far wrong. A sentimental piece about a man reflecting on an almost teenage romance, I kept waiting for the story to liven up with some action but it never really gained any pace or interest. By the end I was slouched in my bath chair looking for an ear trumpet.

4. The New Head of Deaths by Alistair Meldrum. A terrible title again but nevertheless a nice quirky tale about a departmental head of an insurance company who has to attend the funeral of his former partner on the first day of his new job. This was a thought provoking story which will have you reflecting on why we often ignore the subject of death when it is so intrinsic to all our lives. I’ll be reading this story again - even though I was a tad disappointed it wasn’t about a man-eating gargoyle with 6 heads.

5. At the Rawlings’ Place by Paul Burman. Having read Paul’s first novel The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore I was a little taken aback to discover Paul’s dark side. Fortunately, I like grisly tales so this one about 3 children who discover their childhood haunt holds more secrets than they imagined was right up my street. A well rounded tale with an ending that scored high on my memory scale.

6. Ukini Nageni by Ari O’Connell. I found this story which traced the lives of foreign girls in the seedy hostess world of Japanese nightclubs particularly interesting as I’ve always been fascinated by Japanese culture. It was also well written and had a nice twist at the end. However, my lasting impression was that it seemed so obviously inspired by the murder of British hostess Lucie Blackman and, a few weeks on, it is Lucie’s sad demise I remember, not the details of the story. Either way, familiarity with the true story of Lucie Blackman or the fictional tale of Ukini Nageni will send a valuable lesson to young women who walk a dangerous path.

7. Dear by Josie Henley-Einion. Dear God, what was this story about? (Quickly flicks through the book.) Oh yes, now I remember! A frustrated woman writes letters to her female friend proclaiming her love but ultimately doesn’t have the courage to send them. This story should have been taken much further; imagine how explosive it could have been! Its true some people never have the courage to live out their dreams, so it could be said the story had a more true to life ending, but this is fiction so I wanted to see sparks flying! Instead, it was like spending the morning washing the dishes. Need I say more?

8. Angel Wings by Brendan Telford. A symbolic story dealing with love, loss and renewal mirrored in the lifecycle of the Monarch butterfly. Sounds intriguing? It was. However, at first, I was a little worried I’d picked up a Mills and Boon when I discovered the protagonist was called Xavier. This was followed by a huge sigh of relief when Xavier turned out to be a butterfly geek and not a self made millionaire.

9. What If You Slept by Anne Devereux. A lovely, touching story about the traumas of young love and sexuality. I’ll say no more for fear of spoiling the plot but it’s definitely one I’ll reread to pick up on nuances I might have missed first time round.

10. Curious Case of Jenni Wen by A J Kirby. Okay, I’m trying hard to remember. Come on; come on brain cells…. was it about a little birdie who took umbrage with her mother for spelling her name incorrectly at the bird sanctuary? No? Um…..oh cripes……

Oh alright, I must be fair to A J Kirby; I need to give his story a second read to really appreciate his tale of the desperate measures some people take to leave their homelands. Unfortunately, as I was reading his story I got distracted by an email from one of the ladies in my book club;

“Don’t forget we meet on Friday to discuss Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.”

Oh dear. 48 hours to read 650 pages. Disaster.

There’s really something to be said for the short story isn’t there? Whilst it’s deeply satisfying to read a long, absorbing novel there’s also a welcome place for the short story in our pressure laden lives. I know, as I try to meet the demands of my growing family, hampered by my failing memory and an editor who sends me emails reading “You’re late again Turley. Do I have to get my whip out?” sometimes all I want is that brief period of escapism. The short story fulfils that role.

So all credit to Legend Press for continuing The short story reinvented series. And whatever your tastes, which may be entirely different from mine, amongst this eclectic collection there’s sure to be something you’ll remember.

Unless you have a memory like a sieve of course.

Oh, and if you’re curious, I didn’t manage the 650 pages; I forgot where I’d put the book.


To read our review of 8 Rooms click here
To read Guy Mankowski's story A Girl Named Grape click here.
To read A J Kirby's story Jodie Foster and the art of ventriloquism click here
To read our interview with Paul Burman click here and our review of The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore click here.


Heidi Nall said...

A very disappointing 'review'. As a reader who thoroughly enjoyed this collection, I felt duty bound to comment, and to stick up for the writers. I don't want other readers to be put off by one person's slightly skewed views and apart from this bizarre commentary, I've heard nothing but good things about the book, especially as reviewed on The Short Review website. Writers put a great deal of work into their short fiction and to have them dismissed in this way was very difficult to stomach. Fair enough, reviewers can 'like' or 'dislike' stories based on personal opinion, but to treat them in such a blase manner is simply insulting,



Joanne Simonds said...

I very much agree. I can only imagine the dedication it takes to invest personally in writing a piece and to eventually see it through to publication. For a reviewer to liken your work to domestic chores is not only unkind, but unprofessional. I felt that Josie Henley Einion’s piece was arresting and sensual, and not at all ‘like a morning washing the dishes’. Cassandra Parkin’s piece was innovative and highly original, and Guy Mankowski’s beautiful story The Willows even moved me to tears. Andrew Kirby’s piece had a huge impact on me, as a gutsty and very moving take on the trials of asylum seekers. I’m conscious that reviews are often given significant credence, remaining on search engines for months and even years, so surely a little balanced consideration wouldn't go amiss, especially as this collection represented some of these writers' first published work.

Mike French said...

Hi Heidi and Joanne

Sorry you found the review unhelpful.

We appreciate our review would not be to everyone's taste and thankyou for taking the time to leave your thoughts on the book here at the magazine.

Senior Editor
The View From Here

Princess Ida said...

The above comments seem to imply that having the perseverence to get a piece of writing into print entitles the author to respectful acclaim.

We also seem to be encouraged to feel that first time published writers should receive special treatment.

Is this not somewhat patronising?
If you send a piece of your work into the big bad world then you have to accept that it is not going to be to everyone's taste.

There are also different ways of doing a review - I would suggest people have a look at the restaurant reviews of A A Gill for example. If you are looking for a reverential academic critique there, you would be sorely disappointed...

Qualifications for going into print should include a thick skin and a sense of humour...

Heidi Nall said...

I would like to see AA Gill review this review.