New Short Stories 5 – the twelve finalists from Willesden Herald 2011.
This is a strong collection, and for anyone who wants to see what sort of stories make it to the final cut in a really worthwhile short story competition (as opposed to the other sort...) it is a necessary purchase, I’d have thought. But even if you are just in it for the read, there is something here for everyone.
This year’s final judge was Maggie Gee – she says this of the pieces she chose:
“Every human type and taste is here – sad, funny, fresh, sharp, gripping, sour and sweet – delicious small mysteries ...”
This year’s winning story, ‘Out of Season’ by Irish writer Mary O’Shea, is simply the best short story I have read in a long time. It is difficult to think of another story with such delicate tracery, exploring quite so unflinchingly a difficult subject that is mauled so often by lesser writers. That tracery may be delicate, but it is iron-wrought and beautiful in the real sense of the word. This story is at the same time poignant - achingly so, but with not one scrap of sugar or sentimentality - and absolutely uplifting. This is what short fiction is about. This is by a master of the form.
‘Apartment’ by Y J Zhu is one of two equally placed runners-up. Zhu, ‘a native of Beijing China, who now lives in San Francisco’ gives us a closely observed tale of time passing, time past, and asks the question ‘where, and what, and above all with whom, is ‘home’?’ The other is ‘Homecoming’ by Alex Barr, who now lives in west Wales. Interestingly, this is another story about belonging, or not – and asks similar questions to Zhu’s story, although the setting, Manchester, is more familiar.
The nine other stories are worthy finalists, and a strong field created by some real rising stars. In no particular order then - There is the hugely poignant ‘Gusul’ (a washing ritual, for the dead), by the Swedish-based Bosnian writer Adnan Mahmutovic - a story I know well, and find more moving each time I meet it. There is the spare and enigmatic writing of Teresa Stenson - whose previous successes include a Bridport prize - in the marvellous ‘Blue Raincoat’, the shortest story here at less than four sides, and one of the most intriguing. There is A J Ashworth’s extraordinary, exciting and memorable ‘Overnight Miracles’, a psychological drama/sci-fi mix about a woman desperate to recover what is lost. There is the harrowing but beautiful ‘The Bedroom’ by Michael Coleman, who seems to have packed a novel’s worth of experience and emotion into a few pages. And David Frankel’s ‘The Place’ with its marvellous voice and vulnerable main character, keeps on intriguing long after it is read. There is another vulnerable character in Emma Martin’s ‘Victor’ – making this reader wonder if strong beliefs make people easy targets. All these stories are thought provoking – raising questions, asking the careful reader to look again at what seems ordinary. Adrian Sells has a look at the onset of Alzheimer’s in the closely observed and sensitively written ‘Thingummy Wotsit’, and Angela Sherlock’s ‘Set Dance’ is gentle, very well observed, well voiced, and very funny, as it follows two middle-aged Irish farmer brothers to the fair, in search of women. Lastly, and not least, and at almost thirty pages, by far the longest piece of work here: ‘Dancing with the Flag Man’ by Nemone Thornes – a dark coming-of-age piece.
There is indeed something for everyone – this is a very good collection, putting many anthologies in the shade. Highly recommended.