T(he) S(hort) S(tory) on T(he) S(unday) S(alon)

Short stories make excellent travelling companions.  They’re ideal for those 20 minute snatches between whatever went before and whatever’s coming next.  So when I went north a couple of weeks ago I took a clutch of short story anthologies with me.

1)  The Oxford Book of Scottish Short Stories

This is rapidly becoming one of my favourites for dipping in and out of.  It contains stories from the great and the good of Scottish fiction  from James Hogg (1770-1835) to A L Kennedy (1965-). 

R L Stevenson’s A Lodging for the Night  in which a murderous ne’er-do-well cadges a night’s shelter from an old gentleman of military background.  Their differences in outlook soon become apparent.  The tension becomes palpable with violence threatening to erupt.  Will they both survive? 

Louis Grassic Gibbon’s Smeddum (spirit, energy, determination)  echoes many themes in his masterpiece Sunset Song. However, it’s much easier to read (no Scots) and much more cheerful.  The twist in the tale is superb.

Janice Galloway’s Blood was a must-read which soon threw me back to those horrible uncomfortable days during adolescence when … not let’s not go there …. just when.  Very vivid and a reminder that I must feast on her short story collections while waiting for volume 2 of her memoirs.

I had to read A L Kennedy’s Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains as I was attending her event at the book festival.  After my experience with Day, I read it reluctantly.  However, I found this story very involving.  I believe the author has a new collection of short stories coming out later in the year.   I shall look forward to it.

2) Riptide (New Writing from the Highlands and Islands)

This an anthology of contemporary poems and short stories, edited by Sharon Blackie and David Knowles, the publishers otherwise known as Two Ravens Press resident in Ullapool.  The most famous author in the anthology is Andrew Greig.  I love his novels.  But the piece Adventures with Hoteniensis is frankly weird.  The Two Ravens Press publishers have included samples of their own writing.  There’s a short piece from Sharon Blackie’s debut (and excellent) novel The Long Delirious Burning Blue and a couple of David Knowles’s poems containing some powerful imagery.   Other names I recognised are names from the Two Raven’s Press backlist but as Riptide is one of the earlier TRP publications, I can only assume that these authors submitted more work to TRP after Riptide appeared.  My favourite piece from my first sitting with this book  is actually a poem (there is hope for me yet!).  I love the sentiments expressed in Robert Davidson’s F111 over Culloden.

3) Bucket Of  Frogs

Published by the Association for Scottish Literary Studies, this is as contemporary a collection as you can get.    Each year authors and poets are requested to submit their English or Gaelic writing for publication in this annual volume.   Submissions are anonymous with the best making it to the printed page.  Bucket of Frogs is the collection from 2008 and, of the 50 authors, I recognised only one name – Alison Napier, who also has 2 short stories in Riptide.  The Bucket of Frogs entry Invisible Mending begins in that most prosaic of places, a Glaswegian chip shop aka The Happy Haddock. Within a couple of pages, however, it becomes evident that the protagonist, Sue, has an unhealthy wealth of issues. I want to know more!   A note in the author’s biography at the back of the book tells me that her first novel “featuring the characters in Invisible Mending will be completed by the end of 2008″.  Good – I should be able to track this one down very soon.

A further serendipitous link appeared between my reading and the proceedings at the Ullapool book festival.  This one involves Nelson’s favourite tipple which I am assuming is the Nelson’s Blood of Richard Mosses short story.  The drink contained in an antique hipflask sparks off a modern-day Trafalgar between two bootlegging gangs in a shopping centre car park. with shopping trolleys commandeered to play the part of the eighteenth century battleships.  Highly amusing.

The New Writing Scotland project has existed for 26 years now and it is often the first time many authors are published.  2004’s volume revisited the best of the first 20 years.  Names in that list of contents include:  Edwin Morgan, Andrew Greig, Janice Galloway, Jane Harris, A L Kennedy, Anne Donovan, Irwine Welsh.   On that basis, I suspect, that some of this year’s unknown tadpoles will soon be hopping from the bucket into the big publishing pond out yonder.