Synopsis: Ironic short stories with a dark edge. All kinds of women unlocked. Inhibited Elfreda learns the beauty of a gorge. A bizarre theft in the Well Woman clinic. Marian faces middle age with attitude and support knickers. Fish-phobic Daryl finds her sole.
Rosalind has two blogs: the quirky Me-Time Tales and a blog about the process of writing with articles and reviews of less usual fiction – http://fictionalcharacterswriting.blogspot.com and http://characterfulwriter.wordpress.com. Rosalind is also on Twitter @minettjr. Rosalind is offering a 50% reduction on her Me-Time Tales collection if you quote MBoffer from January 29th to February 4th 2014 from ypdbooks. The collection is also available on http://www.amazon.co.uk/Me-Tales-Breaks-Mature-Curious/dp/0992716705 and http://www.amazon.com/Me-Tales-Breaks-Mature-Curious/dp/0992716705.
I apologise in advance if you’re expecting a skim-over-the-top type review. I’m a freelance editor, I delve, swim around until I almost run out of air, before coming up to the surface, although I try and avoid plot spoilers.
This collection opens with a delightful dedication: ‘For Alex, prince of quirky. Always lovingly remembered.’ It’s a little sad, with an ‘ahh’ and I love quirky, and I’ve not even got to the stories yet.
Contents pages usually have me picking the quirkiest titles and reading those first, but these were all intriguing so I decided to stick to the order in which the author intended.
First up is third-person viewpoint ‘Underwhelmed’ a story of ‘boy meets girl’ (albeit a mature couple) with a dog as their excuse to meet. As a dog owner, I liked that premise. There are many clever metaphors, similes and phrases, one being ‘She saw from the sudden upwards jerk of his hand that Pete remembered her.’ A great show instead of tell, although there are a couple of tells later but it’s often hard to avoid, or spot, them. We follow the couple on several pleasant strolls and so far there’s no real dilemma or conflict but I suspect (or hope for) a twist at the end. Although not the ending I expected – which is always a good thing – it was a great one.
Next up was ‘Blind Date’ and we move on – judging by the first-person voice – a young protagonist. We’re soon told she sixteen-and-a-half. More unusual phrases such as ‘His voice went deep brown.’ With the mention of the quif and the bum-hugging shorts my brain thought that she was in fact a he, because up to the date it’s not been made clear, but the brother calls her ‘sis’ so that’s clarified, then she’s introduced as ‘Jess’. From the two mentions of Mark’s legs, I guessed the twist and found the ending less punchy than the previous one but another clever story.
‘A Fitting Matter’, another first-person story, brings us ‘bad Aunt Barbara’ and from that very first line, I was looking forward to meeting her. I got a little confused with the mention of the 1951 Festival of Britain because this story is dated 1995, her aunt is in her seventies, but the protagonist, Peggy, was a schoolgirl in 1951 (I think). I’d thought her a lot younger than that but it could be me overanalysing (as I do). The intro is ‘In 1995, now in her seventies’ which I think set off my confusion because it’s not clear to me whether the ‘now’ refers to the 1995 or present time. If in 1995, it should be ‘then in her seventies’. This would have helped me age the two characters back to 1951. Although that spoiled the story a little for me, the writing was still strong, the dialogue and first-person voice charming, although it might make uncomfortable reading for some male readers. Again the story has some lovely phrases, one of my favourites being ‘Fancy’ is a word riddled with disapproval. This story is quaintly charming and I loved the innocent of ‘girls getting soiled’. There was another date slip (unless my maths – or interpretation of the story, referring to Queen Elizabeth II – is letting me down) where the Coronation (1953) had happened before the FoB? Presumably the Sabrina mentioned as the actress (Norma Ann Sykes) rather than the 1954 film of the same name, although Wikipedia informs me Norma Ann didn’t become a household name until the mid/late 50s. I always recommend not having names beginning with the same letter (e.g. Margarita / Mastery) so having Father say ‘Marvellous, Victoria’ had me thinking of Veronica. I loved the reference to the coffee cake. Towards the end of the story we learn that Peggy is fifty-four in 1995 so she would have been ten in 1951 which is about right for the subject of the story. I’d have appreciated this earlier or I wouldn’t been confused, although the dates still need looking at for the events mentioned.
The alliterative ‘First Feast’ followed with the wonderfully-named Elfreda opening this third-person present tense reflective story with plenty of ‘ahh’s. There are other great names including the fantastic Mrs Skop. Quirky is an understatement when it comes to this story and as one who has had food issues for as many years as I can remember, I can so relate to Elfred, which shows the mark of good writing and this is certainly my favourite ending so far.
‘A Slight Invasion’ is another luring title and another in third-person present tense with great imagery. I was a little confused as to who Daryl and Howard were but certainly keen to read on. It then twigged that Daryl is a woman and there’s only her not her with a man called Daryl – the disadvantage of not having the author with me to explain, although had I read the synopsis properly beforehand, that would have helped. I wasn’t keen on the way she’s our protagonist but under the control of Howard but again, I read on. It’s a sad little tale with more flashes of brilliance (Who would bother to lick a stamp for her?). The dates in this story are just one of the delights of the story and so cleverly weaved, before another stunning ending.
Next up is ‘Eaten Up’, the third present tense third-person. Another story where the man takes charge, although I guess this reflects old-fashioned values. This story, although interesting, felt more like a novel chapter and – for me, anyway – went into too much detail.
For a change, ‘Lament’ is a poem, rhythmic and very true.
Another third-person although this time, past tense, ‘A Material Trip’ brings us two more characters starting with the same letter, Elaine and Edwin, although ‘Edwin’ is in inverted commas so perhaps not all he seems. Again we go back in time soon after the start, although this time it’s in hours rather than years and a mere page and a bit. Then we have action, a surprise to the reader and Elaine. After stories where the man took charge, it’s great to have a feisty woman. I felt that timings were out again on this where they were waiting for dark but she’s missed the 18.40 train. It gets dark around 4.30 in London in November. Elaine’s bad luck worsens and it’s like a comedy of errors, very funny and another twist ending.
The last but one story, ‘As Found’, is another poignant story laced with humour. Most writers can related to our protagonist’s dilemma; when she’s in a room with nothing to read and a ‘boredom problem’. A short but sweet story.
Finally was ‘Anti-Dote’. Like some of the other stories in this collection, all seems well but you know it’s not going to last long and this is another poignant tale and certainly the most fitting to end on.
Unlike some books I’ve read, the adverbs are far and few between but I’d recommend all writers searching for their ___ly words and I’ll bet my cold cup of tea that there are some you can remove; either replaced by a stronger verb e.g. ‘she gazed / stared’ instead of ‘she looked deeply’, or just removed.
From a layout point of view (with my editor’s hat on), there should be paragraph breaks whenever there’s a passage of time, but most readers read for enjoyment rather than to analyse (I aim for both) and enjoy they shall.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Rosalind is offering a 50% reduction on her Me-Time Tales collection if you quote MBoffer from January 29th to February 4th 2014 from ypdbooks.
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition and creative writing tutor for her local county council. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page). She also recently created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog.
Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has six others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has eight collections of short stories available (also $0.99 / £0.77 each) – detailed on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.
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