Thursday, 15 July 2010

the safe children, and other nightjar press stories...

I’ve been hanging on to these beautiful chapbooks for quite some time. The idea of a series of limited edition chapbooks each containing a single short story is very exciting to a reader like me. I love unique books, I love short stories. What more could I want than four gorgeously designed Nightjar Press chapbooks, each one signed by their author and individually numbered, all for a mere £3?

So, I’ve been saving them up for a rainy day, and yesterday was such a day, torrential rain in fact. So, towards bedtime, I settled into my pyjamas with a cup of tea on the bedside table, and dived in.

Tom Fletcher’s The Safe Children was the first one. I’ve heard Tom read a few times, and I know he leans towards the scary side of fiction, so, I expected something a bit chilling. I went to a reading once called Fright Night where he read a few tales, but I don’t remember anything quite as scary as this. I’m not going to give it away. This story has to be experienced first-hand. It is science fiction, with a very down to earth, everyday style, but with an awful reality emerging that made me feel quite sick. And take it from me, I’ve heard a few things in my time, I’m a social worker and no stranger to gruesome realities. This one still bit me though and lingered in my head for ages (especially when I was trying to get to sleep). Shudder.

So, I decided to turn to Michael Marshall Smith to see what he had to offer in What happens when you wake up in the night. I know. The title kind of indicates that this story might induce fear, and the cover photograph is an accurate reflection of the content. The voice of the very young child narrating the story was quite brilliant, I thought. I’m a bit of an aficionado of child voices in fiction and was completely drawn in. Again, don’t want to say too much. It has less social context than Tom Fletcher’s story. It’s all set in one room, in a house, at night. Very little happens in truth, but it is a slow-drawn, perfectly created nightmare.

Joel Lane’s Black Country is quite a contrast. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the cover, or from the title. Unlike the previous two stories which give an indicator of what we might find inside, this chapbook gave little away. I did suspect that it might be a bit creepy, given that it is published by Nightjar. This chapbook contains a story about some strange unexplained happenings in a broken and almost-derelict town. We explore what is happening alongside a detective who used to live in the area, and sets out on his own personal journey back to the town of his childhood. It evokes time and place beautifully, the description is poetic in a gritty way, and it is a story that creeps inside you, but I wanted more, I felt as if I hadn’t read enough of Joel Lane’s writing, and I felt somehow that this was not as good a ‘stand alone’ story as the other two. Brilliant, but wanting more from a one story chapbook has its difficulties, I thought.

Finally, I came to Alison Moore’s when the door closed it was dark, another story with elements of nightmare about it, definitely an uncomfortable story, and with a creeping tension (like all the stories in the Nightjar catalogue). Alison’s writing is beautifully detailed. I loved the vivid sense of place evoked from description such as ‘the iron staircase which zigzagged up the front of the building like the teeth of her mother’s pinking shears or a children drawing of lightning.’ Such detail really drew me into the story, and I identified strangely with its young isolated main character. Her sense of fear and almost claustrophobic experience really tattered my nerves. The ending is really horrible, because I was more worried about what was going to happen after the story finished than what had happened so far.

And I guess that is the power of a scary short story, how our imagination takes us deeper into the story. There is enough space for our imagination to play, and what is unsaid or suggested grows into all the darker corners of each of these stories. It was Tom Fletcher’s story that left me most disturbed, and The Safe Children has to be one of the most quietly brilliant stories I’ve read.

I can’t wait to see what else Nightjar Press has up its sleeve. From what I have learnt so far (and knowing a little about their editor Nick Royle's taste in fiction), I believe there will be some very dark, disturbing stories ahead.

1 comment:

Megan said...

Agree Annie - I shuddered my way through the stories by Alison More and Tom Fletcher and enjoyed every shivering moment.
The other titles definitely sound worth investigating too, plus they're so beautifully packaged