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Short Fiction Recs, 14/11/2020

After a week off due to working on my own short stories (as well as general news-related stress), I've got a bumper batch of eight stories to share today. Well, two are technically poems, but they're great and I'm counting them. Again, it's a mix of newer and more established writers, and they run the gamut from realism to fairy tales and points in between. Enjoy!


I am the Painter’s Daughter (Kit de Waal, 2nd in the Bare Fiction Prize for Flash Fiction 2014) - An intimate and ambiguous piece of flash fiction (only 240 words), with strokes of vivid imagery set deftly throughout. Though I’ve been aware of de Waal and her work for a while, this is some of the first fiction of hers that I’ve read - but I’ll certainly be looking to get hold of more soon (Hello, Christmas list…).


She is a staunch supporter of diverse and working-class voices, and edited a collection of essays surrounding that subject, Common People, in 2019. Her most recent novel is The Trick to Time.

The Hotel (Daisy Johnson, BBC Radio 4, 2020) - This is both a ghost story in its own right and a prelude to a promised series of thirteen more (as of now, eight have gone live, with another due to be aired on Sunday). As such, Johnson has opted to go for a tone and structure that suggests a kind of macabre encyclopaedia entry; numerous instances and possible origins of the titular hotel’s haunted nature are presented and explained - except where they can’t be. I was reminded of the times I would huddle up somewhere with Reader’s Digest: Strange Stories, Amazing Facts, and get deeply, compulsively unnerved by accounts of ghosts in old nunneries, and other folk-horror-like hand-me-down myths. Which is to say that it left me eager to hear a lot more. This piece was read superbly by Sara Kestelman, and different narrators take over each week. Off the back of this, I’ve also just got around to (finally) buying Johnson’s debut story collection, Fen, which I'm very excited about. Her second novel, Sisters, came out earlier this year.


An Introduction (Reina Hardy, Fantasy Magazine, Issue 61, Nov. 2020) - As this is the first issue since Fantasy’s relaunch, it only seems fitting to start with ‘An Introduction’. Even more so, because as a playful and even abstract piece of flash fiction, it signals the new Editors’ intention to stretch and challenge readers’ expectations of what exactly fantasy fiction can and should be. This is supported by two other short pieces, in different ways.


The Secret Ingredient is Always the Same, by Sarah Grey, is styled as a poetic recipe, and makes for suitably delicious, if bittersweet, reading.


things i love about my werewolf girlfriend, by May Chong, is another unexpected detour into poetry, beautifully crafted and tenderly observed. Her chapbook, Seed, Star, Song, is currently available from Ghost City Press (it's technically free, but it is possible to make a small donation to the author, which I'm sure would be appreciated).

Chopin in Mallorca (Kate Novak, Fairlight Shorts, 2020) - This is a subtle and elegantly-structured story, about a woman’s strained relationship with her father. The tensions of 20th century Europe, specifically those between Poland and (West) Germany, are interwoven with their own cold war. Novak explores issues of language, displacement, abandonment and even a strange sense of fate to moving effect, with wonderful prose, infused with the argot of classical music.


I was late to find out about Fairlight Shorts, but they seem a consistently great option for fans of contemporary literary/realist short fiction.


Coffee and the Kobold (Elizabeth Hopkinson, Curious Fictions, 2020) - Hopkinson is a specialist when it comes to fairy tales, and this one very much delivers on the unusual promise of its title. A Prussian soldier in the era of Frederick the Great makes a bargain with a kobold, in order to secure for himself a highly-prized role finding contraband coffee. But then, inevitably, the deal goes awry… Told in crisp prose and with the confidence of a natural storyteller, this twists its way to an end that’s as satisfying as a good cup of Joe.


The author is also a passionate advocate for asexual rights and representation in fiction, to which end she has written Asexual Fairy Tales (SilverWood Books, 2019), and Asexual Myths & Tales (SilverWood Books, 2020).


Doe Lea (M. John Harrison, Granta, 2020) - With its focus on the protagonist’s relationship with their father, a similar subtlety and a structure that likewise intercuts past and present, this makes for a fascinating companion and counterpoint to Novak’s story, along with being a brilliant slice of weird in its own right. The narrator’s train breaks down at the eponymous station, and their subsequent decision to explore the nearby village while they wait for the replacement service is one that proves illuminating and mystifying in equal measure.

This story also features in Harrison's recently released collection, Settling the World, published by Comma Press. Also, in exciting news, his latest novel, The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, has just this week won the 2020 Goldsmiths Prize! So, that’ll be another one for the ol’ Christmas list…

If you like these and my other reviews, I would be grateful if you would considering supporting me on Ko-fi or Curious Fictions. (Disclosure: If you buy books through certain links on this page, I may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees also support independent bookshops.)

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