by Mark Staniforth
topic is loonies. We got the idea for our topic from all the loonies
who live in our village. Loony means lunatic, which means someone
foolish or eccentric. Calum’s dad says our village is going down
the pan. Calum’s dad also says hanging’s too good for them. We
decided to pick the ten biggest loonies in our village and find out
how much of a loony they are."
Reviewed by A J Kirby
ain’t no Mills and Boon." And it certainly ain’t the North
Yorkshire of Heartbeat,
or James Herriot. Nor
is it the countryside that the Yorkshire tourist board wants us to
see and it’s definitely
nowt like Yorkshire’s
brand-spanking flagship city for the Noughties, Leeds. It ain’t
though at least we’re edging closer in geographical terms. Finally,
this ain’t kitchen sink drama either, not on your Nelly. Though "sheep dip drama" might at least be in the right ballpark. This
is Mark Staniforth’s Fryupdale, and they do things
tag-line for this collection, "Short stories from beyond the
village limits", comes closer to the truth. For these are stories
which look beyond the white-picket fence (or in this case dry stone
walls) of small town life. They are stories which expose the
hypocrisy, the navel-gazing inward nature, and the secrets of the
village of Fryupdale’s residents, and yet at the same time, they
are stories which celebrate the individuality of those same people,
for all the madness, mundanity, and murderousness which they exhibit.
Here, Staniforth introduces us to a motley crew of characters in the
manner of a circus ring-master. "Roll
up, roll up for the freak show." These are stories of farmers,
skanks, cow-tippers and alien abductees. Stories of "cig-stunted
sons of too-young mums, or inbred hill farm folk," workers
on the travelling fair, White Lightning drunks, park bench
glue-sniffers, Kwik Save strippers, kiddie-fiddlers, sheep-shaggers,
bus stop gossips, Nazis, no-hopers, the Parish Ladies Group, the
Aquarist Society and the
Playing Fields Committee.
It’s often a fine line which Staniforth treads between being
condescending to, or even ridiculing the people he describes, and
giving them a voice and delighting in giving them that voice. And
although some of the stories are dark, sometimes cruel, the sheer
enthusiasm with which he introduces us to this rag-tag bunch, allied
with the life he imbues them with, ensures that he always remains on
the right side of the line.
When he gives these characters a voice, he gives them a fierce
regional identity. The stories are pock-marked with dialect,
muck-spread with often alien terms. His characters refuse to "talk
nice." They’d be the Yorkshire Republican Army if they could keep
themselves out of the pub for long enough. As it is, we’ll settle
for Welcome to Yorkshire, we do things (and speak) differently
here. For this is the Yorkshire of "jug-lugs", of getting a
right "cob on", of "cake-holes", and of "baccy", of "nosh-ups", "braying" and "lugging", of "flophouses",
of "skegging" and "skedaddling". It’s
conversational prose, pub-story prose, back seat, top-deck bus-prose.
And despite the sometimes troubling words – which are easily
brushed over – it is a compelling read.
For one thing there are recurring
characters and themes, cultural shorthands which let us know exactly
what kind of world we are inhabiting. A world of Frankie Says Relax
Tee Shirts, bottles of White Lightning and Madonna. A quote from
opens the book.
"I don’t want to be your
prisoner so baby won’t you set me free."
Right from the off,
Staniforth’s characters jump off the page. Carnival
Queen, the opening story and one which gives a whole
new meaning to giving your right arm for something, opens
"Marnie Sleightholme was well
chuffed when she got the chance to be carnival queen, and she
couldn’t give a shit if it was true what folk were saying about her
only getting picked because she’d had her right arm ripped off."
The collection continues in
much the same tone. In Gypos, we meet Uncle Cyrus, who
has "had had a beef with the gypos ever since he’d come up short
at dinging the strongman hammer bell a couple of carnivals past."
This theme of excellent openings continues with Eleutherophobia.
knew Shandor Marley’s mother liked to spend more time flirting with
serial killers than she did taking care of things at home. So when
her son went round with an air rifle popping his neighbours like they
were allotment pigeons, they figured all the boy really needed was a
bit of attention."
But it is in The Parish News that Staniforth really comes into
his own in terms of developing from a brilliant opening. This is an
experimental piece, a take-off of the parish noticeboards containing
all the goings-on in the village. Only, Staniforth includes alongside
the cookery competitions, the answers from the local quiz night and
reports of the Vintage Working Day, the real parish news. For
instance we learn of the new incentive scheme for the strikers of the
Junior Football side (I won’t spoil it.) We learn how Danny Swales
spends his days, skidding "his souped-up Vauxhall Astra round the
car park till his tyres went bald. It spat gravel, spewed techno. He
hung out an arm and held on the wheel one-handed. Sometimes he missed
corners and ramped over flower beds. He sent a rubbish bin spinning.
A fag stuck angled from his lips. Sarah Daley sat in the passenger
seat, reeking Anais-Anais and exhaust fumes. She stared forward."
And how Tammy Marsden and Kayleigh Barker are getting on sitting on
the swings, waiting for the chip shop to shut. ("When the lights
fizzed out they swigged the rest of their Lambrusco and crossed the
street to the Kwik Save (…) Tammy Marsden took a spray can from her
bag. She sprayed, ‘Blake Scruton is a homo’ on the front
Each item of parish news is a piece of brilliantly styled flash
fiction which stands on its own, but combined they form what is
Staniforth’s most coherent vision of the village in all its forms.
Other excellent stories include Shiny
and New, White Power ("At
first, Posie Birtles seemed like just another of those posh-arse
neighbours who lived off some long-gone husband’s life insurance
and generally kept herself to herself. Till the day her carnation
beds bloomed the words ‘White Power’. She fixed a flag-pole in
her front lawn and hoisted the Union Jack. She got iron gates hooked
up and a Rottweiler called Rudolph to keep her safe.") and
has a sinister twist in store for those readers hoping for a story of
innocent countryside high-jinx.
character development and sense of place are very strong. His
description is unique and illuminating at times, but he’s not
afraid to reach for the risqué too, such as in his pen picture of
Patty Jenkins in Cow-tipping,
an underage girl who
has "…already replaced her school jumper with a tee-shirt saying
‘Frankie Says Relax’. It pegs the end of her balloon boobs then
drops straight off, makes her look like some sort of slutty
sandwich-board evangelist. She’s got tight scraped-back foster-home
hair and smells of wet towels and cheese and onion crisps. She sags
down between us and pokes a Benson in her cake-hole."
And whilst some may find the
Yorkshire twang at times jarring, this is a colourful, insightful
collection. It is also very, very funny, dark and disturbing. I for
one look forward to reading more from this promising author.
Read a story from this
collection in Night Train and download the whole collection for free at Smashwords
|A. J. Kirkby is the author of
three novels; Bully
(Wild Wolf Publishing, 2009); The
Magpie Trap, and When
Elephants walk through the Gorbals, and a new volume of
short stories, Mix Tape
(New Generation Publishing, 2010).