by James Murray-White
In the same way that Morrissey surveyed the aspirations and gritty
reality of life around him in the 1980s, during a Britain dominated by
politics and the bitter divisions of class, so do all the writers in
this curious anthology – all responding using the short story form to
The Smiths' song title given them by the editor.
As writer Rhonda Carrier says of
The Smiths in her intro to her story of adolescence, Girl Afraid, the
band created a unique mood of "fatalistic miserablism meets intense
yearning". Some of these stories are small in scope and forgettable,
others soar up full of imagination and a gripping style, much in the
way many albums of 24 songs contain some great tracks and some
Alison MacLeod, in her intro to her
sometimes caustic story about dying, inspired by the rare Smiths
instrumental track, Oscillate
Wildly, says of how it inspired her: "the song is…all
coolness and melancholy – very haunting – until it suddenly lifts off
into something joyous, something big. I wanted to write a story that
took that kind of running leap.." In the story, the family of a dying
man gather, as his mind fixes on an image from the past – a fallen
angel. Macleod's piece is a gem of deathly energy.
Queen is Dead by Jeff Noon is a real delight, capturing
angst and indecision, and charting the shifting insecurities of trust
and friendship exactly as the songs did. Noon gives us a world through
the eyes of querulous youth, where "all good boys and girls come home
to a world at the end of time, but this was the day the sour rain fell
on the new young queen divine…".
Murder and sad seedy death are key
themes of this collection, cropping up in this story, as well as those
by Helen Walsh, Charlie Williams, David Gaffney and Graham Rae. All
these writers with their very different styles focus in on despair and
write to a grim conclusion. Walsh's story in particular, about the
tough life of rent boys and girls, is chilling. The atmosphere she
creates in There is a
Light That Never Goes Out explores the thin line of power
between those who buy and sell sex.
Charlie Williams's Sweet and Tender Hooligan
gives us a lost adolescent, becoming exactly that, swept up into crime
as an innocent miscreant until he is slumped bleeding in a graveyard
with the immortal words "in the midst of life we are in death" swirling
in the air. Graham Rae's story, Back
to the Old House, is, as he honestly shares in the
preamble, a composite of real life stories he heard, which are common
to most of us – a teenage obsession gone too far, ending in suicide,
told after the event by a narrator with a thick Glaswegian accent.
There's nothing positive to come in this piece: it is well constructed,
and engagingly told, but with no light ("that never goes out"…) to
guide the way. Just the grim conclusion that "shit happens, bit it
hurts like hell at the time. A bit like ma parched fuckin throat
Gina Ochsner's story Ask is almost the
opposite of Rae's. I love the sense of detachment she creates to write
about something very deep between two people who meet when young, then
are parted for many years, and meet again fleetingly. Ochsner elongates
the timeframe to give the reader a character that really has learnt
lessons from life: "she is schooled in an old lesson.. how it is with
simple words love finds us, finds us in spite of our calculations and
unswerving devotion to childhood myths." It is quirky that
this collection opens with such an optimistically reflective piece of
writing – almost the opposite to the youthful dynamic here and now
reality of the Smiths' lyrics. I went back to the wonderful song
itself, and revelled for a few moments in Morrissey's immortal line
"coyness is nice and coyness can stop you from saying all the things
you'd like to".
Other stories weave in and out of
themes that the song title may or may not be pointing to or hinting at,
but as with any collection they must be judged on their own merit. Nic
Strikes Again, nominally about theft from gardens, lost me
early on, and didn't survive a reread, and Scarlett Thomas's Paint a Vulgar Picture
is simply dull writing, with a flimsy story and negligible
of a Disco Dancer by Nick Stone is an unexpected burst of
crime fiction set in the exotic and fast-paced world of Miami Beach
cops which did engage me but loses pace halfway. Oh to jump out of the
miserableness of middle England!
Jeremy Sheldon's Nowhere
Fast seems deliberately pedestrian in its tone, conjuring
up middle-class marital strife and circumspection.
"Nothing much happens but angst"
might be the better title for some of these stories, but perhaps that
is what might be expected, given the brief. James Hopkins's Jeane neatly
captures the genre but doesn't really rise above it either. Surely
fiction, like lyrics, is all about the subtext. The world underneath
the words should be the story, and if the writer doesn't immediately
place a life or a genre or just a feeling inside the reader's mind,
then the spark won't catch light. I'm listening to some of The
Smiths' songs as I write this, and the combination of clever words from
Morrissey and waves of guitar sound from Marr made this unique pairing
a phenomenon, which lives on and inspires 20 years later, despite the
real life animosity that broke up the band. Tributes like this book are
worthy in that they point us back to the creative genius that held a
mirror up to nature during a very bleak period indeed.
"Its so easy to laugh its so easy
to hate, it takes guts to be gentle and kind"
know its over
Read an excerpt from one of the
from this collection on Amazon.co.uk
Murray-White was in his early teens when The
Smiths came to the fore. A trip to Manchester’s Afflecks Palace to get
his hair cut into a genuine Morrissey quiff shows his devotion to the
man, the band, and the life behind the words.
anthology?: No, third in a series of fiction inspired by UK
14 Oct Paint a Vulgar Picture event at the Birmingham Lit Festival (with Mil Millington, Mike Gayle & Catherine O'Flynn); 24 Oct at the Manchester Lit Festival (with Jeff Noon, James Hopkin, Helen Walsh & Catherine O'Flynn) on 24 Oct, and a Fall - Fact & Fiction event at the Lancaster Lit Fest (featuring Dave Simpson, Niall Griffiths & special guests) on 17 Oct.
Authors: Jenn Ashworth, Matt Beaumont, Rhonda
Carrier, James Flint, David Gaffney, Mike Gayle, James Hopkin, Nic
Kelman, Chris Killen, Alison
MacLeod, Mil Millington, Jeff Noon, Gina
Ochsner, Catherine O’Flynn, Kate Pullinger, Graham Rae, Jeremy Sheldon,
Nick Stone, Scarlett Thomas, Willy Vlautin, Helen Walsh, Peter Wild,
Charlie Williams, John Williams
Editor bio: Peter Wild comes from a music
journalism background.Peter is the co-founder of Bookmunch. His writing
and fiction have appeared in Noo
Journal, Word Riot, The Big Issue, Nude magazine, Alt Sounds, City
Life, 3AM magazine and Eyeballkid. He
lives in Stockport.
with Peter Wild
this book (used or
Publisher's Website: Serpent's Tail
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you in the US
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