Solid Gold: Anthology of the Very Best Short Fiction from Gold Dust
  edited by David Gardiner

Merilang Press
2009







"Looking heavenward, he realized that low cloud had fully cloaked the park; the city entirely gone, shrouded in mist. It seemed to get quieter, too. Listening for the hum of traffic from Fifth Avenue, he heard only the rain blitzing the lake’s surface; infinite ripples fighting for precedence. And for the slightest moment, Lilly had vanished too: only raindrops driving through the fog; cold hands, numb cheeks, rushing wind through naked branches."


Reviewed by Maura O'Neill

You’ll find some moving tales in this collection. Other pieces may not thrill you. But, at least for this reviewer, the Solid Gold anthology is a solid collection. Filled with just shy of two dozen new and previously published hits by a mix of UK and US writers from all walks, it’s a compilation from the Gold Dust literary journal, currently published biennially by a team in London.

Some Solid Gold anthology shorts are short enough to read while you heat the kettle for tea, others are longer. They are organized as well as they can be: They vary much. Some stories lean toward magical realism; others are simple, domestic vignettes; and others take such a different approach that they stand quite alone, as is the case with Andrew McIntyre’s erotic, violent Dirty War. I read this piece first, actually, having opened the collection at random. I didn’t find another story like it in the book.

My inner reader — the part of my reading self that is carried along by a good story — was engaged most of the way through Dirty War. Strong writing and a Tarantino-like approach kept me present. But in the last few pages, things turned implausible. I felt dissatisfied, and my "inner writer" — my internal editor— stepped in to work out why the spell had been broken.

And so, from cover to cover it went—and I am guessing, so it goes, for many readers who write: When a story is working its magic, it engages the inner reader. When it’s not, the inner writer perks up and starts to analyze. Steve Sloane’s atmospheric The Solitary, for example—a story about just how surreal life can get at the end of a relationship — carried my inner reader along from the second sentence on. And John Griffiths’ quiet but profound Minna kept me in "the reader zone" most of the way through. As the story ended, I emerged with an insight: "Ah, so that’s how you dither your life away!" Omma Velada tells a haunting and convincing tale in A Witch’s Finger wherein a young girl recounts a gritty and true happening at a military hospital in Ghana. It keeps you entranced and leaves you exhausted at the end.

In these "top three" picks, the part of me that stops being engaged and starts looking at sentence structure or literary conceit lay mostly dormant. Other stories were engaging, though perhaps not from beginning to end. I struggled along as Christina grappled with her conscience in The Candlesticks by Jim Meirose. Wikihistory was fun; hats off to Desmond Warzel for a new approach to an old technique. Ron Savage’s Isaac and Augustina kept pulling me back into the narrative. And Sieve by Aliya Whiteley collages sentence fragments and random thoughts into a believable reverie.

A few Solid Gold stories were difficult to push through, keeping my writer-self busy as the dickens, and I wondered, "What gets in the way of a reader-friendly story?" A short list of impulses that might obstruct the telling a good tale include: trying to teach a lesson or make a point; seeking to shock, confess or impress; trying to make it "sound like a short story"; mistaking cryptic for artistic writing; and venturing too close to journaling.

But even if this or that story didn’t whisk me away to another time and place, so what? First off, it’s a matter of taste. The stories that engaged me may alienate someone else. Solid Gold pieces that in my opinion didn’t live up to the editors' commendations, someone else may love, love, love.

Second, all of the stories in this collection reminded me that writing is worthwhile and admirable, no matter whether it is successful in the mind of the reader. Take The Truant, by author David Gardiner (who is also the editor). It is not exactly riveting, but it treats the topic of middle-age crisis with a refreshing, genuine approach. And as I read, I was reminded of a college professor who said that "writers write to fill a hole." She said that every writer has a "burning question" that needs answering. It’s like an ache. And writing is about working out the answer.

Solid Gold reminds me that, beyond whether a story successfully engages the reader, fiction writing that earnestly grapples with a "big question" is valuable, whether the storyteller is Eudora Welty, a ten-year-old poet scribbling in her notebook, or a sales manager by day and novelist by night. Why? Because it takes courage and faith to fumble in the dark toward story.



When she was nine years old, Maura O'Neill wrote and "self-published" The Brave Little Girl. Now she’s older and writes to pay the bills. She creates fiction, poetry and art when she can. Maura is inspired by anyone brave enough to write, paint, draw, sculpt, dance, sing, build, imagine…
                     
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Editor David Gardner: Ageing hippy, former teacher, now mental health care worker, living in London with partner Jean, Charlotte the chameleon and adopted daughter Cherelle living nearby . Three published works, SIRAT (science fiction novel), The Rainbow Man and Other Stories and The Other End of the Rainbow (short story collection) as well as many anthology entries and competition successes. Interested in science, philosophy, psychology, scuba diving, alternative lifestyles and communal living, travel, wildlife, cooking and IT.

Authors Eddie Bruce, Chris Castle,  Mel Fawcett,  Michael Frissore,  David Gardiner, Peter Gilmour,  John Griffiths,  Alan Kelly,  Miguel Lopez de Leon,  Andrew McIntyre,  Jim Meirose,  David Parker,  Deborah Rey,  Caleb J Ross, Andy Rugg,  Ron Savage,  Steve Slatter,  Steve Sloane, Omma Velada,  Adrian Versteegh,  Craig Wallwork, Desmond Warzel,  Aliya Whiteley