Town of Fiction
 by Atlantis Collective
Edited by John kenny
2009, Paperback
First collection? Yes

The Atlantis Collective is a writing group in Galway. The authors are: Aideen Henry, Alan Caden, Bob Whealan, Colm Brady, Conor Montague, Dara Ó Foghlú, Máire T. Robinson, Patricia Byrne and Paul McMahon

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"I flew through the blue wedge of sky to where it turned black and blinked back at me with a million eyes. Below I could see the backs of birds and airplanes struggling against the wind like ants in shifting sand."

Reviewed by Vanessa Gebbie

Town of Fiction is a collection of thirteen short stories by nine writers - the Atlantis Collective writing group - plus one story by the editor, John Kenny. Four members of the group have two pieces of work here, and five members have contributed a single story – so it is a tad unbalanced in terms of showcasing their abilities.

The book is nicely produced, a glossy multicoloured street scene on the front. It runs to 92 pages, and is work by a group of friends who studied writing together, it seems. But I got that from a website - there is no introduction to explain what the book is, in the book itself… and that might be a mistake. I certainly enjoyed some of the stories, and look forward to reading more by some of the writers showcased here, but I had to dig to find them.

The first thing in the collection is this, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, a two-liner by Conor Montague:
"A thought crossed his mind as the truck struck: wrong day for frilly pink panties."
I thought it was an epigram introducing a story to begin over the page. I was wrong – it is followed by the Contents. And was meant as a joke, I think. But it is not original, I’d certainly met this before, maybe in a news report…and it made me feel short-changed. Then the actual opening story - in place of an editor’s foreword - is indeed by the editor, but is described as "Editor’s backword" and is entitled Lamina. Oh dear. Do I really have to be told that this is a word spelled backwards? My annoyance doubles. I actually put the book down, to be able to come to the other pieces fresh a few days later.

There are some interesting pieces of work here - Dara Ó Foghlú’s two stories Lonely Hearts Club and The Final Flight of But-I-Am (see the quote above the review) are among those that stand out, although both have slightly weak endings. Despite that, I enjoyed the reads. Lonely Hearts Club is laugh-out-loud funny, well voiced, tightly written and manages to be poignant as well:
"On the day you wake up wearing a dog collar and can’t sit down without hurting you know you’ve lost sight of who you used to be. That’s not compromise. That’s domination."
Patricia Byrne’s two stories stand out as well, two very different voices here, although my money is on In the Beginning being the one that comes more naturally to the writer. Some lyrical, easy writing, spoiled only by an unfathomable event at the core of the story… a girl climbing a wall, then a body being tossed into the air. What happened?!! A case of the writer knowing and not letting the reader in, I think. Her other story The Method – a list of ways to kill off ones boss, is OK, but it doesn’t "go" anywhere.

Maire T. Robinson’s story, An Unkindness of Ravens, a Murder of Crows is cleverly structured and original, the unfolding of the story punctuated and mirrored by descriptions from a birdwatchers’ manual. But the maturity of the piece is let down by the ending again, and the odd editing howler. Alan Caden’s stories, In His Shoes and Bust, are both enjoyable romps, and well voiced. Sadly, there are some poor pieces as well - the title story Town of Fiction among them- a litany of mixed metaphors that feels more like a "morning pages" exercise than a polished short story.

It is a brave thing to do, putting this collection into the public domain, not just producing it for writing group members and their families/friends. And it is a very tough call for a reviewer to remark honestly and publicly, without wishing to damage creative spirits. However, some writers show their skill with words, and hopefully we will see more of their work.

Apart from those mentioned above, if I can pick out a piece that really made the read worthwhile, it is What Happened by Bob Whealan. Great characterisation, lovely controlled voice, controlled fade out, and a strong ending. Thematically speaking (and I am not talking "plot" here) Whealan seems to know exactly what he wants to leave his reader with, and that was refreshing. I will close with his ending lines – (the main character is a roofer):
"I’ll climb the scaffold, no matter how ‘fraid I am. I’ll walk across the cold hard slates and be high up in the early morning. I’ll look out over the whole town: the strings of rush hour traffic. The people walking to work, the school buses and the church steeple sticking up into that part of the sky that still belongs to the night. And when it gets dark and we’ve to finish up I’ll go into that church and light a candle for all the things I haven’t lost."

Read excerpts from this collection on the Atlantis

Vanessa Gebbie is a writer, writing teacher and editor. Her stories have won awards at Bridport, Fish and others. Many of her prizewinning stories are gathered in her collection Words from a Glass Bubble (Salt Modern Fiction 2008). She is contributing editor to Short Circuit, a Guide to the Art of the Short Story (also from Salt Publishing). Read Vanessa's guest blog post about Short Circuit and win a copy.

Vanessa's other Short Reviews: Brian George "Walking the Labyrinth"

Heidi James, Kay Sexton and Lucy Fry "Two Tall Tales and One Short Novel"

Andy Murray (ed) "Phobic"

Jhumpa Lahiri "Unaccustomed Earth"

Adam Marek "Instruction Manual for Swallowing"
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The Publisher's Website: Atlantis Collective

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What other reviewers thought:

Irish Writers Exchange

Galway Independent