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Bucket of Frogs: New Writing Scotland 26

edited by Liz Niven and Brian Whittingham

Cedar was soft and porous and absorbed everything around it, whereas mahogany reminded him of his wife: firm and hard. His hands would skim up and down her sculpted body and he’d feel her curves, sublimely subtle, a slight change of line inwards and out to another lithe stretch of the thigh down to her calves, like the branch of a tree"

Reviewed by Sheila Cornelius

Submissions to the Association for Scottish Literary Studies make up this 2008 collection of 29 short stories and 35 poems. Themes include contemporary Scottish concerns such as the decline of traditional lifestyles and the effects of poverty on relationships and landscape. History is a dark a source of current problems; nationalist politics are destructive to both material structures and relationships, although references to larger wars and conflict are confined to stories in which refugees appear, a newly topical issue. Death, old age and dysfunctional families are frequently addressed, while the sea appears as both a declining resource and an escape route to employment abroad. The lands beyond Scottish shores are described as possessing a heat and colour which contrasts with the drabness of the local landscape. 

In the best of these always well-crafted stories, description and a feel for the distinctive vernacular prevail, with a wryly satirical, often black, humour and wit. Bizarre details and odd characters give a flavour both distinctive and attractive. 

My own favourites include Eliza Chan’s witty spoof of a feminist reading, Subtext, in which Raymond Briggs’s Snowman comes under academic scrutiny, involving extensive footnotes. The Achiltibuie Stone by David Hutchison is one of many excellent stories about a childhood, invoking friendship and romance in a remote rural setting. Kate Henry’s When Gordon Ran Away is a compelling narrative of dysfunctional family life. Edinburgh’s association with art provokes a father’s mockery and generation gap musings in Michael Malone’s Art in the Park A lyrical note is struck in Angela Howards’ The Table, where a craftsman associates the body of his upwardly mobile wife with his materials. 

The need to seek work abroad is poignantly expressed in the metaphor of a man who leaves a moth in a museum then departs to find work in America in Tom Bryan’s Gardens, Strange and Cold, while the monotony of available work is evoked in his poem Brickyard Assembly Line. An old woman’s memories of an illegitimate child taken away and a hoped-for reunion are touchingly conveyed in Liam Murray Bell’s The Piano. David McVey’s The D Row is a sad and funny story about a boy with trouble at home and at school. Finally, Alan Gay’s poem Portobello Blues: contains a line which neatly sums up the mood of this collection: "It is too early for queues outside the Social Security, optimistically named Phoenix House".

Sheila Cornelius studied English Literature and Media at Goldsmiths College, London. An enthusiastic student of contemporary culture, she writes about theatre, cinema, fiction and visual arts. She is the author of a book on Chinese film and writes short stories. Sheila attends several writers’ and readers’ groups in London.

Sheila's other Short Reviews: The Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology 2008

Anne Enright "Taking Pictures"

Courttia Newland "Music for the Off-Key"

Loud Sparrows: Contemporary Chinese Short-shorts

PublisherAssociation for Scottish Literary Studies, University of Glasgow

Publication Date: 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First anthology?No

Editor bios: Liz Niven and Brian Whittingham have won awards as writers, editors and educationalist, for their contributions to Scottish Literature.

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