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Punk Fiction

Janine Bullman (ed)

" Remembering being young. Looking in the mirror and thinking – who’s that old woman? And behind the reflection, the ghost of a big, furious, scarlet-haired girl with a thousand-yard stare, dancing, dancing.…"

Reviewed by Sara Crowley

This "is an anthology of short stories inspired by punk" written by 32 contributors and including a forward from Johnny Marr. £1 from each copy sold will be donated to the Teenage Cancer Trust. It's the proverbial mixed bag as short fiction is placed alongside passages that read as biography, fictionalised memoir and one straightforward essay. The stories vary widely in quality, though many share the same nostalgic look back at youth. There is punked up hair, chains, piercings, make-up, sex, scowls, drugs, booze, violence, love, and vomit, always against a backdrop of music. 

Several of the stories deal with the death and/or loss of someone loved. When each of us looks at our own memories this is what stands large and remains vivid. Because of the similar vibe in many of the stories it is those that surprised that were the highlights of the collection for me. Rather than comment on each story I have picked out some of my favourites: 

Lane Ashfeldt's California Über Alles is a coming of age story set in a German disused chocolate factory. The Irish narrator is squatting in Kohl for the summer, and feeling hungry eats a stale bar of chocolate. Ashfeldt places us right there as she slides us back and forth in time explaining: "You don't yet know that, come midsummer…" "You don't yet know that the boy with the badly dyed blond hair…" ,making the past become the present. It is skilfully done, and the story is packed with emotion, yearning, and even danger. 

Editor Janine Bullman whisks us back to the U.K. and lost love in Safety Pin in my Heart: "…after all isn't this the British way, a Saturday night spent looking for meaning in the bottom of a glass?" Time's Up by Laura Barton captures a moment in a young man's life where waiting for his girlfriend in her parents' lounge he fizzes with frustration and irritation. It's a story of youthful hope and impotence. 

Kate Pullinger creates an interesting middle-aged couple who recall the anger of Public Image Limited when stuck at a dull dinner party. It's a witty story, and Richard and Ruth are great characters. 

PiL also provide the soundtrack to the terrific Peter Wild story: Fodderstompf. His narrator was in the midst of the punk explosion. "I was no one. Or rather I wasn't anyone. I wasn't anyone when everyone was someone." Set in Manchester in 1977 this is a bitterly funny tale of a guy who "…was a punk by accident. I went along to everything and hated everything and was told time and time again how fucking punk that was." Brilliant! "So I stood next to some people who turned out to be people. So I was there. I was there, man. But I wasn't there. I didn't feel it like those kids felt it. I didn't get it." I could quote the story in its entirety actually, it is all good! 

Billy Bragg writes a neat essay on the DIY ethos that meant punk inspired anyone to have a go. Be an artist, a musician, a writer, a designer, be who you can be. It's a message that remains relevant. In reading these stories I was struck by how punk was a call to creativity over apathy, but as always, some preferred to just get wasted.

Read a story from this collection in the Independent

 Sara Crowley has had fiction published by Pulp.Net, 3:AM, elimae, flashquake, Litro, Cella's Round Trip, Dogmatika, Red Peter, Better Non Sequitur, and a variety of other lovely places. “Salted”, her novel in progress, was shortlisted for the Faber Not Yet Published Award.
Sara's other Short Reviews: Miranda July "No-one Belongs Here More Than You"

Alison McLeod "Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction"

Zadie Smith (ed) "The Book of Other People"

Neil Smith "Bang Crunch"

Dave Housley "Ryan Seacrest is Famous"

Jen Michalski "Close Encounters"

Adam Macwell "Dial M for Monkey"


Publisher: Portico

Publication Date: 2009

Paperback/Hardback? Hardback

Editor bio: Janine Bullman is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing and has spent the last ten years working as press officer to pop stars. She currently lives in East London with her husband and nutty cat. She also writes for Mojo and Record Collector magazines.

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Peter Wild (ed) "Paint a Vulgar Picture: Fiction inspired by The Smiths

Peter Wild (ed) "Perverted by Language: Fiction Inspired by the Fall"

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