Women Aloud (audiobook)
Produced by Ian Skillicorn

National Short Story Week (all proceeds to the Helena Kennedy Foundation)
First Anthology

Win a copy of this audiobook! See the Competitions page for details.
"They all end in disaster, my relationships. Better to strike first before I get stabbed in the heart."

Reviewed by Sue Haigh

From somewhere in that space between radio drama and romantic page-turner, Women Aloud demands that you relax, pour yourself a glass of wine or a cup of tea, put your feet up for a couple of hours and listen to eleven stories by well-known authors of women’s fiction, interpreted by eleven acclaimed female actors. There’s everything here from sweet revenge (literally) to it’s-time-to-move-on-from-heartbreak romance, comic horror, vampires in Birmingham, reluctant exes, footballers’ weddings, mistaken identity, morality tales, via camp comedy and doubting brides.

If you’re already a member of ChocAnon, or have no inclination to join by accident, it would be best, for your sake, you should stay well out of harm’s way and listen to Carole Matthews’s wicked tale, The Way to a Man’s Heart, narrated by Lara Ann Stoby (in her delightful northern voice) at the bottom of the garden or, in case of rain, in the shed; anyway, anywhere at a safe distance from that You-Know-What. This sweetly vengeful Odyssey wends its way through mountains of marble brownies, climbs through kilograms of cream cheese whirls, crunches through crates of chocolate coated flapjack, platesful of pecan pie (chocolate, naturally), lashings of lemon tart (chocolate, of course), car-loads of caramel topping and gloopings of ginger florentine, drizzled with dark (is there any other kind?)chocolate. James has left his partner, professional confectioner par excellence, for another, younger woman. Does his partner want him back? Well, yes, of course – but, then…. The thought of her sugary creations, still warm from the oven, brings James to his ex’s door every evening (on his way home to his new beloved, of course). She feeds him whatever his heart desires. His heart’s desire gradually becomes a permanent addendum to his waistline and his new girlfriend – well she wouldn’t want... would she? And his ex? Chocolate isn’t the only dark thing on her mind….

Catherine King’s The Garden (read by Kali Peacock) is a prickly affair, a romp though a brambly plot that doesn’t want to be cultivated. This "Grand Designs" sort of story – the unmortgageable house, the overgrown garden, camping out in one room while the dream is recreated in bricks and mortar, ambitious plans for the garden – what on earth (or in the garden ) can go wrong in this tale of thorns, creeping convolvulus and a garden that seems to have a mind of its own? King’s light touch is brilliant for the dark unfolding and the deadly dénouement. Don’t think you can get away that easily ….

You vampire lovers, go for this tale of Birmingham blood-letting, read by Martha Howe Douglas. Milly Johnson’s A Woman of Good Taste is the old story reworked, but the Count’s enamoured victim is a middle-aged virgin who works in a Midlands chip shop. One little bite on her neck and her world changes. At last, her ambitions to fly (though not as an air hostess) are fulfilled; her thirst for eternal youth and beauty is quenched – though not her new-found thirst for blood.

Apart from the delightfully eccentric setting of Sophie King’s At You Convenience, the fun in this story lies largely in her mastery of the voice of Serena, the devoted lavatory attendant (portrayed by Lisa Armytage) who loves her job and her clients – the tinklers, the plonkers, the weepers, the phoners. Yes, this tongue-in-cheek, camp, sit-com sort of piece is set in the narrow confines of the ladies’ lavatories of a famous London department store. Serena’s job is in danger, but her influential regulars have other ideas. So does the new boss, when she and Serena discover they have something in common, something no-one else in the store knows about…. Things are going from strength to strength in the ladies’ lavatories – whoever (apart from Serena) would have thought of a fidelity card scheme with points for toiletries? Great fun!

If you’re looking for pure broken-hearts romance, Katie Fforde’s The One, read by Stephanie Lane, is a touching tale of loss, mistaken identity and happy coincidence. Judy Astley’s Sleeping Fox, narrated by Jane McDowell and Crossing to the Other Line, by Sue Moorcroft, read by Samantha Hill, will satisfy those with a thirst for happy endings after the misery of lost love. Trisha Ashley brings us another cake-maker with a penchant for footballers in A Piece of Cake, read by Becky Wright. Here, fury turns to happiness at the touch of a meringue.

In Real Life, by Rowan Coleman, narrated by Elizabeth Bower, takes us into the fantasy world of the young London-Scottish-Italian bride-to-be, Isla Caliguiri. Her inner dialogue gets right to the point her chip-shop (yes, it has to be The Codfather) owner family can’t understand. Does she really want the cut-price wedding dress her mother has bought for her? Does she want to be plain Mrs Dave Henderson, instead of the wonderful Miss Isla Caliguiri? Coleman keeps us guessing until the last minute with this touching gallop of a story.

It’s Christmas in Elizabeth Chadwick’s allegorical tale, The Cinderella Dress, read by Penelope Rawlings. Megan’s husband has absconded with a lap-dancer; she knows her life is a mess, her department store job hell, her boss worse. Horribly guilty, but broke, she ‘borrows’ a stunning silk number from the store for a party. The dress makes her feel ‘powerful, classy, in control’. She’s even offered a new job on the strength of it. But there’s something she doesn’t know about the dress, something that will help other women to feel as good as she did….

In Allie Spencer’s story, Its The Taking Part That Counts, read by Sue Kyd, primary school pupils Seraphina and Chantelle have entered an art competiton. Which child deserves to win, the talented, middle-class Seraphina or the enthusiastic estate kid, Chantelle? The judges have no doubts, nor does Seraphina, nor her mother. Their teacher isn’t so sure. How will she resolve her dilemma? How will the girls cope with what happens next...? I like the unfortunate realism of Spencer’s well-told story – and the outcome.

Win a copy of this audiobook! See the Competitions page for details.

Sue Haigh is a writer, editor and reviewer. Her work is published by Dundee Women and Books, Chistell Publishing, Sunpenny, Cadenza, Chapter One Promotions, Mslexia, Five Star Literary Stories and others. She has written a début novel, Missing Words, a Scottish short story collection, The Snow Lazarus, and a bilingual children’s book, Stories from a Cave. She lives in France.
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Authors Trisha Ashley, Judy Astley, Elizabeth Chadwick, Rowan Coleman, Katie Fforde, Milly Johnson, Catherine King, Sophie King, Carole Matthews, Sue Moorcroft and Allie Spencer.

Producer Ian Skillicorn is the director of National Short Story Week in the UK and the creator of Short Story Radio.