Earlier this month, Mardibooks published an anthology of modern short fiction, Jam. The sixteen authors were winners of an Ideas Tap/Mardibooks short story competition with over 450 entries. The stories are loosely connected, the editors (Abby Fermont and Martin Godleman) describing them as
‘recounting the quirkiness of the everyday. These stories cover a wide variety of extreme human emotions where the trivial takes on exaggerated proportions and obsessive crimes and revolutionary thoughts push and compromise relationships and legacies.’
I need to declare a conflict of interest right away. One of the stories is mine and I will say no more about The Special Day here. The remaining stories are remarkable, for despite their diversity they have one thing in common; they draw you in, they engage.
In Elly Strigner’s Floods a little girl from a fractured family links her own actions to a flood in her grandfather’s town; a flood which pulls the family in an unexpected direction. Sisterly love is stretched to breaking point by an incident of unauthorised borrowing on a background of drinking in A Betrayal of Trust by Lorna Irvine.
In Jonathan Brown’s outstanding story Colours, a journalist investigates something new and very, very precious. What’s will be the cost to the discoverer of sharing it with the world? Baroque is darkly atmospheric and chilling. In this tale by Simon Thompson a painter’s apprentice finds his master’s art costs him more than he expected.
The Legacy of Granny J Paterson by Gavin Bryce reveals a powerful character in a dysfunctional family who feels very real, but who is not all that she seems. Or perhaps that should be: is more than she seems. The intense and unremitting nature of doubt woven through the overworked fabric of love characterise Véronique Falconer’s There. We are left with questions; always good in a short story.
A woman is trapped by grief and dust in the emotionally resonant The Thing With Feathers. Can her son’s approach help her move on? Evan Guilford-Blake paints an authentic picture. In Keith Dumble’s modern fairy tale, The White Lady, evil and hope exist in a fragile balance. Which way will the scales tip?
In the enigmatic and intriguing Safe and Sensible Suggestions, once more all is not as it seems and menace mixes with apparent loss. What’s really going on here? Ed Ballard sensibly holds back on explanations. Despite the background of gangs, drug dealing and strained relations, a dangerous situation provides an opportunity for redemption and change in A Cry for Help, Helen Raven’s curiously tender tale.
The consistently compelling voice of Joe, the narrator, in Anna Forsyth’s When I remember Pablo takes us into a story where all the characters seem trapped and disconnected. Is Joe prepared for the pain of release? Perspective and guilt meet on an excoriated beach in Tide by Sophie Reid. You can smell the salt and feel the spray in her powerful prose. The ordinary twists to the macabre in Lana Del Raymond, Fiona Shiner’s account of a descent, no an inexorable plunge, into madness. Gripping and ultimately quite sad.
I was moved by Eleanor Bennett’s writing in The 36 Days, a war story set in Warsaw. Her pen is a pendulum that swings from hope to darkness in the privations of the setting. This story is underpinned by tenderness and the resilience of spirit. Appropriately an end of times theme of De Mille proportions finishes off the anthology. In Constantine’s allegory And Things Began to Change, a charismatic figure is the catalyst for transformation, though at what cost?
This is a exceptional collection and represents quite a coup for Mardibooks to get so much quality in one volume from relatively new writers. There is much pleasure to be had in Jam. These eclectic stories have a wonderful variety of voices and styles, but as I say, they will absolutely draw you in. They will intrigue you, challenge you, thrill you and make you feel. They certainly did that for me.
Why not check Jam out here?