Category Archives: Short story

An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Castle Legends

First I went for the story set at Stirling Castle, and it was quite satisfying. I knew the tale before, but this was a lovely, and humorous re-telling about the man who tried to fly down from the castle. (Don’t try this!)

If you’d asked me, I would have – almost – thought that Theresa Breslin couldn’t possibly manage another host of Scottish stories. She and illustrator Kate Leiper have already produced a couple of gorgeous collections, and here they are with An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Castle Legends.

It’s everything you’d expect it to be. What you’d want it to be. From the wonderful cover by Kate, to every last little story by Theresa, set in different castles all over Scotland, and taking place at varying times in history.

Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper, An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Castle Legends

I especially like the sepia coloured map of Scotland, with sepia coloured ‘postcards’ of the castles, at the front of this rather large volume. It is a little hard to hold, actually. For us small ones, anyway.

And also the show-stopping night skyline of Edinburgh. Some of us would pay to put that on the wall. I can understand how Kate might have sat in some suitable spot to capture that, but I wonder how she got the selkies and the various monsters and other creatures to pose for her?

As for the stories, well, they are what you know Theresa can tell. I’m sure they are all quite true, but she does do nice things with her characters. The stories are mostly short, so make for easy reading at any age.

I didn’t know that thing about Nessie. Or Walter Scott’s great-many-times-granny. As long as you have the arms for it, this is a great book. And if you don’t, it is actually greater still. You might need a child, but I managed just fine on my own.

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Murder in Midsummer

This summer crime anthology seemed like such a great idea. Clever title as a Midsomer look-alike book, and if you equate midsummer with summer holidays, or even warm, sunny holidays, you are mostly there.

And it starts well, with Ruth Rendell’s Wexford on holiday with his wife. I really enjoyed the story, nicely period, but not too old, from the 1970s. Later on, Appleby and wife are also out holidaying; also enjoyably, apart from for the poor victim.

Actually, I’m being unfair here. Nearly all the stories are good fun, and make for nice period entertainment.

Murder in Midsummer

I think it was primarily the Dorothy Sayers story featuring Lord Peter Wimsey himself which disturbed me. Yes, it’s historical. And yes, I firmly believe in not tampering with language for our delicate modern eyes. It wasn’t even the use of the word dago that got to me. It was how good old Wimsey looked at life. Yes, lighthearted as ever, but he made me feel uncomfortable. Even crusty old Sherlock Holmes felt slightly fresher.

There’s a curious – intentional? – pairing between the stories, with similar settings or characters. Lions, beach deaths, closed rooms, that sort of thing.

I’m the first to say how much I love period crime, but there is something that no longer feels quite right. And it’s so reassuring when the English, even when abroad, put their superior brains to good use and solve the crimes the local police are struggling with.

Return to Wonderland

Return to Wonderland

Many writers have a relationship with Alice. A whole bunch of them have now written their own new stories about Wonderland and the wondrous creatures you find there. It’s Alice Day on the 4th of July, or so I’ve been told, and here’s a whole new story collection featuring your favourite characters.

In fact, I was struck by how nicely these authors played; they all seemed to have an affinity with a different character from the other authors, which seems to mean there was no fighting. They simply sat down and mused in an interesting way about the Cheshire Cat, or the Knave of Hearts, or any of the others.

To tell the truth, I only ever read the original Alice once, and don’t have a deep and meaningful relationship with any of them. I like tea parties, but prefer them to be normal. I like my head attached. And so on.

Some of these stories were great, lots of fun and interesting new takes on the old tales. I didn’t like all of them the same, but that’s understandable as the eleven authors don’t write the same way, and maybe for me some of Wonderland’s characters are more my cup of tea than others.

‘One morning, Pig woke to discover he had been turned into a real boy.’

How can you go wrong with a start like that?

Home Ground

Home Ground is a short, but necessary, story. Alan Gibbons has written this for Barrington Stoke, and like most of his books it is very much a book for boys.

Alan Gibbons and Chris Chalik, Home Ground

It’s got football at its heart, and would appeal to all football fans out there. And the other thing that matters is friendship. Fairness. Understanding that not everyone is the same, but that we are equal in our own way, and that we all matter.

Even refugees. Some of the boys in this story don’t like outsiders, or change. Not even if it helps their team win. Or at least, not come last.

So here is a story that shows the reader why people are the way they are, and how it can be good for everyone to include newcomers, who might look and speak different. But they’re all football players.

Alan has included short pieces on refugees, what they are, and why. He mentions what might have happened to them before they came here, and what their lives can be like. This could seem too obvious, but for the target readers in this case – boys between eight and twelve – it may well be necessary. There is also some information on famous, refugee, footballers.

I hope this book will both entertain and inform, and change.

(Illustrations by Chris Chalik)

Iceland noir, with some colour

To get in the mood for Iceland I reread Ævar Þór Benediktsson’s short story about the librarian who finds her library empty of books one morning. And who then drops her Moomin mug.

No, I didn’t go to Iceland. Daughter did. (It was ‘on her way’ back from Baltimore…) And no, there has been no dropping of Moomin mugs at all. But I gather Reykjavik had all sorts of lovely things a person could buy. Including a shop window full of every colour Kånken backpack. (She gave me one for Christmas, so no need to shop for more. The backpack; not the shop window.)

Kånken

She did go to the library, though. They had an exhibition of photographs on, which to her surprise they charged for. Must be in case more Moomin mugs drop. She got her zeroes a bit wrong, too, having recently exposed herself to the Chilean peso, where it was quite reasonable to pay 15,000 for lunch. (I think, anyway.) 1000 krona in the library, however, was more than expected.

The day after Daughter’s arrival in Reykjavik, I noticed BBC Four had the new season of Icelandic noir Trapped on. I wasn’t entirely sure it was wise to watch the horrendous things that might happen in Iceland, but we did anyway. Seems the Resident IT Consultant had watched season one, while I hadn’t. I’d forgotten this.

It’s grim. I suppose if the weather was sunny, the noir would kind of fail, so maybe the grey drizzly surroundings are to be expected. I find the people – the fictional characters – unlikeable. I went to school with that girl. Didn’t like her then. Don’t like her now. The men are all the same as those who sit on Swedish park benches with a carrier bag next to them. And don’t drink the water in the stream, whatever you do!

The lit up town at night is pretty, though. And I almost understand some of what they say.

On a Cold Winter’s Night

It’s that time of year, again, when proud dad Declan Burke shares his daughter Lily’s Christmas short story with the rest of the world.

Those of you with really good memories, will recall what I wrote about Lily last December. If not, you just follow the link, and the link there-in, and so forth. It’s good to feel good right now, about how we might have new authors to be excited about some time in the future.

This year’s story is called On a Cold Winter’s Night, and Lily very kindly sent it to me to read:

‘Kate sank down into the squashy armchair in the living room, having just had dinner. She had eaten in silence, staring into space. This is what she did most days, since May the 4th, 1998, when Paddy had his terrible accident. Kate shivered. She went to…’ (continued on Crime Always Pays)

Lily is ten. I’m guessing her parents will force her to finish her education before she gets to write novels full time, but I am hopeful.

Wishing you a ‘God fortsättning!’ as we say in Sweden.

Killing me

I don’t know if you noticed me mentioning Fleshmarket Close last week, and how I avoided walking down it with Helen Grant? It pays to be careful around someone like her. Helen likes horror, and kills quite a few people – characters – in her writing.

Some time last year, I think, I might have moaned a bit on social media. I wasn’t bad, but Helen must have thought I felt worse than I did. Which was kind of her. To notice, I mean. And she then asked if I’d ‘feel better’ if she put me in the short story she was writing just then. Which was kind of her.

Not one to turn down an opportunity to feature in fiction, I agreed. Helen made it quite clear I wasn’t going to survive.

Rosemary Pardoe, A Ghosts & Scholars Book of Folk Horror

Well, last week Helen handed me my own copy of the anthology where her story is published. It’s called A Ghosts & Scholars Book of Folk Horror, edited by Rosemary Pardoe. That’s why I felt that avoiding dangerous-sounding narrow alleys in the dark might be at least a little sensible. Just in case.

There are many more stories in this anthology, but I dived straight in to read ‘mine’ first. And I feel it needs to be mentioned separately.

The Valley of Achor is of course not about me. It is far more about Helen herself, or someone like her. Someone who likes old ruins and who doesn’t mind crawling about in the cold and the mist, actually touching ancient stones and other weird things.

The only thing I’m sure about is that I have stayed in the B&B where ‘I’ stay in the story. Minus the whisky, of course.

And just like you should never walk up those deserted stairs in that haunted house when you’ve heard an odd sound in the night, then I’d not have…

Oh. No.