Review: thi wurd New Fiction Issue Number 2
Review by Pat Byrne, July, 2014
I write a fair number of reviews but I tend to avoid covering books or literary magazines. However, I was so impressed by the second edition of thi wurd that I’ve made an exception.
It’s taken all of a year and a half to produce the Glasgow based fiction magazine, and since it’s been in my hands I’ve been reading it with relish. It looks great and has a satisfying mix of well-written stories, an absorbing interview with the novelist Alan Warner, a warm-hearted essay about Matt McGinn, the Scottish folk singer, an introduction to the world of Spanish Cinema, and a passionate review of John Fante’s The Brotherhood of The Grape. I just about finished reading the magazine in one sitting and was quite giddy to also find included How Pearl Button Was Kidnapped, a story by Katherine Mansfield, one of my favourite writers.
If I’m being honest, literary magazines can sometimes leave me feeling a bit flat. Although, in every one I find something that I enjoy, quite a lot of clever ‘writerly’ writing is not really to my taste. In thi wurd there’s none of that; the writing is unpretentious and of a high standard. So with ease I was drawn into the situations and lives of various characters. None seemed exaggerated, bizarre, or to be representing experiences that were beyond my reach.
Possibly the magazine was particularly accessible to me because I was already familiar with some of the writers – having recently heard them read their work at The Albany Readings. And I was already a fan of Frankie Gault, a writer recently featured on my website. I read Frankie’s work again with pleasure – Dougie The Whaler is a poignant and comedic story told through the eyes of a gallus adult and an impressionable child. His grasp of dialogue is admirable and using the vernacular he draws the reader into the vivid childhood memories of the narrator.
Another writer whose work I have read before is Gillian Mayes and I particularly liked her short story ‘Let Me Count The Ways’, an intimate view of a relationship where connection flounders and each slight and resentment counted as love disappears. Clever and insightful, Gillian communicates the feelings of her main character so well: ‘she’s asking a question and suddenly I like her more just because I’ve confided in her.’
Brian Hamill’s story The Snib is about a child with suffering from a seemingly incurable medical condition – his mortification and the playground bullying he suffers are told from the point of view of his fiercely loyal younger brother. On the surface a simple tale, it covers a lot of territory, including issues such as class, authority and peer pressure. It is written in a language true to the world of the characters, and this contributes to the tellability and honesty of the story. The artwork perfectly complements the story and I felt heart-sorry for The Snib, and very proud of his wee brother.
Samina Chaudhury’s How Big Have You Gone is about a young woman on the brink of adulthood, encountering new experiences in the very different culture of her grandmother’s home. The style of writing is simple, sensuous and evokes a very real sense of place.
‘Inside it was suffocating. I could feel my underclothes sticking to me. I came out onto the veranda. Ripe guavas lay scattered on the lawn. I picked one up, the familar aroma. I squeezed the flesh of a couple in my palm. All of them were infested with tiny worms.’
The magazine is well illustrated throughout, however, the art work used to illustrate Samina’s story is particularly distinctive and was also selected for the front cover. The magazine is very aesthetically pleasing and I find myself smiling as I smooth my hand across the cover.
I also smiled a lot, and laughed, when I read Maurice O’Brien’s The Taste. His story is about a group of underage friends in an Irish pub – chancing their arm as they buy their first alcoholic drink. As the scene is conjured up both the descriptions and the dialogue ring very true:
“Ahhhh, you can’t beat a pint,” I said, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand once I’d recovered.”
The story is full of humour, but it’s not all banter as there’s an unexpected drink-fuelled twist in the tale.
The mood is more sombre in Reflection, Pamela McLean’s story where the reader sees a son’s girlfriend and their relationship through a mother’s disapproving eyes. Pamela cleverly plays with our emotions and she leaves us very unsettled when we intrude upon the couple in the most private of circumstances. It’s a tale that stays with you.
The stories are definitely not all about fun and laughs and I allowed Cathy Campbell to introduce me to the cold, brutal world of Imrie ,whilst Gillian Sherriffs’ Jennifer Glendinning drew me in with a matter-of-fact take on illness and obsession.
The very forthright interview with Alan Warner is a fascinating addition to the magazine; with the writer providing a thorough response to the questions about his thoughts on his own work, writing technique and the problems that writers face, including a good old insightful moan about ‘the un-bridgeable gulf [that] has yawned open between many writers and the funded Arts Organizations.’
Warner strikes me as both brave and confrontational when he points out:
‘for most writers of poetry and fiction unless the writer is hugely lucky. The work itself has to be the reward – and it is. Yet we are allowing all writers and their works to be carried aloft or to crash in the trade winds of the free market, but accepting that Arts Organisations, riding on the tails, have guaranteed financial support with all their high, questionable costs. ‘
It’s an interview that certainly hits the spot and makes you think, and although Warner refers to his ‘jaundiced feelings’ I suspect he is pretty much on the button, and that many share his views.
There was a lot to consider in this revealing interview; it’s well worth a close read. At the end I was delighted to see the question asked about his favourite novels or story collections that are ‘generally overlooked.’
He responds with a long and intriguing, which includes Scottish writers that I’ve never heard of but will certainly be checking out.
Stuart Blackwood’s review of John Fante’s The Brotherhood of the Grape is another highlight in the magazine. It’s wide in its scope, stimulating, and the writing is wonderful. Alongside the book being reviewed, Stuart introduces the reader to Fante’s The Bandini Quartet ; he is fulsome in his praise of the author’s ‘brutal honesty’ and his ‘warm, self-deprecating black-humour’. Stuart’s passion for Fante’s writing also comes across in his descriptions of The Brotherhood of the Grape:
‘What plays out is a beautiful, unsentimental look at the conflict between the generations, the dysfunction within families, and the quest to make some kind of sense of life before the end comes.’
He points out that the author’s work operates within the ‘framework of ordinary lives’ and ‘travails’ that many of us encounter on a day-to-day basis, showing us ‘small slices of life laid out in perfect detail’.
Fante’s work is remarkable and I too loved The Brotherhood of The Grape. When I was reading Stuart’s review it occurred to me that some of the qualities that make Fante’s work so attractive can be found in the rich mix of stories in thi wurd. The writers in the magazine give us a glimpse of the lives of ordinary people and the fascinating details of their various relationships, friendships and the events and experiences they encounter.
thi wurd is full of enjoyable and accessible stories that focus on what Virginia Woolf calls, the ‘myriad impressions’ that fall upon people’s minds, capturing concerns that are trivial, thrilling , troubling – and very absorbing.
The magazine editor Alan McMunnigall and his team have done an excellent job.
Pat Byrne, 5 July, 2014
This section: Books, Talks, Poetry Events
Filed under: Books, Talks, Poetry Events
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