A City Burning
Longlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2021
A city burns in a crisis − because the status quo has collapsed and change must come. Every value, relationship and belief is shaken and the future is uncertain.
In the twenty-six stories in A City Burning, set in Wales, Northern Ireland and Italy, children and adults face, in the flames of personal tragedy, moments of potential transformation. On the threshold of their futures each must make a choice: how to live in this new ‘now’. Some of these moments occur in mundane circumstances, others amidst tragedy or drama.
Waiting for the return of demoralized prisoners of war, an Italian is offered a shocking way to rebuild his world; on the Antrim coastline a man is pushed to the edge by the demons of his neurotic family; in the south Wales valleys during the pandemic a domiciliary carer flounders in the front line of the workers’ struggle. A teenager disheartened by a Covid future; a terrorist in love; a vindictive clergyman; an actor interrogating her role for light on her own hampered life. They are ordinary people caught at crisis point, each rendered with a fierce perception of injustice and brutality.
But there is lyricism too, wry humour and a sharp engagement with language – Italian, Ulster Scots, Welsh. As well as meeting protagonists in their own countries, we find the Irish in Italy, the Italians in Wales, the Welsh in Northern Ireland.
A cinematic sense of focus and place grounds the action: a dry-as-dust bookshop provides a sensual encounter stimulated by the dead; two young priests in a Vatican kitchen collide erotically; nemesis strikes − from the skies − in a hospital corridor.
With a virtuoso control of tone, by turns elegiac, comic, lyrical, philosophical, A City Burning examines power of all types, exploring conflicts between political allegiances; between autonomy and intimacy; emotional display and concealment; resistance versus acceptance. The result is a deeply human book full of hauntingly memorable characters and narratives.
“Good writing is compelling. Each of these twenty-six stories takes you out of your own skin and into the lived experience of another… The writing is sparse. Every word is telling… But there’s also lyricism, a feel for the rhythm of speech and an ability to capture natural beauty... These stories are not comfortable… but they are honest, searing, insightful and very, very good.” – Inez Lynn
“The Road is, appropriately, the opening story in this collection and by following that road we enter the world of Angela Graham. In that world we meet a large, interesting and varied cast of characters. We range across England, Wales, Ireland... and even venture as far afield as Italy. The characters are well drawn and their stories entice and intrigue. As a collection it... is to be highly recommended.” – Graham Reid
“A City Burning is an impressive kaleidoscope of landscape and language. Angela Graham's short stories move rhythmically between Wales, Ireland and Italy, provoking conversation through their poetic score. ‘Acting Abby’, a play within a play, is a particular triumph and one sentence in this story serves as a metaphor for the book: 'an invisible finger glides across the curtain like a harpist's, releasing a ripple of movement.' The movement is a little thought, a shift in perception as each story draws to an end.” – Angeline King
“A debut collection of tales remarkable for its verve, depth and range, taking us from backstage at the theatre through priestly adventures in Rome to the dark tragedies of troubled Belfast streets. Some of these elegantly arranged, pellucidly told and consistently perceptive stories are very carefully framed, as if the life within is viewed through a camera lens, while others are seemingly slowly refracted through the deep, clear waters of memory. Herein are arrayed snapshots, glimpses, things revealed or exposed – from the inner workings of hymns to the frailties of the human body – and all conjured up in bright words and sentences that consistently illuminate. Twenty six stories, one singular voice.” – Jon Gower
“In this powerful collection, Angela Graham shows herself master of the angle of vision: her tales capture the mercurial moment when a person’s world is changed forever, in a road or room, against a landscape, seascape or starscape, at the graveside or (as in the towering story, ‘Life-Task’) at a forsaken railway station in the aftermath of war.” – Stevie Davies
"Angela Graham is a brilliant new voice. This is literature that deserves to last." – Kate Hamer