New Welsh Short Stories

Francesca Rhydderch
Penny Thomas
Publication Date: 
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Average: 4 (1 vote)

‘All of these short stories crackle with creative skill.’ – The Short Story


The best of contemporary Welsh short-story writing, New Welsh Short Stories offers a wide-ranging view of a country from new and established writers including Stevie Davies, Trezza Azzopardi, Joe Dunthorne, Cynan Jones, Deborah Kay Davies and Rachel Trezise. Stories range from the personal to the universal; from the streets of urban south Wales to the wilder reaches of small town and countryside; from film sets to the limits of time and space.

Other authors include Joao Morais, Zillah Bethell, Sarah Coles, Tyler Keevil, Jo Mazelis, Kate Hamer, Mary-Ann Constantine, Tom Morris, Maria Donovan, Robert Minhinnick, Carys Davies and Holly Múller.


Review by Rupert Dastur, The Short Story

Monday, September 21, 2015

New Welsh Short Stories, edited by Francesca Rhydderch and Penny Thomas, is a collection of nineteen stories from a diverse range of authors. The Welsh connection is used extremely loosely, but with positive results; all of these short stories crackle with creative skill.

A varied collection, it dips and dives through an impressive spectrum of emotions, times, places, voices, and styles. The reader is transported from the mountains of Wales in decades gone by, to the clustered streets of modern-day Tokyo. Stretching from childhood to old age, the narrative styles range from the traditional to the experimental.

As with many volumes, this collection of short stories also has its fair share of the dead and dying. Fortunately in New Welsh Short Stories these subjects are treated with exemplary finesse. Indeed some of the finest stories in this collection deal with this difficult subject.

Maria Donovan’s cleverly named short story ‘Learning to say До свидания’ is an excellent example. The writing is delicate and imaginative, represented by one of the loveliest similes in the collection:

her fingers gallop over the keyboard like tiny ponies

This haunting story examines loss and location; memory seeps through the prose, providing a poignant juxtaposition with the narrator’s misery:

The day they moved here she opened her arms to the house and said, ‘I promise to love you.’ She said it to the house but she was looking at him. Now there’s a dead fly wrapped in a web in the corner. There are green spots of the inside of the windows.

The narrator attempts to move on with her life, to move out of the house she loves, where she lived with the man she loved – but she cannot avoid inhabiting the ghostly past and a part of her wants to remain there. The future, however, invades her still space as

the seasons change; the planet hurls itself once more around the sun.

‘Mr Philip’ is an equally touching story that also deals with loss. The structure is superb, with the narrative revolving around the recurring image of shoes which deftly brings insightful flights of thought back to the present. The steady pace provides room for a lyricism that heightens the emotive force, while suggesting a sense of inevitability that at times is hopeful and at times quite the opposite, as the narrator attempts to come to terms with the death of his father. An example of this is worth quoting in full:

In my stockinged feet I lay down on his bed and in the bright daylight I folded my arms across my chest and closed my eyes. Behind the lids, in the darkness, I could see the orange rectangle of his windows, the black bars of the small individual panes and in the blotchy dark it felt like everything, absolutely everything in my whole entire life, had been leading me to this exact moment – Helen, and Dave Carter, and all the big and small surprises of the last few strange weeks in Zlin and Norman Park and the hospital and the house had somehow produced it, and none of it had been a breadcrumb trail, it had all been a slowly advancing length of horrible tangled knitting, impossible now for me to go anywhere or do anything; as if I had lost, not just my shoes, but everything.

As above, several of the short stories use an image to build their narrative. Crocodiles are used in Kate Hamer’s short story ‘Crocodile Hearts’, externalising the pressures and difficulties of motherhood and illuminating the hidden tensions of family life. Stevie Davies’ ‘Ground-Nester’ similarly utilises the unexpected appearance of a rare nesting bird to provide a parallel to a domestic drama that stings and salves in equal measure.

One of the most impressive short stories that employs this device is Deborah Kay Davies’ ‘No One is Looking at You’. This masterful story is a lesson in short story writing: it is punchy and precise, weaving several themes throughout, while mining the depths of the central character, a young girl called Eve. In this epiphanic, yet ambiguous story the heroine craves attention as she becomes increasingly aware of her femininity. These two themes are intriguingly literalised through a bright bikini which becomes an object of climactic contention.

Young people are a strong feature of this collection, providing alternative scenes and voices. Thomas Morris’s ‘17’ is a hard-hitting, fast-paced story with all the swagger and pseudo-depth of adolescence

I was seventeen and in mourning for the first love gone awry. Jessica and I had only gone out for three months, but it’s wrong to measure first relationships in units of time.

It’s one of the strongest voices within the collection and Morris delivers a killer ending. Similar tones can be seen in ‘Yes Kung Fu’ by Joâo Morais which offers this dialectically entertaining opening:

Get out the fuckin way, I goes to the Corsa. I’m late already. I can’t be late today. But the Corsa don’t move. It starts rocking. I honks my horn like it’s gonna make a difference, but the Corsa just stays there.

It’s impossible not to be hooked by that controlled gambit ‘I can’t be late today’ and so we follow the journey of this morally-dubious, law-avoiding protagonist who is desperate to see his daughter, but finds himself hindered by a man known only as ‘Kung Fu’.

The most intriguing opening is found in Jo Mazelis’s superb short story ‘Levitation’:

Rising up in the air, the dead girl feels… dead. Her eyes are closed; for a moment she has forgotten everything. She is dead.
Then alive again. They have set her down on the concrete wall and the ceremony is over.

This story is a heart-wrenching narrative that twists around familial issues that make the narrator’s isolation all the keener. At times the writing is reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s, capturing a child’s loneliness and seclusion:

She is like a fallen leaf caught up in a strong gust of wind. She has no locomotion. In biology Mr Thomas has taught them that as seeds have no locomotion they must find other means of dispersal, hence the helicopter wings of sycamore trees.

From Wales to Tokyo – in Eluned Gramich’s short story ‘Pulling Out’ we’re dropped into the confines of a small flat that becomes unbearably claustrophobic and oppressive as the narrator deals with inertia, a difficult mother, and a younger brother, Toru, who will not leave his room. A tense story that becomes ever more disturbing, ‘Pulling Out’ teeters on the edge of horror as the complete lack of Toru’s physical presence triggers both the narrator’s and the reader’s imagination, setting down a sinister path, with a hair-raisingly open-ended last line.

The East also features in Joe Dunthorne’s amusing short story ‘Rising-Falling’ that follows a professor’s flight to China where he hopes to meet the love of his life – whom he met over the internet. With wry wit, Dunthorne raises the light on modern romance with all is pit-falls and positives: ‘I have rarely felt such delight as when reading the words Elizabeth is typing’.

This collection does not just challenge the reader. It also challenges the form itself with experimental pieces that illustrate the possibilities of the short story form, as well as the talent and boundary-pushing endeavours of contemporary short story writers. Notably, Sarah Cole’s ‘A Romace’, Zillah Bethell’s ‘Liar’s Sonnet’ and Ann Constantine’s ‘John Henry’ explore alternative styles and influences to different effects. They provide a refreshing contrast to the more traditional (though still excellent) short stories such as Azzopardi’s ‘On the Inside’, Muller’s ‘The Bare—chested Adventurer’ Trezise’s ‘Happy Fire’ and Cynan Jones’s ‘A Letter from Wales’.

Of the experimental pieces, the best was ‘Balm-of-Gilead’ which reads like a screenplay, with two disembodied voices primarily skirting around memories of their parents in a turgid, strikingly Beckettian post-apocalyptic environment. The editors of the collection, Rhydderch and Thomas, suggest it might be seen ‘as a renegade reworking of Under Milk Wood’ for modern times.’ It’s an astute comparison.

This review would not complete without a plaudit for Tyler Keevil’s short story ‘Night Start’ which sits at the front of the collection. It is among three or four of the stories which really stand out. Harnessing several moods, Keevil shows an effortless command of his language as the opening paragraph reveals:

It was late June and hot, and I was having a hell of a time falling asleep. That was nothing new. That’s always the case, with me. Partly I’d been thinking of the bun Lowri had in the oven, and all the change that was coming at us.

The setting, the time, the characters, and the tone are shown in just a few sentences. The words ‘hell’ and ‘oven’ reinforce the unpleasant temperature, and the reference to the underworld swiftly establishes the dark and eerie backdrop which haunts the story. Meanwhile, the colloquial tone combined with the comical mention of the wife’s baking bun belie the unease that sits behind the heat, the insomnia, and that significant, curious, disquieting last phrase ‘all the change that was coming at us’.

Seren Publishing and the editors, Rhydderch and Thomas, should be applauded for bringing together such a sizzling collection of short stories that show the power and possibility of the short form.


The Short Story Review / Rupert Dastur / 21st September 2015

Review From the Independent

Saturday, May 2, 2015

When reviewing a collection of short stories one has to single out a few for special mention. The difficulty here is that I’d give special mention to all 19 of these stories, by writers either born or living in Wales, if space allowed. The collection has no theme, as such. Yet certain commonalities can be observed: clarity of writing, a strong sense of place, a recurring tinge of melancholy, an interest in youth and adolescence, night-time. Tom Morris’s “17” is a marvellous coming-of-age story told in short, numbered scenes, combining humour and pathos; Joao Morais’s “Yes King Fu” is a great slice of comic Cardiff urban realism, as if written by a Welsh Irvine Welsh; “No One is Looking at You”, by Deborah Kay Davies, is about puberty and family power struggles and a bikini, with an ending I still can’t quite work out (I will go back to it); “A Letter from Wales”, by Cynan Jones, is a brilliant scientific detective story in the manner of H G Wells; Kate Hamer’s “Crocodile Hearts” is a twisted tale about a neighbour who keeps crocodiles in the garden – like many of these stories, the action takes place at night and one might also mention here Tyler Keevil’s “Night Start”, which is about an epiphany on a hot June night with a hint of the supernatural about it. Carys Davies’s “Mr Philip” is a story about bereavement, in which a pair of shoes becomes a symbol for grieving – yet it has an unexpectedly uplifting ending. Not all the stories are set in Wales: Eluned Gramich’s “Pulling Out” is about a Japanese boy who returns to Tokyo after a year in England, to find that his brother has not left his bedroom the whole time he was away. I’m sorry I have no space left to mention the others.


Review by BookTrust

Friday, May 1, 2015

In this impressive anthology, Seren books present a selection of short stories from nineteen authors born or living in Wales. The range is ambitious, taking readers from the parochial to the international, with some set as far afield as China and Japan. The authors grapple with universal themes: love, grief, desire, and the unraveling of identity in contemporary society. These are stories that go beyond traditional borders, with each offering a unique perspective of the modern condition, whilst maintaining, at their heart, something unmistakably Welsh.

The quality of the writing is impressive, and the editors, Francesca Rhydderch and Penny Thomas, have selected judiciously. Particular highlights include Ground-nester by Stevie Davies, a striking examination of family relationships underpinned by the symbolic significance of a flightless bird nesting in the garden. Similarly, Mr Philip by Carys Davies artfully explores a son's grief through focusing the narrative around his father's shoe collection. Each of these stories is distinctive, and many have a power that will remain with readers long beyond the page.

New Welsh Short Stories is an excellent collection that shows the vibrancy of the current crop of Welsh literary talent. With short stories going through something of a golden period, Seren have compiled a selection that shows just how far the form can be taken. This anthology comes highly recommended for short story fans, as well as those keen to try something a bit different.

User Reviews

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Rosie Johns

Average: 4 (1 vote)

REVIEW by Kate Vane

The editors of New Welsh Short Stories had only two criteria, that the writer should be born or living in Wales and that the work should be originally in English. The resulting collection of nineteen stories has a wide range of themes, locations and even lengths. 

There is a strong emphasis on realism. Often the stories focus on the poor or excluded. In ‘Yes Kung Fu’ by Joâo Morais the narrator becomes comically embroiled in helping a chaotic man back to his carer, disrupting the precarious order in his own life. 

In ‘Rising-Falling’ by Joe Dunthorne a physics professor falls in love with a woman on the internet and travels to meet her. The author challenges the apparent predictability of the story head on through the unique voice and insights of the narrator. 

Other stories are more playful with form. Among these I liked ‘A Letter from Wales’ by Cynan Jones, an odd account of a nineteenth-century researcher into children afflicted by mysterious bites, complete with diagrams. 

‘Liar’s Sonnet’ by Zillah Bethell gives a haunting, childlike voice to Einstein’s mysterious daughter, Lieserl. In ‘John Henry’ by Mary-Ann Constantine, a man in crisis finds his life disrupted by visions and fragments of song.

My favourite is ‘17’ by Thomas Morris, the story of a seventeen-year-old told in seventeen short chapters. He feels his life escalate out of control as he negotiates arrest, a rampaging neighbour and wrestling women. And there’s a castle. This is Wales after all.

18/08/2015 - 16:27
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REVIEW by Vicky MacKenzie, New Welsh Review

New Welsh Short Stories by Francesca Rhydderch & Penny Thomas, eds

It’s a good time to be a short story lover: prizes such as the BBC National Short Story Award and the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award attract high-calibre international writers, and there are countless other well-respected competitions, from the Bridport to the VS Pritchett Memorial Prize, to help writers establish their reputations. There are now several festivals dedicated solely to the form, including Small Wonder at Charleston and the London Short Story Festival; meanwhile, Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize win in 2013 made it clear that the short story is an art form as deserving of serious consideration as the novel or poetry.

In the introduction to this new collection of stories from Seren there’s no mention of the hackneyed ‘slice of life’ model of short fiction. We have moved away from the attitude that the short story is the younger sibling of the novel, a dry run for writers before they launch into the serious business of constructing long tomes. Francesca Rhydderch and Penny Thomas have selected writers who, although they may write in other genres, are committed to the short story and are interested in its formal possibilities. The only commissioning criterion they set for these stories, beyond excellent writing, was that the writers were either born in or currently live in Wales. But not all of the stories have an obvious Welsh connection – here are stories set in China, Japan, on a Scottish island and partly in Moravia. The editors write, ‘We were not seeking writing that was specifically representative of contemporary Wales.’ The nineteen writers showcased include an impressive number of well-known literary names alongside talented newcomers, and the diversity and internationalism displayed in these pages is a strength of the collection and of contemporary Welsh writing in English more generally.

Canadian author Tyler Keevil kicks off the collection with a distinctly North American accent in ‘Night Start’:

It was late June, and hot, and I was having a hell of a time falling asleep. That was nothing new. That’s always the case, with me. Partly I’d been thinking about the bun Lowri had in the oven, and all the change that was coming at us.

The influence of Raymond Carver is palpable, but Keevil’s voice is his own as he takes us into ‘the dark of rural Wales’, where a recently deceased neighbour’s shed door is mysteriously banging, tempting the narrator into the warm summer night.

In Joâo Morais’ story, ‘Yes Kung Fu’, the protagonist attempts to calm the local psychopath whom he finds karate chopping a young mother’s car: ‘“Don’t worry,” I goes to her. “It’s Kung Fu. I knows him. I’ll go talk to him.”’ It’s a highly entertaining but cautionary tale; after all, ‘If you can’t work out who the Kung Fu is round your way, it could be you.’

The second short story collection from rising star Carys Davies, The Redemption of Galen Pike, was recently shortlisted for the prestigious Edge Hill Short Story Prize as well as Wales Book of the Year. Her story, ‘Mr Philip’, is a tender depiction of the relationship between a man and his elderly father, and in its vivid details of ordinary life, ordinary loneliness and ordinary grief it manages to break the reader’s heart.

Zillah Bethell’s story, ‘Liar’s Sonnet’, written in the voice of Einstein’s daughter, reads more like a prose poem than a traditional narrative, so lyrical is its language and so concerned with sound:

My heart’s had a coronary. Lit up like a Christmas tree with the electric shock. Words hang heavy as chocolate pennies. Ain’t she pitiful. Only speaks in doggerel. There’ll have to be a funeral.

The harried businessman in Mary-Ann Constantine’s ‘John Henry’ is haunted by a ballad about a man hammering steel. He attempts to continue with his usual morning routine – coffee from an Italian café, a guilt-assuaging purchase of The Big Issue, a taxi ride to the train station – but the lyrics increasingly disturb him until finally they take over both his mind and the world around him.

Other forms explored in this adventurous collection include an epistolary tale with a twist; a story written as a description of a film including script and camera directions, and one told entirely through dialogue between two unnamed protagonists.

Some claim that short stories are perfect for reading on one’s daily commute. But they’re not like fragments of a novel: they are more like poetry in their intensity. Read them when you have a clear mind and can give them the attention they deserve. The death of the short story (like that of poetry) has been prematurely announced many times, but judging by the beating heart, the rush of blood, and the zing of energy in these poignant, humorous and sometimes downright bizarre stories, the shroud can be tidied away for the time being.

Vicky MacKenzie lives in Scotland and is writing a novel about John Ruskin.

02/07/2015 - 16:05