Sing Sorrow Sorrow

Gwen Davies
Publication Date: 
Sunday, October 31, 2010
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'I'm not normally a reader of horror stories but found myself irresistibly drawn to these."
Maryom's, 'Our Book Review Online' Blog

"Excellent collection"

Sing Sorrow Sorrow is a chilling collection of supernatural myth and otherworldly horror stories from some of Wales’ most exciting new and established authors.

From the dark waters of the Styx to the circling birds of the Mabinogion, from the lonely house to cities of the mind, the contemporary stories in Sing Sorrow Sorrow grow out of European folk, fable, fairy tale and legend – all tales which belong to the domain of the underworld. There are ghosts, murderesses, blood-soaked enchantment, black humour and stories with the darkest twists of the imagination – draw the chair nearer the fire and enjoy.

With contributions from Niall Griffiths, Maria Donovan, Deborah Kay Davies, Gee Williams, Richard Gwyn, Tristan Hughes, Cynan Jones, Matthew Francis, Anne Lauppe-Dunbar, Mary-Ann Constantine, Zillah Bethell, Dai Vaughan, Imogen Herrad, Lloyd Jones, Euron Griffith, Jo Mazelis Glenda Beagan, Alan Bilton, Roshi Fernando, Christine Harrison, Jon Gower, Charlotte Greig.

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Review from New Welsh Review

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Gwen Davies supplies this enterprising collection of twenty-two original stories by Welsh or Wales-based writers with sub-header of 'Dark and Chilling Tales'. This gloss - necessary in order to give bookshop-browsing potential buyer some notion of the nature of its contents - is one that, I imagine, took some thought. As Gwen Davies shows in her lengthy Introduction, the stories she has assembled illustrate a wide variety of fictional sub-genres. Taking a shot at categorising them, I came up with Gothic horror, fantasy horror, folk tale, tall tale, post-apocalyptic story (a sub-genre of sf), supernatural story, ghost story.

Whist some tales represent fairly pure examples of one or another of these types, many combine elements of two or more. Some borrow structural or symbolic ingredients from myth and legend, with the The Mabinogion as well represented as Greek myth - as indeed one would expect. Rhianon's Bird by Imogen Rhia Herrad and 'The White Mountain' by Charlotte Greig (whose featured characters are called Gwydion, Brân and Arianrhod) both gain much from their Mabinogion substrates. Whilst the first may be ascribed to the fantasy horror sub-genre and the second to the supernatural tale, their eclecticism proclaims their modernity - as does the theme of sexual abuse in the former and that of sexual obsession in the latter.

We're accustomed, these days, to distinguish between 'literary fiction' on the one hand and 'genre fiction' on the other. It's a distinction, however, that tells us little about the essence of these rivals. Dai Vaughan's 'Persephone', on of the strongest stories in the collection, plays with the myth of Persephone and Hades, king of the underworld.

There is nothing of the supernatural or macabre in its make-up, however; essentially it is an exploration of the human psyche and the fear of death. Deborah Kay Davie's 'The Box' is a horror story with a symbolic twist stiffened by the myth of Pandora. This is an enjoyable book. But Haunting? Yes. And reader beware: a few stories demand a strong stomach.

Richard Poole, NWR, Spring 2011

22/03/2011 - 13:32
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In a genre currently crowded by vampires and zombies, 'Sing Sorrow Sorrow', is a strange and schizophrenic title. A collection of the traditional and the contemporary, beginning and closing with the supernatural themed stories, 'Puck's Tale' and 'The White Mountain', while finding room for the science fiction tinged 'The City', the book is a refreshing read. By far the most chillingly effective of the stories included, the ones which really stick with you, are old from the perspective of the deranged, horrific villains. The title story,' Sing, Sorrow, Sorrow', is a clinically described scene of drunken victims, and flirty murderous waitresses. In 'Box', the grisly contents are given a frightening, morbidly funny account of clipped ears, baby teeth, and lovely lengths of ribbons, with clumps of hair still attached. And 'The Pit' follows the tragic disastrous life of a miner, curiously called Davy Jones, and his developing taste for cannibalism. Davy Jones easily emerges as an entire, fully defined character, a young man the reader can both feel for, while retreating from in revulsion. 'The Pit' is a remarkable story. Unnerving, and heartbreaking at the same time, told with the flare of a storyteller completely in control of their material. It highlights the versatility of the stories in this collection, and more broadly, of the scope of the horror genre. As intense as 'The Pit' gets, 'Herself' is all grim, hilarious laugh. A fan obsessed with reclusive author looks forward to meeting his idol, with an eye of seducing the beautiful woman. And, different again to all of the above, 'Rhiannon's Bird', takes the simple set up of a fragile family, an abusive, predatory boyfriend, and an equally predatory bird, and finds safety and hop instead of fear and horror, 'Rhiannon's Bird' could even sum up the mood and feel of this excellent collection. The otherworldly is always just out of sight, ominous from the beginning to end, but what really haunts, more than the vengeful spirit of 'Puck's Tale', is the imagery of a man sexually abusing his victims. 'Sing, Sorrow, Sorrow' is never better than when its ghoulish prose spills violently over into the modern world, and perhaps shows how strange and horrific our lives can be.
Matt Hawkridge,

07/02/2011 - 16:14
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Review by 'Our Book Review Online' Blog

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I'm not normally a reader of horror stories but found myself irresistibly drawn to these. There's something to suit all tastes from the mildly spine tingling to the out-right horrific (I soon decided these weren't stories to prob up and eat over lunch) Tales of house demons, hags, temptresses disappearing children, a keepsake box of the blood-curdling mementoes...Some set now, some in the past and other in strange future worlds. My favourite though had to be the darkly funny tale, The Pit by Jon Gower, of once-human creature lurking in the coal pits of South Wales and almost starved into extinction by Margaret Thatcher's anti-union policies! Read them now while nights are still dark and the wind gusts down the chimney, maybe if you're brave enough dim the lights for that real shiver-down-the-spine feeling.

Mayom's, 'Our Book Review Online' blog

03/02/2011 - 10:22
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Review from The Tablet

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All 22 tales n this anthology are by Welsh authors. Not that you would necessarily know this from the roster of fresh names: Roshi Fernando, Anne Lauppe-Dunbar or Zillah Bethell sound exotically non-Celtic. However, the cream of contemporary Welsh writing is also there: Niall Griffiths, Lloyd Jones, Tristan Hughes. Known, almost entirely, for searing realism, these stories launch into another dimension, that of humans divided by blood and death, terror and madness, and of the unconscious forces animating fairy tales. The content feels half-known or powerfully dreamt, as it should. Dreams inhabit these tales as naturally in Greig's nightly visitation by the unreal light of the looming "White Mountain" or the oneiric impulsions of Cynan Jones' "Epilept". The dark engenders unnatural impulses towards brutish intercourse and brutal murder, as barriers crumble between man and beast, reality and dreams. It is families, not enemies, who foment fear and danger. Cracks fracture natural and domestic landscapes, as visibly as on the "House of Usher": nothing can ever again be safe as houses. As the fables of Aesop migrated to La Fontaine; as Grimm and Perrault shared and circulated sources; so revisions of ancient tales surface here. Beneath full moons and the call of night owls, fearless and dangerous women are aboard, possibly armed with scythes and knives. Readers are reminded of the revenge of the disempowered: "The Handless Maiden", once a Norwegian tale of a mutilated child, becomes that of a fatal young women whose emotions were severed in infancy. Most powerful of all, Three Cuts reprises Cinderella and takes it as far as possible from pantomime and into a world of horror and cruelty in which, once again, the mother is complicit with the lover and where the amputation of a toe is but the prelude to the incisive violation of girl's sexuality. Treachery and terror are the bleeding heart of these stories, and never more so than on the eponymous title tale. Cut to the quick and with the most incisive brevity, Anne Lauppe-Dunbar describes a set piece involving a cellar, a series of cages, coloured buckets and human parchment: a macabre stage set orchestrated by a seemingly innocuous "urchin" who directs and performs an act of flawless, excruciating sadism. In contrast to a tradition that once was oral, open to alternation in every telling, the power here lies in the writing. English is a second language for several authors: the text has the richness of one language infused by another. It is a compliment to say that the writing is so strong overall that each story bears reading aloud - and embeds itself anew in these telling tales. Amanda Hopkinson, The Tablet 13, November 2010

16/11/2010 - 20:58