WINNER OF THE EDGEHILL SHORT STORY PRIZE 2011
From the heat of Africa to the warmth of France or the snowbound dales of northern England, this is an assured and absorbing collection.
Including the Bridport prize-winning story ‘The Prince’, Touch spans twenty years of short-story writing from author and poet Graham Mort.
From a young child adrift on an ice-filled lake to an ageing farmer facing life alone, the twenty-one stories display a deep sensitivity to both the natural world and to human relationships. In skilfully crafted prose, vivid with detail, Mort examines the strength and fragility of life and the ties that hold us within it.
‘I chose ‘The Prince’… because the writing is word-perfect… with the story quietly remarking on how something out of the ordinary both does and doesn't affect daily life. In particular, I was enchanted by deft descriptions of nature…’ – Novelist and Bridport judge Tracy Chevalier
Review on gwales.com
Although Graham Mort is probably best known as a poet, this collection of twenty-one stories - including the Bridgeport Prize-winning 'The Prince' - bears witness to his strengths as a fine prose writer and storyteller. Here are the themes that will be familiar to readers of his poetry, still presented in a language rich in image and sound but in a form that will hopefully bring his work to the attention of a wider readership. These bleakly beautiful stories are 'scattered moments set down [...] in words of an ever-fragile language'. They are moments, ordinary and extraordinary, in lives that then move on, though we are left to imagine where and how.
Suzy Ceulan Hughes
Litfest review by Ian Seed
Graham Mort possess the gift of making ordinary lives extraordinary. With gritty yet graceful language, Mort creates a unique poetry out of everyday and the banal. He makes beauty out of what we regard as uninteresting or unattractive. His observations are keen and precise (I often found myself thinking of cinematic shots), yet there is also a strong sensuous quality about his writing, deeply veined with metaphor and simile. Read sentences like this and it is impossible not to want to read more..Mort is a 'committed writer'..[.]..There is a melancholy throughout, and death is always present, even as an absence, or as something or someone missing. Yet there is also a wicked humour and a deep faith in the possibilities of life. However tragic some of these stories may be, we come away feeling enriched...[.]..the stories in Touch form a genuine literature, whose poetry will be as moving and meaningful in years to come.
Review from New Welsh Review
That Mort is also a Poetry Book Society recommended poet (Circular Breathing) shines through instantly in his prose and makes beautifully deft storytelling. Mort vividly illustrates the fragility of life whether at the hands of the laws of nature or machines; we see a pregnant women fleeing her war-torn city, lambs at the mercy of the fox, or a frog taunted by a gang of boys. Touch includes the absorbing 2007 Bridport Prize winning story 'The Prince', sensitively unfurling the impact of the extraordinary, and how children's imaginations can both scare and soothe their way through the aspects of life they are still to learn to understand... A true pleasure from first page to last.
Susie Wild, New Welsh Review, Autumn 2010
Review from Planet
Mort is a skillful and sensitive writer, his stories are carefully crafted and the language is subtle and deft, especially when writing about nature. He also has a way of describing everyday sights and sounds that grab your attention: "The Kettle coming to the boil sounded like the sea pulling at shingle." And "In the sunlight the ducklings looked like golden catkins dusted with brown pollen." The collection closes with "The Prince", about a dying child which, again contains some lovely passages: "He played slowly, prematurely aged, as if learning to be a child when already too late." It is beautifully written.[.]. Ray French, 'Planet', Issue 200
Review from The North
Anyone familiar with Mort's poetry should not be surprised at the world he conjures up in these stories, haunted as they are by random brutality and short story as prose fiction's lyric poem. This rich collection does not disappoint in that respect: 'there's fuchsia and mombretia and ox-eye daisies nodding in the slipstream of cars' is a not untypical sentence. In Touch, Mort combines the poet's attention to the surface with the storyteller's tools of suspense and withholding of information to good effect. 'Her past hardly seemed real. That had been someone else, somewhere else. Another life. Vague. Distant. Without meaning now.' This is the nameless woman in one of the more upbeat stories, 'Charcoal Burner', who has stumbled from a nameless war zone into the forest, to give birth. Many of the protagonists are caught up in the battle fields of family life and find themselves at crossroads moments, the stock-in-trade of the short story. Although they vary in age and gender, the people shepherded in these stories share a loneliness, a watchfulness and a worrying existence. 'His parents were dead, or somewhere else'. This is Kevin, in 'Mud Bastard' who after flooring and possibly killing his cruel granddad, lets his racing pigeons ('the only things he had loved') escape, and is about to be beaten up himself by local bullies. 'It filled her with dread, the thought of the town.' Jenny, in 'Rain', is recovering alone after being burned in a fire. Although there is redemption here, especially the love stories, it's certainly harsh up north: where sunset resembles 'burning slagheap'; couples live 'in stultified marriages' and where of course your boss is an 'idle fat bastard'. The collection culminates in its finest story 'The Prince', really breathtakingly good, dealing as it does with many of Mort's preoccupations. There's a 'frisson' in the village over one 'flawless hot summer' about a rich boy quarantined with a mysterious illness and although the other children don't know it they sense that something is about to happen: 'We didn't know that he was dying then, but we sensed that we were near a great event.' Social class separates the children but the boy's mother invites the village children to a birthday, where they get a glimpse of a different sort of life and their first whiff of mortality. There's an emotional final scene that immerses the reader in everything that's good about this writing. It's stylish end to an impressive collection. Susan Burns, The North, No.46
Review from Passengersintimeblog
Seren Books are one of the few publishers in the British Isles to publish short stories collections and they are to be applauded for bringing together these 21 stories spanning two decades of Graham Mort's writing career. The Prize-winning story 'The Prince' is a mesmerising piece of prose. Recalling one summer in the narrator's Yorkshire boyhood, it is a rich meditation on childhood and death. 'Touch' - the story that gives this anthology its title - is an equally fine but very different piece told in a series of alternating scenes, cutting back and forth from Miles in Uganda (who works for a UK-based NGO) and Carol, his schoolteacher wife, in Yorkshire. Each is contending with daily battles of life, far apart from one another, and the story describes the anatomy of a marriage surviving this work-enforced separation. Several of the stories centre on couples. in 'Annick and Serge' a husband struggles with his wife's mental illness, their stark situation reminiscent of a Beckett play. For me, the opening story, 'A Walk in the Snow' is one of the most effective - another story of a couple - and an impressive display of Mort's poetic talents: "snow-water floods the gutters and gurgles into grids. In one solitary entry we find undisturbed snow. It peers back at us like a blank page, quiet as a swallowed cry." For once, the warmth of the relationship here seems to prevail over the hostility of the setting. This collection is full of dazzling and convincing writing. Passengers in Time Blog
Blogspot review by Tom Vowler
I was slow coming to this. You don’t rush to the book that pipped you to a major literary prize. But then good books have a way of finding you. And so for several nights over the holidays I settled by a fire, with a glass of something, savouring a collection I imagine will become a favourite. The stories in Touch are bestowed with a poet’s precision. Beautifully crafted worlds, rich with nature’s rhythms, its chords and hues, unspool with a masterly resonance, a cadence that only the sheerest affection for words and their power allows. Meditations on the enduring human truths form, yet never at the expense of the unfurling narratives: familial binds, the tyranny of the past, of what can be borne by the heart, and what cannot. Mort is expert in implying something’s presence, in allowing the reader to find their own meaning and hope and delight, to complete the aesthetic journey he so brilliantly sets them on. There is much elegiac here – characters flanked by the ghosts of memory, gripped by loneliness, lives lost to love and the vagaries of fortune – and yet, as with the best stories, there remains a warmth woven through them, an aching beauty, an elegance and grace that is both affecting and comforting. More than that there’s a quiet dignity here. To read this book is to understand the short story’s potential, its flair to simultaneously give great pleasure and reveal all that is human. I’d wager it’s the best collection of stories in recent years. Probably longer.