Derby Scribes highlights the work of the eponymous writing group alongside stories from some guest authors. It's published by Stumar Press and can be bought here if you want a proper book or from the usual outlets if e-books are your thing.
In The Spirit Of Darwin opens the collection and is by Simon Clark, an author whose work I enjoy very much. I was lucky enough to meet Simon way back in the day when Nailed By The Heart had just been published (in a triple-header reading with Stephen Laws and Chaz Brenchley) and found him to be a really nice bloke. This story tells of a (possibly imagined) meeting between an elderly gentleman and (the spirit of) Charles Darwin and explores the concepts of tribalism and racism in the context of human evolution. Weighty stuff and, if I have a criticism, it's that the subject matter perhaps required a more serious, weighty approach to do it justice. It's effective enough though, and a strong start to the collection.
Brylcreem And Pipe Tobacco is by Stuart Hughes whose story Unfinished Business was included in the Alt Deadanthology. It's a gentle tale of a soon to be remarried widow's visit to a medium to contact the spirit of her deceased husband. There's a twist of sorts at the end, the implications of which - if you think too deeply about them, as I'm wont - could cause serious psychological damage to the poor woman. Nah - I'm not being serious, but then again neither is the story. Stuart's Alt Dead story packed an emotional punch, this one's a bit of (albeit enjoyable) whimsy.
Stump is by Victoria Charvill and had me - well, stumped I guess. The last book I'd read before Derby Scribes was Simon Bestwick's excellent collection Pictures Of The Dark which is the darkest stuff I've read in a long time (as well as being absolutely brilliant). Talk about one extreme to another... Stump tells the story of a little girl and her pet guinea pig. All I can say is that it's the best story about a girl and her pet guinea pig I've ever read.
Leaving Jessica is by Jennifer Brown and tells of a woman on the run, and assuming false identities, from her gangster husband. The story has a great first line and a tense opening passage and then becomes a narrative describing the logistics of what the woman goes through when a change of identity is needed once more. This would have worked better, in my opinion, as a more character driven piece, exploring the emotions of the woman's situation, constantly on the run, never able to form lasting relationships -having to inhabit every new persona that comes along. The last line of the story is as strong as the first, and hints at what could have been an interesting character piece had Jennifer chosen that route.
Last Respects is by Richard Farren Barber, another writer whose story in Alt Dead I very much liked. This story was always going to be a winner for me, feeding in as it does to my obsession with World War One It does its job very effectively, recreating the horrors of trench warfare brilliantly and leading to a poignant conclusion.
The Wake Up Call is by Alison J Hill and cleverly creates a baffling, paradoxical storyline involving a man involved in a hit and run accident. As I was reading it I was trying to work out how it would all be resolved, expecting an amazing reveal at the end. Everything is explained at the story's conclusion but in a way that I found a bit disappointing - actually, quite a bit disappointing.
The Gallery is by Conrad Williams and is the longest story in the collection. It's also the best, telling of a future dystopia where -amongst many other things - reading of books is outlawed. Conrad creates a believable world with zeppelin-filled skies and manages a few nice in-jokes at his own, and other authors' expenses. Despite the humour though, there's some heavy stuff in here, including concentration camp imagery. There's a nice touch having the enforcers of the regime wearing hooded uniforms - a nod to the hoodie culture of today perhaps. Classy stuff.
Dave's Dinosaur by Peter Borg will either work for you or not depending on your sense of humour. A short, surreal tale it has a nice, ironic last couple of lines but is probably a wee bit too left-field to appeal to many. (And the Nick Clegg simile is s right old clunker).
An Interstellar Taxi Ride by David Ball also depends on your sense of humour as to how it will work for you. The lead character is called Seymour Niples and if that has you in paroxysms of laughter then this is the story for you. It tries - I guess - to pass comment on celebrity culture but it's awkwardly written and the ending is about as abrupt as they come - I honestly thought the last few paragraphs had been accidentally omitted in the editing process.
Obsolete is by Christopher Barker. A man (Daphne Tramp!) escapes from the house in which he's been held prisoner for many years to a world which is completely unfamiliar to him. It's a competent enough story but is far too exposition-heavy in its conclusion.
The Smell Of Fear is by Neal James and tells of a neighbourhood ganging up on the local bully. There's a twist at the end which may make you re-read to see if it all works (a la Sixth Sense). It does - apart from one thing. *MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT* Dogs don't sweat (except through their tongue and pads) so they wouldn't wake up "bathed in a thin film of sweat". (It's sad that I know stuff like that but I do...)
Derby Scribes is -as with most anthologies - a mixed bag. Some of the stories are a bit rough around the edges but the fact that they've arisen from a writing group, trying out themes and concepts, may be the reason for that. All in all it's an enjoyable collection.