Tales of the Century
Stephen Lewis dips into a York version of The Canterbury Tales that puts our city on the literary map
Magdalena Chavez knew exactly what she wanted out of the York Tales. A collection of ‘descriptive, lively, bawdy and irreverent’ stories which would provide a snapshot of what life in York at the beginning of the 21st century was like when you stripped away the decorous surface. Has the boss of York publishing house ENDpapers achieved that? Has she ever!
The 20 stories collected in York Tales portray a York that might surprise many: a city by turns comic, dark, sexy, spooky and sometimes downright grim. But one that is above all vibrantly alive.
…She decided – long before the BBC got the idea – to publish a kind of updated, contemporary version of Chaucer, but this time set firmly in York…with the help of editor Rachel Hazelwood, the stories have been collected together into a volume that provides an unforgettable picture of the city, and which will at the same time be a massive boost to York’s blossoming literary scene.
…So is Rachel pleased with the result? Not half. ‘I’m absolutely thrilled with it,’ she says. ‘There is something for everyone. And the book gives a real sense of place – the character and dignity of York itself, as well as the qualities of the people who live here: pride, humour, spirit, imagination and integrity.’ The important thing now, she says, is to make the most of what the book scene has done for York’s growing literary scene. ENDpapers is hoping to set up a York Tales writers’ group…
The excerpt below is taken from a feature written for the BBC website, 26th January 2005:
Nottingham gets the naked treatment
by Alex Walker
Naked City is a collection of short stories based around the concept of analysing life in regenerating British cities through fiction, bypassing the “PR spin and glossed commercial brochures”. It includes a wide range of works set in various locations, including Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool, Glasgow and, of course, Nottingham.
The collection also features a very literal take on the theme by photographer Kevin Reynolds who arranged nude models into typical urban situations.
This maverick approach from the publishers was one of the factors that inspired author James Walker to get involved. “What I like about Route,” James says, “is the way they are exploring different areas of writing. They have a great range and that suited me because I like to extend boundaries in my work.”
James’ story, ‘Why I have to wear a pair of Wranglers everyday for as long as I live on this street’ tells of how a well-intentioned attempt to find the owners of a dog, involved in a road accident, backfires. James says the road where all the action takes place is based around the kind of areas he has seen living in Nottingham.
He says: “There are a lot of characters in Nottingham. I find the people to be very honest and down-to-earth.”
James Walker’s first novel, This Is All I Know, is due for publication and he is also working on another-Nottingham based project, a local lad’s view on Brian Clough.
Naked City is available from all good bookshops…
Printed in The Big Issue in the North, No. 555, 14th February 2005:
by Matt Baker
If ever there was a concept that needed explaining in these New Labour, new jargon days, its urban living. It’s bandied around freely in all quarters of the media, but what exactly does it mean?
Needless to say you won’t be any wiser for reading up on glossy regeneration supplements or attending urban summits. Nor can we expect any dazzling insights from the hubbub of self-congratulation and civic boosterism that you’ll find in many northern city councils these days.
But if you want to find out what life’s really like in the redevelopment north, you could do a lot worse than start off with a book like this.
As a recognised champion of bold and original fiction, Route deserves immense credit for assembling this gritty crew of urban voices (most of whom are largely unknown) to capture the essence of today’s big northern cities. From Manchester to Leeds and Liverpool to Bradford a huge social revolution is taking place. Yet how are these changes impacting on those living through it? There is of course a much more vivid picture of modern life than skinny lattes and loft apartments and these are some of the stories that tell it.
Whether it’s doomed romance in Newcastle or casual violence in Leeds, Naked City is a roll call for those who aren’t riding the cusp of relentless social change. Beyond the council-sponsored veneer of civil renewal Naked City unveils a new identity that’s shaping up. And with some of the sharpest, on the button writing you’ll come across all year, Route’s new writing series (this is the 15th in the series) could soon start taking on a Samizdat level of importance as it quietly ushers in the beginnings of a much-needed northern literary renaissance.
Reviewed in Artscene Magazine
Route has arrived at a format which could be described as a northern Granta. For any broad-minded soul that cares to check it out, it remains hard evidence of a valid literary sensibility beyond London.
Reviewed in the Manchester Evening News, 22nd January 2005:
by David Graham
This collection of short stories from northern-based Route is described as a revealing look at the nether regions and it is indeed an intriguing insight into city life and the people living it. The stories take us beneath the fabric of the modern, changing city, well beyond the lattés and designer loft-living, and into the minds of the generation going through all the social upheaval.
The excerpt below is taken from a feature written for the BBC Bradford website, February 2005:
Stories from the Naked City
by Chris Verguson
Once upon a time there was a TV programme set in New York called The Naked City which declared: “There are eight million stories in this city and this has been one of them.” A new collection of short stories published here in West Yorkshire aims to take us inside the modern British city.
Of course, Naked City tells of lives beyond West Yorkshire – there are also stories set in Newcastle, Dundee, Glasgow, Manchester, Hull, Nottingham, Durham and Liverpool, and if this wasn’t enough the collection is accompanied by a series of photographs. Kevin Reynolds looks through his lens at naked people (volunteer models) in everyday situations.
I came to this collection as someone who has been evading short stories for a good few years, even though some of these have been amongst the best stuff I have ever read. The Naked City shows that the short story is the perfect medium for laying bare glimpses of people’s lives.
Reviewed in incorporating writing [The Incwriters Society], April 2005:
Review by A.O.
This is Route all grown up, a collection of thought provoking stories, well edited by two individuals who know what makes a collection tick. Short stories have been battered over the last few years, a major source of ignorance, they have been pushed to the back of the classroom cupboard, forgotten and shunned but thanks to the likes of Granta and Route, with the unwavering support and war cry of such institutions as the Save Our Short Story campaignwe are seeing the long overdue return to form in the UK. Readers, once over, forced to read the short stories of one writer now have the choice to read a collection bringing some of the finest next generation Booker authors to our shelves. The eclectic, the humorous, the heartbreaking, the psychological, the fear and angst are all here in a collection that not only embodies the city but occupies the very soul of the urban landscape. This is the regeneration of Route and the start of the renaissance for the short story on these isles, no longer will we have to submit to American editors or write for middle aged women’s magazines. If Granta have the south, then Route have the north and it’s only a matter of time before they take the capital.
Reviewed in The Herald [a.k.a. The Glasgow Herald], 19th Februrary 2005:
The modern city has been ploughed endlessly by writers in search of a backdrop upon which to hang their ideas. Why not? Urban angst and alienation are supreme bedfellows. Gleaned from the length and breadth of the UK, this anthology from the pens of unknown writers, for the most part, does not disappoint. There is grittiness to these tales, variously dealing in love and fading or faded dreams and a commendable lack of adornment and sentimentality in a well-chosen collection.
The Nottingham Evening Post 4th June 2005:
The Three and a Half Day Parent
Reviewed by Jeremy Lewis
Walker, already an award-winning writer, has been studying for his masters degree at Nottingham Trent and is researching a book about Brian Clough. Here is a slim collection of stories presumably inspired by his own experiences of a personal partnership breakdown, sharing access to a solitary son, and getting to know the lad and his peers. It is slightly sardonic (‘Take everything’, he tells his soon-to-be-ex, so she does) yet a frequently funny glimpse of kids learning about life. More would have been good.
Printed in the Nottingham Evening Post Seven Days Supplement 29th October 2005:
Reviewed by Elena Botterill
These snapshots of other people’s lives told in different ways are by turns ordinary, shocking, magical and bizarre. One of the stories is by Nottingham author James K Walker, a wry little tale about The Cocca-Bella Man. I particularly liked Surf Scooter story about Vernon, so called because his dad won the pools the day he was conceived…wonderfully poignant, it will make you smile. A good collection of diverse material which will have you dipping in again and again.
Reviewed in The Guardian, Saturday December 16th 2006:
Review by Nicholas Clee
The contributors’ brief for this anthology of short fiction – the latest in a lively series – was to write stories to appeal to travellers. That was unlikely to promote thematic coherence, although it has encouraged several writers to feature journeys in their pieces. A distinctive flavour emerges from the collection none the less. Perhaps the suggestion about people in transit has influenced the contributors to create characters who are dislocated in various ways. There are common elements of style, too: unadorned language, oblique observations, deadpan delivery.
The heroine of Alexis Clements’s sweetly droll “Aubrey” spends her free time phoning old acquaintances, and achieves a triumph when the museum where she is a ticket seller agrees to devote a display to the aubergine. A widow called June, in “In Attendance” by Paula Rawsthorne, works in an underground public lavatory, hiding from the world and from the knowledge – skilfully revealed by the author – that her husband abused their daughter. Other highlights of the collection include Sophie Hannah’s story about what a woman learns from an unprepossessing youth who shares her railway carriage, and MY Alam’s narrative of an Asian taxi driver. But the standard is high throughout. Ideas Above Our Station would be a diverting travelling companion.
Reviewed in The Crack magazine, December 2006:
This is a diverse mix of quirky short stories with no real theme, but they are easy to read tales and full of character. A perfect read for any commuter, then. I loved the randomness of subject matter tackled by the fifteen novelists, which always made for a compelling read and I looked forward to my bus journey home each evening after work, to be able to get to the next intriguing story. A few of my favourites were: ‘The Dress’ by Charlie Cottrell, concerning a photographer and his muse and the physical items left behind after a relationship has ended, and when the emotional clutter is then discovered by the next love in your life. The photographer must decide when is the right time to finally let go. Another favourite was M Y Alam’s ‘Taxi Driver’. A late night fare grills the driver about his ethnic background and his views on current affairs, with his one word answers revealing a particular world-view. All in all then, a triumph.
The Nottingham Evening Post 25th November 2006:
Review by Elena Botterill
‘I love the idea behind this latest collection of short stories from one of the most interesting and vibrant independent publishers around today. Written with the traveller in mind, these 15 tales of contemporary life are meant as perfect little snapshots to be enjoyed on the move. What would your perfect read on the move be? Included in this fine and diverse collection are two Nottingham based authors, James Walker and Paula Rawsthorne, and a third who studied in the city. An inspired idea and an inspired collection, which won’t disappoint.’