Shoal is an anthology of short stories written by the Thanet Writers’ Group and edited by Alice Olivia Scarlett. I’m not normally a reader of short stories but this anthology has left me wanting more.
I love the concept of ‘Shoal’ to convey the idea of lots of individual writers coming together to create a very comprehensive anthology. There are twenty-five stories and each one is very different to the rest. The only thing the stories have in common is the quality of the writing which makes each of them a joy to read. The diverse styles and themes mean that there is something for everyone and I’ve picked out a small sample to focus on.
A couple of the stories focus on the poignancy of old age and the passage of time. The Old Man by Ghillie communicates the sorrow of an old man in the final chapter of his life extremely effectively. The dichotomy of having an abundance of knowledge and wisdom whilst being dismissed as irrelevant in a world that no longer values experience. Lucy by Sarah Tait on the other hand chooses to explore old age through the eyes of a daughter forced to care for a dependent parent. Tait cleverly highlights the resentment caused by the change in dynamic between the mother and daughter.
I also enjoyed the stories which reflect on missed opportunities. In First and Last, 1917, Catherine Law’s protagonist is a woman trapped in an abusive marriage whose only joy comes from the past. A past that sadly remains elusive and out of reach. Similarly in All the Post Cards Never Sent by Rosie Ascott, we are reminded how fleeting our chances of happiness can be and why it’s so important to embrace them.
Some of the stories feel like they have the potential to be developed into novels should the writers have the inclination. Loose Ends by Sam Kaye had me on the edge of my seat as the writer built the tension in a mini-thriller. The story builds around the idea of ‘live by the sword die by the sword’ as the life of a sniper is shown to be very expendable. Likewise The Life and Times of a Zombie is an exciting post-apocalyptic novel that felt like it had more to give.
Some of the stories are very contemporary and rooted in realism, touching on subjects such as homelessness and bullying. Cuke by Luke Edley is a hilarious account of a hapless young man, addicted to porn and desperately trying to lose his virginity. Other stories, however, have a surreal, timeless quality to them. For example, Paint me contemplates the relationship between art and the viewer and sees the viewer sublimated into the artwork. Whilst Chisel by Rebecca Delphine is a story of immortal beings feeding from the “light” of young people.
Shoal is not an easy book to review purely because there are so many stories, all with something to offer the reader. I would recommend that if you enjoy short stories then you choose Shoal and peruse the vast array of genres and writing styles. I guarantee you’ll find lots to enjoy.