THIS DREAMING ISLE edited by Dan Coxon
Unsung Stories, pb, £9.99
Reviewed by Shona Kinsella
I was really excited to receive a review copy of This Dreaming Isle. Being familiar with both Dan Coxon and several of the contributing authors, I was confident that it would be a great anthology. I was right.
Just looking at the book, you get a real sense of the type of stories
included; the cover art is gorgeous and very atmospheric. It’s a beautifully
produced book. The stories are divided into three sections – Country, City and
‘The Pier at Ardentinny’ by Catriona Ward: This was one of my favourite stories in the collection. It’s the first thing I’ve read by Catriona Ward but it certainly won’t be the last. A rather cold and fussy young woman visits her fiancé’s family in Ardentinny for the first time in the run up to their wedding. Brilliant character voice, lovely piece of local folkore and a great ending.
‘Old Trash’ by Jenn Ashworth: A mother and difficult teenaged daughter go on a camping trip. Partly because the mother hopes that they’ll bond and partly because there’s no mobile phone signal and mum hopes to keep daughter from her much older boyfriend. This is a really sad story of a mother clinging to her growing child and a child on the edge of adulthood, desperately trying to stand on her own. Unexpected ending that fell just a little flat for me.
‘In My Father’s House’ by Andrew Michael Hurley: This plays beautifully off the previous story. An elderly father and estranged son are reunited after the father has a hospital stay. A tesne trip to the school show has an unexpected outcome.
‘Land of Many Seasons’ by Tim Lebbon: An artist who likes to paint the same hillside encounters a mysterious walker who appears only in his paintings. This is a melancholy story that I really enjoyed.
‘Dark Shells’ by Aliya Whiteley: An old woman explores her memories, talking alternately to a reporter and to the river. Or is she speaking to the ghosts of her past? Beautiful and moving.
‘Cold Ashton’ by Stephen Volk: Great little story about the story behind the name of the town, Cold Ashton. Lovely ending.
‘Domestic Magic (Or, things my wife and I found hidden in our house)’ by Kirsty Logan: Another favourite of mine. A young couple keep finding odd things related to kelpies around the house they have inherited from a grandmother. This tale felt very Scottish to me.
‘Not All Right’ by James Miller: This was a bit harder for me to get into because the protagonist is so (deliberately) horrible. The mystery of the strange noises coming from the spare room in his uncle’s flat soon won me over though and the story has a powerful ending.
‘The Cocktail Party in Kensington Gets Out of Hand’ by Robert Shearman: An escort attends a cocktail party in Kensington, only to be met with bizarre instructions. I had a bit of a hard time with this story because I had trouble accepting that anyone would go along with this – although I would not be surprised if there were those who would pay for such an event.
‘We Regret to Inform You’ by Jeannette Ng: I really wanted to like this story but, in the end, I couldn’t entirely follow what was happening and what the point of it all was. I did enjoy the epistolary style though and the idea of a Britain in which magic is alive and well.
‘Lodestones’ by Richard V. Hirst: I loved the voice of this story but was a little disappointed by the ending.
‘The Knucker’ by Gareth E. Rees: We have three different, intertwined stories with different timelines, all coming together through a common theme. Very clever and enjoyable.
‘The Stone Dead’ by Alison Moore: Another story with difficult family dynamics. A young boy sees the dead, while his grandmother only seems to see disappointments.
‘Hovering (Or, a recollection of 25 February 2015)’ by Gary Budden: I really liked this story although I’m not sure I can say what it’s about. I guess it’s about the way that our lives interact with the places that we live and how that affects both us and the place.
‘The Headland of Black Rock’ by Alison Littlewood: An actor who’s past his best takes a holiday at the seaside and meets an enigmatic woman on the beach, a woman he becomes obsessed with. Well written, if a little predictable.
‘The Devil in the Details’ by Ramsey Campbell: Something mysterious moves in the paintings in a quiet seaside town. I really enjoyed this story, which I was pleased about having just read very complimentary comments about him written by Stephen King in Danse Macabre.
‘Swimming With Horses’ by Angela Readman: Another favourite. A run-down seaside town, like many on the coast of England, is the backdrop for this story of unlikely friendship and a big secret. Beautiful and sad and a lovely way to end the anthology.
All in all, this was a very well put together anthology, which I think Dan Coxon has done an excellent job with. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would love to see a second volume.