Reviewed here: The Next Stop is Croy and Other Stories
Other ebooks Drive!
This is a short collection of six, easy to read stories which recount various incidents in the life of a young Scot. We see their surfaces, their separateness, but we’re also made aware of the echoes between and the depths beneath them.
In a foreword, the author prepares us for the collection by reminding us that they’re stand-alone pieces which ‘in no way’ constitute ‘a novella or a novelette’. Equally, though, he acknowledges that strong links and themes run through them and the resultant grouping conveys very strongly their potential as a ‘continuous narrative’. The tantalising effect of the sequence is to make us want to know more of what happened between the episodes and events he chooses. As it is, we can enjoy each passage as a self-contained story but, simultaneously, we create our own version of how the relationships shifted and developed in the ‘gaps’.
They’re all told from the perspective of a single narrator, Alan, observing and experiencing the separation between his own lifestyle, choices and opportunities and those of his father. The language often seems to suggest confrontation and yet there’s no mistaking the tenderness, nostalgia and love that informs it. There’s an artlessness, a deceptive simplicity about many of the exchanges between Alan and his father when we hear the abruptness of the delivery, the seeming carelessness of the remarks and hidden accusations, and we know that both parties want to say other things, want to express the love that connects them. It’s a love that never gets articulated and yet it suffuses nearly all their contacts.
The writing is clever. There are no great tragic outpourings; tragedy is a very personal experience, marked by memories of seemingly trivial things – finding lost golf balls, sharpening a saw, cutting through a counter, sensing yet never penetrating a secret shared by two girls. But, when recollected, they have the resonance of major life events, signifying much more than their surface suggests. The stories convey the fragmentation of life, its refusal to cohere into a constant flow, the power of memories and the helplessness we feel before them.
The feeling which remains is that Alan is somehow lost in his own life. It’s failed to settle into the meanings he seeks for it, remaining instead as a collection of disconnected fragments, each consisting of elements which should draw them together. So in the end, we come to realise the artfulness of those claims in the foreword. Our lives consist of fragments – we can group and structure them to imply a significance but, in the end, the idea of a ‘continuous narrative’ is a myth. We need to live in and understand the moment. Above all, we need to be prepared to see the value of the trivial and tell the emotional truths which are the real driving force of our being. Reviewed by Bill Kirton
This set of short stories was one of the first eBooks I downloaded to my new Kindle last year, and I’ve read them a couple of times since (giving the lie to those who seem to think that eBooks are only for one-off quick reads) These are – as the author says – not so much a sequence as a collection, because they were written at different times and gathered together later – but they do hang together beautifully. As with all good stories, what is not said is as important as what is said, perhaps more so. The writer’s unique voice sounds strong and clear through these but whether they are factually true or not is immaterial, because they are true in a more vital sense and I believed every single word of them. The characterisation is strong, the dialogue true to life, but more than this, they tell us something important about what it means to be a human being. They also tell us a great deal about the relationship between fathers and sons – and between husbands and wives too.
All these stories are good but if I had to single any of them out, my favourite would have to be the first story, Golf Balls, closely followed by The Watchmaker’s Wife and Saw Set, the first trio in fact. In Golf Balls, a father and his young son scavenge for lost balls on the fringes of a Scottish small-town golf club. This story is as moving and multi-layered a depiction of the pernicious effects of class distinction and snobbery – as well as the changing relationship between a father and his son – as I have read anywhere, right up to the moment when Alan, the boy, suddenly feels ‘too tall to be holding him up like that’ and the devastating ‘He was thinking about undertows. Not the kind that exist in stories…but the other kind.’
In the Watchmaker’s Wife, so full of superb everyday observations, from the coat left on the carpet so that the underfloor heating can warm it, to the intentional cruelty of the ‘woman from the fancy jewellers’ a woman struggles with her unrealised dreams and her bond with her husband –a brilliant depiction of the tensions between love, loyalty and disappointment in any long term relationship
Above all, I liked the subtlety of these. Nothing is too overt, nothing too explicit – yet everything is there, moving, and insightful and well crafted too. In fact, when I was rereading these, I was in the middle of writing crits for a short story competition, and I wanted to tell everybody to go away and read Golf Balls. Here the writer focuses on a life transforming event, seen from the point of view of a boy who will never feel quite the same way about all kinds of things again. Deceptively simple, but with vast implications over and beyond itself – in fact a textbook example of exactly how short stories should be – little cans of worms that once opened cannot be contained.
Reviewed by Catherine Czerkawska
Andrew McCallum Crawford… in his own words…
I started writing back in the 80s, when I was at University, and was a regular contributor to the Poems and Pints nights in the West End Hotel in Edinburgh. The first work I had published was poetry, in the December ’89 edition of Lines Review.My contributor copy arrived the week before I left Scotland for Greece. In Thessaloniki I was co-founder and editor of Junk Junction, publishing writers from Scotland, Wales, England, Australia and Canada. The magazine ran until ’94. Over the next ten years, I continued to write, not really with publication in mind. I suppose I was practising. When I completed my first novel, Drive!, I decided to send the manuscript simultaneously to a few agents. Agent A returned it within a week – it obviously hadn’t been looked at. I waited a couple of months then got in touch with the other agencies. No one had looked at the manuscript, for good reasons: Agent B was out of the country on a six month sabbatical, while Agent C had changed his submission requirements during the time my book was sitting in his slush pile. He now accepted only email submissions. It was at this point that I decided to go it alone. Drive! was published in April, 2010, and the eBook edition came out a year later. Since then, I’ve been concentrating on short stories, and have had more than 40 published in the last couple of years (Interlitq, Gutter, Spilling Ink Review – for a full list, see my blog). I published The Next Stop Is Croy and other stories in September, 2011, exclusively in eBook format, and have been pleasantly surprised by the reviews. I have another collection coming out at the end of 2012 – stories about men who become obsessed with the past, or their version of it. I’m also putting the finishing touches to another novel, which is set in Greece and Scotland. It’s a tragi-comic tale of Scotsmen who try to take over the world of TEFL, and should be out some time in 2013.
Andrew McCallum Crawford also appears in Short Stories (Aug 11)
Visit Andrew’s Amazon Author Page