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Going the Distance. 2

The book was launched in October 2003, and here's a (very blue!) picture of me and two of the authors at the launch (a lovely, well attended evening). I'm on the right, Julia Bell (more on her later) on the left and Godfrey Featherstone in the middle. Godfrey died in 2005, which was extrememly sad but not unexpected because he had a new heart (the transplant lasted thirteen years). He has a great story in the book - 'And Then Weel No Wot to Do'.

2005 was bad for TSFG - another member died earlier that year - Stuart Crees - from lung cancer (he was 52). We (Tindal Street Fiction Group) have produced two books - one featuring Stuart's prose, called 'Fragments of the Rage', ( the cover for it can be seen on this page - scroll down) the other features work by Godfrey and articles and poems about him, called 'and maybe do a dance or two'.

 

 

Here are some of the reviews the book picked up. Odd how the same story can attract both praise and indifference. Overall the reviews were excellent:

Time Out November 12-19

 

Since Birmingham-based independent Tindal Street Press grew out of Tindal Street Fiction Group, it seems only fair that the press should indulge the group by putting out an anthology of new stories and reprints by group members past and present. Like most of the Tindal Street list, ‘Going the Distance’ is far from parochial, with settings ranging from Liverpool to Colombia, Wales to Canada, Trinidad, London and Essex. It would seem perverse not to include Birmingham and Joel Lane obliges. ‘The Country of Glass’ is about an alcoholic’s search for Vitraea, the fabled paradise in an empty glass or up-ended bottle. The story is strong on the evocation of loneliness and almost heartbreaking in its wintry poignancy. Steve Bishop’s ‘Crosstown Traffic’, like one or two other stories, takes on adolescent angst and sexual awakening, but Bishop’s writing has the raw power to spark an erotic charge.

 

Alan Beard’s ‘Huddersfield versus Crewe’ is an affecting portrait of ordinary people trying to make a go of it in difficult circumstances. Sounds dull, but it’s not. Beard invests the most prosaic activity with meaning. Julia Bell’s ‘Help the Aged’ delivers an emotional surprise, and is a perfect choice with which to end the anthology.

 

‘Homing Instinct’, a first publication by Maria Morris, is outstanding. The narrator is a young graduate who wants to do voluntary work abroad, yet his home life – his abusive, pigeon-racing father and proud, sick mother; the pub full of ‘plainmen’ playing dominoes, the back garden with its buried childish secrets – is reluctant to release its grip. Every word carries the perfect weight, each image is as vivid as if it were your own memory.  Nicholas Royle

 

Matthew Gidley, Raw Edge

 

Going the Distance, edited by Alan Beard. Tindal Street Press, 2003. ISBN 0-9541303-5-9.

 

A new anthology by the writers of Tindal Street Fiction Group always feels like an event, and the arrival of Going the Distance is no exception. The sheer quality of this anthology, the fourth collection to showcase the group’s endeavours, confirms their standing as one of Birmingham’s key cultural assets. The members of TSFG are all published writers and when you see their work together in one volume you get the feeling that you’re in the presence of some kind of Literary Supergroup. Think Band on the Run with word processors…

 

If you’ve read the previous three collections some of these stories will be familiar to you, as Going the Distance celebrates the group’s 20th birthday and contains stories both old and new. The only story I’ll single out for particular praise is Godfrey Featherstone’s beautiful and harrowing ‘And Weel No Wot To Do’ – a story that was astonishing when it appeared in the group’s previous collection Mouth, and which is still a bold, disturbing and necessary piece of fiction. All of the other stories featured in Going the Distance represent a group of extremely talented writers at the very top of their game. It’s a triumphant celebration of the short story form and, if you have any interest in short fiction or any aspirations to write such prose yourself, it is essential reading.

 

I initially had qualms about Going the Distance being published by Tindal Street Press. TSP has occasionally been accused of walking a tightrope beneath which lies the abyss of the vanity press. This is unfair and untrue, and the press has never sought to provide a forum for the writers of the Tindal Street Fiction Group. The fact that Going the Distance celebrates 20 years of TSFG makes it a worthwhile venture for the Press, however, and is just reward for a group of writers who – indirectly – led to the birth of the Press in the first place.

 

And has the Press been a success so far? Ask Clare Morrall, author of Astonishing Splashes of Colour, a Tindal Street Press novel recently shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Birmingham should feel rightly proud.   

 

 

 

WhatsOnUK reviewed by Fiona Ferguson

 

Going The Distance – Ed. Alan Beard

Tindal Street Press ****

 

‘Going the Distance’ is like people-watching on a crowded bus journey; enjoyable, intriguing and utterly compulsive. The distance that this collection of short stories covers is impressive; from Birmingham to Canada, stopping at Liverpool, Trinidad, Essex and Colombia, and spanning a wealth of human existence en route. At turns painful, affectionate, gritty and beautiful this is a pretty eclectic mix, but always underscored by a lack of pretension and a love of the vivid characters rubbing shoulders between its densely populated covers. Somehow familiar but unpredictable it’s a brief series of short hops, but effectively takes you to where you want to go. 

 

 

Sunday Mercury 19/10/03

 

It's amazing how often short stories seem to involve childhood, adolescence, alcohol and sex - sometimes all four at the same time. So don't be surprised when such things crop up in this collection edited by AB to celebrate 20 years of Birmingham's admirable TSFG.

Beard is right to trumpet the group's role in keeping alive an endangered species, for short stories are not much in favour with the big publishers. Several of TS's established stars - Annie Murray, Alan Mahar, Jackie Gay, Beard himself - appear in this lively selection.

They all have merit but I particularly liked Gaynor Arnold's Heart trouble, a deceptively simple, moving and well-observed story of a child facing the anguish of a death in the family. If there is a recurring fault then it lies in sometimes striving a little too hard to capture an urban reality that rarely strays from booze, bad language and bother.  But this collection tells us Birmingham can claim to be the spiritual home of the modern short story.

 

 

 

Birmingham Post review – 22 November 2003

 

Going the Distance, reviewed by Graham Murray

 

Arriving with a boisterous promise to prove the short story ‘alive and kicking in the UK’, this strong anthology assembles choice cuts from the 20-year history of the Birmingham-based Tindal Street writers’ group.

 

Honed accomplished work marred by relatively few clunkers and crowned by two or three remarkable stand-outs, all it lacks is that proverbial ‘kick’ the book jacket promises, falling short of delivering genuine diversity of style.

 

The majority of these stories are domestic in scope and narrated in straightforward realist first-person.

 

Unlikely to revive the short story’s popularity, they feel familiar rather than fresh.

 

Least engaging here are the itchy tales of adolescence. Gemma Blackshaw’s Going the Distance, about an Essex teenager losing her virginity in the 80s is a poor choice of curtain raiser, and like Steve Bishop’s similarly themed Crosstown Traffic, mixes joyless nostalgia with a literary shrug-of-the-shoulders.

 

The overall effect is something like an X-rated Grange Hill.

 

Eclipsing weaker efforts are such pieces as Godfrey Featherstone#s And Weel No Wot to Do, a shocker narrated in phonetic semi-literate style: ‘Then I woz on the flore and dad ad bludie nuckels and mi noze woz wet with blud and snot.’

 

Raw and insistent, it manipulates your sympathies to great effect.

 

Another standout is Joel Lane’s The Country of Glass, which offers a sinuously poetic take on a man’s love affair with the bottle – teetering towards magical realism, it’s a fine web of lingeringly beautiful prose.

 

Annie Murray’s The Tonsil Machine is a deftly enveloping mood piece too, written with a delicate but edgy lyricism that evokes the flowering of repulsion in a child’s man.

 

And Leon Blade’s The Glumbo Glisae has a straightforwardness and lack of apparent irony that makes for a stark contrast with its neighbours – a sense of contrast which is just a little too lacking in the book as a whole.

 

Claire Craig in London Student Magazine

 

GTD is a new collection of short stories by 20 brilliant-minded individuals from the UK. For those who have forgotten the power and the beauty of the short story, this is a must-read. Each morsel is a fragmented insight inot the lives and minds of various Joe Bloggs, each encapsulating the essence of a life that is so much more than the few pages dedicated to it. GTD includes tales of the first confused and naïve sexual encounter of a 13 year old put on paper by Gemma Blackshaw, Stuart Crees’s more entertaining tale of competitive social club rivals, Godfrey Featherstone’s illiterate letter from a broken-hearted father locked away after neglecting his child and the complexity of cross-cultural identity issues in B. Holland’s ‘Sinners’. It’s perfect student reading – get lost in a story on the bus to college, or pass the time in line for the ULU cashpoint. Revive the popular short story at the same time as getting a quick fix of fiction.

 

DJ Taylor in the Independent 05/12/03

 

Back here in the Midlands, the fuss made about Birmingham's Tindal Street Press in the wake of its first big hit, Clare Morrall's Astonishing Splashes of Colour (£7.99), rather dulled the impact of Going the Distance (£7.99), a sinewy collection of short fiction edited by Alan Beard and featuring, among others, Julia Bell and Annie Murray. Joel Lane is an alumnus of the Tindal Street Fiction Collective, out of which the publishing firm grew. Many a fragment filched at random from his second novel The Blue Mask (Serpent's Tail, £10) would be enough to convict their author of epic portentousness. "The queue on the staircase was like a line of silhouetted trees bent by the wind" runs the opening sentence. Later on the night is represented as "warm and cloudy, as if you were standing at the bottom of an unchilled glass of beer". Despite these flourishes I was hooked by Lane's doomy account of life on the gay/student West Midlands front line, its soundtrack a dismal hum of 1990s indie music.

Arresting Energy by Toby Lichtig     London Magazine Jan-Feb 2004

 

Going the Distance   edited by Alan Beard

Tindal Street Press 270pp £7.99

 

‘The short story appears to be in crisis in England’, writes Alan Beard in his Introduction to Going the Distance. ‘Story collections are seen as hard to sell and writers are often discouraged from practicing the art.’ His alarmism may not be misplaced, but it coincides with a recent revival of the form. Some highly praised collections have appeared in recent months, including A.S. Byatt’s Little Black Book of Stories and Nicola Barker’s The Three-Button Trick. New Writing 12, edited by Diran Adebayo, Blake Morrison and Jane Rogers, showcases a range of fresh talent and now Beard’s own contribution has given the genre a boost. Going the Distance is the fruit of the Tindal Street Press: a collective based in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, that meets fortnightly to whet the flair of various writers young and old. This is its sixth anthology since its inception in 1983 and is a fitting way to celebrate its twentieth anniversary. Though some of its twenty stories fail to transcend the pedestrian, there are enough glimpses of excellence to give us confidence of the form’s present robustness.

     The concentrated nature of the short story makes it suited either to sharp turns of plot or bursts of vivid emotion; the rapid creation of a mood. (Contemporary masters of the form, such as Ian McEwan or T.C.Boyle, at best accomplish both.) Most of the pieces in this collection tend towards the latter, as a certain atmosphere is swiftly established and a sense of disquiet descends upon the reader. Perhaps the intensity of teenage experience is particularly germane to the form, because many of the best stories here focus on the anxieties attendant upon burgeoning sexuality and intellectual development.

     Gemma Blackshaw’s ‘Going the Distance’ investigates the matter-of-fact sexual initiation of a young girl in Essex where everyone seems to be ‘doing it’. The narrator’s thoughts abound with the mysteries of sex and the myths of the playground – ‘everyone knows you can only wear a tampon after you’ve done it’ – nourished by the reticence of her repressed mother: ‘last time I asked her what a word meant she took my Madonna ‘Like a Virgin’ record away. It was fuck.’ Blackshaw paints a terrifying picture of domestic staidness, as the narrator comes home from school to find her lonely mother still in her dressing gown, channeling her frustrations into the housework: ‘she’s taken to washing the bed linen every day’. The exterior world of boyracers, who treat their bikes like women and their women like bikes, offers an exciting antidote to this, but the blunt boredness of the girl’s narration exposes such worldliness as similarly staid. Her endearing naiveté as she ponders what ‘doing it’ means and steals her mum’s red brasserie is offset by an alarming detachment when she is deflowered by the local Lothario in the toilets at the park. ‘I look at the white of his knees against the grey concrete walls as he says, Fuck, fuck, fuck. And I think, this is what the word must mean, I s’pose.’

     Blackshaw’s tale richly deserves the plaudit of title-piece, and it is backed up by some other fine depictions of teenage sexual experience. ‘Crosstown Traffic’ by Steve Bishop looks at an encounter across the social divide. A boy from a middle-class background lusts after Joanne, the daughter of a prostitute, and wonders what his mother would call her: ‘…a brazen hussy. And then she’d remember about political correctness.’ While he still gets a buzz from buying cigarettes underage, ‘no one really gives a shit. There’s kids at our school dealing smack.’ Perhaps his teachers are too busy managing these adolescents, because he is bored by school and happy for Joanne to help lead him astray. He soon finds himself with her, drunk on Martini – ‘she probably thinks Martini’s sophisticated or something’ – having sex on the railway tracks amidst the dirt and oil, faced by an oncoming train, in a terrifying game of chicken. The stakes are just as high in Leon Blades’s ‘The Glumbo Glisae’, in which Ivan, a young lad from Trinidad and Tobago, is caught sleeping with Norma, the daughter of the local landowner. Fears abound about the glumbo glisaes of the title – satanic nocturnal visitors who corrupt young girls – and Ivan is soon arrested and demonised. The fate of Rachel in Polly Wright’s excellent ‘Looking for Aimee’ is scarcely happier. Rachel cares little for her boyfriend; she’s only going out with him ‘because he asked me’. When her mother pulls a sock over a wooden darning mushroom, ‘it reminds me of Danny pulling that slimy membrane over his thing – and I feel sick.’ She becomes an au pair and her incipient (homo)sexuality is channeled into an obsession with the haughty Madame Didier. Rachel is in awe of Didier, but has no outlet for her well-evoked frustrations, leading her to lose her self-control.

     In a recent article in the Times Literary Supplement entitled ‘Missing from the market’, Theo Tait described the short story as ‘nowadays almost entirely dedicated to the oblique, the wistful and the depressing’. Going the Distance is often guilty of these charges, but so too do its stories handle such themes with lucidity and arresting energy. Not everything works. ‘Dance With Me’ by Michael Coverson, which looks at loss and loneliness, lacks in depth what it makes up for in whimsy. ‘Julia’, by John Gough, leaves us tantalised by an unrequited relationship that we wish to know more about, and Stuart Crees’s study of male competitiveness in ‘What Friction? Which Factions?’ never fully hits its stride. For obliqueness try Penny Rendall’s entertaining ‘Flowers for Dona Alicia’, in which an aristocratic Colombian lady receives a bizarre apology from the local mafia; for sheer depression, read ‘And Weel No Wot To Do’ by Godfrey Featherstone: a poignant look at the regret of a near-illiterate convict through a letter to his lover.

     Again, the wistfulness works well with younger protagonists. In ‘Heart Trouble’ by Gaynor Arnold, a young girl faces an adult crisis in the form of a dying father. We witness her narcissistic response, mirrored by the ‘sad and gleeful’ reactions of her friends: the schadenfreude born of the joy in drama. ‘I felt important, and wished I had a black dress with a veil like a Victorian orphan.’ Arnold beautifully captures the unreality of such moments. ‘I told [Auntie May] to leave me alone. That’s what people said in plays and films. Leave me alone!’ In Maria Morris’s ‘Homing Instinct’ a punch in the face from an abusive father is all too real for Ben. He, too, faces an ailing parent – a mother who has been worn into the ground by a man who needs her like a ship does a lighthouse: ‘in the distance, always in the distance’. Morris sensitively depicts the tension between university graduate Ben and the brash and violent father who never had Ben’s opportunities. Both can only look on as his mother ‘started to disassemble, and you had to search for fragments of her old self’. ‘I can still fight the lot of you’, she says at one point. ‘And that was it’, Ben glibly states, ‘I’d seen my last bit of her.’

     The cares of older characters are deftly handled by Joel Lane and Alan Beard. The former looks at alcoholism in ‘The Country of Glass’, as Lang searches for the mythical utopia of Vitraea: a state in which the denial of essence provided by alcohol is somehow reversed into essence itself. Lang falters on his journey – ‘after months of redemptive drinking, visionary drinking, he’d gone back to merely being an alcoholic’ – but then finds a lead. The trap he walks into causes him to lose the one love of his life. In ‘Huddersfield versus Crewe’, Beard takes an unflinching look at the decay of relationships, his prose streaming by like a life reflected upon, taking the reader through physical shifts, from staleness to freshness back to staleness with beautifully judged rapidity. In ‘Help the Aged’ by Julia Bell, reflection is all that’s left for Cath’s gran. This is arguably the strongest story in the collection, giving a keen insight into its protagonist with a fluid prose that culminates in a great ending. ‘Relationships just disturb’, comments Cath, whose young lover Anna cannot compensate for a former lover that Cath let go. Meanwhile, Cath’s father left her mother – ‘pick pick pick until he couldn’t stand to think of his retirement being full of her voice’ – and her grandmother has regrets about her own love lost. She is still full of vigour, but would now rather direct that towards self-annihilation. Bell copes expertly with different moods, charting the strains between Cath and those around her. There is an invigorating pithiness to her writing, but, again, the tone is often wistful. While this should not be the only path for shorter fiction, when it is trodden skillfully it must be lauded.

 

 

Maxwell Jay in Pulp.net

 

 Like water-filled footprints running up and down the country. In each a picture is reflected. Some in full colour, others in black and white. Discoloured table dancers come in and out of focus. A tiny boat carried out to sea, with an even tinier old woman sitting meditatively at the helm. I found myself reading this collection as though channel surfing, flicking back and forth until something grabbed me. Each story is a trace, sometimes mundane, sometimes less mundane, of a life. Very much like peering in through an invisible wall, or listening to crossed lines arguing impossibly with one another. Dip in and feel. Maxwell Jay (his website)