by Morag Edward
Bloc Press (http://www.writers-bloc.org.uk/)
Review by Hereward L. M. Proops
On a recent trip to Edinburgh to celebrate my thirtieth year in this funny old world, I stumbled across a rather lovely specialist bookshop called Transreal Fiction (www.transreal.co.uk). Living in the Outer Hebrides has its advantages but a major disadvantage is the lack of choice in the local bookshop. My nearest is a great little shop if you like mass-market fiction, Gaelic books and tomes on local history; not so great if you are searching for something out of the ordinary. Then again, most major booksellers have a staggeringly limited range of titles thanks to the increasingly homogenised market of brain-dead celebrity memoirs and inane by-the-numbers thrillers. But I digress. Transreal Fiction is a cracking bookshop specialising in science fiction and fantasy. Best of all, they don’t seem to be afraid to stock works published by small, independent presses.
“Joy of joys!” I thought and pinched myself to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming or having another one of those episodes. No, the shop was still there, as was the great selection of writers I had never heard of. My hands began to shake and I could feel my credit card throbbing with anticipation in my pocket.
“Bloody hell!” I exclaimed to my bemused wife, “They even have a section entirely devoted to BattleTech novels!”
“This is all a bit Games Workshop, isn’t it?” my beloved pondered.
“Shhh!” I hissed as the gentleman behind the counter looked up, “Don’t ever mention that word, or they’ll take us out back and tickle us with tiny paintbrushes until we apologise. We’d have to roll a 00 on a 20-sided dice to get out of that one.”
Silenced by sheer terror at the prospect of such geekish tortures, or perhaps just wondering what the hell a 20-sided dice looks like, my wife browsed the selection of imported art books and I began to scour the shelves in search of obscure reads. I found a few before my ten month old daughter began to howl and we were forced to beat a hasty retreat to the nearest place we could change her nappy. I’ve decided to review the most obscure of the bunch, the one that you’ll probably have difficulty getting hold of a copy of unless you go to Edinburgh and pay a visit to Transreal Fiction yourselves. Why? Because I sincerely believe that there is a lot of talent hidden away in small presses that deserve publicity. That and the fact that Morag Edward’s Nil by Mouth is a fantastic example of the darkly witty Scottish sense of humour and a punchy little collection of stories that can be devoured in a lunch-break.
Writers Bloc is a spoken word performance collective based in Edinburgh. I couldn’t really glean much else about them from their website but from reading Nil by Mouth I wish I had picked up a few more of their books. Morag Edward’s book is a collection of five strange short stories, supplemented with even stranger recipes based on each tale. The stories are all quick, unchallenging reads and this simplicity is part of the collection’s strength as the reader is taken unawares by the dark twists and turns of the individual tales. Although I haven’t yet gathered up the courage to try any of the recipes (Deep-Fried Starfish, anyone?), their inclusion is no gimmick or mere afterthought. They appear to be the real deal, so if you’ve ever had the urge to make a vegetarian haggis or spiced thistles, this is the book to track down.
Examining the stories in great detail would probably spoil the deliciously wicked surprises lurking within so I’ll stick to a brief overview of each: “Pie for Tea” tells of an elderly lady whose empty larder doesn’t stop her from enjoying a decent meal; “The Anniversary” is a grisly tale whose twist, whilst a little predictable, is a nice little tribute to Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus; “Serendipity Soup” is a far more pleasant affair detailing a gathering of friends – mercifully free of any outright unpleasantness; “The Wine Cellar” is a laugh-out-loud funny story of adolescent revenge; the collection is rounded off nicely with the supernatural shocker “Fleur na h-Alba” (Flower of Scotland, to non-Gaelic speakers).
Nil by Mouth was touching, stomach-turning and hilarious. That’s no mean feat for a collection of stories clocking in at a mere 40 pages. I can’t think of an established writer able to capture so disparate a range of emotions in such a small book. It’s a great little title and well worth the asking price. Unfortunately, being an extremely limited edition publication by a small press, Nil by Mouth is unlikely to get the audience it deserves. With luck, the author will choose to reprint or republish the stories online to make them available to others. In the meantime, if you live anywhere near Edinburgh, head on over to TransReal Fiction and pick up a copy before they’re all gone. Just don’t mention Games Workshop.
Hereward L. M. Proops