Book review by Jenna Warren, Book Corner Saltburn

One of the joys of reading a short story collection by multiple authors is that you have no idea what sort of story you are going to encounter next. This is certainly true of Crossing the Tees: The Fourth Short Story Anthology.

The anthology features the thirty winning, highly commended, and shortlisted stories from the 2020/21 Crossing the Tees Book Festival Short Story Competition. The competition had no set theme, so the resulting stories are hugely varied in terms of genre, style, and setting.

There’s science fiction and fantasy in ‘The Ollipid’, and ‘Time Stalls’, retellings of fairy tales and folklore in ‘The Bad Apple’ and ‘Shell Girl’ (which features Teesside’s very own malevolent water spirit, Peg Powler). ‘The Brightness of Sirens’, ‘Long Road to a Lemon Top’ and ‘Redcar Working Men’s Club Around Eight O’clock’ are vivid character-driven stories. There’s dark humour in ‘The Headhunters’, and haunting magical realism in ‘How She Released Her Inner Tree’ and ‘Private View’. ‘The Third Horseman’ and ‘Harry’ bring a touch of horror.

There are some tender, humorous, and original love stories, including the sad and beautiful winning story, ‘The Songs of Selby Twigg’ by Kathy Hoyle (pictured), and the highly commended ‘Right Now’, which follows a student around a supermarket as he tries to plan the ideal meal for the woman he loves.

The crime genre is also well represented with ‘A Cheerful Fire’, ‘The Beginnings of Happiness’ and ‘Incendiary’. ‘Where Things Are Hollow’ offers an interesting twist on this genre, with its story of a man who desires fame at any cost.

Twists are employed to great effect. ‘Breaking Point’ uses a twist to highlight an important issue. In ‘Lonesome Online’, a love interest isn’t what she seems. And I certainly wasn’t expecting the ending to the gentle, evocative ‘Soulmates’.

It’s perhaps not surprising that many of these stories deal with isolation and loss of various kinds, with some of them referencing the pandemic and lockdown directly. In ‘Robert Galbraith and the Reanimation of Hope’, a lonely woman finds herself talking with her garden gnomes during lockdown (and vowing not to become like them). ‘She Lives on Her Own’ celebrates the everyday life and contributions of one woman. ‘Love, Truth and DNA’, ‘Winter Wheat’ and ‘The Space Between’ all explore loss and grief in sensitive, powerful ways.

Memory is also a recurring theme. In ‘Smoke on Eston Hills’, a woman finds herself forced to listen to the reminiscences of a fellow passenger on the bus. ‘Larking About’ offers a vivid glimpse into a 1950s childhood. A man reflects on his past in ‘House Hunting and the Gentle Art of Ageing’. And ‘Cloud Factories’ offers a tender portrayal of a grandmother and her grandson, while the former recalls her family’s past. 

Many of the stories are set in Teesside, taking us to Redcar seafront (in search of a lemon top), Eston Hills, and around the towns and factories. As a Teesside resident, it’s fun to read stories with familiar locations. But the stories are not set exclusively in the area, and the themes are universal.

Crossing the Tees: The Fourth Short Story Anthology is a wonderful showcase for the range of writing talent we have in the area, and will appeal to anyone who enjoys short stories.

Enter this year’s competition

The deadline to enter this year’s Crossing The Tees Short Story Competition is midnight 31st July 2021. Find out more at: https://www.crossingthetees.org/short-story-competition/