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All Roads Lead to Merthyr



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Success Stories

by various authors

elvis.jpg

ISBN 0 9547273 2 0
Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council, 2006
255pp, paperback
Retail price £4.99

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This is the first fiction book I’ve ever read that was produced and published by a County Borough Council. I am tempted to say that I hope it’s the last, but that would definitely be unfair. Also, as both a reader and a writer, the more sources for publication there are, the better. The problem here is that this collection of short stories isn’t that good.

On the whole, it’s not the stories that should come in for the greatest criticism, but the production. The book is sturdy enough, it has an ISBN and it has a rather good cover (front: Elvis impersonator thumbing a lift to "Murfa Tidvyl" with Cyfartha Castle in the background; back: a flying saucer hovering over a photograph of Merthyr). But the proofreading appears to be non-existent. When you are reading quite a lot of small press and self-published books, you find this often. But this is produced by a Council; they should have got it right.

Let’s get to the contents then. This is a book of short stories all based around Merthyr Tydfil. There are serious stories and there are humorous stories. There are stories set in the past and there are stories of now. Urban decay gets a few mentions, as you would expect, and there’s even a touch of punk rock. Some of the stories are rather good. I was particularly struck by the moving tale It could be Paris by Alan Murphy, with its tale of a lonely man visiting a prostitute; well written and considered. The ghost story The Spirit by Phillipa J Evans also works well in its gentle way. Mike Jenkins’s Girl on the Viaduct is also worth a mention with its feeling of hopelessness effectively portrayed.

However, there are stories in this collection that don’t work. Usually it’s the ones that try to be funny. I never laughed once. Humour is a tricky commodity and what might work well in a tale told to friends over a pint, does not necessarily translate onto the written page. I found that to be particularly the case with The Italian Lob by Boz, which is a tale of a drunken rugby trip to Italy. This was just cliché after cliché, served up with a considerable over-seasoning of puns. Also, this was probably the worst proofread story in the book, so occasionally it even became incoherent, which I do not blame Boz for.

Lastly, I have only a minimal knowledge of the history of Merthyr Tydfil (I do know how important it was in the Industrial Revolution), but it seems Joseph Coffin and the Court of Requests must be seared into its mass consciousness, if the amount of times they appear in this anthology is anything to go by.

So, a worthy effort from the Council but could definitely do better. Be more selective in the stories used and proofread them more than once.

Open Book

Review by Chris Williams