Manchester-based David Hartley is a well-known name on the flash fiction circuit and can frequently be found performing at Bad Language’s and First Draft’s spoken word events. So it’s with excellent timing that his latest collection of Christmas crackers, Merry Gentlemen, comes out to provide a different kind of festive spirit as Christmas literally comes alive.
Throughout Merry Gentlemen, and last year’s collection God Rest Ye, you’ll encounter the mysterious Tidings, a modern day retelling of A Christmas Carol, a very corporate Secret Santa and a world where Santa is definitely not welcome. These stories, often surprising but always entertainingly gruesome, are often anchored in the now, retelling many Christmas fables and traditions, all with a twist from Hartley’s wicked pen.
In both collections, Hartley’s short and snappy stories wrong-foot you with their unpredictably, but fortunately, these are not twists and turns for the sake of it as Hartley’s prose relishes in its blood-curling events. There’s a sense of fun and wickedness that makes these stories thoroughly enjoyable, and Hartley’s cleverness at weaving in Christmas traditions in such an evocative way is to be applauded.
Merry Gentlemen is worth it alone for Hartley’s witty and lively rewording of Good King Wenceslas. If I’m lucky, I might even get the chance pop along to my local carol service and belt it out. But through these stories, Hartley proves that he has a distinctive skill to turn the weird and the wonderful into snappy and lingering prose.
As a side note, Hartley has an interesting and lively blog that is well worth following for his interesting discussion points. One recent post gives you the author’s perspective on creating a physical book to hold and read as opposed to creating a Kindle version.
Elsewhere, Hartley has also uniquely created an advent calendar of bonus content for Merry Gentlemen with all kinds of extra stories and interactive content (which I won’t spoil, but Day 15 is currently my favourite.
Both God Rest Ye and Merry Gentleman are the perfect antidote to the saccharine filled atmosphere at the moment with their alternate and darkly comic take on Christmas. Pocket-priced, they are ideal to load onto the new Kindles that will no doubt arriving care of Father Christmas to many next week. Wickedly enjoyable.