Whether it’s a way to break into writing, or to provide bite-size chunks of story for the commute, or a perhaps connect a linked set of stories to a wider theme, short story anthologies are ten-a-penny nowadays. Bringing a new one onto the market is a labour of love and it’s even trickier as a self-publisher, because no matter how talented, or good, your work might be, how on earth do you make it stand out?
Jenny Lippmann and Victoria Hunter’s Short Lived might just have an answer. These are stories written for love – they’re not gratuitous, they don’t have a nasty twist at the end for the sake of it – and it’s very clear that the pair have an abundance of imagination and have put a lot of work into their craft.
Lippmann and Hunter are both united by a love of books, and their literary influences are keenly felt throughout the book. Short Lived feels like a cocktail of influences – a splash of Gaiman, a twist of Dahl with and a dash of Carroll. And whilst the twists of fantasy and intrigue that are promised in the blurb are evident, there’s a surprising amount of emotional depth to these stories contained within.
Both authors craft a rich world filled with fairy tale relationships, lost chances, regrets and the occasional surreal interlude. Importantly, they both have the technical ability to mold place and circumstance quickly and memorably. And although the fairy tale theme is strong, real-life often comes crashing through, resulting in a satisfying mix of the magical and the real.
There’s much to enjoy here, including Lippmann’s “It’s Just the House Settling”, where a couple find a rather large and hot surprise in the basement of their house – a story aching to be developed into a longer piece. Whilst Hunter’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook short-listed “Self Portrait in Charcoal and Tears” is a haunting fable that proves first appearances are not what they seem.
Their portrayal of love and relationships as an uplifting rather than cynical experience makes for a refreshing change, and one that gives a hopeful outlook to many of the stories. Hunter’s “The Literary Vision” is particularly enthralling as love struck Henry’s commute sees him haring across the country in pursuit of a gifted book from a potential love interest.
Hunter’s stories tend more towards the surreal. The Midsomer Murders-esque “Suburbia” and nosey neighbourhood watch of “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” have walked straight out of Tales of the Unexpected. Her stories, despite their surreal nature are wryly comic and rather sinister, but they also have an emotional edge to them, the tangible grief of lost relationships in “Lollipops in Wonderland” is sure to bring a tear to your eye.
Lippmann’s prose has a maturity that belies her years and her emotionally charged prose tugs hard at the heartstrings. She hits with a double-whammy of stories: “Jessica’s Wise and Future Self” weaves the rawness and grief over the loss of a relative with a charming time-travel story whilst “Daffodils” (shortlisted for the Inscribe Media Global Short Story award) etches an emotive tale of a relationship moving on into the memory. Yet she is also capable of lighter comedic moments as with the mischievous Noah in “Ace and Noah”.
It feels like both authors have poured a lot of their heart and soul into these stories, and as they explore love, grief, loss and the many what-if’s in life, they strike a fine balance between happy and realistic endings. Admittedly, perhaps one or two of the stories veer too much on the side of whimsy, but both authors have the knack of pulling the rug from under your feet. Everyday circumstances, or flippant moments are often tinged with sadness or hope for the characters within.
The main disappointment is that it’s over so quickly. You’ll end up gorging on the stories, but thanks to the great writing and unpredictable stories you’ll have a thoroughly enjoyable read. The duo have just recently launched the e-book version (at a ludicrously cheap price of 77p) so there’s no excuse not to be joining them on their triumphant and imaginative adventures – and they’re providing exactly the kind of short story anthology that ought to get noticed.
The Fiction Stroker gives Short Lived four strokes out of five: