Open Pen Anthology

I’d heard of Open Pen Magazine a few years ago. A quality lit mag free to punters and available at selected shops and venues around London. I was curious. So after convincing a friend to traipse around some haunts and see what he could find, nab and send me a copy, I discovered the rumours to be true. This is high calibre short fiction in my hands. This is a publication I regularly wanted. But woe is me Downunder, not an easy ask. Though joy of joys, I discovered that Open Pen Magazine has brought together their finest pieces over five years into an anthology.

Editor Sean Preston has chosen well. This is brilliant lit with an ease you can dip in and out of. Though once you start it is hard to stop. I went the chronological route and dug into two stories by Will Ashon. You can tell Ashon has a gift of getting inside the heads of others. A perfect writers empathy, imagination, compassion and experience shows throughout these pieces. The first with D.E.A. (Minor). Travis is a music journalist. Old school, battered as a school satchel. Travis’ career is dissolving inside a changing world, his powers of press dwindling if not vanished. A case of mistaken identity and unfortunate events questions his decency after a life of extreme love and hate, lives raised or ruined in ink. Then there is Dawn Into Night. Another strangers bed, and many questions she wants herself to answer.

Interspersed throughout are some exquisite micro fiction by some exceptional micro masters. An anthology on their own, too short and too clever to describe in words less than the length of themselves. Punchy and smart lines, poetic cleansers on love, ghosts and the human condition. Lots of light hearts as well.

Peter Higgins piece Smoking In The Library had me in smiles with insights into an illustrators M.O and The Gloves. A passionate, real and confessional moment.  Spotting a homeless man on his ride to work everyday, a compulsion to help has worried him. Questions arise about his reaction. His own prejudices getting in the way of this conflicted Samaritan. Darren Lee’s The Grudge Elephant is a stand out piece for me. Tense and clever psychological analogies and a surreal air make this one of my favourite short stories in this collection. Then there is Mickey Awful. Name and nature, this story plays out before your eyes. He is so horrible and likeable at the same time, an antihero for the kitchen sink set that I couldn’t take a breath from. Cjs6aZzUYAAbGd9Love In The Time Of Ketamine, mind altering as a sport, insanity borders perfectly expressed by Xanthi Barker. Dialogue that reads like an eavesdropper. This style continues into Baby Faces. This story drifts with a dreamlike melancholy, not sure if this scenario is sci-fi or timeless, a myriad of other stories spread tendrils through my mind. Ben Byrne’s beautifully written Waiting For A Hurricane & Low Tide At English Kills won’t let the truth spoil a good fantasy or fantasy spoil the truth. I adored Lazylegs. Two lives simultaneously told, it swirls in and out of itself like a string of DNA, Kate Smalley Ellis’s stories are bliss. Then there’s Ian Green’s Haar. “A sea-mist thicker than any fog that would roll in with the tide and swallow the world” A story you read by lamplight and chill, his other piece Laika with a tissue close by. Annabel and Sadie are a mother and daughter with a rather shattered relationship. Rehab and tears lead to a plan to get Annabel back into herself. Pure Fields is a beautiful dappled light of a story to get lost in and swoon. There is something I really dig about Anna Harvey’s writing. A kind of Bronte in a council flat, full of lessons and good outcomes, unlike the horror of Max Sydney Smith. Now I understand the placement of things, a good editors eyes for contrast. The Boy Who Bit His Nails more metaphor than real, is a sharp and stinging tale of nerves. Onto The Heart Of Sunday Morning a colourful thesis of drugs and love, a twilight zone of the middle classes. If, Then by Jo Gatford goes through the nuances of a relationship falling apart perfectly. Her second piece Take Off Your Shoes lures a mysterious juju and this writer definitely has me following. Nearing the end of a book that has really grabbed you from the start is always one of mixed feelings, anticipating the twists, the bang of cymbals, finishing something you want to go on forever.

What style has been chosen to finish this wonderful collection of writers. It really has been an eclectic bunch. Tadhg Muller’s In Lieu Of A Memoir is the elixir for all these writers frustrations and torment of being accepted. A perfectly structured vent of fantastical proportions. His sprinkles of OZ a secret pleasure of mine. We enter forests to seek the mystery there and James Kings’ magical story of a boy and The Giant Tree turns back time and we become immersed once again in the warmth of fable. The madness of suburbia shines in Wildlife Nuisance. Mat Woolfenden has created a character who is quite bonkers and a terror with an air rifle. Mat also has the last hurrah with The Crass Gang. You can’t beat an explosive ending and Mat comes out swingin’. I hope the phenomenon that is Open Pen continues. Spread the word, support the people who give these wonderful writers a place to share their work. Submissions to Open Pen are found here

Get your copy of Open Pen Anthology via their website.

Open Pen Reviews

The Mannequins Are More Real Than You – James Knight

Always find it easy to fall into James Knight’s mind, my imagination primed for his latest collection. The Bird King and I have done this dance before. Other words and worlds he has shared over the years. Good news, the Mannequins are back. A wonderful obsession shared with many. Our showroom friends with their stiff manners, perfect dark side smiles. They are the plastic bones that hold this all together. You will find them wondering around the various levels of his mind, and throughout this book. The windows they tap, tap, tap upon are merely his eyes, riding lifts, popping out at uncertain floors. It is a symbiotic relationship. One can’t exist without the other and they need him more than he realises. The Bird is no king without them. A rewriting of Carroll as Dante has Alice and the rabbit doing very strange things. This bad poets’ alternative holes are filled with an even more surreal reality, 13 of them, his only number. Dr Mort is still alive, closing in on childhood, the past dissolves with every mention. The little poems that sneak in like bookmarks are perfect. The first Patience is a whisper from the back room. Larger characters taking over their stage, like Eve. Epic as an aria “Eve spun a web from midnight, God’s words, frail, dry, got caught in it and shivered to dust” A painting, Sistine in its dream, cracks in the tempera. Objectum sexuality has piqued his feathers, his ‘amorous capriciousness reaches delirious heights‘ and a reminder to hide the furniture when he visits. My dream is to see one of The Bird King’s ‘scenes … that no no one has made‘ mirroring his 13 Deleted Scenes From A Film into a visual feast. Too long a wait, he must do it himself via words, his TV Murder Mystery  a gripping story that points the finger at everyone.

Ce6Im2GWAAAtMIz.jpg largeThis is how these stories read. A three year sojourn. Their roots dormant inside a timeline. A series of tweets sunlit to expand or grab and run with collaborators. Writers and artists like Nicky Morlock’s Transformations and the Norse inspired Nine Realms series. Susan Omand’s beautiful colour illustrations in The Mannequin and the magnificent artist Viviana Hinojosa. Theirs is a perfect match of sublime hand drawn visuals and surreal worlds for those who still believe in the magic of illustration and storytelling. Even I couldn’t resist his squawks. James’ nest is hard to resist. As soon as I saw his tweets for the Glitch Witch, my tongue was rolling all over it. James taking my recordings and passing them on to Adam Wimbush to weave into a soundscape that you can listen to here.

Story after story continue. Orpheus and Eurydice and Perdita In Pieces are beautiful. I could sense big shoes coming and I was right. The existential funnymen paint a bleak picture, “For the clowns, sleep is a rehearsal for death. They keep their eyes open and dream of nothing“. Hallucinations a plenty in 13 Circles Of Hell Hidden From Dante But Revealed To The Bird King In A Series Of Hallucinations Caused By Medicine For A Urinary Tract Infection. After reading realise The Bird King seems normal to me, his state of mind one and the same, infected or not. It all makes sense if you follow the Bird King’s path. Maggots and Sea Of Knives all  warm up to his Chimerical Biography, a mission statement for the gang he has created. There are new words for old mythologies, e.e. cummings in upper case and many other sacriliges. A kind of This Is Your Life, celebrating only his mind. The Bird King’s past is all there for us to squirm in and admire. The Mannequins Are More Real Than You is available to download free on Smashwords, so what’s stopping you? You can also pay for something physical via Lulu.

James Knight Poetry Reviews

Thomas McColl – Being With Me Will Help You Learn


Most poetry books should come in waterproof editions for my preferred reading nook. So to another in the series of my ‘bubble reads’  Thomas McColl’s, Being With Me Will Help You Learn is a meaty book of observations that starts off with a mind twister. A clever play on words to warm up the room with the poem, I. This starter smirks through itself, name drops the biggies and gives us a glimpse of his style, intelligence and humour to come. Moving through this collection is a polite sarcasm. I see his streets that ride through the lines, the windows he peers in, his friends, family and dreams. I’m usually wired to enjoy poetry that lets go of its manners more. So I perk up when he delves into finding his anger, enjoying his spleen via Noise Nazi, his darker passages “screaming at the cold, cruel world that made him go insane” in Chip Shop Aquarium. Tom’s amusing imagination,ChXDvvOUoAA_BxA feather tickles its way through the everyday, giving it a good old ponder. Work, gambling, nose picking, fame, the simplicity of watching a girl at the bus stop. This is what Thomas chats about and he has a unique perspective, that packs punch when observing socially unjust circumstances like in The Chalk Fairy. His target, homelessness and “London’s one big crime scene every single day of the year”.  Self effacing, we get to hear about first times, first jobs, first lust. His thoughts on his working life is a scream, his poem Self Discovery gets my biggest giggle. Overall, an eclectic style, often tongue in cheek that connects, many moments of reflection best delivered when the microphone is turned on. There is definitely a lesson or two for all of us here. You can purchase Thomas McColl’s Being With Me Will Help You Learn through, Listen Softly London you can connect with him on twitter.


Poetry Reviews Thomas McColl

Joseph Ridgwell – The Cross part 2


pic by Martin Appleby

And so it continues. This is early Ridgwell. Young and traveling down under. No money, no fixed address. Grabbing work wherever he can find it. Usually reeling with boredom or tossing it in due to the unrelenting madness of those in charge. Back in the Cross, Joe resumes his bender. Debt and a run in with a mean gang of cockatoos sends him into a pit of depression and into some pretty awkward and dangerous situations. Watching short lived lives has taken its toll on his soul. Avoiding the great fall, Joe is reacquainted with England via some dodgy member of ‘The Family’ who is on his way to Sydney and into Joe’s life. An unwelcome situation of ‘minding’ until some heat blows over. With no other choice than to look after him, 20160429_125116Joe takes us via short stories to the eerie energy and the tracks of the Megalong Valley of the Blue Mountains, the crazy world of carnies down south to Victoria and visits to all the classic dodgy clubs that the Cross and its environs has to offer. When he’s not being confronted by pissed off sugar daddys or shooting sulphur crests by the wall, luck beams down and sends him off on the next adventure. Joe is touched by the arsey fairy. Seriously, look it up if you don’t quite understand the vernacular. Maybe it’s only in his fictional life. Though it’s been a crazy stay so far. The curse of Kings Cross’s resident witch Rosalee Norton seems to have touched him at times. 20160429_125048But just when he’s reached the depths of despair, when there seems no way out, a miracle occurs. Each story here is a holiday slide show, a montage of schemes and hangovers, an amazing race of scams, booze and surviving as a stranger in OZ. Forever dreaming because ‘Aren’t those who lose dreaming lost?’

The Cross is a three issue treat from publishing zine giant Martin Appleby. Paper And Ink Zine is his main vein, but you will also find Martin delving into the nest of contributors, like here with Joseph Ridgwell, spreading the word of great writers via a one off, or editing some of the writers that have appeared in his zine over the years. Grab yours quick as it is a limited edition. Parts One and Two available here, Part Three coming soon.


pic via Joseph Ridgwell

Also hot off the letterpress is Joe’s latest short story Jamaica. Three is the magic number, so yes, another trilogy, this one released by Pig Ear Press and is available now. You can’t beat gold ink on 160gsm Murano paper, silk thread endpapers from India, text digitally printed onto 120gsm ivory acid-free paper with hand-sewn binding can you?

Drool… gotta get me some of that!


Joseph Ridgwell Reviews Zines & Journals