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.

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