Take a Bite; The Rhys Davies Short Story Award Anthology 2022

I’ve been in a real reading slump this month. I’ve started a million (very decent) books and I’ve only finished the marvellous Still Life. This collection of stories also made it through the mire, because it is a brilliant anthology of writing from authors from, or linked to, Wales. It’s really exciting to find new authors I now want to follow.

The winning short story, the titular Take a Bite, by Naomi Paulus, had me snorting with laughter at the very familiar dialogues between welsh family members, and also incredibly moved by the relationships which we briefly witness unfolding. It also reminded me of how central a role food plays in family gatherings – these scenes were very evocative. It’s the perfect example of how much a short story can pack in. Paulus captures voices and interior monologues brilliantly – you can see why her story won.

Joshua Jones’ tale of a drunken night out in Half Moon, New Year, told in the present tense, manages to be both tense and nostalgic. Danny is off his face and spoiling for a fight, and there’s a sense of menace behind the depiction of a freezing night out where nobody wants to admit they’re cold and nobody wants to go home early. Finally, Danny vents his drunken anger, spoiling the night for everyone. As his friend turns on him, Danny has a memory from childhood,

‘He remembers trooping down the hill as a child in primary school under the guidance of their teachers, uniformed under their little coats, to sing Christmas Carols at the Chapel.’

This sentence really moved me – Jones’ writing captures the hollowness of celebratory evenings at the local pub when you’ve become Danny and your school days, which turn out to really be the best ones, are over. For me, this was one of the best stories in the collection.

Other standout stories, for me, were James, in During, a story of lockdown isolation and anxiety, and the quietly funny Coat of Arms, in which a father becomes drawn into a medieval battle recreation with the boyfriend of his dead wife. There’s such a wide range of subject matter and styles in this collection, but they all have in common a strength in storytelling and a powerful use of language to capture experiences. Rhys Davies’ stories have a very distinctive use of voice, and so do his writing descendants here. Well worth a read.

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