LS13: A New Generation of Leeds Writers edited by Wes Brown (Ink Lines) reviewed by John Lake …
With an event of the same name coming up at Leeds Waterstone’s (Tue 8th October), the time is right for a review of what LS13: A New Generation of Leeds Writers is all about.
I was fortunate enough to attend the book’s launch at the 2013 Big Bookend Festival, bought a copy and dipped into it randomly for the next three days until it was all finished. I liked what I was seeing. Part of my pleasure was egotistical and a little patriarchal, many pieces reminding me of stories and poems that I wrote ‘at their age’ (they really are a damnably young new generation). Another part of the pleasure, by far the greater part, was in reading a lot of fine writing that resonated with me on a number of levels.
A broad range of literary forms is represented in the collection: the short story, poetry, an extract from a novel and even a film treatment. Perhaps unique among them is Dan Annett’s ‘[Untitled]’, a poem, but one set out like a word puzzle, more form than meaning, playing with language in the way Joyce did in Finnegan’s Wake, say, or Ezra Pound in his Cantos.
Meaning plays a central role in all the other works in the book, but sometimes it has to be teased out or ultimately guessed at, to frustrating but successful effect, as in Matthew Bellwood’s ‘An Icy Man’, a tale that brews its spookiness from a David Lynch-like fracturing of reality in an otherwise conventional narration.
One thing that had little meaning for me was cricket, until I read Richard Smyth’s story ‘Deep’, which tells a poignant tale, deftly sketched in episodes across time, in which the game provides a perfectly sustained analogy for love, loss and disenchantment.
Loss is also a key theme in ‘The Gap in the Curtains’ by Jenny Beech, a sensitive account of depression and recovery, and in the poems of Lizzi Hawkins, haunting meditations on the loss of time.
The piece which probably meant most to me personally was Max Dunbar’s story ‘A Little Legal Difficulty’ because it was set in the same ‘world’ of Leeds 6 where my own novels are set, and it spoke to me of similar concerns. Dunbar’s Tory-voting, self-indulgent students reminded me of the cold fish of early Bret Easton Ellis (a conscious influence on my own writing) and the narrative voice carries their nihilistic cynicism well. The story seemed to chime with the times we live in. Out of all the pieces in the book, I felt this one was about the Leeds that I know.
My last special mention goes to the science fiction stories: Christina Archetti’s alien-as-monster scenario ‘Distances’, and S.J. Bradley’s slavery fable ‘The Life of Your Dreams’. It’s great to see someone taking sci-fi seriously, and I say that both to the writers and to the editor.
LS13 also contains fine writing by Adam Lowe, Gareth Durasow, Caleb Parkin, Claire Stephenson, Zodwa Nyoni, Joshua Byworth, A.J. Kirby, Adam Z. Robinson, Matthew Hedley Stoppard, Sarah Brooks, Aissa Gallie and Rosa Campbell.
John Lake teaches English at the School of Oriental and African Studies and is the author of the Leeds 6 Trilogy. Following the novels Hot Knife and Blowback, the final instalment, Speed Bomb, will be published later this year.