Anthology of Scottish and English Short Stories.
A Drifter's Legacy
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As given in the title, this is a collection of short stories. The period covered is from World War Two to the present day and also spans the genres of romance, crime and life. The thread running through them all is whisky. How it is made, tested and drunk with the inevitable result, for some, of over indulgence and ultimately alcoholism. Most of the stories have a 'twist' which is usually unexpected, thus refreshing.
The first title, 'GULF' is a tale of our times. A young American lass puts a message in a bottle as part of a class project and years later it fetches up on a wild highland beach in Scotland. What develops is both a charming and ironical story made more so by the use of dialect. This, at no time, compromises understanding and the lilt and cadence is implicit in the reading. If you have ever visited the Highlands of Scotland, you'll find this akin to a return trip.
"ORRA LOON" tells of a young orphan's struggle for recognition and self-respect. Harshly treated by his employer and his employer's son, he reaches maturity quickly during action in Word War Two, but finds that little has changed on his return to "a country fit for heroes." The tale explores class attitudes of that era and how lives were pre-determined by upbringing.
'BONNY IN BLACK' relates the story of John, an adolescent low in self esteem who nevertheless accomplishes much by diligence as an apprentice cooper then as he reaches adulthood, marries and settles with Mary. Becoming too fond of the product of his work and at odds with Mary's family, he resolves his difficulties in an ultimately destructive way. In this story you'll find the characterisation drawn very finely. Bruce has the knack of sketching with economy, no extraneous puff and every word counting.
In 'TARRADALE'S OPTION,' rural life in Scotland comes to the fore with this tale of poaching, peat, love and gentle revenge. Written in low key style, the last line comes as a shock, yet provokes laughter. Oh, how cruel!
With 'INSULATED CONDUCTOR,' Bruce moves to London and to a 'fly-boy with street cred.' who works as an inspector hunting down fraud by employees for London Transport buses. Here, I'd guess the author knows the job since his description of people, attitudes, routes and scams is spot on. Romance gets in the way of the job but how is Gina 'creaming' London Transport? I'll leave you to find out; the lady's ingenious.
Still in London, 'POTHOLES AND SPEED' brings Duncan who is trying to build up his road haulage company and avoid any crooked associations. For self-starters in this business, it's always difficult. 'It fell off the back of a lorry' has been a cliché since they were invented. Again, Bruce's ear for dialogue and dialect comes to the fore; he has the argot in all the right sequences. 'Guys and Dolls' it ain't, this is realspeak, to be heard on the streets of the capital anywhere. Does Duncan escape? Find out.
More of Duncan in 'DODGY NIGHT OUT' where by now his own road haulage business has dived, he hopes temporarily, and he is operating his own scam with a very lively and crooked lady named Kathryn on the company they both work for. As the 'net' closes in on them, they, in a mix of both astuteness and stupidity try to save the situation. Cleverly observed, this is a vignette of how normal people react outside the 'boom and bang' of Hollywood treatments.
'FRIENDLY FIRE' is set in Jersey; 'Mecca for hedonists' and 'for the male seasonal migrant worker it's easy living, with an ever changing selection of sun-seeking single girls'. Although Jersey is part of the United Kingdom, it's still an island of 'ex-pats' a kind of miniature 'Happy Valley' where sun, sex, adultery and money all contribute to the melee and can lead to a 'crime passionel'. A hotpot of mistaken motives and deeds, with a kick at the end.
Don't get friendly with Jim, the 'FIXER'. This is a health warning. A truly creepy and sinister story that would have delighted Poe, if he'd been around today. Having read it, you'll be wondering if there are many more around like Jim. This is a particular gem because it's very difficult in a short story to convey the ideas and emotions propelling the plot. Bruce achieves this, far more than adequately, by crafting each word and wasting none.
With 'RECEIVER' we're back in London and listening to a conversation between an older and younger woman. It isn't until the last few sentences it becomes clear the dialogue you've read is full of reverses and euphemisms for what is really happening. An amusing tale of a biter, bit.
'THE BOOKIE'S RUNNER' is a period piece, which describes the activities of a man, with hopes for the future, who collects bets to back horses, dogs or whatever is running. Until the '70's in England, illegal. Naturally, the temptation to fiddle Barney, someone doing rather better in life, eventually becomes too strong. The essence of the title becomes obvious in the denouement.
'JERUSALEM' starts at a drying out clinic for people with addictions. When Batholomew arrives, the narrator is foggily half de-toxified and reading William Blake. Given Mr. Blake's polemics, it's surprising he's not back in the pub. Group therapy is not 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'. More a meeting of bewildered individuals wondering why they're watching a video in Welsh language with sub-titles and doing exercises more fitted to a school of drama. From 'Jerusalem', Blake's immortal song, Bruce extrapolates the story of laughing Mary and wealthy Bartholomew and the subliminal meaning which for them, becomes a truism.
'MY BROTHER'S KEEPER,' is about two lonely boys growing up in an orphanage. One, is the son of parents employed at the home and Rab, the other, is an inmate. The narrator becomes a clerk in a whisky distillery and both young men by seventeen years of age are hardened drinkers. Sometimes living together in Scotland and London, in between adventures alone, the attitudes of alcoholics to non-drinkers are succinctly described. As is the effect upon marriage and families; this is achieved in very few words that say it all. The final sentence will have great resonance for anyone who has been, or is, alcoholic.
This is Bruce's first collection of short stories and it's an achievement. He's produced a work that, whilst having a common thread, is very varied in content and interest thus never dull. It isn't full of pyrotechnics, but beautifully and thoughtfully crafted and true to those he writes about. These are people who will never find their 'fifteen minutes of fame' and probably wouldn't want to. Suffice to say they can get through life without damaging themselves and others too much in the process and find some pleasure along the way. In short, Joe and Jane Public. The whole work makes the point that so-called ordinary people are anything but, once you go beyond appearance. If you were to describe the book in musical terms, it would definitely fall into the 'Country' category, but without the whine of self-pity.
My recommendation is buy it. If you're a reader you won't be disappointed and if you are also an aspiring writer of short stories, you have a book of templates of how these should be written.
Pre publication review by Dione M. Coumbe, author of “Dathan Charles”
"Nonetheless, by the age of twenty-three, he had visited Aberdeen and also North Africa - although soldiers in World War Two missed out on the scenery" - Orra Loon.
"The thing about ethereal is you can't make love to it" - Insulated Conductor.
What fellow-writers say about the stories
“What a wonderful story, beautifully written. Congratulations!” - Wilma Barnett.
“Your story is wonderful...makes me want to go there too.” - Betty Eskdale.
“Ed, what you have here sir, is a fine piece of writing, a delightful read and emotionally uplifting story!” – Robert Montesino.
“Mr. Bruce, I don't know what else to say, except I truly love your writing. :)” – C.L. Bishop.
“A Scottish treasure......” – Betty Eskdale.
“I found myself pulled into the life of the orphan, I liked everything about the story...thanks.” – Paula Hodges.
“Ed, this is wonderful. So well-crafted and poignant. I nearly expected Alistair McLean to be narrating it on Masterpiece Theatre. I had no problems with the dialect, either. Just masterful..” – Bob Church.
BONNY IN BLACK
“This is an awesome story.. I enjoyed the story as well as the writing..” – Candy Clontz.
“This is extremely well written and captivating, held my attention from beginning to end.LOL. That in itself is a compliment if you only knew I was a spacey blonde. He He He. Awesome writing I look forward to reading more.” – Janet Owenby.
“Outstanding work, from start to finish....perfection.” – Kay Lee Kelly.
“I think this is a defining story for you, laddy. This could not be written by one who had not lived it. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but there seems to be a certain poignance associated with the words that filters through each scene, more or less saying 'There but for the grace of God, go I', and that is what I shall take from it The dialogue is rich and full... my only exposure to Scottish dialect is from the movies, but I had no problem picturing each scene and there was nae a waird I dinna ken! This is just great, Eddie. I loved it! Your best work yet, in my opinion.” – Bob Church.
“A beautifully descriptive piece that gives your readers a real feel for the Scottish Highlands and what being a Highlander is all about. Makes me feel like booking a flight, but after reading this I think it would be prudent to leave the wife at home! Great Job Eddie!” – Robert Montesino.
“A Realy Great Story.” – Audrey Sullivan.
“I found this, despite its surface simplicity, to be full of mood and subtext. A great combination, in MHO. :) You really sucked me into the setting. Enjoyed this very much!” – Nan Jacobs.
“A well-told tale, Ed. The scenes you set were well-adapted to the tone of the story; bleak without being morose, filled with sentiments without being sentimental (as convoluted as that may sound). Small towns are truly universal, aren't they? The unique flavor of the Highlands aside, the characters exhibited much the same sorts of behavio(u?)rs known to bedevil denizens of rural settings here, as well. The story flowed as effortlessly as John MacKay's tales of Ben Loyal and the Duke of Sutherland, efficient without being terse and filled just enough history to entice me to a wee dram of Macallan's Speyside.” – Bob Church.
“You deserved a 10, you got a 10... I wish I had an 11... where is my 11?.. I had it a minute ago... maybe...no, hmmm...well, anyway, I loved it...” - Paula Hodges.
“Great knockabout style in a story that kept me interested from go to whoa! The rhyming slang didn't bother me: I picked that particular vernacular up as a tin lid in the old Steak'n'Kidney (N.S.W.). This tale should go on to bigger and better fings!!” – Patrick Talty.
“What a hoot!! I loved the mental picture of the bus stuck in traffic and Laura running for the gift then getting back on the wrong bus--the whole shebang! And of course he bought it--Gina thought just like he did (only a good number of steps faster, heheh). PS...Can we please have a London Cockney slang dictionary from you someday? :-)” – Nan Jacobs. SEE PAGE 135 FOR GLOSSARY OF DIALECTS - Ed.
I do believe the short-changing clippie has driven me quinsy, as well. Ha! Ed, this is a hoot! I loved it! The dialect is priceless, the narrator's escapades are funny as hell, and the story... well, like I said, I laughed myself through it. The idea of a grifter infiltrating the ranks of those expected to stop the grifting is just perfect! Inside your chest cavity beats the heart of a scammer. Reading this makes me want to take a short shufti at how the other half earns a crust selling iffy gear out of the back of a van! Heehee... Great stuff, Eddie... just great! – Bob Church.
POTHOLES AND SPEED
“A truly enjoyable story. I love the consistant tone carried throughout. Very well written.” – Trish MacQueen.
“I feel like I just found a gold mine... I loved your story and will be back for more of your work...” – Paula Hodges.
“Eddie, the story has a nice flow, is packed with emotion and conflict, and the characters are believable, if a bit quirky. Plus, it has a charm that is unique to your stories. I liked this very much” – Bob Church.
“I'm with Bob. This is a fine pull-you-along tale. Tops!” – Aaron Schmookler.
DODGY NIGHT OUT
“Ed. I think it's one of your best.” – Aaron Schmookler.
“I loved the irony in this story. It reads as a journal or diary, crafted event by event; simple, yet very effective. The "narrator as character" style is quite charming, in that the only intrusion into the scenes (by the narrator) were those necessary to the flow of the piece. This construction allowed for the sad irony at the end. The only thing I would change is to remove the line "A litany of impotence". The passage fully and ably leads us to that inescapable conclusion without it. My exact thought during the sentence before it was, 'How ironic... impotent in life as well as in the sack'. I'm hooked on your prose, Ed... I love your British "stiff-upper-lip-think-outside-the-box-avoid-author-intrusion" writing style. From now on, whenever you write something, I think I'll just tag along... like a benevolent Jonah.” – Bob Church.
“I love the story of this story, and the tone of it as well.” – Aaron Schmookler.
“The dixie chicks should write a song about this guy...lol good write..” – Paula Hodges.
“The "Che Guevara Estates"? Ha! I love it! If Uncle Fidel could see us now... Good story, Eddie, I enjoyed it immensely.” – Bob Church.
“Good story, Eddie, I enjoyed it immensely.” – Trish MacQueen.
“I liked this, Eddie. I can picture an old scam artist on the streets, waiting to pick-pocket any sucker who falls for her shenanigans. This almost reads as a three act play, except for its brevity. I loved the descriptions of the old equipment, too. All of that stuff has been obsolete for fifty years. The British parlance is very charming, Eddie... thanks for sharing…” – Bob Church.
“This is a compelling story. I particularly like the tone of the thing, offhand and close to the subject.” – Aaron Schmookler.
“Ed, there are so many gems in this story... "he had money to burn and I was potless". Ha! I haven't heard that expression (or more correctly, half an expression) in years! I just loved the dialect and phraseology.
Reading this is like taking in a breath of fresh air... not the same ol' stale American expressions I hear (and write) every day. Thank you for this... it's excellent!” – Bob Church.
“Eddie..I really enjoyed reading this story..and all my bets are now in the off mode! LOL” – Nancy Pawley.
“Nice job of wrapping this piece in its own drama. Just enough inferences to tell the story without talking down to the reader. Very skillfully woven tale. Thanks for sharing with us, Ed. Lots to think about...” – Bob Church.
“The thought that comes to my mind after reading this story is, 'except for the grace of God, there go I.' It's so easy to give in to the varying ways, shapes and forms of temptation that lead us to self-destruction.” – Nancy Pawley.
“With very few lines, you've created some very vivid characters. That's tough stuff and well done.” – Aaron Schmookler.
Miss it at your peril
Reviewed by Bob Church, Quincy, Illinois, U.S.A. for IdleHandsMag.com
Few short story anthologies possess the ability to continually change pace while simultaneously controlling their content. Mr. Bruce delighted me with his timing and amazed me with his craft as he blended hyperbole with sentiment, Cockney slang with Edwardian sophistication, all mixed together with a smattering of Highland dialect.
This book understands the nuances of life offered to those who work for a living yet its understated tone allows the reader to read between the lines and draw conclusions without being clubbed by trite metaphors or bawdy language. It is, quite simply, elegance without the pretence. To his credit, the author refuses to bemoan his characters' simple existence. Rather, he elevates them through their own actions as they deal with life in its barest sense.
Folks, this is a great book. Miss it at your own peril.
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