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Nottingham Castle

In The Frame

11 May 07 words: James Walker
A short story collection by writers who live and work in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire

In The Frame
Thirteen Short Stories
Edited by Rowena Edlin-White

In the Frame is a short story collection for young adults by writers who live and work in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire and along with Sunday Night and Monday Morning and Poetry: the Nottingham Collection forms part of a series of books published by Five Leaves to celebrate their tenth birthday. The collection features winners of the Carnegie Medal, the Fiddlers First Novel Award and the Acorn Award as well as heavy weight authors into double figures with publications, the most notable being Caroline Pitcher with plus fifty to her name. Two of the stories, Karma Drama by B.K. Mahal and Strawberry Wine by Berlie Doherty are extracts from novels and so give the reader a taste of bigger projects should they be suitably intrigued.

The stories cross a wide range of genres including; murder, crime, romance, fantasy and time-slip. They also take place in a variety of historical settings such as Kiss Kiss by Gwen Grant, a story which takes us back to Christmas Eve at the Palais in 1956 when men looked like pandas on account of their coal dust ringed eyes. What they’d make of the hair straightening metrosexuals that congregate there now, God only knows. The danger in having such a broad range of subjects, genres and settings is that it can leave a collection seeming loose and may be too much of a distraction for readers but by the same token this may be the perfect receipt for an MTV generation in constant need of something new, something different.

Fortunately, the various strands are sutured together by one common theme; each character has reached a certain point in their lives which requires them to cross the boundary from childhood into adulthood and effectively make an independent, responsible decision. This is of course easier said than done and often requires an immediate spontaneous reaction to adverse circumstances. In Chris d’Lacey’s Drive a young girl is put under enormous emotional pressure to go on a joy ride. She does not want to disappoint her father who has buried himself in work since her mother left whilst also not wanting to lose face in front of a cool gang which includes the ‘number one looker.’ In David Belbin’s Waking Early, West Kirby a teenager manages to fend off a potential drunken rapist. Her maturity stems from firstly rationalising in her own mind that she did not bring this upon herself and secondly a mix of guilt and fear that she may have killed her attacker. The tale is given another dimension by the fact that the attacker is one of her mother’s former boyfriends, thereby giving an insight into her unfortunate home life. It would seem from this that a lot of decisions teenagers have to make are often born of circumstances beyond their control, proving that maturity is not the repository of self determination.

The collection takes its title from Nick Manns’ story of the same name and will arguably delight the target audience as it sees the power geometry of the classroom turned on its head when a teenager bribes a teacher. I would have liked to have seen more of these Machiavellian antics with similar outcomes, but I guess this has more to do with the fact that I am a sour adult male rather than with the stories themselves.

Writing for a younger audience is incredibly difficult as it requires restraint not only from moralising but in sharing the inevitable knowledge which the author has built up over the years. The language also needs to find the right balance by not being too flippant or too cool – which I am informed is a word only an older uncool adult would use. In essence, stories need to be told which do not expose the age of the author. In the Frame manages to pull this off despite a slight slip now and then with the odd word (‘dastardly’) which seems out of place in a young adults’ mindset. Having said that it is so long since I was last at school what would I know? Reading these stories has reminded me of what a difficult, confusing and depressing time the transition into adulthood can be and how glad I am that it is over. If Five Leaves decides to publish a collection dealing with the next stage into mid-life, please be sure to forward a copy on to this difficult, confused and depressed thirty-something reviewer. The same challenges are still here, they’ve just changed shape a little – a bit like the hips.

Five Leaves website

Vital Statistics
Pages: 184
Publisher: Five Leaves 2006
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Editor: Rowena Edlin-White

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