Booked In With Jess: 13

“He walks two steps behind her, examining the length of her calves. Hasn’t he got internet at home? There’s lots and lots of naked calves on the internet. And tits. Knock yourself out, old man.” (X Factor)

For the first time in this column a collection of short stories will be the main focus. Spill by Giles Ward was published less than two months ago and collates 13 stories like an album. Each story has something new to offer and a different angle on life, love and our social construction in Britain, but they also stand boldly alone as individual pieces.

The 13 short stories cover a mere 80 pages, making it an excellent choice to dip in and out of, whether you’re waiting at a bus stop or have awkward time gaps to fill. Believe me, reading Spill is much more interesting than faffing about on your phone. The short, snappy structure maintains a high energy pace, which I found hooked me so that one story quickly led on to a second, and then a third. In that sense, it goes without saying that Ward can draw you in within a sentence and knows exactly when a story should conclude (a sign of any good short story writer).

All of the stories adopt a bitter tone and this aggressive nature was a huge risk. At moments the writing style borders on overly-negative and off-putting but Ward managed to draw me back in with his humour. I particularly enjoyed X Factor, 4”33 and That Delivery Guy due to the dark comedy aspects which added to the narrator’s angry persona, but also had me giggling. Ward cleverly uses close third person to let you both observe and hear the characters’ thoughts.

What struck me the most was just how true these stories are. They depict the sick, the poor, the wealthy, the mentally ill, the emotionally bruised – basically, everyone in society. The reason X Factor particularly resonated with me was the retail setting and the main character’s inner thoughts about the customers, as I used to work in retail and could definitely relate to her. The ‘X Factor’ TV Show’s dialogue really brought the story to life, as many of the phrases will have been heard by a vast majority of the UK.

However, some of the stories were evidently weaker than others. Toothpaste was slow and dull in comparison to Ward’s earlier stories and felt slightly out of place amongst the rest of the collection. Also, I Like Small Rooms seemed to be focussing on abstract concepts which weren’t obvious enough to make it an enjoyable read; as though Ward was attempting to be too clever. In doing so, he may outsmart some of his readers and the point of reading will be lost.

Overall, Spill was a unique collection of funny, dark and twisted stories that aren’t like any others I’ve come across before. Purely because of that, I think they’re worth reading.

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