Published by Laundrette Books, launched October 31 2017
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Bystander: the one witnessing the action – the one the police question – the one who’s not involved, honest.”
Bystander is an anthology of writing created as part of the MA Creative Writing course at Nottingham Trent University. Contributions are from students, staff and guest lecturers on the course. All the pieces are inspired by the subject of ‘the bystander’, the character who is somewhere lurking on the side-lines looking in.
On Hallowe’en the Bystander anthology was launched in style with readings from a number of the writers included in the book. They also produced a companion pamphlet called The Bystander Effect which included some of the same names in the book, with different pieces of writing. The launch was a great success and the readings ranged from deep and meaningful, comedy, grizzly, creepy, or just something to make you think. It had everything, and this is exactly what you get when you read the book.
Due to listening to the readings, some of the pieces in here were familiar, but it was a joy to re-visit them, and in some cases get more than what was included in the reading. There’s a good mix of genres and forms in here. We start off with a short, but very funny, play by Grace Hulme, which is great to read and even better to hear read out. It’s a simple story, but is clever and well-thought through. A great piece to begin with.
Following this are a few prose pieces with a poem thrown in for good measure. I’m always impressed by short fiction, at how whole lives can be portrayed in only a few pages, and the theme of ‘bystander’ really lends itself well to these glimpses of life, and the first few prose pieces really show that, and then it just gets better from there. I particularly enjoyed ‘Baba Yaga’ by Josh Booker, only very short but incredibly good at setting the scene, putting you there and establishing the society the characters live in without being over-complex. It’s a narrative I’d love to read more of and see explored deeper.
‘Changelessness’ by Jonathan Taylor is a good example of short but sweet fiction, in that it only takes up one page of the book, but is one of the best of the collection.
I think one of my favourite pieces has to be ‘Pollination Mortem’ by Ross Johnston. It’s an extract from his ongoing narrative exploring the ‘Shottingham Ripper’. When I was doing my creative writing dissertation as an undergraduate, Ross was in my group and I’d get installments of this story every couple of weeks, and it was sad to have to leave it behind. So to read a slice from that version of Nottingham again was truly an absolute pleasure.
Towards the end, plays and poetry makes more of an entrance with some great stuff by Andrew Taylor, Rory Waterman, William Ivory and Lauren Terry. Lauren has written a ‘play-poem’ in which bedroom furniture has dialogue. This is an imaginative take on the bystander theme and an interesting read.
The penultimate piece in the collection is a poem by Kyle Hutchinson which is only short, but contained a lot of sentiment, particularly the last line, a question that still rolls around by mind after hearing him read it, and from seeing it on the page.
The last piece, ‘The Book of the Bystander’ was one of the best readings of the launch, and got a lot of laughs. This made it even better when revisiting and reading it through again, and it was a great choice to end the collection on.
‘Bystander’ is a great subject for an anthology, and this collection just goes to show how many different types of writing can be born from a single word, a single thought. There are many lives and existences contained in here, and they all play with the idea of the bystander, but in very different, imaginative and unique ways.
You can buy a copy of the book here: Bystander Anthology
This review was also published on Hey What’s on Notts: Book Review: ‘Bystander’ – An Anthology by NTU’s MA Creative Writing