BOOK REVIEW: This Dreaming Isle edited by Dan Coxon

There is so much with This Dreaming Isle to marvel at, from the inception of the remarkable concept from editor Dan Coxon, to the beautifully haunting image that wraps itself around the book. The list of authors that grace the cover and offer remarkable and memorable stories, each showcasing a mastery of the short story form is something to salivate over. There is also the simple fact that all these stories are based in the UK – dealing with folklore and the uncanny that this fair Isle has to offer, delving into the strange and peculiar, unearthing folklore and myths that appeal to a new generation who may not know the history and the lore that scurry in the dank meadows and fields, that lurk in the alleyways of towns and neighbourhoods or that hide in wait in the rivers, locks and oceans that pen us in and carve up our Dreaming Isle like veins under our skin.

This Dreaming Isle is divided into three distinct portions by maps of the UK which aid the reader in knowing where the stories are set geographically – as each story is placed on the map with an identifying mark (adding additional depth to the anthology in my opinion). These maps and the splitting up of the stories into sections is a lovely creative tool that Coxon has wielded superbly well and adds to the impact and final product of the collection. It enables readers to thumb through the book and choose if they would like to read a story set in the country, city or coast (or check out stories that may be set near where they live or have affiliations).

There is so much to talk about and so many great stories I could talk for an age, but instead I wanted to highlight three stories in particular that I really enjoyed and also I wanted to  provide you with a whistle stop tour of the anthology too, so first up, your whistle stop tour…strap yourselves in, its about to get messy!

This Dreaming Isle is a fabulous collection of stories written by some of the best short story writers in the land, and here are just some of the themes that are on offer if you dare to pick a copy up (I urge you to do so, you wont regret it).

Loch water that shows peoples true nature, a witches dog called Old Trash that roams the woods hunting for its next victim, a father hiding a dark secret, an ominous figure who appears in a landscape artists paintings, the scattered ramblings of nursing home patient, secrets uncovered of a dark and sinister past, a man stalked by a mysterious twitter profile, a new deranged form of life modelling, an email chain that delves a little too deep, an enlightening car-pool session, a water dragon, trapped ghosts within statues, an unusual guidebook called ‘Esoteric Kent‘, a tale of mermaids, a haunting mural and Kelpies living amongst us.

So the stories that I have decided to focus on a little are James Miller’s ‘Not All Right‘ from the city section of the Anthology. Firstly it’s a great insight into the desire and pull of social media, as our main protagonist is obsessed with garnering more followers and notoriety from being a complete dick (troll) online, causing offence just to swell his following and readership of his accounts. It’s a great exposé on the current state of affairs around social media and the all encompassing thirst for attention and acceptance by an online community the labyrinth one can find themselves disappearing down until they are living their life online, in chatroom’s or avatars – something that Miller expertly puts across and ensures it leaves its scar on the reader. Miller also masterfully details how devoid of real life these online lives become, the protagonists life is falling apart, no job, no drive, just an unquenchable thirst to be liked, loved and retweeted – so as his real life falls apart his online life appears to be taking off big time. That is until he receives a message from a strange anonymous account @IncarceratedEarth ‘Are you scared yet?‘, as our protagonist begins to investigate this odd account, he soon discovers that this strange account has many more followers than he does, so he does what you’d expect. He begins to troll the account, baiting the user, trying to dig up information on it, it becomes his focus, his main ambition, his obsession. I’ll stop there as Miller’s writing is masterful and delightful in equal measure and you should really discover this engaging and eerie story for yourselves. Miller treats the reader to a highly pumped, haunting and taut thriller that is stuffed full with eerie wonderment and technical prowess making Not All Right one of the stand out stories in the collection.

Angela Redman’s story ‘Swimming with Horses‘ is another fabulous tale, this one is set in the coast section of the anthology. What I liked about this story was that it was quite insular, Redman focuses on her main protagonist and you get a real sense of the place in where the story is set, it felt cold and empty and a forgotten part of the coast. There is something to be said about telling a story and telling it well. You could feel the bleakness of the setting, from the flashing coin machines to the empty cafe to the deserted beaches – it’s a story that really jumped out of the book and wrapped it’s bleakness around me like a blanket. In a way I felt that I was right there, watching it all unfold as an observer. That my friends is how you tell a story. Redman details a chance encounter, our main protagonist is working at a café, she’s bored and dreaming of being anywhere else. One day she meets someone who shares her outlook on life and they soon become friends, hanging out, walking the deserted beach, but things are not what they seem and soon she discovers that her friend is hiding a very dark secret. Redman absolutely slays this story and it lives long in the memory – a deliciously eerie tale told with a masters touch by a true raconteur.

The final story I wanted to highlight is in fact the first story in the anthology ‘The Pier At Ardentinny‘ by Catriona Ward – this story sets us up for what a mind fuck of an anthology This Dreaming Isle will be. Ward pretty much tears up the rule book with this one and it’s such a striking story to kick off the anthology, which left me saying ‘it’s only a story, it’s only a story…‘ truly soul-stirring. This tale centres around a folklore about Loch water at Ardentinny being able to show someones true nature within its reflection ‘make sure they were not wedding a demon or an evildoer‘. It reveals the true nature of people that is kept hidden from others – that is a scary concept indeed, how many of us hide our true self from our friends, families, the ones we love. It’s a gripping tense read which Ward executes so well, it delves deep into the characters she’s deftly created and the impact of the story lasted long after I’d moved on to the next offering in the book. Haunting to the very last drop!

In this uncertain time when we don’t know if we are coming or going, staying or leaving, or who we can trust. Believe me. You can trust me. You can trust Dan Coxon and you can trust the writers on show in This Dreaming Isle. They do not disappoint.

I wholeheartedly recommend getting a copy of This Dreaming Isle – because firstly it’s a celebration of fabulous writing, it’s an ingenious collection and concept, all of the writers turn in stunning works of eerie, creepy goodness and lastly it’s a celebration of the rich history we have here on our little island of storytellers, raconteurs, myths and folklore.

Tales that creep and crawl into you mind and never want to leave!

This Dreaming Isle is published by Unsung Stories and is available here.

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Dan Coxon

dan coxon

Dan Coxon‘s writing has appeared in Salon, Unthology, The Lonely Crowd, Popshot, Neon, Gutter, Wales Arts Review, The Portland Review, and the DadLit anthology Daddy Cool, amongst others. He is the author of the travel memoir Ka Mate: Travels in New Zealand, and the editor of Being Dad, a collection of short stories about fatherhood that won Best Anthology at the Saboteur Awards 2016. He was long-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction Award 2017, and is currently a Contributing Editor at The Lonely Crowd.

His work has been read at live events on both sides of the Atlantic, including appearances at LitCrawl London and LitCrawl Seattle, as well as performances at Liars’ League events in London, Hong Kong and Portland. In an unlikely – and terrifying – plot twist, he once chaired a writers’ pitching panel at the SCARdiff horror convention.

Dan is a member of The Society of Authors and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. He runs a freelance editorial and proofreading service at Momus Editorial, and is happy to take on private clients as well as established publishers. Find him on Twitter @DanCoxonAuthor.

– Authors –

Ramsey Campbell, multi-award winning author of over 40 novels
Andrew Michael Hurley, author of The Loney and Devil’s Day
Catriona Ward, author of Rawblood and Little Eve
Robert Shearman, World Fantasy Award, British Fantasy Award and Shirley Jackson Award winning author of four collections
Jenn Ashworth, author of Fell, Cold Light and more
Gareth E. Rees, author of Marshland and The Stone Tide
Tim Lebbon, screenwriter and author of over 35 books including Dusk, The Silence and Relics
Alison Littlewood, author of The Crow Garden, The Hidden People and more
Aliya Whiteley, author of The Beauty, The Arrival of Missives and The Loosening Skin (forthcoming from Unsung Stories).
Stephen Volk, screenwriter and author of Whitstable, Monsters in the Heart and more
Kirsty Logan, author of The Gloaming, The Gracekeepers, A Portable Shelter and The Rental Heart.
James Miller, author of UnAmerican Activities, Lost Boys and Sunshine State
Jeannette Ng, author of Under the Pendulum Sun
Richard V. Hirst, co-author of The Night Visitors
Alison Moore, author of The Lighthouse, Missing and more
Gary Budden, author of Hollow Shores
Angela Readman, author of Don’t Try This at Home and The Book of Tides

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery

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