BOOK REVIEW: An Unreliable Guide to London – by various authors

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At the start of this year I made a commitment to myself that I was going to do more with supporting Independent Publishers and Authors alike. It’s great working for STORGY and getting sent free books for review – but I wanted to do more, so have been making sure I personally purchase a book from an Indie Author or Publisher each month and review it on STORGY – some of the books I’ve reviewed since this commitment have been, Chain Linked, Don’t Try this at Home, Fortune Box, Not Everyone Is Special, Business as Usual and Sweet Home.

This month it was the turn of the fabulous Influx Press…

As a Londoner this book jumped out at me. Plus it also features some stories from the places that I lived – they seemed to skirt away from where I grew up – Catford, Lewisham, Croydon and the God awful place of my birth the Downham Estate in South East London (I call it that South East London, many call it Kent – but we got red busses so technically it’s hanging onto London like a giant wart on its ass).

I have to say I absolutely loved the collection, such a range of voices, so many depictions of the most fabulous city in the world. The writers which Influx were able to attract to this project did a sterling job in creating tales which are true to the places and also true to Londoners – in all our various guises. It was, and is a fabulously rich collection, you’ll discover some great writers you may not have heard about and read some great stories from established writers. But having heaped so much praise on the collection – I came away from it feeling a little sad.

The writers have, in many of the stories, hit the nail on the head, detailing the sickness that is working its way across London, that sickness which goes by the name gentrification. It’s a common theme of the stories held within the book. Each time I return to my humble London roots I’m met with more coffee shops, more boutiques, more vegan eateries, more high brow shops, bigger and more outlandish Apple Stores (and I don’t mean the Greengrocer – that went when people could pick up their fruit and veg in the new ASDA – and don’t talk to me about the plight of the local butcher).

The London suburbs have a prevalent sickness (which is touched upon in these stories) that is driving the locals out, pricing them out, and making them conform to a system they didn’t ask for. The estate people I grew up with are being replaced by bankers and wankers, those that can afford to live on the commuter belt, destroying communities that have stood for years. Pricing out the locals and encouraging those that remain to step up and consume what they are being given which is mostly middle-class taste.

In Downham it was working class through and through – now you have people walking around with pug dogs and couture fashion, hipsters swanning around with no socks and cups of coffee in glass flasks. What was wrong with the kids that used to sniff glue on the corner, and the Aladdins Cave that sold everything you may ever need, and the Woolworths, and the Bingo Hall, and the dog shit and smashed in shopfronts, and the fish man that used to pop in the pub and sell his warm meats for the drunks and the desperate?

Sorry I digress. Back to An Unreliable Guide to London – it’s brilliant!

If a book can get me this fired up – then it’s sure to get other true Londoners pretty vexed too. It’s not all about gentrification, there are some witty stories, weird stories and some astounding pieces of fiction in here too – so do take a look! Some of the stories I enjoyed mostly are detailed a bit more below. I could have talked about each story in turn as they are so awesome – but given my rant above and the shear amount of quality on show, this review would be a good few thousand words…so without further delay, here were some of my favourites!

Soft on the Inside – By Noo Saro-Wiwa

I love strange, weird fiction and Soft on the Inside delivered on that front in spades! There is a taxidermy shop called ‘Get Stuffed‘ – where one fateful day someone utters an enchantment and all the stuffed creatures come alive, for a limited time only. They decide that they want to get their own back on Don Galloway a beastly gentleman who has been trading in endangered species. He sold some tiger cubs to the shop, shortly after, Get Stuffed was raided by the police and the tiger cubs were removed and buried. It falls to the least conspicuous animals to go on a mission, a mission to get their own back on Don Galloway – so ‘Terri’ the Terrier and a grey and red squirrel, head off to cause havoc on the streets of London.

‘To stuff a dead human being and mount them on public display is either an act of veneration or of gross disrespect, depending on the deceased’s status. Lenin and Mao in glass boxes is okay, but an ordinary cadaver on public show is considered fucked up on all levels. Animals’ can be pancaked by the tyres of road vehicles, hung from a butcher shop, mashed against a wall or worn around your neck.’

Warm and ToastyYvvette Edwards

Was a heartwarming tale, a tale that comes full circle and was in my opinion masterfully executed by Edwards. It takes what we expect, turns it on its head and serves it to us with cream and a cherry on the top. For me this was one of the best stories in the collection.

‘The DWP. Sent me for a job at Iceland’s.’
‘Did you tell them about your sickle cell?’
‘Yep. I cant tell you how many letters my doctor’s writ. They know, they know all that and they still sent me to Iceland’s, said if I never went, they’d sanction me. So I went. Exactly what I knew would happen happened. Same night I had to call out the ambulance. They wannid to take me to hospital, but I said no. I go into hospital, Justin goes into care, and he can’t handle it. I said no and they had to give me the transfusion at home. Didn’t wanna, but I didn’t budge. Was in bed for nearly a week. And you know what they did after all that? Sanctioned me. Said I left suitable employment. Cut my benefits for six months.’

Beating the BoundsAki Schilz – I went to University at Thames Valley University in Ealing (it’s since been renamed – Gentrification and all that – a better name was sourced to become more appealing) and lived for a great many years in Hanwell. As this tale is based in Hanwell, it immediately made me fall in love with it, Schilz observations are astoundingly good, a keen eye and a wonderfully delivered prose makes this whimsical tale live long in the memory – its brave, bold, outlandish and daring – but most of all it is written to perfection!

‘Occasionally a boy from the White Flats gets a small ‘W7′ tattoo on his hand, on that triangle of skin between the thumb and forefinger, and slings it across the handlebars of his L-plated moped for a few weeks, but postcode pride is hardly a premium and there are no good tattoo artists here (unless you have a direct line to George Bone). Hendrix didn’t even visit, through he owned a shop here. Bastard.’

The Secret Life of Little Wormwood ScrubsCourttia Newland – I am a huge fan of Courttia Newland, and we were also lucky enough to publish one of his stories in the Exit Earth Anthology – so I expected great things when I saw his name pop up in the contributing writers. And boy, he didn’t let me down, his story was full of racial tension and unrest – set with the backdrop of the London bombings ringing loud in peoples ears. Our main protagonist discovers a rucksack in the lead up to the London Bombings, he decides to leave it where it is. In the park. The story is laced with tension, panic and self doubt – about one mans internal struggles of not doing what was needed at a time that needed him most – a phenomenal piece of writing.

‘The days of muggings and drug taking in this park have largely passed, retained only in muscle memory by those who were there. And of course, there is the clear and present terror. He reminds himself of this as he side-steps woman and beast, keeps running. Sees the t-shirt splayed across his tomb dark duvet; DON’T PANIC, I’M ISLAMIC. His sister bought it as a joke, black too of course, but Khalil knows he won’t wear that t-shirt. He’ll never wear that t-shirt. Fucking embarrassing, what does she think he is; it wasn’t even funny.’

If you want to know a bit more about London from the people that lived there and survived to tell the tale – pick up this awesome anthology now!
I think there are still a few print copies left and you can also purchase the digital copy from Influx Press Directly and support Independent publishing!

An Unreliable Guide to London is published by Influx Press and is available here.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery


Chloe Aridjis, Gary Budden, Tim Burrows, Kit Caless, Yvvette Edwards, Paul Ewen, George F, Salena Godden, M. John Harrison, Juliet Jacques, Courttia Newland, Koye Oyedeji, Irenosen Okojie, Gareth E. Rees, Noo Saro-Wiwa, Aki Schilz, Nikesh Shukla, Sunny Singh, Stephen Thompson, Stephanie Victoire, Tim Wells, Will Wiles and Eley Williams.



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