Cut on the Bias by Stephanie Tillotson

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Cut on the Bias by Stephanie Tillotson

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis
Summary: This punchy anthology of short stories from Honno reveal the women behind the clothes. From haute couture to granny-knit, there's plenty to please in all shapes and sizes. Entertaining, readable, recommended for women of all ages.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 246 Date: January 2010
Publisher: Honno Welsh Women's Press
ISBN: 978-906784133

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If Cut on the Bias is in your local bookshop, you will surely be won over by the feisty cover. Stories about women and their clothes are about identity, so what better start to a set of short stories than a fashion statement cover featuring the bags in which said clothes arrive home?

Anthologies unfailingly seduce me into catching 'just one more'. A snatched delight, there's always a whispered promise of the totally unexpected over the next page. What short stories do best to my mind is developing the quirkiness of 'what if' scenarios. I imagine a horde of Welsh writers galloping home from their writers' groups and MA classes, to bend, squash and generally subvert Honno's clothes theme in pursuit of their unique takes on life. So the stories examine clothes as an expression of personal identity, yes, from a battered wife's nondescript black leggings in Back to Black, to a film star's cast-off finery landing in a traditional community in Barbara McGaughey's cleverly paced The Red Hat.

Clothes also serve as flashpoints for deeper conflict in Stephanie Tillotson's A Handbag to Die For or Sue Fortune's evocative The White Sandals. The strange and the familiar clang uneasily in Claudia Rapport's creepy The Communion Dress and Jo Lloyd's beautiful Flicker, with layers in both that run deep with the emotional connections between mothers and daughters. In a poignant offering from Eloise Williams, jumper Ed personifies an outgrown childhood for a young woman with learning difficulties.

Underneath the clothes, of course, lay skin and body image. Being happy in one's own skin can be tricky, as Mr Price finds out on his naturist summer holiday. Alys Conran has teenage girls, … boobs eyeing the sky … and as insensitive to others as 'twas ever thus. The characters in Kerry Steed's I am Wearing no Make-up and Jean Lyons' The Green Guernsey take body image one step further. Clothes can provide disguise or security, so nakedness strips back to the real person beneath. As the mourning widow tells her diary:

… I suppose I have to find out if there's still a separate me.

A macabre story from Sarah Taylor takes borrowed feathers as the 'what if' starting point to Plumage. Even as she stretches credibility out to the far blue yonder, the story is impossible to put down. In my favourite story, Black Cherries, a black singer's visit to a Midlands hotel coincides with Enoch Powell's infamous Rivers of Blood speech and precipitates a young man's discovery of his sexuality. Lindsay Ashford's little beauty is packed with insights.

Of course, it's not all heavyweight material. Dear Joanna is surely Hilary Cooper's spoof of the nursery song, 'There was an old woman who swallowed a fly' and Lorraine Jenkin delivers On the run from the Fashion Police with her trademark humour and twist in the tail. From haute couture to granny-knit, there's plenty to please in all shapes and sizes. As editor Stephanie Tillotson promises, this selection has something for every reader.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this thoroughly enjoyable book. At a guess, this collection was selected from an open submissions process and it's great to see such diverse Welsh talents being spotted and promoted by Honno.

Suggestions for further reading: If you enjoyed the older, anecdotal stories, Struggle or Starve by Carole White and Sian Williams recounts real lives in South Wales. Two books of short stories by and mainly about women are Taking Pictures by Anne Enright and The Complete Novellas by Agnes Owens. And if you like the sound of a small co-operative Welsh Women's Press, check out the best of other Honno fiction titles by using The Bookbag's search box. You might also enjoy Any Other Mouth by Anneliese Mackintosh and The Breathing by Mary-Ann Constantine.

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