The Myth of Brilliant Summers by Austin Collings is the first release from PARIAH PRESS, a new and alternative publishing house based in Manchester.
PARIAH PRESS has promised to ‘establish an alternative vision’ and offer a ‘departure from conceit and mediocrity’ and with The Myth of Brilliant Summers Collings delivers just that. The book itself is a mixture of concise prose, flash fiction and alternative poetry set in the hidden underworld of a city or town in the North of England. It is a gritty insight into a forgotten world. This isn’t the underworld of British gangster flicks and glorified violence. Nor is it an explosive spectacle of the underclasses rising from their pits of despair as painted by the national media during the London riots of 2011.
These are real life stories of faded, jaded real lives. The man who walks his dog in the dying summer evenings to return home to four cans of super strength lager. The jazz-drummer in the wheelchair. The older man of a questionable past luring young girls into his flat with the offer of booze and cigarettes. Unnerving neighbors, mentally unstable housemates, job centers, urban parks and the slow, continuous passing of time.
There are many reasons why a book like The Myth of Brilliant Summers is much needed and should be much appreciated by everyone in the literary world. Firstly, Collings is a brilliant writer. He’s a wordsmith who sets the scene of every little burst of poetic storytelling in a beautifully succinct, yet deeply engrossing way. Simple lines like ‘summer days like this, when things go wrong’ mean so much more than they perhaps should.
Secondly, it is very clear that here we do have an alternative voice of immense talent. The talent is being able to spot the hidden. It is being able to take the mundane, the drab and the desolate and turn it into something absorbing, consuming and not just a little bit disturbing. Not many writers write about this Britain. The Britain destroyed by Thatcherism and left behind in the decades since. Pointless rage, cigarette smoke and cheap talk. Petty violence, poor quality drugs and uncompromising love. To take such subject matter and make it readable and captivating is a skill that few writers who are plugged by the big publishing houses today possess. To do it requires an honest, unflinching eye and a deep understanding of the communities where this is real life.
These lucid moments of mixed up lives and desperate characters are powerful and tangible. The surroundings and settings of these stories are full of menace and paranoia. The kind of places where you look over your shoulder when you walk through them and breathe a sigh of relief when you leave them. But if you were born there; if you lived that life, danced life’s dance with these character and witnessed the brutal humdrum existence of these streets, then I dare say you never really leave.
The dismal tone and bleak landscapes is occasionally broken up with dry humor, but that steadfast grimness can seem relentless never-the-less. That isn’t a criticism, merely an observation. Tales of this kind of northern existentialism echo with a poignant post-punk soundtrack. The Smiths, Joy Division and Six By Seven. They may not all be name-checked in the book, but they are there nonetheless. Yet these are modern stories. This is the here and now. It jolts and jars you to remember that as you read.
“All The Sad Young Men of All Ages” is a devastatingly simple story of a man and his son both traveling to the job centre to sign on. It resonates and seeps inside of you. And like many of the offerings in The Myth of Brilliant Summers, it haunts you long after you’ve put the book down.
A further reason why it is important is how it makes you feel. Collings is a master at finding moments and scenes of everyday life that will somehow make you feel. What it makes you feel will, I suspect depend on your experiences of life and the road you’ve travelled. But you will feel something and you won’t be able to explain why. This unexplained significance to these brief glimpses into life on ‘the edgelands, the scrublands’ is what makes you turn the page and start the next uncomfortable little passage. Growing up in a deprived, run down Northern town, these stories resonate with me. They stopped me in my tracks and opened the floodgates to my own memories of growing from a boy to a man in this town. To be able to do something as profound as that in an 80-page volume demonstrates skill, but it also signifies exactly why this piece of writing is essential.
For far too long, mainstream literature has ignored these towns, these estates, these streets and these stories. Indeed, they will probably continue to do so. These are Kafkaesque passages if Kafka had grown up on a council estate. The Myth of Brilliant Summers is a reminder of everyday dismay and of small town melancholy. It doesn’t try to be glamorous and it doesn’t need to be.
The Myth of Brilliant Summers is the kind of book you could only get from an independent publisher with a clear idea of what is essential and what means something. This is literature that will take you on a journey through streets that you might not want to walk down; streets that you might wish to ignore. But at some point, you will get that feeling. A feeling of unease perhaps. Perhaps of nostalgia. Whatever it is, you will turn the page and keep reading. It is important.
About the author:
Bobby Gant is a published writer and poet, having had poetry, short stories and reviews published in a variety of online and print journals and magazines. Bobby also does freelance journalism and blog work, though he maintains that he has never hacked anyone’s mobile phone. He is a proud Yorkshireman, living just outside of Barnsley in South Yorkshire.