THINGS FROM THE PAST
By Steven Deighan
Reviewed by Gary McMahon
I'd better admit up front that over the past year or so I've developed an acquaintance with the author of this collection of four short stories. Via email, we've chatted about our kids, our aspirations, and our fiction. Although Steve Deighan's work is flawed--the writing of a young man struggling to find his voice--I've encouraged him because I see promise in what he does. I still see that promise, and because of this I aim to be as honest as I am able with the following review. I owe it to the author as a fellow writer and as, I hope, a friend.
So, with that out of the way, let me begin my review of Things From the Past. I'll do this in the traditional manner, going through the stories one by one, and then end with a brief overall summary.
Almost forgot: a brief word about the artwork. The cover is slightly garish, but suits the tone of the book, and the interior illustrations are nicely drawn. I like the comic book effect, and the artist, Ian Simmons, certainly has an eye for the grotesque. Check out his website (www.dragonart.org.uk ) for more of his work.
The Last Drive is the story of a troubled young man, Robert Carver, who resides in temporary accommodation, fighting the memories of his past and struggling to come to terms with the world. Robert meets a girl called Lesley at the same time that he's planning to rob a petrol station to fund an escape from his personal demons. When he carries out his plan, taking Lesley along for the ride, supernatural entities manifest, and things go awry.
There's nothing wrong with the story itself, but I do think it needed further development. For example, the couple are careful to avoid being seen arriving at the petrol station together--Lesley even takes a different route, travelling by bus, where she makes a point of hiding from the CCTV cameras. However, once inside the petrol station, the two make no effort to conceal their identities and don't even consider the presence of cameras inside the building. This seemed ill thought out--enough that it pulled me from the story.
Things From The Past, the title tale, concerns a down-at-heel public house full of familiar working class regulars and a strange customer who comes calling. This stranger proves to be of supernatural origin, and I won't spoil the tale by letting on exactly what he does to claim the bar as his own.
There's the nucleus of a good story here, but again I feel that it needed more work. It read like a first draft, and I really feel that with further development the piece might have been very good indeed.
All the Deaf See is Music boasts a killer title, and once again the basic concept is a nice one. Steve, a young man who hears voices, begins to see the ghost of his dead brother, His friend Alan also hears these voices, and believes that they belong to angels. Steve isn't so sure; he thinks that the voices have a more ambiguous origin. Throw into the mix a monster (or possibly a demon) with no legs that drags itself around an abandoned warehouse looking for the missing pages from the first draft of the Book of Revelations, and you have a rather confusing story that doesn't quite know what it wants to be. It's frustrating to me that although it's the best thing here, this tale could have been so much better.
The Office is the last story in the book, and I'm afraid that this one didn't impress me at all. It's a rather clumsy tale of revenge, with a silly ending. In fact, it's the only story that lacks any real bite, and in my opinion could easily have been omitted from the book.
In conclusion, despite showing flashes of genuine promise, I simply don't feel that these stories were quite ready to be published as a collection. I truly believe that Steven Deighan may eventually have something valuable to say, but he needs to work on his craft, hone his raw energy and ambition into sharper, better prose. For example, a sentence like “She was more distant to me than the omitted crew to the Mary Celeste” is very clumsy, and the book is filled with such badly constructed phrases.
Elsewhere Deighan does come out with nice lines, like the one where he states that a church's steeple pierces the moon's face “like a needle into skin”. When he keeps it simple like this, the author is capable of producing some strong work, and giving life to images that resonate. Sadly, a lot of what he creates strives too hard to be writerly, and as a result the prose ends up lacking in rhythm and sometimes even sense. Grammar, syntax and word choices really do need a lot of work, and with time and dedication I truly believe that these stories could really shine. Perhaps a spot of ruthless editing might have tightened things up and cut out a lot of the more clunky prose.
As a final word, I'd like to reiterate that Steven Deighan does show some promise. His stories are raw, edgy, and contain biting realism--the author's enthusiasm is boundless and his integrity is without question. But the technical aspects of his writing--the nuts and bolts of the craft - need serious attention. I hope he sticks with it, and masters the art: the stories he has inside him deserve it; the vision he is attempting to share with us warrants our attention. So please, buy this book and make up your own mind. Encourage a fledgling horror writer to continue on his difficult journey--I'm sure that one day he'll reward us all with work that is worthy of our continued interest.
Things From the Past by Steven Deighan. Pb, 170pp, £7.99. Published by Hadesgate Publications, P.O. Box 167, Selby, North Yorkshire, YO8 4WP, UK.
Website: - www.hadesgate.co.uk
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