Reviewed by Alison Littlewood

At first glance, Twisted Tongue is a somewhat puzzling mix. Sci-fi, crime and horror rub shoulders with literary fiction. Within its pages you will find short stories, novellas, poetry, flash fiction, book extracts, interviews and a comic strip. It's published in the UK but using a US paper size.

Tying the content together is the concept of 'a tale with a twist, or a twisted tale'. Now, I'm fond of a twisted tale, but have distinct reservations about tales with a twist. Too many have the ending tacked on in an illogical and unsatisfying fashion. Others meander along, deliberately denying the reader key pieces of information just so that the author can end with a 'ta-da... fooled you!' So, I was curious as to how Twisted Tongue would tie these ideas together.

The production quality is certainly out to impress, with a thick, glossy cover and good quality monochrome inner pages. And there is plenty to dip into, with 80 pages of content. I liked the layout--the pages have a look and feel reminiscent of some of the US literary fiction magazines--although I found the typesetting unusual for a print magazine, with blank lines between paragraphs that I found a little disruptive to the flow.

Reservations notwithstanding, some of the short fiction in Twisted Tongue really stands out.

Chameleon by Melvin Sterne tells the story of a 'threat analyst' who is on assignment in Kathmandu. The setting and characters are vivid and draw the reader in immediately. The use of small details lends believability and throws light on the characterisation--for example, the main character's view on having sex at someone rather than with them. And there is indeed a great twist here that develops seamlessly into a satisfying ending.

Under the Scarecrow's Watchful Eye by James W. Bennett is also well worth a read. It tells the tale of a battle between villagers and jackdaws, weaving its own little myth brilliantly. It has a suitably gruesome finish with a great last line and is well illustrated too, by Courtney Jones and Jeff Crouch.

My favourite story was Smoking out the Opposition by James Harris, which concerns an interview challenge that is genuinely page turning. Our character, Rupert, has to smoke a cigar, but against the clock and inhaling every breath. The writer's skill is such that we share each drag and, although we know a twist is coming, the ending manages to be laugh out loud funny.

I did feel that some of the stories were of mixed quality, and unfortunately poor grammar marred several, including one with a spelling mistake in the first line. However, despite the puzzling lack of an apostrophe in the title, The Dolls House by Drue Fairlie developed into an enjoyable read. The first of a three parter, it seems to be a traditional haunted house tale, but nevertheless suspenseful.

There were plenty of really short shorts throughout the magazine. I always feel it's difficult to make a strong impression with so few words, without the additional challenge of successfully developing a twist ending; and some did indeed fall into the trap of a 'tacked on' last line. There is, however, a gruesome treat from our very own Whisperer, Peter Tennant, in Rosemary's Afterbirth. Unravelled by Maureen Wilkinson is a quietly amusing piece about a man who is literally falling apart. The winner of the magazine's flash competition, Sharon Birch, gives us Post Mortem: an impactful tale that builds images of the coroner's table, layer on layer, to create its effect.

There is far more content in the magazine than I can cover individually, but I will mention a few more. The book excerpt by Graeme Johnstone, The Playmakers, is by turns a funny, wry and poignant account of the lives of the Shakespeares. The interview with crime writer J.A. Konrath is an amusing insight into his approach to writing, particularly his motive to be rich and famous: “we all know writing is the easiest way to accomplish that”. I enjoyed some of the poetry, and the cartoon strip, Sleepwalker Nexus, although I don't feel qualified to comment in greater depth.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the variety that Twisted Tongue had to offer. I found some of the pieces more successful than others, but with such a mix of material it's good fun discovering what's coming up next, and there are some gems that really stand out. It has plenty for the reader of horror or sci-fi too, although it's more of a lucky dip than a fully focused genre magazine.

Twisted Tongue edited by Claire Nixon, 28-30 Fourstones Close, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Tyne & Wear NE3 3YZ. 8.50" x 11.00", 80pp, £4.50 (for PDF version and other pricing options refer to website).

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