Book Review: Old Soldiers, Old Bones and Other Short Stories by Abigail Wyatt

Posted: June 29, 2012 by Peter J in book review, fiction, short stories
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In January 2011, Abigail Wyatt set herself a challenge, attempting to keep writing 1 new short story a week, for the One Million Stories project during that year. Nine months later in September, this massively quixotic endeavour’s deadlines proved impractical to maintain in terms of quantity . . . but such was the quality of her weekly submissions that Simon Million of the project got in touch with Abigail and asked to publish a selection of them. The result is this volume.

Starting in ruled Britannia AD 61, the absorbing Old Soldiers, Old Bones‘ virtuoso quality continues: as if in proof that the past not only fades gradually but leaves tangible traces for us to trip over, about half of the 22 compactly written short stories dwell on history, or myth. All are riveting, many framed in crafty ways and with intriguing references to chase up.

From the quiet Greek tragedy of philosophy, at the command of a fellow seeker of truth, going up in atoms of smoke in The Laughing Philosopher’s Last Stand, through to the regressive medieval: Yesterday, Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a burst of the most surreal, fabulous and yet poignant fiction, which calls to mind the fate of Matthew Trewhella of Zennor – perhaps then, not the worst that could have befallen. In another tale of benighted incarceration, Al Claro de Luna recalls Abigail’s poems on a similar theme, for example Queen Juana Receives News of Summer Rain (which you can hear Abigail reading on Redruth Radio’s Do The Write Thing with Sue Farmer). The stream of time rolls ever on to the dying of light and ebbing of revolutionary tides in far Beijing (The Long March Home). After that, we have the long reach of Hollywood in The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance and then . . .

. . . if you enjoyed Dogma or, somewhat more poetically, Paradise Lost, and if the idea of angels going postal is still strangely appealing (it will not be so appealing after reading this, trust me), make sure you read Blue Monday. Less scary is the fable preceding, which channels Aphrodite and companion attempting to crash Will & Kate’s nuptials – perhaps a little less security would’ve been a good thing (we’ll see :-)). Poor Icarus I found a tricky tale to fathom: if you’re familiar with 20th century artists of landscape and war (such as Peter Lanyon of St Ives), and perhaps with one of Sartre’s more famous works, you’ll take away more from it than I did. I am nearly forgetting The Gecko’s Tale, which on its most obvious level alone makes an amusing and engaging study of industrial processes and relations – but I’m sure there’s more to it, which I failed to grasp.

Plain as daylight is Riding Goofy (in which no Disney® rights are infringed): the dialogue and outcome therein, between an embattled skateboarder at a Cornish secondary school and his conscientious teacher, outlines a thorny issue, which can be recognised as depressingly realistic and pressingly relevant. Staying in the present, and staying relevant, Audi Alteram Partem follows, where we hear another, chilling, side to the story of an eminent carer. As a short story collection, Old Soldiers, Old Bones &c. pays homage to the tradition of a cosy Christmas ghost story, before whipping back to the dystopian future with an X-Factor style mogul negotiating the return of trial-by-combat and gladius — for a fee, of course. The Voices of Sweet Reason in a retirement home send a shiver down the spine, for different reasons, but A Warm Day in May is a reminiscence of life for hard working Essex women in the middle of the last century. Thought provoking; as is The Worst Thing, in similar vein, of women’s life today, specifically as harmfully affected by their men. Lighter, but still with a message to ponder, For The Many Things I’ve Done is set in a guest house in Penzance – again a past projected into the present. Remember The Mess They Made and Three Ships are both set at the foot of a carn’s northern slopes – a scarred and still somewhat wild place where both the outcast and the unearthly sometimes make their home – the one is a tale of sadness and struggle, the other, in finale, a tale both mystic and apparently real, apotheosis-like, and affirming new hope.

Old Soldiers, Old Bones was published in 2012 by One Million Stories (OMSCWP).

Abigail Wyatt lives between Redruth and Camborne and close to the foot of Carne Brea. Formerly a teacher at Redruth School, she now writes poetry and short fiction which she is fortunate to have been able to place in a wide range of anthologies, journals and zines. Her latest collection of verse, ‘Moths and Nightjars‘, is currently available from Amazon for Kindle while ‘Old Soldiers, Old Bones and Other Stories‘, reviewed above, became available from One Million Stories on 22nd June, 2012. For more details, please visit

Recently Abigail has appeared on Redruth Radio’s Do The Write Thing, broadcast on Friday afternoons.

Abigail will be reading, along with her fellow Red River Poets, at Penzance Litfest in late July.

  1. […] writer Abi Wyatt has news of a second Murder of Krows Anthology, co-edited by Abi and Duncan Yeates, which is due to […]

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