Wednesday, 6 October 2010



The Yellow Room is a twice-yearly anthology of new short stories by women writers. It's a subscription-only publication, which is why I'll put the address and website at the bottom of this post.

Joanne Derrick, owner and editor, originally created it's 'mother' : Quality Women's Fiction , which was recommended to me a number of years ago by poet and author, Chrissie Gittens.

She rated it highly as being not only a must-read for readers of quality fiction but also for budding women writers because all contributions are published from scripts submitted by subscibers. I ordered a copy and was hooked from then on.

Tired of reading the mainly slush published in national magazines such as Woman's Weekly (although you can find the occasional interesting story from time to time so I'm not totally bad-mouthing such magazines), it was refreshing to discover a venue for stories that tackled far more varied stories, with much richer writing.

In fact, I quickly came to realise that I would have to 'up my game' if I wanted to be published here. I had to really develop the quality and originality of my prose style. It was just what I needed.

I submitted several stories for consideration and finally Joanne liked the look of one of them - September In Italy - but I needed to make it far more descriptive if it was to stand any chance of being published.

Thankfully, the revised version was accepted and seeing my work in print was wonderful for me. It was a confirmation that I could actually write decent stuff if I really tried...and then tried even harder.

So, when Joanne decided to sell the magazine to an American writer, I was very disappointed, particularly when I received the first copy under the new ownership and found it veering towards raunchy writing, whch is not what I want to read.

However, Joanne then set up The Yellow Room, which is similiar to her original publication: A5 size with a creative glossy cover, photographed by her husband, David Derrick, and a range of short stories, book reviews, reader's letters and competition news.

So, of course, I subscribed, and having received and read two editions, my verdict is that the stories are as good as, if not better, than QWF. And again, The Yellow Room unashamedly focuses on women writers, who often struggle to get published in such a male-dominated business.

A few months ago, I submitted my latest short story - Breaking and Entering. I had originally written it with incorrectly spelt words and no punctuation to reflect my main character's lack of education. Believe you me, this took an age. Joanne liked the story (yippee!) but wanted the spellings and punctuation to be accurate (bummer!) so I then spent an age re-writing it. This version was accepted (yippee again!) and I'm looking forward to seeing it in print.

Ha ha, you might say. I'm reviewing The Yellow Room because of this but, hand on heart, I can say that that is not the case. I had decided to review it before I received this good news.

So, the edition I'm about to review is Edition Four and I intend to select one of the stories in some detail and include quotes to highlight the quality and freshness of the writing. So, here goes:

* Come The Revolution by Kerry Ashwin

This story takes place during a local bus journey and is told from the perspective of an anonomous fellow passenger.

The main protagonist is a fiesty, out-spoken old lady called Mrs Eden.

You get an idea of her personality immediately in the first sentence, as she launches into conversation with the young woman she is with (a neice perhaps, the onlooker speculates):

'If there's one piece of advice I can give you it is to never say no.'

And the description of her hat re-enforces her character:

'The woman's hat, sporting a wide brim and pearl hat pin that would deter the most determined purse snatcher, bobbed about as the bus ground its way into gear.'

This conjures up an image of the Queen Mother with attitude or a modern-day Lady Bracknell from Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.

The young companion explains that she thinks she could change her boyfriend's 'silent.. indiffere(nce)'

but Mrs Eden will have none of it:

'To change a young man is the feverent hope (of women ranging from Cleopatra to Queen Victoria to Hillary Clinton), but a futile exercise. I understand that you can see great promise in your Jonathon, great possibilities and the chance to mould the man, but be warned, this only leads to frustration at the raw materials and its inflexibility.'

And, as Mrs Eden elabotates on the qualities of women ('We are practical and useful but more than this we are supple, beautiful, and as the wind whispers its secrets, we hold them close'), the rest of the passengers are enthralled.

The story is not over-loaded with detailed descriptions of the other passengers but special attention is given to two new passengers: 'The bus crunched to a halt and scooped up two old women with tartan shopping trolleys.'

I can just imagine them as their 'small feet swung in time to the gear changes.'

They are intent on enjoying this journey: 'The tartan sisters produced black and white humbugs and offered them to those sitting closest. I sensed that the lollies forged a bond between us.'

And indeed, throughout the story, we see a growing solidarity between the passengers which is necessary for the climax of the story.

For Mrs Eden commits the most cardinel of sins; she lights up a cigarette:

'This old woman, who seemed to have a firm handle on life and its vagaries, produced a little silver flip case. We watched spellbound as she fliced open the lid with a practised air and after choosing one of many, fixed a slender cigarette into an ebony holder. Then a second rummage came up with the lighter. Fashioned as a little gene lamp, with one small stroke the flint was seduced to spark and to her astonished audience, she sucked deeply drawing the flame to the cigarette end.'

She even has 'a little siver pot decorated with swirls and ending with a small filigree tassel' to flick her ash into.

And the reason for this blatant defiance of the rules?

'When our civil liberties are being eroded at every turn,' she explains, 'it is up to the individual to take a stand in whatever way we can.'

At first, some of the passengers register their disapproval but the tartan sisters see this as an excuse to join in the rebellion by ignoring the no-eating sign and breaking into a packet of crisps, which they tuck into giggling and swinging their legs.

The driver, though, is enraged: the narrator sees him 'hunting for the rear vision mirror for the source.'

And he obviously knows who the culprit is: '...his steely glare fixed on her (Mrs Eden)almost immediately.'Mrs Eden, however, is unperturbed: 'She saw his look of indication and nodded politely at the back of his head. This it seemed was not an isolated incident.'

The poor man is unable to stop his bus immediately because the road is far too steep and 'any stop would hold the traffic at a riduculously sharp angle, brakes clutching wheels to defy gravity.'So, he demonstrates his fury in the only way he can under the circumstances: '(he) changed down a gear and swung round to give Mrs Eden a withering stare. His jaw slacked as he took in the tartan sisters enjoying an afternoon snack. Life it seemed was unravelling before his very eyes.'

The tartan sisters wither under such a stare ((their)'act of bravery was quickly scrunched up and hidden in a coat pocket')and the rest of the passengers feel 'sheepish and uncomfortable' but Mrs Eden is in full swing in her declarations against the nanny state: 'If...we let the law makers make all the decisions for us, we will forget to make our own. And if we don't make our own, we have no destiny and are no better than sheep.'

When the driver can safely stop, he summons the police to deal with this flagrant breaking of the law. And here we leave the story because I don't want to spoil the ending in case you buy a copy of The Yellow Room.

*Why I loved this story

First and foremost: it made me laugh. I loved the character of Mrs Eden, who reminded me so much of my Auntie Mary, a heavy smoker until she was seventy, when she just stopped cold. She had a real sense of mischief. Although she was a law-respecting citizen, she did like to bend the rules from time to time. She was a true eccentric, a wild chid at heart always and quick to see and comment upon stupidity and unnecessary red tape.

My Aunty Mary loved people and would have been the first to help if she saw some-one in need. Bold and defiant, she knew what was important in life. Sad to say, she is a dying breed.

I, too, am a smoker, and the smoking in public places ban, which I do agree with, is a real pain in the cold weather we're having. Puts having a hot chocolate and cigarette in the garden at my regular, The Black Boy, out of the question at the moment and I do miss it.

But, cigarettes aside, and I'm sure most if not all of you would object to some-one lighting up in a bus, Mrs Eden does have a valid point about the curtailment of civil liberties and the ludictous restrictions which make the using of initiative to help relieve a difficult situation actually illegal. Apparently, we are not allowed to sweep or treat the paths in front of our houses when they are covered with snow. It makes us vulnerable to prosecution if some-one slips. Absolutely barmy.

So, Mrs Eden's message rings a bell with me.

I also loved this story because of the writing style, which brought the whole scenario to life. The descriptions did not detract from the story but enhanced it.

And finally, I was so taken with the description of Mrs Eden's little silver pot for the cigarette ash that I've asked my husband to buy one for me as a late Xmas present. Should come in very handy for when I'm sticking my head out of a hotel window to have a quick fag.

* The Yellow Room address:-

The Yellow Room,
1,Blake Close,
CV22 7LJ.

Editor: Joanne Derrick




Kerry Ashwin said...

Just found this by narcissism. (looking up ones self on the web.)
thanks Maggie for the review.

Maggie Knutson said...

My pleasure, Kerry. Your story was a delight to read: a mixture of humour,social comment and, dare I say this, female superiority.

I see from your blog that you've had a book of short stories published: Long After The Thrill. I shall certainly get a copy.Count me as a fan.

By the way, it doesn't usually take me four months to write a post. I'm a slow writer but not that slow! Truth is, I've been very ill and had to spend three months resting. I'm a lot better now, thankfully.

Hope you're not affected by the floods/drought. It's a funny old world is it not.

All the best,

Maggie K

P.S. Loved the five word reject. I've given up on agents and publishers. All they do is knick your stamps and paper clips.