Usually we review books written by past Vine Leaves Literary Journal contributors, but we also like to support other literary magazines, so could not resist the opportunity to receive a pre-publication copy of the second short story anthology from Gold Dust, the twice-yearly journal of poetry, prose and features, edited by David Gardiner. More Nuggets from Gold Dust was launched in London just yesterday, so we're pleased to be posting possibly its first official review.
The Very Best of Five Years
Gold Dust magazine has been running for over ten years, so the distillation of the best of the last five years of issues promised a high standard of writing, and that promise was fulfilled. As well as stories cherry-picked from past magazines, there are also a couple of specially commissioned pieces, and one from each of four of the Gold Dust team.
As with any anthology of this kind, each reader is likely to find particular favourites, and to be less enamoured of or even stumped by others, so it would seem invidious to single out any particular pieces here. Suffice to say that each story is original, thoughtful, and well crafted with such an economy of words that most of them are only three or four pages long, yet still provide a full and satisfying read. Many of the items are humorous or at least wry, often with a peculiarly British kind of comedy, although not all the contributors are from the UK.
I particularly liked the unusual presentation. Each story is preceded by a thoughtful brief preamble, followed by a black and white illustration as a kind of curtain-raiser to each story. All the illustrations are either slightly anarchic looking line drawings by illustrator Slavko Mali or creative photographs by Eleanor Leonne Bennett, all in the same short wide format. For me, this shape conjured up the feeling of peering in, slightly illicitly as through somebody's letterbox, to get a sneak preview of what the story might be about, and made me enjoy anticipating each tale as it began.
That each new story thus has its own overture is really helpful in an anthology in which there's no overall theme or tone dictated for the stories. I don't know whether I'm alone in this, but one of my pet hates is an anthology in which the reader is thrown from one mood or theme to another without warning between stories, potentially wrong-footing you as you start each new one.
This anthology thus creates an enjoyable and polished reading experience. I felt as if I'd been taken by the hand and led on a private tour, carefully arranged for my enjoyment. This approach also showed a real respect for the short story art form, encouraging the reader to savour each piece slowly, like courses in a gourmet tasting menu, rather than treating them as the fast-food of fiction.
Fun Cover and Title
Last word goes to the slightly inevitable title. I like the playful front cover image of nineteenth century prospectors panning for gold, and the trains of thought that it sparks off, for example the notion that most of those who pursued the gold rush never found wealth at all. I believe you were more likely to make a fortune selling supplies to prospectors (Levi Strauss jeans, anyone?) than seeking the gold yourself, and that you'd have to pan an awful lot of water to find a decent amount of gold. Fortunately, within this book's pages, the gold comes thick and fast, and together the various specks of dust snowball into a very decent bit of treasure indeed. I'm sure the editor had every confidence in the quality of what he was about to publish, and I love the fact that he's not afraid to have a bit of fun with this allusion to false hopes.
Highly recommended for whenever you fancy quick bites of fun and memorable fiction, such as bed times, on the commute, or in coffee breaks.