'Old Soldiers, Old Bones and Other Stories
A Review by Cornish Literature
In January 2011, Abigail Wyatt set herself a challenge, attempting to keep writing one new short story every 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 exampleQueen 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.'
Reviewed by Peter Jenkin for Cornish Literature
Hello and welcome to my website. I am Abigail Wyatt, erstwhile teacher of English at Redruth School and now a more or less full-time writer of poetry and short fiction. I work from my home at Druids Lodge which sits in the shadow of Carn Brea. I live there pretty comfortably with my partner, David Rowland, and Percival Dog Esq. I am not Cornish. I must be clear about that fact. I come from what was once the village of Avely near Grays in Essex. On the other hand, my connections with the Duchy go back some considerable way, beginning when my father, Henry Ottley Tallet, served as a 'Bevan Boy' in the mine at South Crofty during the war. My father, who was was a dynamiter, lodged in Lanner amd my parents did much of their courting on top of the carn. Yes, really. I have the photographs to prove it. Now, for me, there is something wonderful about the fact that I can take look out on that ancient landscape at the beginningof every new day. I have seen its rugged beauty in all kinds of weather and I know its many moods. I have, I think, a strongly developed sense of the past and this is a thread that is present in much of my writing. It is certainly present in the story which gives its name to this collection, 'Old Soldiers, Old Bones'.
These magnificent stones located on the top of Carn Brea can be seen from my window.
Part of the Great Flat Lode where I walk with Percy and David almost every day. It is seen here at its prettiest in late spring.