One of the things that’s really absorbing about running writing competitions is that you meet and judge works before you know who’s written them, so when I first read a Bruce Harris story during the 2015 competition judging, I didn’t know that was what it was. The story was called ‘Home Movies’, and it’s a brilliantly presented monologue by a teenager who has escaped from A level revision hell and is amusing himself by annoying various friends and relatives by filming them on his phone. We, the readers, get to follow both his inner commentary, and the reactions of those who find themselves being filmed. It’s intricate and utterly absorbing.
And one of the things I particularly enjoy is when two quite different works get put forward to the shortlist and turn out to be by the same author, so it was a real surprise when ‘Roxanne Riding Hood’, a detective-suspense-thriller that creeps up on you via a drag queen going about his/her late night club act business, turned out to be yet another Bruce Harris creation.
Both stories appear in the resulting Earlyworks Press prizewinners’ anthology, Journeys Beyond. It was some time later that Bruce approached me again to say that he had a big enough collection of prize-winning works to put together a collection of his own – and a very sobering reason for wanting to do so. Let’s leave aside the joy of his range of extremely human, often funny, always well-crafted stories, to consider a very common problem of our day and age – all those long-term, sometimes fatal, debilitating illnesses that don’t quite require permanent hospital care and don’t quite get the kind of home-care that makes life easily manageable for friends and relatives of their victims. When Bruce found himself in the situation of carer for a loved one, he set about looking for ways to improve that situation and his new poetry book Kaleidoscope and the story collection Odds Against which we published as an Earlyworks Press title, are part of that project. In both cases, all Bruce’s earnings from the book are going to the Huntingdon’s Disease Association.
But you don’t have to be in a charitable mood to buy them. Bruce’s poetry and stories are, as Booker shortlisted author Wendy Perriman put it, both amusing and uplifting. ‘Odds Against’ offers 15 stories about people doing what they can, in serious and humorous ways, with difficult and sometimes insoluble situations. You will find a young woman, a victim of refugee trafficking, rescuing herself in midnight London, wartime spies trying to adjust to post-war living, restauranteurs trying to survive the horrors of customers, wedding guests exhibiting contrasting takes on a universal situation, ex-lovers manouvering their way to (perhaps) reconciliation a series of consequences of a falling bucket on a building site, and more… all full of the pathos, belly-laughs and heart-wrenching that human life entails.
Buy Kaleidoscope https://www.artificium.co.uk/buy/Kaleidoscope-p86230028 (Proceeds to the HDA)
Buy Odds Against http://www.circaidygregory.co.uk/shortstories.htm (Proceeds to the HDA)
Buy Journeys Beyond http://www.earlyworkspress.co.uk/fiction_index.htm (Journeys Beyond is an anthology by Earlyworks Press competition winners, including Bruce Harris, but is NOT part of the HDA fund-raiser)
One of the many reasons I’d like to recommend Odds Against is that the much-loved Hastings artist Katherine Reekie offered Bruce the choice of images of her works for the cover. He settled on the haunting ‘Icelantic Field’, with its mix of the bleak, the absurd and the beautiful, as the image to speak for Huntingdon’s Disease sufferers and their carers. You can learn more about the Disease, and the HDA association on their website here, see more of Katherine Reekie’s work on her website, here and find out more about Bruce’s work at Harris Central.