War, Wisdom and Westerns
by Maggie Weaver
I really enjoy reading short stories and the next book fitted the bill exactly – an excellent collection entitled Poisoned Petals by Andy Crabb (Libros International Pb. 448pp. £9.99/ €15. ISBN 978-19059 88273)
These days books seem expensive. If you buy a doorstop of a novel, then you reckon you’re probably getting your money’s worth. This is a thick book; if you simply counted the number of pages, you’ve got a bargain. Better still, the words on the pages are wonderful. Without exception, every story – and there are 44 of them! – will evoke a reaction.
Subtitled “Short Stories with a Spanish Flavour”, there’s a rich mixture of tales ranging from the ancient to the modern. Any expat or visitor to Spain will find a lot that is familiar – and encounter a few surprises too.
Some stories end with a neat twist, others are poignant, while several are mischievous fun. If I had to select a favourite, it would be “El Gorrero” about a bereaved fat girl and her father buying property in the mountains; beautifully written. Of a similar type are “Final Chorus”, “The Verb –To Love”, “Assisted Passage”, “Sinfonía Pax Mundi”, and the title story, “Poisoned Petals” – each one full of humanity
There are several rogues in this collection too – whether that’s the car salesman in “All Keyed Up”, an obnoxious neighbour in “Bertie Potts Has a Bad Day” or a vile football hooligan in “A Pitiful Example of Degeneracy”.
Historical Spain has not been neglected, either. Andy Crabb gives us tales about Arabs and Romans and seafaring men in the Armada. Not a few characters undergo various kinds of apotheoses, while others simply get their just desserts. Dogs, rats, bats, donkeys and even bulls figure in here too. Unpleasant relations, deranged priests, incompetent robbers and vengeful husbands have their day as well.
Indeed Poisoned Petals has something for everyone. Stories to raise a smile or even a laugh, tales to bring a tear, they’re all here. Buy it. You’ll not only get your money’s worth – you’ll also get hours of enjoyment.
I’m always surprised when I hear publishers say that collections of short stories don’t sell. I feel it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they marketed books of short stories, they’d sell. They’re ideal, because you can dip into them and read a story at a sitting – ideal for busy or laid-back life styles! So I was pleased and surprised to receive yet another book of short stories to review.
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Andy Crabb – “Poisoned Petals” (€14.99 Libros International)
Javea Grapevine April 2008 Edition
“ Poisoned Petals” has more than 430 pages of close packed stories and fascinating insights to Andy Crabb’s Spain – a Spain that you will want to visit over and over again. It is the sort of book that you can choose to dip in and out of or immerse yourself in fully from head to toe. The characters in the stories are wildly divergent. With some, you will have sympathy and you may feel that they are friends met in town and around the local villages – but there are others that I hope I never meet – whose poisonous and vengeful natures indicate a darkness of the soul or a level of passion that I never want to invoke.
Luckily, you don’t have to like all the characters to enjoy reading
about them. Andy has a very poetic and whimsical approach in his phrasing
and it is very obvious that he has a love of words and eccentricities. I
might even suspect, from some of the stories, that he is a closet romantic
with a social conscience – which makes many of the stories plain good
fun and even the ones with sad endings bring a wry smile and in many cases
a sense of justice served. From the very first story, “Monumental Massacres”,
it is easy to see how provocatively Andy plays with the reader and how often
he seeks to take us up blind alleys and misdirect us from each denouement.
I think my favourite piece is “The Verb ‘To Love’” it
has a warmth tinged with humour and pathos, which is appealing. I am not
sure that “Short Stories” quite describes this book filled as
it is with scenes and lives that we observe and enjoy every day, held together
by the common thread of Spain and its diverse inhabitants. So to sum up -
I enjoyed the book, can happily recommend it and yes, I did put my money
where my mouth is, I did buy it myself!! (Andy’s website is www.andycrabb.info and
the book is coming soon to Bookworld Espana and is available through www.amazon.co.uk )
Andy lives in Jesus Pobre with his wife Sonia.
Long and Winding Road
Round Town News, Jávea, Spain
May 2nd, 2008 Reviewer: Jack Troughton
Master storyteller Andy Crabb road-tested tales from Poisoned Petals on friends, family and even schoolchildren but getting it into print was an uphill struggle.
Rejection slips claimed collections of short stories were not marketable. He was told he should write adult fiction, or despite spinning a plausible yarn, he was simply dismissed, Catch 22 style, as being an unpublished author. However, having almost given up, Andy’s stories came to the attention of Costa Blanca based publishing house Libros International – and poisoned Petals became a reality.
Celebrating the official launch of his first book and signing copies at Bar Pedro, close to his home in Jesús Pobre, near Jávea, Andy explained the origins of the anthology and its distinctive Spanish flavour. “A strange thing happened to me about four years ago,” he said. “It was when stories started to come into my head and I would wake up in the middle of the night and work on them.”
“It was quite a scary experience. Those stories would not go away: they would stay with me during the day and when I went to bed at night, I would say, ‘finish, no more stories!’ but they would come back again and I would have the story, title and characters in my head, but it was not me that put them there.”
Committing the stories to paper and analysing their roots, Andy realised some were Spanish legend, others based on newspaper articles, yet more from observing people and letting his imagination go to work, or simply gleaned from personal experience. “People describe me as a person with a quirky, whimsical imagination, but if you know me really well, you realise that I am half insane,” he joked.
Unable to find a publisher, Andy discovered getting more than 40 short stories into print was a frustrating task. “I was told short stories were not wanted – adult fiction was, and so, yes, I could write porn if I wanted, but not short stories
“Other rejections said things like ‘we love your work but you are not a published author.’ How do you become a published author?”
A dedicated walker, Andy has tramped huge distances across Spain, itself an inspiration to the writer. However, during a 300 km trek for charity from Tarragona to Valencia in heat wave conditions, he was forced to pull out after six days through severe dehydration.
Writing about his experiences along the route, the bulletins were posted at Lady Elizabeth School – Andy’s wife Sonia is a teacher – and his “lucky break” came when they were brought to the attention of Libros, a company keen to promote quality writers living in Spain.
The stories told in Poisoned Petals are based in places expats will recognise – including Benissa, Benidorm, the Montgó mountain, La Sella Golf Course and the N332, itself a long and winding road.
But it also moves further afield to Galicia, Madrid, Barcelona, from San Sebastian to Santiago and from the dry areas of Andalusia to the lonely beauty of the high sierra.
And the characters in Poisoned Petals are very real – the usual suspects of the good, the bad and the ugly – a colourful host of Spanish and the foreign community all experiencing very human emotions.
Andy believes it is the first collection of Spanish short stories to be published since “Tales of the Alhambra” by Washington Irvine in 1832. He hopes the sequel will be the second.