Merry-Go-Round And Other Words by Bryn Fortey (book review).

When it comes to choosing a book to purchase, a number of factors are taken into account, either consciously or subconsciously. The cover is always one. Good ones draw the eye and give a hint of what kind of book will be found between the covers. An intriguing title may well cause the book to be taken off the shelf and opened but, in the age of the celebrity, the name of the author may well be a deciding factor.


So it is my job to help you decide if Bryn Fortey is a name worth watching out for. For some of you, the question uppermost in your minds will be who? For those of the older generation, brought up reading such volumes as ‘The Fontana Book Of Horror’ or the historians of horror fiction, the name may be more familiar. Bryn Fortey has always been a teller of stories and, more recently, a writer of poetry. You will not find a novel on any shelf. Not every wordsmith wants to write at the longer length.

This collection can be regarded, not just as a tribute to the author, but also to the enduring quality of horror fiction. Stories published early in the last century by greats such as M.R. James are still thought of with affection and still hold insights into human behaviour. So, too, do those printed more recently. A good story should not be judged by the era when it was written as it paints a picture of the times.

Bryn Fortey’s fiction, as represented here, covers a period from the 1970s to the present time. The inclusion of poetry in an Alchemy Press book is a deviation but, as a lot of skilled short story writers also use the poetic form, it certainly has a place here and shows Fortey’s versatility. Within these covers you will find twenty-one (or twenty-two depending on how you count) and six groups of poems.

The discrepancy in the number of stories relates to the first and last pieces. ‘Shrewhampton North-East’ is a ghoulish little story revolving around the nightmare of train travel when connections fail to arrive. In this case, the narrator and his mother are stranded at the eponymous station along with nine others, some of whom have been waiting for three days. ‘Shrewhampton North-West’ which resolves the situation left hanging in the first, owes much to Lovecraft.

In many collections, the title story is often put first. Here it is second for aesthetic reasons. One of the things I would like to have seen in this book are acknowledgements as to the first date of publication of each story. This is because ‘Merry-Go-Round’ has a number of familiar themes and knowing how they fitted into the history of the horror genre would give an indication of the degree of originality. The story starts with a brutal murder. The killer then finds himself repeating the events that led up to it.

Horror can be inspired by many things. Fortey admits that ‘Daddy’ resulted from a nightmare. It is also to a degree, biographical. The narrator, Joe, has lost both his son and his wife but is told that the latter’s autopsy has revealed that his son’s twin has remained dormant for twenty-one years. Technology allows it to be activated and the result is the opposite of what Joe hoped. Some of the best horror revolves around the ability of human mind to conceive atrocities and carry them out.

‘Ithica Or Bust’ belongs to the school of zany Science Fiction that only those with a good grasp of ancient Greek myth will fully appreciate. After the destruction of Troy – the planet, Odysseus, a four-legged, four-armed two-headed alien heads home to Ithica – the planet. Unfortunately, his direction finder is broken. This is the first story in what could become a series, as he lands on planet hoping to be able to get it repaired.

‘Remnants’ is a very different kind of Science Fiction, dealing with the issues that arise when a colony ship crashes on a planet. Instead of everyone pulling together for survival, the nastier basic instincts of the survivors have surfaced. To add to the unconventional approach that many would take, Fortey brings the reader in towards the end of the attempt to survive, allowing him to play with the unexpected.

Time travel is a theme visited by many writers, along with the ‘what if’ tag. For some, the immutability of the past is paramount. Whatever happened cannot be changed, otherwise all kinds of paradoxes kick in. ‘The Oscar Project’ begins in a bleak, dystopian future, for which many blame Christianity. The main character, Christopher Nihill, is conscripted to work on a project that allows observers to view the past. Only an accident allows him to interact with it. Although, it has certain similarities to Moorcock’s ‘Behold The Man’, the approach, origins and motivations of the individual characters are different.

Music plays an important part in this collection, both within the stories and the poems. ‘Denton’s Delight’ is a number created by the jazz saxophonist Hal Denton. After following the downward spiral of many musicians who hit the big time too young, he earns his crust by playing small venues but without the creativity he once had, until he plays at a South Wales jazz club.

Can there be vampires who feed on things other than blood? It is the inspiration behind ‘The Pawnshop Window’. On the day they buried Louis Armstrong, another trumpeter remembers what might have been and whereas Armstrong was a household name, his instrument resided in a pawnshop window. This is a poignant story and it is not a coincidence that Gabriel will sound the Last Trump on a trumpet. There are several other stories in this collection that have musicians or the music business at their heart.

Music plays a part in ‘First Words’, though this is a surreal story with ghost of Jack Kerouac and Bryn Fortey having walk-in parts. Here, Fortey is playing with concepts, blending at least three disparate ideas into one brief story. It shouldn’t work but, somehow, it does. It leaves the question as to where does reality stop and fiction take over.

This is also the problem Larry Macey has in ‘The Substitute’. Bored with his life and expectations, he invents an exciting alternative life for himself as a gangster with surreal consequences. Surreal is a word that can be applied by a number of Fortey’s stories.

Another such is ‘The Flier’ which successfully marries UFOs, private investigators and a bizarre kind of space/time hopping. In contrast, ‘Prison’ is a straightforward, nasty story beginning when an old man is invited to tea with a bunch of misfits in a deserted fairground.

Perhaps the stories that have most impact are those that take a small idea and paint it in such a way to set the reader thinking about the possibilities. There have been stories where the interface to the customer of the fiction is direct to the human mind or where the emotions felt by a viewer are the same is those experienced by the actor via technology. In ‘Wordsmith’, best sellers are taken from the depths of the psyche of the insane.

Another seemingly small idea drives the horror behind ‘Skulls’. At one time or another, we have all wished for super-powers. What would yours be? For Eric Brown, it is the ability to recognise who will die soon. To him, that person’s head appears as a skull.

Poems are often far more personal than fiction ever can be. A good poet, and Bryn Fortey is one, often expose more of themselves through poetry than any other kind of writing can do, including autobiography. They give an insight into the soul of a person. The poetry in this volume is divided in to six groups. The first is highly personal and poignant. They are messages to his wife and son and, as such, we are privileged to be able to share them. The second and fifth groups show Fortey’s passion for music, Science Fiction images and ideas can sometimes be conveyed more powerfully in just a few words. The third group does this, especially ‘A Taxi Driver On Mars’. Those in the fourth group begin with two memories, the poet looking back from his autumn years before looking the other way, wistfulness followed by a trip into darkness with ‘Nightfall’ – a poem to produce shivers. The final ones provide a sense of dread a fitting group to be placed just before the final story.

If I have any criticism of the poetry, it is the layout. Where a poem goes onto more than one page, the other part would have been better on the facing page so that whole of the structure can be seen with one glance. Often, the structure of a poetic form adds to the appreciation of the word pattern.

Always with an author that a potential reader might not be familiar with, the question remains why should I buy it? For anyone who values quality poetry, that is one good reason. For others, these stories have variety but the best of them show how a range of ideas can be meshed together to form small gems. Not everyone will like all the stories but it is worth savouring the best and trying to figure out how Fortey manages to juxtapose the impossible and make it work.

Pauline Morgan

February 2015

(pub: Alchemy Press, Cheadle, Staffs, UK. 349 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-9573489-6-7)

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One thought on “Merry-Go-Round And Other Words by Bryn Fortey (book review).

  • My thanks for such a thoughtful review.


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