To celebrate five years of Open Pen, and in association with publisher Limehouse Books, Open Pen magazine has released The Open Pen Anthology today, a lovely paperback collection of 26 short stories (that’s 13 stories from the Open Pen archive, alongside 13 new stories from each of those authors). As per every issue of Open Pen, the collection offers a real eclectic mix of fiction that is only ever similar in its menacing demeanour. Will Ashon, Peter Higgins, and Darren Lee, offer blackly comic tales that are in turns rich with flavour and anxiety inducing. Tasmania’s enfant terrible in Tadhg Muller returns with his maniacal prose. The foreword from How to Be a Public Author‘s Francis Plug (AKA Paul Ewen) describes the collection of stories as “like drinking absinthe over lager,” and that’s certainly true of Xanthi Barker’s stories old and new. They move at a nauseating pace, and do little to settle the stomach of the reader in their passing. That’s true too of the stories from Kate Ellis, Ben Byrne, Jo Gatford, and Max Sydney Smith. These young misfit writers care not for holding back, their stories are brutal, unflinching, honest, and absorbing. Open Pen is as known for the endemic humour of its published tales as much as anything else, so it’s great to see wit serve so prominently here. Mat Woolfenden writes with the earnest zeal of a tickle-obsessed uncle. His two pieces are an absolute riot, and should be heard live at an Open Pen launch if you get a chance to pop along. Ian Green is another such author with a grasp of the importance of humour to the short fiction form. Editor and founder of Open Pen Sean Preston once said that Green’s “Verve for humour is as apparent as any writer we’ve published, albeit understated and salted into narratives so poignant that you won’t believe how fresh-faced this Scotsman is.” Interestingly, you’ll also find Anna Harvey and James King in the pages of this anthology. Harvey and King are the first two cover authors of Open Pen. It’s testament to the affection Open Pen’s following carry for the magazine (that turns five years old this month) that Harvey and King are now permanent fixtures of the Open Pen team.
The paperback book, with its short stories segregated by microfiction from other Open Pen faces from the last five years, is more than just a collection of short fiction, it’s also a much larger story (a three-hundred plus page story): The story of Open Pen finding its feet, discovering itself, and growing in confidence as a purveyor of fiction that longtime contributor N Quentin Woolf called, “Unpretentious, edgy, and utterly readable.”
The Open Pen Anthology is available to buy for £9.99 at OpenPen.co.uk, or from an independent bookshop near you.