Okay , so I’m reading Pen Pusher (‘Where new writing finds its voice’) for the first time – and a good read it is, too. It’s a varied selection of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction; but, as usual, I’ll be concentrating here on the prose fiction – which gives us:

Wayne Holloway-Smith, ‘Big Time’
An extract from the author’s debut novel, about one Dexter Hammond, who wants to be famous and thinks he’s found an unoccupied niche for a ‘rock ‘n’ roll preacher’. On the basis of this extract, Holloway-Smith’s novel is certainly one I’d want to read, because this is hilarious. Hammond is full of his own self-importance, and so desperate to be cool that one winces at seeing him try to emulate the latest-big-thing rock star, Tristan Rasclott – but, by the end of the piece, it’s starting to look as if Hammond might pull it off. I’ll be interested to read whether he does.

Grace Andreacchi, ‘Ikebana’
A short piece about a woman waiting at an ikebana demonstration for her older lover. There’s a subtlety and depth to this story, as Andreacchi portrays the doubts and conflicting emotions experienced by her protagonist. The woman’s changing attitudes to ikebana – at first, she thinks she’s not interested in it, then maybe she is, but maybe not – reflect her thoughts on her relationship. An insightful tale.

Ruth Davis, ‘End-of-Life Liaison’
This is a story about one of those things which one hopes will never happen, and which probably won’t, but to which there’s a certain nagging plausibility all the same. In this case, it’s that, in the face of continued pressure on resources because of an ageing population, anyone who reaches the age of 85 is compulsorily euthanised. It’s the routine way in which Davis’s fictional authorities handle this which makes the story particularly chilling – the policy has its own acronyms (such as ‘MPA’ or ‘Maximum Permitted Age’), and those approaching 85 are offered ‘End-of Life Counselling’. Davis’s tale follows one octogenarian, George Herbert, as he attends this counselling and unexpectedly presented with a possible way out. All is presented in a very down-to-earth manner, which gives the story its power.

Ross Sutherland, ‘Unexpected Flow’
During a school trip to London, young Connor ditches the rest of his party and wanders around Tate Modern, listening all the while to a Jay-Z album. This may not sound like much when I summarise it like that, but it’s the rhythm of Sutherland’s telling that makes the story work, with the rap lyrics acting as a counterpoint to the events. I could imagine ‘Unexpected Flow’ working very well as a short film.

Sarah Day, ‘Exposure’
A woman agrees to be the muse of an artist-geologist whom she knew as a child, and with whom she becomes reacquainted by chance as an adult, but it turns out to be a bad idea. This is a carefully written piece that builds up detail to create an effective study of both the narrator and the artist.

Michael Amherst, ‘What I Feel’
Another good character study, this time of a man who struggles to feel to feel any emotion about anything, and is now present when a woman falls from a railway platform and is run over by a train. The twist in the story is perhaps no great surprise; but that’s less important than the cold tone of the prose, which brings the character to life vividly.

Elsewhere in this issue of Pen Pusher, we find: a selection of poetry; some interesting reviews; an interview with Diana Athill, which makes me want to read her work; an interview with Helen Oyeyemi, which would make me want to read her work, except I’ve already done so and know how good it is; a superb non-fiction piece by Susan Barker about her time staying in China whilst studying Mandarin;  Paul Francis’s reflective graphic tale, ‘Tidalism’; a list of literary quotations about horses; and even more besides.

Pen Pusher website
Websites of contributors mentioned: Michael Amherst; Grace Andreacchi; Paul Francis; Ross Sutherland.