Perhaps most famous for his work as a genre journalist, David J. Howe is also a fiction writer. Talespinning is his first story collection, but actually spans thirty years of David’s work. Most story collections contain stories in one format, however Talespinning is unusual in that it is unrestrained by this tradition. Within this collection you will find short stories, scripts, excerpts from novels, and drabbles (passages of precisely 100 words). The changing story formats helps to keep the reading experience fresh from start to finish.
In addition to the stories themselves, I was pleased to find introductions and closing summaries to the stories and scripts. These provide an honest insight into David’s mind and his opinions; which add further texture and additional background to the stories.
Short stories naturally make up the majority of this collection: these include everything from self-contained stories and Doctor Who adventures, to short mood-pieces. The Black Friars short story stood out for me, as the lead character was engaging without being sympathetic and concluded with a vicious ending. Similarly, Susan had a neat twist that was subtle enough to be surprising, yet obvious with hindsight. The mood-pieces also worked well as evocative prose, but were not as fulfilling for me to read, as the focus here was on atmosphere rather than plot.
The two excerpts from David’s novels were fantastically written, but frustrating to read because I wanted more! The excerpts conclude at a point where plot-threads naturally remain unresolved. The fact that these can stand alone should be considered as testament to the quality of David’s writing.
David’s love of Doctor Who is no small thing, for he has been a long-time fan, as well as contributor to several documentaries and guides. This Whovian passion also comes across in his writing, with several short stories and drabbles following the adventures of our nation’s favourite time-traveller. Whilst I am not an ardent fan of Doctor Who, I nonetheless appreciate David’s writing. Goodbye Rembrandt explored the cinema experience, and why we love horror films (especially the bad ones). The two scripts that conclude Talespinning are both from the Whoian expanded (fan) universe: Daemos Rising and (the as-yet unfilmed) The Face of the Fendahl.
Reading through the series, I feel that David J. Howe’s strength lies in the longer stories. At times it feels as if the evocative descriptions are too verbose and eloquent for short pieces, and could perhaps be improved by condensing into a tighter form. For me, lush prose and suspense can be incompatible.
David J Howe’s stories usually have a contemporary setting, but their genre varies from stalker/slasher horror and “what-ifs”, to pure supernatural fantasy and vampires. The inclusion of drabbles was a first for me, and as such their presence was something of a curiosity. They were an interesting read in regards to the technique, but their hundred word limit meant they worked best as mood pieces.
As an aside, I was pleasantly surprised to find the artwork gracing the front cover was by renowned comic-book artist Bryan Talbot. Whilst the cover obviously has no influence on the quality of writing, I cannot deny that I am a fan of Bryan Talbot’s artwork, and this nonetheless made a good impression.