I would like to thank Comma Press for sending me a review copy of The Book of Sheffield edited by Catherine Taylor.
Sheffield is my adopted city. I am both a local and an outsider. I have experienced the city as a student and I have experienced the city as a home and my place of work. All of these experiences are different but all of them create Sheffield for me.
Sheffield is many things. It’s the most politically active place I have lived. The cities industrial roots can be seen everywhere. From the top of my road, I can see the Brutalist architecture of the city centre and I can see the edges of the Peak District. It is a city of contradictions and it is a space where different cultures and interests collide.
The Book of Sheffield consists of ten short stories that manage to embody Sheffield’s personality. From student radicals to refugees, this collection shows the many faces of Sheffield and how every experience in the city is valid. Catherine Taylor opens the collection with an introduction, quoting from George Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier. Orwell’s impression of Sheffield in the early twentieth century is less than favourable. He describes the city as ugly and industrial. Taylor acknowledges this and expands on Orwell’s description of the city and how much it has changed in 100 years. Taylor’s introduction familiarises the reader with Sheffield, whether they have lived their all their life or know nothing about the city.
My favourite stories were ‘The Time is Now’ by Naomi Frisby and ‘Like a Night out in Sheffield’ by Johny Pitts. Told backwards through diary entries, Frisby’s story is about a Sheffield band and the conflicting feelings of being an artist wanting to stay in their hometown and the need to move away to be successful. I loved the artist conflict and the personal relationships between the band members.
‘Like a Night out in Sheffield’ is about a young man on a night out trying to find his friends and also trying to get with a girl at the university. He lies about being a university student so he can fit in with a girl he likes but he feels alienated by his friends because he enjoys independent films. Pitts’ character is a melting pot of influences and does not fit into one stereotype. I simply loved this story because it is a really realistic depiction of a night out. It’s funny because it is relatable. Pitts uses Sheffield dialect which makes the story feel homely as I was reading it in the accent of a lot of people I speak to on a daily basis. As Pitts’ protagonists drinks more, the language in the story reflects that too as spelling mistakes and grammatical errors are present in the text.
Naturally, Sheffield is a key character in the stories. Seeing the hills near where I live, the parks I walk through, and areas where I work represented in literature is exciting and gives me a sense of pride. The familiarity of these locations adds an extra element of reality to these stories. Seeing different areas of Sheffield in these stories highlights how the landscape differs depending on where you are in the city. As someone familiar with the geography, it reminds me how unique this city is. If the reader does not know Sheffield, these stories show Sheffield is not the ugly city Orwell claimed it is – it is much more complicated than that.
If you are a Sheffielder, you need to read this collection of short stories. This collection showcases the amount of talent Steel City has and how one city can inspire such a diverse range of stories. If you are not from Sheffield, read this anyway. These stories erode the assumption that it is grim up North. Northern writing is vital if English literature is wanting to represent the country its namesake belongs to.