Review of Undercliffe anthology from Horror Tree writer/editor Steph Ellis…

on her blog –


How can a place so concerned with death be so full of life? To answer that, you’ll have to read this book. This anthology gathers short stories and poems from the Stories from Stone writer’s group and gives you a taste of what the Victorian cemetery (opened 1854 in Bradford) can inspire.
Some writers paint pictures of Nature over the cemetery’s canvas. Christine Edmonds creates some atmospheric imagery in the anthology’s opening poem Undercliffe, ‘Black decrepit oaks/In yellow lichen jackets’ and again in Promenade, ‘It’s cold out here/On top of the world’ although my favourite from this author is Shroud, with its poignant lines ‘I wonder do the scraps/Of pale, soft cloth still wrap/Around your small white bones?’
Alyson Faye uses the cemetery to tell stories. The homeless ex-soldier finding his bed for the night not amongst the tombs, but within a tomb in Bed for the Night and Stone Struck; the melding of a child’s flesh with stone in the tragic (but beautifully gothic tale) Stone Struck. Should you want to know what walking in the cemetery is actually like, read Tomb Land, ‘I stroll haunted and watched/by dead men’s eyes … This city rings with silence’.
Stuart Firth’s The Chimney Sweep is a short but all-telling story of a man’s life, his open admittance of being less than perfect and that if his grave in the cemetery is marked by a Celtic Cross ‘it had better be full of serpents, lots of them.’ Firth’s stories switch between Victorian and modern with ease, from a child’s stroll in the grounds in the 1850s in A Sunday Afternoon Stroll in Undercliffe Cemetery to feral dogs becoming a danger in The Cemetery Pack.
Jill Lang brings in Victorian attitudes in Beyond the Grave, the hypocrisy of family and the necessity of denial of sexuality whilst her ‘Undercliffe – A Recipe’ provides another pen portrait of the landscape and how it was designed with its trees and foliage and monuments in order to make ‘mourner’s spirits rise’ to ‘encourage them tenderly to take in the view.
Pam Line includes a vampiric tale in The Piano Lesson and contrasts this with a tale of homelessness and of charity in Pasta for Tea. Her poem Stealth, is a research walk through the cemetery where ‘Silently, surreptitiously we made notes like thieves’, they steal the stories of the dead ‘taking from someone unable to defend themselves.
Irene Lofthouse who oversaw this writing project contributes a wonderfully grim story with The Hat Box before lifting the mood with her Writing Workshop poems forcing her group to walk through the snow and not moan ‘Said ‘Stop making a fuss -/It’s much colder for those down below.’ Plus she coins a collective noun for a group of writers, describing them as a ‘wodge of writers’.
The final contributor is Gillian Wright. Her Oastler’s Angels focuses on the history of child labour in the area and their suffering before turning to lighter topics with a couple of limericks.
This is a collection of well-crafted stories and poems wearing both the faces of tragedy and comedy. It’s perfect to dip in and out of and for every copy sold, £1 will go to the Undercliffe Cemetery Charity.


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