Tuesday 20 February 2018

Review by Paul Taylor-McCartney of "Bystander" Anthology

This anthology has been created by MA Creative Writing students at Nottingham Trent University, and features writing inspired by exploring the perspective of the bystander: the one witnessing the action. This is an interesting premise, in that the reader is often cast as a text’s primary bystander, and so there are parallels drawn here between the many unheard or unregistered voices of society and those actively constructing meaning from often very sparse narrative detail. 

This is certainly an eclectic and diverse set of creative pieces: play-script, poetry and short stories sit happily alongside one another, jostling to be heard. Many of the pieces work best when read aloud, particularly the poetry and play texts, but some of the shorter narratives gain from this approach, too, with the form being used to give a platform to hitherto silent, or silenced characters. Standout pieces are those that turn economy of form to their advantage. A short poem, ‘Party Time’ by Tim Youngs, reflects on the ways in which we are all at the mercy of time itself. In ‘To stop times fall / I hold it steady / my hips don’t swing,’ there is a sense that humans are pre-disposed to oscillate between moments of private contemplation and the intoxicating draw of life itself. In another highlight, ‘Changelessness’ by Jonathan Taylor, a despairing parent tries to make sense of a home that has fallen silent, the children having ‘gone, gone’ and is brilliantly captured in a single page of prose. The hopelessness of being forced to move from active participant in one’s own life to observer of a ruined domestic scene is perfectly captured in the narrator’s ‘half-hearted imitations of real tidiness.’ 

There are other thought-provoking moments in the collection, and the anthology gains much of its power via the process of reading one piece after another, the slow accumulation of ideas and styles, which often takes the reader off in new and exciting directions. It is the mark of good editors that the anthology is sequenced to highlight talent on the MA course, both students and lecturers, as well as a wealth of other guest lecturers and writers. An engaging and thoughtful read.   

About the reviewer
Paul Taylor-McCartney is currently Head of Secondary Teacher Education at Warwick University. He has enjoyed a long and varied teaching career in the discipline of English / Theatre Studies and is following a part-time PhD in Creative Writing with Leicester University. His research interests include dystopian studies, narratology and 20th century literary criticism.


  1. Hi Paul, Kyle here from the Bystander team! Thank you for your review of our anthology, we're delighted you enjoyed it! However, I would like to point out that while Michael Eaton did contribute a foreword, as well as an astounding script, he was one of our esteemed guest contributors, and not in fact the editor. We would be very grateful if you would be willing to amend your review to reflect this. Thanks!