Short Stories

Scablands and Other Stories (Salt, 2023)

These are tales from the post-industrial scablands – stories of austerity, poverty, masochism and migration. The people here are sick, lonely, lost, half-living in the aftermath of upheaval or trauma. A teacher obsessively canes himself. A neurologist forgets where home is. A starving woman sells hugs in an abandoned kiosk.

Yet sometimes, even in the twilit scablands, there’s also beauty, music, laughter. Sometimes a town square is filled with bubbles. Sometimes sisters dream they can fly. Sometimes an old man plays Bach to an empty street, two ailing actors see animal shapes in clouds, a cancer survivor searches for a winning lottery ticket in her rundown flat. And sometimes Gustav Mahler lives just round the corner, hoarding rare records in a Stoke terrace.


Some reviews of Scablands and Other Stories:

Scablands is a splendid collection of clever and energetic stories, shot through with darkness and sadness, wit and love” (Alison Moore).

“Powerful tales from a master story-teller. Devastating, disturbing and tender by turns, these vivid vignettes explore seams of horror and pain as people struggle to survive the modern world. Taylor peels back the skin of the urban wasteland to reveal that however broken his characters and however wretched their conditions, what mostly remains is love” (Maggie Brookes).

“Although each of these compelling stories stands alone, there are at least two possible links between them all: first, the political nature (with a lower-case ‘p’); and second, the desperate need these characters have for connection in this isolating world. Such themes unite them as a collection. This is a short story collection that I strongly recommend” (Ruth F. Hunt, Morning Star).

“Jonathan Taylor’s excellent collection convincingly evokes some of the disenchantments, disengagements, dissonances and disturbances of urban experience that finds itself making do without much by way of a saving grace …. Throughout, Taylor … provides evidence that as an endlessly variable, malleable form, [and] the short story is alive and well …. Arnold Bennett, that hospitable, generous champion of writers of all kinds, would have been delighted with Scablands, and so, for what it’s worth, am I” (John Lucas, London Grip). 

“One of the most successful elements of Taylor’s tales is the way he immerses himself into people’s lives— lives that, perhaps, we would not otherwise know about …. Scablands is an accomplished collection about people who are dealing with a lot in their lives, as many of us are. There is an element of real life here, the gritty ins and outs of what people have to endure. For this reason, if no other, it is a perfect addition to a short story lover’s bookshelf” (Matthew Tett, Writing in Education). 

“The images created in these stories linger long after the book has been shut: an Andy Pandy Nightdress, a soldier digging in the mud, a girl on a till trying to pause her life and a biography completely crossed out in red pen. The stories in Scablands may be short, but Taylor’s superb word-weaving skill ensures the tales last so much longer than their actual length” (Lisa Williams, Everybody’s Reviewing).

“Flashes of humanity and grace notes shine like broken glass in pavement cracks in Scablands, an excellent collection of short stories. Fluid, engrossing prose and so many images that stay with you” (Louise Peterkin).

“Each of these stories is economically and beautifully crafted. By turns I was moved, bewildered, thrilled, disturbed … The author is adept at saying enough, and saying it lyrically, while at the same time leaving tantalising gaps for the reader’s imagination to ponder or to run wild within” (Gus Gresham). 

“Sombre. Tender. Engrossing” (Timothy Grayson). Selected by Timothy Grayson as one of his Six Top Books of 2023.

You can see more details about Scablands and Other Stories on the publisher’s website here. You can read a complete short story from the collection on Creative Writing at Leicester here.


Kontakte and Other Stories (2013 and 2014)

My short story collection, Kontakte and Other Stories, was first published by Roman Books in July 2013. A second edition, with a new preface, was published by Roman Books in September 2014.

You can buy a copy of the book here. 

Kontakte and Other Stories was shortlisted for the Saboteur Award for Best Short Story Collection 2014, longlisted for the Edge Hill Prize 2014, and longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award 2014.

These are stories about music – about composing it, listening to it, living it. These are stories about people whose lives are haunted and shaped by music. These are stories about music and sex, music and joy, music and memory, music and illness, music and power – and particularly the ways in which music’s tremendous power can be exploited and abused. Above all, these are stories which are themselves musical – which seek in many and various ways to reconnect the language of storytelling with that of song, opera, symphony, of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini, Dmitri Shostakovich, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Edith Piaf.

Some reviews of Kontakte and Other Stories:

“Sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, always clever and hugely entertaining, Kontakte explores the relationship between the how and the why of music, its harmony and its dissonances, as counterpoint to life, death, love, sex and even Egyptology. I enjoyed it hugely” (Vanessa Gebbie).

“How closely akin are music and literature? How entwined are their methods and preoccupations, how entangled their different forms of beauty? Can one shed light on the other? Jonathan Taylor’s collection of short stories represents a sustained and insightful engagement with these questions …. Taylor’s staves form a solemn litany … [with] striking images and turns of phrase …. Like a Lisztian paraphrase, Taylor’s writing sits for the most part at an angle to the world …. Music, from this view, may well be beautiful, enthralling, even redemptive; but it is far from safe, far from unthreatening, far from ‘relaxing.’ Music, Taylor reminds us, is often close to madness; and why not literature, too?” (Conor Farrington, in The Times Literary Supplement).

Kontakte and Other Stories is infused with musicality and manages, much like a good tune, to linger in the head long after it is over … proceeds with confidence and an elegant style … a pleasure to read …. He is able to skip from the comic to the intensely moving, and to juggle the two within the same piece …. The collection sound[s] a true and resounding note” (Ralph Jones, Sabotage Reviews).

“Taylor’s style is confident and elegant, with touches of humour throughout …. Music lovers will love this collection along with short story fans. This is a short story collection which will not let you go even when you have finished” (Jessica Patient, Writer’s Little Helper).

“This collection of thirteen stories navigates with fluidity such various epochs as Ancient Egypt and World War Two Germany, links the pressures that trouble alike the mentally ill and the politically oppressed, and thus unites what we at first take to be a fragmentary mosaic of different souls under the pervasive rhythm of music” (Jack Butler, Stand Magazine).

“Taylor explores the links between music and mental illness … haunting” (The Lancet).

“If you’re interested in short stories about … music, Kontakte and Other Stories is outstanding …. [A] brilliant collection – fun, moving, clever, playful … I find myself going back to it again and again” (Emily Devane).

You can read one of the stories from the collection, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Tonight’s Concert Will Commence in Fifteen Minutes,’ first published by Connotation Press: An Online Artifact is available here.

You can read another of the stories from the collection, ‘A Rondo in Letters,’ published in Litro Magazine here.

You can read my article about “Musical Fictions,” on Thresholds International Short Story Forum here.