The Common Thread is actually a writing group (looking for new members) that has published an annual anthology of their work since 2004. In 2010 they held their first competition. This Anthology is a ‘bumper edition’ covering both 2012 and 2011. The bonus for readers is that this book therefore contains four prize-winning stories.

Apart from the pure enjoyment of reading short stories, this book makes an interesting study for any aspiring writer developing their short story skills and thinking of entering their work in competitions. If you’ve ever wondered what distinguishes a winning entry from other entrants, reading this collection may give you some helpful clues.

Apart from the four winners, the collection contains a further twenty-four pieces, seven of them poems. The stories cover a wide range of creative ideas and display a good deal of inventiveness; what makes the four winning entries stand out though, is the execution of the idea.

Both Stephen Reilly and David Blissett (1st and 2nd prize winners 2012, respectively) have chosen relatively dark material. Their stories are involving and have a sharp-edged realism to them. In contrast, the previous year’s winners, Theresa Layton 1st prize and Erica Woolgar 2nd, wrote about more domestic matters, both displaying strong psychological understanding and emotional intelligence. The voices in all four stories are unsentimental and economical.

While the winning entries are of a high standard, the other published stories can be a bit uneven in quality. The writing itself is technically of a high standard and shows great care has been taken over editing, but there are several stories that could have benefitted from further workshopping. A few of the pieces descend into triteness or self-indulgence and one or two don’t take enough care with credibility. Non-winning entries that show a defter handling of their material include the prose of Liz Newton and Rosemary Hansell.

Altogether, this collection is a wonderful example of a group of writers who clearly have fun exercising their craft, exploring new possibilities and pushing themselves with different techniques. Read with care, this book is effectively a mini workshop containing many lessons and ideas to take back to our own writing.