‘My Baby Shot Me Down’ is the subtitle of ‘Bang Bang’, an eerie ballad made famous by Cher and Nancy Sinatra in the 1960s, and more recently revived in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. And it is now the title of a new anthology, showcasing women writers. On the cover a paint-splattered angel, or ballerina – a little girl’s figurine – dons a gas-mask for what looks like a psychedelic reworking of Nirvana’s In Utero.
The ten writers featured in My Baby Shot Me Down are, or have been, members of ABCtales, the online community founded in 2001. I was also a member in the early years, having joined shortly after completing my first novel. In fact, it was one of the first sites I visited, and I regularly posted chapters from my next work-in-progress.
Richard Penny, head of Blinding Books, was impressed by the talent on display at ABCtales, particularly from women. My Baby Shot Me Down includes poetry and prose by writers of various backgrounds. There is a strength and honesty to the pieces, and their wide-ranging themes are not limited to women’s experience.
In ‘Being Female’, poet Deborah Hambrook imagines an unborn child swimming in a ‘hopeful womb’, free of expectations. Ruth Starling’s short story, ‘Breakers’, uses the nostalgic motif of CB radio to unmask a family secret. In ‘Guests’, Alison Wassell conveys a little girl’s fears as her mother goes on a date.
Laura Wilkinson revisits an intense teenage friendship in ‘Buried’, while Maggy van Eijk conjures an old boyfriend in her poem, ‘Leonard’. Deborah Hambrook’s ‘Man’ recalls a lost love, glimpsed in the face of a stranger. In Clarissa Angus’s ‘Decisions’, a woman bribes her married lover.
Sex looms large in Harriett Goodale’s poem, ‘I Am Your Oyster Lover’ (taking ‘the tarnished pearl that bears your name’); and Rachael Smart’s ‘Little Lost Reds’ (‘My vulva was bitter sours when all you wanted was sweet.’)
In her short story, ‘Mr Brown’, Clarissa Angus follows a young woman sifting through her grandmother’s possessions, and discovering more than she bargained for. Deborah Hambrook’s ‘Nan’ is an ode to a long-dead relative, while ‘As Autumn Leaves’ reflects the ageing process in nature. In ‘Capturing Beauty’, an artist sketches birds in flight, before trapping them in a cage.
Ruth Starling’s ‘Supermarket Secrets’ is a darkly humorous portrait of a bored cashier. In ‘i-Spy’, a suspicious woman tries to read her partner’s texts to a co-worker, but cannot operate his phone. The creeping intrusiveness of technology is also explored in Deborah Hambrook’s poem, ‘Queer as Folk’, in which the narrator takes a snapshot of an unwilling Salman Rushdie in a café.
The failings of society’s gatekeepers – foster parents, social workers – are exposed by a delinquent in Katherine Black’s ‘I Didn’t Hurt the Baby’. In another short story, ‘The Great Escape’, a young woman flees the proprietor of a women’s refuge, under the guise of providing security at a Robbie Williams concert.
Ruth Starling’s ‘Atomic’ explores the remarkable tale of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the only man to survive the bombings of both Hiroshima and Yagasaki, as told to his young daughter. Claudine Lazar’s ‘Las Vegas’ takes the reader on a road trip, carrying stolen cargo. (‘So what if we didn’t give it back? If we just kept going?’)
With an emphasis on new writing, My Baby Shot Me Down includes contributions from both upcoming and published authors. This gives it a raw, exciting quality, though it’s a bumpy ride at times.