Test Signal is an anthology of contemporary writing from the North of England, spanning a range of genres and styles, in a collaboration between Dead Ink and Bloomsbury. As the introduction makes clear, this is not an anthology looking at ideas of ‘the North’, but one containing work by writers based in the North, meaning that it has a wide range of themes and topics within.
The introduction also raises the point that not every piece in the book may be to a reader’s liking, especially as there is no unifying genre or theme, but actually, as someone who finds that a lot with most anthologies and even collections by the same author, I found this anthology had a lot of pieces of writing that really drew me in. The second piece, ‘Making Monsters’, was unusual and intriguing, the third, ‘Birdie in the Big Smoke’, told a strangely emotional story of a trip to London, and then the fourth, ‘Angel of the North’, was a powerful look at grief and moving on told by an author (Kit Fan) whose recent novel Diamond Hill I really enjoyed. These three pieces really engaged me with their variety, emotion, and sense of being a complete story.
The rest of the anthology continued to have plenty of pieces I enjoyed (I actually read most of it on a train back to the North from East Anglia, which felt very fitting). I liked the innovative formats of ‘How You Find Yourself’ and ‘Asylum Decision’ and the stories of ‘Wabbit’ and ‘Not My Usual Practice’ in particular. There was a lot of slightly uncanny looks at things, or exploration of lives outside of what might usually be represented in literature set in England (read: mostly in London).
The only thing I did think, as someone who writes and reads poetry, was that it would be good to have an anthology like this, without theme and acting as a showcase of both establishing and emerging writers, that also included some poetry within it, especially seeing as some of the prose was more experimental.
Test Signal is an invigorating anthology that is weird and clever, giving space to explore writing from a range of perspectives and proving that the literary world is not just centred around London (though probably a lot of people picking up this anthology will already know that). I found it an ideal book to read on a train (especially up the east coast maybe) as the stories are short and engrossing, so maybe one for summer travelling.