Reviewed by Kate Garrett
For Books’ Sake and The London Rollergirls
When a reader picks up Derby Shorts, they’re immediately taken into the pack for a fast-paced skate through fourteen diverse stories. There’s a genre or form for every taste – YA, noir, romance, horror, and a flash fiction or two – and each one gives a glimpse of unique derby lives.
Before reading this book, my experience of roller derby could be plotted at less than one on a one-to-ten scale. A few basic facts had made it onto my radar via some derby-loving friends, but nothing that meant I really knew the sport. I got that it’s a women’s sport involving roller skating, it’s based on a DIY ethic, and roller girls make up their own derby names – usually based on a pun. That’s it. Not at all impressive, right? So how could I love a book about roller derby this much?
This gap in my understanding didn’t stop me enjoying every minute of Derby Shorts. In fact, my lack of knowledge added to the excitement: I could learn new things whilst being entertained. The book includes a thorough introduction (written by Helen Nash of the London Rollergirls) and a glossary at the back. Both were invaluable. Thanks to these inclusions, I’m aware of more detailed aspects of roller derby, like what pivots and blockers do, what a jam is, who can end one and how. With easy access to this information, the derby-uninitiated reader is able to comfortably take in the stories for what they are: engaging, complex tales with clever plotting, believable characters, or in many cases, both of the above. This is short fiction that stays with you long after you’ve read it.
The first story, Katie Welsh’s “This is Not Your Great-Great-Great Granddaughter’s Derby”, is a look at the 19th century potential for playing hard on “rolling skates” whilst wearing petticoats. This story sets the reader up for surprises: the beginning is unexpected, and the rest of the collection is as varied and exciting. “Monster” by Steven LaFond carries the reader along with its understated sensitivity, and Jemima Von Schindelberg’s “My Wife’s Wedding” is a happy tearjerker, highlighting the strongest of bonds between roller girls. My Pankhearst colleague Evangeline Jennings’s contribution “Orgasm Rages” gives us the rewards and frustrations of unconditional love, and is populated by tough, colourful characters we can love or hate with all the intensity of real people. Other stand-outs include Magda Knight’s “Dead Girls Don’t Wear Blades”, a post-apocalyptic arena, all action, twists and turns, and “Tiptoes” by Kat M. Gray, in which a ballerina takes up roller derby and shows us what she’s really made of.
I recommend Derby Shorts for long-time derby fans, people who have never heard of the sport, women, men, teens, and readers who enjoy tightly crafted short stories overflowing with guts and heart. In other words: almost everyone.