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Summat Else by Royston Tester  

A most remarkable series of linked stories, encompassing a young working-class Englishman’s coming of age, written with great humour and pathos.

This is Royston Tester’s first book, but he has already been nominated for a slew of awards, been published widely (and internationally, in both journals and the Lambda-prize finalist anthology The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name: Essays on Queer Sexuality and Desire), and charmed the CanLit establishment. His writing is very English, and in a spectacular way; his language is both elegant and colloquial, and always riveting.

Summat Else, Royston Tester’s debut collection of short fiction, sketches the life and times of Enoch Jones, too clever and too queer to be a working-class lad from Birmingham, the polluted heart of England’s ‘Black Country’. In these linked stories, Tester gives us unforgettable glimpses of Enoch’s youth, introducing him first as the adopted son of a family of ‘caravan runts’, then as a juvenile delinquent in an animal kingdom of doddering majors and simpering pigeon-fanciers, all blind to their own grotesquerie.

Enoch escapes, ‘eighteen and out of England’, to the brutality of Spain during Franco’s final months, where he turns tricks in hostels while dodging riots, gunfire and marriage. Eventually, the story circles back on itself, and Tester burrows into the murk of Enoch’s genesis: an industrial landscape populated with teenage factory girls, holy joes, virgins in ditches, and, ringing throughout, disembodied voices ‘like someone reading the Lord’s Prayer backward all the time, or shouting directions in Latin from inside a bowl of porridge.’

Summat else indeed.

Review quote

‘Tester has written Summat Else with a starkness that allows the reader to fully understand the depths of Enoch Jones and his pain. The characters in Enoch’s life are as real to the reader as they are to him. And one wonders, just how does life turn out for Enoch Jones.’

—Robert LeBlanc, Ultimate Hallucination

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‘By the above descriptions, Summat Else may begin to sound like a sordid, sensational series of stories about pain and suffering -- a too-young mother in a cold world, a juvenile delinquent boy, and troubled, rough, gay sex. It is this and more, thanks to Tester’s knife-edged imagination, and his great skill, which craft humanity and humour in the grimmest of situations. Tester weaves politics, morality, pain, and humour into a complex and moving book. His narrative prose -- syntax, dialogue, and phrasing -- is quirky, fresh, surprising, idiomatic, and inventive. Listening to the characters talk is engaging, entertaining, and often gripping. Tester’s skill with character and situation, whether in the dark or in the light, whether occupying the high ground or the gutter, compels the reader to engage; Tester evokes our emotions -- apprehension, empathy, and more. Royston Tester makes us care. Read him.’

—Steven Ross Smith, Prairie Fire

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‘If you’re an average Canadian reader, it might be a couple of weeks from the time you put down Summat Else before you fully appreciate its beauty.’

—Linda M Bayley, Canadian Book Review Annual

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‘Over the 13 linked stories comprising this debut collection from Birmingham, England-born, Toronto resident Royston Tester, our protagonist, Enoch, is clubbed with one revelation after another: his father’s illiteracy, his own nascent and tumultuous sexuality, his long-kept-secret adoption. That he maintains his sharp wit and gentle self-deprecatory sense of humour throughout might seem an almost superhuman feat, yet it comes off as entirely natural rendered in Tester’s quippy, idiomatic prose. The worlds of these stories refuse to sag under the weight of hardship. Instead, Tester’s evident affection for his subject acts as a buoy, imparting even the grimmest scenes with a beguiling lightness.’

—Stewart Cole, Quill & Quire

Review quote

‘In these connected stories, narrator Enoch Jones guides the reader through his coming-of-age with a cockeyed charm that makes both the English Black Country and the bloodthirsty Barcelona of Franco’s final days feel as real as one’s own kitchen. With a novella’s momentum, each story plunges us headlong into the next hair-raising stage of Enoch’s life -- Evensong pickpocket, reform school punching-bag, apprentice rent-boy -- culminating in an epistolary tale with a cliffhanger ending that, somehow, completely satisfies. Tester’s structural craftsmanship alone is dizzying, but it is Enoch’s strength of character in the face of fascist gunfire, S & M dog collars and a pederast driving instructor, among other things, that ultimately makes this collection so winning. (And the paper it’s printed on is really nice.)’

—Adam Lewis Schroeder, THIS magazine

Unpublished endorsement

‘These deftly-compacted stories tracking Enoch Jones from babyhood into his 20th year are sprinkled with mischief and wit. The writer’s prose is smooth as polished stone. Lust is ever present, Birmingham’s grittiness no less so. The collection as a whole mirrors the moon’s arc and the sun’s ascent. This is lively, exciting work. Summat Else is a fine book.’

—Leon Rooke

Unpublished endorsement

‘Like a skilful photographer, Tester makes visible the normally invisible moment when the soul shatters. He is a master of implosion.’

—J.S. Porter

Unpublished endorsement

‘He brings an inquisitive and cosmopolitan eye to his art, layering the observations of the informed world traveler with poignant, sometimes hilarious scenes in which a character’s past suddenly invades the present, creating personal upheaval and unexpected resolution.’

—Richard Cumyn

Unpublished endorsement

‘The writing is stripped and clean and so spare it almost shines. The dialogue sparkles. [...] Its seeming simplicity must have been hard won. Tester captures the gritty detail of England’s Black Country with an evocative faithfulness which is convincing and extremely moving.’

—John Metcalf


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Royston Tester grew up in Birmingham, the English Midlands. Before emigrating to Canada in 1978, he spent time in London, Barcelona, and Melbourne. A Canadian citizen, he is a fellow of the Hawthornden writers’ retreat in Scotland, the Valparaiso Foundation in Spain and is a frequent Leighton Studio artist-resident at the Banff Centre for the Arts, Alberta. He was educated in English and European Literature at Essex University in the UK and in Modern British Literature at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He has published short fiction in numerous Canadian literary journals, including Descant, the New Quarterly, the Antigonish Review and the Malahat Review; his work has been anthologized in Rip-Rap and Intersections (Banff Centre Press) and the Quickies series (Arsenal Pulp Press); in 2003 he was shortlisted for Pagitica’s International Literary Competition. In the US his stories have appeared in online publications such as Blithe House Quarterly, Lodestar, and the anthology Everything I Have Is Blue (Suspect Thoughts Press); in 2002 he was a finalist in the US New Century Writer Awards. Currently working on a novel, Heather’s Masterpiece, Tester lives in the Little Italy area of Toronto.

For more information please visit the Author’s website »

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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FICTION / Short Stories

FICTION / Gay

ISBN-13: 9780889842571

Publication Date: 2004-09-30

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 176

Price: $16.95