Craig Wallwork is the author of the delightfully off kilter collection, The Quintessence of Dust, as well as the novels To Die Upon a Kiss, and The Sound of Loneliness. He lives in West Yorkshire, England with his wife, daughter, and two chickens.
"Quintessence of Dust’is a collection of huge variety which is linked by the author’s style and faint echoes of theme that bring some overlap within the diversity of subject matter."
"Every once in a while I read a novel or short story, and everything about it seems so perfect that I find myself wishing I had wrote it. Quintessence of Dust falls into this category."
"The horizon is a miasma of dream. Ghosts float through its skin and beckon me with snake-like arms. Wipe my eyes."
There are few imaginations like Craig Wallwork's. There's a magic in his eyes, a beautiful off-kilter viewpoint that causes the world to turn in different directions, highlighting the bizarre and the caustic and the grotesque and the beautiful. And he's certainly not afraid or ashamed to make the reader cringe at every sentence, making us oddly aware of our sphincters.
"'Protect me,' said the Minotaur."
The stories in Quintessence of Dust create a world where Minotaur exist, drink too much, get in fights, and are afraid of the dark. But, more than that, the story "Men of Blood" is a profound meditation on friendship and the way that people grow together and then grow apart. It's the kind of story where a man punching a Minotaur in the face can make you cry rather than be an act of heroism or a joke. He creates worlds where you can deliver a baby, kill a demon with an umbrella, and have your first kiss while hundreds of demons fly through the air, eating people just outside the bus you're trapped in.
And though many of these stories push the boundary of possible and impossible, blurring reality's lines, there are stories like "Railway Architecture," a beautiful story about desire and commitment and the lengths one goes to for love.
"Three years after getting married, Peter Rankling fell in love with his wife, and about the same time, she fell out of love with him."
"Anal Twine" is a story that only Craig Wallwork could have written, and, if you can't guess by the title, it'll make you cringe, but it'll also hit you in places deeper than your rectum, somewhere near the heart as it struggles with questions of identity and memory and lust. And then there's "The Whore that Broke the Camel's Back," a story that manages to be beautiful, satirical, and affecting despite its talking camel, bestiality, and extreme body modification. Or 'Skin,' where love involves literally climbing inside of the girl you love.
"Her heartbeat was the only noise, a dull rhythmic thud. I crawled into a ball and rested against the walls of flesh, pushed my head into my chest and brought my knees up. It's the way sanctuary must be for the fallen. It's the way life is before it starts."
I've read a lot of short story collections in the last year and realised how difficult they are, not only to write, but to arrange. I was spoiled, all the previous collections I had encountered being by people like Borges or Nabokov or O'Conner, so it came as a surprise that some collections, even ones by writers I enjoy, simply don't work and can feel like running waist deep in molasses, not because the stories are bad, individually or collectively, but the homogeneous nature of some writers can make collections more trial than enjoyment.
Quintessence of Dust manages to avoid this, singing and dancing, breaking hearts while its laughter rings through the halls. These stories are very much about love, lust, desire, and the difference between those words. They're about fatherhood and marriage, about growing up and growing old: they're about life. If Etgar Keret had grown up in northern England instead of Israel, he might've turned out to be Craig Wallwork, but Wallwork, I think, somehow hits harder and more often, both with humor and insight. I've known Craig for a few years, admired his work longer, and his début collection is somehow more than I expected it to be. I'm not sure if I've ever read a short story collection in one sitting before, but Quintessence of Dust never left my hands. And that, I think, is maybe the most impressive part of this collection, that all the stories work and keep the reader wanting more, needing more.
"Fifteen years later and Milton Ball can still feel the lump on his head, and every time he does, he is reminded of how ugly he is, and how wonderful a burning house looks at dawn."
This is a collection I cannot recommend enough, and so I'll do it as many times as my life allows.