Firebird is our most important annual anthology of new writing; part commissioned, part selected from submissions. Last year Robin Robertson extended his editorial catchment area to include poetry and this year travel writing is represented briefly (he only gets as far as North Yorkshire) by Peter Levi. As was the case last year, women do rather badly with only five contributions out of twenty-two - a strange imbalance in an anthology which in all other respects attempts to appeal to the widest readership of quality fiction. That variety of material makes it difficult to give a general impression of the book: it is too varied.
Caroline Blackwood's depiction of a desolate single-parent Christmas and George Mackay Brown's Orkney anecdote are quietly impressive but the collection comes violently to life with 'Playback', Duncan Bush's startling piece of switch-blade choreography. It is Christmas Eve. A veteran soldier drinks in a neon bar where he meets an effusive