Review of The Naming of Moths by Tracy Fells

Tracy Fells was the 2017 Regional Winner (Europe and Canada) for the Commondwealth Short Story Prize. Her short fiction has been widely published in print journals and online, including Granta and Brittle Star. Her debut novella-in-flash ‘Hairy on the Inside” published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2021, was shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards in 2022 and the International Rubery Book Awards.


Tracy Fells has been a first reader for the Bath Short Story Award for many years, frequently selecting stories from the entries that go to to be shortlisted or to win a prize. It’s a pleasure now to write a short review of her new short story collection, The Naming of Moths. which was published by Fly on the Wall Press late last year and is available from them or from Amazon.

In their guidelines for submission Fly on the Wall Press state:

“We prefer writing with a sprinkle of social consciousness and political engagement. This encompasses terms such as social commentary or observation, as well as more overtly political storylines. We believe, sometimes, our very existence in a certain setting is political and a story can be political simply in viewpoint.”

Tracy Fells,is a writer who, I believe, exactly fits Fly on the Wall Press’s brief. Her stories are rich with social commentary and observations on how people navigate life in (usually) the present day UK, whether they were born in this country or have travelled from elsewhere. .

Tracy is a writer who draws the reader in quickly, the hall mark of excellent writing. When reading short stories I treasure the moment when I am completely immersed in the world of the character(s) and forget I am reading. Tracy is skilled at creating authentic situations and characters through dialogue, place and voice Her stories compell you to read on.

There’s humour with a dark edge in many of the stories and they include surprises that keep the reader intrigued. One such story, ‘Wood’, the last story in the book, with the subtext of a difficult marital relationship, has all these elements. No spoilers, but with its surreal developments, this story is anything but predictable in outcome. Tracy’s unique style is also evident in ‘The Naming of Moths’, the title story and regional winner for Canada and Europe for the Commonweatlth prize in 2017, also includes surreal elements and shows how people who are different, whether by culture, or age or behaviours that mark them out as strange, have to go to great lengths to make their presence felt.

Many of stories in this collection are disturbing (in a good way) — they make you think and question reality. In ‘Coping Mechanism’ is the new mother really replaced with another, woman who is like another version of herself or not? Or is she experiencing a psychosis induced by giving birth? Nothing is spelled out, which adds to the story’s power. Tracy, satisfyingly, does not go in for neat conclusions, where everything is tied up. Another story that has stayed with me, slowly reveals the past life of Gideon, from Uganda, who now lives in England but not in the way he had hoped. Like many of the other stories in the collection there is hope at the end, despite revelations of past traumas and broken dreams.

If you are thinking of entering BSSA this year buy The Naming of Moths to see the scope of the short story. Our word limit is 2200 words and many of the eighteen stories in the collection are around this length, some shorter. If you are a reader who loves short stories it’s an excellent buy. I thoroughly recommend it.

Jude Higgins
BSSA team
February, 2024