Review: Fatal Solution By Leslie Scase

I always enjoy a new murder mystery, especially getting to know the new detective on the case and this one did not disappoint. This is the second of the Inspector Chard crime series which promises to run to seven volumes, giving the author plenty of scope to develop characters and perhaps to introduce some recurring themes and relationships. Set in Victorian Wales, in the Valleys to be more precise, Inspector Thomas Chard is something of an interloper in the close knit…

Review: Atalanta Forever At Piece Hall

There are several natural symmetries in Mikron Theatre’s latest production, which opened against the Italianate backdrop of Halifax’s Piece Hall on Wednesday night. As we emerge from our own toxic ‘Annus Horribilis’, Atalanta Forever is an utterly persuasive reminder of another period of immense social turmoil in the immediate wake of the Great War. Taking as its focus, the then, for many, reprehensible notion of ladies’ association football, Amanda Whittington’s fiercely intelligent play re-imagines the tortuous beginnings of Huddersfield’s own Atalanta…

Poem Of The Week: 'Those Winter Sundays' By Robert Hayden (1913-1980)

Those Winter Sundays Sundays too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house, Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know, what did I…

Review: Oracle By Julie Anderson

Last year I had the pleasure of reading Julie Anderson's Plague - a captivating story introducing readers to the sharp and shrewd protagonist, Cassandra Fortune, who, despite her name, seems rather prone to misfortune. The skilled writing of Anderson depicted a complex crime thriller, infused with politics, corruption and scandal. This May, in what the author herself describes as “the further adventures of Cassandra Fortune”, our protagonist returned for another gripping appearance, once again inadvertently becoming central to a murder…

The Smell Of Lemons: Japan Stories By Jayne Joso

It is fortunate that a knowledge of Japanese culture is not a prerequisite of identification with the cast of Jayne Joso’s latest excursion into the hinterland of a country about which most of us, in any case, know very little beyond cliché and stereotype. To take the telling epigraph to this fine collection of short stories an interpretation further, is, as Wassily Kandinsky suggests of his own art, to approach Joso’s work without preconception and with scant regard for the…

Poem Of The Week: 'Everest' By David Wilson

Everest Once it was Chomolungma, Mother Goddess of the Earth, a face whose veil rarely lifted, its whiteness the White Whale’s. Now it’s like Elvis near the end, a giant in a soiled jumpsuit, blank, useful for percentages, a sheet from which the music’s fled. In ‘Everest’, his award-winning poem of overcooked ambition and ecological despoliation, David Wilson’s two compact quatrains burst with meanings which contradict the grace and respectfulness of the climber’s traditional mandate. For globalisation and easy travel have brought that great, essentially unknowable, mountain-mystique within touching distance…

Doggerel For The Discerning: 'Glad To Be A Dalek'

Glad To Be A Dalek I'm not your average Dalek, you know the sort I mean, all bent on domination; giving vent to all that spleen. I like to think I'm different from other Dalek crew, who keep emotions hidden while exterminating you. I don't agree with killing, with plans to subjugate. The Universe is lovely and I find it hard to hate. In fact, I've got my own plan; I'm working from within! I'm teaching other Daleks how to knit and sew and spin. I run a secret workshop where Daleks can relax and find their inner…

‘The Grit In All Of Us. Every Writer’s Ideal Material’: Red Sky At Noon By Simon Sebag Montefiore

Having read the first two novels in Montefiore’s ‘Moscow Trilogy’ some time ago, I have at last come to the third. Chronologically, it sits in the middle and while it can be read as a standalone novel, it reconnects with some of the old names and we meet once again, in particular, the Jewish writer, Benya Golden. Saved from the death penalty, he has been sentenced to twenty-five years’ imprisonment in the ‘netherworld’ of the Gulags, for a crime he…

Playing Without Thinking: Like Fado And Other Stories By Graham Mort

The silence following conversation, the lit but empty room, the scream of an unseen child - these are the unknowables of Graham Mort’s strange and wonderful new collection of short stories. The idea of a life proceeding elsewhere, the lineaments of which must have unfolded in some other time or place, are plangent suggestions here, and concealed possibility follows naturally in the wake of each tale. Encouraged to construct a bigger picture on the periphery of Mort’s wide-angled lens – the…

Kendal Poetry Festival: Where To Next?

Following on from this year’s hugely successful Kendal Poetry Festival in February, where pandemic related restrictions on live and physical gatherings were overcome using digital technology, co-directors Kim Moore and Clare Shaw are hosting a free afternoon event on June 2nd from 1-4pm, with a stellar line up of writers, activists and organisations asking: ‘Where to next?’. Considering what was lost in the pandemic, how the poetry community survived, adapted and developed, there will be three hours of presentations, film and…

Poem Of The Week: 'A Smile To Remember' By Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)

A smile to remember we had the goldfish and they went around and around in the bowl on the table near the purple drapes across our front picture window and my mother, poor fish, always smiling, wanting to appear happy, she always told me, "be happy, Henry," and she was right: it's better to be happy if you can be but my father beat her two or three times a week while raging through his 6 foot two frame because he couldn't defeat what was attacking him. my mother,…

Americana Meets Aesopica : Fox 8 By George Saunders

Regular readers of my scribblings may have stumbled across my recent review of A Swim in A Pond in the Rain by George Saunders. Ostensibly a book written for writers to benefit from its playful technical musings and acutely mined insights, but one of equal value for any reader interested in the dynamics underpinning fiction’s artistic energies and the active principles at play during the act of reading per se. Revisiting Saunders’s back catalogue after reading his latest offering amplifies…

Doggerel for the Discerning: 'A Happy Ending for Petrologists'

A Happy Ending for Petrologists A pebble sat upon a beach and thought, as would a stone, of whether in the Universe it was a soul alone. For it could see no evidence to otherwise disprove that rocks had not the wherewithal to think or talk or move. And there with countless coloured stones, all smooth and weatherworn, supressed its angst, lay motionless, stayed quiet and forlorn. Through summers and through winters, it endured its solitude; in pebbly reflection, existentially it stewed. It watched the sun, it…

Review: Not For All The Tea In China By Chris Burrows

If you fancy a lighthearted, whimsical read, this is for you. Chris Burrows is a septuagenarian from Barnsley who has run his own business for sixteen years. In those years, he has travelled to all corners of the globe, buying and selling his wares, negotiating deals and experiencing a broad range of transport, accommodation and food. In this book, he reminisces about his encounters in a world outside of Yorkshire. He is a gentleman from a bygone era, amusing and…

Gothic Musings

The Gothic novel genre is a curious beasty by definition, adored by its fervent acolytes intent upon savouring its ‘dreadful pleasure’, and fulsomely disparaged by those of a weak constitution, or those seeking their literary sustenance sans the presence of ghouls, ghosts and goblins or inexplicable facinorous forces, either real or imagined. It’s a genre easily identifiable by dint of its quintessential tropes and mysterious, malevolent thematic orbits. Its iconic works are readily recognised, if not celebrated by most readers…

Review: You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce

You Let Me In is the extraordinary debut novel by the writer Camilla Bruce. Born and raised in Norway, next to an Iron Age mound, it seems only fitting that she should bring an element of folklore and perhaps even dubiety to her debut: a book that is a gothic horror, a fairytale infused with a dose of noir. I say noir in as much as the protagonist appears to lack a moral centre, to steal a definition from…

Poem Of The Week: 'Vanitas Vanitatum' By John Webster (C. 1580 - C. 1632)

Vanitas Vanitatum ALL the flowers of the spring Meet to perfume our burying; These have but their growing prime, And man does flourish but his time: Survey our progress from our birth— We are set, we grow, we turn to earth. Courts adieu, and all delights, All bewitching appetites! Sweetest breath and clearest eye Like perfumes go out and die; And consequently this is done As shadows wait upon the sun. Vain the ambition of kings Who seek by trophies and dead things To leave a living name behind, And weave but nets to catch the…

Doggerel For The Discerning: 'The Thoughtful Little Cactus'

The Thoughtful Little Cactus The thoughtful little cactus in the terracotta pot was a philanthropic soul with modest views, and while musing on the state of things upon the mantle shelf, she would listen to the radio for news. As an empathetic auditor, she catalogued reports, till she felt that something needed to be done, about the greed and the injustice and the nastiness she'd heard, and to try to make it nice for everyone. So she wrote a manifesto with a view to…

Interview With Victoria Princewill

Engaging with a debut novel is one of my most highly treasured delights. Sans the osmotically invasive baggage of preconceived expectations, or the earnest entreaties of epistemophilia, I am able to allow these fresh voices to meet my sensibilities unmolested by the distorted prism of my preconceptions or canonical reverence. The pages themselves will debouch subjectively adduced authorial talent, or conversely cause me to consider its antithesis. It’s a profoundly scintillating leap into the unknown and more often than not,…

‘Those Things We Do Not Say’ : All The Beautiful Liars By Sylvia Petter

The gestation of Sylvia Petter’s astonishing novel – it was twenty five years in the making – might suggest a labour of love, if the phrase didn’t set platitudinous limits on a profoundly meaningful, perhaps autobiographical, investigation of the hinterland of one family’s complex and troubled history I infer the guiding hand of experience because Ms Petter’s trajectory – Australian by birth, professionally settled in Austria – is a semblance of that of her protagonist, Katrina Klain. Klain’s journey is motivated…

Review: Lonely Castle In The Mirror By Mizuki Tsujimara

Lonely Castle in the Mirror is a Japanese bestselling, prize-winning novel by Mizuki Tsujimara that follows the story of Kokoro, a seventh-grade pupil who can no longer attend her school. The reason isn’t laziness, but instead fear: she has been bullied, and without being able to openly talk about the episode, she has turned inwards. Perhaps it is a child's instinctive response; to turn away when all allies appear lost, when there is no one to turn to. She retreats…

'A Book For Writers But Also, I Hope For Readers' : A Swim In The Pond In The Rain By George Saunders

Forming a prima facie conclusion about a book’s content based upon erroneous assumptions is by definition likely to be misleading and on occasion, tantamount to clumsily administering an ungrateful slap upon the well-meaning face of Serendipity herself! A cursory thumbing of George Saunders’s latest book led me to pigeon-hole it as a potentially interesting ‘how-to’ guide for writers. Saunders, best known as a Man Booker Prize winner and New York Times bestselling author of Lincoln in the Bardo and Tenth

Doggerel For The Discerning: 'My Camel's Name Is Brian'

My Camel's Name Is Brian My camel's name is Brian; he lives beside my bed. He has concerns about the ache I have inside my head. Not everyone can see him, as camels go, he's small; in fact my wife and doctor don't believe he's there at all! But being empathetic, dear Brian talks with me; he tucks me in at bedtime and he makes my morning tea. In many ways he's perfect, I only have one grouse; I do wish he'd stop leaving little piles around the house. Jonathan Humble's poem…

Poem Of The Week: 'Blood And Lead' By James Fenton

Blood and Lead Listen to what they did. Don't listen to what they said. What was written in blood Has been set up in lead. Lead tears the heart. Lead tears the brain. What was written in blood Has been set up again. The heart is a drum. The drum has a snare. The snare is in the blood. The blood is in the air. Listen to what they did. Listen to what's to come. Listen to the blood. Listen to the drum. James Fenton’s declamatory exhortation in short, forceful rhyming quatrains wears the appearance of a…

Wings On Windermere

In the year since the pandemic hit the headlines and the world altered forever, we have all had to adapt. Face masks, social distancing, frequent basic hand sanitation routines, lockdowns, furloughs, Zoom meetings, government road maps, mass vaccinations etc. have become familiar on the landscape of daily life. One aspect which affected my teaching more than I anticipated was the prohibition of an activity which I’d taken for granted up until March 2020. Choral singing in primary schools had been…

The Greatest Doublecross In The History Of Espionage: Our Friends In Berlin By Anthony Quinn

It’s always good to be offered something different to read and this came from the shelf of my brother who answered my plea. Good choice! Our Friends in Berlin is a tale of wartime espionage which neatly combines both a love story and a thriller. Within the pages lie a marriage bureau, MI5 and a group of Fifth Columnists, intent on ensuring World War Two victory for Hitler and the Fatherland, as they pass on valuable intelligence to the Nazis –…

Poem Of The Week: 'The Urine Specimen' By Ted Kooser

The Urine Specimen In the clinic, a sun-bleached shell of stone on the shore of the city, you enter the last small chamber, a little closet chastened with pearl, cool, white and glistening, and over the chilly well of the toilet you trickle your precious sum in a cup. It’s as simple as that. But the heat of this gold your body’s melted and poured out into a form begins to enthrall you, warming your hands with your flesh’s fevers in a terrible way. It’s like holding an organ – spleen or…

Doggerel For The Discerning: 'The Sad Tale Of The Reckless Rhubarb'

The Sad Tale of the Reckless Rhubarb 'Twas on a clear and moonlit night in Castleford's green fields, the stick of rhubarb's mind to thoughts adventurous did yield. And turning to his nearby love, he made a solemn pledge to sail away, like Hemingway, and live life on the edge. His love, a slender leek, was anxious for his safe return, but with a brave and loving smile disguised her grave concern and pinned a white rose on his chest, so he might not forget his roots lay…

Bitter Fruit Ripening: The Kilt Of Many Colours By David Bleiman

There is much of sad, surpassing beauty in David Bleiman’s expansive new collection of poems. If a negotiated sense of identity, or rather the dissolution of identity in a glorious oceanic harvest of heredities, is an overwhelming theme here, then so is the voice of the individual singer and of history’s silenced. And it is to the latter that Bleiman turns especial attention. Hymning the voice of the dead in song and in verse, calling forth the dead shamanically, the poet…

The Traumatic Legacy of Denial: The Sanatorium By Sarah Pearse

Sarah Pearse’s debut novel has been garlanded by many effulgent reviews, celebrity endorsement and judging from myriad positive responses on social media platforms, has delighted many of its readers. A bold fusion of the classic locked-room murder mystery, with the stalwart tropes of the crime thriller genre, Pearse also laces her edgy spine-chiller with a baleful, disquieting undertow, dextrously grafted onto her story by dint of her consummate use of the psychological thriller genre. She has penned a genuinely absorbing…