A black swan falls out of the sky causing Esther Wilding to pull over, as her windscreen shatters. Having witnessed the incident, Tina Turner approaches and wants to help. Confused by this bizarre opening to a novel? I’m not surprised, but things, especially Tina Turner, are not always as they seem. Esther is on her way to her sister’s memorial. Aura walked into the sea a year ago.
Chaudhri Sher Mobarik looks at the loch Light shakes out the dishrag sky and scatters the water with sequins. Look, hen! says my father, Loch Lomond! as if it were all his doing, as if he owned it, laird of Lomond, laird of the language.
It is a tribute to Bradford-born author, Vicky Parsons’, tenacity and skill that she should succeed in bringing her story, or more properly the story of her life, into the public gaze.
Sniper In the street, tanks, rubble. Soldiers wear patterns of sand. The village a jigsaw of dust. Children in doorways hold the hands of ghosts. I sight along the muzzle buried in a hole in the air. You are small, distant. The size of a sparrow. Smaller. You have no family. Were never born. You are just a single dot of God. I crouch behind chimneys. Aerials. Satellite dishes.
Richard Bratby has had a busy time. Having chronicled the 50th anniversary of the Academy of Ancient Music, he has turned the first 30 years of the Longborough Festival Opera into a book. It is a beautifully presented volume, as befits this annual summer opera fest.
Dean Rhetoric’s Foundry Songs is my first foray into dystopian poetry, and this anthology certainly features all the hallmarks of the genre. The poems open inauspiciously, never on a bright spring day with crocuses sprouting. ‘Psalm of Bandages III’ begins: ‘It’s October and the trees are cancerous’, which is about as apocalyptic as it can get.
The 14th Storm (2023) by Limerick-born author Daniel J. Mooney is an Irish eco dystopia – the first I’ve had the pleasure of reading, though I doubt there are many contenders for the title! It is 2043, and climate change has taken a turn for the worse. Violent storms are a regular feature of life, rendering much of the planet uninhabitable.
Like a man drifting in and out consciousness, Tristram Fane Saunders’ grip on poetic theme and direction is fevered, mediated by his own susceptibility to the surreal, or to alternative landscapes that shape what he sees. More intriguing still that he should prosecute his aim in a range of bravura formal approaches whose framework can never contain the arbitrary image-making of his thinking.
33. I knew him when the summer was heavy with bees and all the flying things were thrumming in the heat. I walked with him once through How Tun woods to find the path the foxes take, and yes I saw the marks upon his arms, though I never heard him speak of pain.
The Academy of Ancient Music is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and to mark the occasion, the orchestra commissioned Richard Bratby to write its history. AAM, as it is affectionately known, was the first orchestra to be set up in the UK using period instruments, and Bratby uses first-hand testimony from artists, critics, collaborators, and supporters to chart its development.
Never mind the Kubrick Stare, one look from my dad was enough to fill me with terror. I will say now, he never once touched me, never hit me in anger, nor touched a hair on my head even though when I was a child, a smack was not generally considered misplaced.
The NUM I am here in your breast pocket, the size of a bus pass and the Magna Carta – been sacked for been starved for. My foundations are federations, old as the moon and lassoed to oceans.
For the first time in its 70-year history, the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) is awarding two authors its annual Diamond Dagger. Lynda La Plante and James Lee Burke are 2024’s recipients of the Diamond Dagger- the highest accolade in the genre.
She tells her love while half asleep She tells her love while half asleep In the dark hours, With half-words whispered low: As earth stirs in her winter sleep And puts out grass and flowers Despite the snow, Despite the falling snow. As snowdrops and crocuses force their tentative flame through the resistless ‘green fuse’ of biological purpose, and we marvel at their indefatig…
Renee Gulliver is a relationships therapist but work and family can throw up very different problems and your own family relationships are often much harder to identify and negotiate than those of strangers. As they say ‘the cobbler’s children are often the worst shod’. Outwardly, the Gullivers appear to be the perfect family and to ‘have it all’.
Snow We're brought to our senses, awake to the black and whiteness of world. Snow's sensational. It tastes of ice and fire. Hold a handful of cold. Ball it between your palms to throw at the moon. Relish its plushy creak. Shake blossoms from chestnut and beech, gather its laundered linen in your arms. A twig of witch hazel from the ghost-garden burns like myrrh in this room. Listen!
It’s been a while. My tardy response to volume eight of Julia Chapman’s consistently high quality detective series, set in the thinly-disguised Dales market town of Bruncliffe, has been a long train coming. Though in the profoundest sense it makes no difference, because the continuum upon which her extended narrative is set will sustain critical hiatuses, such is the standard of her writing.
The UK’s biggest crime fiction convention returns for the 16th year in 2024, with Laura Lippman and Denise Mina as its Featured Guests. CrimeFest, sponsored by Specsavers, is hosted from 9 to 12 May 2024 at the Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel. Up to 150 authors will descend on Bristol appearing in over 50 panels.
Jane Eyre meets Woman in Black with a hefty dose of Mrs Danvers stirred into the mix - this is a real gothic tale of intrigue. The opening describes the death of a child, a tragedy deemed to be misadventure but with the implication that the coroner’s verdict is far from accurate. Slowly, as the pages are turned, the horrifying truth is revealed.
January For January I give you vests of skins, And mighty fires in hall, and torches lit; Chambers and happy beds with all things fit; Smooth silken sheets, rough furry counterpanes; And sweetmeats baked; and one that deftly spins Warm arras; and Douay cloth, and store of it; And on this merry manner still to twit The wind, when most his mastery the wind wins.
Winter solitude (tr. Robert Hass) Winter solitude — In a world of one colour the sound of wind. We could waste words reflecting upon a miserable, sodden season of ‘named’ storms, gusty winds and deluges. Or we could consider, instead, seventeenth century Japanese poet, Matsuo Bashō’s, exquisite Haiku of a proper winter.
Selecting my top ten of the books I’ve reviewed this year isn’t as easy as it sounds. Since I started reviewing books, for the Yorkshire Times, I’ve published over 140 reviews, including 39 just this year, so where to start? Chronologically, in rank order, or by category? I opted for categories. I’m not offering you a countdown on the lines of Top of the Pops.
December 24th It is almost five. It is Heiligabend. The forecast shows snow cartwheeling over Saarland. The sun goes down on your cul-de-sac, on your parents’ small, well-tended garden. Your yard is swept. Your steps are gritted. Your mother’s broom rests in an apple tree’s elbow. She hurries outdoors at the very last minute to dead-head a rose.
Oh wow! From page one, the main character, Elizabeth Zott, had me hooked, a protagonist of singular charm. I am no scientist, erring as I did at school, on the side of the Arts - English especially, and Languages, so the book’s title might have deterred me a little (sorry Mr Lowson, I know you tried!).
If ever there was a biography that was a touchstone for what is happening in 2023 in the UK arts scene and specifically opera, then Julia Glesner’s informative and enlightening life of Sir Peter Jonas is it. Edward Maltby’s translation from German to English is to be welcomed as it enables us to explore the fascinating life of an impresario who dominated the opera world.
Wind This house has been far out at sea all night, The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills, Winds stampeding the fields under the window Floundering black astride and blinding wet Till day rose; then under an orange sky The hills had new places, and wind wielded Blade-light, luminous black and emerald, Flexing like the lens of a mad eye.
Have you noticed what a perfect world we live in? Well, according to social media at least, where everyone seems to enjoy the ideal existence.
Union Jack Mum always said she should have gone back home when Rivers of Blood ran deep in the current of Enoch Powell’s hate …the River Tiber foaming with much blood… an urgent encouragement of re-emigration… Send them back: load the ship with chocolate smiles, send them back before the blacks take the whip hand… No blacks, no dogs, no Irish! One down a million to go!
Suitcase Poem I’m a suitcase in the attic all year I’m a suitcase stuffed full of gear I’m a suitcase crammed in a hold I’m a suitcase freezing cold. Well yes … I may be a suitcase but I want to be free I want to go to the beach and swim in the sea I want to go to the mountains and learn how to ski I want to hear music dance and shout You leave me in the room when you go out.
Harold Fry lived in our office at school for a while and introduced himself to all of us in turn as his book was passed from eager hand to eager hand. Queenie quickly followed.