Nature Does Abhor A Vacuum: Funeral Song By Robert Edric

The title sets the tone for this, the last novel of the Song Cycle Quartet and the opening pages continue the nostalgic feel with a Raymond Chandler style narration: Philip Marlowe seems to be still alive and kicking, albeit in Hull. Leo Rivers, a Private Investigator, is employed by local businessman, Ray Dixon, to deliver £10k in used notes, to a blackmailer, in return for ‘the rest of a roll of film’ – photos of his daughter. It is supposed to…

Poem Of The Week: Sneak By Geraldine Mitchell

Sneak Age comes, and then infirmity, not beating on the door with knotty stick, announcing its arrival with due pomp and medication, but insinuating noxious vapours into lung and heart, round knee and hip, curling through the brain like smoke, invisible yet choking with an acrid autumn smell. Irish poet, Geraldine Mitchell’s poem speaks to those of us of certain years for whom age is gradually withering our physical presence, either in appearance or internal function, or both. The process is cruel: ‘Sneak’ is an apposite term for the slyness of decline,…

Spider Season: I Wanted To Be Close To You By Katie Oliver

It is easy to be misled by the titles of Katie Oliver’s short stories: archly simple, the received effect is diversionary, inclined to blindside the reader towards satisfying conventional expectations. And up to a point they do, like bottles of HP Sauce, describe their contents. But Oliver’s universe is surreal, fetid, and teeming with organic purpose, as though to reify the intrinsic meaning of the title tenfold, to make an irony of its apparent directness. ‘Together we Grow’, a dark excursion…

Prose Poem Of The Week: At The City Gates By Oz Hardwick

At the City Gates When the city gates open, dreams flood out, like dockers on bicycles when the four o’clock siren sings freedom, oiled chains whirring like bees. It’s been an age since anything worked, but there are grooves worn in blistered tarmac that you can see if you kick away the residue from the last high tide, and when you drop the needle the whole world spins like a charity shop album, playing a song everyone danced to when you were a teenager, though not

Terror Stalks The Streets: The Runaway Family By Diney Costeloe

This novel has found its way to the top of the ever-increasing pile by the bed. I hadn’t even noticed it but when it appeared, it was one of those I couldn’t ignore. I love good historical fiction and this didn't disappoint, although it is not a cosy read for a winter’s night. Much has been written, both fiction and faction, about the persecution of the Jews in the years prior to World War Two, and it was on 27…

Review: The Peregrine By J. A. Baker

In J. A. Baker’s dazzling work of nature writing, The Peregrine (1967), the first encounter with a bird is not, surprisingly, with ‘the peregrine’, rather with a nightjar. Baker compares the nightjar’s song to wine. Its song is like the sound of a stream of wine spilling from a height into a deep and booming cask. It is an odorous sound, with a bouquet that rises to the quiet sky. In the glare of day it would seem thinner and drier,

Poem Of The Week: Behind Closed Doors By Jane Draycott

Behind Closed Doors 'This profession requires an unruffled temper…' Titian, d. 1556 of plague Night in the nation’s gallery, an avenue of over-branching canvases walked only by security: Andromeda in chains, Callisto exiled to the silent universe – the gods, their overworld, their club. Outside, contagion’s on the streets again, bent on self-replication. Tomorrow they’ll let us enter one by one, insist we keep our distance as Actaeon might have learned who strayed too near Diana, perfect android, immortal machine. Not something he could have imagined, an afternoon in the forest, his flesh transformed, his body…

A Message From The Dead: We Are The Weather By Jim McElroy

The title of Irish writer Jim McElroy’s remarkable recent pamphlet for smith|doorstop does much to corroborate that sense of unanimity with the natural world that is a prevailing feature of his poetic métier. As mood darkens in accordance with a rural landscape that is sodden, encloistered in sepulchral light and mostly resistant to aesthetic considerations, our thoughts turn, perhaps too readily, to the black hills of R. S. Thomas’ godless breed of Welsh upland farmer. And if there is thin…

Lemn Sissay OBE Headlines Leeds Lit Fest 2023

Leeds Lit Fest is back! Returning for its fifth year, the city’s award-winning festival of words and thought will take place across a diverse range of the city’s venues and aims to bring together, and help develop, the city’s literary scene, with writers, poets and performers from the UK and beyond. This year’s festival is supported by Leeds 2023, the citywide celebration of culture which launched on Saturday, and will interweave themes of untold stories, radical acts, playful adventures and…

Poem Of The Week: January By R. S. Thomas (1913-2000)

January The fox drags its wounded belly Over the snow, the crimson seeds Of blood burst with a mild explosion Soft as excrement, bold as roses. Over the snow that feels no pity, Whose white hands can give no healing, The fox drags its wounded belly. The Anglican priest of the Welsh hills who gave laconic succour to dying farmers and to remote congregations offers little of hope or redemption in this short, powerful poem of winter’s unforgiving and brutal landscape. The poetry of R. S. Thomas…

The Voice Of The Lion: The Attic Child By Lola Jaye

Forgotten histories! Today, much is made of the past, often about the atrocities perpetrated by colonialists. These stories should never be ignored or forgotten although times were different, expectations were different and actions which are thought abhorrent today, were accepted as normal. We cannot change history and should not try to rewrite it but it is my belief that we should learn from these stories and ensure that such maltreatment, such behaviour, is not repeated. The end of The Attic

Books: Act Of Oblivion – Robert Harris

Whose ‘Oblivion’? Is the ‘Act’ a form of action performed by a person? Is it a euphemism for murder? We soon find out as Robert Harris’ tale unfolds. He must be so grateful to the Parliament of 1660 for giving him such a theatrical title for his new novel. Perhaps royalties are due. Just in case you were unaware of events following the English Civil War and the subsequent Restoration, the Act of Oblivion pardoned those who had fought as Republicans, except…

An Interview With Gillian Godden - Author Of Diamond Geezer

Gillian Godden describes herself as ‘an Indie author and a full time NHS Key worker at a local inner city medical centre in East Hull, East Yorkshire’. Her first novel Dangerous Games was published in 2019 and the first two books in her latest Diamond series arrived on the shelves in 2022. The p.ublished group of online newspapers recently caught up with her: Do you have a particular time and place to write? Writing usually depends on when the plot comes to…

Poem Of The Week: Promise By Jackie Kay

Promise Remember, the time of year when the future appears like a blank sheet of paper a clean calendar, a new chance. On thick white snow You vow fresh footprints then watch them go with the wind’s hearty gust. Fill your glass. Here’s tae us. Promises made to be broken, made to last. Measured by any metric, 2022 has been a pretty dreadful year. And if the sheet of ‘thick white snow’ in Jackie Kay’s hopeful poem is a serviceable metaphor for a fresh start, or annual resetting of approach, I…

Review: Diamond Geezer By Gillian Godden

Diamond Geezer is not a title you would expect to transport you to a turf war in the tenements of Glasgow but then Nick Diamond is no ordinary chap. A handsome, successful and charismatic lawyer with well-cut suits and plenty of silk shirts, he is admired, envied and feared in equal measure. He lives in Chelsea with his wife, Patsy. It’s a long, long way from the run down estate in Glasgow where lie his family roots. He commands respect…

Poem Of The Week: Christmas By John Betjeman (1906-1984)

Christmas The bells of waiting Advent ring, The Tortoise stove is lit again And lamp-oil light across the night Has caught the streaks of winter rain In many a stained-glass window sheen From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green. The holly in the windy hedge And round the Manor House the yew Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge, The altar, font and arch and pew, So that the villagers can say "The church looks nice" on…

“All Oppression Creates A state Of war”*: Christina Dalcher’s Femlandia

Femlandia is the third novel by US author Christina Dalcher, and her third within the subgenre of feminist dystopian literature. In the wake of an economic crash, our beleaguered protagonist, Miranda, and her daughter Emma are forced to take to the road, their house and everything in it having been sold off, leaving with barely the clothes on their backs and a couple of rucksacks containing basic provisions for survival. In scenes similar to Susannah Wise’s Fragile Earth, published but a…

A Skyfall of Verbs: Chasing Clouds - Brilliant Adventures In A Poetry Balloon

One of the many intriguing things about Chasing Clouds, a fine new anthology of children’s poems, is the protean capacity of several of its contributors to make connections with adult readers. Which is as it should be: kids are embryonic adults, or rather, adults will retain vestiges of childhood sensibilities throughout life. Harry Potter transcends boundaries of reception precisely because J.K. Rowling has created a universe of magical suggestion that is balm to the need for escape in children of…

Poem Of The Week: Memory By Eric Ngalle Charles

Memory For Joyce Ashuntangtang Just before dawn when the city bleeds, the poet undresses in the dark and writes. Witness, she pushes herself to tell of prison cells and sharpened guillotines, of how she sees thieves with cloaks and daggers, their faces hanging on posters and billboards. When the city bled, in the reddening dawn, she saw the children, her children. They were many and feeding on garbage in bins and gutters, hungry as rats. In their eyes, she saw before they did the corpses they would be tomorrow. Eric Ngalle Charles’ fine diptych…

‘Back In Time for Eggheads’: The Man Who Died Twice By Richard Osman

I have decided to exercise restraint, a bit like I try to do with chocolate, and not read all of Richard Osman’s books at once. It would be too much of a good thing and more importantly, they make a delightful diversion from some of the darker novels I find myself drawn to. In The Man Who Died Twice, Osman’s second novel,…

Poem Of The Week: Barmbrack By Dean Browne

Barmbrack Mother of God, two houseflies were making love on what must have been their honeymoon. My grandmother struck them with a dishcloth. The dirty fuckers, she said, sweeping them into her open palm like currants falling from the barmbrack loaf at the heart of which lay a golden ring. The affront of the grandmother figure in Barmbrack is a gentle infusion of humour in a vignette whose celebratory tone does for the thought of a freshly-baked fruit loaf what William Carlos Williams did for the irresistible allure of…

After Sylvia: Poems And Essays In Celebration Of Sylvia Plath

Observing the plaids and pleats of the contents of Sylvia Plath’s closet at Bonham’s auction sale room, academic Gail Crowther is struck by the potency of these ‘objects of the dead’, invested with an inextricable link to the ‘biography of the owner’. The ‘symbolic continuity’ they confer can only, she notes, be a shadow of that given up by a manuscript or a collection of poems, but they do introduce us to a kind of intimacy with the interior life…

Anthology Of Short Stories With A Connection To Lancashire To Be Launched

Next week, 12,000 copies of a new book 'Lancashire Stories' will be distributed for free across the county. Printed with help from UCLan Publishing, the book will be given away at libraries, museums and Lancashire Archives. An exclusive eBook version will also be available on BorrowBox, with five additional stories - after Lancashire Day on Sunday (Nov 27) Lancashire County Council commissioned 17 talented, professional authors to write 'Lancashire Stories', which delves into the area's people, places, heritage and mythology. Starting from Tuesday, (November…

A Different World: Swan Song By Robert Edric

Like tuning in to a familiar television series, there is something comforting about reading a series of books involving the same principal characters. You get to know them, to discover their foibles and traits and they become familiar, almost friends. So, it was with a degree of pleasurable anticipation that I picked up the third in the Song Cycle Quartet and met up once more with PI Leo Rivers and his news agency pals, Sunny and Yvonne. Having said how familiar…

After Sylvia: Poems And Essays In Celebration Of Sylvia Plath

Observing the plaids and pleats of the contents of Sylvia Plath’s closet at Bonham’s auction sale room, academic Gail Crowther is struck by the potency of these ‘objects of the dead’, invested with an inextricable link to the ‘biography of the owner’. The ‘symbolic continuity’ they confer can only, she notes, be a shadow of that given up by a manuscript or a collection of poems, but they do introduce us to a kind of intimacy with the interior life…

Books: Unseen Ayckbourn By Simon Murgatroyd

Sir Alan Ayckbourn, is arguably the country’s greatest living playwright. He is certainly the most prolific - and the majority of his plays received their premiere in Scarborough. Originally, this was in the Library Theatre, the first professional in-the-round company, which he joined in 1957 as an actor and stage manager, and from 1996 in the Stephen Joseph Theatre (SJT). ... is a marvellous miscellany of Ayckbourn’s out-takes, paths not taken, reappraisals and rejections. Both a scholarly work of reference and…

Poem Of The Week Children's Special: Head In The Clouds By Charlie Bown

Head in the Clouds Teacher says, Get your head out, Right out, Out of the clouds. Nothing good can come From having a head Stuck in the clouds, He says. Before I take my head Out of the clouds I look around, Around at the clouds. And I see magicians Explorers Adventurers Artists And dancers. I see movers And makers Singers Wakers Dreaming. In the clouds I see mysteries for solving Stories for telling Challenges for taking Lives for saving Questions for wondering And my head In the clouds, Exactly where it belongs. I think we’ve all been there; those unavoidable occasions so mind-bogglingly boring that the only escape is to…

Poem Of The Week: Colden Valley By Ken Smith (1938-2003)

Colden Valley North I’m convinced of it: childhood’s over, in the narrow valleys in the mist the frost is silver in the veins and edge of leaves, and last year’s briars coppered into stone. Then more stone dragged to quarter fields in which the miserable lives of beasts in winter whiten into breath. The valley pulls – poor pasture, poorer footage, water falling. And all its children gone through millyards into stone they chiselled.Billy, Emma, Jack, and gave their dates and shut the ground in work and prayer. Or they are almost…

Deep In The Shadowlands: The Damascene Moment By Malcolm Hollingdrake

Living in Harrogate as I do, a number of people have mentioned the Harrogate Crime Series to me but as the books were only available on Kindle at first - not my preferred medium - I did not immediately enter the world of DCI Cyril Bennett and DI David Owen. Now regularly published in hard copy, I can sit and enjoy their investigations. This is the twelfth in the series and it seems Harrogate is as dangerous a place to…

The Balloon Goes Up: Adventures In Children’s Poetry

I stagger to the counter, an armful of book packages clutched to my chest. “Hello!” I say through the perspex slot, “It’s me again.” Mrs Goggins in the post office leaps into action and five minutes of weighing, printing and sticking begins as postcodes and zip codes are checked. While the growing queue behind me peppers the back of my neck with darts and daggers from impatient eyes, my right ear warms considerably. The process completed, the postage paid, I smile weakly and…