Kendal Poetry Festival 2021: Poetry For Everyone

So I was organising my hot chocolate, arranging with the family my sole and undisputed access to our comfiest armchair, practising my skills on Zoom and looking through the programme on the Kendal Poetry Festival website, when an e-mail pinged into the virtual letterbox from that lovely force of nature known in the world of poetry (and elsewhere) as Clare Shaw. For those who are not aware, Clare has teamed up with Kim Moore to co-direct this year’s festival of poetry…

Bombs & Bananas: The Last Dinosaur In Doncaster By Sarah Wimbush

It is a rare and cherishable thing to find a poet whose absorption in the hinterland of her own past is so complete that her rendering of an earlier life is unclouded by ambiguity of vision. The reader of Sarah Wimbush’s award-winning collection of poems is privileged to scrutinize an era of tectonic social change through the microscope of local detail, to feel the reverberations of cultural nuance in the textures of the landscape and the voices of its inhabitants,…

Review: A River Called Time By Courttia Newland

Courttia Newland’s debut novel, The Scholar was birthed to enormous acclaim. His latest novel A River Called Time was eighteen years in the making and is a truly epic bildungsroman come sociological touch stone, deriving its coruscating brilliance from astonishing intellectual rigour, meticulously rendered world-building and an imaginative scope only eclipsed by its polysemic richness and profoundly absorbing narrative. Brobdingnagian in breadth, and pharaonic in thematic complexity, Newland’s novel seamlessly melds a multiplicity of genres to achieve his diegetic aims, eschewing…

Review: The Children Of Ash And Elm - A History Of The Vikings By Neil Price

Neil Price’s The Children of Ash and Elm is an illuminating and insightful tour of the Viking era; his narrative is composed from his obvious expertise, and his utter passion. He loves this subject and he wants to invite the reader to share his enthusiasm - never a dull section, and most certainly not a dry academic tome. The reader learns from the start why he is fascinated but his passion never renders his work biased; he does not place…

Review: The Primary Objective By Martin Venning

Well, what can I say? This major undertaking is clearly the result of extensive research and a vivid imagination, not to mention hard work in getting it all on paper. I read Martin Venning’s claim that his new book only came about because of lockdown and he has clearly made very good use of his time. On one level, it is a simple story: Peace International, a charitable organisation, funded by several different governments, seeks to prevent wars and to provide…

Review: Lightseekers By Femi Kayode

Lightseekers is a compelling debut novel from the clinical psychologist turned advertiser and now upcoming literary star, Femi Kayode. Set in Nigeria, the novel moves at pace through an environment which poses the question of where reality stops, giving way to fiction. It’s the story of investigative psychologist Philip Taiwo, who has been hired to discover not who the murderer was in a crime, but instead the harder question, of why did it happen? And as we move through the novel,…

Review: Safe And Sound By Philippa East

Philippa East published her debut novel, Little White Lies, in 2020 to critical acclaim: it was longlisted for The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker Prize’ and shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey ‘New Blood Dagger’ Award 2020. Safe and Sound, her second novel, has been eagerly anticipated and does not disappoint. The scene is set from the start: Housing Association officer Jennifer Arden must visit the flat of a tenant who has fallen behind with the rent and, accompanied by two bailiffs,…

Poem Of The Week: 'Instead Of A Journey' By Michael Hamburger (1924-2007)

Instead of a Journey Turn like a top; spin on your dusty axis Till the bright metal shines again, your head Hums and the earth accelerates, Dizzy you drop Into this easy chair you drowse in daily. Sit there and watch the walls assume their meaning, The Chinese plate assert its blue design, The room renew itself as you grow still. Then, after your flight and fall, walk to the garden Or at the open window taste return: Weather and season, clouds at your vision’s rim, Love’s whims, love’s habitation, and the…

A History Lesson: George Orwell's Animal Farm

With the media currently giving us daily updates about the military coup in Myanmar and protests in Russia, it seemed a good time to revisit the short contemporary classic, Animal Farm by George Orwell. Although I have read it several times, I haven’t opened it for a number of years and felt like a reminder was in order. It is short (you can read it in an afternoon) and although written in the simplest of styles, it is one of…

An Interview with Alice Ash - Author of Paradise Block

Dante Alighieri ultimately transported us to Paradiso, the third and final part of his Divine Comedy. I’m confident that our sage poet would not have considered ‘Paradise’ to be an entirely apposite name for a concrete monolith housing the spiritually desiccated, despondently downtrodden inhabitants of a modern tower block ! This jarring incongruity between an ethereal noun and the fetid place it graces, has been entirely appreciated by Alice Ash, author of the disturbingly brilliant Paradise Block. This surreal, seedy…

The Music Of What Happened: Corona Ceoil - An Anthology By Leeds Irish Health & Homes

Gill Newlyn - Ugandan by birth, reared in Leeds, now a fiddle teacher resident in Kerry - gives a thoroughly engaging, offbeat account of horses, violins and the draw of Irish music in her contribution to Leeds Irish Health and Homes’ timely new anthology. And if you think that her eclectic autobiographical journey is irrelevant to the overwhelming preoccupation of our time, you might want to refocus. For in Corona Ceoil we have a collection of poetic responses to the experience…

‘ …Really Real Poor People, Surviving Alone Together’: Paradise Block By Alice Ash

Books can transport us to Heaven or Hell. Similarly, they can serve as imaginatively conjured portals into the lives of others. As if by magic, the variegated panoply of humanistic individuality can be witnessed within their diverting pages. The dramatis personae of mankind’s story are as varied and unique as they are enchanting or repulsive. When not in the company of heroes and heroines, we may encounter life’s victims, if not vanquished by outrageous fortune, then perhaps fractured by ennui.…

A Greater Obedience To Authority: From Richard Condon To Stanley Milgram

Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate (1959), in conjunction with Stanley Milgram’s social science experiment Obedience to Authority (1974), has made interesting reading during our present period of lockdown. What with the plethora of new guidelines and moratoria we seem to face with every passing day, some prominent figures have likened our predicament to a mass-Milgram experiment. Not that I wish to peddle conspiracy theories – of which I am deeply sceptical, have little patience for and certainly don’t intend to entertain…

Leeds Lit Fest 2021: Going Digital! 2nd - 7th March

Leeds Lit Fest is back! Returning for its third year in the face of significant challenges and uncertainty, the city’s festival of words and thought could not be more necessary. This year, with the world pivoted to digital in the face of the pandemic, the 6 days of Leeds Lit Fest take place entirely online with all but 2 workshops run on a Pay As You Feel basis. 26 events feature more than 50 writers and performers. Monique Roffey (Saturday midday)…

Forgotten History, Contemporary Truths:The Tainted By Cauvery Madhavan

Rousing myself from slumber, I often attempt to connect the diaphanous, multifarious strands of a recent dream, its plot and events an indistinct byzantine blurring of impressionistic feelings and thoughts. Certain details emerge from the cognitive fog, others remain subsumed beneath dense banks of cumulonimbus-like ignorance, assumption and self-edited omission. I think I remember the dream, my understandings tenuous but acceptable, then move groggily into the full consciousness of my day. My cognisance of the historical details pertaining to the…

Interview: Neema Shah

When writing, sometimes the hardest thing is to know where to start. As a debut novelist, what gave Neema Shah the confidence to begin was the exercise of “freewriting” - essentially getting everything down on paper without pausing to reflect on what was being recorded. Without the obstacle of editing on-the-go, she felt liberated to convey the story she was so motivated to share: that of “an overlooked part of British history” – how it might have felt for the…

Poem Of The Week: 'Hulme Five - August 1969' By Mike Harding

Hulme Five – August 1969 2 The Irish Club Porter black as a curate’s cassock topped With a head of creamy, soft Croagh Patrick clouds; Smoke and laughter spool the room While in the corner, calling the tune, Are piper, fiddle and squeeze box. Then a waltz is crooned and the dark night is Set back and tinkers and Kerrymen lilt along. For some the far green hills of Sligo and the bare Stone teeth of Connemara come too close, and eyes Glazed with salt tears see the mirrored glass and…

Kololo Hill By Neema Shah: A Review

In Neema Shah’s evocative debut novel, Kololo Hill, we are transported back to the Uganda of 1972, immediately before Idi Amin decreed that all Asians must leave: “The Asians came to Uganda to build the railway; the railway is finished – they must leave now. I will give them ninety days to pack up and go. Asians have milked the cow but did not feed it.” In this single sentence we understand the context that is the primary thread in…

What Would You Bring? : The Museum Of Broken Promises By Elizabeth Buchan

Laure Carlyle is the curator of her own unusual museum, one which houses everyday artefacts that speak of love, loss and betrayal. It is a beautiful, intriguing and poignant place. As Laure quite rightly says - ‘broken promises matter’. The objects on display are emotive yet it is not the objects themselves which arouse emotions but the explanations which accompany them. I was not far into the novel when I found myself asking what would I bring to such a…

Interview With Catherine Menon - Author Of Fragile Monsters

Salmon Rushdie once said, ‘We need stories to understand ourselves. We’re the only creature that does this unusual thing of telling each other stories in order to understand the kind of creature we are’. Mankind’s predisposition toward, and proclivity for, self-understanding threads itself through our past and pulls the cloth of meaning into something tailored to suit human consciousness. This artisanal patchwork quilt is as culturally ubiquitous as it is anthropologically diverse in colour and tone. A commonality characterising all…

Poem Of The Week: 'Hiraeth' By Natalie Rees

Hiraeth I am looking for a word that will take me back to you, to us, to before. It comes to me in skin. A scratch of your watch across my collar bone to rest your book on the floor; a sip from the glass on our only bedside locker. I am looking for a word to skirr me away from the face masks and death counts, to the crannógs and dolmens and our winter breath meeting in stone circles at the foot of Lough Gur. To point me to the path…

‘Ghosts Everywhere I Look. Ghosts Everywhere I Don’t’: Fragile Monsters By Catherine Menon

Last year I reviewed The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes: a rapturous triumph offering its reader tender-hearted truths couched in scintillating, electrified lyrical prose; Its story transmitted from the page as though a palpable humming current, arcing and sparking in search of an earth within the reader’s mind. Catherine Menon’s debut novel, Fragile Monsters is deserving of much the same description and is an astonishing demonstration of authorial virtuosity and dextrous brilliance, made all the more staggering by dint of…

Countdown To The Kendal Poetry Festival

I miss going to live poetry events: meeting friends, visiting the bookstalls, the bustle for perfect seats, listening to poets you admire while nursing a glass of wine (beer, coffee, hot chocolate etc.) and being inspired to try and improve your own stuff at the end of it all … So, in these times of restriction during lockdown, I am grateful to those wonderful people who organise virtual festivals: marvellous events such as the 2020 BBC ‘Contains Strong Language’ at Tullie…

Interview: Bethany Clift

Bethany Clift’s debut novel, Last One at the Party, will be published on February 4th by Hodder & Stoughton and offers the reader some light-hearted escapism in the current circumstances, despite the novel’s uncanny prescience. In the book, the protagonist is a female sole survivor after a deadly pandemic has wiped out humanity, and the author tells us she “is not a scientist or a soldier, or even a decent cook; she is just doing the best she can, given…

The Still, Sad Music Of Humanity: The Colours By Juliet Bates

Juliet Bates does not privilege the terrain, over which her dramatis personae roll like wraiths in a sea fret, with certain provenance. The Colours is set somewhere on the North East coast of England, but we do not draw an instinctive association between the fictive landscape and any real counterpart except by suggestion; nor do we take comfort in the parallel certainties of places as we might in, for example, Hardy’s Dorset. A mélange of geographical glimpses, shifted for wider…

Review: Ordesa - Manuel Vilas

When writing, authors decide how much of their own personality they wish to convey to the reader. Sometimes they remain elusive, sometimes their fictional characters echo their own personal traits and when writing autobiography, one does wonder what aspects a writer chooses to leave out, wishing to avoid censure from readers. I believe it takes a brave writer to treat the genre of autobiography as a confessional, setting out plainly every aspect of the self, warts and all. Ordesa, the…

Last One At The Party By Bethany Clift: A Review

Bethany Clift’s prescient debut novel was likely never intended to depict what has become reality for the world of 2021. Its publication now is both apt and uncanny, given its subject matter, however, despite the unnerving similarity to our present circumstances, it does offer light relief. Because, when facing a real worldwide pandemic that is ruining the lives of so many, a touch of dark humour can most certainly be welcome. Last One at the Party is the diary transcript of…

The Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka: The Multiple Meanings Of A Sparkling Gem!

Fiction’s capacity for polysemic richness can invite a dizzying, heterogenous cornucopia of hermeneutic approaches as readers and critics alike hunt for the possible meaning cocooned within a book’s intriguing pages. Each interpretive response is hypothetically valid, unless rooted in flawed assumptions or fanciful extrapolation. As with beauty, interpretation is in the eye of the beholder and therefore subjective, even when purporting to be objective! Our perceptions are filtered through a diaphanous mental membrane, shaping what we see and architecting our…

Poem Of The Week: 'Paddy Dies' By Stewart Parker (1941-1988)

Paddy Dies Paddy dies: you never knew him. A deaf hunchback in a home for the old. Deafness drew the blind of his soul. Nobody knew him. Nobody knew him. A wild animal in him reared Up one night, I saw his eyes And for three days he disappeared They found him sleeping in a pig-sty. I wonder if sixty years ago He slept tender in a girl’s breasts? He seems to sleep hard now. His bony umbrella collapsed at last. Edward Lucie-Smith described the work of Belfast poet Stewart Parker, as raw,…

Author Interview: Carolyn Hobdey:All The Tw*ts I Met Along The Way

For decades, Carolyn Hobdey's personal life didn't quite match up to the success of her professional life. A senior and respected business leader in HR, she regularly smashed career goals, while her personal life consisted of love triangles, divorce (albeit amicable) following the discovery her husband of 15 years was gay, car crashes and a controlling and abusive partner. Carolyn's first book, All The Tw*ts I Met Along The Way, is a memoir about what happens when you so deeply…