A Writer's Journey: Matson Taylor

Matson Taylor grew up in Yorkshire (the flat part not the Brontë part). He comes from farming stock and spent an idyllic childhood surrounded by horses, cows, bicycles, and cheap ice-cream. His father, a York City and Halifax Town footballer, has never forgiven him for getting on the school rugby team but not getting anywhere near the school football team. Matson now lives in London, where he is a design historian and academic writing tutor at the V&A, Imperial College…

A Withering Light: Brighton Rock By Graham Greene

Much has been said about Graham Greene's 1938 novel, Brighton Rock. As with all serious novels, to the intellectual reader there are numerous themes to explore and analyse and this is where I should confess to my own limitations. I have no contextual knowledge of Brighton in the 1930s, I know nothing of gang warfare either then or now, and I have little understanding of Catholicism, or how it influenced Greene. In the introduction to the edition I read, J.M.…

The Bonds That Define Us: And The Mountains Echoed By Khaled Hosseini

I have long understood that boys and girls often prefer different reading matter. Too often, as English teachers, we would complain that there were not enough books to engage boys and no wonder we struggled to get them to read. In reality, I believe that it’s not the reading so much as the sitting down with which many teenage boys struggle. Much has, of course, been done to redress the balance: Anthony Horowitz has written the Alex Rider Series, John…

The Phone Box At The Edge Of The World – Laura Imai Messina: A Finely Modulated Meditation Upon Grief

“The telephone line won’t carry my voice. So, I let the wind do it, hence the name The Phone of the Wind”. The words of Itaru Sasaki. Wanting to speak to his recently deceased cousin, Itaru instals a telephone box in his garden, which sits at the bottom of the Mountain of the Whale and overlooks the sea off the coast of Otsuki in Japan. Twelve months later in March 2011, Otsuki is decimated by a tsunami which kills 861…

Yorkshire Festival of Story Takes 80 Events to Digital Stage

At a time when our experiences are limited, Yorkshire Festival of Story will offer audiences the chance to use stories to escape, to gain new perspectives and to get active. Under the expert curation of guest Festival Director Joanne Harris MBE, Yorkshire Festival of Story will take place online across August 2020. With over 80 events, this diverse, immersive programme is all free. 2020 marks 10 years since Settle Stories began producing a festival in one of the most beautiful…

A Writer's Journey: Rebecca Sullivan

Rebecca Sullivan is a twenty-two-year-old student at the National University of Ireland, studying English Literature and Geography. She is obsessed with fluffy socks and anything to do with owls, particularly in the form of candles and other odd trinkets. Even when sleeping there’s no escape from writing for Rebecca as she plans story arcs by inducing a lucid dreaming state. Today she releases her coming of age, lesbian summer camp romance novel called Night Owls and Summer Skies, so we…

Turgenev’s Fathers And Sons: Nihilism’s Ineluctable Catalytic Force For Change

Referring to the novels of Ivan Turgenev in his Partial Portraits, Henry James (1843-1916) wrote, “They gave one the impression of life itself and not of an arrangement, a réchauffé of life”. Having recently extolled the virtues of Turgenev’s On The Eve (1860), I described that novel as a flawed literary gem. Fathers and Sons (1862), however, represents the apex of what James found so impressive in his friend’s writing. Eclipsing the earlier novel in terms of ideological force, psychological…

Poem Of The Week: 'The Wreck' By John Haines (1924-2011)

The wreck The Church, like a wreck blown ashore from the Middle Ages battering on a shoal at Finisterre... The seams have opened, and the sea, like a luminous window falling away, flashes briefly with ikons, chalices, gold candlesticks. Angels and saints, their faces crusted with salt, draw near to the flooded railing. They try to sing – the wind, full of a wintry fervour, whips the kyries from broken spars. And the figurehead on a cross has never moved... A couch mourns in the littered shallows; Unwieldy shapes, driftwood and sea-coal, groan and struggle to their feet, survivors…

Review: Beast By Chris Speck

Those who know me could tell you that I don’t like boxing, I hate bullying and am not entertained by stories about violence or horror stories with carnivorous monsters, and yet, in this age of strange enlightenment, I broadened my horizons and gave this new novel a chance. I read it in three sittings and found it compelling. I could not predict the final outcome but I found myself caring for the main character, Tony. The death of a parent is…

Review: The Man Behind Closed Doors By Maria Frankland

Maria Frankland’s second foray into domestic noir makes for a thoroughly engaging read. In an even better book than her debut, the Otley-based novelist takes a step back from her narrative, investing less emotional heart and more forensic intelligence into a story which is both affecting and effective. More impressive still, she achieves emotional distance whilst sustaining narrative balance by informing the individual protagonists with fully-functioning sensibilities. Both Paul and Michelle may feel aggrieved in different ways, and both are given…

On The Eve By Turgenev: An Allegorical Love Story And A Plea To A Nation

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand”, the opening line of William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence (1803) - one of his “prophetic works” - could be a useful way marker when approaching Turgenev. On The Eve, published in 1860 and translated into English in 1895, may be seen as a work utilising an ostensibly sentimental, if undeniably tragic, historical love story, as a thinly veiled cypher for a profoundly insightful political protest novel. The anguished soul of a…

Of Mice And Men By John Steinbeck

In their wisdom, the powers-that-be decided to change the choice of books which could be studied for English Literature at GCSE level, for 2015 and beyond. It was an obvious decision given the title of the course since they banned all literature which wasn’t of English origin – it made sense. What happened, however, was that it wiped out certain stalwarts which English teachers had relied on for years, such as Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (1937). The film version,…

Context Or No Context...That Is The Question!

My wife and I argue. A lot. Perceiving me to be both verbose and prone to ultracrepidarianism, I’m often the object of her vitriol and always punishingly candid, but nuance-laced invective. That last sentence would have me hoisted on my own petard for starters! My opinions often meet with her stolid, relentless intelligence and are eviscerated with casual ease, condemned to a fate worse than death - dismissal. Far from causing us matrimonial disquietude, our verbal jousts are a key…

Poem Of The Week: 'Reading Primo Levi By The Family Fireside At Evening' By Paul Durcan

Reading Primo Levi by the Family Fireside at Evening I turn the pages, wisdom Dissolving into despair. When woman and child speak to me I do not hear them. What am I to do? Continue the book, Pursue the truth, Make sad the family? Or close the book And into the hole in my head Let lamplight filter? Little Mark wants to know If I will play Labyrinth. Holding the book open in my hand, I tell him that I can’t Play Labyrinth. ‘Why can’t you?’ he enquires. I put down the book on the floor And repeat:…

You Will Do Whatever It Takes: This Is Virus By Joe Williams

Joe Williams’ ingenious new take on Covid-19, and the government’s woeful prevarication in dealing with it, is both timely and affecting. Taking Boris Johnson’s nationally distributed leaflet as a starting point, Williams’ breaks the leaflet’s text into fragments and rearranges telling words and phrases to yield a ‘found’ poem of heartbreaking guile and wit. Leeds-based Williams’ commitment to a poetics of conviction is renowned. A performer of real energy, he translates an instinctive empathy into echoing anger, and what his words…

The First Men In The Moon By H.G. Wells: An Audacious Literary Experiment

Whilst the lunar surface of H.G. Wells’s The First Men In The Moon (1901) is a fascinating source of riveting adventure and flights of oneiric fancy, as the novel’s protagonists Mr Bedford and Mr Cavor discover, the unexplored satellite hides its most thrilling secrets deep within its subterranean realms. The same may be said of the novel itself. The teleological functional specialisation of the highly orchestrated, hive-like alien society of the Selenites is as nothing when compared to the literary…

A Sense Of Not Belonging: The Levels By Helen Pendry

The flooding of the village of Capel Celyn to create Lake Tryweryn in Snowdonia, in order to feed the open maw of Liverpool with water, became a cause célèbre in the mid sixties. A fillip to the nascent Welsh Nationalist movement, whose not unreasonable concern for the exploitation of native identity, quite literally drowned out the sound of civic hubris at the new reservoir’s opening ceremony by cutting the megaphone wires, the act embodied an early example of resistance to…

Review: The Girl From The Hermitage By Molly Gartland

Ok, so I know how useful Kindles are, especially when travelling (and no, they don’t get heavier when you store more books on them – sorry, but that was a genuine question I was once asked), but I have never previously read a book on Kindle and never wanted to. I have always preferred to turn proper pages to and fro, but these are chastened times and the bedside pile is sadly diminished. This new novel came recommended by a…

Musing Upon L'Autre: An Insidious (De)Foe

Recently, my thoughts have turned to l’autre. Having read Sarah Bakewell’s superb At The Existentialist Café (2016) and found it to be both accessible and scintillatingly entertaining, existentialism was on my mind. Or was my mind on existentialism? Either way, Bakewell had introduced me to a riveting cornucopia of philosophical luminaries from Jean Paul Sartre to Albert Camus and most rewardingly to Simone de Beauvoir. I had read works by all, but never become intimately acquainted with any of these…

Our Man in Havana: A Very Unconventional Spy Story

You always know you’re in safe hands with a Graham Greene novel, which can be reassuring when you’re in need of a new read and end up reaching for one of those familiar, orange-jacketed Penguins. And what could be more appropriate, whilst stuck at home, than a vicarious trip to Cuba on a sun-drenched holiday? Greene’s Our Man in Havana (1958) is not a spy story in the traditional sense; if anything, it openly satirises the Secret Intelligence Service. Our…

H.G. Wells's The Invisible Man Re-considered

Eclipses can be beautiful, however, by definition they often obscure something equally marvellous from view. Within the glittering canon of H.G. Wells (1866-1946), certain works burn brightly, whilst others are left in the literary shadows of their more prominent compatriots. By dint of popularity, specific novels become the cynosure through which an author is best known and most fully understood. Ironically, the cardinal themes integral to Wells and his thinking are never more visible or provocatively potent than when presented…

Lockdown Discoveries: Character And Class In Jane Austen’s Emma

There is something reductive about treating a canonical classic, such as Emma, to a short analysis. I ask myself, what more can an incidental review from a new reader hope to add, where tracts of literary criticism have already expounded more fully? And you may wonder how a Romantic era fiction, dealing with affairs of the heart, might appeal to a thirty-something lad from Yorkshire, who likes nothing better than an action movie and a swift half down his local!…

Poem Of The Week: 'Something Beautiful In Café Nero' By Ben Ray

Something beautiful in Café Nero for Claud In the antiquated palace of my memories the frescoes are all in primary colours and there are doors that I fear to look behind for fear of structural collapse. So when you strode back into my present and pushed back the walls to finally let in light I was so utterly grateful that you were still You. Glasses on, bag slung back, a smile in corporeal form. We sat down and opened up the dam swapped our pasts, our love lives and love of…

Lessons From The Past: A Retrospective Of Mary Shelley’s The Last Man

Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826) has the dubious honour of being the first apocalyptic fiction, as well as the first literary “dystopia”, some 42 years before the word was even coined. It describes a future society, ravaged by the depredations of plague. The Last Man is astonishingly prescient, citing concepts and expressions now in common usage with regard to our own experience of pandemic. We describe the Coronavirus as a “great leveller”, due to the manner in which it reaches…

Review: The Guardians By John Christopher

I first read this book with a class of Year 9 students in the mid-eighties – it was the only one left on the stock cupboard shelf – and was I glad! I have read it numerous times since and still recommend other John Christopher books, too, particularly, The Prince in Waiting Trilogy, although others might prefer The Tripods. Christopher’s books are thought-provoking, subtle and with a twist at the end - well worth waiting for in their exploration of…

The Yoke Of Necessity: The Oresteia Of Aeschlyus Translated By Jeffrey Scott Bernstein

The nature of Tragedy – its propensity for time transcendence – lends the form a unique serviceability, for who could deny the currency of love and loss, remorse and revenge in the landscape of any era? The overwhelmingly important things – the emotions by which we live and endure – are some of the characteristics which define the Tragic approach. They themselves endure as prismatically as their ablest interpreters; the long chronology of Tragedy has been dignified throughout by re-invention,…

Interview With Janet Devlin

Today is a big day for Janet Devlin, not only is her long-awaited sophomore album, Confessional, finally released, but her autobiography, My Confessional, is also available. Having spoken out earlier this year about the rather tumultuous journey she has had since she first rose to prominence on the X Factor. Having been blown away by both halves of the new release, we wanted to catch up with Janet to learn a little more. Hi Janet, firstly how are you doing? I’m…

Review: Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux

I think it’s a reasonable assumption that Andrew Lloyd Webber, might not have expected those in the audience for the debut of his musical, The Phantom Of The Opera ( 1986) to be thinking about incest. Indeed, thoughts running to inevitable mortality, the Darwinian inspired Theory of Degeneration, xenophobia or the existential threat of l’autre, may also have been absent from the audience’s collective musings! Whilst many derivative adaptations of Leroux’s gothic tale published in 1910 make extensive use of its…

Review: Camp By L. C. Rosen

L. C. Rosen is an author who has from the very outset of his writing career not restricted his target audience. With two novels aimed at adults, two for middle-grade, he is keeping the balance with his second book aimed the young adult audience. Having appeared on the American Library Association Rainbow List Top 10 of 2018 for his first young adult novel, Jack of Hearts, his latest book, Camp, has readers awaiting it with high expectations. Camp, as the title…

The Delights of Serendipity

I’m a creature of habit. My predilections and penchants, masquerading as free will, corral my choices within invisible fences. I think I’m executing a volitional act, exercising self-determinative preference, when the antithetical truth is in fact reality. A proclivity to this or that insidiously denudes me of the free choice I hold so dear. Be it expectation, taste, disposition or assumption, sometimes I’m bridled by forces both invisible and recalcitrant. Magnetically attracted to that which I have historically enjoyed, on…