Poem Of The Week: ‘All The Pubs Where We Used To Meet Are Sinking’ By Carole Bromley

All the Pubs Where We Used to Meet are Sinking The Little John is up to its knees, The Lowther shoulder high, The Kings Arms just keeping its head. In The Bonding Warehouse, the barman snorkels to collect empties and only fish remember what we said. At The Cock and Bottle barstools are afloat, banging against the window I looked out of when you asked how I’d been and I lied. Carole Bromley’s three brief tercets dwell, amongst other things, on the depressing inexorability of rising water. Sinking beneath a…

'These Are The Hands' : Many Different Kinds Of Love By Michael Rosen

If ever the NHS needed to justify its own existence – it doesn’t, nor ever should – then its astonishing handling of the Covid crisis, and subsequent roll-out of a vaccination programme, is a triumph of endurance, endeavour and world-class effectiveness. Michael Rosen’s new book is many things: an impressionistic, in places lyrical, diary of a terrible, defining experience; an ‘anthology’ of deeply touching notes and diary entries written by an assortment of nurses, reassigned professionals and volunteers describing their patient’s…

‘You Have To Know Your History If You Want To Put Things Right’ : Charity By Madeline Dewhurst

Well, what a debut novel! Although a work of fiction, Charity sprang from the case brought against the British Government for its treatment of Kenyans in the 1950s, during the British colonial administration of the country. The case was settled in 2013 and there was a formal expression of regret issued for the torture and ill-treatment which had been meted out to thousands of Kenyans. Native Kenyans, mainly the Kikuyu tribe, had been displaced from the land they had worked…

Review: Bright Burning Things By Lisa Harding

Bright Burning Things is a beautifully crafted insight into a dark world, full of trepidation, leaving the reader at times almost fearful to turn the next page. The opening paragraph gives voice to the evocative nature of the prose: we meet Sonya, together with son Tommy, walking across the sand at a local beach, “warm velvet beneath the soles of my bare feet,” and Sonya fleetingly feels “an intense feeling of connection with all that is right and good in…

Practise To Deceive: Transcription By Kate Atkinson

Having already read a few of Kate Atkinson’s novels, I picked this one off the bedside pile and settled down to enjoy it. It was a slow burn to say the least, as I read a few pages and put it down, only to be drawn back to it repeatedly over the next couple of days. Thank goodness then for a particularly inclement day which allowed me to wholly immerse myself for several hours in the world of war time…

Poem Of The Week: 'Going Blind' By Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Going Blind She’d sat just like the others there at tea. And then I’d seemed to notice that her cup was being a little differently picked up. She’d smiled once. It had almost hurt to see. And when eventually they rose and talked, and slowly, and as chance led, were dispersing through several rooms there, laughing and conversing, I noticed her. Behind the rest she walked subduedly, like someone who presently will have to sing, and with so many listening; on those bright eyes of hers, with pleasure glistening, played, as on…

'We Shall Be Forgotten' : In The Palace Of Flowers By Victoria Princewill

Historical fiction saturated in conspicuous facts, can descend into little more than an erudite concatenation bereft of humanistic verisimilitude and emotional resonance. Hours spent in assiduous research, like the mellifluous voices of sirens, can tempt an author to eschew narrative power and have this sine qua non of fiction usurped by the desire to convey facts, not life. Such works are at best turgid tomes which pay dull homage to desiccated details. Consequently, the reluctant reader feels more like a…

Review: The Smash-up By Ali Benjamin

The Smash-Up is a timely novel for those, like me, who observe the world around them with disbelief, forcing personal expectations to flex in anticipation of the next peculiar occurrence. The book is best described as an honest attempt to process the absurdity of the modern world, injecting truth, honesty, humour and despair into the analysis. The opening words, "What happened?", set the scene. It's 2018 and the question is initially being asked in response to the election of a president…

Review: The Devil And The Dark Water By Stuart Turton

One of the many reasons why Greek Tragedy is time transcendent is that it is thematically all-consuming and therefore highly serviceable: a Sophocles play need not depend on a performance that remains scrupulously faithful to its Athenian context because the simplicity of Tragic form – dealing with revenge, remorse, guilt and love - carries a gravitas and weight that speak to all succeeding generations. Paying due respect to the relativity of cultural nuance, the meaning of Tragedy will sustain, regardless…

An Interview With Femi Kayode - Author Of Lightseekers

Femi Kayode, author of debut novel Lightseekers (published in February) is a writer who knows how to craft a compelling story. It was unsurprising, therefore, to interview him and discover his personality to be vibrant, forthcoming and honest. I praised his characterisation in the novel, and I understand now that this must stem from his own self-awareness, his sensitivity to others, and his life experience. I asked who he is, beyond clinical psychologist-cum-advertiser-cum-writer: “I think I am many things… I…

Poem Of The Week: 'All' By Alison Brackenbury

All And all who died, from winter’s sleet, From flu, from guns, from cells grown wrong, Still stand, one breath from fingers’ reach, Just out of touch, all colour gone. The dead grow smaller. From a train Mist takes the fields, drinks green to grey, The fog has swept across their face. In yard or park, they walk away, Then wait in rooms, without a fire, With tea uncleared, without a fuss; In cushioned chairs, now closer drawn, Nod to each other, not to us. But in mid age it is not strange To…

Jamaica Inn By Daphne du Maurier - A Review

There are moments in teaching which never leave you and watching the light suddenly go on in a previously disaffected pupil is wonderful. It was thirty years ago and I cannot remember her name but, for ease, will call her Emma. I can remember that she was only interested in Art and Photography and that she eventually pursued a career in the latter. She wasn’t a naughty girl, just switched off and it was a relief to hear in the…

Girl In The Walls By A.J. Gnuse - A Review

Girl in the Walls is the debut novel from New Orleans-based writer A.J. Gnuse. It’s the story of Elise, who literally is a girl in the walls, occupying her former home in Louisiana, but out of sight. Can she exist? Does she exist? At first the reader wonders whether she is in fact a spirit; she remains nameless, unidentified in the opening chapters. Recorded episodically, we are introduced to her existence, the house she occupies and the family she observes.…

‘Grief Can Make People See Things In A Very Odd Light’ : Body On The Island By Victoria Dowd

One whodunnit recently resolved by this sleuthing scribe, was the intriguing case of the ‘successful sequel’. A conundrum precipitated by the advent of a rather delightful debut entitled, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder. Our culprit had undeniable form. My case notes were presented for our readers last year in the guise of a review. Oversized, ivory-handled magnifying glass in hand, this mystery did not prove to be an enigmatic seven-pipe problem. Warm calabash discarded, the answer lay hiding…

Bullet Rounds And Birdsong: Inhale / Exile By Abeer Ameer

Meeting the cheerful Razur was an object lesson in blunt resistance, gallows humour and a suggestion of imminent unravelment. Razur was Iranian, from a middle class family who’d thrived under the Shah’s regime, but by 1982 was persona non grata beneath the baleful gaze of the Ayatollah Khomeini. A student at Leeds of unlimited tenure, he was in no hurry to return; the authorities, he said, would execute him if he set foot in Teheran again. He was a kind of…

Fighting The Big Boys: Village Of Second Chances By Gina Hollands

I have said before that my reading tastes are eclectic, from Chaucer to Agatha Christie and everything in between. I’ll give most things a go. The latest novel by Gina Hollands is the first of hers that I've read and it has to be said, Mills & Boon spring to mind - and there’s nothing wrong with that. Founded in 1908, Mills & Boon is the UK's number one publisher of romantic fiction and can still claim over three million…

It's All Greek To Me !

Greek and Roman myths are suffused with a colourful cornucopia of libidinous Gods and Goddesses, by turns cantankerous and disconcertingly blood thirsty when out of sorts. Vengeance, jealousy, betrayal and amore animate their magical doings, with occasional departures into the Elysian fields of wisdom, benevolence and justice. Headquartered upon Mount Olympus, but omnipresent and omniscient, the ancient Greeks believed that their Gods both created and unassailably controlled their known world. However, the pantomime of passions acted out by these wonders…

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…