Friday, 3 April 2020

Review by Rosalind Taylor of "Demon Slayer" vol.11, by Koyoharu Gotouge

In this manga, the main character Tanjiro is fighting two powerful demons from the Upper Moon 6, called Daki and Gytaro. Uzui and his three helpers are helping Tanjiro defeat Gytaro, while Inosuke and Zenitsu try and defeat Daki. There are two main battles in this book.

The two demons have been eating the residents of the entertainment district for years. Daki has dressed herself as an upper-class Orian to disguise herself.

This book is extremely dramatic and exciting. My favourite character is Tanjiro’s sister Nezuko. She saves everyone from dying by burning off some poison. I love this book so much I have read it twelve times. A brilliant manga!

About the reviewer
Rosalind Taylor is eleven years old. She loves reading manga, especially Demon Slayer, and watching anime. She also loves drawing her own manga. She has a twin sister called Miranda.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Review by Jonathan Taylor of "Collision" by Claire Walker

The sea is everywhere in Claire Walker’s beautiful new pamphlet of poems, Collision, haunting its geography, its characters’ voices, language and dreams. Here, ‘brine rises to the surface … / it coats our skin, our hearts,’ and ‘it creeps like a vine / across the map of this town.’ Sailors wear sweaters threaded with ‘waves, … [and] salt hides / in the Arran twists.’ The sea ‘calls to them like a lover,’ and ‘at night, she nestles in their heads, / whispers in waves.’

And if the sea’s voice is female, so too are the other voices which Walker recovers from the sea’s histories, its romances, legends and shipwrecks. These all-too-often-overlooked voices do not tell macho sailors’ yarns, but rather the stories of women who ‘swam / against history, made the coast’ – of mothers, lovers, mermaids, ‘The Fishwife,’ and the groundbreaking nineteenth-century palaeontologist Mary Anning. 

In the short sequence of poems dedicated to her, Anning becomes both a powerful counter-voice to a male-dominated history of palaeontology (‘they … try and erase me’), and a displaced representation of the female poet. A kind of poet-scientist, Anning collects symbols from the sea (in her case, symbols of evolutionary history), and then marks them, writes on them: ‘my fingerprints are spelled out on flint / letters chiselled in the lines of my nameless bones.’ Walker’s description of Anning in the poem ‘She Sells Seashells’ might almost stand as an allegory of her own method:

          Now picture the girl. 
          I gather the coast; hidden art waits
          for my fingers to unfold rocks.

          I line my finds out on a table,
          little fancies I’ve cleaned
          to show the shape of all our pasts …

          Limestone presses messages
          on the seashore. 

As Anning knew well, though, these messages from the seashore are never straightforward: ‘most would laugh me off the [cliff] edge,’ she says, ‘claim a hoax.’ Messages, symbols, images from the sea are ambivalent, complex, over-determined, culturally and historically loaded, sometimes even laughable. 

Walker understands this, too – the way in which age-old sea imagery can overwhelm the real, drown it in signification, as it were. In ‘Self-Fulfilling Prophecy,’ symbolic language has become just that – a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby ‘real’ seagulls seem to have been overtaken by their representation: ‘tired / of our assumptions’ they ‘are living up to their reputation.’ The symbolic has almost erased the real. Similarly, in ‘A Tattooist’s Mistake,’ sea imagery takes on a life of its own, overwhelming the human subject:

          You ask for a mermaid,
          so that is what I give you. 
          My needle draws her slender back, 
          arching to surf that nibbles her skin. 
          Hair red and long, floating
          like crimson seaweed out against water …

          After you leave, 
          you spend the night beachcombing – 
          she, supple in the twist of your arm. 
          You return at sunrise, hollow-eyed,
          ask me for starfish, seaglass, oysters;
          the entire spill of an ocean. 

The language of the sea – its imagery, cultural weight, symbols – cannot be contained; it ‘doesn’t pack neatly into crates,’ and ultimately overwhelms the tattooist, artist, poet, palaeontologist. Voices, selfhood, identities, whether male or female, are all too easily ‘lost to the fetch of a wave.’ Nonetheless, as Walker’s evocative poems demonstrate, the attempt to swim against the tide, ‘against history,’ in itself remains worthwhile. Even if the sea will always, in the end, overwhelm representation, drowning out all other voices, something beautiful might be salvaged in the attempt. As Walker puts it, ‘something in us admires the wreck.’

About the reviewer
Jonathan Taylor is director of Everybody's Reviewing. His books include the poetry collection Cassandra Complex (Shoestring, 2018), and the novel Melissa (Salt, 2015). He directs the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. His website is

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Review by Thilsana Gias of "A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees" by Yoshida Kenkō, trans. Meredith McKinney

A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees is a short selection of essays taken from Yoshida Kenkō's longer collection called Tsurezuregusa, or Essays in Idleness

Kenkō (c.1283 - c.1352) was a Japanese monk who wrote in the zuihitsu (follow the brush) stream-of-consciousness style, which was often used to create loosely connected personal essays reflecting on the ephemeral aspects of life.

Now, you might be wondering, "What could I possibly have in common with a medieval monk?"

Well, as we now live in times of self-isolation and social distancing, who better to relate to than the introspective Japanese monk?

Whilst monks are typically seen as recluses who are far removed from society in every aspect, what I have learnt from Kenkō is that the musings of monks are still very much about people, society and the connections we can forge through finding the same sparks of inspiration. Kenkō himself reflects on this by saying, "It is a most wonderful comfort to sit alone beneath a lamp, book spread before you, and commune with someone from the past whom you have never met." He then goes on to admire "scholars of former times"  whose "moving" works date to around 6th century - 4th century BC ... leaving us with a rather cosy picture of a monk happily settling down to discuss his favourite authors in the same way that you or I might. 

What's particularly interesting about this concept is that Kenkō reinforces the age-old idea that words transcend space and time. In fact, you almost get a sense that you're physically holding generations of human inspiration in your hands, when you listen to him speak about what people of former times found beautiful or captivating:

"Should we look at the spring blossoms only in full flower, or the moon only when cloudless and clear?"

"Could poems on the themes of 'Going to view the blossoms to find them already fallen' or 'Written when I was prevented from going to see the flowers' be deemed inferior to 'On seeing the blossoms'?"

"It is natural human feeling to yearn over the falling blossoms and the setting moon - yet some, it seems, are so insensitive that they will declare that since this branch and that have already shed their flowers, there is nothing worth seeing any longer." 

Kenkō's vivid imagery gives us moving glimpses of what humanity was and still is. He chooses to discuss the "spring blossoms" and "setting moon" -  things that are unchanging with time, making his essays read like conversation starters with us. He paints pictures of the smallest striking moments and decides to share them with none other than your good self. 

Now, it is easy to feel intimidated by such grand portrayals of nature and mankind. Those of you who were initially wondering "What could I possibly have in common with a medieval monk?" may now be thinking "How could I possibly relate to someone as cool as this monk?"

Fear not.

Kenkō very clearly says: "No-one could be less enviable than a monk. Sei Shōnagon wrote that people treat them like unfeeling lumps of wood, and this is perfectly true." I challenge you to find anything more relatable than that.

About the reviewer
Thilsana Gias is an MA Creative Writing graduate from the University of Leicester. Her favourite Shakespeare play is Macbeth. She is an English tutor and will train to teach Secondary School English soon. She's also hoping she'll finish re-working her dissertation into a publishable piece of writing.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Review by Kathy Hoyle of "The Almost Mothers" by Laura Besley

This stunning flash fiction debut takes us on a compelling journey, with Laura Besley skilfully weaving together a variety of narratives as far removed from the familiar womb-warmth of traditional tales of motherhood that one could possibly imagine.   

This is an exploration of motherhood, in all its complexities. Besley refuses to hold back, plunging the reader into the realisation that motherhood is often stark and terrifying, with her opening story, "Mothers Anonymous." We hear from Melissa: "'I’m Melissa,’ she says in a raspy voice like she smokes a pack a day… And I hate being a mother.'" And from there, Besley drags us through each tale by the heartstrings.  

In "Everything’s Fine," we see how being a new mum means discarding one’s own self, to emerge unrecognisable, even in your own mirror: "I see a face and step back, knocking over a bin when I realize it’s me. The new me. The she who doesn’t wear make-up, have time to wash or sometimes even brush her hair." 

Then, we have moments of wry humour in "Down To Earth," a humorous story about Earth mothers, told from an alien point of view. But quickly we find ourselves hurtling downward again, with the horrifying "Wish Upon a Star," a story that takes your breath away in just three, short paragraphs. 

Besley dips into dystopian futures, with two tense and terrifying stories, "In Hiding" and "The Unmothers," and she’s also not afraid to acknowledge the non-mothers, with her uncompromising story "That Face" and with the brief, but intensely powerful, "How to Grow Your Own Baby."

The Almost Mothers is a wonderful collection of short fiction which has real depth and poignancy. Besley captures motherhood beautifully in this raw and uncompromising debut. I look forward reading much more of her work in the future.   

About the reviewer
Kathy Hoyle is an MA graduate from The University of Leicester. Her short stories and flash fiction have appeared in a variety of literary magazines such as Virtualzine, Silver Apples, Reflex Fiction and Another North.  She was shortlisted for The Exeter Short Story Prize, The Fish Memoir Prize and the Ellipsiszine Flash Fiction Collection Prize. She is currently working on her first novel. 

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Review by Gus Gresham of "Poppy Flowers at the Front" by Jon Wilkins

This is a poignant, compelling story of love and desolation amid the sterling work of ambulance women during the 1914-18 World War.

As any good reader or writer knows, it is the detail that convinces and transports us to the virtual landscape of a story. Like all great novels set in the First World War (All Quiet On The Western Front; A Farewell To Arms …), Jon Wilkins’s excellent novel, Poppy Flowers At The Front, airlifts us directly into the sights and smells and sounds and mud and blood and horror and senseless waste of the trenches.

We are in safe hands, though (we hope), with the engaging narrator Poppy Loveday, who guides us through her story as surely as her ambulance negotiates the muddy rutted tracks between the field hospital and the Front, with shells exploding around her. She is diligent in her selfless efforts, but is consumed daily by the suffering of "young boys in pain, a pain they did not deserve. Boys who screamed in terror, far from home and their mothers."

Yet, amid it all, there is light-hearted relief, humour and sensitivity, especially in the jaunts to Paris, rural France and rural England. And on a visit home, there is a beautifully understated exchange as Poppy’s father quizzes her about how hard life really is on the Western Front: "'Now tell me all about France, the truth mind…' So, I did and he was very quiet and very shocked."

The main counterpoint to the horrors of trench-warfare is embodied in a wonderfully handled and sensitive love story. The reader turns the pages in anticipation of something dreadful happening to the heroine or her lover at any time … and … (no spoilers!). Recommended.

About the reviewer
Gus Gresham is an avid reader and writer. He has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing and has worked variously as a mechanical engineer, construction worker, fruit picker, community activist for Greenpeace, writer, English tutor, audio-book producer, interpersonal and communication skills facilitator, and building surveyor. He’s had short stories published in literary magazines Brittle Star and Under The Radar, and his recently published novel, EARTHRISE, is available on Amazon. You can read a review of it here

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Review by Kathy Hoyle of "Jim Neat: The Case of a Young Man Down on His Luck" by Mary J. Oliver

Mary J. Oliver describes this work as a "long narrative poem."  Whilst the book certainly does contain sections of vivid, powerful poetry, it’s also a hybrid of hospital reports, diary entries, letters and historical photographs, making it a truly fascinating and original composition.

As a child, Mary hears a whisper of a conversation between her parents, an accusation, revealing a secret her father kept to himself and refused to speak of, ever: "You’re in another world, it’s that woman you married in Canada. And her baby. Isn’t it? Still dreaming about them, after all this time."

Mary’s father is absent, often physically, as he struggles with depression and addiction, and always emotionally. As an adult, Mary has a need to understand her father better, maybe find the half-sister she thinks still lives somewhere on the other side of the world and once and for all get answers as to why her father was never really present in her life. 

Mary remembers that Jim was close to his sister Queenie, and tracks down her daughter, Sally, sparking a journey of discovery. Through Sally, Mary finds boxes of old letters and documents, revealing links to Canada, where Jim spent his early life. She carefully collates hospital reports, letters and diary entries, to build an absolutely fascinating picture of her father. Interspersed throughout the narrative are Mary’s own thoughts, expressed through poetry and short sections of creative non-fiction, as she fills in gaps and processes her feelings. 

This sometimes humorous, yet more often heart-breaking story reveals how Mary came to understand her father and the extraordinary life he led before he met her mother. Unlike anything I’ve read before, I was pulled in by the stunning prose, the gorgeous poetry written by both Jim and Mary, and the powerful themes of loss, duplicity, addiction, love and family secrets. An exceptional book.  

About the reviewer
Kathy Hoyle is an MA graduate of Creative Writing from the University of Leicester. Her flash fiction and short stories have appeared in various online zines. She has been shortlisted for The Exeter Short Story Award, The Fish Publishing Short Memoir Prize and the Ellipsiszine Flash Fiction Collection Competition. She will write for chocolate. 

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Review by Amber Culbert of SoundCafe Leicester

SoundCafe is a Leicester based non-profit organisation founded in 2014. They run weekly workshops on Wednesday afternoons and offer a safe creative space for people suffering in poverty who may be homeless, isolated and vulnerable.

Their main aims are to:

  • Create a safe space for people to explore their creativity.
  • Provide a sense of belonging.
  • Help people to find and have their voices heard.
  • To build and sustain good relationships.

I am a second year creative writing student at DMU and as part of a placement for one of my modules, I have been attending arts events around the city over the past few months. One of the most memorable events I attended was SoundCafe on 22nd January.

Upon arriving I naturally gravitated towards the poetry table (there were several different tables set up, each for different activities such as poetry, arts and crafts, music etc.). One thing that struck me immediately was the sense of community and friendship between the visitors, most of whom I had never met before. Every few minutes someone would approach me and introduce themselves and ask me about myself in a way that felt so genuine like they really cared about what I had to say. 

SoundCafe is set up for people who are vulnerable and in need but these people seemed in such high spirits and were so happy to be there, it was really lovely to see. Throughout the duration of the session, guests were invited to come up to the front and perform, whether it was a song on karaoke, a piece of music or a poem; they all had such enthusiasm it was infectious.

Attending the session was quite a moving experience and I was able to see just how much these workshops meant to people. You could feel the hurt and pain in some of the guests and it was clear that art, particularly writing, drawing and singing, can be a much-needed emotional outlet for people who are struggling. SoundCafe is doing some very important work in our community and I want to thank them for making me feel so welcome!

About the reviewer
Amber Culbert is a second year creative writing student at De Montfort University. She enjoys writing poetry and short fiction and has always loved reading, especially work by Stephen King and Kate Tempest. She is passionate about helping others and encouraging other emerging writers to share their work.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Interview with John Schad

John Schad is Professor of Modern Literature at University of Lancaster.  His books include Victorians in Theory (Manchester, 1999), Queer Fish: Christian Unreason from Darwin to Derrida (Sussex, 2004), a memoir, Someone Called Derrida (Sussex, 2007), a novel The Late Walter Benjamin (Bloomsbury, 2012), an experimental biography called Paris Bride (Punctum, 2020), and (with Fred Dalmasso) Derrida | Benjamin. Two Plays (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021).  He has also had two retrospectives published - Hostage of the Word, 1993-2013 (2013) and John Schad in Conversation (2015). He has read his work on BBC Radio 3’s ‘The Verb’ and at various literary festivals, and his plays have been performed at The Oxford Playhouse, Duke’s Theatre Lancaster, Watford Palace Theatre, HowTheLight GetsIn (Hay-on-Wye), and the Sheldonian Theatre Oxford.

Interviewed by Jonathan Taylor

JT: How would you describe the genre you work in? Is it literary criticism, philosophy, creative writing, creative-criticism, life writing, theology, literary theory, or a mixture of some or all these things? 

JS: Guilty of all the above, plus: slapstick, pantomime, and circus. So, yes, I guess I do mix things up; or, rather, I am mixed up. I am particularly mixed up about the difference between reading and writing, which I shall never grasp. It’s why I am always writing out of reading, always writing in the shadow, or shelter, of a prior text, in the margins, or between the lines. On a good day this works, and I'm off, running away to the circus, off to the far side of Literature. On a bad day, Bad.

JT: How would you describe your style or voice? 

JS: Dull. Which is why I'm always trying to lose my voice, or to throw it, throw it away, and find another one, a voice that can do more with less - less effort (being lazy, you see). It never seems to happen though.

JT: You write for the theatre, as well as for the page. How do the two forms relate to each other in your work? 

JS: Ah, yes, the theatrical antics, they emerged out of the prose. It just happened one day. (Pause). You know, sometimes I am persuaded that all writing, in the end, aspires to the condition of theatre, of voices or bodies performing before a darkened auditorium in which there may, or may not, be an audience. There was, of course, theatre long before ever there was writing. 

JT: Do you find there are things you can do in one form that you can't in the other?

JS: Yes. Theatre lets you get away with not describing boring things like the weather and faces; you can just do the voices and leave the rest to the actors. An almighty relief. And when I can’t find any actors I simply write a book which suddenly, or for a while, becomes a play – it’s cheaper. 

JT: How would you describe the parts played by philosophy or religion in your writing? 

JS: You know, I have recently begun to imagine that I'm writing books which think or pray by themselves. To put that another way, I imagine that the book is a thinking machine – that if I could but wire it up sufficiently, build enough connections both within the text and with the world beyond, that the book will start to think all on its own. I have in mind Alain Badiou’s wonderful question, ‘What does the poem think?’ The answer to this question may, of course, be ‘Not much,’ but that may be where the prayer begins - with stupidity.   

JT: Who (do you think) is your intended reader? Who do you write for?

JS: I’m never quite sure if there is a reader – and not just because I am so very dull.  You see, I suspect that the reader might not really exist at all, or is at best a kind of ghost. I am, then, used to talking to no one, or the air. Like now. Mind you, sometimes I dream that the reader does exist and that s/he might yet redeem the book, make nothing of it.

JT: Much of your writing is heavily intertextual. Do you think the reader needs to have read the explicit intertexts to which you allude (by Jacques Derrida, Samuel Beckett, Emily Dickinson, Katherine Mansfield, Dickens, Walter Benjamin, et al) to understand your work? 

JS: No. You see, these damned texts just turn up, unannounced, out of the blue, much like any other character or voice - walk right in they do, quite unexplained and strange, as fresh as they day they were first coughed up.  

JT: Can you tell us a bit more about your new book, Paris Bride: A Modernist Life - its origin, the premise, its aim? 

JS: In 1905, in a Baptist church in Paris, a young woman called Marie Wheeler married (or thought she had married) someone called Johannes Schad, a clerk from Basel. Marie and Johannes then lived together in suburban London until one day, in 1924, they went to the High Court in the Strand, and the marriage there ended, or was declared never to have been. The stated reason for what happened in the High Court was, and is, hard to credit. Marie, nevertheless, disappeared, returning alone to Paris. And that is all the official records revealed. 

One day, however, I received a message from an angel in Paris called Jacques, who said his great-grandmother knew Marie, and that her diary revealed quite another version of events. The angel also sent me a photo of the young Marie, a few of her letters, and one or two details of her life and death.  

So, clutching said fragments, I fell head-first into a whole pile of books written by giants like Wilde, Kafka, Woolf, and Mansfield. And there, time and again, I swear that I glimpsed the face or the back or the shadow of Marie. And that’s the book, Paris Bride - it thinks that it reads Marie back into existence. Mad.  

About the interviewer
Jonathan Taylor is the director of Everybody's Reviewing. His books include the novel Melissa (Salt, 2015), the poetry collection Cassandra Complex and the memoir Take Me Home (Granta, 2007). He directs the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. Many thousands of years ago, he was John Schad's PhD student. 

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Review by Victoria Pickup of "Sharp Hills" by Chrissie Gittins

Sharp Hills shows Chrissie Gittins resurrecting ghosts of the past whilst connecting with the reader through her insightful description, vivid imagery and humour.

This collection (Gittin’s third) opens with the sequence ‘Dancing in Silchar,’ inspired by the poet’s travels in India following her father’s footsteps in WWII.

Here, Gittins weaves past imaginings with transportive descriptions of what is real and present. In ‘Prayer Flag, Nainital,’ her prayer flag is first a bedsheet, then a tea towel. Armed with her ‘father in black and white’ ('Dancing in Silchar'), the poet revisits the past whilst highlighting the pitfalls and wonders of travelling in India with her observations that ‘Six boxes of Immodium may be five boxes too many,’ followed by:

          … a party of fellow passengers 
          who embark at Rudrapur will unpack a picnic 
          and present you with a serviette, spoon, and a paper plate 

          of puri, kachori, aloo subzi and jalebi.
          ('Travelling in India') 

Gittins compares her father’s experiences, real and imagined, with her own. In ‘Operations Record Book,’ her writing is spliced with his own words:

          The heat is terrific, we are not used to it, but the boys worked like tigers.

          Still cold, I keep my coat wrapped around me
          as I forget to tick ‘terms and conditions’ to become a reader.

These combined perspectives connect us directly with her story.  By recognising the beauty of their shared, if removed, experiences, the poet reawakens her father’s memory and in doing so is more connected with him.

Gittins also draws upon the contrasts of their journeys. One of my personal favourites, ‘Frontiers,’ describes the poet surrendering her homemade gifts (intended for her hosts) at the airport: ‘Elsinore strawberries hung in their syrup / like air balloons in a red sky. / Seville orange slivers, marinated overnight … in gelatinous amber.’ The poet goes on to reflect upon what loss means in a very different situation:

          I hadn’t lost my clothes, I hadn’t lost

          my childhood in photographs,
          I hadn’t lost my country.
          And still it cut me to the quick.

Inevitably tied to the tracing of history is the experience of loss. Out of India, Sharp Hills remains rooted in the memory of loved ones, of the ghosts Gittins lives alongside. In ‘I Carry You With Me,’ she describes a trip to Spain, ‘through security where, despite you saying / weeks ago they would have to be packed in a separate / polythene bag, I have to search deep in my rucksack / for moisturizer.’ Gittins goes on to refer to ‘Your empty seat,’ acknowledging the absence, keenly felt. 

‘Where is Freya?’ shows the poet searching for a child: ‘on the red staircase, / under your mother’s blackcurrant bush … I stroke the surface of the trampoline / for the imprint of your sole.’ Later in the collection, ‘Satin Stitch’ remembers Gittins’ mother through her embroidery. The final glorious couplet, celebrates not only her creations, but their ‘Best love for ever’: 

         The serviettes come out for notable occasions,
         they feature in the art of deepest celebration.

There are also laments to an unknown sister and in ‘Sundays’ the poet compares her memories with a sibling (we presume): ‘We’re each other’s precious reference book,' highlighting the comfort which can be gained by keeping memories alive. 

A powerful penultimate poem in the collection, ‘Though June I Light a Fire,’ is dedicated to Helen Dunmore, the friend she didn’t manage to say goodbye to but who lives on in her every day, as portrayed in the touching final couplets:

          And yet you’re here – as I peel a browned petal
          from a rose, as a lime green caterpillar curls

          against the curve of pink,
          as the cold leaves are lifted by the wind.

Through her poems, Gittins’ takes her reader on a personal journey, reawakening figures of her past whilst also describing what adventure and wonder can be found when journeying through life with the spirit of a loved one in your heart. 

About the reviewer
Vic Pickup’s poetry has featured in a number of magazines and webzines. She is a previous winner of the Café Writers competition and was recently shortlisted for the National Poetry Day #speakyourtruth competition. In 2018, Vic co-founded the Inkpot Writer’s Group in the Hampshire village where she lives with her husband and three children.