Monday, 13 September 2021

Review by Tracey Foster of "The Ormering Tide" by Kathryn Williams



Mercury music prize nominee Kathryn Wiliams is a successful singer / songwriter who has tuned her musical ear and channelled her creative flow into creating this first novel. The sea ebbs and flows through this coming-of-age story and just as the abalones are uncovered with the low spring tide, so too secrets and truths are gradually revealed to the tight-knit island community. 'Ormers, also known as ear shells, are abalones that can only be accessed to harvest on big spring tides. You may catch ormers on the day of the new moon, and two days after that.'

Rozel lives with her parents and triplet brothers in a small cottage in a bay on one of the Channel Islands. The small community that lives there go out on the shores at the ormering tide to collect the shells and work together to harvest the bounty. The events following her eldest brother’s accident leave the community fractured and rumours begin to break their bonds. Rozel uncovers the truth of the accident by piecing together fragments of conversations overheard as she wanders the island and spends time with her elderly neighbour - collecting memories like picking shells off the beach.

Williams laces the narrative with echoes of menace and weaves an undercurrent of threat that keeps the reader guessing who the perpetrator is. The claustrophobic setting of her family life holds us close to the narration and we eavesdrop on snippets that help us come to our own conclusions. ‘My life was like a bowl, filled each new day. The sloshing around of the same faces, the same concave world, filling in and tipping out.’

Sounds play an integral part of the aural experience within this novel. Williams cleverly uses the sounds of the sea, wind, grasses, stones on the beach to frame her settings. This roots us in the landscape but also whispers at us from the side-lines as if suggesting other conversations: 'The shell sounds of oceans, whistling around and up. Twisting inside like an ear to the ground.'

After the accident, her brother is unable to speak and she becomes his voice, translating the incomprehensible babble that streams from his mouth. This raises her from the bottom of the order of hierarchy in the house, as she becomes essential in communicating his thoughts to the nurses and his parents. This link between ears and shells, listening and retaining sounds within, plays well with the theme of the novel. Her best friend Bunny also has a speech impediment that echoes the sound of the sea that surround them: ‘The whispering licks of the wind in dry grass, the circling of dry sand in swirls. The wind at the top of the cliffs rushing past the holes in my ears, all had the same lisp.’

Readers will be swept along with the narration and stung with some uncomfortable truths - similar to how Rozel says ‘the sand would whip up with the wind and hit our legs like little pins.’

As well as a successful musical career, Williams has worked with other poets at writing retreats and has collaborated with Carol Ann Duffy to produce a piece about the Waterloo massacre. She was given a New Writing North commission and was the poet in residence at Alnwick Garden. The Ormering Tide is her debut novel, and she continues to produce music on her own record label, CAW records.


About the reviewer
As a teacher of Art and Design for over thirty years, Tracey Foster has channelled her imagination into getting the best creative output out of others. She is now hoping to restore her create mojo and has enrolled on the Creative Writing MA course at Leicester University. Last year, she completed the Comma Press short story course with Rebecca Burns and collectively published Tales from Garden Street. She has had her first poem published by the Poetry Bus magazine and is currently working on a poetry collection.

Monday, 6 September 2021

Review by Simon Elson of "Gigantic" by Ashley Stokes



There’s a genre of book that has come to the fore recently: humorous sci-fi / fantasy. Perhaps the late Douglas Adams might be considered the father of this genre, but in recent years more and more authors have taken up the challenge, which is great news as I love a good sci-fi book and if it's a funny one then all the better.

Gigantic by Ashley Stokes fits nicely into this genre. Kevin Stubbs is convinced a Yeti / Bigfoot-type creature is living in woods just off the A127 near Sutton in Surrey. He spends his life searching for it. The narrative takes the form of letters and reports of an organisation called G.I.T. They are written in the first person by two different authors, with Kevin’s being the lion’s (or perhaps Bigfoot’s) share of the text.

This book had me from the prologue, when Kevin tells the reader that as a child he watched Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World and read a weekly encyclopedia magazine entitled The Unexplained. As a twelve year old, I also did both. I have only recently lost the ESP cards that were given away with issue 1 of The Unexplained and I’ve still got the hardback book that accompanied the Mysterious World T.V. programme. At the risk of sounding a little strange, myself and a couple of friends were also convinced that a Bigfoot and an alien landing site were both situated in a nearby wood in Staffordshire, probably because we all watched Arthur C. Clarke and read weird magazines. Add the fact that my wife’s family hails from Surrey and I know the A127 and Sutton very well, the coincidences stacked up and I just had to keep reading. 

The book takes place over just a few days and you can’t second guess the ending. If I could read it again for the first time, I would just stop trying and enjoy the twists and turns. If this genre is your thing, then you should let this book share space on your bookshelf (or virtual bookshelf) alongside the classics of this style.


About the reviewer
Simon Elson is a Freelance Features Writer. His articles  have appeared in numerous national magazines including Best of British, Derbyshire Life and Writing Magazine. He also writes for the popular cycling website Veloballs.com and has been a guest blogger on The Huffington Post

Thursday, 2 September 2021

A Book That Changed Me, by Mikiko Fukuda: "Obasan," by Joy Kogawa



I read Joy Kogawa’s well-known, CanLit novel Obasan for the first time while I was in high school in Ontario. As a young Japanese Canadian, I knew I was reading something that was important to the canon, to Canadian history and to me, but as I was still learning how to do close readings, I didn’t fully comprehend how much this book would mean to me.

Obasan is a story about a woman named Naomi who recalls her life while she lived in an internment camp in Canada. The dual timeline is narrated by Naomi as a child and as an adult. Her aunts, Obasan and Aunt Emily, help Naomi piece together her and her family’s history.

The next time I read Obasan, I was a busy undergrad student completing courses in North American history and English Language and Literature. During a history lecture about WWII and the Japanese internment camps, I knew I had to reread Obasan. This time around, reading the novel roused feelings of anger in me. Although I’m thankful for the emotions that it stirred in me, I kept thinking that my reading experiences with Obasan couldn’t end in anger. I wanted to turn my anger into positive action, so I did: I applied to the graduate program “Literatures of the West Coast” at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. I felt certain that UVic would be the place that I could finally write a thesis based on Asian North American literature and, in 2010, I turned my reading experiences of Joy Kogawa’s Obasan into my MA thesis.

I don’t know how many times I’ve read Obasan. I know that it’s not a novel everyone will enjoy. But there is something powerful in Naomi, Obasan and Aunt Emily’s stories that reveal dark secrets about Canada’s supposed “multiculturalism.” For me, Kogawa’s novel highlighted incidents in my life that serve as reminders that - even today - I’m not welcome or accepted in Canada as a (Japanese) Canadian. 


About the reviewer
Mikiko obtained her MA in English Language and Literature from The University of Victoria in Canada. She has worked as a language and literature instructor at post-secondary institutions in Canada, Japan, Kuwait and Oman. She worked as the Editorial Manager at a publishing firm in Shanghai and currently writes reviews for sabotagereviews.com. You can find her on Instagram @mikifoo82 or on her blog, thetravellingeditor.blogspot.com.

Friday, 27 August 2021

Review by Lisa Williams of "Coffee Spills & Songs" by Berendsje Westra

 


Coffee Spills & Songs by Berendsje Westra is the story of Air Steward Carys and her life as she approaches her thirtieth birthday. The action travels between her childhood and 2010. The book is written in the first person and we are soon enjoying her new relationship. Westra shows us the faults that Carys misses or ignores in her new partner. This makes for a frustrating read – we are cheering on our protagonist whilst wanting to grab her away from situations she saunters into. This helps you feel more invested in the book – Carys becomes almost a close friend, although at the same time it accentuates the exasperation we feel at her decisions and life choices. This isn’t a light fluffy read - the story also examines family tragedy and mental health. These weighty themes are woven seamlessly into the narrative.

This book is part of a trilogy yet still has a satisfying end should you choose not to read further. The characters are so fabulously crafted I certainly put the book down hoping the next one is soon available.


About the reviewer
Lisa Williams is a shopgirl from Leicester. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Leicester. @noodleBubble online.

 

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Review by Simon Elson of "Fauna" by David Hartley



I didn't know that books like Fauna by David Hartley were published any more. I mean that in a positive manner. It is a collection of dystopian/sci-fi style stories. I thought books of short stories had almost stopped being published altogether, especially of the genre in this collection. I’m so glad that I was wrong. I read each story with fervour. As well as the sci-fi leaning, all the stories have an animal or insect subject matter, hence the title.

Some have a distinct ending, others are perhaps little ambiguous, prompting further thought before turning the page to read the next. The finest compliment I can offer is that although they are set in the twenty-first century (and some, the future) they reminded me of the golden age of this genre, the 1950s and 60s, and are comparable to the short stories of Phillip K Dick and John Wyndham.  

Without too many spoilers, some of the highlights for me were the ferryman of the Styx accepting an unusual passenger with an even more unusual cargo, a man hunting shadow animals - is he hunting shadow animals because all the real animals have been hunted already, or to protect the few that are living? - a fishing trawler netting a regal catch, horses in a barn as part of a time-slip, and a story about foxes that could have been written by the master of English horror, James Herbert.

For me, though, the standout story is ‘Betamorphosis.’ A young Cockroach is shunned by his family after being forced to take part in an experiment and thinks he is … now, that would be a major spoiler. Poignancy, family feuds and some laugh-out-loud moments are all crammed in to a short story about an insect.

In my opinion, this single story would be reason enough to buy the volume. I will certainly be seeking out more works by David Hartley.


About the reviewer
Simon Elson is a Freelance Features Writer. His articles  have appeared in numerous national magazines including Best of British, Derbyshire Life and Writing Magazine. He also writes for the popular cycling website Veloballs.com and has been a guest blogger on The Huffington Post


Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Review by Vic Pickup of "Myth ꟾ Woman" by Charley Barnes and Claire Walker



Myth ꟾ Woman speaks of mythology, history, feminine vulnerability and power; each poem is succinct, beautiful and demands revisiting, reflection and deeper exploration.  

Poets Charley Barnes and Claire Walker have sewn their work together to create a strong singular voice which expands on the pre-existing ideas of mer-women, with evocative images and language which draws the reader in, evokes empathy and – somehow – manages to resonate personally. 

The notes at the back of this pamphlet give just enough historical context to aid comprehension and enable the creative work to do its magic. For example, we learn that merfolk appear in some retellings of Noah’s Ark, knowledge which provides the context needed when we read ‘In the beginning,’ so that we can better appreciate the beauty of the first stanza on first reading:  

          It came as a shift in our sky.
          From underwater we saw
          the boiled-sweet shimmer
          of the sun dim in warnings
          and waited as we watched
          the clouds roar through grey to black.

This ominous last line draws upon our prior knowledge of what is to come, enhanced by such gorgeous imagery as the ‘boiled sweet shimmer,’ the lulling rhythm of the ’underwater we saw’ and lovely phrasing such as ‘sun dim.’  

The poem builds and intrigues with elements of sorcery and a kind of mystical power which connects like forces.

          Unrest in its hull prickled 
          our scales … and we knew
          that onboard was a creature
          whose beauty lay mythic as our own.

          We took a vote and rose.

There’s something deliciously sinister about the final line here, and these poets are masterful at conveying a disturbing atmosphere – often using this to allude to male corruption.

In ‘More than this body’ we read about the scientific examination of a mermaid (which, the notes explain, was alleged to have occurred). The poets speak of the subject’s beauty and wonder: 

          … each scale has been cut
          to size the curve of a moon.
          They will have to find a way to preserve them

This troubling line reflects the tone of the poem and suggests the ignorance of the examiners – this specimen being clearly too complex and beautiful for them to understand:

          During their examinations
          they miss how the indent of each rib
          is mimicry for rushing waves – a riptide.

The end of the poem takes a darker turn:

          When her mouth is opened there is a crack
          of bone, then silence.

          But there will always be more than this 
          male-sanctioned quiet -

          she will always be more than this body. 

This poem explores so perfectly the existence and wonder of womanhood (both mer and otherwise), beyond the physical being. Its stanzas reflect the misunderstanding of science, the futile investigations into things we do not understand, the corruption of what is beautiful. 

This pamphlet is rich, awesome, exotic, and dangerous. The collaboration of Barnes and Walker has created a sequence that’s charming and foreboding, asking us to re-evaluate our perception of creatures and characters from the dark depths of the past.  


About the reviewer
Vic Pickup is a previous winner of the Café Writers and Cupid’s Arrow Competitions, and shortlisted for the National Poetry Day #speakyourtruth prize on YouTube. Lost & Found is Vic’s debut pamphlet, published by Hedgehog Poetry Press and featuring Pushcart-nominated poem ‘Social Distancing.’ @vicpickup / www.vicpickup.com

You can read a review of Lost & Found on Everybody's Reviewing here.

Monday, 9 August 2021

Review by Asha Krishna of "Inside Fictional Minds: Tips from Psychology for Creating Characters" by Dr Stephanie Carty



Writers are constantly dealing with human behaviour. Why do the characters act a certain way? What makes them work? 

Inside Fictional Minds by Dr Stephanie Carty offers answers to these questions through clinical psychology. An NHS consultant psychologist, Dr Carty has written many award-winning stories and draws on her professional experience to show how emotions and defence mechanisms can be utilised to create strong, fictional characters.

Such a book might feel a bit overwhelming as it battles the possibility of information overload. Thankfully, Inside Fictional Minds avoids that pitfall and has a clear focus on the writers’ needs. The succinct chapters allow the reader to examine and assign the different emotions and constructs. They are followed by tasks so that the writer can play with the concepts and try out the best fit for their characters.

Divided into three parts, the book has a focussed approach in how it navigates through a minefield of information. The first section, 'The Basics,' discusses how emotions, perceptions and desires shape a character’s persona. 

The second section, 'The Specifics,' explores traits like narcissism and perfectionism and their effects on character. The third section, 'Putting It All Together,' discusses the crucial element of change. The character’s main function is to change over the course of the story and this chapter is packed with useful tips to map that journey. 

The book also recognises the role of a reader while constructing a narrative. Dr Carty’s firm grip on the craft, fused with her professional experience, works well as she balances character insight and reader involvement to build a strong story.

Overall, this is a valuable tool for the advanced writer. Whether a story is plot-driven or character-led, adding dimensions to characterisation elevates the story and this book helps the author do just that. 


About the reviewer
Asha Krishna hates homeschooling but loves seeing her name in print. She is a proud mentee of the Middleway Mentoring project, a professional scheme for emerging writers, and writes short stories and flash. Her work has appeared in Flash Fiction, Leicesterwrites and In the Middle anthologies. She lives in Leicestershire and tweets as @ashkkrish. 

You can read more about Inside Fictional Minds on Creative Writing at Leicester here


Thursday, 29 July 2021

Review by Cathi Rae of "Forty Names" by Parwana Fayyaz



The best writing, the very best writing takes you somewhere else, takes you to somewhere you have never been, perhaps somewhere you didn't even know existed.

This collection does just that, taking the reader into the lives of women in Afghanistan and the refugee diaspora, making those experiences real by the telling of family stories, the re-telling of family history. The poems focus on individual experience, so that even if this world is not yours there are commonalities and hooks to help us, the outsiders, connect with these narratives.

The title poem, 'Forty Names,' which won the Forward Poetry Prize for a single poem is the story of forty women who, having hidden in caves to avoid an army of occupation, jump off a cliff to avoid dishonour. As part of the piece, they are named, and women's names - both the names they are given and the names they live by - are central to many of these poems. In a culture where, traditionally, women are often invisible, this naming and the re-telling of their life stories and their struggles brings them into full focus. We can see them as clearly as if they were sitting with us.

There is a strong feel of story telling within the whole collection - from village myths to complex threads of family honour and dishonour and the tiny stories of domestic life. The style is both conversational - you can imagine these poems as conversations over tea - and beautifully crafted and observed, with tiny telling details which convey the refugee experience with the lightest of touch:

           Into exile, next to our little feet and hands,
           My mother carried her box of sewing needle,
           And her Butterfly sewing machine made in the USSR.

This is a collection that will deliver pleasure from multiple readings. Enjoy being taken to another world, another history.


About the reviewer
Cathi Rae is a spoken word artist and somewhat to her own surprise a PhD student in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.

You can read about Cathi's collection, Your Cleaner Hates You and Other Poems, on Creative Writing at Leicester here


Saturday, 24 July 2021

Review by Neil Fulwood of "Fox Fires" by Wyl Menmuir



Get past the title and YA-style cover design, both of which seem curiously at odds with the novel’s tone and literary aesthetic, get past a slightly awkward first chapter, and Menmuir’s sophomore outing develops into a fascinating study of the interrelationship between cityscape and mindscape through which glimpses of Iain Banks, Haruki Murakami and perhaps even an afterimage of Stefan Zweig can be discerned.

In an imaginative conceit every bit as good as that which powers China Mieville’s The City and the City, Fox Fires is set in a city-state called simply O, its borders recently opened to the outside world, where maps are forbidden and the streets unnamed (the better, apparently, to confuse would-be invaders, though how the absence of signs is a deterrent to enemy tanks or ground troops is left unexplained). Allegorically, this concept is fantastic and Menmuir is at his best when he weaves his claustrophobic world-building around it (O is subject to curfews, its citizens spy on each other, strange propagandist posters appear and disappear randomly).

When Fox Fires works, it works well - particularly in regard to its mysterious narrator - while its heroine is beautifully nuanced and as memorable a protagonist as you could want. The most effective scenes achieve the dream-like unreality of an art house movie (indeed, it would be interesting to see a director with a European sensitivity take it up as a project).

At 188 pages, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and with the exception of a few dialogue passages which suffer from being aphoristic rather than organic the writing is controlled, evocative and intelligent. I’d certainly recommend it as an intriguing work by a developing talent, though I did wonder if it was just a couple more drafts away from being truly great.


About the reviewer

Neil Fulwood lives and works in Nottingham. He has published two full poetry collections with Shoestring Press, No Avoiding It and Can’t Take Me Anywhere; his third, Service Cancelled, will be released on 29th July 2021.

You can read more about Neil's work and his collection Can't Take Me Anywhere on Creative Writing at Leicester here

You can read more about Wyl Menmuir's Fox Fires, and listen to a special reading of the opening scene from the novel on Creative Writing at Leicester here