Wednesday 30 September 2015

Interview with Robert Richardson

Artist Robert Richardson interviewed about his photography by Alexandros Plasatis

Robert Richardson

Robert Richardson is a visual artist who works across various media: typography, graphics, installations and video installations. In the last ten years, he has concentrated on exhibiting photography, although recently he has begun a series of Constructivist artworks. His work was included in Artists Postcards: A Compendium (edited by Jeremy Cooper, Reaktion Books, London). An exhibition based on this book has been showing at different UK galleries. He is also a poet, and co-edited, with William Pratt, Homage to Imagism (AMS Press, New York).

AP. Why do you take photographs?

RR. Taking photographs is now a part of me, and not something I can necessarily find reasons for doing. It’s linked to the act of looking and, even more basically, seeing. For me, there is something compulsive about it. I do a fair bit of travelling, and if I return from somewhere and do not have some good photographs then I feel disappointed. Through images, I am searching for enjoyment and meaning that I also want to share.

A recent photograph by Robert Richardson
AP. What’s the difference in the process of taking an art photograph and taking an “everyday” one?

RR. What might be thought of as an “art” photograph is quite wide ranging, which is to say there are a number of different photographies, for example fashion, landscape, architectural, photojournalism. In recent years, a conceptual approach to photography has become the one that seems to be favoured by commercial galleries. This is when, usually, the photographer creates an artwork by setting up an image, either in a studio or on location. In contrast, my photography is classed as street photography, which explains its self: it’s a form of documentary that is mostly, though not exclusively, centred on people (not necessarily always on the street. They might, for instance, be on a beach). In that respect it is close to photographs anyone might take in similar situations. The difference might be a greater commitment to photography as a means of expression through defined projects. There is also a more successful “hit” rate in terms of aesthetically pleasing compositions and an editorial ability to select the best photographs to be exhibited or published. Most people who take photographs achieve an occasional good one and even sometimes a great one, but to think of yourself as a photographer, you have to be more consistent than that: it must not be occasional, but often.

A recent photograph by Robert Richardson
AP. Does poetry and fiction influence your photography and vice versa?

RR. There is an overlap, but it’s not an agenda I’m particularly deliberate about. In photography there is sometimes a visual rhyming , when two (or more) shapes echo each other. This can also happen with colours. It is similar to the way words rhyme in poetry. Over the years, I’ve organized events linked to the Imagist poets. As their name suggests, a significant part of their poetics was the presentation, in words, of visual images. That’s a personal bridge between the verbal and the visual. With photography, though, I can deal directly with the visual cortex and bypass words. Words, although I love them, can be just too slow. Still images can also prompt fictions. We start to have ideas about who people might be, when actually we know nothing about them. Even when these ideas are slight and fleeting, they are, I suppose, fragments of fiction. Last summer I was in Brittany, and took a photograph of three people standing together. Even at the moment I took the photograph, I thought they looked like characters in some wonderful French comedy film.

AP. You take photos, you write poetry, you’ve written a novel that is yet to be published. Why do you do all that? What does art mean to you?

RR. Well, I suppose at its most obvious, it just means I am trying to express myself both visually and through words. As a design student, I was heavily influenced by the Bauhaus and in particular Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. He was a Hungarian professor at the Bauhaus, and both an artist and designer. He was also a great teacher and writer. I like that ethos of working in different media. I am very wary about easy answers to what art might mean to me. I suspect there are subconscious motivations that by definition I’m not aware of. I think art can embrace and create ambiguity, which other forms of expression tend to avoid, and it shouldn’t, I think, be propaganda.

AP. What sort of people do you think like your photography? How do you imagine them?

RR. People who respond to my photography probably like colours and imaginative compositions, and have an appreciation of the quirkiness and surrealism in everyday life. Those looking for a heavily stated political or social message are not going to find it. On the whole, I am trying to communicate a positive enjoyment of life, though sometimes there are more poignant and reflective images. I also hope that at least some of the work is edgy. I remain a fan of certain photographers and photography in general. I never want to stop being a fan of others, because that enthusiasm is also a motor for my own work.

Robert Richardson’s photography website

Two online slideshows

Robert Richardson is a member of the Biennale Austria group, and there is work by him on its website

There is also work at the Biennale Austria Sales Point

All photographs are copyright © Robert Richardson

About the interviewer
Alexandros Plasatis lives in Leicester and had short stories published in Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud (2012), Unthology 6 (2015), and Crystal Voices: Ten Years of Crystal Clear Creators (2015).

Review by Jonathan Taylor of "The Venus Papers" by Lydia Towsey

I had the honour of introducing Lydia Towsey's first full-length poetry collection, The Venus Papers (Burning Eye Books, 2015), at the launch event as part of Everybody's Reading Festival. The following review is the text of my introduction.

Lydia Towsey's new book, The Venus Papers, exemplifies one of my favourite forms of contemporary poetry: that is, the poetry which manages simultaneously to be both performative and musical, on the one hand, and beautiful, intellectually stimulating and poignant page poetry, on the other. Not many poets manage to sustain this balancing act - but who do succeed in fusing performativity with written lyricism in their work.

Lydia's collection is at once diverse and coherent in its fusing of such musical, performative and lyrical elements. There are various narrative strands which run throughout the book (which makes me glad I read it, for once, cover to cover, not as I'd usually read a poetry book, by dipping into separate poems). These themes include mother-daughter relationships and matrilinearity in general; Hungarian and Welsh heritages; the politics of immigration, filtered through the powerful allegory of Venus turning up in modern-day Britain; travel poems, vivid recreations of South Africa, America, Europe and so on; and, of course, the overwhelming significance of a good cup of tea.

I particularly enjoyed the ways in which Lydia's poems deal with politics: the politics of immigration, of dictatorship, of gender. In poems like "Incanto," "Venus Votes," "Things People Say About Venus in the Tabloids," and "Hungary," to name just a few, Lydia tackles deeply important political subjects, but in ways which are original, poetic, fascinating - defamiliarising what the media inures us to, what TV and newspapers ideologically obscure, often by rendering all too familiar, everyday, banal. Lydia's poetry does the opposite: making the horrific, the tragic, the unjustifiable seem themselves again.

About the reviewer
Jonathan Taylor's books include the novels Melissa (Salt, 2015), and Entertaining Strangers (Salt, 2012). His poetry collection is Musicolepsy (Shoestring, 2013). He is Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. See

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Review by Dips Patel of Agnes Martin’s exhibition at Tate Modern

Tate Modern: 3 June – 11 October 2015

A recent exhibition I toddled off to gawp at of a morning that left me dazed and overwhelmed was of Agnes Martin. I will readily admit I’d never heard of her until I read a review of the exhibition in The Guardian and thought, “oh aye, I likes the look of that I do,” so I went!

Abstract work with a very very limited visual language (predominantly straight lines with very subtle, at times barely visible, washes of extremely pale colours: just blue, red and yellow with subtle variations on white in some pieces) and scale ranges from the very small-scale, almost intimate studies and drawings to the 6 feet square canvas' that just envelope your vision when you give them the chance, she really was an incredible artist and lived a proper independent life.
In her later life, she developed schizophrenia and produced a series of paintings which she produced as a means of helping her deal with what was happening to her. In the exhibition they were put in their own room, collectively called The Islands and I spent the best part of an hour just in that room alone. If you ever get the chance and you're somewhere close that's got her work on show, go see it cos it's just magnificent. (I even bought the exhibition catalogue after, which I rarely do as they are usually prohibitively expensive!)

I give it all this praise, but then you might look at it and think 'Dip, you are full of it!' C'est la vie, qui est de l'art! I thought it was awe-inspiring anyway…

About the reviewer
Dips Patel is a graduate in Graphic Design which means he can colour in without going over the lines and when he does he makes it look deliberate, cool and edgy. He much prefers fine art where the art of talking nonsense is finer still allowing him extremely moderate success in introducing his work to a wider audience. Hobbies include reading stuff, watching stuff, commendably misguided attempts at painting stuff and consuming copious amounts of coco pops, clementines, curries, cakes and cocktails, not all at the same time which is frowned upon in polite society.

Review by Laura MacKenzie of “House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski

I was first introduced to the works of Danielewski by a very enthusiastic clerk at a bookstore in Houston, Texas. He took it upon himself to be my guide to all horror books, great and small and, when he presented me with House of Leaves it was with an air of expectation and awe, for, he said, he had never before encountered anyone willing to read such an unusual novel.

“Unusual” perhaps doesn’t quite explain House of Leaves, Danielewski’s debut novel.  A form of ergodic literature, this novel requires an inordinate amount of work from the reader in order for it to be anything other than a confusing collection of disconnected writings. The book contains several parallel stories and is written in the style of a research project with journal and newspaper articles, letters, footnotes and appendices, all held together by an increasingly bizarre narrative.

The novel begins with the first-person narrative of Jonny Truant, a tattoo studio employee. In his new apartment, he finds a document written by Zampanò, the previous (deceased) tenant, which appears to an obsessional academic critique of a documentary film, The Navdison Record. The remainder of the novel contains Zampanò’s account; Jonny’s autobiographical comments; part of the film transcript; interviews with people associated with The Navidson Record; numerous footnotes; and an appendix of letters written by Jonny’s mother.

The essential story of the titular house is that, Inception-style, it seems to be a house within a house.  Its owner, Will Navidson, discovers that the house is changing as doors begin appearing unexpectedly in blank walls, leading to cupboards or corridors. He also discovers that the interior dimensions of the house are greater than the exterior, and the house continues to grow internally over time. 

When a hallway termed the “five minute hallway” appears in an exterior wall, Navidson, his brother and friends seek to explore the space that it has produced. They discover spiral staircases, corridors and cavernous rooms, all silent except for an intermittent growl, the source of which is never explained. This exploration of the house leads to the group becoming increasingly insane, and several deaths – even murder – occur. 

The house negatively impacts all characters: Zampanò, Jonny, Navidson and Jonny’s mother all display signs of increasing mental instability. 

Regardless, the inconstant house hovers, brooding, throughout the book, its presence simultaneously innocuous and threatening, ambiguous and definite. The unease felt by all characters – and readers – of House of Leaves is emphasised by the word house (or Haus or maison) being presented in a different colour throughout the text. In addition, the use of many real-world references in the novel’s footnotes create a link between the accounts and the outside world, leaving the reader with an unhappy sense of being connected with the events described in the book.

House of Leaves is, without a doubt, the strangest book I have ever read, and most certainly not for the faint-hearted. It sits uncomfortably within the horror genre, as it can also be described as a love story or a satire of academic critique. Despite its often frustrating style and complete lack of explanation as to the essence and consequence of the house, once you have read House of Leaves all other novels will be utterly unsatisfying in comparison. 

About the reviewer
Laura MacKenzie is a Scot who lives in Leicester. When she is not studying for a PhD in Politics, she enjoys reading scary stories and listening to progressive rock. A lifelong Hibernian fan, Laura often finds that listening to Yes helps her accept the news of yet another uninspiring football match result.

Outsiders: Review by Laurie Cusack of “Hotwalker” by Tom Russell


Sizzle your ears within the grooves of Hotwalker and you will be royally rewarded. If you have not come across Tex-Mex troubadour Tom Russell before, this is the place to start. Epitomising the underground vibe, Russell, operates on the fringe, he drops deep grooves, man! Hotwalker is littered with literary-magma, baby. It’s beatnik heaven. Street gems abound. Russell turns us on to influence after influence: Rambling Jack Eliot, Lennie Bruce, Jack Kerouac, etc. A storytelling maestro is Tom Russell who invokes hobo-magic, compadres  ̶  tapping into a lost America. His concept mines spoken word from a bygone age.  Americanana-schtick is conjured, selected and crafted by Russell for our indulgence. The “twang” is hair raising, evocative and thought provoking. He gives us a veritable musical history lesson inside his bold sound-picture.

The rough-neck raconteur approach he incorporates, works, which is accompanied by country power-chords that mesmerise time after time. This concept sucks you in. His sound is sweetly infectious. Ear-candy – I dare to suggest. Hotwalker acts as Russell’s homage to a disappeared “beatnik” America: “A Ballad for Gone America” may well have been its working title. And what Hotwalker really zings with is loss, creative loss.

Freak performer and poet Little Jack Horton’s reminiscences on Charles Bukowski and himself getting drunk together and stealing a train is one priceless anecdote. An array of whacky intros and gravelly commentary by Russell are delivered from the gut; they are insightful and truly reel the listener in. But his beautiful peon of a ballad about David Van Ronk concerning his influence upon the budding Greenwich Village folk scene in New York is a standout masterpiece. It rips the tears out of you because of its naked vibe. I wonder if this song helped inspire the Cohen brothers film Inside the Mind of Llewyn Davis. Another standout moment on the album is Edward Abbey’s “Benediction,” which captures Abbey’s playful anarchic tones masterfully. Bakersfield and the west coast Oakie sound in the Hoover camps are also explored with honesty and bravado: the other side of the tracks, dude. The American outsider is musically explored with compassion and insight throughout Hotwalker. If there is a flaw within Russell’s superlative concept – it leaves you gasping for more!
                                                 Long live OUTSIDERS.
                                                                                           Twang-on, Tom.

About the reviewer
Laurie Cusack is currently writing short stories for a PhD in Creative Writing at DeMontfort University, exploring the Irish Diaspora and issues surrounding it. He has been published online and has had stage plays and radio plays performed.

Review by Kevan Manwaring of “TransAtlantic” by Colum McCann

This impressive multi-linear novel weaves together apparently disparate lives from both sides of the Atlantic: early aviation pioneers, Alcock and Brown (the first to cross the Atlantic by powered flight); Abolitionist campaigner and former slave, Frederick Douglass; Senator George Mitchell, brokering peace at Stormount in the late 90s; Newfoundland journalist, Emily Ehrlich, and her ancestors and descendants.

Each narrative thread is exquisitely rendered in convincing detail, the result of painstaking research (courtesy of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation). Each paradigm presented is so dramatically different (on the surface) that the project could echo David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas approach. However, the critical difference is: a consistency of style and tone. McCann isn’t playing genre-games, but seems more interested in how ostensibly diverse lives intersect – the echoes and resonances rippling throughout history, back-and-forth across three thousand miles and more. The novel isn’t trying to be flashy, but quietly builds up its complexity through an accretion of narrative detail. The framing narrative (hinted at in the fragmentary prologue) – a tumbledown house by a lough in the north of Ireland – doesn’t gain significance until a lot later, when we realise what lives have passed through it. The staccato sound of the gulls dropping shells upon the roof – to crack them open – seems to trigger the memories. The past is cracked open, one shell at a time. Although some remain unbroken, and “lay there like a thing unexploded.” This threat of narrative ordnance lingers over the novel, hides in every chapter, a gunman in the hedgerow, the bomb in the flowerbed – the violent parenthesis to peace. The end to slavery, the end to the Troubles – these are achievements of human endeavour fought for by brave men and women, and never to be taken for granted.

This novel honours the shoulders we stand upon without being bombastic or overly-aware of its own importance. It builds up the profundity in quiet ways, in the rendering of character and place. McCann is a master of the terse sentence, the elided phrase. His syntax is knapped down to its essence, and he builds his prose like a drystone-wall builder, slotting his hard, flinty material into place with a clink. And in a similar way, his plot falls into place – block by block – until it presents an impressive bridge across an ocean. An ambitious, humane novel of haunting beauty.

About the reviewer
Kevan Manwaring is currently undertaking a Creative Writing PhD at the University of Leicester (in the form of a novel). He is an Eccles Centre Postgraduate Fellow in North American Studies at the British Library, and teaches creative writing for the Open University. One day he hopes to have a proper job. Blog:

Review by Dips Patel of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” by Jean-Dominique Bauby

I'm almost positive at some point someone has mentioned this book to you but at the risk of sounding/reading like an arrogantly condescending/patronising bore, I will summarize just in case you don’t know the story.

Bauby suffers a cerebrovascular seizure (which I think is like a massive and uber-severe stroke) and remains in a coma for nearly 3 weeks. Upon waking he finds himself left in the condition known as “Locked-In Syndrome” where he is fully aware mentally but is left with severely restricted physical ability, in his case acute head movement and the blinking of his left eye. The book is about his life before this event (or what he can remember), what he recollects of the event itself and his life thereafter and what it means and feels to him to live in this condition on a day-to-day basis.

The entire book is dictated by him blinking that left eye (he works with a language expert who devises a system where she reads out the letters of the alphabet, arranged according to frequency of use, and he blinks when she says the right one until the word is spelled out).

It's a very thin (not even 150 pages) but beautifully recounted memoir of a life which was hit by an almighty whopper of an event and the fact it's even in print is a towering testimony to not only the patience, support and love of his family and friends but the sheer will of Bauby who passed away within days of the book’s publication. The film that was made based on this book is also worth your time watching, quietly beautiful with an astonishing performance by Mathieu Amalric as Bauby.

About the reviewer
Dips Patel is a graduate in Graphic Design which means he can colour in without going over the lines and when he does he makes it look deliberate, cool and edgy. He much prefers fine art where the art of talking nonsense is finer still allowing him extremely moderate success in introducing his work to a wider audience. Hobbies include reading stuff, watching stuff, commendably misguided attempts at painting stuff and consuming copious amounts of coco pops, clementines, curries, cakes and cocktails, not all at the same time which is frowned upon in polite society.

Sunday 27 September 2015

Review by Alex Hales of "Music Complete" by New Order

Well, now I don’t know what to think; over the last seven months since I bought the ticket, I’ve been eagerly anticipating a gig by Peter Hook & The Light, a chance to hear some long-time and very warmly-regarded music given a punchy reworking by a man who, although really genial and engaging, has spent the last eight years moaning ferociously about his erstwhile colleagues.

Music Complete, the new New Order album has come out this week and though I expected little, I took the plunge because I couldn’t bear the idea of there being New Order songs I hadn’t heard. I’ve been here before, of course, dashing out to buy Get Ready when it came out, and I still feel that appraisals of that LP – then and now – are a little too charitable.  Maybe the reviewers have heard something I have not, and maybe Hooky was therefore right to cast aspersions on the validity of a New Order in 2015.

What use a new album? What do they mean to anyone?  Is it a desperate imbroglio to recoup what was pissed away on the Hacienda and Dry? If so, the people who chopped and murmured their way through Blue Monday during a ToTP performance in 1983 have unquestionably paid their dues, and in a few days’ time I will experience for myself the thunderous renditions which Hooky gives to the old numbers.

And then I stick on the album. Restless is N.O.-by-numbers, albeit replete with arresting swathes signalling Gillian’s return; the icy blast of Singularity comes over all Joy Divisiony at the beginning (specifically, Insight and Shadowplay) but it is with Tutti Frutti and People On The High Line where the jaw really drops and the comparisons drawn are not with New Order’s earlier work, but with Chic, or Earth Wind & Fire. And it doesn’t let up there.

In summary, Music Complete is New Order’s most engaging record in donkeys’ years, and by a country mile; I’ll let you know next week if Hooky mentions it on stage, or if there are any clamours for its songs during the set.

About the reviewer
Alex Hales is a 42-year-old Southampton resident of occasionally amicable manner, enervated by the intransigence of dogmatism.

Review by Laura Millward of Hannah Stevens’ five stories in “The New Luciad: 2014/15”

When I tell people about Hannah Stevens’ collection of 5 stories in The New Luciad and that those 5 stories are on 3 pages they don’t believe it is possible. Stevens’ ability to create characters that you care about and empathise with in around 100 words is incredible.

Like all great works of art, Stevens’ writing gives us enough to start, but also allows the reader to add their own interpretation. In Wasps a small boy is in a car waiting for his dad. Stevens does not actually tell the reader that the child is a boy… the ability that Stevens has to encourage her reader to conjure up images is fantastic. This is the story that has really stayed with me, Your back really hurts now. You don’t know what you should do. What happens next? Stevens has written something that tells us so much, but still leaves us hanging and all this is in 94 words!

Another story that stayed with me is Robin. Opening on peaceful, hot sunny day, I was instantly in the garden with the protagonist. Suddenly the mood of the story changed with the discovery of a robin’s “ropes of tiny, white intestines” and a “thud” of a spade…

Bread has us witnessing what are perhaps the last minutes of a man’s life. “The room flips” the world is literally turned upside down as he may be reaching his final breath. And, again, we never know.

All of the stories are distinctly separate but all with the recurring theme of something or someone leaving. There is death, there is violence, and there are moments of compassion. You will be left with the feeling that you know the protagonists well when in fact you know nothing at all and this makes it flash fiction at its very best.

About the reviewer
Laura Millward was born in Northampton and has lived in Leicester for 7 years. She is a big fan of art, books, tattoos and coffee. Lots of coffee.

Review by Jodie Hannis of Commonword’s “Superheroes of Slam - Leicester Heat”

                                             Photos provided by Katy Pitcher

Commonword’s Superheroes of Slam 2015 - Leicester Heat was held on 17th September at Attenborough Arts Centre in collaboration with Dare to Diva, and due to a crippling inability to withstand tension for any significant amount of time, I’m going to tell you now that the winner was Jenny Hibberd. It’s difficult to describe her with words that mere mortals use as she is a poet best experienced in motion. You find yourself skip-hop-tripping over your own feet as you follow her into a dizzying world of cosmic chaos and calm. She writes like a master word slinger and speaks like a mad rhyme flinger... it must be loud inside Jenny’s head. And it’s plain to see that she’s anxious to share, even if it’s just a glimpse, the exuberance with which she moves through this bright world. It’s impossible not to be infected by it.

And so Jenny represents the best of Leicester’s poetry scene. In all, 19 competitors shared their words and the experience was happily embraced by all as one of exceptionally high standard. There’s always something jarring about being snapped out of a literary reverie to blink blindly at the scorecards rudely pushing themselves into the occasion.  As compere Rob Gee tells us, “the point isn’t the point, the point is the poetry.” But a winner there must be and Jenny is she, who goes on to compete in the final held in Manchester on 23rd October. £250 can afford the luxury of many pencils to many poets.

And there are so many poets that deserve those pencils. Honourable mentions go to many, including the five others that went through to the second round and performed for us again. Tony LeTigre is all smooth rhythm, charm and extended metaphors as he tells us about his love of shoes and toast, but he’s anything but pedestrian. Andrew Lee’s words seem to vibrate throughout his whole body and it’s difficult to look away from him as he constantly looks like he’s teetering on the edge of something significant. Shruti Chauhan scores incredibly highly and I’m captured by her startlingly self-deprecating deconstruction of herself. Toby Campion represents Leicester strongly with two regionally-patriotic pieces and we’re all roused to agree with him fiercely in the typically British way of clapping and nodding our heads vigorously. I suspect people would follow him into battle if the occasion called for it. Leanne Moden catches me a little off guard with a barrage of descriptive euphemisms for her “hairy meat pocket” and I curse myself retrospectively for not scribbling them all down. I particularly love her second poem which describes an incredibly important moment for her without stating the obvious. It reminds me that we’re privileged to have poets share secret parts of themselves with us so freely and that every now and again, they should keep something back for themselves.

Details of future Superheroes of Slam 2015 events can be found here:
Jenny’s winning poem can be seen here:

About the reviewer
Jodie Hannis chases after words at every opportunity. If you have some, chances are, she’d like to hear them. She also occasionally runs away from ones she puts out into the world herself:

Review by Sabine Meier of “The Syllabus of Errors” by Ashley Stokes

Daring. Intense. A culinary explosion. The Syllabus of Errors by Ashley Stokes serves twelve short stories, each course challenging the reader’s taste buds; each dish unique, demonstrating the high standard of the cooking – spiced up by a chef who chooses his ingredients with care and expertise.

Errors are an integral part of life. Ashley Stokes is well aware of it. His characters, their lives distorted by the historical context the author places them in, struggle against themselves, against others, against unemployment, violence, and death – and take wrong decisions in a society that does not leave them a choice. Berlin – one of the cities the author focuses on – becomes a character itself, an integral setting in interaction with the people involved.

An actor, a spy, a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl, what do they have in common? There is an underlying melancholy, the certainty that all these people will lose the fight against the vagaries of everyday life. Man against Politics. Politics made by Man. Violence.

But there is more. Much more. There are techniques that set the collection apart, adding reading pleasure to the appreciation of exact historical detail, three-dimensional characters, and authentic description.

Ashley Stokes is a master of experimental writing. To name just one example, the Story About a Short Film consists of two parts, the first half a hilarious film script with no less than 64 endnotes linked up with a second part, a short story that strings the notes together chronologically.

The secret ingredient, though, neither refers to the structure nor to the setting, or any other literary technique. It is the names and neologisms the author uses that win the reader over completely. You need to know the short stories to share the delight in names like Loomparette, Big Dump, or simply Blue. Whether symbolic or onomatopoetic, these linguistic details complement and tone down the dark realities Ashley Stokes has captured so well in his collection.

Take a first spoonful and enjoy.

About the reviewer
Sabine Meier works as an ESL Creative Writing tutor in Germany and has recently done an MA in Creative Writing at MMU. Her first novel Young is ready for publication, her second in progress.

Review by Dips Patel of “The Devotion of Suspect X” by Keigo Higashino

Very much crime, but not a grisly type (I'm talking Mo Hayder, Kathy Reichs, Karin Slaughter type of crime fiction, the kind you feel you need scrub yourself with a wire wool brush after reading) but is a bit more of a puzzler. There's this bloke see, he's a maths genius (well a teacher of maths, but he's ruddy brilliant at problem solving) and his neighbour is a single mum who he's pretty much in love with in an-unrequited-love-from-afar-kinda-way-but-not-that-afar-she-lives-right-next-door-to-him. Anyway, she does away with her ex-hubby (the swine that he is, he had it coming I tells ya!) and this guy helps her clean up the mess, so-to-speak. Naturally the crime comes to the attention of the police and the lead detective has his suspicions and this is the meat of the story, a battle of wits between detective solving the crime and the “good” Samaritan trying to help a friend. There's a sting in the tail and every person I spoke to who read the book didn't see it coming and I most very definitely didn't, I did think I had it figured a couple of times but no it’s a sneaky twist all right!

One of the stand out crime fiction books I read in year 2012 and easily one of my “go-to” recommends of crime fiction of recent years, honestly it would make a great tv show/even film (you heard it here first people) and if you figure it out before the end you are if not a genius then far too intelligent for my liking.

About the reviewer
Dips Patel is a graduate in Graphic Design which means he can colour in without going over the lines and when he does he makes it look deliberate, cool and edgy. He much prefers fine art where the art of talking nonsense is finer still allowing him extremely moderate success in introducing his work to a wider audience. Hobbies include reading stuff, watching stuff, commendably misguided attempts at painting stuff and consuming copious amounts of coco pops, clementines, curries, cakes and cocktails, not all at the same time which is frowned upon in polite society.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Review by Alexandros Plasatis of “Aeolia” by Ilias Venezis

Aeolia (Αιολική Γη) was first published in Greece in 1945, appeared in Britain in 1950, and came out in the States in 1957 as Beyond the Aegean.

Ten years ago I was living in Southampton, working in a factory, doing the night shifts. One morning I got back from work and found a parcel from Greece. I took it to bed with me, lit a cigarette, tore it open: there was a book inside, with a small note from the sender, a friend: ‘Venezis wrote many books, and I’ve read them all, but he had only to write Aeolia.’

I skipped the intro, began with the novel, read a bit. It was some sort of a novel in stories. It was good and I read on and found beauty on those pages. My body ached from the factory, but I made the pillow into a knot under my head and stayed with the little stories: the story of Ali the Moslem who was searching the world for the camel with the white head, of quiet Stephanos who was searching for perpetual motion, the story of the hunter with the yellow stars.

It was a boy and his sisters who met those strange characters on their grandparents’ big farm. None of them were aware of the war and the death that was coming, that very soon Greeks and Turks would kill each other once again and in 1922 ‘the waters of Smyrna would be choked in dead bodies.’ It was peaceful there, in the wooded mountains of Aeolia, Asia Minor, and the tall wall around the farm was built with azure stones and made the farm look like a welcoming castle.

The boy and his sisters saw many passing travellers who rested at the farm – ‘there were Jews, Armenians, Turks, Christians, beggars, nobles, peddlers, the sick.’ But the little ones knew when a real traveller had come:

that is, someone who had stories to tell, dressed in strange clothes, bringing with him perhaps a little madness or some peddler’s wares to stir our curiosity and imagination, spreading before us the fresh pages of the world’s destiny. Then we all ran to find the traveller, to fuss over him and give him milk and eggs; and having bribed him sufficiently, we gathered around him and waited. Then, slowly, the pages turned. They turned and revealed to us that beyond external resemblances, beyond joy and misery, there was another power, as urgent as fire, uniting the destinies of all men: the pursuit of passion, the need for suffering.
When I woke up in the evening, I called the factory and told them I was sick. I stayed in bed and finished Aeolia and felt as if I had drunk sweet red wine. The writing was simple, the sentences were sometimes long and melodious and sometimes short and rhythmic, and the man who wrote them knew how to write.

Since then I moved to other English towns and lived in many houses, and somehow and somewhere the book was lost or maybe lent and never returned, and I didn’t give it much thought. But it came back to me again, in Leicester, in the library where I happen to work now, and they say that this library has a million books. I was shelving one evening in the literature section, up on the third floor, and as I was putting a book back on the shelves, there it was, sweet little Aeolia, on the last but bottom shelf. I pulled it out and checked: translated into English by E. D. Scott-Kilvert, intro by Lawrence Durrell. I found a quiet spot in between the shelves, got a footstool and took a seat. And hidden from customers and supervisors, I began again, I read on, on and on, and, yeah, the beauty and the magic were still there.

About the reviewer
Alexandros Plasatis lives in Leicester and had short stories published in Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud (2012), Unthology 6 (2015), and Crystal Voices: Ten Years of Crystal Clear Creators (2015).

Review by Jo Westwood of "The Merrily Watkins" series, by Phil Rickman

I make no bones about it, but I have an obsession. Since accidentally discovering the latest title in this series – The Magus of Hay – I went back to the beginning  (The Wine of Angels) and worked my way through all twelve books. Then I did it again. And again. And I’m not the only one – Phil’s Facebook group currently has 1814 members and we’re all equally enthralled by the ongoing story of single mother, vicar and exorcist Merrily Watkins. They’re supernatural crime dramas – an unusual mix of two genres which somehow mesh perfectly in Phil’s prose, in a world so carefully crafted it’s like a second home.

Set in the borderlands of Herefordshire and Wales, Merrily struggles to balance her duties to her parish, her ambivalent interest in the world of the paranormal, and her relationship with her pagan teenage daughter Jane, all the while walking the tightrope of political machinations in both the Diocese and the media. As a woman in a man’s world, and doing a job many see as frivolous, she tries to retain her integrity as well as develop her spirituality. Called in on occasion to help the police with their more unusual cases, her life is anything but ordinary. She’s utterly believable as a character, and makes the whole concept of an exorcist work for even the most sceptical of readers.

Surrounding her are a large cast who are all drawn with such deftness and vitality that you feel like you really know them. Feisty Jane, Merrily’s daughter and environmental activist, is definitely my alter ego! Lol Robinson, Merrily’s cautious lover, is a man locked in his own tormented past, and his efforts to move beyond this are moving indeed. Huw Owen, her exorcist mentor, is wonderfully irascible and ambivalent. Frannie Bliss is the tame, slightly maverick copper whose blood is 95% caffeine (I confess to being slightly in love with Frannie), and Annie Howe is his ambitious and hard-nosed boss, the antithesis of Merrily’s emotional centre. And Gomer Parry, the wild and wily old Welshman and proprietor of a plant hire company, is a brilliant creation – saving the day on his digger on more than one occasion! Everybody needs a Gomer in their life. When he confronted a killer in Lamp of the Wicked, I nearly had a panic attack.

The plots are labyrinthine with endless depths, which is why you can read them over and over again and find new strands that you didn’t see before. They deal with the depths of human nature in all its perversity, and the thread running through all of them is how belief affects human behaviour.

Rickman portrays Christianity and Paganism with a real understanding, showing how belief can be both a strength and a weakness, a temptation to evil and a call to compassion. They are anything but sensationalist, treating religion with respect but at the same time exposing the hypocrisy and corruption that can lurk in the heart of any institution or individual.

Phil Rickman’s stories are intelligent and thought-provoking, as well as gripping, shocking and downright addictive. Both the sense of place and character in this series are so strong, it’s not surprising that his fans are so obsessive. He’s a fantastic writer and this series is exceptional – he’s made the cross-genre of supernatural crime entirely his own, and done it with both seriousness and style.

His new novel, Friends of the Dusk, is published on 3rd December. My phone will be off the hook for that week.

Call Gomer Parry Plant Hire. I’m moving to the Borders as fast as I can!

About the reviewer
Jo Westwood is a librarian, editor, writer, gardener and geek who loves curling up with a good book. As her job as a specialist children’s librarian means she reads at least one novel per day, that’s rather fortunate, and her obsession with the novels of Phil Rickman in particular is praise indeed. She’s currently working on creating a time travel device that will allow her to fit in even more reading, as there are far too many good books and rather less time in which to read them than she would like. Jo's blogs at

Review by Maria San Sercozini of “Immortality” by Milan Kundera

A simple, yet elegant gesture of an older woman casually waving to her swimming instructor sets the scene for Milan Kundera’s novel Immortality, first published in English in 1991.

Set in Paris, Immortality examines the relationships of Agnes, her husband Paul and her sister, Laura. When her father dies, Agnes fully realises that whilst she may believe her marriage to be content, she has never really known what true passion and love are. She is a solitary figure with a desire to escape her life by retreating to Switzerland. Laura is Agnes’ opposite - jealous of her sister, inquisitive and passionately wanting to acquire whatever Agnes has – including Paul.

The novel sets out to explore one’s desire for immortality, our need to control our reputation and how we wish to be remembered after death. Agnes wants immortality by fleeing human contact; Laura pursues it by acquiring things: lovers, material objects and ultimately her dead sister’s husband.

Skillful storytelling manifests itself with further mini-plots. You find conversations between 18th century author Goethe, Napoleon and Ernest Hemingway. Kundera tries to convey how these historic figures attempt to emulate their own immortality through their literary works and historic feats. Mirroring the lives of Agnes, Paul and Laura, we also have the comic sub plot of Goethe, his fame-hungry young lover Bettina and his wife.

Characters flow naturally in and out of the novel. There is rebellious tyre slasher Prof Avenarius, the solitary stand-alone character of Ruben who had an affair with Agnes many years ago, and of course Kundera steps in himself, just to make sure we understand what he is trying to say.

The conversations, subplots and philosophical musings may leave you confused, but eventually it all comes together beautifully. Kundera says it himself:
“If a reader skips a single sentence of my novel he won’t be able to understand it.”

About the reviewer
Maria San Sercozini was born and raised in Leicester, but has left a little part of her heart somewhere in the Mediterranean islands.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Dave Gladwell writes about his enigmatic Rock Stars

Fossil Sea Stars from the Geological Past

The fossilisation of any animal is an exceptional event. However, certain fossils are especially rare and are usually only found in rocks formed in particularly unique conditions. One such group of rarely fossilised animals are the sea stars, an attractive and recognisable group of invertebrates, with modern representatives being a common feature of rock pools and beaches the world over.

When viewed up close, a characteristic feature of sea stars is that they are composed of many tiny individual plates, and it is this specific feature that largely accounts for their relative rarity in the fossil record, as following death, more often than not they would have broken up into many pieces before they could be preserved as fossils. The specimen shown in the photograph is a beautifully preserved example from the well known fossil hunting area of the south coast of Dorset, and dates from around 190 million years in age. This area is also known as the Jurassic Coast and is famous for fossil marine reptiles and dinosaurs.

However, I am particularly interested in fossil sea stars over more than double the age of this one, dating to around 425 million years old! These fossils date from the Silurian, and are some of the earliest known representatives of this group of animals. I am currently researching a historically important collection of these fossils found in Herefordshire, which were first described by natural historians back in the 1850s. Prior to my current research, these fossils had not been extensively studied since the 1940s.

Many specimens have enigmatic names such as Furcaster leptosoma and Lapworthura miltoni, some named in honour of eminent palaeontologists of the time, and specimens can be found in museums from all over the world. One of the many attractions of studying these remarkable animals is their complex skeletal construction, and different species vary in many subtle ways. However, it is this very characteristic that also makes them particularly challenging to study. Owing to their small overall size (the photographed specimen is only around 7cm from arm tip to arm tip), specialised techniques for studying and imaging must also be employed, such as binocular and Scanning Electron Microscopy, and macrophotography, which only adds to the challenge. By restudying these beautiful and unique fossils, I hope to add to our understanding of the early evolutionary history of this special group of animals.

About the writer
Dave Gladwell has a long standing love of natural history, particularly in geology and palaeontology, and vividly remembers collecting fossils from Dorset as a child. He pursued his interest to obtain a doctorate looking at exceptional fossil preservation from Herefordshire, and is now working towards publishing this research. He also has a love of drawing and painting. When time permits he tries to squeeze in going to the odd gig or two, however hopes the many years of squealing guitars have not taken their toll too much on his hearing!

Review by Jennifer Morris of "Without Makeup and Other Stories" by Hannah Stevens

Hannah Stevens' pamphlet is available from Crystal Clear Creator's website

Each one of this collection of six short stories left me wanting to know more about its characters. Stevens tells us little about what lies on the surface of her protagonists but so much about their inner depth. She does this without sentimentality, refusing to tell us how to feel, and demonstrating a respect for her reader.

The pieces are laced with beautiful prose, allowing the reader to see the world in new ways. In The Noises of Being Torn, Stevens describes the emptiness of a collapsing relationship in the line, "You can’t tie someone to nothing and expect them to stay." At other times, she shows a deep understanding of human emotion and behaviour, describing how the cheated-on woman in the story decides "to bargain with the calendar for a bit more time" as people often do when a difficult change is imminent.

It is possible that the stories are linked, but this isn’t made clear, leaving the reader to decide. However, there is a common thread of self-destruction running through these stories. Alcoholism or alcohol as self medication is seen in four of the six stories and destructive or broken relationships feature in all but one. Death and violence are also featured throughout, sometimes just in the thoughts of the characters, for instance in Lilac Tree the protagonist wonders "what it would be like to be slapped and spat at."

On the title page, the writer states: "Because if you hadn’t asked the right questions, we’d never even know." In this collection of stories, Stevens gives us an extremely engaging glimpse of what can lie behind, "I’m fine thanks." She shows us the truths we hide when we are afraid of how things will unravel if we reveal ourselves Without Makeup.

About the reviewer
Jennifer Morris was born in Leicester and has lived here most of her life. She has a husband and two children and a mad dog called Florence. She enjoys baking and drinking red wine with her friends.

Monday 21 September 2015

Review by Dips Patel of “Sculpture in the Modern World” by Barbara Hepworth

Tate Britain: Exhibition 24 June – 25 October 2015

I went to see ‘Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture in the Modern World’ at Tate Britain. Easily ranking in my favourite 3 sculptors ever, this is the first proper retrospective of hers I’ve seen (I’ve seen a fair bit of her work, but only as a single piece/pieces in a museum’s larger collection). 
I. WAS. BLOWN. AWAY. Work that I’ve only ever seen photos of, in the flesh is a whole other experience, it’s not just that the early stuff, whether its wood or stone, is just superb, the forms and composition of the work almost ethereal in their realisation, it’s the sheer skill at carving that absolutely drops the jaw not only in admiration but utter enthrallment.
It’s the scale of the work too, (at the entrance of the exhibition is an example of her late bronze work, giving the impression of an unspoken promise of something monumental to come) especially the “guarea” pieces that make you stop, hold your breath, forget to breathe, then gasp audibly and make you something of a babbling fool wondering how it’s even possible to think of the idea of the sculpture let alone the execution of it.
I felt like those chimps first being confronted by the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, honestly, I just cannot convey the sheer physicality of the work in words, there were pieces by other sculptors/artists to give context to her work (inevitably including Moore, Nicholson and Skeaping), and there’s also a film documentary as part of the exhibition which goes a long way to showing the emotional content to her work.  For more info click on the link below:

About the reviewer
Dips Patel is a graduate in Graphic Design which means he can colour in without going over the lines and when he does he makes it look deliberate, cool and edgy. He much prefers fine art where the art of talking nonsense is finer still allowing him extremely moderate success in introducing his work to a wider audience. Hobbies include reading stuff, watching stuff, commendably misguided attempts at painting stuff and consuming copious amounts of coco pops, clementines, curries, cakes and cocktails, not all at the same time which is frowned upon in polite society.