Sunday, 29 November 2015

Review by Lerah Mae Barcenilla of "The God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy

The God of Small Things is the debut novel of Indian writer Arundhati Roy. Completed in 1996, the book took four years to write and won the Booker Prize in 1997.

Set in Kerala, India during the late 1960s where Communism, religion and the caste-system ruled people’s hearts, the story begins with the funeral of young Sophie Mol – the cousin of our two protagonists, Rahel and her fraternal twin brother, Estha. We are introduced to the loneliness of their mother, Ammu, who fled an abusive marriage, returning to an unwelcome town to live with their blind grandmother, Mammachi. There’s uncle Chacko, a Rhodes scholar with his reading-aloud voice and words of wisdom, Baby Kochamma, enemy and grandaunt to the twins and Velutha, whose caste is plagued with tragedy from the start, the Untouchable beloved by Ammu and the twins.

‘It is curious how sometimes the memory of death lives on for much longer than the memory of the life that it is purloined,’ the narrator muses. In a narrative that slips seamlessly between time and space Roy slowly unravels the web of stories  behind the night of Sophie’s death drowned beneath a background of local politics, social taboos and the wave of history. The stories move from the twins’ childhood in 1969 –  where reality blurs with the plots of A Tale of Two Cities and Macbeth, and where people read backwards and sunglasses makes the world angry-coloured –  to their present as adults, where Rahel returns home 23 years after the tragic events that separated her from Estha, the present where one is Empty and another Quiet. You wonder how the words that used to mirror innocence and child-like curiosity faded, disappeared and are now as empty and hollow as the emptiness in Rahel’s heart, the silence in Estha’s voice.

With a whimsical, almost dreamlike lyrical prose, Roy captures the children’s candid observations imbued with sad wisdom, juxtaposed by the adult’s complexity and frailties in subtle ways. The shift between time and place leaves you aching with desperation to know more, waiting anxiously for the story to unfold. The sense of tragedy plagues the words and sentences of early chapters, and Roy gives snippets, a mere glimpse at the keyhole of a door that hides a sad story. We’re drawn in by the innocent way in which the twins see the world, full of wonder and awe and magic – only to walk into the hollow cave submerged by silence and a familiar smell, ‘Sicksweet. Like old roses on a breeze.’
Past and present blend together the way you sometimes get lost in thoughts and memory and you read on in dread as the past slowly unravels, revealing roads crossed and words spoken that led to this very moment – some that began way before our two protagonists were even born. Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things will lead you to a maze of narratives and a web of characters filled with tragedy, beautiful imagery and innocent little wisdoms – the funny thing is, you willingly follow.

‘The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again… In great stories you know who lives, who dies who finds love who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again,’ Roy writes, and The God of Small Things is surely one of the books you will want to read again.

About the reviewer
Lerah Mae Barcenilla is a nineteen year old who has an unhealthy obsession with books, coffee, mythology, cherry blossoms and post-it notes. She is currently a second year English student at the University of Leicester.

Review by Siobhian Hodges of "Little Girl Lost" by Barbie Probert-Wright with Jean Ritchie

Winner of Richard and Judy's TRUE competition, published in 2006 by arrow books.

Little Girl Lost is a harrowing memoir that will never leave you. In 1945, seven-year-old Barbie is immersed in all the horrors, tragedies and hardships of war, travelling through Germany with only her nineteen-year-old sister, Eva. The thought of reuniting with their mother spurs the two girls on to walk miles in a country amidst invasion. The sight of death, the shriek of air raid sirens, and the sound of gunshots at close-range become ever-present.

It's compelling, filled with a combination of loss and charitable acts that will leave the reader in a state of awe. From the very first page you can sense an unimaginable journey awaits them. No child should have to endure what Barbie lived through, yet for so many children, war pervades. Barbie and Eva quickly adapt to being on the road. To not feel hunger is a gift; to sleep in a bed is a luxury; to live to see another day is simply decided by fate. These girls knew that more than anything, and as author Barbie Probert-Wright recites her incredible adventure, she reflects the numerous times when luck was on her side... and when it wasn't.

Little Girl Lost will have you gripped and make you think twice about your own personal struggles. It gives an insight on what truly matters and how, even in the darkest of times, it is still possible to pull through. Barbie retells her story chronologically from when she was seven years old, with equal balance of her younger voice and her hindsight as an adult. It's easy to relate to her family-oriented lifestyle, making each gain and misfortune really hit home.

A sensational book that is sure to move you.

About the reviewer
Siobhian Hodges is an MA student in Creative Writing at Loughborough University. If she’s not reading, she’s writing. If she’s not writing, she’s thinking about writing. She is also currently working on a novel and sometimes writes short stories.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Review by Robert Richardson of “a token of concrete affection,” an exhibition at the Embassy of Brazil, London, 20 November – 18 December 2015

Augusto de Campos & Julio Plaza, poemobiles series, 1968 - 1974

In the early 1960s, Stephen Bann was a student at Cambridge University, and during this time he understood the importance of concrete poetry, which was then a fairly recent development in literature. From the outset, Bann's involvement included editing and writing critical articles about art and literature and co-organising with Mike Weaver, Reg Gadney and Philip Steadman the First International Exhibition of Concrete, Phonetic and Kinetic Poetry at St. Catherine’s College in 1964. His subsequent successful academic career (he is currently Emeritus Professor of History of Art at Bristol University) also continued his interest in the direction of research and writing.

The enthusiasm of those early days led to Bann’s contact with many of the most significant concrete poets, and he also acquired an incredible personal collection. From this, it is the work of the historically significant Noigandres group that is the main focus of an exhibition currently showing at the Brazilian Embassy in London, along with a selection of Bann’s correspondence with these poets. The title of the exhibition, a token of concrete affection (following the Bauhaus preference for all lower case), is from a letter written to Stephen Bann, almost fifty years ago, by poet Pedro Xisto.  

Concrete poetry became an international movement, but it sparkled away from the predictable New York/Paris/London nexus. As well as the Noigandres poets in Sao Paulo, Brazil, other leading concrete poets were Eugen Gomringer in Ulm, Germany and Ian Hamilton Finlay in Edinburgh.

The common ground was that visual/typographical dimensions to language were realised as literature, and the page became a liberated arena. This is the case with such poets as Pedro Xisto and Edgard Braga. With the work of Augusto de Campos, and especially his collaborations with Julio Plaza, there is a distinctive Brazilian approach: by combining words with a deft cutting and folding of paper, the poems are also sculptural. It is wonderful that these artworks remain so surprising and fresh.

As a symbiosis of thought and language, concrete poems are words and letters at play as never before, and a sharing of delights and perceptions. The writer and curator Bronac Ferran is to be congratulated: working closely with Stephen Bann and the Brazilian Embassy’s cultural section, she has presented this work in a way that is not only coherent, but also communicates its optimism.

About the reviewer
Robert Richardson is a visual artist and writer. His work is included in Artists’ Postcards: A Compendium (edited by Jeremy Cooper, published by Reaktion Books, London). He is also the co-editor, with William Pratt, of Homage to Imagism (AMS Press, New York). In 2014, his solo exhibition TextSpaces was exhibited at Eugen Gomringer’s Kunsthaus Rehau in Germany.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Karen Stevens, interviewed by Jonathan Taylor

Karen Stevens is a Senior Lecturer in English and Creative Writing at the University of Chichester, in West Sussex.  She has a special interest in the novel and short fiction.  Her short stories have been published in The Big Issue, Pulp Net, Panurge New Fiction, Mouth Ogres, Dreaming Beasts, Fish Publishing, Riptide, Salt Publishing.  Her edited collection of essays, Writing a First Novel, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014.

Writing a First Novel is an inspiring collection of essays by a range of award-winning, established and newly published novelists. Writers generously offer their insight and advice on the joys and challenges that new authors of fiction will inevitably encounter along the way. A literary agent and a publisher add their own professional perspectives.

JT. You've edited a rather wonderful book of essays, Writing a First Novel, by many different writers. What first gave you the idea to do this? What were your aims in putting together the book, both for yourself and for readers?

KS. I’m so glad you think it’s wonderful, Jonathan. Two central aims initially prompted the idea for the book.  Firstly, as a teacher of creative writing, I spend a fair amount of time searching for illuminating words from writers on writing and was searching for some encouragement on writing a first novel. I came across much on writing fiction, but very little on the specific task of writing a first novel, which made me aware of the need for a book dedicated to this subject for both writers and teachers. Secondly, I do find that some (not all) ‘how to’ books can simplify the process of writing into a linear ‘step-by-step’ form, and I wanted aspiring writers to understand that writing – good writing – isn’t about ticking off a check list. Creation isn’t a blue print, and the writers in the collection – new, established and award winning – testify to this when they talk of the thrilling, chaotic, sometimes mystical, and often mysterious process on which they embarked.   In Hanif Kureishi’s wonderful chapter, he asserts, ‘There is a sense – there has to be a sense – in which most writers do not understand what they are doing.’ Writing a novel is the longest and loneliest journey a writer can embark upon, and I wanted the aspiring novelist to rest easy with uncertainty, to understand that this is just part of the creative process and to not lose faith, to simply keep going.

JT. What did you yourself learn from putting together Writing a First Novel?

KS. I learned so much in so many ways. I learned how hard it is to put together a collection of this type with a very limited budget.  The writers were very gracious and generous, giving up their precious time (for little payment) to demystify a process that is largely inexplicable. I learned that editing is an exacting and tough job, and I have great admiration for editors at publishing houses that spend their weeks working closely on manuscripts. As I say in my introduction to the collection, ‘Bravery’, ‘belief’, ‘confidence’ and ‘faith’ are fundamental words that run through the chapters, and I do find myself visiting the book whenever I’m riddled with self-doubt about writing. I don’t come from a literary background.  I was the first person in my family to undertake a degree. My background, I’m sure, is the root of self-consciousness, and the book has taught me that cultivating a sense of entitlement is a crucial step in writing. Jane Feaver, a contributor, says, ‘We must develop some counter-confidence that will temporarily overcome or pull the rug from whatever it is that tells you, you have no right to be there.’ Great advice.  

JT. You also write your own prose fiction, which has been widely published. How do you see the relationship between the role of editor and that of writer? What are the points of connection and differences?

KS. Having worked as writer and editor, I’ve experienced both sides of this relationship and see it as a diplomatic process in which both parties care hugely about the writing. Ideally, editing should be an organic and collaborative process. Editing is about being a good reader and understanding the writer’s vision and helping them to achieve it. The editor needs to be a diplomat, offering suggestions to editorial problems, and in doing so the writer will often come up with the right solution. For this approach to be successful, however, the writer needs to be open to having their work critiqued, and willing to engage in a dialogue about their work. In my role of editor, I’ve asked writers questions about their story and they’ve often been surprised that the information in their head wasn’t transferred to the page. As a writer, I’ve also experienced this same surprise. When writing, we’re immersed in an imaginative process that isn’t necessarily keeping tabs on the story at the macro level of such things as plot and structure. Consequently, I’m always grateful when an editor or my workshop group pulls me back from the murky depths of creativity to help me see what’s working and what isn’t.  

JT. When did you first decide to be a writer? What were the major staging posts in your development as a writer? Why write at all?

KS. Two things made a deep impression on me as a child in the 70s, and sowed the seeds of my desire to write.  The first thing happened in class at primary school, when a very clever girl read out a description she’d written of an old man. I still recall, with absolute clarity, a line she read: ‘One arm was extended.’ Wow. We were only six or seven years old at the time, and I was blown away by her sophisticated use of language and her ability to bring a person to life through only words. I can still see the old man today in his brown dishevelled rain mac and his tweed cap, his arm reaching out. A few years after this event, I secretly watched a controversial adult drama series called ‘Bouquet of Barbed Wire’ on a tiny black and white portable in my bedroom. I was captivated and shocked by the story of infidelity, violence and incest, and how it devastates a family. I felt completely lost once the series had finished, and in the playground I relived (in inappropriately graphic detail) the torrid fallout from the father’s incestuous infatuation with his daughter, only to receive confused or blank looks from my playmates. As an adult, I now see that I wanted to relive this drama because I’d discovered emotions outside of my own childish experience. This was the point when I first understood (albeit unconsciously) the power of fiction.      

Though I didn’t start writing until my late twenties on my English degree, I suppose I’ve behaved like a writer since childhood. I was always watching, listening, spying, prying, storing things in my head that I could draw on in secret stories I’d write on sheets of toilet paper. Money was very tight in my childhood (and still is). I didn’t have access to writing paper, and I suppose this is why I don’t use notebooks now for my writing. I tend to hear or see something that makes an impression on me and I store it. If it stays with me, I know it will turn into a story, or form part of a story at some point. Once I started writing on my degree, I soon realised I was writing out many things – directly and indirectly – that I’d stored since childhood. This is why I write. This is why all writers write, I think.  We need to make sense of experience. We need to express our individual take on life.   

JT. I've always loved your stories, and find them highly original, individual. How would you describe your individual style or voice in your short stories?

KS. Thank you for the compliment; it’s always nice to know that people have enjoyed the stories I’ve written, re-written, agonised over, re-written ...  How would I describe my writing style and voice?  I don’t really know; it’s difficult to say because it’s just what I do. I tend to write about characters that thirst for some sort of connection but are also aware of the fleeting nature of things, the impermanence of it all. At the end of the day, my central aim in writing is only to be as true to my characters and their situations as I can possibly be.  
JT. How do you conceive the relationship between short fiction and other genres (given that you've edited a book on novel writing as well, for example)?

KS. All writing explores what it is to be human and alive. Like the novel, the short story wants to give us something big but wants to do this with brevity. Frank O’Connor feels that the novel requires far more logic, and far more knowledge of circumstances, whereas the short story can have the sort of detachment from circumstances that lyric poetry has. The novel, it can be said, has an internal logic that builds, but the short story doesn’t always follow a rational pattern or allow for a moral explanation. Graham Mort argues that the reader both experiences the story as it unfolds and completes it. Not in a systematic way, in which a novel is completed, but in a speculative way that fleshes out the bones of a narrative. This is what attracts us to the short story genre, I think; its very brevity enrols our imagination.  

JT. Do you find that teaching Creative Writing helps or hinders your writing, and in what ways?

KS. Teaching Creative Writing is both a help and a hindrance. I enjoy teaching; it’s a creative act, in itself – to inspire and to stimulate creativity in others. When I see a writer finding his/her voice or getting their work published, it’s very exciting and spurs me on to keep writing too. In teaching, though, I use up a lot of creative and emotional energy because I want my students’ experience and creative work to be as good it can be. Usually, at the end of each semester, I’m exhausted and feel as if I’m stuffed full of other people’s words, and it takes a while to get back to my own words again. Reading just for pleasure helps: Richard Ford, Katherine Mansfield, Tessa Hadley and John Banville are just a few examples of writers who inspire and kick-start me back into writing.    

JT. What are your medium and long-term aims for your writing?

KS. My main aim – medium and long-term – is to simply keep on writing and meet my monthly workshop deadlines. I’m writing a collection of short stories and have some chapters of a children’s novel under my belt, and the monthly workshops help to ensure that writing remains a priority, even though I’m busy with work and children. For anyone struggling to keep a writing routine going, I’d suggest starting or joining a workshop group. Deadlines are brilliant, and it’s great to be involved with other writers who value writing.     

About the interviewer
Jonathan Taylor is an author, lecturer, critic and editor. His books include the novels Melissa (Salt, 2015), and Entertaining Strangers (Salt, 2012), and the memoir Take Me Home (Granta, 2007). His website is

Friday, 20 November 2015

Jodie Hannis reviews herself at Oxjam Leicester Takeover festival

This is not a review of Oxjam Leicester Takeover 2015. This is a review of me having a really nice time there. Part of this includes telling you about the Haunted House of Comedy and Shock! Tales tent in Orton Square.

It was a lovely tent, big enough for the sound system, artists, comperes, and at some point when vigorously encouraged, enough space for us, the audience, to sit down in it. I had been standing for quite a while at this point so I enjoyed when that happened. It was also a lovely tent because it had been decorated with big pieces of fabric, some classy bunting (not the tacky stuff that looks thin and flimsy) and even some Halloween themed fairy lights. Oh I should mention, it was on 31th October and was Halloween themed because Halloween was that day.

The Halloweening was done extra hard by the comperes for the day whose names were Jenny Hibberd and Dave McGuckin. I wasn’t sure whether to say ‘were’ or ‘are’ just then because ‘were’ makes it sound as if they’re dead now but don’t worry they’re not they’re still alive. Dave did look kind of dead because he’d put lots of white make up on. Jenny had put lots of make up on too but she didn’t look dead she looked like an evil fairy because that’s what she’d dressed up as. I really like them and they’re my friends so you can’t really trust anything I say about them but if you can, you should believe me when I say they’re lovely and very talented.

Jenny is funny and smart and runs an event called House of Verse which happens every month in Leicester. All sorts of artists make art for it and some of my favourite ones did some more art on Saturday. The first thing I saw was a band called Wiseass which made me want to start dancing straight away and I wasn’t even drunk. For only two musicians (Raj and Jamie playing one guitar and one drums) they made quite a bit of noise that was bluesy and funky and rocky. I really hope they put some of their songs on a CD or a record so I can listen to them at home. Or they could just come and play for me in my house, whichever is easiest, I don’t mind. Have a listen here:

I missed another bit of music called Velvet Exit that I wanted to hear because a restaurant that-shall-remain-nameless took an unreasonable amount of time to cook a quesadilla for me. I heard the very last 30 seconds of it and it was so good that it made me even sadder that I’d missed it. But the show must go on and the next person to show themselves was word-man Andrew Lee who I didn’t recognise for quite a while even though he’d been stood right next to me for a few minutes. His costume must’ve been good but then maybe it was supposed to be more of a disguise, either way it worked really well. It also made the words that he was saying extra creepy and some of them were pretty creepy to begin with. His performances sometimes look painfully embodied so the skeleton onesie suited him quite well. He might want to consider wearing it all the time.

Then there was more music from DJ Ninja Bob which was so good, it was one of my favourite bits of the whole day. I think I danced for half an hour without stopping. When the dancing stopped, this was the point when we all sat down for the first time. It was good to sit down after all the dancing because I was tired but I was also quite sweaty. When I stood up a bit later I noticed that I’d left a sweaty bum print which could clearly be seen on the concrete. About 5 or 6 years ago when I was younger and more self-conscious I think I would have been embarrassed about that but I liked it because it was nice to see a visual reminder of how much fun I’d been having about 20 minutes before. It was getting colder though and when I finally stopped sweating and cooled down I got a bit chilly and actually ended up colder than I was before I did the dancing. It’s funny how that happens sometimes. I don’t regret it though, I had a better time with DJ Ninja Bob than I would’ve done if I’d stayed warm at home.

It was Jack Britton who encouraged all the sitting, though I’m sure he didn’t fully appreciate my sticky situation at the time. This guy is really funny and I value his wit very highly. He managed to do a song about holding a woman hostage and it wasn’t inappropriate or offensive. I wouldn’t be able to pull that off and I’m a woman who is blonde and innocent looking. But Jack is also blonde and innocent looking so maybe he’s just better at it than me.

The next poet Stephen Thomas did a poem about being like Jesus and I guess he was quite innocent looking too. But he seemed to only want to look like Jesus for sexual gratification so maybe he’s not that like Jesus. I hope he realised his girlfriend was in the audience too otherwise that would’ve been super awkward. Ishi Khan-Jackson’s boyfriend was also in the audience. She didn’t really talk about him in her set though so maybe she’s a bit more independent and not as needy. She did talk about stealing money from charity though which I enjoyed because the whole thing going on that day was actually a big charity event which I guess she hadn’t realised.

I can’t tell you about all of the acts that happened that day because I’ve run out of space and I’m getting a bit bored of this now. But I’ll tell you about Dan Nicholas and Lewys Holt (he has more names than this but I already said I was running out of space) who did some improvised comedy. I think they were getting onto some good stuff especially when they were doing handstands. Well, Lewys was doing handstands, Dan looked like he was kind of putting all of his body-weight onto his face and neck which is probably a bad way to do it. My suggestion would be that next time they do an interactive handstand class because I would join in with that and I think Dan would learn a lot.

Maybe Dave’s next Comedy and Cocktails would be a good chance to see that. Maybe it wouldn’t but it was a good way of tying the start of this paragraph together with the end of the last one. This will happen Tuesday 1 December 2015 in Manhattan 34 at 8pm. The next House of Verse is a bit before that on Saturday 21 November 2015 at the Music CafĂ© from 7pm. I realise that it just looks like I’m trying to persuade you to come to my friend’s things and give them money because I already told you that we’re friends. That is sort of what I’m doing but I do also think you’ll have a really good time and just want as many people as possible to have a good time and feel nice about themselves.

Next House of Verse:
Next Comedy and Cocktails:

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:

Friday, 13 November 2015

Review by Dips Patel of “Gilead, Home, Lila” a loose trilogy by Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson
Marilynne Robinson’s novels Gilead, Home and, the latest, Lila, are a very loose trilogy, in the sense that they take place in the same fictional world and involve some of the same characters.

Gilead centres on John Ames, a minister recounting his life, writing his memoirs and reflecting on his belief and faith in the face of almost constant challenges (and by that I mean tragedy after tragedy after tragedy…) and comparing his life to his close friend (and lifelong chum) Reverend Robert Boughton, another man of the cloth. (Home is set concurrently to Gilead, though it completely stands as a story in its own right.) The Boughton family form the basis of this story, the second novel in the trilogy, which centres on the return of the Reverend’s prodigal son Jack and the impact on the family his coming home has, seen through the eyes of his younger sister Glory. And rounding off the trilogy is Lila, revolving around Lila (shockingly!), John Ames' second wife he married late in life. It's about her and john's courtship and subsequent marriage, but also about Lila's life before she came to be in the world of Ames.

Gilead was written in 2004, Lila published in 2014, Home in 2008 and kicking things off Housekeeping in 1980. Just the four novels spread over 35 years (she has written numerous non-fiction essays and pieces over the years). What makes her peerless, certainly to me, is the quality of writing maintained throughout, there is no flabbiness anywhere in any book and over that long a period of time is frankly staggering. She writes with beautiful clarity and intelligence and perception of human nature it's almost illusory like a hologram or something... But it's also a warmth and comfort that settles you physically and mentally and I would say even emotionally, like when you've just had a really crap day, boss on the rampage, forgotten the pack lunch so overpriced and over-salted sandwiches here we come, driven to distraction when the office is littered with the empty husks of staplers everywhere because no-one’s bothered to put in any staples once they’ve run out, and then you have a long walk home in the freezing rain, a hundred tiny ice picks a minute stabbing you in the face as a numbing coldness seeps through your clothes, soaking you to the bone and your feet leaden weight and long since numb… But when you walk through the door, a hugging warmth envelopes you immediately, you can smell your favourite dish simmering away and waiting to be drunk after you've changed into your fave pj's and comfy slippers having had a nice hot soak in the tub, is a hot chocolate with fresh whippy cream and marshmallows! Imagine how good you'd feel then after that day and that's how it feels reading these novels: jaw-droppingly magnificent work.

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 Robert Richardson of "The Spire" by William Golding

When he died in 1993, William Golding was in possession of major establishment honours: he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and subsequently knighted; also, in 1980, Rites of Passage won the Booker Prize. Nevertheless, he seems destined to be known for his first novel, Lord of the Flies, and its premise that civilisation is flimsy, with savagery just below the surface.

It is known that Lord of the Flies was heavily edited, and, despite its justified success for being one of those novels that seems inevitable, there is a stylistic blandness about it, and maybe this came, partly at least, from so much editing. His fifth novel, The Spire, is far more idiosyncratic and awkward: a less easy read, but this, I think, is a better fit for Golding’s ability to steer us away from the comfortable and smug.

The book is set in medieval England and centres on Jocelin, a Dean obsessed with adding a spire to his cathedral. It is third person stream of consciousness, but with the added basic device of "he thought, 'I …'" This allows Golding to write occasional passages in the first person.  With such a point of view novel, the question arises "why not totally first person?" Maintaining a mainly third person approach was perhaps a way Golding could better include very powerful descriptions, and at times the writing is impressive in its crunching poetic prose.

Other characters are, because of Jocelin’s authority as Dean, drawn into his mission from God. The result is suffering and death, and this eventually becomes his own fate. Towards the end, Jocelin asks another priest, Father Adam, to read an account Jocelin wrote immediately after what he interpreted as the divine message to build a spire. Father Adam responds to this by saying "But was this all?" and of Jocelin’s training as a priest many years before: "They never taught you to pray!" Golding’s argument seems to be one of favouring reflection, rather than a headlong rush to actions that can, too easily, prove destructive to others. Although The Spire takes place in an age long disappeared, we have only to turn on the news to see the agonies caused by obsessive and blinkered beliefs, whether religious or secular. Golding as a novelist, though, deals in ambiguity, and is challenging us with the additional position that obsession may also lead to achievements posterity will admire, like the building of a cathedral spire. 

About the reviewer
Robert Richardson is a visual artist and writer. His work is included in Artists’ Postcards: A Compendium (edited by Jeremy Cooper, published by Reaktion Books, London). He is also the co-editor, with William Pratt, of Homage to Imagism (AMS Press, New York).


Review by Hannah Stevens of "Used To Be" by Elizabeth Baines

Used To Be (published by Salt, 2015) is a collection packed with bursts of intense short stories, written in clean, sharp prose. The stories are immersive and gripping. I read this book in one sitting.

There is a breathlessness and urgency to the rhythms of this collection and stories are dark and full of damaged people. Most of the characters you will encounter on these pages don’t have names but in spite of this feel knowable: there are parts of me in these characters that I recognise.

The collection is punctuated with disturbing and dark description: in "Used To Be" – the title story – there is a "stomach flat as a teenage anorexic’s." In "That Turbulent Stillness" – "a hole was punched in the… day, and also her heart." In "Where The Starlings Fly" – "the sound of bickering haemorrhaged in." There is violence and wreckage in these stories but ultimately there is an undercurrent of redemption and hope: nothing in this collection is definite and, as in life, there are different and alternative endings and we can choose them.

About the reviewer
Hannah is from Leicester and is a PhD student in Creative Writing at Leicester University. She has a short story collection called Without Makeup and Other Stories (2012) and has had stories published in Crystal Voices: Ten Years of Crystal Clear Creators (2015) and The New Luciad (2015).

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Review by Karol Valderrama of the "Reading the Body" event by Lydia Towsey and Scott Brigwood at Attenborough Arts Centre

Everybody’s Reading Festival 2015
26th September – 4th October

Reading the Body:
Attenborough Arts Centre

When I first considered joining this event, I felt attracted by its main topic and the dynamism the programme offered.  However, I must confess I was concerned when I decided to attend, and also when I realised drawing was going to be an alternative but demanding way to interpret and read a female body.

My concern increased when I arrived, as I found out that this was a class with people who have had experience in drawing, even though I could define myself as skilled to do basic traces.  Fortunately, both Lydia Towsey and Scott Brigwood (leading artists of the event) made of the experience something welcoming, simple and significant, even before starting the workshop.  After going into the room, I was invited to grab a drawing board (the first one in my life), some graphite sticks, charcoal, chalk pastels and markers, and so explore a whole new world through white sheets of paper.

Based on Scott’s words, this was an experience of mark-making which aimed to discover the meaning of our drawings and going beyond conventional techniques.  People who attended this event had the opportunity to create a unique signature no matter the background each one of us had.  Several suggestions were given, beginning with the most valuable, I would say: obliterating preconceptions to guarantee the best “babies” ever (which was the name given to our artistic creations by Lydia).
With materials at hand, general recommendations and a naked model in front of us, the main task was simple: look at the model and draw.  It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But again, this experience was not just about conventional drawing; not just because it was NOT focused on developing a common or traditional drawing style, but also because it was NOT just about images: It was about an interesting mixture of words and images at the same time. 

Later on, instructions were given clearly and we were all ready to start.  Nevertheless, every new sheet that was taken on the board was becoming progressively more challenging, aiming to change styles, to break paradigms and to contribute from a new individual perspective.  A white sheet was not just a white sheet; it was an experience that led to feelings of freedom or chaotic emotions at the moment of completing every new drawing.  Again, this was not just drawing, as words were coming up, supplementing graphical expression; they were saying something together, so words were images, and images were sentences.

With regards to the model, her natural shape contrasted with some exaggerated poses she gave us at every stage.  What did they really aim to?  Certainly, the physical and aesthetic analysis of her, moved towards a more subjective and original reading of her movement or inactivity; a reading resulting of what she performed, combining our beliefs, multiple contexts and the way we used the given tools.  For instance, the graphite stick enhanced our drawings and it was there as the magic tool to discover what the woman in front really meant… not necessarily nudity… but multiple features or traits within our realities.  This finally became a process of extreme consciousness regarding the female representation and our unconscious ways of examining female bodies.
As it was mentioned in the information given prior to the event, it was indeed a different way to read, write and draw the female body.  Expected or not, these creations ended up being an additional way to understand ourselves via original images, as a consequence of the willingness everyone had to move further on within the experience.  Indeed, no experience was necessary; the key was to strongly believe what both artists mentioned at the beginning: Starting without preconceptions and allowing the mark-making experience to consequently see transformations at the moment of reading.

Now that the workshop is over, several questions come to my mind.  First, how did we, participants, finally understand the body we read during those hours?  How did we depict it?  Did our backgrounds and beliefs contribute to have a different or similar reading among us?  After this, I also thought and asked myself what “reading the body” means today, based on the experience.  Multiple answers could appear, for sure, and much more when visual memories swim through social networks in the current days. 

“Choose the events that might make a difference,” the festival Coordinator, Juliet Martin, stated in the foreword of the brochure.  Clearly, I did not hesitate in following her invitation and focused my attention on this particular one, identifying this as an opportunity to make a multifaceted reading, writing and representation of the female body in one same moment.  Evidently, this experience allowed us to be all readers and mark-makers with no exclusion of gender or creed, to consequently analyse this type of art freely.  We were not more than ten participants, just a few indeed, but enough people to replicate this alternative way of reading humanity in modern times. 

About the reviewer
Karol Valderrama is an English/Spanish teacher from Colombia who lives in Leicester.  She has worked in an interdisciplinary level, completing an MA in Film and Film Cultures.  Additionally, Karol is a PhD Candidate in Modern Languages at the University of Leicester focusing on Latin American cinema and gender studies.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Interview with Dan Wallbank

Artist Dan Wallbank interviewed by Alexandros Plasatis

Dan Wallbank
AP. Many thanks for creating the doodle that we use for our logo, Dan. I’ve seen you, I’m afraid, creating your doodles while at work. Why then did it take you so long to make this one for the blog, was it busy in the library? How did you end up being a doodle-maniac? Tell me about it, and, anyway, I hope you have joined the Union.

DW. I’ve always been a bit of a “doodle-maniac”! I’ve always loved to draw, and as a kid I found it a great extension of my brain, although I could never get things to look quite the way I wanted them to. I’ve always been very into comics and used to create my own – largely based around Sonic the Hedgehog, for my sins.
Punk Clown by Dan Wallbank

I could ask you, Alex, why it took so long to come up with these interview questions! Was I not second choice of artist? The Library is a great job and I enjoy it very much, but around the start of term it does tend to get just a little busy. I’ve curtailed my work drawing habits in the interests of being a good employee – I might need to change my blog title…

AP. I was a bit slow with the questions because I had to visit my auntie in Papua New Guinea. I like this project of yours, taking photos of and archiving graffiti around Leicester. Why do you do it? If those people came around your house with the purpose of covering it in graffiti, what would you do? Would you punch them and spit on them, go on, say it, what would you do?

DW. I think it’s important to say that I don’t take photographs of all graffiti, just that which I find unusual, artistically pleasing or funny. It’s a very subjective collection of work, I must admit – there are other blogs I’ve found since starting my own (such as the great which archive less selectively. It has to be said that I don’t condone unauthorised graffiti – that just often tends to be the most interesting stuff… About graffiti in my place – well, I suppose it would depend on how funny I found the graffiti, but I don’t think I’d be a fan. I do abhor violence in all forms unless it’s part of a computer game, though, so I might challenge them to a round of Halo – and probably lose.

Graffiti in Leicester

AP. You wrote music for a wrestling league. Do you find violence inspirational? Do you get into fights? 

DW. This was one of those examples of it not being what you know, but who you know – a friend of mine used to be a semi-professional wrestler, and when one of his cohorts announced that he was setting up a wrestling league and needed walk-on music for 15+ wrestlers, he got straight in touch with me! It was interesting to me as I’m not a fan of wrestling, so I really had to study the sort of music that gets used at events in order to create the right sort of stuff. It was a real workout in terms of my creativity and I really enjoyed it.

AP. Tell me about your band, when was it formed, how often and where do you play live, do you all take drugs before and/or after gigs, but also tell me about you and how you feel being a member of this band, about things that you like and things that piss you off, about any dreams that you might have about the band’s future.

DW. In terms of bands, at the moment I only play live as part of some cover bands – Pin Up for the full band experience and Two Feathers for the acoustic side. I’m looking to form a new band, though, so if anyone’s interested…
Two Feathers

I’m literally the least rock and roll person ever, as I’m teetotal and really quite boring. My dreams for the future of any band I form would be to play in a dingy club to ten people, as I like to keep things realistic.
AP. We are doing very well, Dan. This is the only interview where the questions are longer than the answers. Can we listen to one of your songs now?

DW. There you are:

AP. Ah, lovely… You are very much into photography, and many of the photos you take are of musicians. Does being a musician yourself help you to identify the right moment to take a photo or, I don’t know, does it help in any way?

DW. It really does, but not necessarily in the ways you might expect – it’s not about feeling or mood a lot of the time so much as counting the beats and thinking about how a person is likely to move when you’re at each beat. If a song has a 1, 2, 3, 4 beat, then people are most likely to pull the best moves on the 1!

Charlie Tidmas - photo by Dan Wallbank

AP. How did the Commentary at Phoenix go? I read a very positive review about it in The New Fork Times. Was it really that good?

DW. Commentary was a real experience, and one I’m proud to have been part of. It’s an event in which comedians, musicians, dancers and poets all perform in front of a constantly-playing collection of silent footage – so there are some sections where the comedians will do new voiceovers to the films, or the musicians new soundtracks; some of the footage has been created especially for the event. It’s a really excellent show and one that the audience have loved twice now. It’s all new material every time, and the next one is February 18th – tickets are actually on sale already!

Oh, I looked up “New Fork Times” and I found a food blog – I feel you may be misleading me…

AP. There are rumours you’re about to perform your own poetry at some event with Brand Kit and Tom Bruise. Is that true?

DW. I am indeed, yeah – this is the first time I’ve ever performed poetry in earnest, and I’ve written a seven-minute long piece about two of history’s greatest inventors and their ridiculous fight. It’s really better than it sounds… It’ll be at Heard of Mouth on November 12th, which is a night run by the excellent and disgustingly talented Andrew Lee, who is also part of Commentary!

AP. Thanks for this, Dan. Can we listen to one last song now?  

DW. If you insist…

About the artist
Dan Wallbank is a man who refuses to be put in a box, mostly because he is quite tall and won’t fit. Equal parts Clark Kent, Sylar and Jemaine Clement, Dan has turned his hand to illustration, photography, comedy, poetry and writing, but he’d probably say he was a musician, if pushed. He is 29 and lives in Leicester with his partner and they spend their time together watching endless episodes of Pointless.

Dan’s Doodles:
Music stuff he makes for fun:
Music he wrote for a wrestling league:
A collection of interesting graffiti around Leicester (NSFW): and twits at @GraffitiOfLE
Photography Facebook page:
Example of his photography is the header image:
Commentary - a mixture of film, comedy, spoken word, music and dance (part of a larger group)
Twitter and Instagram: @natchdan

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).

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Review by Dips Patel of “Housekeeping” by Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson is one of my all-time favourite authors. Her first novel Housekeeping was nominated for a Pulitzer. I need not say more cos that nugget speaks for itself. (She did win a Pulitzer and that was for Gilead, her second novel, more of which another time...)

Housekeeping is about the lives of and relationship between two sisters and the impact of a third woman, their aunt, who comes into their life and the effect she has on them as individuals and their relationship. Regularly charting highly in “Books to Read Before You Die,” “greatest novels”-type lists, there's no end of difficulty in recommending this novel (and author) highly enough.

You know when you stare at something long enough and then quickly look away and there's a light, negative outline shape of what you've been looking at, and it seems to vibrate and “pulse” for a while before slowly disappearing?… Well, once you've read this book it will “pulse” for years after and you'll go back to reading it again and again, each time thinking “it wasn't as good as I thought it was last time, surely not,” and then you read it and realise it was better and just keeps getting better and better… I've read Housekeeping three, no make that four times now over the years and if there is one author and one book I'd probably recommend above all others it's this one.

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.