Tuesday 29 October 2019

Review by Jayne Stanton of "The Anatomical Venus" by Helen Ivory

The Anatomical Venus is an eighteenth century waxwork model – life-sized, anatomically correct, ‘breathing’ and dissectible – of an idealised female form. With human hair, string of pearls and posed, she is morbid and macabre; her seven layers of body parts open secrets to the men who once handled and studied her.  

‘The Little Venus’ is ‘presented voluptuously’; she is beautiful even in death:

          Yet how charming the rope of pearls at the throat –
          the throat itself a repository for kisses.

The voice in the poem is distasteful; it is that of a tout encouraging ‘gentlemen’ to examine the exhibit, hands-on. 

Six years after her previous collection, Waiting for Bluebeard, which chronicles the stages of a woman’s disappearing, Ivory’s latest collection seems a natural progression. The Anatomical Venus explores how women have been (and still are) portrayed (and treated) as ‘other.’ The reader encounters witches, hysterics, psychotics, asylum inmates, objects of curiosity, corpses and AI dolls. 

These women are portrayed through the eyes and voices of men: the witch-finders, physicians, employers, and husbands. They are rarely named. Instead they are known only as the wives or daughters of working men (Labourer’s/Boatman’s/Farmer’s wife), or by their own occupations – shockingly so in ‘Female Casebook 6,’ a list poem of asylum inmates’ occupations or status, ending:

          Wife of Boatman

This anonymity is, in itself, a kind of disappearing.

The ‘Wunderkammer’ poems in the collection portray women as objects of curiosity. They, like the waxwork Venus, and Read Doll X in ‘Pygmalion,’ are perfectly posed. Like the corseted wife in ‘The Fainting Room,’ and the hysterical and psychotic housewives of other poems, they are confined, contained. 

That is not to say that the women in these pages are not given a voice. ‘Hellish Nell’ puts forward her own case as a medium for the ‘ectoplasm’ of grieving mothers’ sons. A woman hanged for witchcraft questions the cleric responsible for Malleus Maleficarum. The wife of an unfaithful husband in ‘Stripped’ vows she’ll tear out a rib and return it, owing him nothing. ‘Anger in Ladies &c’ harnesses the power of women’s anger in a rant against the James Dunton, author of The Ladies Dictionary (1684):

          Now they will lecture you
          on how to wear your hair, Mr Dunton –
          how to cover your shame. 
          They are sharpening their bread knives.

The call to arms of this, the penultimate poem in the collection, is akin to that of the title poem of Tishani Doshi’s Girls are Coming Out Of the Woods (2017). 

Women as vessels is an overarching theme in the collection. The ‘she’ in the closing poem ‘wakes inside her body.’ Unlike Real Doll X, she arranges her own limbs and, free at last, ‘she leaves her body / at the mouth of the door.’ 

About the reviewer
Jayne Stanton’s poems have appeared in numerous print and online magazines, and anthologies. She has written commissions for a county museum, the Centre for New Writing, University of Leicester's Poems for International Women’s Day 2018, and a city residency. A pamphlet, Beyond the Tune, is published by Soundswrite Press (2014).  

Wednesday 23 October 2019

Review by Victoria Pickup of "Rough Waking: For Those Confined and Homeless (Including You)" by Julian Daizan Skinner, Lazlo Mihaly, Kazuaki Okazaki

Rough Waking is a collaborative collection of poetry, photography and artwork on the themes of homelessness, incarceration and a quest for spiritual enlightenment through the study and practice of "Zen life." Presenting the accounts of three very different men, each having undertaken a unique and personal journey, this book reflects upon the idea that we are all, in our own way, both confined and homeless. Each story portrays a pathway to self-discovery through some of the darkest, most difficult times a human could experience.

The first part of Rough Waking shows the photography of Laszlo Mihaly (Lazz), including his prize-winning picture of a homeless man meditating on the street. His images are rough, stark and sobering, and rightly placed first in the book alongside Lazz’s frank thoughts about his experience of being homeless:

           I felt I wasn’t a man any more.
           I was in pieces.  At that point, you
           Stop being a man or woman.
           You’re just wreckage.

We next come to the poetry of Julian Daizan Skinner, the first Englishman to become a Zen master in the Rinzai tradition, who spent many years in a monastery before undertaking a period of "Zen homelessness." Having founded London-based Zenways, Skinner now works with St Giles’ Trust, providing support in prisons and to the homeless.

His collection, "Autumn in the Monastery and Other Poems" is a deeply personal account of his own spiritual journey and features many beautiful moments. The imagery is striking, there is a sharpness to Skinner’s focus and a lucidity in his words, perhaps owing to his mind being cleared of distraction whilst living in monastic confinement at the time of writing.

From "My Father’s Hands" ("My father had hands of power, / lightening and thunder lived there … When we walked, his hand swallowed mine / in its hard, dry mouth") to "Nigredo," when he focuses upon how the world’s violence breaks an individual down, which only pushes them further to freedom - the ultimate idea behind achieving Zen - Skinner’s observations are often simple and powerful, such as his description of "The Maintenance Monk":

            He’d much rather
            be fixing the wheelbarrow …
            than stand talking to you,
            all knobbly fingers
            and awkward pauses.

 There’s hope and light in his words, such as in "A Meditator’s Forecast" where the poem culminates in "hundreds of rainbows." One of the final poems in this collection, "Freedom Song," reinforces the positivity with strong imagery:

            This tongue can’t justify the prison
            when the jailer’s asleep and the door swung open.
            It’s time to tumble in the shining ocean,
            To loose my heart like a balloon in a storm,
            Let the hammering blood play freedom songs.

The final section of the book features beautiful ink drawings by Kazuaki Okazaki, a former member of the "murderous" cult Aum Shinrikyo, who released sarin gas onto the Tokyo subway in 1995. Following many years of guidance by Zen master Shinzan Miyamae, Okazaki repented of his past and spent many years attempting to atone for his crimes, which include the horrific home invasion and brutal killings of an anti-cult lawyer, his wife and baby son.

Okazaki was himself executed last summer but we are told he was "delighted" to know that his artworks would help other prisoners. Undoubtedly, his sequence of ink drawings entitled "Unsui’s Journey" is of the highest standard: thoughtful, contemplative and beautiful. Having lived up to the Zen saying: "The lotus blooms in the middle of the fire," how one begins to find harmony in such traumatic circumstances is beyond comprehension, but there is much to be gained in studying these pictures to gain an insight into the artist’s quest for peace. 

Rough Waking is an original combination of artworks, combining seemingly disparate accounts, but coming together in a creative and unique collaboration which explores humanity and delivers an interesting and hopeful message from which we can all learn.

About the reviewer
Victoria Pickup studied a BA in English and MA in Creative Writing at Loughborough University. A freelance writer for seven years, she continued to write creatively and in 2008 won the Café Writer’s Award with a poem inspired by travels in Bosnia: "The Chicken that Saved my Children." She was shortlisted for the Poetic Republic (MAG) poetry award in 2009 & 2010. Victoria now lives in Hampshire with her husband, three children and, of course, a pet chicken. 

Monday 21 October 2019

Review by Robert Richardson of "Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art" exhibition at the Barbican Centre, London, 4 October 2019 - 19 January 2020

Rudolf Schlichter Damenkneipe, Women's Club, 1925 

This Barbican exhibition ranges over both time and space: from the 1880s to the late 1960s, and includes diverse locations. While it is predictable that capital cities such as London and Rome are present, there are some welcome and revelatory surprises with the Ibadan and Osogbo Mbari Clubs in early 1960s Nigeria, and, later that decade, the Rasht 29 Club in Tehran.

Clubs and Cabarets offered a format for bringing together different art forms, and on show is an enjoyable mix of dance, performance, music, film, and poetry. In 1880s/90s Paris, the Chat Noir also presented shadow theatre, notably by the artist Henri Rivière, and the Barbican majestically displays his intricately cut zinc silhouettes and their accompanying shadows.

The exhibition includes examples of where environment itself was an active art form: the decor and furniture creating a desired aesthetic. The Cabaret Fledermaus in Vienna reflected both the Art Nouveau of the Vienna Secession and Expressionism, movements that occurred during the period of its existence, 1907-13. In one of the spaces, there is a reconstruction of the Cabaret Fledermaus’s Secessionist tiling, and the result is a vibrant visual stimulation.

On occasions there were aspirations towards “the total work of art,” as with Theo van Doesburg at L’Aubette in 1928. For the interior design, he brought to Strasbourg the influence of the Dutch De Stijl movement and exuberantly announced “the beginning of a new era in art.” He promoted  “Ciné-Dancing” by merging dancehall and cinema, and the disorienting effects might be seen as prefiguring the immersive experiences of Virtual Reality produced by today’s digital technology. 

In 1916, Dada at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich was not about meticulously constructing an aesthetic, but an avant-garde opposition to cultural conservatism. The insanities of the First World War surrounding neutral Switzerland were met with anarchic absurdities and provocations. The photographs of a soulful Emmy Hennings with one of her puppets and Hugo Ball in his ridiculous looking bishop’s costume are important documents, while the experimental poem taking up an entire gallery wall emphasises Dada’s stretching of language to the borders of incoherence. The curator, Florence Ostende, also made a good decision to include a monitor showing a 1967 film reconstructing a sample of Cabaret Voltaire performances. It was made while they were still within living memory by Marcel Janco, someone who participated in those extraordinary events that lasted just a few months but have a continuing influence.

The aftermath of the war led to the more focused and biting political satire in the cabarets of 1920s Berlin, with women artists, including Dadaist Hannah Höch, playing a leading part. In this section, the film of the expressionist performer Valeska Gert is remarkable. She used the movement of her body and a psychological intensity to identify with those marginalised by society, and was later to comment “Because I didn’t like solid citizens, I danced those whom they despised - whores,  procuresses, down-and-outers, and degenerates.”

The series of discrete spaces that make up the upstairs galleries of the Barbican’s exhibition area are not conducive to a flowing display, but they are usually programmed in ways that play to their strength. They are ideal for this exhibition, since each space can be dedicated to a particular place. This collaboration with the Belvedere, Vienna (where it will be showing in 2020) is impressively researched, and gives recognition to some of the lesser known figures who designed the posters and ephemera for an often edgy art and culture that brought celebration and imagination to the hours of darkness.

About the reviewer
Robert Richardson is a visual artist and writer. His work is included in Artists’ Postcards: A Compendium (Reaktion Books, London) and Leeds Postcards (Four Corners Books, London). He has graphic artworks in collections of the British Museum and the Australian National Gallery. In 2018, he had a solo exhibition of photographs, Luz Brilhante, at the Museu Municipal, one of the leading museums in Faro, Portugal. He is also the co-editor, with William Pratt, of Homage to Imagism (AMS Press, New York).

Saturday 19 October 2019

Review by Anthony Durham of "Modern Man is Ultra Quick" by Gavin William Wright

Often times, when current literature attempts to inspect culture, generational difference, and urban decay, the results are tedious or incongruent with reality. Many authors lack the skill or attention to detail to adequately blend the subject matters together in an appealing or authentic manner, or simply neglect one of the issues in favour of a personal diatribe. In the case of Modern Man is Ultra Quick, the reader can rest assured that neither instance is remotely close to happening.

In this work, Gavin William Wright triumphs over the underwhelming existence of the novel's English Midlands setting while engaging even the most cynical or dissonant reader.

We, the audience, are privy to a whirlwind tour through the crumbling streets of Leicester, and its surrounding suburbs. We meet a host of friends, siblings, acquaintances, lovers, and, like in life, people who fall somewhere in between these roles. In the course of the story, Wright provides unique insight into the diverse lives, thoughts, and feelings of these characters who act as avatars for the community as a whole. It's not just the "football mates" who struggle with the changing landscape and adulthood, but the shire as a whole, with the loss of industry and relative prosperity.

Modern Man is Ultra Quick bills itself as a book about "how to f*** things up with women," but, in truth, it's a book about the contradictions, the truth, the awfulness, the fears, and the inevitability that happens to all of us. A thrilling ride, and read, in all.

About the reviewer
Anthony Durham is an American expat living on the west coast of Norway. He has an avid interest in literature and journalism and is a member of the International English Honors Society. Unfortunately, he is also an Evertonian. 

Thursday 17 October 2019

Review by Jon Wilkins of "Strange: Stories" by Shreya Sen-Handley

The one thing that reviewing for Everybody’s Reviewing has taught me, is that there are so many fantastic writers out there. Not being widely read beyond the crime genre I am not sure if I have been reviewing “names,” but what I have reviewed has been amazing. There is so much talent out there, most new to me. I have loved the challenge of reading out of my comfort zone and reading Strange: Stories was no different. 

This is a wonderful collection of short stories, mysterious, beguiling, heart breaking and realistic. I will concentrate on three stories, but I could have enthused about them all.

"Long in the Blue Tooth" may be a play on words, but how the words play is remarkable. I’m not sure how many twists and turns there are in this story. You think you are on track then you are kicked into another situation before falling for another until the denouement comes and you are sent flailing into a dystopian abyss. This is an incredible story, full of evil intent lingering over an apparently peaceful home for the elderly.

In "Lean on Me," Sen-Handley tells how a conman, Karan, inveigles his way into the life of Samrat and his mother. She thinks he loves her, but it is so much more complex than that. We have to try to work out who is leaning on whom, which is not easy. How people take advantage of others feelings is highlighted here in much more depth than I can describe in a few words, but it is sombre reading, well written.

Finally, "The Lust List": this was intriguing and right until the very end I had no idea of where it was heading. Indeed, in the denouement I am still unsure! It is the tale of a husband's infidelity, a man who suggests his wife takes other partners to cover his guilt at his betrayal of her. She goes on a business trip, flirts uneasily as this is not her scene, but then connects with a pair of strangers who follow her to her room. They whistle as they stroll down the corridor following her. She runs but leaves the door open. What happens next is down to our imagination. I flirted with the idea it was role play or if her husband would reappear - that it had all been a test; but what was it testing, her resolve or his or their marriage? That is the beauty of these stories. They ask questions of the reader. The reader can assume nothing, there is a twist to every tale, several twists in some cases. You really do have to read this collection.

About the reviewer
Jon Wilkins is sixty-three. He has a gorgeous wife Annie and two beautiful sons, and loves to write. He is a retired teacher, lapsed Waterstones’ bookseller and former Basketball Coach. He taught PE and English for twenty years and coached women’s basketball for over thirty years.  He has always loved books and reading.

Friday 11 October 2019

Interview with Neil Campbell

 Neil Campbell is from Manchester. He has appeared three times in Best British Short Stories. He has two collections of short fiction published Broken Doll and Pictures From Hopper. His debut novel, Skyhooks was the first in his Manchester Trilogy and has been followed by Zero Hours and Lanyards in 2019.  
 Q: How do you know when the writing is going well?

NC: When I am totally immersed in it and oblivious to the word count it feels like it is going well. Sometimes, working in cold flats, I only realised I was freezing cold once the writing was done. I think Hemingway said being cold and hungry is good for a writer. But that's bollocks.

Q: What was the inspiration for your Manchester trilogy?

NC: The inspiration for the first book, Skyhooks, was the autobiography by the footballer Paul Lake called I'm Not Really Here. The trilogy was more generally inspired by autobiographical fiction: Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, John Fante, and more recently Karl Ove Knausgard. I wanted to write novels in a Manchester voice, keeping those novels as clear as possible from literary techniques and devices. Novels my mate Scoie would enjoy reading. Above all I wanted to avoid doing any research. That way I could be certain that the novels were written from inside and remained true to me. I'm aware of the counter argument, and the other routes open to me as a novelist, some of which I will continue to explore. But novels rooted more obviously in lived experience remain my favourite.

Q: Did you have any difficulty in getting the first book of the trilogy published?

NC: No. I sent it to Salt Publishing, the same people who had published my short stories in the collections Broken Doll and Pictures from Hopper. Although that was ten-years after I'd first written a novel. In those ten-years I only wrote short stories. Then I wrote a trilogy of novellas that I ended up putting together as a novel. So, getting it published was easy, but writing it was a little convoluted.

Q: How do you bring your stories to a close?

NC: I want to leave the reader thinking about the story beyond its end. For that reason, I much prefer open endings. Great stories merit repeated readings and for me there's no point in re-reading a story that gives you the answers at the end. That's not to say you can't have a neat ending. This morning I read a story by Wendy Erskine. It starts with people being locked out of their homes for not paying the rent and ends with the protagonist locking her jailbird mother out.

Q: Between the first book of the trilogy and this latest book, Lanyards, have you changed your way of writing? 

NC: I always try to find the right voice for each novel and short story. The syntax gets slightly more complex as the trilogy progresses, but only slightly. Generally, I take more time over things now. I was in too much of a rush to move on before. But I've always got things on the go: novels, short stories, flash fiction, poems. Writer's block is an academic construct. 

Q: How would you define "the writer's life?"  

NC: Sacrificing financial well being via other routes in order to give it your best shot / looking from the outside in.      

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Interview with Ashley Lloyd Smith

Ashley Lloyd Smith is a drama graduate of Aberystwyth University and a current MA student in creative writing at the University of Leicester. He has written plays, micro-fiction, three children's novels and his adult novel, Pizza with Jimbob & Twoforks was published by Cinnamon Press.   

Q: What are the themes of your novel, Pizza with Jimbob & Twoforks?

ALS: The novel is essentially the paranoia's of modern living lumped into one man's life over six months. It's about why people want to kill themselves and what might or might not stop them. It's about the freedom of living as we want to in the West and what can happen to the psyche when we embrace that. It could also be read as a ride through my head and life of the last twenty-years. Which is frightening. 

Q: How would you describe your novel to people quickley? 

ALS: A black comedy starring a Good Samaritan with a shady past. 

Q: What would you not do again, as a writer? 

ALS: Send anything out until I've got it as good as i could. I gave a writer my novel. It was in a terrible state at that point and I am seriously embarrassed I did that. On the other hand, getting people to read your work as much as possible for feedback is something I would encourage.

Q: Why did an MA in Creative Writing appeal to you? 

ALS: I know a few people who have done such courses and loved it, got a lot out of it. Jamie T who runs Word Wise in Derby was very pleased with the MA he took part in. He's most famous for performing poetry at Derby County home games, so fingers crossed the MA will lead to a cheering audience of 30,000! But I want to expand my abilities to get closer to the kind of writing I enjoy myself. Not to impersonate it, but to get the depth and range that writers like David Mitchell, Milan Kundera, Salman Rushdie, Italo Calvino all manage. Or at least to feel a bit of the brilliance of Douglas Coupland. By the end of the year I want to be so entrenched in a way of living my life as a writer that I'll be able to keep it up for life. 

Q: What novel would you recommend? 

ALS: The Outsiders by SE Hinton. A teen novel but I've never read anything that captures the visceral as well as this.    

Author photo courtesy of Hollie Wilson

Thursday 3 October 2019

Review by Jonathan Taylor of "Banjo's Inside Coyote" by Kelli Allen

In her strange and highly original new poetry collection, Banjo's Inside Coyote, Kelli Allen cites a quotation from Leonard Cohen: ‘If you don't become the ocean, you'll be seasick every day.’ Allen’s poetry is fascinated by such sea-sickness, and its apparent opposite, ‘oceanness’; like the Romantics before her, that is, Allen’s poetry explores both tragic alienation from, and possible transcendent union with, the natural world. 

It does so by drawing on natural, mythological, mystical and even Jungian imagery, refracted through intense experiences which somehow combine both alienation and union, sea-sickness and ‘oceanness.’ These experiences – love, sex, writing, swimming, dying – are radically unstable sites where the human meets the natural realm, where opposites mingle and clash. 

One such site is the writing desk. Allen suggests that ‘storms retire when the calmest sea lays down its head / on our desk made from oak and stag bone’: the writing desk is both a site for the sea to ‘lay down its head,’ and a place marked by nature’s death (dead oak, ‘stag bone’). Writing is where nature ‘retires’ in a double sense – retiring to, and retiring from. 

At times, Allen herself seems to retreat (or retire) from writing, in an attempt to recapture visceral, natural experiences. She declares: ‘This morning I looked at your sleeping face / and instantly threw my maps / into the brush pile.’ The experience of love at least offers the possibility of transcending writing (‘maps’):

How you look at me in afternoon light. 
Consummation is communion only 
After you admit, round eyes watching 
My throat, that we are here. We are here.

‘Hereness,’ nowness, presence in nature seems attainable, at least for a moment. But hereness is also transient, gone as soon as it is mentioned – and, for the most part, humans ‘make trouble everywhere / we go.’ 

Such trouble is often embodied in the many birds that flit in and out of Allen’s poems. For Allen, the birds are powerful markers of human alienation from nature, particularly in their rejection of human signification. The pathetic fallacy – the age-old, anthropocentric idea that nature somehow reflects human concerns – has broken down, and the birds only signify themselves. She remarks that ‘the birds are probably correct to assume / fallacy anyway,’ and ‘those birds we wept over / the first afternoon will swoop into the country / as though nothing here matters.’ For the birds, as for nature in general, nothing human really matters. ‘The world’s spine is a bible,’ Allen remarks – but a very different bible to the human realm, written in an alien and unreachable language. 

Ultimately, the only permanent transcendence offered – the only permanent union with the natural world – is that of death, or at least dying. Allen’s poetry seems to stand with Keats in dreaming of ‘an easeful death,’ in order to ‘leave the world unseen, / And … fade away into the forest dim.’ For Allen and for Keats, this death is a process, a fading, not just an end-point – and it is the process of dying, of what Heidegger famously called ‘being-towards-death,’ which is our deepest connection with nature. ‘Eventually,’ Allen writes, ‘anything loved is going to drown’:

We are one counteragent to entropy; we are creatures 
ramshackle, propulsion after severance, stillness before.

About the reviewer
Jonathan Taylor is an author, editor, lecturer and critic. His books include the memoir Take Me Home (Granta, 2007), the novel Melissa (Salt, 2015), and the poetry collection Cassandra Complex (Shoestring, 2018). He directs the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. His website is www.jonathanptaylor.co.uk 

Interview with Tracey Iceton

Tracey Iceton is an author and creative writing tutor from Teesside, with a PhD in creative writing at Northumbria University. Tracey won the 2013 HISSAC short story prize for 'Butterfly Wings', was runner up in the 2013 and 2014 Cinnamon Press short story competitions with 'Slag' and 'As the world (re)turns', which appear in the anthologies Journey Planner and Patria. She also won the 2011 Writers Block NE Home Tomorrow Short Story Competition and has been shortlisted for the 2012 Bristol Short Story Competition with 'Apple Shot' and the 2015 Mslexia Women's Short Story Competition for 'Ask Not'. Green Dawn at St Enda's, her debut novel and part one of her Celtic Colours Trilogy, was published by Cinnamon Press in 2016. Part two, Herself Alone in Orange Rain, came out in 2017 and the final part of the trilogy, White Leaves of Peace, was published in 2019.

Q: How do you know when the writing is going well?

TI: When it's pouring out of me and I'm so engrossed in the writing that I don't want to knock off to do anything else, including eating and sleeping. It's not unknown if I'm really running with the writing to get up in the middle of the night to write for a couple of hours. I think when you're in the flow like that you know it's good because it just keeps coming, no pauses or hesitation about the words. But of course, it isn't like that all the time and you have to battle through the days when you are struggling to put a single sentence together. Knowing that it will come easier at some point helps with that.  

Q: What was the inspiration for the first novel in the trilogy, Green Dawn at St Enda’s

TI: In 2003, before I was even writing seriously, I went on holiday to Dublin.  One of the typically touristy things to do is the Kilmainham Gaol tour. The Gaol is an historic building that has played a part in some key moments of Irish history, not least the Easter Rising of 1916 as this was where the leaders of the Easter Rising (fourteen men) were executed. Part of the Gaol tour is a stop in the stonebreakers yard where the guide tells people of how James Connolly (leader of the Irish Citizen Army and one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of Independence that was read on the steps of the GPO in central Dublin by Patrick Pearse at the start of the Rising) was so badly injured he had to be sat in a chair to face the firing squad. It's hard not to be moved by that story and also shocked. This event is as much a part of British and it is Irish history and yet it isn't taught in schools and I had never even heard of it at that point.  

Ironically, in one of those moments when things coalesce, I was also at the time teaching WW1 literature to my English A Level students (I was an English teacher for ten years before I gave up the day job for writing). One of the texts we had been reading was Lloyd George's Pinnacle of Sacrifice speech in which he talks about the need for Britain to defend the right to independence of 'little nations'. He is referring to Belgium and I felt keenly the hypocrisy of him saying while denying Irish independence (Lloyd George was instrumental in preventing the passing of the Irish Home Rule act which would have given Ireland, then wholly part of Britain's empire, a degree of self-government). This coupled with the tragedy of the Easter Rising and the emotive experience in Kilmainham made me research the Rising, convinced there was a story to be told, that needed telling in a way that made it accessible to British, as well as Irish, readers, in order to make people aware of this part of history.  

While I was researching I learnt Patrick Pearse, often regarded as the leader of the Rising, was, like me, a writer and a teacher. This set me wondering how someone with whom I had things in common ended up in front of a dawn firing squad. From there the story was born.  Setting it around his school, St Enda's, and focusing the action on a fictional pupil there, Finn Devoy, allowed me to draw on what I knew about schools, students at that pivotal time of adolescence, and tell the story in a way that would engage readers and allow them to learn about the Rising without feeling they were being taught a history lesson. And once I started researching modern Irish history, I knew there was too much to be contained in one book so from the outset it was always going to be a trilogy.

Q: You undertook the second part of your Celtic Colours trilogy, Herself Alone in Orange Rain, as part of a PhD project at Northumbria University. How did the PhD and your chosen supervisor help with the writing of that novel?  

TI: Prof Michael Green and Dr Fiona Shaw who were my supervisors, were instrumental in making the second novel what it is and I will forever have to credit them with generally developing my writing and helping me hone my craft. The close readings and regular feedback they provided meant I produced what I still think is thus far the best book I have ever written (I had already written two at that point, Green Dawn and Rock God Complex which is being released in Sept 2020). Their guidance covered everything from how to control the characterisation of Caoilainn, the main protagonist who becomes an IRA volunteer during the novel, to the fact that I had incorrectly described Brighton beach as sandy when it is pebbly!

The regular contact with professional writers such as my supervisors offered me a rare and privileged chance to learn from those with far more writing craft to their credit than I had at that point. Now, drawing on that experience, I work with emerging writers one to one, providing mentoring similar to the PhD supervision but without the academic elements as I want to pass on what I gained to others and I appreciate that finding someone to work with you on your writing is difficult. I was also fortunate enough to be fully funded for the PhD so I was able to write full time and having that block of time to work on the novel helped with the writing enormously.

Q: Did you have any difficulty in getting the trilogy published?

TI: As most (probably 99%) of debut novelists will attest, getting published is far harder than writing the book in the first place. I had tried some small presses and agents to no avail.  There was even one who said that it would be a good book if I took out the history and politics which would have left me with a story of a boy at boarding school! But Cinnamon Press had been on my radar for a while and I entered the book in their debut novelists' competition. The top three would be published by Cinnamon. I made it into the top five. But Cinnamon, as an indie press, offer the personal touch you just don't get from mainstream publishers and they are incredibly approachable. So, I contacted Jan Fortune who runs Cinnamon and is a brilliant writer herself, to ask why top five, not top three and what could I do to improve the book. She said the beginning needed work (I ended up cutting about three chapters from the start) but that she could see the potential in it and wanted to work with me on it. So, I ended up on the Cinnamon Press mentoring scheme and for a year honed the novel with them at the end of which they confirmed they wanted to publish it, releasing it in 2016 to coincide with the centenary of the Rising. 

Jan knew at the time that it was part one of a trilogy and I quietly hoped that they would consider the other two as well. But I was completely gobsmacked when she told me, matter-of-factly, of course they would be publishing all three and that before I had written a word of book two. She believed in the story and that is the key to getting published, I think, finding someone who feels as passionately about the story you are telling as you do.  My advice to other novelists is always to keep submitting because, as long as the writing is good enough, you will find someone who feels as strongly as you do that this is a story that people need to be reading.

Q: Is there an autobiographical element to your novels?

TI: Writers are always being told to write what they know and to some extent that is good advice.  I certainly recommend drawing on your experiences where possible but I also tell people not to be restricted by what they know. As a fiction writer your job is to invent so just because you haven't lived it doesn't mean you can't write about it convincingly. So, having said that, yes, there are elements in the books that have come from my personal experiences, although I should probably state now for the record that I have never been in the IRA! There is something in Caoilainn's resolve though, that reflects my own personality. And in more concrete terms, a lot of the Australia scenes from the third novel, White Leaves of Peace, are based on my own year of living in Australia. In fact, faced with the whole world as a possible setting, I chose Oz partly because I had been there so I knew enough to not need to do a lot of research.

Q: How do you bring your stories to a close?

TI: I'm a big fan of the 'open endings' when there is a sense that the story gets bigger, not smaller, at the finish, leaving readers to speculate for themselves what happens to the characters after they close the book. This is true of all the books in the trilogy but especially part three and I have been asked by several readers, "Well?  Does he or doesn't he?" referring to a decision Cian, the main character, is left to make at the end. Truthfully, I can't tell them because I don't know. I don't need to know. They can and should decide for themselves, based on their reading of the story and his characterisation, if he does or not do what he has been asked to do. In terms of actually coming up with the endings though, I have come to accept the fact that for me stories tell me when they should finish and how. 

With both parts one and two I had endings in mind and didn't use them. I just found myself at the point where the character's quest was over and they were beginning a new one, one that would be a separate story so wouldn't be included in the pages of that book. With Orange Rain this was particularly dramatic for me as I was writing away furiously one day, in the flow, thinking I had chapters left to go to wrap the story up and suddenly I was done. It was like turning into a road you think leads somewhere to find a dead end. But I knew it was exactly the right place to stop, so I stopped. A great novel can be ruined by an ending that goes on well after the story is finished.

Q: Between the first book of the trilogy and the last book, have you changed your way of writing?

TI: I think I've honed, rather than changed, the way I write.  I am much more concise now, thanks in part to both the Cinnamon mentoring I did and the PhD supervision. I know what not to say which is as key as knowing what to say for good writing.  I think and plan a bit more now than I used to also. There was a loose plan for Green Dawn which tracked the timeline of real events and a more detailed one for Orange Rain but initially I didn't plan at all for White Leaves. I think I thought, "I've written three books now, I know what I'm doing, I'll just go with it." That was a mistake. I ended up throwing away about 100,000 words and pretty much starting again with a plan having had a damn good think about what I needed to do with the story. A lot of writing happens in my head, in fact most of it, then I just type it up.  
Also, I was a lot more experimental in the second book, using different types of texts (there's a play script at one point) and different narrative perspectives (the second person 'you' voice appears a couple of times) and some of this carried on into the third book. And I'm definitely better at not overusing extended metaphors now which is a relief to my readers I'm sure! No doubt my writing will continue to develop and I think every book will have its own challenges so will demand a slightly different approach. Ultimately the greatest lesson I've learnt in regard to writing is to do whatever is in the best interests of the piece you are writing at that time so be prepared to adapt.

Q: How would you define “the writer’s life?”

TI: Self-indulgent. I write because I love making up stories and to get to do it professionally makes me feel a little guilty as most people don't get to do what they love. It's very rewarding and satisfying, especially when a reader tells you they enjoyed your book. But it's hard work too, not so much in terms of actually doing the writing but in finding that balance between having time to write and earning a living. The reality for writers is they don't make a living from book sales. Most, like me, make it from teaching writing which, once you are published, you have enough credibility to do. So, I run a lot of courses all over the north east of England where I'm based as well as the work I do one to one with writers who are slogging through a particular project. I have held a couple of writer in residence posts too which were well paid and rewarding. And I do some work in schools, delivering creative writing sessions either as extra-curricular activities or as required by the exam syllabuses (there is now a creative writing task on the GCSE English language exam). But this all takes up a lot of time meaning ironically that even though I am technically a writer I sometimes don't write for weeks at a time. But because I love writing I'll always make time. And deadlines help! I consider myself very fortunate that, when people ask what I do I'm able to reply, "I'm a writer." 

About the reviewer
Lee Wright's fiction and non-fiction has been published by Fairlight Shorts, Burning House Press, and Newmag Magazine, as well as others. His interview series with writers has been published by Everybody's Reviewing and Headstuff.com.  

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Review by Michael Murray of Pizza with JIMBOB & TWOFORKS by Ashley Lloyd Smith

    Pizza with JIMBOB & TWOFORKS is the debut novel by Derby based writer Ashley Lloyd Smith, and it arrives with a punch strong enough to warrant further attention. 

    ALS, as we shall call the author in respect of his own deceit of calling his central character, “Central Character” or just “CC”, has produced a work that deserves a level of interest to levitate it above the wash of other debuts by modern British writers. This one is different, very different. A linear structure may take the reader through the events of the story but if you are expecting straightforward sense you have come to the wrong place. Misled from the off, from thinking perhaps this story is a somewhat racy affair, the tease is suddenly broken at the end of the first chapter and you hold onto your seat from there on.

    Along the journey through a heart of darkness, it is refreshingly and judgement free, enabling a wider perspective upon events as they happen and leaves the reader not quite knowing what is to come next. Occasionally a gift of a character is a little bit thrown aside too soon, enter stage left only to quickly leave stage right an Irish Republican cross-dressing comedian, but the hold of the story always returns itself to the bridge upon which all events seem to start and end. Every bridge scene absolutely captivates, ALS uses the bridge to, well, bridge things. it is a device that grounds effectively an otherwise loose narrative. 

Ashley Lloyd Smith is a drama graduate of Aberystwyth University and a current MA student in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. He has written plays, micro fiction and three children’s novels.  

About the reviewer
Michael Murray stories have appeared in The Honest Ulsterman, Nottingham @ 40 and Here Comes Everyone. 

Tuesday 1 October 2019

Review by Lee Wright of Gifted by Patrick Williamson

“It is with mixed emotions that we’ve decided to bring the Found Poetry Review to a close after more than five years in operation. After ten issues and a variety of special projects, we look back on this endeavour with pride.”  
    Founded in 2011 by Jenni Baker, Found Poetry Review was a proud platform to promote found poetry and provide a home for work that was often not welcome in traditional publications. As part of National Poetry Month in 2013, Found Poetry Review launched the Pulitzer Remix Project, which brought together 85 poets from seven countries to create found poems from the 85 Pulitzer Prize winning works of fiction. Of which writer author Patrick Williamson was one. And his pick for the Remix Project was Saul Bellow’s 1975 roman à clef, Humbolt’s Gift.
    Across thirty poems, Williamson attempts to keep the artistic integrity of Bellow’s novel close at hand. And how effective the words chosen from Bellow’s text are. They read, as most of Bellow’s own work often did, as exaggerated meditations. In this collection, death’s dateless night is always at the heart of each poem, even the more ambitious ones. You may find yourself less taken with Williamson’s collection than with the original material. But this too, must have been one point of the Pulitzer Remix Project. To take readers back to the source material. Championing both it, and found poetry at the same time. If anything, this collection provides a nice bedside companion to Bellow’s novel. And although by no means essential, these poems are probably best enjoyed in conjunction with Humbolt’s Gift. Yes, Patrick Williamson’s Gifted is an unashamed masquerade, and all the more enjoyable for it.   
Patrick Williamson is an English poet currently living near Paris. He is the author of the poetry pamphlets, Locked in, or out? (2011) Bacon, Bits, & Buriton (2011) and Nel Santuario (2013). He has also worked as an editor and translator.   

About the reviewer
Lee Wright's short stories, poems and articles have been published by Fairlight Shorts, The Black Country Arts Foundry, Burning House Press and Flash Flood Journal. He is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.    

Review by Jon Wilkins of "Demise of the Undertaker's Wife" by Anne Walsh Donnelly

The world of Anne Walsh Donnelly is indeed a dark world. In these stories the common themes are of death and loss, prison and what keeps us all behind metaphorical bars, darkness and sadness in relationships - relationships that seem to work or fail between mother and son, mother and daughter, widow and widower, gay and lesbian couples.

No one seems to come out of the stories in a more positive state than when they entered, except perhaps in 'WLTM' when a widower Jim puts out a lonely-hearts advert and is matched with his golfing buddy, Frank - a neat twist that offers a brighter future for both protagonists.

Unfortunately, they are alone. In 'Iscariot' and 'Inside' we see the protagonist kill, because it is safer for him in prison as this is the world he understands, and also because, as a probable schizophrenic, he cannot help himself, so he kills his prison guard when disappointment enters his life.

It is disappointment that is at the heart of most of the tales. In 'Goodbye, Mr. Fox,' Luke feels betrayed by Damian when he wants to sell the farm that he has leased for the whole of his lifetime. When he discovers the real reason, he understands, and the undercurrents of gay love rise to the surface. Will the disappointment mean he can then find a better life or is he cursed to the troughs of depression that seem to welcome him?

In 'Our Mothers Lied. That’s the Truth,' lesbian nun Elizabeth feels her life’s principles are being eroded as she feels the Mother Superior, in taking away her teaching job at the convent, is in some way punishing her for her sexual relationship with fellow nun, Theresa. To look after the demented Concepta and other ailing nuns is now her fate, until the temptation of the job of Mother Superior in the future is raised and Elizabeth gives up all her principles for that hope.

Though they share common themes, all the stories are different. All are dark, from murder to incest, suicide to fraud. It is not a pleasant world that Anne Walsh Donnelly writes about, but it is a real world and we can see the truth in every word that is written. This is our world and the darkness is described perfectly by Anne Walsh Donnelly. The troubling thought we are left with after reading the collection, Demise of the Undertaker’s Wife, is that is this all we have to look forward to?

About the reviewer
Jon Wilkins is sixty-three. He has a gorgeous wife Annie and two beautiful sons, and loves to write. He is a retired teacher, lapsed Waterstones’ bookseller and former Basketball Coach. He taught PE and English for twenty years and coached women’s basketball for over thirty years.  He has always loved books and reading.