Friday, 18 June 2021

Review by Maryam Benrezzouk of "Idaho" by Emily Ruskovich



If you want to read a book that makes you feel like you are watching an emotive film, then Idaho is the book for you.

Emily Ruskovich has a natural affinity for words. They are like vines, growing around the pages and entwining with her story, so they cease to be black letters on a white page, instead becoming a blurred window onto her motion picture. She doesn’t just describe things, she adds a voice to them, increasing the volume when she needs to and beaming radio silence when the moment shouts for it. And what a loud silence it is. Behind everything is the soft piano music, gently playing to the rhythm of the characters’ lives as they go forward and backward in time.

It is all very well for me to talk about the poetic nature of Ruskovich’s writing, but I expect the burning question you have is: what is this book about? And I shall tell you, but not all in one breath, because I want to do the book justice.

It’s about a family, both past and present, shattered by horrific events and a degenerative disease. It is breathtaking, yet slow paced. It rises and rises in pitch as the book goes on, crashing loudly and beautifully at its highest peak, and then softly trundling down a rocky mountain towards the end. Ruskovich uses her writing talent to create a sequence of images of beautiful Idaho, her characters and their arcs.

It is a slow read, but there is so much to take in, and it leaps about between timelines, so it is sometimes hard to keep up. I was also left frustrated at the end because there were questions there that I felt weren’t answered sufficiently. I sat back and thought about that, however. The book was written in such a way as to reflect real life themes, emotions and human growth and change, and in real life there aren’t always answers - there are only humans dealing with questions, and growing with them, until they become part of what defines us.

Emily Ruskovich ensnared me with her rich poetic prose. She traverses the rocky terrains of treacherous topics and manages to make something vibrantly and painfully beautiful.

 

About the reviewer
Originally born in London, Maryam Benrezzouk then moved with her family to Leicester, after spending a good chunk of her life growing up in a hot country in the Middle East. She enjoys writing short stories and novels, spinning drama with a touch of fantasy. She runs two blogs on which she frequently publishes her writings, and also writes short stories for a children's magazine.


Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Review by Rosa Fernandez of "How Not to Multitask" by Jo Weston



Aware when I received How Not to Multitask that it would refer to the author Jo Weston’s experiences with her cancer diagnosis, I was prepared to be moved. I approached her pamphlet wondering how best to interpret the title (one I enjoy very much, given that I’m not a multi-tasker by nature) and how that would reflect on the fourteen poems within, poems I am pleased to say I very much enjoyed reading.

The opening poem, ‘Neighbourhood Watch,’ is a great introductory piece as it paints vivid sensations in a few brief words and yet ends on an unsettling pair of closing lines, acting as a cliff-hanger for what is to follow: a range of poems that for the most part brings the familiar to life simply but carefully, realising sometimes huge swathes of emotion in clever little turns. 

‘Chronic’ and ‘Results’ really captured the fear, acceptance, and stiflingly still yet charged moments of treatment. I felt they conveyed that sense of the inexplicable, the trying to find a way to explain the unexplainable. ‘Rain slid down the leaves / of the remaining trees’ is a simple and yet (in context) extremely moving metaphorical image. 

‘Gran’ is a very straightforward poem, but still very enjoyable and one I think would resonate with many readers; for its proliferation of adjectives my least favourite would be ‘Moving meditation,’ although it does describe a keen wet dog beautifully. 

How Not to Multitask is a pamphlet full of feeling; for me, the title suggests that sometimes the only task is to recover, and to appreciate tiny precious moments of existence (like listening to the strangers on the bus) undistracted. The optimism of the closing poem ‘Too young for this’ really brings the collection ‘home’ and neatly completes a brave and heartfelt selection.


About the reviewer
Rosa Fernandez is a slam-winning poet and sometime proofreader. She also enjoys wearing silly hats. 


Sunday, 13 June 2021

Review by Vic Pickup of "White Eye of the Needle" by Chris Campbell



White Eye of the Needle is a self-proclaimed book of poems about ‘love, life and lockdown.’ Partly written whilst honeymooning in Madagascar, the romantic elements of this collection really wooed me. 

Chris Campbell opens with observations of his wife as she poses in ‘Yellow Dress.’ Lines such as ‘Curves soft as lemon’ and ‘I sweat, still, burning this to memory’ are full of longing, intended to be savoured. 

This worship poetry is continued in ‘You Shine’ (the clue was in the title!):

           Sparkling in our holiday nest.
           Fan fluttering in your hand, breeze lifting hair

           Held back by fingertips. We kiss and rest
           Basking in Milan’s glittering glare.

Mrs Campbell must be glowing as the muse of these gorgeous moments, beautifully captured.

The poet bestows the same adoration on a simple tapas dish in ‘Yellow Dress’: ‘Olives sunbathe in their oil, / Swelter side by side.’ This image entices the reader, activating the senses as the sun paints this holiday world with a glossy varnish. 

That said, the poet’s descriptions of Nottingham are romanticised too, in ‘Synchronised buskers.’ This poem shows love for a city in lockdown, appreciating the many aspects of its character which he has come to miss.

          Ambulances like Ubers—we’re in safe hands;
          As traffic breaks, sunshine reveals the beauty of the canal.

There’s plenty to love in this beautifully presented pamphlet, enhanced by illustrator Sandra Evans, whose drawings are idyllic and precise. As the poet writes in the aptly-named poem ‘Illustration,’ each of her works is an image ‘to savour / like dessert.’

This memoir of a sacred time is true to its cover—uplifting, full of lovely images and sunshine.

 

By Sandra Evans


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

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

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Review by Tracey Foster of "Magnetic Field: The Marsden Poems" by Simon Armitage



Sometimes we assimilate into the region that we are born into and sometimes it has a habit of permeating through us, long after we have left it. ‘Scratch my skin, I’ve got cinders in blood stream’: as a writer who is drawn to the north of my youth, I can fully empathise with Simon Armitage and his fifty-year relationship with a place that has been an inspiration and an echo that has woven through many of his poems. Watching the world from his bedroom window as a small child, his back to the moor, these ‘moonstruck observations’  were the seeds of inspiration that would come into sharp focus as an adult: ‘At night, the horizon brimmed with a darkness like outer space, crowding the corner of my eye, thickening and deepening at the back of my mind.’ 

This collection of fifty poems, entitled Magnetic Field, covers the span of his craft and contains some early unpublished pieces and some new poems written especially for this publication. Here, the landscape is revealed; even before the words can rush our ears, the land itself is offered as a visual prompt. The book jacket insides are decorated with a bird’s eye view of the topography that inspired the writer’s musing, a landscape that he calls ‘transcendent and transgressive.’ A graphic nib punctuates every dot of the moor and grassy knoll of the surrounding heathland, setting the tone before we delve into the punchy style of his prose. The River Colne, the canal and the inter-Pennine train line all cut through the granite outcrops that flank the small town, suggest a route out, a getaway to another life and possibilities that must have tempted the young aspiring poet. We are given specific markers on the map to place the poems within the land, honing our view right down to his dad’s greenhouse nestled behind a row of terrace houses:

          When you disturbed them
          The seeds of rose-bay willow-herbs lifted
          Like air bubbles into the beam of light.
          Then you’d emerge, a hoard of tomatoes
          Swelling the lap of your luminous shirt. 

The obsession with his childhood home, that he calls ‘a cathedral of the ordinary,’ is again and again a starting point for his recollections. We are taken on a sepia journey to his distant past and misdemeanours. His poem 'Privet,' based on a punishment of arduous pruning, dished out by his father to atone for some offence, ends with his young body lying prostrate on the bush, ‘floating there, cushioned and buoyed by a million matchwood fingertips.’ His parents are a tender refrain that punctuate the text, a working-class embrace that can’t be contained within a valley. He fondly recalls his mother,

          at the twin-tub, 
          manhandling shirts, 
          hauling drowning sailors 
          from sea to deck.

With good humour, Samuel Laycock, ‘the other Marsden poet’ is recalled and used for textual intervention. He deliberately adopted the Lancashire dialect of the cotton workers in his pieces and is commonly known as the bard of the loom, the workshop and the mill. Similarly, Armitage lets his own voice flow through his poems too, and the voices of his parents lovingly nag in in dialect: ‘An imperial spanner and a saw so blunt, we could ride it bare-arsed to London.’ 

The passing of time and the passing of lives are felt keenly in the prose. We shift back to his thirteen-year-old self, leaving the house by the back door and returning as a man years later who asks, ‘How did it get so late?’ The past is ever present, the memories are keen, we watch, participate and feel each heartbeat counting the time. This ache of absence is tenderly felt, as the trivial becomes poignant on passing. Two poems about his dad face each other on the page, 'The Spelling' and 'Fisherwood,' and try to face up to the loss of those we love: ‘There’s no reply. I am too late. But every son carries a key / On a string, noosed around his neck.’ 

In one poem, Armitage is hauling a dusty Harmonium from Marsden church with his dad, whose smoker’s fingers and ‘dottled thumbs’ help lift the heavy load:

          Him being him he has to say
          That the next box I’ll shoulder through this nave
          Will bear the load of his own dead weight.
          And me being me I mouth in reply
          Some shallow or sorry phrase or word
          Too starved of breath to make itself heard. 

From skimming stones across Black Moss to the tractor tyre let loose to roll freely from the moors through the main street, I thoroughly enjoyed this collection. With this homage to a northern life, I found affection for the child who’d spied his mother, crossing the street with a shopping bag, ‘nursing four ugly potatoes caked in mud,’ to the man under whose eyelids ‘northern lights and solar flares shimmer and rage.’  This is a loving tribute to a place that made him.


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

A Book That Changed Me, by Neil Fulwood: “Collected Poems,” by Sylvia Plath



It was the mid-80s. I was thirteen. My Nan was housebound. Every couple of weeks I’d go to Bulwell library and take out some books for her. I remember borrowing a scattering of classics and regency romances, but her tastes predominantly ran to poetry. As can be imagined by anyone who knows the area, Bulwell library - back then far smaller than in its current incarnation - didn’t exactly offer the broadest selection of verse. Nor did I, at that age, have the broadest frame of reference. My literary horizons were bounded by the Alistair MacLean and Desmond Bagley thrillers on Dad’s bookshelf, plus the odd well-thumbed James Herbert paperback doing the rounds at school.

I knew Nan preferred what I’d heard referred to as the Romantics, so it was a pretty safe bet that if a collection or anthology had a woodland or river scene on the cover - or a reproduction of an oil painting with some dude in a silk shirt looking all moody with a quill pen - it would be the right kind of thing. Failing that, flick through a few pages and check that most of it rhymed. Even with these safeguards in place, though, it didn’t take long to exhaust their stock of Nan-friendly poetry. Which is how I came to take a punt on Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems

Nan approached the book with some scepticism. She opened it at random, read one poem (I later found out it was “Daddy”) and asked me to return it. I did, but not before reading a fair few poems. I didn’t understand many of them, but the images, the immediacy, and particularly the white-hot fury of the final works struck a spark in my mind. Poetry can do this? I thought. I want in! When I finally returned the volume, I immediately checked it out again on my own library card. And renewed it over and over until the librarian started eyeing me suspiciously. I asked my folks for a copy for my next birthday. It was probably for the best that neither of them perused it before they got stuck in with the wrapping paper.

It’s because of Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems that I read poetry, let alone write it. My third collection is out in July, and it’s all because I choose a book at random in Bulwell library when I was thirteen.


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

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

Monday, 7 June 2021

Review by Jonathan Wilkins of "Wildgoose: A Tale of Two Poets" by Sally Evans

 


A beautifully crafted book so lyrical 
and 
heartbreakingly 
true to what is our
life.
          Relationships and jealousies.
An untold 
rivalry between two 
who could just as easily work 
as one. 
A talent
Unfulfilled?
Perhaps.
Perhaps not.
Motherhood.
                     Childhood.
Sisterhood. 
Love and loss 
a lost love?
Or rather 
                              a love always drifting 
away
just out of
                              touch. 
Contentment sadness 
loneliness challenges 
a talent unseen 
hidden or lost 
a world 
open to all
but closed to so
                    many.
An un
put
downable
book.
288 pages of wondrous poetry
and passion.
Melodic in its
word 
                              play.
A lilting account
of two
unbreakable
                              soul mates in
poetry.
Of
                    poetry.
A talent to deceive.
A talent to yearn for. 
A life so giving.
You have 
                              to read
Wildgoose
By
                              Sally
                              Evans.


About the reviewer
Jonathan Wilkins is a Creative Writing PhD Student at Aberystwyth University, Wales, reading mostly Golden Age Crime fiction. His website is here

Sunday, 6 June 2021

Review by Cathi Rae of "Russian Doll" by Teika Marija Smits

 


I am reading and re-reading this assured and perfectly crafted debut collection by happy coincidence in a room which contains three sets of Russian Dolls. The best Russian Dolls are made with such skill that it is almost impossible to see the join as you open up each figure to find a smaller perfect copy. The very best Russian Dolls lose nothing in detail even as the dolls become tinier. The pleasures are in the craft, the artistry, and the discovery of the very smallest and still beautiful final doll.

This collection provides the same joy – perfectly made poems, exquisite details, and the satisfaction of finding more and more to read, to consider, to discover.

Written in two sections, the first, 'Daughter Doll / Doll-Daughter,' focuses on childhood and relationships with parents. Some of these poems are 'small' – the sensual joy of mint choc-chip ice cream - while some take on the big stuff – suicide of an old school friend, the death of a father, grieving - but all are crafted so elegantly, so absolutely 'right.' Smits can use even the most structured rhyme scheme, as in 'The Pulmonary Embolism,' with a touch so skilled that in other hands could feel cumbersome - but here there is no loss of real pain and emotion.

The second section, 'Mother Doll / Doll-Mother,' is searingly honest about parenting and being a mother with such careful observation that the poems speak to anyone who has cared for small children. The title poem, 'Russian Doll,' contains this: '... As I thin and am worn smooth by little hands that dismantle me daily…” – one of the most perfect descriptions I have read of motherhood. But there is celebration too and a realistic sense of the day-to-day work. I’m in awe of another poet who can find poetry in the quiet hell of sitting pool-side during the weekly swimming lesson.


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

You can read more about Russian Doll, as well as a sample from it, on Creative Writing at Leicester here.

Friday, 4 June 2021

A Book That Changed Me, by Brian Wharton: "To Sir, With Love," by E. R. Braithwaite



A book that changed my life is To Sir, With Love, a semi-autobiographical novel written by E.R. Braithwaite and first published in 1959. The book centres on a young Guyanese engineer who takes a job at a tough East London secondary school whilst awaiting a post in his chosen career. He is appointed to teach a group of difficult 14–15-year-olds about the realities of life, as well as some lessons on good manners and personal hygiene.

I first came across the book as a 15-year-old when my own school seemed to mirror that in the book, albeit twenty years later when nothing had really changed for pupils in the secondary modern system. While I was at school we were subjected to an experiment where we kept the same form teacher for three years. Mr D was a good teacher who taught me English and provided us with Drama classes, a path that I was to follow later in life. However, unlike the teacher in the novel, he was unable to maintain discipline and so often lessons would descend into chaos. We did, though, manage to read some good texts including Kes, Animal Farm, The Long, the Short and the Tall, as well as this one.

To Sir, With Love concerns itself with many themes, including racism, class, and education. When I first read the book, I was aware of the conflict facing the black teacher in an almost entirely white community, but I also recognised in it my own problematic education. I re-read the book several times in my teens and, having seen the film which was made in 1967 starring Lulu, it gave me a romantic and nostalgic view of my own schooldays. The book and film still resonate with me today.


About the reviewer

Brian Wharton writes drama, short stories and reviews.


Thursday, 3 June 2021

A Book That Changed Me, by Harry Whitehead: "Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience," by Gitta Sereny



For her ninetieth birthday, we took my granny to visit Auschwitz. I guess that’s as far as I’ll ever invoke humour about such a subject, but the poor thing was also promised a visit to Venice. So we set off on what proved an epic driving tour. Berkshire to Krakow to Venice and home. On the journey, I read Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man and The Truce to try to comprehend the camps. I struggled for years after to get a handle on what I learned about humanity’s dark potential. Two things kept coming back to me: first, the freezing silence of Auschwitz Birkenau, the ‘extermination camp,’ until a fish leapt and plopped in the small lake that held the ashes of a million people; its banality seemed an abomination. Second, there was a town close by. What of its population? What of conscience? 

And so I came to Sereny’s celebrated work. Into That Darkness relates her series of interviews with Franz Stangl, commandant of Sobibor and Treblinka. Stangl was captured in the 1960s and given a long prison term. Granted access by Stangl and his wife, Sereny interrogates his conscience, but gently and with empathy, always seeing beyond the monster to the man. The book interviews the few survivors of Treblinka as well, many of whom speak of Stangl as just a functionary, not cruel per se. Yet here was someone who oversaw the murder of more than a million people. And, indeed, he proves a disturbingly ordinary individual, though one incapable of recognizing the enormity of his guilt. Over and over, Stangl describes his conscience as being clear, within the boundaries of the world in which he existed. He was protecting his own family; it would have meant their death to have resisted; there was no escape from the closed Nazi society. 

On and on it went, until at last, one day, he ran out of words. And Sereny, too, said nothing now, no longer offering him any help. Finally, Stangl spoke the phrase, ‘My guilt.’ He uttered a few more hesitant lines – ‘… only now, in these talks …’ Then, he said, ‘My guilt is that I am still here. That is my guilt.’

Nineteen hours later, Stangl died of a heart attack. 

Into That Darkness made me believe in the absolute justice of truth.


About the reviewer

Harry Whitehead is a novelist and Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. Before becoming an academic, he worked for many years in film and TV commercials production. 


Wednesday, 2 June 2021

A Book That Changed Me, by Rosa Fernandez: "If on a winter's night a traveller," by Italo Calvino



I first read If on a winter’s night a traveller in the summer break between the second and third years of my English degree as a way of getting ahead on my reading list. It was a hot summer and I curled up in a sunny window for hours while I devoured this absolute gem of magic realism. It was the first book I had ever read to be written in the second person. It completely absorbs the reader in the act of reading, narrating itself as page after page of starts of novels make up a puzzle only solved by reading on. Attention is drawn to the act of reading, and writing, and to all the things that we expect novels to do. Even the ending is a remark on what we ‘expect’ from a story, and it helps that there are also plenty of jokes.

This novel is like no other book I had read before or since and completely blew apart my idea of what a novel could do. It also, in a very real way, actually changed my life a few years later. At a job interview at a magazine, I was asked a final question by one of my two interviewers: who is your hero? I took a minute and answered that it was Italo Calvino, because he was responsible for this enigmatic novel. I left after the interview and they called me later to tell me the job was mine. Only a month in and the man who had asked me the question told me that it was that answer that got me the job, because most people say cliched things like ‘my mum’ or ‘my dad’. I should have said ‘my mum,’ of course, but then she would probably have said ‘Dickens.’


About the reviewer

Rosa Fernandez is a slam-winning poet and sometime proofreader. She also enjoys wearing silly hats. 


Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Review by Jonathan Wilkins of "Reading the Cozy Mystery: Critical Essays on an Underappreciated Subgenre" ed. Phyllis M. Betz

 


For most of us, our introduction to the crime fiction genre was through the 'cozy mystery.' At last we have a critical approach to that almost-ignored genre. It's been ignored because it has not been taken seriously in the past and the advent of Nordic Noir and now Domestic Noir seems to have pushed it further back. It's now time for the cozy crime to fight back and show its value to the literary world.

Phyllis M. Betz has done a great job in gathering together a varied troupe of writers who investigate the genre and reinforce its value. In her introduction, she rails against those who ask experts on this form when they will turn their attention to serious work. This constant downplaying of the literary merit of popular fiction and cozy crime in particular grates on this writer. Who are these arbiters of so called 'taste' who wish to deify one genre at the expense of another, and what indeed is their legitimacy in doing so? As Betz asks, if the cozy mystery is so limited, why is it so popular?

Sarah Rowland asks the same question in her essay. After invoking Jungian literary theory, she comes to the conclusion that it is the purest form of literature that we have, drawing elements from across crime fiction, even hard-boiled fiction. She champions the cozy as 'bringing comedy, rebirth and renewal into the lives of readers.' 

The lack of blood and violence in the cozy mystery is to be applauded, because it leaves the reader to investigate with the detective a 'clean' crime. Jennifer S. Palmer tells us 'there is an investigation by the protagonists in which clues emerge to titillate the reader and help them to predict the denouement in which the murderer is identified.' That is the key. We are invited to enjoy the machinations of the detective. The story is meant to be fun: we will discover the criminal, they will be punished, and all will be well in our world.

We are introduced to varied cast of crime fighters in the anthology with brief descriptions of most that will hopefully entice the casual reader into further investigation. They include Agatha Raisin, Phryne Fisher, Jane Marple (of course), Daisy Dalrymple, Aurora Teagarden, as well as two perhaps lesser-known detectives that I introduced in my essay in the anthology, Solange Fontaine and Clara Baroness of Linz. Each individual and the works they adorn are investigated in detail by the contributors and the essays shed new light of many aspects of their work, as well as their backgrounds and the setting of the stories. The essays beg other questions too, and encourage us to read further in the genre and discover just what the attractions are.

So far I have concentrated on the female heroes of the genre, but who could forget Columbo, perhaps the archetypal male cozy mystery detective. Stephen Cloutier, in his contribution, writes at length on Columbo. He thinks Columbo is working in an area more associated with hard-boiled fiction but that he maintains the essence of the cozy detective. We know the killer from the start but the stories' format forces viewers to 'focus on Columbo’s interactions with the rich and powerful and to tease out the show's social commentary.' Thus Cloutier feels this show encapsulates the cozy genre by recognizing the lead detective as central to the story.

Finally, there's a little bit of controversy as Sally Beresford-Sheridan suggests that the famous hard-boiled detective Nero Wolfe is indeed a member of the cozy crime family. I think that is an idea that you the reader had best interrogate; suffice to say, by challenging us with this theory, Beresford-Sheridan reinforces it with the thought that 'when defining strictures for detective fiction … parameters most likely will, and should, be broken in order to continually make the genre new and exciting for its readers.'

Writers change, writing styles change and the reader will always change. It is the constant change and reinvention of practice that intrigues us, the readers, but as long as we have the basic framework surrounding what we know as cozy crime, we will have what we want, and we will be happy. Betz has succeeded in making us happy with this fine collection of thoughts and ideas. This is an excellent starting point for academics as well as the casual reader who wants to learn more. Cozy perfection.


About the reviewer
Jonathan Wilkins is a Creative Writing PhD Student at Aberystwyth University, Wales, reading mostly Golden Age Crime fiction.

Monday, 24 May 2021

Review by Elizabeth Chell of "GREAT MASTER / small boy" by Liz Lefroy

 


Liz Lefroy’s pamphlet of poetry is innovative, beautifully composed and is as unique as Beethoven himself. Just like Beethoven’s 9th symphony, she combines two art forms, traditional and prose poetry. The artistry of her language, the vivid reflections journey us through the past and present life of Bonn and Vienna. Her themes lend themselves to the Romantic music of Beethoven, merging into the classical tones of her surroundings. 

We are mesmerised by the budding dancer in the poems, the toil and hard work as she finally flowers, and then her voyage into motherhood. The power of Lefroy's words places us beside her; lines such as ‘I  survive fleshy awkwardness’ resonate with our own adolescent selves. Of her pregnant self in the bath, the phrase ‘beached on the rounded island of myself’  is such a perfect description; for me this feeling has never been so adequately illustrated.

The strength of Lefroy's poetry lies in the marriage of the beauty of Beethoven's music, the beast of war, and the war within him, his deafness. Reading through her work you are reminded that, although Beethoven wrote beautiful music, there is often an undertone of sadness and despair. This is a story of life and development of beauty triumphing over despair; it is an extraordinary accomplishment and an absolute pleasure to read, again, and again.


About the reviewer
Elizabeth Chell is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Leicester University. She is a full-time teacher and lives in Leicester. 


Friday, 21 May 2021

A Book That Changed Me, by Brian Wharton: "1984" by George Orwell

 


The book that changed my life is 1984, the dystopian novel by George Orwell first published in 1949. I guess a lot of people would choose this because of its far-reaching effects. I first came across the novel as an eighteen-year-old studying for an O-Level in English Literature at night school after my poor CSE grades. The book taught me about world political systems from the far right to the far left and the blurring that often exists in between. After reading it I began think about Communism and Marxism by looking at the governing bodies in Russia and China. I think of myself as a Socialist rather than a capitalist and the book offered up a critique of both.

I am fascinated by the lovers in the novel, Winston Smith and Julia, who publicly follow the ‘party’ line but break the rules until one is forced to betray the other. Mr Charrington the bookseller intrigues me, the way he entraps potential party dissenters into buying prohibited materials. The lines ‘I sold you and you sold me’ stand out clearly and bring to mind that in societies like this you can’t afford to trust anyone. I studied the novel closely at the time, even reading the appendix first which detailed the origins of the party, and its terminology, such as ‘double speak,’ which dictated that citizens should take heed of what language they use, as well as being aware of the ‘thought police’ who seek to suppress the idea of free thinking. Orwell believed that the middle classes often bring about changes in society but in 1984 he says, ‘if there is hope, it’s in the proles.’ 

I haven’t picked up the novel since the 1980s, but I am constantly aware of its politics especially with the increase of worldwide technology, the uses of surveillance equipment and the breakdown in civil liberties.


About the reviewer
Brian Wharton is a former actor, who writes drama and short stories. He also writes film and theatre criticism.

Thursday, 20 May 2021

Review by Kate Durban of "The Day My Head Exploded: Poems About Healthcare" by Rob Gee




If you haven’t discovered Rob Gee and his wonderful poems you are in for a treat. Rob is a nurse and a poet. Until recently he was retired from the nursing profession but returned to help out during the Coronavirus pandemic, an action that seems typical of the generous and committed nature that shines through in his poems.  As a fellow nurse I jumped at the chance of reading and reviewing this collection. What a voyage of discovery it has been.

Rob’s approach to nursing and life are irreverent, comic (sometimes deliciously and darkly so), compassionate, inclusive, poignant and political. All at once!  How does he do that? One of the keys to Rob’s success is the desire to share not only his own voice and perspective as a nurse, but also those of his clients, their families and his colleagues. Hence many of the poems are group poems.

Rob’s work is seriously insightful and seriously funny. Who couldn’t laugh out loud in delighted recognition to read: 'the receptionist had all the social skills of a neglected commode' (from the title poem). Rob uses wonderful imagery, which conveys observations about the world of mental illness and its related care environments with great clarity. For instance: 'Ben’s psyche is unraveling / like the thread on a crap cardie.' And: 'Herman prattles on forever / Each word knitting his brain back together.' These images say so much in so few words. They linger in the mind.

Rob’s poems don’t shy away from the huge costs paid by the people suffering with mental (and physical) illness and those caring for them. In 'Elsie’s letter,' a woman with dementia pleads with those who look after her that: 'When I finally lose it all / please give me somewhere soft to fall.' And in the poem 'Our loss,' Rob describes the response of staff and patients on a ward after a suicide as: 'The grief went through the ward like a horrific ripple.' We all grieve.

It is this sense of community on the wards which is as authentic as it is heart-warming, and as I read the poems I felt deep vibrations of recognition and resonance, both as a nurse and as a human being. The poems are full of stories all the more beautiful because they are true. In the poem 'Psychiatric Crash Team,' Rob is called in when a patient becomes aggressive because he wants to go out and buy cigarettes. When Rob bumps his head on the doorframe this patient stops what he is doing, leans down and holds out his hand to help him up. Then, the whole ward have a whip round, not for money, but for tobacco to give their fellow patient. As Rob says, we are all 'part of each other’s journey.' The lines between patient, nurse and carer are blurred but in a good way. Except, that is, for the awful 'Dr. Brice.'

Whether you are a nurse, or  someone affected by mental illness as a sufferer or carer, or you just like good poems, don’t miss Rob Gee’s wonderful new collection. It will make you laugh and teach you a lot about how to live life with compassionate generosity, integrity, and a large dose of irreverent humour.


About the reviewer
Kate Durban is a Cancer Wellbeing Specialist Nurse who lives in Northamptonshire with her husband and two dogs. She is currently an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.

You can read more about Rob Gee's The Day My Head Exploded, as well as a sample from it, on Creative Writing at Leicester here

Friday, 14 May 2021

Interview with Keith A Pearson



Keith A Pearson is one of Britain’s most successful independent authors, selling over 200,000 copies of his books both on Amazon and in self-published print editions. His genre is humorous fantasy/sci-fi, often involving time travel. His debut novel The '86 Fix, in addition to the fantasy aspect, also includes a ‘gritty social comment’ narrative, and is reminiscent of the novels by Sue Townsend, who was the queen of this style. Keith's website is here

Simon Elson sought Keith out and interviewed him for Everybody's Reviewing.



Interviewed by Simon Elson

SE: What made you write your first book, The '86 Fix?

KP: It was partly a drunken bet – struck whilst in the pub with a few friends in December 2015 – and partly just a tick on a bucket list. Then, in March 2016, a client cancelled a project at the last minute, leaving me with a few empty weeks in my schedule. So, with no planning or preparation and spectacular levels of naivety, I just sat down and started writing. To this day, I have no idea how I managed to cobble a book together, let alone one that people seem to enjoy reading.

SE: Is there any part of you in Craig – the hero of The '86 Fix?

KP: I’m sure there’s plenty of traits Craig and I share, although I’ve fortunately never reached his depth of discontentment with life. There’s something about your forties – where you realise you’ve passed the halfway point in life – that forces you to stop and evaluate where you are and what you’ve achieved. In Craig’s case, that realisation is tainted with disappointment at what he’s achieved, and it weighs heavy.

As for some of the events he experienced in the book, a few are based upon my teenage years, but I’ll take the fifth amendment regarding the scene where Craig loses his virginity.

SE: Did you seek a publishing deal or agent first, or self-publish on Amazon KDP straight away?

KP: I emailed maybe four or five literary agents, but I’m an impatient man and trying to hook a literary agent requires the patience of a saint. So after a few weeks of silence, I decided to go it alone. I only ever heard back from one of the agents I contacted, and he wasn’t interested, so I guess my impatience paid off.

SE: Were you expecting your writing career to take off as it has?

KP: Not at all, and it would be fair to say I never had any aspirations to become a writer. However, in many ways it isn’t wildly different from my previous career as a freelance marketing consultant because I work alone, from home, and if I don’t put in the work every single day, there won’t be money in the bank next month. The harsh reality of being self-employed is you need a strong work ethic and the ability to motivate yourself.

SE: Are you still happy with self-publishing? Does it give you creative freedom that a publishing deal might stifle or are you going to seek a deal in the future?

KP: I had intended to approach agents for my current project but I’m now in two minds. The problem is time, in that it usually takes 12-18 months from striking a deal to seeing your book land in shops. As I say, I’m not a patient man so unless I’m offered a truckload of cash in the next month, I’ll probably self-publish my next book.

SE: Do you design your own covers?  

KP: I do, and I’ve made so many mistakes I wouldn’t recommend it. With years of graphic design experience under my belt I presumed a book cover would be no more difficult to design than a promotional poster or a website – I got that wrong! It’s taken the best part of two years to complete the learning curve required to design effective book covers.

SE: Your books have sold over 200,000 copies, an incredible number for an independent or self-published author. Whilst obviously they are great (I’ve read several), you’re clearly an expert in marketing and promotion as well. Have you got any tips for people starting out as a self-published author?

KP: First and foremost, forget any notion you’ll be creating art because you won’t – you’ll be creating a product. And, like any product, you need to ensure it’s as good as it can possibly be. It’s equally critical you identify your target audience from the outset because if you don’t know who you’re creating your book for, how are you going to reach your readers once it’s released? Everyone wants to write a global bestseller but if you try to write a book that appeals to everyone, chances are it won’t resonate with anyone.

Besides writing to a specific audience, the only reliable route to success is via hard graft – the more books you write, the more you’ll sell. I didn’t start earning a reasonable income until I had six books under my belt, so focus on productivity. Write. Publish. Repeat.

SE: What’s your latest project and when can we see the finished book?

KP: The current project is called Waiting in The Sky and it’s about an alien called Simon Armstrong, and his preparations for departing Earth on his thirtieth birthday. The draft details can be found on my website here.

I moved home five weeks ago and unfortunately, it’s caused havoc with my writing schedule. Consequently, I’m about two months behind but I’m now back on the case and hoping it’ll be released in the summer, pending any last-minute offers from a publisher.

SE: Finally is Craig from The '86 Fix and Beyond Broadhall done with, or can we expect him back in the future (or past) ?  

KP: No spoilers, but you might want to read Tuned Out. I’ll say no more.




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

Monday, 10 May 2021

Review by Lauren M Foster of "Little Quakes Every Day" by Caroline Hardaker



Little Quakes Every Day is Caroline Hardaker’s first full-length poetry collection. The rich and varied poems are divided into three parts, each of which address different aspects of the human experience and our interconnectedness with nature.

The poems in the first part, Histories, span millennia and explore the history, folklore and mythology that has shaped our understanding of the world around us. They encompass figures as diverse as Medusa in a poem of the same name, and Mary Anning in the poem 'Pterosaur.' Hardaker’s gentle humour is evident in 'Afternoon Tea with the Millers,; about Thomas Edison and his wife and their secret code:

          Poor over-affectionate Edison! You’ve addled his brain, Mina,
          he touches you insistently. The muse has made of him a mute!

The second part, Discoveries, primarily addresses the natural world. This section contains my personal favourite, 'On Opening a Love Note Delivered by a Snail,' a playful narrative from an infatuated mushroom to their beloved:

          I’ve heard you pulse your hyphae-strings many times,
          tripping out a melody for my ‘shroomy ears to hear.
          I sang back every night to your fruiting body, gills rippling.

In Inventions, the third part of the collection, Hardaker delves into technology and the physical universe – including what we cannot perceive by eye. A few of the poems, such as 'Sun 2.0,' could be considered science fiction. She provides an empathic interpretation of scientific processes, for example, in 'What we can learn from thermodynamics,' where she successfully applies the concept of entropy to the human condition and its limitations:

           But this road. We’ve been on it before
           We can’t go back to the apartment years, the parties
           the parks. We’re heading for an absolute zero.

I liked Hardaker’s use of senses and language choice, especially her use of scientific terms. Sometimes the poems seem almost chant-like, akin to Beat poetry or Patti Smith. She displays her playful inclinations with experiments with shape and form – the collection incorporates a prose poem and several experimental works. I greatly enjoyed the poems in Little Quakes Every Day. Hardaker has an original, impressive voice and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.


About the reviewer
Lauren M Foster is a graduate of the MA Creative Writing at the University of Leicester and has been published in Ink Pantry, DIY Poets, An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Leicester and more. She performs her work on a regular basis and plays drum-kit in a garage-punk band The Cars that Ate Paris, sometimes combining the two, which is as difficult as it sounds.

You can read more about Caroline Hardaker's Little Quakes Every Day on Creative Writing at Leicester here


Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Review by Cathi Rae of "everlove" by Maggie Butt



This is Maggie Butt's sixth full collection in a poetry career of almost twenty years. It has been described as “a mature, devastating and ultimately redemptive work” (Jacqueline Saphra) and it is all of that and much more. My reasons for reviewing it were completely selfish in that I knew that a previous collection had been built on real lives, historical interviews and photographs, an area of writing of particular interest to me post an MA thesis using social media data and imagery to create a collection. 

Her new collection starts with a sequence of poems inspired by the work of the painter Mary Behrens and her photographs of refugees, and these poems are beautiful, focusing on the small, the relatable, to make tangible the refugee experience – in the poem "Shoes," she asks the simple question, if you had to leave your home, which one pair of shoes would you take with you? Sometimes it’s those tiny questions that  help us to have some understanding of what losing everything might feel like and in a way that avoids the polemical or the obvious.

Butt's background in journalism, the ability to use small details to make larger statements and her razor-sharp observation to draw the reader in to empathise and share emotions and experiences are everywhere in this collection. These range from the title poem “everlove” which explores loss – the loss of an earring and the loss of a person and ends “the earring turned up         caught on a sock / and you are here       deep in the core       of me” - to “The Repair Shop,” written during lockdown but which manages to say something new about an experience when for many of us, nothing was new or interesting.

This is a beautiful, deft, and polished collection which will bear reading and re-reading for a very long time.


About the reviewer
Cathi Rae is currently working on a PhD looking at marginalised lives and poetry. She has recently been awarded a Midlands 4 Cities scholarship to fund this work.

Monday, 3 May 2021

Review by Elizabeth Chell of "100neHundred" by Laura Besley



Turning the pages of Laura Besley’s 100neHundred flash fiction stories is as delightful as being inside a huge box of chocolates. Here, bite-size stories meet with you for any and  every occasion; they will delight every literary palate. You enter stories wrapped with intrigue, or revenge, others seductive, haunting, dark, and bitter. They seem like snippets of someone’s private life, as if you have overheard someone’s thoughts as they pass you by - thoughts that you shouldn’t be eavesdropping on, but glad that you did. 

As you absorb these expertly crafted morsels you will be given an emotional workout: you will be touched by the sadness of some, captivated by the confessional nature of others, or made to shudder at true wickedness. There are stories which will leave your heart  warmed by love's first splendour and others that  will give you sheer joy with a wash of nostalgia - all of them knitted together perfectly in a hundred words. There are so many original wonderful lines, such as: 'She can’t leave because he’d find her ...' 'Leftovers of his life ...' 'Accordion wrinkles around her eyes …' 'A storm in an hour glass ...' and so on.

Each of her stories have one thing in common: you will want to read them several times as they are layered with meaning not often apparent with the first bite. Besley is such a good wordsmith not one word is out of place or wasted and what is not said is just as important as what is. These stories are like little magic spells, far from the ordinary.


About the reviewer
Elizabeth Chell is a full-time teacher, and is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Leicester University.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Review by Lisa Williams of "Crazy" by Jane Feaver



Crazy is a blend of fiction and memoir. It's a thought-provoking story of a relationship and essentially about the blurring between life and storytelling itself ...  

The book opens in a bed, the shipping forecast providing a comforting massage to its occupant. Rather than a sailor listening to the outlook for the seas around Britain we join Jane, a creative writing teacher. The areas trigger memories and so the course is set and we head off with her on her uncharted journey.

The novel focuses on a relationship. A former relationship. This is pieced together from flashbacks to first meetings during college years. Phone conversations from then and from present day hint that there’s been more to the relationship. We listen for what’s unsaid. The heaviness of a bad or wrong decision lingers throughout. 

Just as Jane the teacher unpicks students' work, so we dwell on the author's choices: we know an ill-fitting shoe at her wedding is more than just that. This is no fairytale with a prince and his bride set for a happy ending. We return again to the sea when a bottle of cider provides a life buoy at a party. 

Midway through the book Jane's partner declares the 'end of story.' It starts to sink in that they aren’t sharing the same story. Jane tells us her tale but there are negative bits she immediately tells us 'I edit it out.'

Crazy made me question my own relationships, the bits I exclude from my stories. I'd not read anything by Jane Feaver before but will definitely be looking up her other books.


About the reviewer
Lisa is a shop girl from Leicester. Find her on social media @noodleBubble

You can read more about Crazy by Jane Feaver on Creative Writing at Leicester here.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

"A Book That Changed Me": New Strand on Everybody's Reviewing!

 


Everybody's Reviewing has now passed 150,000 readers! To mark this milestone, we're inviting submissions for a new strand on the blog. As you know, we already host book reviews and author interviews. We're now adding a third strand of articles, entitled "A Book That Changed Me."

For this new strand, we're inviting short articles about any book that has had a deep impact on your life, your way of thinking, your way of seeing the world. We want you to talk about the book and the impact it had on you. As Oscar Wilde may or may not have said, "All criticism is autobiography": we want to hear about what a particular book means to you. 

Your article should be between 50-400 words in length, generally positive and sent to the usual email address: everybodysreviewing[at]gmail[dot]com. We look forward to reading your submissions! See also About & Submit for further information.

And finally, many thanks to everyone in our wonderful community - readers, reviewers, authors, editors - who have helped Everybody's Reviewing reach this amazing milestone.


Friday, 23 April 2021

Review by Kate Durban of "In Their Absence" by Hannah Stevens



Countless people are lost every year. Hannah Stevens’s debut collection of short stories is a haunting exploration of what it means to be missing, both for those that disappear and those left behind. She follows her characters so closely that the reader can’t help but feel part of each devastating experience. Each story is breathtaking, and lingers in the memory long after the last beautiful page. 

One after another, the stories deal with yet another view of what it means to lose or be lost or to bear witness to loss: there is death, abduction, and abandonment. There is the couple on holiday who visit a café, where their toddler disappears from under the table when they are momentarily distracted. Then there is the hotel room where a man and a woman have sex after meeting in a bar. They drink and snort cocaine and then she jumps out of the window. And there are numerous others, each as painful and memorable as the last.

Hannah’s seemingly effortless prose brings her stories alive with devastating details that are both deeply authentic and agonisingly poignant. One couple, who are moving out of their house following the disappearance of their child, leave behind an empty swing in the back garden. The worn spots beneath it are being covered over by grass, now growing unimpeded by the feet of the missing child. There is the man who throws himself under a train, witnessed by the woman who innocently follows him to the platform. She likes his Fedora and picks up his still-warm coffee cup from the platform on which he stood just moments before.  The imagery is sparse but beautiful. 

The stories are sometimes connected which adds texture and augments the impact of each already powerful narrative The wife of the man in the fedora  receives his suicide note by text and doesn’t know which service to ask for when she dials 999.There is the story of a woman who runs away and joins the circus, followed by the story of her husband scanning the garden from which she has just disappeared. 

It might be tempting to avoid this book, which shines its lens so relentlessly into the darkness of what it means to be missing. But these stories are like jewels, small, but beautifully complex and bright. In them, perhaps we recognise our own secret desire to renounce our responsibilities, to disappear, as well as the losses we all inevitably experience in life.


About the reviewer
Kate Durban is a Cancer Wellbeing Specialist Nurse who lives in Northamptonshire with her husband and two dogs. She is currently completing an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Interview with Barbara Conrey



Barbara Conrey is the USA Today Bestselling author of Nowhere Near Goodbye, published in 2020, by Red Adept Publishing. 

Barbara worked in the health care industry before opting for an early retirement, which lasted all of three months. She then accepted a finance position, for which she had absolutely no background, and four years later, she decided to write a book. But not about finance. 

Travel is her passion, along with reading, writing, hiking, and exploring antique shops. Her greatest love is Miss Molly, her rescue beagle. There are stories to be told about beagles, and Barbara hopes to incorporate some of them into her books. 

Barbara lives in Pennsylvania, close to family and friends. 

Barbara's website is here. She is on Twitter @barbaraconrey. 



About Nowhere Near Goodbye

Oncologist Emma Blake has dedicated her life to finding a cure for a rare brain cancer. Twenty-five years ago, Emma’s childhood friend Kate died of glioblastoma, and Emma vowed to annihilate the deadly disease. Now, Kate’s father, Ned, is pushing her to work harder to fulfil that promise.

When Emma discovers she’s pregnant, she’s torn between the needs of her family and the demands of her work. While Ned pressures her to do the unthinkable, her husband, Tim, decorates the nursery. Unwilling to abandon her research, Emma attempts to keep both sides of her life in balance.

Emma knows she needs to reconcile her past with her present and walk the fine line between mother and physician. But Ned has a secret, and when Emma discovers what he’s been hiding, the foundation of her world cracks.

Nowhere Near Goodbye is a story of family, failure, and second chances.

In the following interview, Barbara Conrey discusses her novel and some of the themes that inform the story of Nowhere Near Goodbye


Interviewed by Gail Aldwin

GA: Nowhere Near Goodbye is a great title. Were there others in contention? Why did you settle upon this title?

BC: I also love this title! My first title was Remembering Kate because the story was originally about the child who died of Glioblastoma, not the doctor who researched the disease and discovered a procedure that would remove the tumor in its entirety without destroying healthy brain tissue.

Nowhere Near Goodbye was really organic: Emma, the paediatric oncologist who discovered the cure, was (first) Kate’s childhood friend. She was nowhere near ready to say goodbye to Kate when Kate died.

GA: The novel has a gorgeous cover. Can you share the thinking behind this design?

BC: I had seen a book cover that portrayed a window, and I loved it for its simplicity. When I explained to the designer who created the cover what I wanted, I ended up describing one of the most poignant scenes in the book. The only surprise was the African violet that sits on the windowsill. That was the designer’s addition. Unbeknownst to him, African violets were part of the table settings in my daughter’s garden wedding reception and have always been a favourite house plant of mine.

GA: There seems to be an absence of grieving in the novel for the early death of Kate. Does this happen off stage or could it account for the ways some of the characters behave?

BC: The absence of grieving was purposeful because the story was not about Kate. Still, Kate was never forgotten, and it was her death that caused so much good to happen: Emma’s determination to become an oncologist and find a cure for Glioblastoma. 

GA: Mother-daughter relationships are put under the microscope in Nowhere Near Goodbye. Was this always your intention?

BC: Yes! I want to put these relationships under the microscope to study what makes us (as both mothers and daughters) do the things we do. Love the way we do. 

I find the subject fascinating, maybe because of my relationship with my own mother, where I never realized she understood me until she was dying, and maybe because of my relationships with my own daughters. Writers can mine a wealth of stories just from studying mothers and daughters and the love/hate emotions they inspire. 

GA: In reading work by the feminist theorist Judith Keegan Gardiner, she proposes that for women writers the hero is her author’s daughter. What is your relationship to the characters you have created? 

BC: I’m part of all of my characters. I’m torn between what I should do and what I want to do, like Emma. I’m irreverent, like Kate. I’m driven, like Ned. I’m feisty, like Miss Maggie.

GA: What’s next for you, Barbara? 

BC: Next is Miss Maggie’s story. I fell in love with her in Nowhere Near Goodbye. She entered the story as a sixty-year-old woman who has her own demons to fight, but she always had Emma’s back – even when Emma thought she was against her, Miss Maggie was only trying to show Emma the difference between what she wanted and what she thought she wanted.


About the interviewer
Gail Aldwin is a novelist, poet and scriptwriter. Her debut coming-of-age novel The String Games was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and the DLF Writing Prize 2020. Following a stint as a university lecturer, Gail’s children’s picture book Pandemonium was published. Her second contemporary novel This Much Huxley Knows uses a young narrator to show adult experiences in a new light. Gail loves to appear at national and international literary and fringe festivals. Prior to Covid-19, she volunteered at Bidibidi in Uganda, the second largest refugee settlement in the world. When she’s not gallivanting around, Gail writes at her home in Dorset. She is on twitter @gailaldwin and her website is here

This interview was first published on Gail's blog here.


Thursday, 15 April 2021

Review by Jenny Robb of "The Weight of Snow" by Pauline Rowe



Pauline Rowe’s new pamphlet, The Weight of Snow, is layered with generations of grief. The accidental death of a ten-year-old girl years ago affects the narrator’s life, and those of her family. The poems cleverly interweave the narrator’s past life, loves and losses against the backdrop of this tragedy, outlined starkly in 'A Letter to Nanna Bereaved':

          He saw her swept away 
          by the trailings of a lorry.  
   
          The old man writes:
          Even now I see her pennies
          spinning in the road.

Yet in this elegiac pamphlet there is also hope and redemption. In contrast to the 'silver anniversary of grief' for a son never born, we are given 'Delivery Room'; joy in the face of the pain and danger of imminent birth, where the bereaved 'Nanna' appears:

          'Pray hard that I may find eternal peace
          and yet reach heaven, reach my lovely girl.
          Pray hard that God may grant me my release.'
         
         Then as the final pain came, she was gone
         and headlong crashing into sound and light
         my glorious boy arrived, my peaceful son.

There is also a parade of sharply drawn characters that bring working-class Widnes to life, as  in 'Barnes Road, 1967': Wendy, who 'kept PG Tips cards / and badges from Robinson jam,' and Billy the lodger who 'blocked the hall / with his deafness and Triumph bike.' But the permafrost of these poems is never far away. Even in the poem celebrating a fifty-year old friend’s marriage in Spain, there is unfulfilled yearning to follow those 'whose souls must sing in the sun.'

Pauline Rowe has created a beautiful and memorable tribute to the collective grief of a family marked by tragedy, a grief that many will recognise in different forms.


About the reviewer
Jenny Robb, from Liverpool, started writing poetry after retiring from a career in Mental Health services. She has been published in both online and print magazines and in poetry anthologies. She has recent publications in Dream Catcher, Prole, Orbis, Ink, Sweat and Tears and The Dawntreader. Her debut pamphlet will be published by Yaffle Press in 2021.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Review by Kathy Hoyle of "Among These Animals" by Gaynor Jones



Among These Animals is a searing novella-in-flash, as brutal as it is beautiful. Jones handles this niche form with exquisite expertise, weaving each story seamlessly into the next with perfect fluidity. 

Set against the sweeping beauty of rural Wales, Jones’s compelling narrative is a visceral, powerful exploration of complex themes including sibling rivalry, parental love, familial loss, guilt and grief, all told through the eyes of Carys, the eldest daughter of farmers, Derfel and Aelwen.     

Carys is a daddy’s girl who thrives on the gentle guidance and acknowledgement of her reserved father, a man continuously surprised by the colossal weight of love he feels for his daughter. Cerys hero worships him, and he adores her. Her mother, Aelwen, often fades into the background. 

The familial relationships are established beautifully by Jones in the opening stories. In 'Heavy Is the Head That Wears the Crown,' Derfel tells Carys the story of how he met her mother but Carys struggles to see her mother’s worth: 'Carys tries to picture her mother as a princess from one of her books … She can’t. She can picture her father easily though, with a crown on his head and a staff in his arms. As she falls asleep, courtiers bow around him.'

We hear how the idyll is threatened, with the arrival of three younger brothers, 'Owain and the twins' in 'Pecking Order': 'Carys … has sworn a lot more in the years since her brothers arrived … When she was the only one, breakfast was all for her. Warm bubbled crumpets dripping with greasy butter … But that was before the stupid boys came along. Now, Carys has to sit last at the table … Carys has to be last in everything except cleaning and tidying.'

One day, a devastating event alters everything, tearing the family apart and shattering Carys and Derfel’s relationship forever. Jones delves into the themes of guilt and grief with poignancy and precision, taking the reader on a heart-breaking journey as the family try to come to terms with their loss.  

Throughout the novella, Jones showcases her inimitable style, either by pushing the boundaries of social acceptance, with stories such as the disturbing title story, 'Among These Animals,' or by showcasing her exceptional ability to leave the reader reeling with her emotional sledgehammers, often wielded in stories that are just a few paragraphs long.

Among These Animals is tremendous debut novella-in-flash, powerful and poignant. It will leave the reader stunned.


About the reviewer
Kathy Hoyle is an MA graduate from the University of Leicester. Her short stories and flash fiction have appeared in a variety of literary magazines such as Virtualzine, Silver Apples, Reflex Fiction and Lunate. She has been shortlisted for the Exeter Short Story Prize, the Fish Publishing Memoir Prize and the Ellipsiszine Flash Fiction Collection Prize. She recently received a Special Commendation in the Blinkpot Awards and won Third Prize in the HISSAC Flash fiction Competition. She is currently working on both a novella-in-flash and a short story collection, powered by tea and biscuits.

You can read more about Gaynor Jones's Among These Animals on Creative Writing at Leicester here.