Friday, 26 November 2021

Review by Cathi Rae of "is, thinks Pearl" by Julia Bird

 

 

It is almost completely apposite that I almost didn’t get to read this collection, because the younger French Bulldog (a voracious consumer of all books) got to the post before me. The first piece “Helium Pearl” describes the chaos of the helium balloon seller trying to manage his fat cartoon dogs – I know his pain.

This is a hard-to-categorise collection – poems, prose poems, tiny gems of memoir. I don’t think it matters – imagine Pearl, the jewel at the centre of each piece as the perfect flaneuse – taking you by the hand and opening up the marvellous, the mysterious and the beautiful within the humdrum.

Julia Bird’s powers of observation are razor-sharp; these pieces read like perfect icons where every detail is imbued with leaf gold. In "Liquid Pearl,"

          when the Mayor reopens the lido 
          Pearl takes to the water
          in a blow-up chair the shape
          of a size fourteen flamingo

There is magic, magic realism, another way of seeing at the core of so much of this work. Describing a night club in “Violette Pearl,” Bird writes:

          ... but how the haze, the synthesis
          of dry ice and Silk Cut smoke,
          looks for all the world like
          bluebells in a birch wood seen
          from the far edge of a distant field.

Take a walk with Pearl – you may never see the world in quite the same way.

 

About the reviewer
Cathi Rae is a spoken word artist and poet. Her debut collection is Your Cleaner Hates You and Other Poems (Soulful Publishing, 2019). She is currently working on an M4C-funded Creative Writing PhD at the University of Leicester on telling marginalised lives through poetry.

You can read a review of Cathi's collection on Everybody's Reviewing here


Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Review by Katharina Maria Kalinowski of "What Meets the Eye: The Deaf Perspective," ed. Lisa Kelly and Sophie Stone



What Meets the Eye: The Deaf Perspective is an anthology that registers UK Deaf, deaf and Hard of Hearing experiences by British writers. It does not, as the editors write, aim for a definitive account of deafness, but rather seeks to offer a kaleidoscopic view on (not-)hearing. To that end, Lisa Kelly and Sophie Stone beautifully assemble a variety of forms, including poetry, short story, journal entries, and short plays loosely linked to the theme of movement: voices are “in the movement of our hands,” words “moving pictures / Building scenes.” The anthology also provides videos of the texts in British Sign Language (accessible here), which enact the powerfully loud speech of the “silent linguist” and are highly recommendable.

Acknowledging that “life moves and / I with it,” the various perspectives gathered in this anthology take the reader on a multi-faceted journey exploring the “spaces / in between.” These include questions of identity, troubled relationships, family stories, human-animal bonds, and reflections on maps, internal and external, that light up new paths enabling everyone to travel at their own pace. Snapshots of a coastal walk during which “the wind is a bully in hearing aids” joins the “MAPping of a new landscape” that also describes the testing of threshold limits in hearing aid fitting. “Lockdown lyric” accompanies everyday struggles of signing a coffee order in a language that has no legal status. Accounts of contemporary routines involving taking the “cochlear implant off first, then mask, then implant back on” feel urgently political, bearing in mind face masks complicate lip reading, and “people are quick to judge on appearances.” Sometimes unmistakably direct, sometimes subtly entrenched in lines that are audible for some and visual for others, a manifesto for access takes shape, for “deaf rights / to be amplified,” “firmly rooted in society.” 

Inviting the reader to meet “eye to eye” in a world that seems to move faster than our senses can follow, these pages spell out the need to listen vigilantly, not only with the ears. The in-between spaces of what meets the eye are full of inspirational inner strength fuelling a continuous “fight against all / that deem us too small,” fuelling the many dances of hands that “ache” but “never tire.” Hearing is remapped, communication envisioned in different, more accommodating ways, tied to a longing for life without labels and respect without conditions.


About the reviewer
Katharina Maria Kalinowski is a bilingual poet and holds a PhD in English Philology and Poetry: Text, Practice as Research from the University of Cologne and the University of Kent. Her creative-critical research focuses on ecopoet(h)ics, translation, and the Anthropocene. Her work can be found in the Journal of British & Irish Innovative Poetry, Ecozon@, and the Irish Poetry Reading Archive

Saturday, 20 November 2021

Review by Richard Byrt of "Bollocks to Brexit: An Anthology of Poems and Short Fiction," ed. Ambrose Musiyiwa



I strongly recommend this entertaining collection. Authors consider Brexit from a wide variety of viewpoints, frequently with passion, and sometimes movingly. 

Virtually all the contributions are anti-Brexit. The title reflects many people’s views but might be seen as disrespectful to Brexit voters, including those living in very deprived areas. However, Joel Baccas observes that the term “bollocks” is not always disrespectful. 

Topics of poems include Jo Cox (Mark Connors, Paul Francis), the campaign “Brexit bus” (Anthony L. Church, Tracy Davidson, Lizza Lane) and young people’s futures (Carole Coates, Josh Granville, Kelly Knight, Wayne McDonald, Jacob Spivey). Pessimism is expressed (Nicollen Meek) in relation to shops (Colin Gardiner), splits in the UK (Selina Lock) and the island of Ireland (Richard Kilian Neville). “Brexit” is described as a “synonym for … boring” (Chloe Jacquet). 

Unusual “starting points” to poems include “pictures of derelict factories” (Stephen Wylie); scenes of Harwich (Harry Gallagher), Whitby Abbey (Deborah Harvey) and a “Servants’ Ball” (Nathan Evans). Effective contrasts are made between Brexit and memories of Europe (antonia langford, Isabella Mead, Pappageno). Several poems contain vivid concrete details and original metaphors, with Brexit compared, for example, to birds (Yvonne Reddick), and the breakup of close relationships (Ayodele, Ellie Curtis, Steve Pottinger). Brexit is also considered in relation to Pandora’s box (Nathan Evans), an Italian café (Pam Thompson), chess (Trinity-Grace Robinson), “red boots” (Mariya Pervez), and voyages to the moon (Mantz Yorke), and by ship (Carole Coates, Elizabeth Uter). There are four refreshingly different treatments of the topic, “March” (Anne Howkins, Melissa Oram, Bethany Rivers, Mark Rutter). 

Effective short prose pieces include a conversation about the consequences of Brexit (Danielle Allen), an account of a small girl who joins in the shout, “Bollocks to Brexit” (Anne Howkins), and a presentation on “The Sundering of the Kingdom” (Selina Lock). 

There is a wide range of free verse and fixed forms, the latter including “No country for young men” (Wayne McDonald), a version of Psalm 23 (Trevor Wright), and four sonnets (Gareth Calway, Isabella Mead, Glen Wilson, Michael Woods). There is also a terza rima (Sarra Culleno), a pantoum (Tracy Davidson), and a modified rondeau (Charis Cooper). 

Songs include a ballad (Gareth Calway), a “Hokey Cokey” poem (David R. Mellor), and a stirring “Song for Europe” (Joe Williams). There is a reverse poem (Rachel Hardisty Vincent), skilful use of couplets (Pam Thompson), and an exhortation (Michele Witthaus). Serious messages are conveyed in witty poems, “Deal or No Deal” (Garry Maguire) and “How to Skin a Cat” (Joe Williams).

Congratulations to the authors and editor on a thought-provoking, enjoyable read. 


About the reviewer
Much of Richard Byrt’s work is concerned with the experiences of those of us who face “othering” and discrimination. This is reflected in some of his published poetry, facilitation of creative writing and work for an LGBT+ history project. 

You can read another review of Bollocks to Brexit on Everybody's Reviewing here


Saturday, 13 November 2021

Review by Gary Day of "Disappearances" by Kathleen Bell

 


Kathleen Bell’s debut volume is a thing of beauty, a joy forever, or at least until the global temperature rises beyond the point of no return. Her poems are poised, delicate and occasionally devastating. The book consists of three sections, the second concerns memory, the third magic.

The first deals with the musings of medieval spinsters on matters such as  church, childlessness, beatings and scars from harvesting the corn, a kind of earthly stigmata. These women bear their sufferings with a grim fatalism. Their incessant struggle to reconcile what they are told by the priest or the lord with their own experience is expressed in voices both lyrical and authentic. 

The final poem in this sequence, ‘La Dame à la Licorne,’ is a delight. It is based on six tapestries of the same name woven in the style of ‘a thousand flowers’ at the turn of the fourteenth century. Five of the pictures represent the five senses, the sixth is something of a mystery. The brilliance of this poem lies not just in Bell’s riff on the pictures of the lady with her unicorn but also in the way she subtly relates it to the poems that have gone before, where her women are fluent in their senses but flounder in their minds.

My favourite in the collection is ‘Palais des Beaux Arts’ which revisits Auden’s magnificent ‘Musée des Beaux Arts.’ It strips the original of its calm beauty revealing the horror beneath. Wherever Auden’s landmark poem goes in future, it should be accompanied by this one. 

Each page of this well-produced book is an entrance to an exquisitely constructed little world, whether it is a painting by Vermeer or a card trick. Bell takes us down the side roads of history, showing with great tenderness and truth, what was missed.   


About the reviewer
Gary Day is a retired English lecturer. His research mainly lay in three areas, the  history of literary criticism, the workings of class in British literature and the persistence of sacrificial ritual in the development of drama. He had a column in the Times Higher for a number of years and has also edited two volumes on the history of British poetry as well as the three volume Wiley Encyclopaedia of British Literature 1660-1789. He hates management speak, has been involved in amateur theatre for over thirty years and is still trying to write poetry.

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Review by Richard Byrt of "The Other Side of Hope: Journeys in Refugee and Immigrant Literature, vol.1," ed. Alexandros Plasatis et al



I strongly recommend this collection. I was moved by many of the gripping, “hard-to-stop-reading” stories and non-fiction, skilfully constructed poems, often with striking images, and comprehensive, interesting book reviews. There are contributions by both widely published and new writers. My only quibble concerns minor punctuation and other errors in some prose pieces.

George Sfougaras, who provides a striking cover illustration, refers to “losses and gains of leaving your country of origin to seek safety.” Reasons for staying and leaving the homeland are movingly considered by Madalena Daleziou. Some writers describe the need for people to emigrate because of war and terrorism (Marina Antropow Cramer, Jhon Sanchez) and this is also considered in book reviews by Lucy Popescu and Kathryn Aldridge-Morris. Banoo Zan indicates the importance of editors being prepared to accept poets’ criticisms of oppression in their home countries. Kimia Etemadi writes:

          … anything would be better than
          • the flogging
          • the torture
          • the executions
          • the mass graves…
          All you are is Other. 

Alberto Quero writes: 

          I was born in a place which became …
          an everlasting war,
          tears and exile …

Some authors indicate specific factors increasing migrants’ feelings of alienation, for example, in moving accounts of depression (Radhika Maira Tabrez) and relationships with unloving fathers (Dan Alex and Marina Antropow Cramer). Experiences of racism are described by Murzban F. Shroff and in J. B. Polk’s thought-provoking account of a First Nations woman who is exhibited in a circus. Sahra Mohamed writes vividly about considerable difficulties that she experienced at work as a Black Muslim woman. Musembi Wa’ Ndaita’s intriguing story concerns experiences of the son of American missionaries in Kenya. 

The wish to move to a better life is considered: for example, from China to the USA (Qin Sun Stubis), and from rural Hamirpur to a large city (Radhika Maira Tabrez). Murzban F. Shroff’s vivid description of his teenage trip across America is reminiscent of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Hardships in new countries are described by several authors, including Bingh and Amer Raawan: “The walls were tall, the gates were tall / my fear increased daily.”

People’s homelands are remembered in poems by Atar Hadari, Kimia Etemadi and Banoo Zan. Alberto Quero describes “belonging to no land.” Striking contrasts are made with host countries:

          We found a safe place
          for our children to grow
          but we don’t know
          if they will remember

          our language, the words
          that tell of their past …

Congratulations to the editors, authors, cover artist and everyone involved in The Other Side of Hope


About the reviewer
Much of Richard Byrt’s work is concerned with the experiences of those of us who face “othering” and discrimination. This is reflected in some of his published poetry, facilitation of creative writing and work for an LGBT+ history project. 

You can read a review of Richard's poetry collection, Devil's Bit, on Everybody's Reviewing here

Friday, 5 November 2021

Review by Rosa Fernandez of "The Mask" by Elisabeth Horan



‘A celebration and [a] tribute’ is how the author describes The Mask, a collection of nineteen poems directly inspired by the paintings of Frida Kahlo (and a guide to which ones is helpfully included). The mask of the title itself refers to a specific painting and one that sums up the whole concept of the collection: a self portrait where Kahlo’s face is hidden and yet still full of emotion. 

The poems in this collection are all spoken by the imagined voice of Kahlo and have a flow to them that feels like the brush in her hand, sweeping her feelings onto canvas. The voice is direct and powerful and peppered appropriately with Spanish, ‘somehow separada’ and ‘into the rear of el restaurante’ where we can understand more than we think about Kahlo’s world in the writing. You don’t need to see the paintings to get the imagery; in ‘Nectar of the Gods and a Woman’s Throat,’ the animals, her face and the thorns are all described and weighted with meaning.

I really enjoyed the knowingness and humour of this imagined Kahlo, and the witty double meaning of ‘stanza’ in ‘The Mask, Vol. 1’ was a wonderful poetic highlight: ‘I’ve told Eli to make a new stanza,’ the poem ending with the spectacular line ‘Come and f*** me in my mind.’ The respect that the author has for the artist is evident and this poetic tribute is eloquent and sensual throughout, without shying away from Kahlo’s pain or rage.

Sensitive readers may query the fearless language throughout, but Kahlo was a unique individual with an unflinching perspective on the world, and it feels authentic. This collection is as colourful and vivid as its inspiration and can be enjoyed as both enjoyable poetry and as a companion to some fascinating paintings. 


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


Thursday, 4 November 2021

Review by Kathy Hoyle of "Ways of Living" by Gemma Seltzer



This wry, strange collection of stories was a delight to read from start to finish.  

Seltzer’s writing is quirky yet visceral. The collection is filled with wonderfully peculiar stories that pique the reader’s imagination and take us on a journey through familiar London streets, yet with each one, we find ourselves challenged with the unfamiliar. 

Imagine having bath time with a ventriloquist's dummy that has mind of her own and a scathing wit to boot. Meet Other Esther, Esther’s friend and sometimes nemesis, both vying for their father Raphael’s attention. A curious exploration of childhood yearning, Seltzer captures the confusion and bewilderment Esther feels when her father's love seems impossible to hold on to. 

How about taking a picnic with a miniature Mum, long dead, yet happily ensconced in a dressing-gown pocket? This is a strange and complex story, where a mother-daughter relationship is examined with real insight. Wry and witty in places yet dashed with poignancy and absurdism, Seltzer showcases her wonderful originality in 'Some Women Carry Silence in Their Pockets.' 

In 'Get Away from Earth for a While,' Andie is shocked when she receives a telephone call from her friend Leah: 

          ‘You’re joking.’
          ‘I’m not, Andie. Why are you being weird?’
          ‘It’s marriage, Leah.’
          ‘Don’t be bitter.’
          ‘Don’t be a facsimile of every other woman who ever existed. I thought you had principles.’ Andie regretted the words as soon as she had said them.

Instead of attending her friend’s wedding, Andie takes herself to the top of a tree in a London Park to eat ice-cream in her underwear and avoid the awful, yet inevitable, breakdown of their friendship.  

These are just a few examples from this fascinating collection. I thoroughly enjoyed every single story; each one was surprising, often uncomfortably sharp, yet beautifully written. I look forward to reading more of Gemma’s work. 


About the reviewer

Kathy Hoyle is an MA graduate from the University of Leicester. Her work has appeared in literary magazines such as Spelk, Virtualzine, Reflex Fiction and Lunate.  

She won the 2021 Crossing the Tees Short Story Prize and the Retreat West Themed Flash Fiction Prize and took third prize in the Cambridge Flash Fiction Prize and the 2020 HISSAC Flash Fiction Competition. She was a finalist in The Forge Flash Fiction competition, a semi-finalist in the LISP Flash Fiction Award and her micro piece 'My Devil' received a Special Commendation in the 2021 Blinkpot Awards. She is currently working on her first Flash Fiction collection.


Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Review by Joe Bedford of "Tenderness" by Alison MacLeod



It’s telling that Lady Chatterley’s Lover, named Tenderness in its working-title and concerned in so many ways with the theme of tenderness, should have been the subject of such a vicious campaign of censorship. The trial that surrounded the novel’s unexpurgated release put our conception of tenderness on trial – a tenderness defined to exclude the physical, visceral, expletive nuances of human intimacy. It is this trial that Alison MacLeod explores in her latest novel, both through D.H. Lawrence’s life and works, and through the support Lady Chatterley drew later from First Lady Jackie Kennedy, herself a woman ‘on trial.’ The intertwining of these two lives, touching one another across time, elicits not just our sympathy for those whose inner-selves are deemed unacceptable, but a wider feeling that any of us, at any time, might fall vulnerable to the subjugation of our intimate needs. For MacLeod, this threat of subjugation is something built into the fabric of Western civilisation – into our structures of family, work, government and society. The pressure on the free-thinking (or free-feeling) individual is so great that it appears as though the whole world is willing them to fail, to concede. In this sense, there’s something fundamentally challenging in MacLeod’s worldview, resisting the self-censorship that Lawrence felt acutely and that many of us, like Jackie Kennedy, still feel circumscribing our daily freedom to live and be. MacLeod’s integration of Lawrence’s prose speaks to that inner-voice whispering beneath our reserve and tact, and works to interrogate the problematic lines between social norms and intimate needs. Like the mechanisms of self-consciousness that muddy our lives, the voices of both Lawrence and Jackie Kennedy reflect our desires, pains and confusions in equal measure. In that respect, MacLeod’s novel is tender not in the manner of a gentle lover, but in the way we are tender after the most passionate, open and human forms of intimacy.


About the reviewer
Joe Bedford is a writer from Doncaster, UK. His short stories have been published widely, including in Litro, Structo and MIR Online, and are available to read at joebedford.co.uk.

Tuesday, 2 November 2021

A Book That Changed Me, by Katie Sone: "A Woman in the Polar Night," by Christiane Ritter



A book that changed my life is A Woman in the Polar Night by Christiane Ritter. It is her memoir of her journey and year spent in Spitsbergen (Svalbard) in 1934 with her husband. She writes of her life in a tiny bleak hut where her life is paired down to the simplest of tasks, scrubbing the cabin, chopping logs for the stove, and where a cup of rationed coffee is an event to be revered and sipped in quiet contemplation. She writes of the foreboding landscape that is bleak, dark and harsh and the pure joy she experiences when, after a long winter, the sun appears. She writes of spending months alone, surviving storms that battle with the hut, and of crawling on all fours twenty times round the hut to get her daily walk. She knows she must. On her journey to Svalbard she is told by the manager of the telegraph station: “Madam, if you want to survive the winter well you must remember three things … you must take a walk every day, even in the winter night and storms. That is as important as eating and drinking. Always good temper. Never take things seriously. Never worry. Then it will be fine.”

I read this in March 2020 when all our worlds turned upside down. I sought solace in books that would take me to distant places. I could travel without leaving the house, escaping somewhere, whilst our worlds and lives became smaller. I took comfort in Christiane’s resilience and determination, thought of the simplicity of her life and her life being stripped back to basics. It was a calming read, her words comforting and helpful. I remembered the Telegraph Station Manager's words and, even though anxious and scared of what was happening all around us, I took a walk every day and found joy in the simplest of things and revered my daily cup of coffee.

 

About the reviewer

Katie Sone is a writer and delivers writing for wellbeing workshops. She is also a part time librarian for Leicester Libraries. You can find out more here.


Monday, 1 November 2021

Review by Cathi Rae of "A Voice Coming from Then" by Jeremy Dixon



I have been carrying this book with me for weeks now, carefully transferring it from bag to rucksack to bike basket, partly because I wanted to be able to dip into it again and again, but also because, somehow, I wanted to take care of the child / the boy / the young man in this work.

This is not an easy collection – it comes with trigger warnings of suicide and bullying – and includes description of the author’s suicide attempt age fifteen, teenage diary entries, notes from teachers and psychiatrists and heart-breaking contemporary statistics on suicide and mental illness amongst young LGBTQA+ people.

These poems are deceptively simple with razor sharp observation, brutal honesty  and a deftness of touch that gives space for the reader to understand both what is said and what is left unsaid. It would be easy for a less skilled poet to create a collection that shouts its polemical heart – and yes, of course, there’s anger and sadness here. Many of the poems commemorate a gay male world as AIDS / HIV took hold and a time period where being identifiably gay was still enough to fear violence, bullying and prejudice – but they are also a celebration of love and toughness and survival and managing grief.

I am delighted, beyond delighted that the fifteen-year-old Jeremy’s suicide attempt failed – actually I’m delighted when anyone is able to come back from that brink of despair – because now we have this collection and it’s beautiful and important and needs to be read.


About the reviewer
Cathi Rae is a spoken word artist and poet. Her debut collection is Your Cleaner Hates You and Other Poems (Soulful Publishing, 2019). She is currently working on an M4C-funded Creative Writing PhD at the University of Leicester on telling marginalised lives through poetry.

You can read a review of Cathi's collection on Everybody's Reviewing here


Friday, 29 October 2021

Review by Matt Nunn of "Sin Is Due to Open in a Room Above Kitty's" by Morag Anderson



The title of this slender debut chapbook gives off a whiff of seduction and promised delight, and whilst it is not sin that Morag Anderson is serving up in these thirty-three brief pages dripping with senses and emotions, she very much seduces with calm, concise writing amongst all the storms that are erupting and bashing her characters around. This fully stocked cast of, one assumes, dramatis personae seems to be constantly enduring things that happened to them, rather than possessing the agency to control the things that happen. Yet endure they always seem to do, despite themselves on occasion, emerging triumphant and in full poetic voice ready to sing of these forbearances and victories.

These are poems where nothing much seems to happen on the surface, yet when they intrude, like slow gentle ripples, into the consciousness of the reader, they explode and clout you about the senses, announcing their business as they do, showering the reader with shards of insight into the modern condition.

Whilst initially you may have some sympathy for the titular character of “Last supper with Sarah,” it is a poem that seduces and wraps itself around you until you get to the denouement when you discover that Sarah is almost certainly a much-deserving recipient of the punishment being meted out to her.

For days after my first read of these poems, my head was full of echoes of Morag Anderson’s poems that I just couldn’t shake, each wave full of poetry that I had enjoyed and needed to mull over. She also owns that super-power, that electrical surge in her nib, that can re-cast the apparently mundane into something of fascination worthy of interest and celebration. I’m not sure there is a better compliment for a book, or for a poet.


About the reviewer
Matt Nunn is the author of five poetry collections, the latest of which is St. Judes College Reject (RedSox Press). He works as a freelance writing tutor, writing coach, editor and writer and teaches Creative Writing at Solihull College and has performed his work on TV, radio and a million different venues, to audiences big and small, enthusiastic and indifferent, for over 25 years. He’s still amazed at how he gets away with it all.


Thursday, 28 October 2021

Review by Inés G. Labarta of "That Was" by Sarayu Srivatsa



‘My memory, like an ant, stops at each hurdle and drifts down a less difficult path.’ Such is the start of this lyrical, bittersweet novel, which follows intimate moments in the life of a young Indian woman, Kavya, who, thanks to his uncle's trading business, spends long periods of her life in Japan. That Was has well-crafted language and heightened attention to detail, and Kavya’s voice is honest and compassionate when narrating the experience of the woman she once was. Each of the novel's short chapters is in itself a meditation on enlightenment, love, adventure, grief, and passion.

But perhaps the most powerful aspect of the novel is its celebration of multiculturality. In Sarayu Srivatsa’s work, ‘multiculturality’ is not a token or a cliché, but a way of existing. Her character, Kavya, spends most of the novel trying to remember and come to terms with the traumatic attack she suffered in her Indian hometown when she was a child. Travelling to Japan and getting immersed in its new culture with the help of a cast of well-rounded and diverse characters is what allows her to process those terrible memories. As any traveller will already know, having the ability to put distance between oneself and one’s familiar environment allows for deep introspection and enrichment. And this process is embodied in Kavya’s own story. She embraces Japanese culture with candour and enthusiasm, to the point where, at times, she brings in Japanese words to her narrative when they express concepts that don’t exist in English: ‘The reflection of the sunset in the pond was a shot of red-orange silk. Simple. Subtle. Indefinable. Shibui.’ 

Ultimately, That Was reminds us of the strong, yet often forgotten links between cultures. This is beautifully expressed by S-san, a Japanese woman who ends up becoming a mentor for Kavya. When discussing the iconic Japanese red torii gates, she says ‘Did you know that the word torii comes from the Indian torana, and its design originated from the gates of the Sanchi monastery? And did you know that Baizaiten, the Japanese goddess, was derived from the Indian deity Saraswati? Some Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines have halls dedicated to her. She is the goddess of everything: water, time, language, music, knowledge.’


About the reviewer
Inés G. Labarta is a Madrid-born writer and artist currently based in the northwest of England. She is the author of a collection of middle-grade novels, Los Pentasónicos (Edebé, 2008-2010) and two novellas, McTavish Manor (Holland House, 2016) and Kabuki (Dairea, 2017). She lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Wolverhampton and directs The Wandering Bard magazine and podcast.


Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Review by Matt Nunn of "Records of an Incitement to Silence" by Gregory Woods



Many of these rigorously formal poems in this collection occur in a catch-all city, never named yet a definite state, awake with both loss and discovery, that is known to all in its haunted folds and enveloping shadowless twilight. Yet still it tingles with the unfamiliar, as the poet curates a guide to all its buzzes and charges written in intellectually enlightened neon.

Most in the sequence of unrhymed sonnets that form the discordant narrative, with varieties of  character, if not always voice, that underpin the collection, are connected, if at times only vaguely, by a mutual sense of disturbance and displacement. Sometimes these searches are fused by erotic fissions for loves that are sometimes found, but often lost.

These metrical compositions, never co-joined in rhyme but certainly held together by straight lines, are both bare and stark yet are never pruned into mystery and inaccessibility. There is no pressure to have to work over-hard to crack the monochrome edges, to dive into the centre were meanings are easily divulged and distilled. That’s not to say that they roar with neither welcome nor ease; there’s education and erudition ahoy here. Each line doesn’t say much, but throbs with meaning until in aggregate a large part of our shared experiences are raked up and presented back to us as a restrained wildness.

These poems are tuned and primed with a certain knowledge that they sail with full stateliness and grace towards their final destination, immaculate and exact

It is a feat to describe a world so brimming over with dissatisfaction and disappointment with such precision. But of course, Gregory Woods, a poet with an engineer’s eye for angles and plans, the economical lyricist and master of understatement, pulls it off as a coherent narrative whole from a collection of fractures, without a wasted word, nor sentiment.


About the reviewer
Matt Nunn is the author of five poetry collections, the latest of which is St. Judes College Reject (RedSox Press). He works as a freelance writing tutor, writing coach, editor and writer and teaches Creative Writing at Solihull College and has performed his work on TV, radio and a million different venues, to audiences big and small, enthusiastic and indifferent, for over 25 years. He’s still amazed at how he gets away with it all.

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Review by Tracey Foster of "Fan-Peckled: Twelve Old Shropshire Words in Poems and Pictures" by Jean Atkin and Katy Alston



The smooth, matt cover of this illustrated book of poems gives a hint to the landscape of texture within. The onomatopoeic sounds of gates closing with a ‘clicket’ and footprints tramped through ‘slud’ echo through the lanes, hedges, skies and streams of these old paths. We get to feel the earth between our very fingers, ‘grey clay marbled with yellow’ as it ‘clarts’ up behind the heavy horses’ hooves. We feel the warm air of long summers past as the red kites take to flight ‘like a loaf rising,’ and we watch field furrows, dreaming of ‘the golden rustle of next summer’s wheat.’

Katy Alston’s grainy pencil sketches, splashed with wet tints, sit beside the words and capture images of a Shropshire past: narrow barges, shire horses, dappled undergrowth and red kites overhead. She uses a muted pallet to convey a disappearing pastoral life, as beautifully described in 'Noon-spell,' where a resting labourer, watches the sunlight on the cobbles:

          How the sun, in an odd trick,
          is spelling time to turn 
          a man from cartwright to mechanic.

 


The native dialogue is annotated with simple footnotes that explain the colloquialisms, giving us a deeper understanding of the poems, which were originally inspired by The Shropshire Word-Book: A Glossary of Archaic and Provincial Words (Georgina F. Jackson, 1879). This is an exercise in keeping alive our ancient words, much championed by author Robert Macfarlane, who advocates the retelling of our forgotten lexicons - ‘language is fossil poetry’ - and who would no doubt applaud this exercise. 

Twelve expressions taken from the Word-Book are the starting point for the poems:

  • Buts and Feerings - a number of furrows ploughed onto the land
  • Lady-With-The-Ten-Flounces - a child’s term for a goldfinch
  • Clicket - the fastening of a gate
  • Fan-Peckled - to be freckled
  • Keffel - a worthless horse
  • Talking to Moments - mumbling to yourself
  • Geolitudes - a burst of temper
  • Shalligonaked - a useless, thin overcoat
  • Glid - term for the Red Kite
  • Noon-Spell - a labourer’s lunch time
  • A Corve of Oddlings - a wicker basket of many things

 


From Fan-Peckled:

         Last night there were the speckled lakes
         On a sickle moon not watched
         Nor wished upon through glass.

         Then morning fetched a dot-dance in the woods
         Of deckled oak leaves and the bee-pad
         Footfalls, pollen-tickled, in the foxglove.

A collaboration of poet and artist, this is a lovely collection that is a timely diversion from modern problems and will apply a balm to the mind, through language, image and texture.


About the reviewer
Tracey Foster has been teacher of Art and Design in schools in Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland for over 40 years. She took part in the Comma Press short story course in 2019 and had a short story published in a collection, Tales from Garden Street. She had a poem about Covid published by BusPoetry Magazine and has since commenced an MA in Creative writing at Leicester University. 

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Review by Tracey Foster of "Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country" by Edward Parnell



As a reader whose own childhood is rooted in the 1970s, I instantly recognised a very familiar soundtrack to this book: essences of the eerie that accompanied the TV productions of gothic tales from M. R. James, Kipling, Algernon Blackwood and others, the hypnotic hurdy-gurdy music of the black and white productions, often shown at Christmas in line with the Dickens tradition of an uncanny  tale for Christmas Eve. Parnell returns to his own childhood experiences and revisits the parts of the country directly connected with each story, speaking to people connected to the history and taking a fresh look at the landscape involved. 

The author Robert Macfarlane mentions in his article, ‘The Eeriness of the English Countryside,’  the nation’s obsession with the ‘sceptred’ in this ‘sceptred isle.’ This seems to ring true with Parnell’s mission to travel to its furthest corners and poke about in all its ‘sequestered places.’ Using his own memories to exorcise some sad periods, this also becomes an exercise in dealing with grief, to ‘not let those particular ghosts slip away, even when the very act of remembering is sometimes terribly painful.’ M. R. James noted that ‘for the ghost story, a slight haze of distance is desirable,’ and from the distance of adulthood we try to make sense of our haunted past. My own encounter with the vivid description of ‘the thief and his load’ in Jane Eyre at a young age pales in comparison with Parnell’s experiences, which are bound to send a shiver of recognition through its readers because of the wide net it casts. TV productions of ghostly classics, ‘folk horror ’ films, startling Public Information shorts, all form a backdrop to the childhood of this era, creating a ‘haunted generation,’  who will enjoy the detail this book goes into, researching these creations. The landscapes involved have their own tale to tell and many of us will enjoy seeing the pastoral idyll portrayed in a new way. Rather than a ‘stage set to offer the picturesque, it is a realm that snags, bites and troubles.’   

Landscapes of the desolate are a great environment to inspire and set the uncanny, the X MOD land off Orford in Suffolk being a great example. However, large houses with fading decadence also dominate these stories and this leads us to enquire why storytellers were fixated on them. Clarke thinks it is because they resonate with our social expectations of the eerie: ‘toffs like ghosts because it’s a symptom of their decadence, the plebeians because they are ill-educated.’  Parnell explores this in more depth: what is it about the place, brick, gravestone that brings us back to our fears? As John Clare puts it,

          We gaze on wrecks of ornamented stone
          On tombs whose sculptures half erased appear,
          On rank weeds, battening over human bones,
          Till even one’s very shadow seems to fear. 

The eerie has a tendency to surface at times of hardship, endurance. Several authors suffered losses as a result of two world wars, and this gave birth to an outpouring of ghostly grief from Rudyard Kipling, M. R. James and Walter de la Mare. We can find echoes within our own times as the 1970s was an era of unemployment, depression and darkness following the power cuts of 1972. As we find ourselves in troubling times again, writers of all genres are turning their sights to the uncanny once more and I for one can’t wait to see where it may lead. 


About the reviewer
Tracey Foster has been teacher of Art and Design in schools in Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland for over 40 years. She took part in the Comma Press short story course in 2019 and had a short story published in a collection, Tales from Garden Street. She had a poem about Covid published by BusPoetry Magazine and has since commenced an MA in Creative writing at Leicester University. 

Monday, 27 September 2021

Review by Tracey Foster of "Driftwood by Starlight" by Caroline Gill



Caroline Gill has been lucky enough to have lived in some beautiful places over the years, Suffolk, Kent and Swansea to name a few. These coastal settings have given rise to an undertow of nature that whispers within her poems and at times takes the centre stage. Her passion for the environment and dismay at the turning tide is evident in 'Puffin’s Assembly' and 'Raft Race.' Together with her archaeologist husband David in their present home above Swansea Bay, they can watch the beam of the Mumbles lighthouse and see the expanse of Exmoor in the distance. So, like the moors and waves that surround her, the impressive might of nature surrounds and permeates the poems: ‘Watch a scroll of rippled words extend / Beyond the cove as surf and stars collide.’

Working with her husband on an archaeological dig in Rome in the 1980s, she spent time washing bones and pottery fragments - a theme that has found its way into two of her poems, 'The Ocean’s Tears' and 'Ice-Blue Blood,' which refer to Homer’s The Odyssey. The two poems face each other in the book, and are not connected but draw from imagery in the tale of Troy. This ability to look at her everyday surrounds from different perspectives enables her to assimilate fragments of stones, bones and embed suggestive imagery for the reader.

This collection of poems features some that have been broadcasted and published in other anthologies as well as being heard at readings in poetry festivals from Hay to Aldeburgh. The confidence in her voice is evident when reading the text; she speaks directly to the reader and appeals to the humanity within us all: ‘What causes us to go on standing by? / Our fenland spider pools could soon be dry.’

Caroline writes a wildlife blog and is an active campaigner for wildlife conservation. This collecting and cataloguing of images helps to shape her words into simple, effective snapshots. The reader is drawn to see an image, picked out with alliteration and rhyme: 

           A shadow hovers in the midge-cloud air
           As mountains drift or disappear from view.
           A watercolour wash, applied with care,
           Rolls on waves of glass; its turquoise hue.

A visit to the gallery admiring the work of Turner and Hepworth inspires the poem titled 'Afternoon with Alfred Wallis.' Scrutinising the brushwork and craft of the sculptor’s chisel leaves her in awe of the artform, but she too is welding her artistic craft with a pen. For instance, she leads the reader to feel the weather as an immersive experience:

           A belt of lashing rain tears strips of blue
           And indigo from fleeting rainbows; white
           Grenades explode as gannets pierce the sea

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of poems and was buoyed by her call to arms to defend the landscapes that we have and be passionate about the wildlife in them.


About the reviewer
Tracey Foster has been teacher of Art and Design in schools in Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland for over 40 years. She took part in the Comma Press short story course in 2019 and had a short story published in a collection, Tales from Garden Street. She had a poem about Covid published by BusPoetry Magazine and has since commenced an MA in Creative writing at Leicester University. 

Monday, 13 September 2021

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, 6 September 2021

Review by Simon Elson of "Gigantic" by Ashley Stokes



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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, 2 September 2021

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



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

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

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

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


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

Friday, 27 August 2021

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

 


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

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


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

 

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Review by Simon Elson of "Fauna" by David Hartley



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

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

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

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

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


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


Tuesday, 10 August 2021

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          We took a vote and rose.

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

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

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

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

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

The end of the poem takes a darker turn:

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

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

          she will always be more than this body. 

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

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


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

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

Monday, 9 August 2021

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Thursday, 29 July 2021

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Saturday, 24 July 2021

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



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

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

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

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


About the reviewer

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

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

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