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 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.