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 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 /

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