Book Review: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Book - On Beauty by Zadie SmithI really enjoyed Zadie Smith’s debut novel (White Teeth), though I have forgotten most of the plot. I wasn’t sure what to expect with On Beauty, except perhaps more of the same insightful humour and character driven narrative. To be honest, it took the first 100 pages or so for me to really get into this book, but that’s probably because the cast of characters is large, and each one has their own say.    Continue reading

Book Review: Too Brave To Dream – newly discovered poems by R.S. Thomas

Too Brave To Dream - Poems by R.S. ThomasThe poet R.S. Thomas passed away in 2000, and two books on modern art were discovered in his library, with previously unseen poems inserted between the pages. Too Brave To Dream: Encounters With Modern Art brings these poems together for the first time, alongside the images themselves. The poems are varied, short and impressionistic, similar in style to the ekphrastic work published during his lifetime. They are surreal, reflecting the appearance of the art he is writing about, but they are also intriguing in their own way.    Continue reading

Book Review: Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine ThienDo Not Say We Have Nothing is an epic tale written in lyrical prose. It begins in the present, with Marie (also known as Li-Ling) baffled by her father’s unexplained abandonment and suicide, and intrigued by the visit of the teenage girl Ai-Ming, daughter of her father’s friend, on the run from China and seeking safety abroad. The narrative soon delves back into the past, revealing the story of Big Mother Knife, Swirl and Wen the Dreamer, all mixed up with an ancient tale that never seems to end.    Continue reading

Reflections on Edward Thomas 100 & National Poetry Writing Month

Glyn Edwards poet

Glyn Edwards

National Poetry Writing Month is over at last, and it seems like only yesterday that I was cosied up on the sofa listening to the autumn storms, thinking April seemed a long way off. It was back in October that I began to plan a series of events for #EdwardThomas100, to mark the centenary of the World War One poet, and to make Cardiff University’s incredible archive collections more visible to the public. It’s been an exciting few months, and it’s hard to believe it’s all over, so here are some reflections on the experience…    Continue reading

Poetry Review: And Suddenly You Find Yourself by Natalie Ann Holborow

Poetry book Natalie Ann HolborowNatalie Ann Holborow’s debut poetry collection presents us with a raw, emotional journey of self-analysis, exploring family estrangement, broken relationships and the vulnerability of human experience. Holborow turns life, love and myth into stark reality, with unnerving language and compelling imagery. This is poetry grounded in the physical, from the “silvered, reeking bass” consumed in a restaurant, to “the housefly buzzing, hysterical, / butting its skull to get out”.    Continue reading

Poetry & Music at the Abergavenny Writing Festival

Rufus Mufasa (2)The Abergavenny Writing Festival began last year, but I wasn’t able to make it, so I was determined to get to at least one of their events this year if at all possible. Life is busy! But I managed to get to the grand finale – an event which combined music and poetry. It was a beautiful drive up into the Welsh hills, to the Kings Arms Hotel, where we sat in a cavernous room with unusual acoustics to hear from some talented local musician-poets.    Continue reading

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

letter boxWhen was the last time you received a handwritten letter? With developments in technology and social media, the fact that we can now communicate, instantly, with someone on the other side of the globe, it seems that letters will soon become no more than a distant memory, along with typewriters and telegrams. But I am convinced that we will be missing out on something significant, something valuable, something that provides us with a form of communication that is quite unique, but which also helps us to remember… Continue reading

Book Review: Falling Creatures by Katherine Stansfield

Falling creatures by Katherine StansfieldFalling Creatures combines the genres of historical fiction, detective story and gothic ghost story in a rather unsettling way, producing a novel that is both haunting and full of suspense, though it is actually based on historical fact. The author, Katherine Stansfield, grew up on Bodmin Moor, where the novel is set, and the tragic murder of Charlotte Diamond is a familiar story to local residents. At the book launch, Stansfield explained that she has always wanted to write about this case, but it was only recently that she discovered a way into the story.    Continue reading

Two Roads, Two Poets: The Friendship of Edward Thomas and Robert Frost

Edward ThomasThe first thing that struck me about Edward Thomas, when I began to research his life and work, was his close bond with the American poet Robert Frost. Frost’s famous poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ was actually written for Edward Thomas, during a period of indecision. It was 1915, and Frost himself had returned to the US, whilst Thomas was intending to follow him there. But the First World War was still raging, and Thomas’s conscience held him back. He did not want to enlist but, as he explained in a letter to his friend, “hardly a day passes without my thinking I should.”    Continue reading

Book Review: Now All Roads Lead to France – The Last Years of Edward Thomas by Matthew Hollis

Now all roads lead to FranceMost biographies begin at the beginning. Not this one. This one reads more like a novel – and the last few years in the life of much-loved poet Edward Thomas certainly provide an engaging plot. Hollis begins his tale with an introduction to Harold Munro’s Poetry Bookshop, which opened in London in 1913, providing a unique hub around which the poets of the day gathered… But Edward Thomas is not yet a poet at this stage in the story; he is a stressed poetry reviewer, churning out travel books and reviews, struggling to make ends meet…    Continue reading

Death Writing and Poetry: An Interview with Christina Thatcher

Christina ThatcherChristina Thatcher is a poet and creative writing tutor from the US. She moved to the UK in 2009 after winning the prestigious Marshall Scholarship (studying MAs at Cardiff and York). She is currently working on a PhD at Cardiff University, and her debut poetry collection, More than you were, will be published by Parthian in May. I met her through Roath Writers, the community writing group which she has been running since 2012.    Continue reading

Book Review: Time’s Echo by Pamela Hartshorne

Time's Echo by Pamela HartshorneTime’s Echo is one of the most gripping novels I’ve read in a long time. It follows the story of Grace Trewe, who is staying in York to settle the affairs of her late godmother (Lucy) who drowned in mysterious circumstances. Grace is a keen traveller, fully intending to move on once the house has been sold, but memories of surviving the Boxing Day tsunami still haunt her, and she soon begins to have nightmares of drowning. These strange dreams, which appear to be set in sixteenth century York, seem frighteningly real, until past and present begin to merge into something quite extraordinary…    Continue reading

Edward Thomas 100: Celebrating A Poetic Legacy

Edward Thomas I recently discovered that Cardiff University holds a unique collection of rare books and manuscripts. Amidst this literary treasure trove, there sits a shelf or two of unassuming boxes, containing the Edward Thomas archive – a set of objects, original manuscripts, letters, notebooks and other material relating to this popular poet. And it just so happens that it’s exactly one hundred years since Edward Thomas was killed, at the Battle of Arras in April 1917…    Continue reading

Climate Change Fiction and Celtic Legends: An Interview with Author David Thorpe

David ThorpeI recently came across a rather unusual book: Stormteller by David Thorpe. The premise intrigued me – the combination of two seemingly divergent themes: the Celtic legends of the Mabinogion and the issue of climate change. In fact, it’s been classed as part of a new genre called ‘cli-fi’, which stands for ‘climate fiction’ (fiction which “imagines the past, present, and future effects of climate change”). The opening is surreal, as the ancient characters of Ceridwen and her son (Afagddu) attempt to re-tell their own stories and re-direct their fate through the lives of three young people living in modern day Mid-Wales…    Continue reading

Verve Poetry Festival Highlights – A Celebration of Diversity

Geraldine Clarkson

What I enjoyed most about the recent Verve Poetry Festival (first of many, I hope) was the fact that it embraced poetry in all its guises, from the academic to the experimental, the hilarious to the downright ridiculous. We had spoken word at its most ostentatious, the big names and the new faces, plenty of opportunities to hear about the writing process, and workshops on themes as varied as ‘taking risks’ and performance technique…    Continue reading

Book Review: White Lies by Lynn Michell

Book - White Lies by Lynn MitchellI actually won a copy of this book on Twitter by explaining why I preferred a different cover – one which was white (to go with the title ‘White Lies’) featuring an image of a young girl (see below). The novel begins in the present, as Eve patiently types up her father’s memoirs, whilst also reflecting on her own childhood memories of living through the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, in the 1950s. We soon begin to realise that there is something left unsaid, something that Eve and her sister never knew about…    Continue reading

Book Review: The Real Jane Austen by Paula Byrne

book - The Real Jane AustenIn this fascinating book on the life of Jane Austen, Paula Byrne has curated a museum exhibition through text, using objects to tell the story. She focuses on key moments in Austen’s life, painting a ‘real’ picture of the author (whom we tend to imagine sitting demurely in a drawing room) as a well-travelled, theatre-loving, fashionable, ambitious woman, with a spirit of adventure and a love of the sea, who observed, at close-hand, the dangers of political revolution…    Continue reading

Poetry – for loss, absence and bearing witness…

isobel dixonOn this – the final day of the Verve Poetry Festival, we have just been treated to a memorable showcase of four poets from Nine Arches Press, whose writing is both poignant and moving, unafraid to face up to the difficulties of life and the pain of loss. All the poets agreed, in their discussion afterwards, that poetry is an essential tool for “bearing witness” in the world, that it’s important to be truthful, allowing emotion to come through in your work…    Continue reading

A Feast of Poetic Delights at the Verve Poetry Festival

Dan Simpson

Last night I feasted on poetic delights of all kinds at the Verve Poetry Festival, which is beautifully pink and exciting… hosted by the many-layered Waterstones Birmingham store. I’ve never seen so many poetry enthusiasts in one space before! We had readings from Mona Arshi, Kim Moore and Katrina Naomi, followed by a full-on spoken word Dice Slam with Apples and Snakes, featuring poets from around the UK, and a rather unusual judging method… Continue reading

Poetry Review: Beginning With Your Last Breath by Roy McFarlane

poetry book Roy McFarlaneBeginning With Your Last Breath is a rich, powerful and moving debut from Roy McFarlane, a poet based in the West Midlands. It is split into five distinct sections, each one exploring a different aspect of the poet’s experience. But the book holds together through the shared themes of identity, family, love and loss, in the context of racial tension and cultural change. The cover image reflects the story of the poems within; it shows a painting by Sonia Boyce – She ain’t holding them up, She’s holding on (Some English Rose), 1986 – the image of the mother figure holding onto her family amidst the struggles of life and racial identity.    Continue reading

The Hay Festival on a Budget – A Survival Guide for Stewards

hay festival steward lanyardHaving never been to the Hay Festival before, I wasn’t sure what to expect on my first visit in May 2016, but I decided to sign up for the stewarding role, as I had a very limited budget. It was an incredible, addictive experience and I will certainly be going back again this year.

Before going, I decided to do a bit of research online, to see if anyone had written about what stewarding was really like. But there was very little information out there, so here is my own survival guide for stewarding at the Hay Festival, which I hope will be useful for others…    Continue reading

Cardiff Poetry Experiment

poetry experimentExperimentation is at the heart of all art forms, and poetry is no exception. A couple of weeks ago I attended one of the ‘Cardiff Poetry Experiment’ events, run by Cardiff University’s School of English. I was greeted at the wrought iron gates of Wyndham Arcade by the magical password ‘poetry?’ and allowed inside. The venue was Wyndham Tea Rooms (sister of Waterloo Tea Rooms), where you can get the best cuppa in Cardiff (though they were serving other drinks too).    Continue reading

Book Review: Sweet Caress by William Boyd

book - sweet caressA Guest Post written by James Fenchurch

I will confess that before I picked up Sweet Caress I was already a confirmed William Boyd fan, and this novel only reinforced my view. His hallmark for me is his gift for creating a vivid sense of place and time through rich, detailed and precise language, within the framework of a completely unexpected story.    Continue reading

Looking forward to Dylan Day 2017

dylan thomas paintingInternational Dylan Thomas Day (aka #DylanDay) takes place on 14th May each year, and it’s a fantastic excuse for celebrating the work of this renowned Welsh poet. The idea is that people everywhere (you don’t have to be in Wales) can organise their very own Dylan Thomas themed event, small or large. Last year there were 50 events all across the UK, as well as in New York, Milan, Perth, Sydney and elsewhere… Continue reading

An Interview with Novelist, Poet and Musician Linda Lee Welch

Linda Lee Welch Linda Lee Welch was born and raised in the USA. She moved to the UK in 1976 and has worked as a musician, writer, community artist and teacher. She has two novels published by Virago and is also a prize-winning poet. She taught Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University for sixteen years, after completing the MA herself. Now retired from teaching, she is focusing on her writing, and collaborating with other writers, musicians and artists, including her husband Michael Harding.    Continue reading

Poetry Review – The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America

Book - The Other TigerIt is strange to hear someone reading a poem in another language (a language which you don’t understand at all) and then to hear that same poem read again in your own language. There is a sense of building anticipation, as you hear the emotion behind the words, with particular intonations that seem to stand out… Yet the meaning must come later, inevitably with a sense of both satisfaction and loss, as no translation will ever convey the strength of the original…    Continue reading

An Interview with Kate Hamer

Kate HamerKate Hamer’s debut thriller The Girl in the Red Coat was published in February 2015 and soon became a Sunday Times bestseller. It was shortlisted for numerous awards and has been translated into seventeen languages. I recently met up with her to talk about her second novel, The Doll Funeral (due to be published on 16th February) and the third one, which she is in the process of writing. We began by discussing her inspiration for the books…    Continue reading

Looking forward to the Verve Poetry Festival: An Interview with Cynthia Miller

Cynthia MillerThe first ever Verve Poetry Festival takes place next month in Birmingham (16th-19th February). It’s set to be an exciting weekend, with a strong emphasis on spoken word performance, as well as the usual poetry readings and creative writing workshops. I interviewed Cynthia Miller (Co-Director of the Festival and a poet herself) to find out more. She began by explaining how it all started…    Continue reading

Book Review: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Book - My Brilliant FriendI thought about reading something by the famous Elena Ferrante a few months ago, looked up her books online and was surprised by rather quaint, odd-looking covers and mediocre titles. But the obsession in the media with Ferrante’s true identity did its work, and curiosity eventually won. My Brilliant Friend (the first of her ‘Neopolitan Novels’) captured my attention immediately (once I’d got past the hideous cover and lengthy character index) with a missing mother and a tale of lifelong friendship.    Continue reading

Looking Forward to Literature Festivals in Wales – 2017

hay festivalWales is home to one of the most famous literature festivals in the world (The Hay Festival), but it is also full of other, quirkier literary festivals, in all shapes and sizes. So, to help you plan ahead, I’ve compiled a list of all the literary / book festivals taking place in Wales during 2017. I’m sure there will be other festivals that I haven’t come across, so please use the comments below to add information about anything I’ve missed out…  Some of the later festivals haven’t confirmed their details yet, so I’ll continue to update this post throughout the year.    Continue reading