Volunteering at The Wordsworth Trust

Dove Cottage - the view from my bedroom window

Dove Cottage – the view from my bedroom window

On this day, two hundred and fifty years ago, the poet William Wordsworth was born. And in 2006, fourteen years ago, I began a seven-month stint of volunteering at The Wordsworth Trust. It is a museum based at Dove Cottage, where Wordsworth lived from 1799 to 1808. I had just completed my BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, and this was to be the beginning of a career in museum work, though it became far more than that…

Continue reading

Virtual Literature Festivals – Celebrate Literature from your Sofa!

literature festivals onlineMy blog was originally created to review, celebrate and promote literary festivals and events, as well as posting book reviews, and this has been a challenge in recent times – everything has been cancelled! But people are attempting to make the best of this situation, transferring their events online, so here’s a list of the virtual literary festivals and events still taking place…    Continue reading

Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes – A Series of Mysteries by Laurie R. King

Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell booksLast summer I was sheltering from the rain in one of the many second-hand bookshops in Hay-on-Wye, and my eye was caught by a book. That book turned out to be from a popular series of books charting the later years of Sherlock Holmes, and his partnership with a young woman named Mary Russell. The first of these, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice begins in 1915, when Sherlock is supposedly retired, focusing his incredible mind on the mysteries of beekeeping. It is told in the enigmatic voice of Mary Russell.    Continue reading

#Instagram #Instapoetry #Instaart – Engaging with Visual Culture

Image Works - Instagram Symposium

What better thing to do on a stormy Saturday than consider how Instagram might be influencing our perceptions of ourselves, our art or culture? The Image Works symposium provided an opportunity to do just that. And it’s also made me realise just how versatile social media can be, as a platform for artists, poets and researchers to engage with and potentially subvert social norms in an interactive digital space.

Continue reading

Highlights from the Cardiff Poetry Festival 2020

Tony CurtisNow in its third year, the Cardiff Poetry Festival (run by Seren Books) has moved to a new venue. The Temple of Peace is a strange looking building, a cross-between a war memorial and a beacon of hope – it looks rather grim on the outside, especially in this weekend’s torrential rain, but it is quite magnificent on the inside. The festival itself included a mix of poetry readings, workshops and talks, but the highlight for me was Cherry Smyth’s performance of an incredible poetic sequence which evokes the horror and hunger of the Irish potato famine, accompanied by jazz singer Lauren Kinsella.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Vagabond’s Breakfast by Richard Gwyn

The Vagabond's Breakfast

The Vagabond’s Breakfast is a memoir – a collection of short prose pieces which evoke the confusion of illness and the complexity of memory. Beginning in 2007, shortly after he was diagnosed with hepatic encephalopathy, awaiting news of a potential liver transplant, Richard Gwyn reflects on the years leading up to this moment – years of vagrancy and alcoholism, travelling around Europe, moving from one temporary location to another, with no clear sense of direction or purpose.

Continue reading

Looking Forward to Literature Festivals in Wales – 2020

Hay Festival sign

Here’s my annual round-up of all the literature festivals taking place in Wales in 2020. From the smallest of bookfairs run by local communities to the most popular literary festivals on a monumental scale…

Please use the comments below to add information about any literature festivals which I have missed out, and I’ll continue to update this post throughout the year. I should also add that some of the organisers are not able to announce their programmes until later in the year, so you may need to check back for further details.

Continue reading

What makes a good book blog?

How to Start a Book BlogWhat makes a good book blog? That’s the question I asked when I decided to create a book blog of my own, and to celebrate the beginning of a new year I’m giving away two free copies of my book ‘How to Start a Book Blog: A Step by Step Guide’ which is full of tips and advice for anyone interested in book blogging (see details of how to enter this giveaway below). Of course everyone will have different ideas about what makes a good book blog, but here are my top five…   Continue reading

Last Minute Book Gift Ideas for Christmas

christmas book-giftsIt’s nearly Christmas, and there’s no better gift than a book! This year, more than ever, it feels like there has been so much change and uncertainty in the world. Reading is a great way to pause and reflect, and to understand how other people see things in different ways. So here are five book-gift recommendations, just in case you need some last minute inspiration – four fiction books and some poetry…

Continue reading

Inspiration from the Hay Festival Winter Weekend

Hay Festival Writers at Work signI’ve become a Hay Festival addict over the last few years but, until this week, I had never been to the Winter Weekend – a miniature version of the Hay Festival which takes place at the end of November. This year I’ve been involved in the Literature Wales mentoring programme for writers, which includes the opportunity to attend ‘industry days’ at Hay. I’ve written about the experience for the Hay Festival International Writers’ blog – click here to read it, and I’ve also included a few more photos and comments below…   Continue reading

Book Review: Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

Book - Once Upon A RiverIt was the beautiful cover design that attracted me to Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield and, as soon as I began to read, I was hooked. It’s a wonderfully mysterious, ghostly tale, set in a time before people travelled far, and centred around The Swan Inn, on the edge of the Thames, at Radcot, where the age-old tradition of storytelling holds sway.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christi Lefteri

Book - The Beekeeper of Aleppo

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is, without doubt, one of the saddest books I have ever read. It is told from the perspective of Nuri, a man who is fleeing the horrors of war with his wife Afra, who was blinded when a bomb exploded at their home, killing their young son. They leave Syria, hoping to join Nuri’s cousin, Mustafa, who has already made it to England, and their journey is fraught with danger.

Continue reading

Poetry Review: This Tilting Earth by Jane Lovell

This Tilting Earth by Jane LovellThere is a strong sense of time passing, in This Tilting Earth, a pamphlet of poems by Jane Lovell (the winning entry from last year’s Mslexia pamphlet competition). It begins with ‘Song of the Vogelherd Horse’, an elegy which takes us back to the Ice Age, giving voice to the artefact itself, conjuring up the ghosts of those who ‘smoothed my lissom back’ and ‘buried me in soil’. This introduces the pamphlet’s main theme – an exploration of mankind’s complex relationship with animals over the centuries.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

Book - The Downstairs Girl by Stacey LeeThe Downstairs Girl is set in 1890s Atlanta, and it reminded me very much of Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women, which also features a protagonist called Jo, who writes. But this novel examines American society from a different perspective – that of the outsider. Jo Kuan is Chinese, scraping out a meagre living as a hat maker, and hiding away at night in the basement of a print shop, with her adopted father (Old Gin). They exist on the edge of society – not white or black, but viewed warily by others as something in between, to be avoided and ignored.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

Book - The Italian Teacher by Tom RachmanWhat makes someone a great artist? The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman provides a fascinating answer to this question, as it tracks the life of Charles Bavinsky, known as ‘Pinch’, son of the great artist, Bear Bavinsky. It begins in Italy, when Pinch is just five years old, watching his father entertain the crowds, desperate for his affection and approval. His mother Natalie is also an artist, working with ceramics, but she is eclipsed by Bear’s extravagant personality, and her work always comes second to his.   Continue reading

Book Review of Barack Obama: Dreams From My Father

book - barack obama dreams from my fatherA Guest Post written by Mary Le Bon

Dreams From My Father gives an honest, self-deprecating account of Barack Obama’s search for identity in the first part of his life. He was commissioned to write this book, after becoming the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review. This led him on a journey of exploration, seeking out his ancestral roots and working through the confusion of his own childhood memories.   Continue reading

Poetry – Feedback, Submissions and the #100Rejections Challenge

notebooksHow do you decide which poems to submit to which magazines, and when? How do you cope when your poems get rejected? And how do you respond to critical and constructive feedback? These three questions are ones which I’m sure every poet grapples with, and I’ve certainly had my fair share of grappling this year. It’s helpful to pause and look back every now and then, so here are my reflections on taking part in the #100rejections challenge… Continue reading