Book Review: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Book - A Deadly Education by Naomi NovikA Deadly Education tells the story of Galadriel Higgins (El for short) – a teenager battling her way through the challenges of high school, a school of magic called The Scholomance. But this is no ordinary school of magic – it is a place built to keep the young witches and wizards safe from the mals that wait outside. And some of the mals (monsters) do manage to force their way in, so this is not a place to let down your guard, not even when you’re walking to the bathroom, or trying to get some sleep. Even the library isn’t safe.    Continue reading

Revisiting a Classic: Evelina by Frances Burney

Novel: Evelina by Fanny BurneyIf you like Jane Austen, then you’ll love this book too. I certainly visualised the protagonist, Evelina, as a kind of Jane Austen character. The novel was first published in 1778 – yes, I am over 200 years late with my review! That’s around 33 years before Austen’s first novel came out, and we know that Austen was influenced by Frances Burney’s work. Evelina is a strong character – blunt, honest, and full of common sense, rather like Elizabeth Bennett. But the plot is more elaborate and entertaining than anything Jane Austen has given us, full of disastrous scrapes and misunderstandings.    Continue reading

Book Review: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Book-HamnetA Guest Review by Mary Le Bon

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is a tender and haunting portrayal of the emotional trauma Shakespeare’s family suffered when his son, Hamnet, died suddenly aged eleven. O’Farrell reveals that their all-encompassing grief is the background to Shakespeare’s writing of the play ‘Hamlet’ four years later (as ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Hamnet’ are different versions of the same name).     Continue reading

Abergavenny Small Press: A New Welsh Publisher

Abergavenny Small Press logoBack in July, as lockdown began to ease and things started to happen once more, Dogs Darnborough launched a new independent publishing house: Abergavenny Small Press. They plan to publish one or two books each year, and the inaugural issue of their journal has just been published online (featuring two of my poems). I thought I’d interview Dogs to find out a bit more about this new publishing venture.    Continue reading

A Creative Writing PhD – The First Year

notebooksI began my PhD last autumn with a mix of excitement and trepidation. I was going back to study full time, to focus on creative writing – the subject that had thrilled me as an undergraduate thirteen years before. And what a year it has been, with so many unexpected challenges! But it has been fascinating too, and even though the last few months have not been easy, there have been plenty of highlights along the way.   Continue reading

Book Review: Just So You Know – Essays of Experience

Book - Just So You KnowThis slim volume of essays invites the reader to step briefly into someone else’s shoes and see the world from a different perspective. It gives voice to those who often go unheard, challenging our preconceptions on race, disability, language, mental health, gender and more. But it also interrogates the concept of identity itself. How Welsh are you? How disabled are you? How black are you? Together, these writers explore what it means to grapple with the varied aspects of ourselves, our families and our culture(s). Continue reading

Book Review: Behind the Mask

Book - Behind the Mask

Behind the Mask: The NHS Family and the Fight with COVID-19 documents the impact of Coronavirus on the staff and patients of one small hospital in South Wales. It is a simple, short collection of photographs and quotes, yet it reveals the incredible determination and hard work of those staff who have been, and still are, working on the front line, donning PPE every day in this hot weather, and persevering in the face of physical and emotional exhaustion.

Continue reading

Celebrating Poetry Pamphlets

Poetry pamphletsI have a small collection of poetry pamphlets (called ‘chapbooks’ in the US) that I’ve acquired over the last few years, so I thought I’d select just a few of them as a kind of mini celebration of the versatile and the short – a space where poets often take a few more risks, try out new forms and link their poems in more obvious ways than they could in a full collection. The definition of a pamphlet is debateable, but they are generally much shorter than a full collection, and can often be read in one sitting.   Continue reading

Poet in Residence at the Cynon Valley Museum

poet in residenceFor the month of June I’ve been writing and posting new poems on the Cynon Valley Museum website, responding to their online art exhibitions, and artefacts from their collection. I was privileged to work at the museum for a few months last year, before starting my PhD, and was impressed by their high quality art exhibitions, some of which you can now see online.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Book - The Mirror and the Light by Hilary MantelHilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall series is a triumph of historical enactment in book form. When The Mirror and the Light (the third and final book) was published, I was still recovering from post viral fatigue, and didn’t have the strength to hold a normal paperback, never mind this giant brick of a book, so I left it a few weeks before ordering a copy, and, as my strength returned, I was able to sink back into the sixteenth century as if I had never been away.   Continue reading

Hay Festival 2020 – Digital Highlights

Hay Festival 2020 - digitalI plucked up the courage to attend the Hay Festival on my own for the first time ever in 2016, and I’ve been addicted ever since, so I’m glad that, despite financial uncertainty and the impossibility of running live events, the organisers have managed to create the next best thing – Hay Festival online. And there are benefits – no queueing for the toilet, no stampede in the book tent, no backache from those awkward plastic chairs, and easy access for so many who would normally miss out. But I really do miss the buzz of literary excitement, the roar of applause at the end of an event, and the delicious taste of Shepherds ice cream in the sun.

So here are a few of my highlights from Hay Festival 2020, celebrating the legacy of Wordsworth, the beauty of language, the culture of China, and the relaxation of reading…   Continue reading

Interview: Creating a Book Blog in Lockdown

MeganThe other day I was delighted to hear from someone who had read my book How to Start a Book Blog: A Step by Step Guide and used it to create their own brand-new book blog, making the most of the lockdown, and the extra time they’ve had to spend at home over the last few weeks!

So here’s an interview with Megan, creator of the ‘Behind her Books’ blog…

Continue reading

Poetry Review: After Cézanne by Maitreyabandhu

Book - After Cézanne by Maitreyabandhu

Paul Cézanne repeatedly attempted to capture the image of one particular mountain (Mont Sainte-Victoire) in his post-impressionist paintings, and this obsession is echoed in Maitreyabandhu’s most recent poetry collection, After Cézanne. The collection is unusual in focusing entirely on the work of one artist, and reproducing many of the paintings in full colour, so the reader can peruse the original works of art alongside each poem.

Continue reading

Book Review: The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth by William Boyd

Book - The Dreams of Bethany MellmothA Guest Post by James Fenchurch

When I saw The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth, a book by William Boyd that I had not yet read, I seized it without even looking inside, only to discover that it was a collection of short stories. I have not always appreciated this literary form, but I found the collection entirely absorbing.    Continue reading

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 online

My 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