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…

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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.

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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

Book Review: The Overstory by Richard Powers

Book: The Overstory by Richard PowersThe Overstory is an epic tale which moves at an incredible pace, following the stories of disparate people, and trees, over several decades. I was uncertain, to begin with, what to make of the present tense omniscient narrator style, but soon became swept along, mesmerised by the way in which the lives of people and trees are intertwined:    Continue reading

Poetry Review: Vertebrae by Glyn Edwards

Poetry - Vertebrae by Glyn Edwards

Vertebrae is Glyn Edwards’ first collection – a book of poems that stand as a bridge between human and natural landscapes, linking past and present, beginning with the imminent birth of a son in ‘The Land or Body Tide’. This poem balances the emotive experience of seeing the unborn foetus via ultrasound scan, against the push and pull of seismic forces on the surface of the earth. It is shaped as a spine on the page, and it sets out the theme for what follows – a selection of poems that focus on relationship, particularly the challenges of fatherhood, within a natural environment, and emotional events observed from an analytical distance.

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Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Book - Eleanor Oliphant is Completely FineThe title of this book – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – has intrigued me, ever since I saw people reading it when it first came out, and yet something put me off – I think it was the knowledge that it was about loneliness, and I was afraid that it would challenge my perceptions of others, and perhaps even my perceptions of myself. But it does far more than that. It is a fascinating, beautifully told, incredibly gripping tale about one young woman who is just about coping with life.   Continue reading

Poetry Review: Hand & Skull by Zoë Brigley

Book - Hand and Skull by Zoe BrigleyHand & Skull is the latest poetry collection from Zoë Brigley, full of poetry which confronts the reader with a fascination in observation, particularly focusing on traumatic experience, veering from intimacy and beauty to violence and abuse. Many of the poems are inspired by the relationship between the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and Georgia O’Keeffe, of whom he took numerous photographs, and who became a well-known artist in her own right.     Continue reading

Diary of a Creative Writing MA Student – The Final Year

MMU Creative Writing Summer School - coping with setbacks as a writerThere’s something inspirational about spending time with other writers, sharing a mutual interest in words and stories, poems and punctuation, and last week I attended the MMU Creative Writing Summer School – the perfect finish to my MA, after two years of study and creativity. I just have one final assignment to complete – a collection of 300 lines of poetry – and that will be it! I thoroughly enjoyed the summer school, and am now feeling re-energised and ready for a final burst of creativity over the summer…    Continue reading

Book Review: The Heart Beats in Secret by Katie Munnik

Book - The Heart Beats in Secret by Katie MunnikThis is a quiet, beautiful novel which stretches across time, rooted, to begin with, in an open, wild Scottish landscape on the North East coast. It follows the lives of three women. First there is Jane, newly married and learning to survive small-town life alone, with her husband away, fighting in the Second World War. She seeks refuge in walks along the shore, but is unable to escape the harsh brutality of war, or to defend herself against the local gossips, forced to do everything she can to protect the man she loves.    Continue reading

Being Published – An Interview with Gareth Davies

Gareth Davies writer

Gareth Davies’ novel humans, being has just been published by Cinnamon Press. The book centres around Vic, a middle-aged comedian whose wife has just left him. Vic must come to terms with his new life as a part-time dad, looking after his son (Elis) whilst attempting to get back into the dating game, unsure who he’s looking for, or how to find her. He soon discovers that life can become quite confusing, and his best friend Mia is having troubles of her own…

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Hay festival 2019 – The Novels That Shaped Our World

BBC Novels that shaped our world

Hay Festival event, photo by Chris Athanasiou

Last week at the Hay Festival I attended the BBC launch event of their new project – Novels That Shaped Our World. It marks the 300th anniversary of the English language novel, and involves a panel of six people (Mariella Frostrup, Zawe Ashton, Syima Aslam, Kit de Waal, Stig Abell and Alexander McCall Smith) selecting 100 novels for this impressive list. I thought this meant selecting novels that have shaped the world, but at the event, they made it clear that it is much more personal than that, and the idea is to spark discussion and debate…

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