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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Hay Festival 2019 – Myths, Heritage, Landscapes, Stories & Maps

Hay Festival signI’m writing this from the sanctuary of my own home, after what has been an incredible yet exhausting few days at Hay. The sun did come out yesterday afternoon, and I did enjoy sitting in a deckchair, reading for a bit, but this year’s festival has been more of a challenge than in previous years, due to my lack of energy and a general lack of sunshine, and I am grateful for some much-needed rest.

There were two events that I found particularly fascinating over the last couple of days, both relating to the historical landscape, the way in which we ‘read’ and interpret the past, and the importance of maps and stories…   Continue reading

Hay Festival 2019 Day 1 – Rain, Sun & Poetry – Past & Present

Marion Turner, photo by Iga Koncka

Marion Turner, photo by Iga Koncka

My first day at Hay began under a black cloud, and a sudden downpour (whilst sheltering in the food hall) but it soon brightened up, and I enjoyed a treat of poetry, biography and fiction, with a few bursts of sunshine in between. I enjoyed chatting to a friendly couple whilst munching on an incredible chocolate brownie, and despite still recovering from post viral fatigue, I coped with the onslaught of crowds and found refuge in the bookshop for a much-needed a rest. There seem to be more places set aside for reading this year, including a dark cave full of reading lamps called the ‘serious reading room’.    Continue reading

#Unafraid: Mental Health in Words

Christina Thatcher reading her poemsPoetry is not just for ‘arty’ types, it’s for everyone, so it’s good to see scientists and creatives working together. Last week I attended an event organised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, to celebrate their work with Patrick Jones, their current artist in residence. The event also showcased the work of other poets who have written about mental health issues, as well as patients who’ve benefitted from the therapeutic aspects of writing, but its main focus was as a starting point, a bringing together of psychiatrists and poets in the same space, to enable discussion and debate about what more can be done…   Continue reading

Book Review: On Poetry by Glyn Maxwell

On Poetry - a book by Glyn MaxwellOn Poetry is not just another book about poetry, it’s in a whole category of its own. It’s short, and concise, but also full of irony, subtlety and humour. It has a simple structure and purpose, to break poetry down to its basic elements and encourage you to pick them up for yourself, beginning with ‘white’ – a chapter which considers the essential element of white space on the page – the one thing that, Maxwell argues, divides poetry from prose. After reading this chapter, I had to put the book down to process it for a while, and then I read the whole chapter again. It’s that kind of book.   Continue reading

Poems from Cardiff, Snowdonia, Pembrokeshire and The Borders

Poetry from Cardiff, Snowdonia, Pembrokeshire and The Borders

These four slim poetry anthologies are beautifully produced, each containing a selection of poems centred around a specific area of Wales, collated by Seren’s editor, Amy Wack. Many poems are taken from recent collections, but there are also several new poems, and each pamphlet has a distinct feel to it. To begin with, in Poems from Pembrokeshire there is a sense of time standing still in a landscape rooted to the past.

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Poetry Review: Sincerity by Carol Ann Duffy

Poetry Collection - Sincerity by Carol Ann DuffySincerity is Carol Ann Duffy’s final collection as Poet Laureate, and it is extremely varied, flitting between the personal and the political, with very little to hold the poems together except this notion of ‘sincerity’. It is full of poems which are honest and sincere, whether recounting private experience or teasing out the unwanted truths of political events, playing against the idea of ‘fake news’ and revealing the reality beneath the gloss.   Continue reading

Book Review: Dignity by Alys Conran

Book - Dignity by Alys ConranI was mesmerised by Alys Conran’s debut novel Pigeon, and her second novel, Dignity, is no less stunning. It follows the stories of three women – Magda, Evelyn, and Susheela – travelling across time and continents, from North Wales to India, as their lives begin to unravel in all sorts of ways, anchored always to thoughts of Home. This is a novel which does not shy away from portraying the conflict and hypocrisy of Britain’s colonial past.   Continue reading

Poetry Review: The Healing Next Time by Roy McFarlane

Poetry Collection by Roy McFarlane - The Healing Next TimeLast year I read Claudia Rankine’s powerful collection Citizen: An American Lyric, which tackles the thorny issue of racism in modern America. Roy McFarlane has produced a UK equivalent in his second collection The Healing Next Time, which begins with a narrative sequence covering the years 1999 to 2006, interrogating what it means to live as a black man in Britain, merging the personal and the public in an exploration of family, politics, love and hate.   Continue reading

Poetry Review: Us by Zaffar Kunial

Poetry - Us by Zaffar KunialI heard Zaffar Kunial read his World War One poem ‘Poppy’ on Radio 4 as part of the centenary commemorations last year. It includes a haunting refrain ‘no, this is not enough’ repeated throughout, until, in the end, this phrase becomes the poem itself, a powerful acknowledgement that nothing we can write or say will ever capture the horror of war. This focus on the power of language, contrasted with a sense of inadequacy or uncertainty, runs throughout Kunial’s debut collection, Us.   Continue reading

Writing on a Global Scale: An Interview with Dylan Moore, Hay Festival International Fellow

Dylan Moore - writer and Hay Festival International FellowDylan Moore is a writer, editor, critic and English teacher living in South Wales. His first book Driving Home Both Ways was published by Parthian in 2018, and he was named as the Hay Festival Creative Wales International Fellow for 2018-19.

Dylan and I met a few years ago, when he happened to marry one of my close friends, and I was chuffed to hear that he was given the Hay Festival Fellowship, a programme that allows a writer from Wales to participate in international Hay Festival events throughout the year, in Colombia, Spain, Peru and Mexico as well as Hay itself. I thought it would be interesting, as he nears the end of this momentous year, to find out how it has shaped and developed his work as a writer…    Continue reading

Three Years of Blogging – Part 2: Poetic Moments

Amanda Rackstraw reading at the Edward Thomas 100 event

It’s three full years since I first launched my brand-new book blog, and I’ve been looking back at all the fantastic books that I’ve reviewed, the fascinating people I’ve met, and the incredible events I’ve been able to attend during that time. In fact, I’ve published a total of 218 posts, including interviews, features and reviews.

I decided early on to include fiction and poetry on my blog, and it was the right decision, reflecting my own interest, and allowing me an excuse to review and post about the books I enjoy, whatever the genre. I’ve heard hundreds of poets perform their work, and had the privilege of reviewing 28 poetry collections, many of which have inspired my own writing.

So, as I celebrate my three-year blogaversary, here are my top three ‘Poetic moments’ from the past three years, along with my top three Poetry Reviews…

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Three Years of Blogging – Part 1: Fiction & Festivals

Created to Read logoI launched this book blog on 18th March 2016, with no idea where it would lead me. Looking back over the last three years it’s hard to believe all that has happened in between. Reviewing books written by other people gave me the courage to look back at my own writing again, after years of relegating it to a dusty shelf, and to send it out into the world. So, to celebrate my three-year blogaversary I’ve picked out some of the posts I’ve most enjoyed writing, including my top three fiction reviews and my top three literary festivals…    Continue reading

Book Review: The Faerie Tree by Jane Cable

The Faerie Tree by Jane CableThe Faerie Tree is a deceptive novel. The cover made me think of witches and spirits, but the blurb caught my interest and, in reality, it turned out to be mysterious in a far more disturbing way than I could have imagined, playing, not with spirits, but with memory, so that even as a reader you’re not quite sure what’s going on. The novel begins with an encounter in 2006, as Izzie spots a homeless man who looks somewhat familiar, and the past slowly begins to unravel.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: Cyclone by Robert Peake

Cyclone - poetry collection by Robert PeakePoetry has always drawn analogies between human emotion and the weather. Cyclone by Robert Peake creates a storm of words that circle around the unabating grief of a father for his lost child. The collection begins with subtle hints that all is not well, even within nature itself. ‘The Man with the Kindest Face’ begins a series of poems interspersed throughout the collection which suggest an attempt at human connection that, somehow, never quite works. This man appears to be a shadow of something good just beyond reach, haunting the poet’s world: “He might not have a face at all / or change it like a set of masks”.   Continue reading