Cheltenham Literature Festival: Bernadine Evaristo, Sebastian Faulks and More…

Bernadine Evaristo introducing Judith Bryan, Jacqueline Roy and Nicola WilliamsThe highlight of my day at the Cheltenham Literature Festival was seeing Bernadine Evaristo and Dawn French in conversation, but I must admit that I was too tired to take proper notes by this point (and too busy laughing!) so I can’t report all of what was said. It felt good, after the last two years, to be part of a live audience again, and it was fascinating to hear them discuss their own careers and compare writing techniques, both coming from a background of theatre and performance. They also discussed the controversial topic of white writers writing black characters, agreeing that so long as the characters are fully rounded, well-researched and well-written, it is good to create diverse characters in order to reflect the society in which we live.    Continue reading

Book Review: Salt by Catrin Kean

Book - Salt by Catrin KeanBased on a true story, Salt begins in Cardiff, in 1883, where young Ellen lives a dull and lonely life, working as a domestic. She longs to escape, but is forced to witness her mother’s daily turmoil, as she confronts the ghosts of her past. Then, one day, Ellen meets Samuel, a ship’s cook from Barbados. Despite the disapproval of some, they fall in love and get married, and Ellen is able to fulfill her childhood dream of running away to sea. Together, they set sail for San Francisco, working their way across the Atlantic Ocean, getting to know each other along the way.   Continue reading

Book Review: Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks

Human Traces by Sebastian FaulksI read Human Traces several years ago, and it is no less incredible on a second reading. Set in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the story begins when Jacques Rebière (from France) and Thomas Midwinter (from England) meet each other at the age of sixteen. They discover that they share a common fascination with the growing field of psychiatry and its quest to solve one of humanity’s greatest mysteries: the complex workings of the human mind.    Continue reading

Book Review: A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

Book - A Single Thread

A Single Thread, like many of Tracy Chevalier’s novels, takes us back to a time before, when life for a young woman was far more challenging than it is now. Set in the early 1930s, the book is told from the perspective of Violet, a 38 year old woman who lost her fiancé in the First World War. She has lived with grief and loneliness for many years, and her future looks set: to remain unmarried and unwanted, as a companion to her suffocating mother.

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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

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

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

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 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

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

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

Book Review: Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks

Book - Paris Echo by Sebastian FaulksParis Echo, the latest novel by Sebastian Faulks, explores our complex relationship with history, glimpsed through the lives of two very different characters in modern-day Paris. Hannah and Tariq end up in Paris for different reasons, but they are both searching for something, and they are both haunted by the ghosts of the past. We see the city through the eyes of two outsiders, with all its quirks and contradictions.    Continue reading

Book Review: Arcadia by Iain Pears

Book: Arcadia by Iain PearsArcadia is full of stories overlapping stories until you don’t quite know which story is real. It begins with Anterworld, a fictional universe imagined into being by Professor Lytten, an old friend of the late Tolkein. It soon transpires, however, that there is much more going on than the telling of a story. Anterworld is a very simple world in which the storyteller is revered and celebrated, where knowledge is precious and everything refers back to ‘The Story’ – a set of written texts which scholars study and memorise, in order to understand them and preserve them for future generations.    Continue reading

Book Review: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Book - Unsheltered by Barbara KingsolverUnsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver is an uncomfortable read at times. It is a book which prises apart the building blocks of modern life – financial security, capitalism, family life – all based around the metaphor of a house that is falling down (both in the present and the past). It is exactly what you’d expect of Barbara Kingsolver, but it is also surprising and ambitious in scope, told through the voices of two characters living in Vineland, with over a century between them.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters

The Turn of Midnight by Minette WaltersThe Turn of Midnight is an epic tale based around the precarious struggle for control in the wake of the Black Death in 1348. It follows on directly from the end of The Last Hours, in which Lady Anne of Develish had quarantined her people to protect them from the disease. It seems that, outside of Develish, very few have survived, and those who are left soon begin to realise that the world around them has changed beyond all recognition.    Continue reading