Hearts Of Darkness: Lord Of The Flies By William Golding

This is one novel I read when I was at school, and have since taught several times as an examination text, but it is a book which never fails to engage me and each time I read it, I find something new to consider. I picked it up yet again this week and have not been disappointed. Don’t dismiss it because you think you have read it before - it is well worth a second go, or even a third,…

Poem Of The Week: From Under Milk Wood By Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

from Under Milk Wood To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters'-and-rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea. The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows' weeds. And all the people of the lulled

'We Choose How We Treat Each Other' : People Like Us – Louise Fein

Historical fiction is a genre which offers a multiplicity of delights and insights. Transporting the modern reader to an epoch unlived is by turns entertaining, illuminating, didactic and occasionally spiritually redemptive. Immersion in the foreign land of the past can provide catharsis or engender its antithesis. The lessons of history are innumerable, ineluctably omnipresent and if consciously scrutinised, prescient warnings adumbrating that which may well occur once again. Failure to learn from the past is perhaps a sin of equal…

Author Interview: Sharon Duggal Should We Fall Behind

Should We Fall Behind by Sharon Duggal is a gritty yet tender novel giving life to people often ignored. It is a story set in any British city; a story of the homeless, the immigrants, the bereaved, the lonely; the story of all of us - but one not often told. Following homeless protaganist Jimmy in his search for a friend, the novel weaves its way in and out of the lives of the strangers he encounters. Behind each closed door is…

Review: Should We Fall Behind By Sharon Duggal

Sharon Duggal's second novel - Should We Fall Behind is a story of the forgotten, the ordinary and the invisible, and how their lives slowly become entwined. With characters less often seen in fiction – the homeless; single mothers; immigrants - the novel is distinctive, and normalises the ‘different’. Tiny actions the characters make become fronds that reach out and twist them together, altering the course of their lives. These strangers cannot know what impact they have; nor can they know…

Passport Not Needed: Nothing But Words By Jean Stevens

There is an intimate connection between Jean Stevens’ poetics of physical and psychical wellbeing, and the natural world which both defines and nourishes them. And it doesn’t matter that her sense of the world has been refracted through the light of other streams, because she is no less startled by its wonders than she was when she first encountered them. Those ‘other streams’ rise in the interdependencies of the Romantic view, and Stevens’ is heir to a tradition whose great…

Review: Magnetic Field: The Marsden Poems by Simon Armitage

As a poet reviewing someone else’s poetry, I am acutely aware of how interpretation can be a massively subjective undertaking and as such, possibly at odds with the intentions and motivations driving the work. When the reviewee happens to be Professor of Poetry at the University of Leeds, has been awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry and is the current Poet Laureate, whereas the reviewer is, in this case, an ex-lettuce picker from Goole, then the trepidation levels get…

Things In Heaven And Earth: Interview With Author Jane Metcalfe

Things in Heaven and Earth by Jane Metcalfe is one of the more unusual books I've reviewed. Is it spiritual? Is it a guide to uncovering greater meaning? Is it simply a profound but recognisable love story? It is all those things. The true story is told by the author using the letters and diaries of her ex-husband Colin; and Dee, a Hollywood actress whose identity is unknown to both the reader and Jane herself. The book is of their meeting and…

Review: Things In Heaven And Earth By Jane Metcalfe

Things in Heaven and Earth is a book that is near impossible to categorise. It is a true story outlining a very human experience: human, yet so ‘other’ it would more often be described spiritual. It is literature; it is factual; it is philosophical, it is personal; but at its heart it is simply the truest and deepest of love stories. Told through diary extracts, interviews and letters, Things in Heaven and Earth is the account of a couple's meeting and…

The Moustache By Emmanuel Carrère - A Review

The Moustache, first published in 1986, features in a new series, Vintage Editions, and is reprinted by Penguin in a collection celebrating some of the finest authors in translation. A review in The Times roused my curiousity: the reviewer, John Self, introduced Emmanuel Carrère as a writer who has "been described by critics as 'straight beserk' and 'tremendously French'". Reading the novel, I couldn't help but agree with this phraseology. The story is one that begins with a fairly innocuous and…

Interview: Philip Bowne

Philip Bowne’s debut novel Cows Can’t Jump was published in September and is a comical if also poignant tale of teenager Billy’s eventful journey across Europe in pursuit of his adolescent love, Eva. My take on the book, as my review reveals, is that it is about a youngster trying to make sense of an adult world that seems increasingly nonsensical, and for Philip Bowne, it is a book that could carry a positive message for a lot of young men…

Sheffield's Sheaf (Digital) Poetry Festival Returns In November!

Sheaf Poetry Festival returns in November boasting a vibrant programme of readings, workshops and panel discussion delivered by world-class poets/artists and local Sheffield voices. Sheaf Poetry Festival has been part of Sheffield’s artistic and cultural landscape for almost a decade. Formerly known as Sheffield Poetry Festival and South Yorkshire Poetry Festival, Sheaf returns this year in digital format from 19th–23rd November 2020. Suzannah Evans returns as Sheaf’s Creative Director, and the festival’s Poet and Young Poet in Residence are Genevieve Carver…

'The Uncanny Power Of Repression': The Haunting Of Alma Fielding By Kate Summerscale

Flying frying pans whizzing through the air, kinetically energised by unseen spectral forces. Tea-cups destroying themselves inexplicably, shards of porcelain spontaneously erupting into malevolent maelstroms of domestic debris. Furniture hurling itself to oblivion with supernatural ferocity. Wraith-like apparitions skulking nefariously as unbidden spectral denizens of ostensibly dull suburban semis and terraces. All quite discombobulating! Add into this disquieting cocktail of the bizarre, the rise of Spiritualism, psychic mediumship, the proliferation of vainglorious ghost hunters and sceptics keen to debunk…

Poem Of The Week: 'First Foetal Movements Of My Daughter' By Penelope Shuttle

First Foetal Movements of My Daughter Shadow of a fish The water-echo Inner florist dancing Her fathomless ease Her gauzy thumbs Leapfrogger, her olympics in the womb’s stadium Against a cheerless backdrop of death and decline, of withering economies and strategic cluelessness, it is a simple joy to recall a poem of growth and hope. In Penelope Shuttle’s delicate, focused use of language, we hear the first echoes of life, feel the abstraction of an idea bursting from inertia into physical presence, like an astonished nudge. For here is…

Poet In A Fridge

The dust has settled, the circus has moved on and after a bit of excitement, the routines we were obliged to adopt in late spring/early summer seem to be returning. I’m already looking back fondly at the weekend of 26th September when the BBC Contains Strong Language Festival of Poetry and Prose landed in Cumbria for a brief but wonderful three days and I got to fulfil my dream of being a ‘Poet in a Fridge’ … The festival, directed by…

Review: Plague By Julie Anderson

Plague, Julie Anderson’s new crime thriller, published in September by Claret Press, opens in an ancient burial ground, uncovered during a construction project linked to the London Underground. The capital’s population, we are told, expanded greatly between 1500 and 1650 and pre-existent churchyards could not cope with the surge in demand, therefore ‘overspill’ grounds were created. But, that’s not the focal point because at the same location they have uncovered an impromptu burial site for bodies hastily discarded during one of the…

Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Cold: The Racketeer By John Grisham

Well, I have warned you before that I like Grisham and here we go again. The Racketeer is definitely not a dry and dusty courtroom drama but a feel-good, justice-is-served type novel. Although it begins with a court case, it is more about revenge. Grisham’s criticisms of ‘the establishment’ are clear, although this is not simply a book about the miscarriage of justice. The actions of the hero are excused because he has already been so badly treated by the…

Authenticity Is Its Own Reward: Interview With Kirsten Hesketh, Author Of Another Us

Having recently reviewed Kirsten Hesketh’s boisterously entertaining novel, Another Us, I was fortunate enough to interview its affable author and provide our readers with an exclusive insight into both the woman behind the keyboard and her delightful first book. Hesketh is an effervescent amalgam of warm-hearted humour and esprit de corps. She is a passionate member of the Debut UK 2020 writing fraternity, a devoted wife and mother and a woman not short on colourful life experience. For anyone who has…

Lycanthropes & Astronauts: Wolf Planet By Oz Hardwick

The flotsam of Oz Hardwick’s febrile imagination might lead the accustomed reader to infer a unifying impulse in his work, though that would necessarily circumscribe a writer whose instinct is for contrariety and division. Cross-sectional similarities obtain in despite: with his new venture Wolf Planet, he returns to the fluidity of the prose poem form if only because neither prose nor poetry could contain, in isolation, the energy and phenomenally wide-ranging gusto of the piece. Well worn conceits flourish here…

'Heaven Knew The Boundaries Were Blurred': Kirsten Hesketh - Another Us

Marian Keyes is an author well known for exploring family life and the darker motifs of mental illness, divorce and alcoholism in order to find within these emotive shadowlands, the uplifting light of comedy and hope. Keyes once said, ‘I've always used humour as a survival mechanism. I write for me and I need to feel hopeful about the human condition. So, no way I'm going to write a downbeat ending. And it isn't entirely ludicrous to suggest that sometimes…

Poem Of The Week: 'The Behaviour Of Dogs' By Craig Raine

The Behaviour of Dogs Their feet are four-leafed clovers that leave a jigsaw in the dust. They grin like Yale keys and tease us with joke-shop Niagara tongues. A whippet jack-knifes across the grass to where the afghan’s palomino fringe is part Opera House curtain, part Wild Bill Hicock. Its head precedes the rest, balanced like a tray, aloft and to the left. The labrador cranks a village pump, the boxer shimmies her rump, docked to a door knocker, and the alsation rattles a sabre – only the ones with crewcuts fight. Sportif, they scratch…

Deja View (Part Two): Conflicting Realities In Heather Child’s Everything About You

We live in strange times. Our usual routines have been disrupted, our relationships affected, and our life choices set back in the interest of public health. For many of us “lock-down”, “self-isolation” and “social-distancing” have been new and unusual experiences. Some of us, understandably, may even have started to lose our grip on reality as a result – myself included! In the beginning, almost by way of novelty, my reading choices were largely pandemic-themed; now, as our situation has progressed, I…

Interview: Susan Allott

It seems inevitable that a writer is likely to have been a bookish child, with a love of reading and creative writing. But it appears only the lucky few can turn a lifelong passion into a career, since ‘life’ usually gets in the way. It was this way for Susan Allott, author of The Silence which was published this August in hardback, having been delayed due to the lockdown. Writing the novel, she says, was motivated by turning 40. She had…

What Is Left Unsaid: The Silence - Susan Allott

Susan Allott’s debut novel, The Silence, is a compelling account of loyalty, familial trust and distrust: deception, displacement and all that is left unsaid to preserve the pretence of normality. To call it a page-turner (as it is) does not do it justice – it is enjoyable yet with a palpable sense of threat and urgency. If perceptive, you might anticipate the ending, but you would not be able to predict the detours taken along the route, and you can…

A Writer's Journey: Maria Frankland

Maria Frankland is an Author, Poet and Creative Writing Teacher, based in the market town of Otley, in Yorkshire. From an early age, her dream was to become a published poet and novelist. Now she has achieved her goal, it is her aim to support, motivate and inspire other writers to fulfil similar dreams. As well as being a published author with three domestic thrillers to her name, and a fourth imminent, Maria is a time-served, qualified teacher with an English…

Deja View (Part One): Conflicting Realities In Philip K. Dick’s The Simulacra

With the spectre of Covid-19 still looming large and our various liberties restricted, I’ve been trying to take my freedoms where I can. Lately I’ve been venturing out into the countryside and indulging in long walks, weather-permitting! To this end I’ve been utilising Google Street View to pre-plan my routes, and in the process experienced an interesting development: a jarring sensation, as if two realities are operating in tandem: the simulated of GSV, and the physical of the day trip…

Review: A Saint From Texas By Edmund White

A Saint from Texas is quite unlike anything I have read before. It envelops you in a world and society so far removed from your own yet simultaneously, the descriptive, pacy, vigorous prose thrusts you front and centre into the arena. My first impressions were that it's raw, it's cutting, it is stark – the atmosphere is palpable. It begins in 1950s Texas, an era we might think familiar but we see the truth and complexity that lies beneath. The…

Review: The London Dream: Migration And The Mythology Of The City By Chris McMillan

John McKenzie’s 1980 examination of contemporary metropolitan gangsterdom in his brutal film The Long Good Friday, contains at least one grain of counter-intuitive authenticity. Before the walls of his empire begin to crumble owing to his misreading of a perceived threat, we see a hubristic gang-leader, Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins), waving his arms around expansively on a luxury Thames yacht, describing a rebuilding programme which he thinks is about to restore London’s shabby exterior to its former greatness, with a…

Interview With Victoria Dowd: Debut Novelist And Author Of The Smart Woman's Guide To Murder

What happens when you take an ex-criminal barrister with a penchant for Agatha Christie, Gothic fiction, ghost stories and fine prose and add to this intriguing recipe the aspiration and talent to become a published debut novelist? The answer is elementary dear reader…Victoria Dowd, the author of The Smart Woman’s Guide To Murder. Having recently reviewed Dowd’s darkly comic reboot of the classic murder mystery, I was fortunate enough to interview its author for a reader exclusive. Unlike her characters,…

A Different Perspective: The Other Side Of Truth By Beverley Naidoo, Stone Cold By Robert Swindells

I have said before that literature affords us experience outside of our own existence, be that escapism into the fantasy of science fiction and mythical, magical worlds, or stepping into historical periods or geographical settings we know little about. Importantly, books can also help us to see a different point of view and with so much in the news these days about the need for tolerance, acceptance and understanding of those who are different from us, in whatever way, literature…