Interview With Carolyn Hobdey - Author Of New Book - All The Tw*ats I Met Along The Way

For decades, Carolyn Hobdey's personal life didn't quite match up to the success of her professional life. A senior and respected business leader in HR, she regularly smashed career goals, while her personal life consisted of love triangles, divorce (albeit amicable) following the discovery her husband of 15 years was gay, car crashes and a controlling and abusive partner. Carolyn's first book, All The Tw*ts I Met Along The Way, is a memoir about what happens when you so deeply…

Review: Expectation by Anna Hope

I was full of expectation (pun intended) when I picked up this novel, the third by Anna Hope. I so enjoyed The Ballroom, which I reviewed for the Yorkshire Times, and looked forward to reading her next opus. Unlike her first two novels, which were both set in the early twentieth century, this one is much more modern, opening in 2004. Give it time, it begins slowly: make sure you have a good long period free to get to grips with…

'There Is No Such Thing As Fate, Because There Is Nobody In Control': My Name Is Monster By Katie Hale

The debut novel from award-wining poet and writer, Katie Hale, is a compelling page-turner; a story told from the dual narrative of the two protagonists, both named Monster. The first we meet is almost thirty and alone in a deserted world, and she considers what is the price of survival but also asks the more important question: if you are the sole survivor, “Then what?”. This story explores what it might be like if you found yourself alone in a post-apocalyptic…

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother: The Comic Short Stories Of Anton Chekhov

Perhaps when we consider Chekhov, our first thoughts may not gaily run to whimsy, frolicsome mirth or indeed lighthearted, playful satire. Conversely, we might recall The Cherry Orchard, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters or Lady with the Dog. Chekhov’s (1860-1904) works mirror Russian life authentically, warts and all. His gloomy, gritty realism seen as an intellectually intimidating, semi-permeable reflective prism between the observed and the observer. His work an unflinching, but dextrously modulated exploration of dank humanistic truths only…

The Architecture Of Sky: Two Tongues - Claudine Toutoungi

The moment you reach the sharp edge of an escarpment and are clobbered by a sudden gust that momentarily takes your breath away is unexpected and exhilarating; you cannot speak for the scintillating shock. Words are briefly lost to the wind. Claudine Toutoungi’s poems are a blistering hail of words, a ravening, gathering storm of sound and meaning that insinuate themselves into every receptor, like rain’s discovery of an ingress in ‘impermeable’ clothing. The wealth of invention, of suggestion, in her…

Poem Of The Week: 'A Parable Of Sorts' By Malika Booker

A Parable of Sorts We danced to rancorous tunes on spiked ground and our knees sang with each puncture, so that several agouti colonies, melanic in our russet strengths, learned as wild rats to scurry or guard ourselves from skin-spite. Immune from nocturnal drowsiness we strong-bellied creatures assembled, campaigned; gyrated to blowed trumpets and cradled songs, but, us black rats with our rogue swagger that spoke of foreign ports, pranced our survival shuffle in night’s murky dance halls. Each step our single prayer, each jab our benediction. This tart sermon containered our…

Interview With Frances Quinn - Author Of The Smallest Man

Regular readers will know that I recently reviewed Frances Quinn’s debut novel The Smallest Man. Historical fiction can be as dusty as the facts that scaffold its narratives, desiccated contrivances sometimes bereft of the humanity precipitating their events. Some impressively erudite authors, dry-eyed from hours spent in the quiet sanctuary of a research library, amass facts like mince meat to be stuffed into the sausage of their story. Reading works of this character may not leave a mouth unpleasantly coated…

Review: Troubled Blood By Robert Galbraith

Troubled Blood is the fifth novel in the Strike series by Robert Galbraith – aka J.K. Rowling – and it is the first cold case that the protagonists have investigated, looking into the disappearance of a GP forty years previously. The previous books in the series have been solid, if not top rank, whodunnit mysteries, with an element of danger and a sparky, will-they-wont-they relationship between the two main characters, Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott. Such an incendiary conjunction of…

'Numbers Rule The Universe': Q By Christina Dalcher

Q is the second novel of bestselling author Christina Dalcher, a Georgetown-based doctor of theoretical linguistics. Not only is Q a welcome addition to the genre of dystopian fiction, I suspect it is also going to be an important one, as more readers come to discover its pages. Dalcher’s is a future of alternate ethics and morals – an elitist and inegalitarian society in which “some … are [definitely] more equal than others”, to paraphrase Orwell. The only universal aspect…

'A Hero Of Our Time!': The Smallest Man By Frances Quinn

Mikhail Lermontov exploited the fractured prism of his anti-hero Grigory Pechorin to eviscerate his society from the perspective of a disillusioned 19th century aristocrat. Tall, debonair and privileged Pechorin has it all and yet his ennui and soul-sick malevolence is all he can offer the world. A callous disregard for the feelings and fate of others characterises Pechorin’s every cruel action. He is quite simply monstrous, the freakish by-product of a diseased society and cold heart. Step forth Nat Davy,…

Review: Death In The Cotswolds By Rebecca Tope

So, Christmas has been different this year for many of us, me included. Not allowed to visit grandchildren in Scotland, or Mum in her care home, the 25th was a quiet one. However, trying to be positive, Christmas has been good for long walks and curling up with a good book. A friend who reads my articles chose to give me a book by an author I have previously favourably reviewed and the lack of festive fun and frivolity has…

Interview: Thomas McMullan, Author Of The Last Good Man

Thomas McMullan is a writer, critic and journalist, based in London, whose debut novel, The Last Good Man, was published in November by Bloomsbury. The book is a disquieting and sinister story and a unique take on the modern zeitgeist; I was keen to find out more about the author, what inspired the novel and what his literary next steps might be. Thomas has had articles published in the Guardian, on BBC News and in the New Statesman amongst others, covering…

Review: The Last Good Man By Thomas McMullan

The Last Good Man is a uniquely disquieting and sinister debut novel from the writer, critic and journalist Thomas McMullan. It is set in an unspecified era which is just one of the many unanswered questions posed by the narrative. Despite the apparent simplicity of the scenario, the reader soon becomes aware of the subtle themes the author is exploring. Some themes are clearer, others linger in the subconscious to be mused upon after the final page has been turned. This…

State Of The Union: Rachel To The Rescue By Elinor Lipman

Donald J. Trump’s failure to accept the outcome of the most fairly and judiciously executed election in US history might one day be his albatross – his resolute deafness to the clamour of probity is the indignation of a spoilt child who is overfond of wearing the emperor’s new clothes. A perfect foil for political commentators and satirists, the POTUS would be laughable were he not so dangerously charismatic, especially for the stodgy and credulous millions who have little to…

Poem Of The Week: 'And Yet' By Jonathan Humble

And Yet Curtains remain drawn, as the day comes with rain like a returning memory. In darkness, early moments rest on heavy eyes, closed to a wave of sickness. In the residue of cracked ashtrays and stale alcohol, sit diary entries of dissolute nights with succubae; a debt of bad shillings that smothers and oppresses. With a switch click of artificial light, a three-quarter circular tea stain on the old and damaged veneer of a bedside table screams normality. But the…

Interview With Nikki Smith - Author Of All In Her Head

Hunter S. Thompson once said, ‘There is no such thing as paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment’. A sentiment hardly brimming with incandescent comfort! If we seek light at the end of this metaphorical psychological tunnel, Freud is unlikely to provide it – ‘the paranoid is never entirely mistaken’. Nikki Smith’s debut novel, All In Her Head takes these truths and weaves them into a suspense thriller par excellence, its pages as gripping as they are…

'I Don't Know Who I Am Anymore': All In Her Head By Nikki Smith

‘The finest thing in the world is knowing how to belong oneself’. Michel de Montaigne might not have cut it as a psychiatrist, if these words were meant to comfort tortured souls dislocated from their own frail sense of self by dint of psychogenic or post-partum psychosis. Nikki Smith’s debut is no more comforting; however, it is a deftly rendered psychological suspense thriller and a delightfully disturbing gem. From the prologue’s sinister first sentence to the novel’s shocking final line,…

Poem Of The Week: 'The Magi' By W.B. Yeats (1865-1939)

The Magi Now as at all times I can see in the mind's eye, In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones Appear and disappear in the blue depths of the sky With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones, And all their helms of silver hovering side by side, And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more, Being by Calvary's turbulence unsatisfied, The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor. There is an uncertainty to Yeats’ strange poem of the Nativity which is…

‘I’m Conscious Of Being Part Of A Literary Culture Thriving In The North’: Liam Bishop In Conversation With Naomi Booth

Paloma Varga Weisz’s exhibition, Bumped Body, was showing at the Henry Moore Institute before the gallery closed in the lockdown again. As I load up Zoom for my conversation with the novelist Naomi Booth, I think of Weisz’s Wilde Leute (‘wild people’). It wasn’t the fantastical exploration of the body in the small terracotta figures that struck me (although, along with Weisz’s other sculptures, they did make me think of Booth’s pre-dystopian nightmare, Sealed, where - ahem - a virus…

Hannah Tovey: An Interview

Hannah Tovey is the author of The Education of Ivy Edwards, published earlier this year. Originally from South Wales, she spent her childhood in Hong Kong and now lives in London. Her debut novel explores the importance of family relationships, especially when life as we know it goes off the rails, and has been hailed as a cross between Fleabag and Gavin & Stacey. Hannah wanted to portray the humour and romance of Welsh people, which comes across strongly in…

Intricate Layers: Eight Detectives By Alex Pavesi

I’ve always loved a good detective novel, particularly, it has to be said, a good Agatha Christie (and now I find myself living in Harrogate where she famously disappeared). I remember so many of them but, don’t worry, I won’t list all I’ve read… just a few. My first was Cat among the Pigeons – I always checked the weight of a tennis racquet after that one. The ABC Murders was one where the intended victim was not made clear…

Interview With Cat Walker - Author Of The Scoop

A hackneyed cliché oft trotted out by experienced souls to aspirant literary tyros is, ‘write about what you know’. For debut novelist Cat Walker, the inverse may be equally true, for the creative muse animating her fledging pen was not knowledge, but the absence of it. In Walker’s case, her first novel, The Scoop draws upon a quasi-autobiographical quixotic quest for philosophical, spiritual and emotional knowledge. Stemming from what is not understood or known by its author, this frolicsome yet…

The Education Of Ivy Edwards By Hannah Tovey: A Review

The Education of Ivy Edwards, the debut novel of Hannah Tovey published earlier this year, is perhaps best summed up as a warming hug from a sympathetic friend who accepts all your faults, tolerates your laughable mistakes and says to you, “we will get through this, together!”. My one piece of advice to readers embarking, alongside our protagonist, Ivy, on her journey into singlehood is brace yourself. Because this novel, whilst funny, is also very frank, even at times filthy. It…

Trio By William Boyd: A Review

Trio is the sixteenth novel by William Boyd, who has also written short stories and numerous screenplays for TV and film. In Trio, Boyd demonstrates great skill in characterisation, deftly observed scenes and pithy, if not sometimes acerbic dialogue that bring the pages to life with great clarity and wit. The central thread of the plot is the production of a film taking place in Brighton in 1968, however it is the lives of the characters that are the predominant…

Poem Of The Week: 'The Dipper' By Kathleen Jamie

The Dipper It was winter, near freezing, I'd walked through a forest of firs when I saw issue out of the waterfall a solitary bird. It lit on a damp rock, and, as water swept stupidly on, wrung from its own throat supple, undammable song. It isn't mine to give. I can't coax this bird to my hand that knows the depth of the river yet sings of it on land. Kathleen Jamie’s wonderful, concise poem of winter discloses a sense of freedom and energy in the natural world that might remain concealed…

On The Road Again: Breathing Lessons By Anne Tyler

Coincidences are strange; on the radio the other day, I heard a reference to Deer Lick, home to who knows? I’m afraid I was driving and didn’t concentrate on the music but I was struck by the name which I had never heard of before. The same day, this author was recommended to me: Anne Tyler, whose gently witty and humorous novel Breathing Lessons takes a journey from Baltimore to, of all places, Deer Lick. Small world. Covering just a single…

99 Not 42!: The Scoop By Cat Walker

Somerset Maugham tells us in Of Human Bondage, ‘The secret to life is meaningless unless you discover it for yourself’. Douglas Adams, on the other, hand believed the answer to the ultimate question to be ‘42’! Echoing The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy’s use of whimsy and a quasi-encyclopaedic travel guide form, Cat Walker’s debut novel is an ambitious and colourful first-person account of one woman’s quixotic search for meaning in her own becalmed life. An entertaining ontological odyssey…

Goodwill To All Men And Mrs Tittlemouse

I am a soft clart. Situations requiring cold, reasoned logic and swift decisive action are often dealt with ineptly when they involve wildlife infestations. Let me paint a picture … In Cumbria where I live, my house is situated next to a field. Along with the help of neighbours, the field is run as a trust where we encourage wildlife to thrive through the planting and management of flowers and trees. Over twenty years, I’ve grown quite a few from seed: alders, oaks,…

Interview: Natasha Randall - Author of Love Orange

Love Orange is the debut novel from the acclaimed translator of Russian literature, Natasha Randall, and it is one that adds a new, dystopian perspective on the fragility of modern life - the roles we assign to ourselves, and those to which we are assigned. The pervasive nature of technology and the impact it may have is an underlying theme of the book, and indeed acted as a catalyst for the novel’s creation. Natasha is concerned by the “fragmentation of…

Poem Of The Week: 'Master Of Works' By Rennie Parker

Master of Works The parkland there, Sir Not obtrusive to the casual eye It’s artifice concealed in the approved English manner. Remark upon your left the small temple -Let us say, to Harmony or the Four Winds – Advise me on the image immured within – As if, Sir, the ancients themselves Did pour their blessings on your fine estate. You will find it an esteemed model As seen in the later volumes of Vitruvius. A humble façade, Sir, Should not be countenanced here; The correct gesture is worth an hundred lies. I…