Category Archives: Myriad Editions

Becoming Unbecoming – Una

I am trying to remember when it was that I became convinced that Becoming Unbecoming was essential as part of my reading year. I think Emma Jane Unsworth might have mentioned it when I saw her last, which would make sense as she is quoted on the cover of my edition. I know I heard the author on BBC Woman’s Hour, of which I am one of the 40% of male listeners. Why it became an internal insistence in my brain that I must buy it and read it though I am not sure. Maybe it was just a hunch? If so, I must follow them more often because Becoming Unbecoming will no doubt be one of my books of the year.

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Myriad Editions, 2015, paperback, graphic novel/memoir, 224 pages, bought by myself for myself

Becoming Unbecoming is Una’s memoir of a very difficult and tumultuous time in her life. As the Yorkshire Ripper began his several years of killing women, Una herself was the victim of sexual abuse. Una looks back on this period in hindsight and looks at how the situation around the Yorkshire Ripper and the attitude towards predatory men and their victims not only caused the murder of many innocent women and the pain and loss to their families and loved ones, but how the ‘victim blaming’ culture of the time also affected people like Una who were the victims of crimes that went undetected/unsolved or people feared reporting.

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As you read on six strands form in your mind. The utter loneliness of a young girl who had been taken advantage of and why she didn’t want to speak out. The fear that spread for young girls everywhere at the time. The way in which so much innocence was lost at the time, not just in the victims and Una’s case but also in something prevalent in time, as highlighted by a small appearance from Jimmy Saville. The way prostitutes were portrayed by the press, and society succumbed, as almost being asked to be killed because of what they did for money. The inept way in which the police handled the case (in part because someone called a hoax, in part because they thought he was only killing prostitutes even when a victim was not one) and why people didn’t want to report it.

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And the sixth, I hadn’t miscounted, is how this is still in our society today all around the world. Una highlights how we often sit in shock at what is happening in other countries around the world to women (in Africa, Syria, I could go on) and yet how we somehow forget that it is going on in the western world too, often through the digital world but also in schools just as it did when she was younger. It is an important message about the state of misogyny which is still rife and why we need more books like this and more projects and reactionary endeavours like Everyday Sexism and the like.

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I like to think of myself as quite a forward thinking man, yet Una made me check something about myself that I hadn’t thought of before. Una talks about the keen interest in true crime especially in the cases of Peter Sutcliffe, Jack The Ripper, The Wests, where women are the victims. Now she isn’t judging readers on this, she is pondering it (I think). I then had this awful niggling doubt as to if that might be why I had initially felt I needed to read this book, because of the Yorkshire Ripper and my interest in him and some true crime.

Now before you jump the gun and go thinking the worst, there are a few reasons I have wanted to read around the Yorkshire Ripper. Firstly, you know that fear I mentioned earlier that young girls had at the time, my mother was 12 when Peter Sutcliffe and despite living several hundred miles away still remembers the fear in which she, her sisters and Mum all felt at the time. This has always stayed with me, how could someone cause such fear, what really happened. This I would say is more a history pondering than a true crime one. Secondly, I started (and had to put down but will try again) to read Dan Davies In Plain Sight, which won the Gordon Burn Prize this year and is about Jimmy Savile and mentions the Yorkshire Ripper also, it is a disturbing but important book about how we might spot predators and making sure they are not covered up. Thirdly, I went to a talk about I’m Jack which is a fictional account of the hoaxer I mentioned above and how it affected the case in such a disatourous way. I am now still debating in my head reading them as being some entertainment unwittingly at the expense of the victims or if it is about acknowledging awful acts in history and learning from them? I still have a lot of mulling over to do.

Sorry I got diverted there. As you can probably see Becoming Unbecoming is a memoir that will make you ponder, question and think. It does this in almost every frame and in the most subtle of ways. The best examples of this are the speech bubble which Una walks around with on her back (sometimes switched to wings) which as the story gets on gets larger with the burden she carries as she keeps the secrets within. There is also the way in which the story is interwoven into the artwork so you have to move the page around and really read it doubling the effect of the imagery as you see more and more. There is also the heart breaking ending, which actually made me cry, when Una looks at how her life has turned out so far and then ponders how the victims of Peter Sutcliffe’s might have turned out, an illustration of possibility for each. This really hits home not only at the loss of their lives but at the loss of any murder victims life and the loss of innocence of anyone who has been sexually abused, deeply affecting reading and imagery.

So as you can see Becoming Unbecoming is quite something. Una doesn’t like people to say she is brave for writing this book yet I think it is an incredibly brave act to use your experiences to highlight uncomfortable issues or important topics which need attention and debate; by default in doing so you open yourself up to scrutiny an opinion which must be a highly vulnerable position. Una is a very brave woman and Becoming Unbecoming is a very brave, important and thought provoking book. I urge you all to add it to your reading stacks and talk about it once you have.

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Filed under Books of 2015, Graphic Novels, Memoir, Myriad Editions, Review, Una

Human Remains – Elizabeth Haynes

I know that I have mentioned on here a few time how I have a slight issue about seeing reviews of books here there and everywhere before they come out. I am however going to break that rule today, though as ‘Human Remains’ is out tomorrow (so not a million months away) and because I seriously think it is one of the best thrillers that I have read in some time and have been bursting to tell you all about since early January. I can wait no longer. It is one of the most exciting and original thrillers I have read for some time so I hope you will forgive me breaking my own rule, if mildly, so you know to get your hands on it as soon as you possibly can.

***** Myriad Editions, paperback, 2013, fiction, 385 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Sad as it may be many people die alone in their homes each year, people who might have run away from their family, lost touch with them or lost someone special in their lives or simply have found themselves alone through other circumstances. ‘Human Remains’, Elizabeth Haynes third novel (her debut ‘Into The Darkest Corner’ won Amazon book of the year in 2011 and gained rave reviews), looks at the people in these situations and then adds a dark and chilling twist. What if not all of these people died alone?

This is something that information analyst Annabel discovers has been unusually high in Briarstone, not long after she discovers the body of her next door neighbour, who she thought had moved away some time ago, in a serious state of decomposition – Haynes isn’t shy of building us a true and full picture throughout the book. Annabel believes there is something unusual going on yet none of the ‘real police’, for there is a divide between the admin and the force, take seriously. That is until they receive a call telling them where to find another lonely deceased member of the public, yet there are no signs of murder. Yet the amount of people dying alone, as Annabel notices, is exceptionally high and rising but what will it take for anyone to listen.

“Working as civilians in the police force was often a battle of cultures, trying to persuade senior officers that we had a worthwhile contribution to make to an investigation, to resource planning and to strategic initiatives, just as much as officers who had real experience going out and arresting people. The nearest I was likely to come to a criminal was living in blissful anonymity two streets away from my local serial sex offender, or passing someone in the office as they waited to be dealt with. I was never going to have to calm down someone who was holding a knife, nor tell someone that a loved one was dead. I was never going to have to try to persuade a woman to leave her violent partner, or tell a parent that their child was being abused. Instead I looked at all the figures, all the raw data that churned in day after day, forming it into patterns, looking for a way in. Even then, after finding something that was potentially interesting, trying to persuade the senior management that my recommendations were worth following up was often a battle.”

Haynes has already supplied us with an unusual possible set of crimes and an unusual look at the police procedural from a different perspective. She then throws in even more firstly as Annabel discovers the long abandoned remains of her neighbour, who then becomes another of the statistics she has to follow at work. She also makes Annabel a highly likely contender to be one of those people one day. Annabel has been single for years, she has few friends, an embittered mother to go and care for leaving her with no social life and just a cat for company. Even the people at work think she is a bit of an odd ball, yet this isn’t Haynes trump card yet, that is to come.

“’You’ll be getting a cat next…’
‘Hey, don’t knock it,’ Kate said. ‘It’s only her cat that stops Annabel from going completely batty you know.’
‘Don’t be mean,’ Amy said. ‘She’s not batty.’
‘She’s heading that way, if you ask me.’
I stared at them, wondering if they really hadn’t noticed I was standing right there or if they were being deliberately rude.”

For her final master stroke with this novel Haynes then puts you firmly in the mind of the psychopath at the heart of what Annabel thinks she might have spotted, a very clever move though one I cannot say too much about for fear of spoilers. This is one of the creepiest narrative voices that I have had the uneasy pleasure of spending time with. He is wonderfully and grimly fascinating and makes a gripping whodunit become and even more twisted ‘whydunit’. As Haynes then sets Colin and Annabel on a similar trajectory it is not long before the two meet and even more twists and turns arise. Honestly it is brilliant and utterly chilling.

With its mixture of an unusual crime, if it is indeed a crime, a compelling and disturbing psychopath/sociopath at its heart, Annabel’s domestic drama and Haynes dark sense of humour, I would say, even at this early stage, that ‘Human Remains’ will easily be one of my thrillers of the year. It is one of those thrillers that is more than just a page turner (though s clichéd as I am aware it is to say this, I literally could not put it down) and works on several layers with many hidden depths and much to say, especially about forgotten people. You think you know what is coming at the start and you have absolutely no idea then, just when you think you have it all figured out, Haynes does it over and over again with more twists and turns as you go on. Highly, highly recommended reading!

What was the last crime novel/thriller that completely gripped you from start to finish?  Have any of your read either of Elizabeth Haynes other novels, I have them both on the TBR and am not sure which one to read next, any recommendations?

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Filed under Books of 2013, Elizabeth Haynes, Myriad Editions, Review

The Clay Dreaming – Ed Hillyer

I am trying to work out how to make you read today’s post, so its probably best to simply say read this post because I think if you miss it you could be missing out on a gem of a book. I am sure you are all aware by now how much I love a good sensation novel? You know I love everything about Victoriana? Well Myriad Editions also picked up on this and asked me if I would like to read a debut novel that feels like it has stepped straight out of that era. I couldn’t refuse because it sounded so intriguing, but would it knock my socks off? Well the short answer is yes, for reasons why you will have to read on.

If I said to you that ‘The Clay Dreaming’ was a book about an aboriginal cricket team arriving in London in 1868 it might not sound like the type of book you would instantly rush down to your nearest book shop to grab. Even for someone who is a huge lover of all things Victorian and wants to learn all they can I admit the word ‘cricket’ instantly made me think ‘oh no!’ Oh how one can be proven wrong. The cricket is part and parcel of the story but it’s a back drop and indeed based on fact along with another tale from sixty years earlier which interweave which Ed Hillyer creates an epic Victorian tale from.

When Sarah Larkin goes to see the infamous cricket team ‘the Aboriginal Australian Eleven’ play in the Kent countryside she is unaware that a forgotten mystery is soon going to be the main part of her otherwise dull and difficult life looking after her ailing father with no sign of any income. However days later Brippoki, or King Cole as he is also called, finds her believing she is a guardian who can help him find out about a man he believes to be a relation buried in a unmarked grave. From then on we are taken on a journey (I don’t want to say adventure but it has its thrilling moments) uncovering the past. Of course because of that I can say no more about the plot and shan’t!

The cast of characters with Sarah and Brippoki at the helm is one that will have you reading on and indeed has some Dickensian style characters such as Dilkes Loveless, Lily Perfect and Mrs Luck. This is no pastiche though in fact reading it you could occasionally be mistaken into thinking that this is indeed a book from its time, even possibly a sensation novel as it reads so authentically. The atmosphere and the people almost come straight out of the pages themselves. In fact London itself, through the Regency and Victorian period, is truly the main character at the heart of this book (so if you love books about the London of the past this is perfect for you) almost on occasion to excess.

In fact I would say it was the amount of knowledge and clearly hours of research Hillyer has done that stops this being a ten out of ten book (I would still give it eight out of ten) which is should be. He is clearly passionate about the city and the period and so wants to leave no stone on any cobbled street unturned. London is almost featured too much. For example Brippoki goes ‘walkabout’ regularly throughout London and then so does Sarah on her quest to all parts of city whilst she delves into the past. We are sometimes almost given too much of a good thing. I myself enjoyed it personally but I can imagine the meandering nature of the book, which never hinders but does slightly dilute the plot, could be an issue for some readers. Then again maybe they don’t deserve the reward this book gives in the end.

That’s a small niggle though because in every other way this reads like an author on their fourth or fifth book rather than their debut novel. The prose is masterly, the characters are full drawn – apart from the mysterious ones of course and I could easily imagine this having been published in instalments in the papers/magazines of the late 1800’s. An ideal read for me then! I would love to catch up with Hillyer and have a good old natter about it all, well maybe not the cricket hee, hee!

It’s also the afterword and additional information after the story closes that has a huge impact on the book as you find out the true story it’s based on. It certainly adds an emotional punch and also a sense of further wonderment at Hillyer’s work. He is clearly an author to keep our eyes on.  It’s not a book to be read quickly, nor an easy read by any means (ideally it’s one to be read slowly with no great rush and allowed to unfold in front of the readers eyes – perfect for on your holidays) but it is one that I don’t think people should miss out on. 9/10 (I wouldn’t mind this getting a nod on the Man Booker Longlist this year.)

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners;

The Crimson Petal and The White by Michel Faber (possibly one of the best Victorian epics to have not actually been written in the era, characters are wonderful and the tale is fantastic too)
The Secret River by Kate Grenville (a marvellous book set when the ‘mystery storyline’ of this novel is set. Looks at how prisoners from London, and England in general, sent to exile in Australia affected the country, an utter masterpiece in its own right)

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Filed under Books of 2010, Ed Hillyer, Myriad Editions, Review