Tag Archives: Benjamin Myers

A Literary Trail With Northern Rail

When I was approached by the folk at Northern Rail to see if I would like to work with them* on a literary trail I was instantly intrigued. When I discovered it was to head to Hebden Bridge to learn about its literary links as part of the Northern and Manchester Literature Festival trail, also known as the Poetry Train, with a focus on the amazing places you can go by train finding the literary landmarks and hidden gems with some live poetry on the way how could I say no? I don’t think all the wonders of the north and its literary heritage, old and new, are celebrated or shown off enough.

So off to Hebden Bridge (which has the most beautiful old station) I went with poet Helen Mort reading There & Back, a poem specially written to celebrate the line and the stations on it. You can read it here. I enjoyed the poem and Helen’s chat with Naomi Frosby of Writes of Women (who you will see more of later) so much I have since managed to find copies of both her collections Division Street and No Map Could Show Them from the library.  Anyway, we were then taken through the town, which is beautiful, to find out more about its literary history past and present.

Of course the most famous of the people renowned for staying in the area are Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath and when we went though the town we found a rather modern homage to Sylvia…

…Another part of the walk too us to a place where it is believed that during one of the couples tumultuous points in their relationship things were smoothed over. I don’t know masses about the relationship between Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath is, but it seems that the Stubbing Wharf pub was a place Hughes took Plath to encourage her to stay in the area. Though from what I gather of the poem, Stubbing Wharfe from Birthday Letters, it wasn’t such a glorious day when they had that discussion, either way Plath stayed.

You might think from what I have said that the literary elements of Hebden Bridge, especially with the Bronte’s parsonage just up the road at Howarth, might all be very old school. Yet a lot of modern authors live in the area. You have Benjamin Myers (Beastings, Pig Iron, Turning Blue, The Gallows Pole and many more titles),  his wife Adelle Stripe who has written a fictional account of the life of playwright Andrea Dunbar Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile as well as Amy Liptrot whose memoir The Outrun was a huge success and shortlisted for the Wellcome Prize, a prize I adore. There is also an independent publisher, Bluemoose Books whose street we were taken into. I was going to post a picture but I don’t know if they will want you all popping in for a cuppa, sadly I didn’t have time to myself. After a lot of walking, including passing a pub Sally Wainwright of The Archers, Happy Valley, Last Tango in Halifax fame and more likes to frequent, we ended up in a book lovers dream, The Pages Cafe.

After this the lovely Naomi and I decided that we would go on an adventure to go looking for some literary graves, yes you read that right, we went off to find some graves up at Heptonstall churchyard. It has one of the steepest hill paths I have ever been up and am amazed that we made it with only one small break midway, but make it we did. The churchyard is incredible as it was bombed and so is a spooky shell of a church with a graveyard that ripples from the aftershock, it is a beautiful if slightly eerie spot.

So who were the graves that we were looking for? Well the first one was a lesser known grave, that of King David Hartley. You wouldn’t be blamed for wondering who on earth that is. Remember I mentioned Benjamin Myers The Gallows Pole earlier? Well it centres around David Hartley and the Cragg Vale Coiners who he lead and who clipped coins to make more, a very criminal offence at the time. I cannot wait to read the book and also bought the map which you can buy in The Bookcase in the town and go off on a walk around too. I should here mention that I also bought Ben’s new nonfiction book Under The Rock and hopefully I will be doing a blog and vlog as we are planning a day doing a nature walk around the area of both these books and even a spot of swimming in the great outdoors which I am very excited, and slightly, nervous about this summer.

And the other grave? Well I couldn’t go all that way and not visit the grave of Sylvia Plath. I have to admit I have actually been to see her grave before years ago with Paul Magrs, it didn’t help me trying to find it a second time. At one point I did feel rather like Naomi and I had turned into trepid explorers, literary Indiana Joneses. Ha. But we did find it.

Look how pleased we were with ourselves afterwards. We felt we both deserved a pint and so off we went for a beer and a shandy (mine, ha) at The White Lion which I would highly recommend.

All to soon, after a right good natter, it was time to head home after a really lovely day and so we wandered back down the hill, which was like a dream and headed for the station and back to Manchester and off on our ways home. But what a brilliant day and one I would recommend you all try and do if you get the chance. You can find the map here. Big thanks to Northern Rail for asking me to do it. I will be heading back again for sure, it would make the perfect place for a little mini break and reading retreat.

*This content was paid for, I will always let you know when content is. I get quite a lot of companies approach me to see if I would like to work with them; it is rare that I say yes. This is in part because the brand or opportunity might not be one that I think fits what you or I would be interested or they are so controlling that it involves no creativity for me. Working with Northern Rail was a delight and they let me do what suited Savidge Reads and hopefully all of you. Do give the literary trail a whirl as it was a lovely day out. You can find out more on the Northern Rail website here.

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Savidge Reads’ Books of 2015 Part One…

So we have hit the penultimate day of 2015, where does the time go? Back by popular demand (well David kindly asked me) is the first of my two lists of the books that I loved most in 2015. Today’s selection for your delectation are the books that I have loved the most this year that were actually published originally before 2015 (yes, even the ones that came out in paperback in 2015 but were in hardback before then) which means some classics have given way to more modern books but this really reflects my tastes in general. More on that another time though. Without further waffle or ado, here are the first twelve books I really, really, really loved in 2015; you can click on the titles to go to my full reviews, with one exception…

11.

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2015 has been a year that has seen me devour and enjoy more graphic novels and memoirs than ever before and I have loved it. Undoubtedly that love was started this year with The Encyclopaedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg which combines history, myths and fairytales (with a slightly wonky twist) to create a wonderful visual world of Vikings, giants, gods, eskimo’s and more and celebrates the marvels of great stories and wonderful storytelling. A delight from start to finish.

10 (=).

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If you’d told me back at the start of 2015 that one of my books of the year would involve giant mutant preying grasshoppers /praying mantises then I would have laughed in your face. This would have been a) cruel and b) completely wrong. Grasshopper Jungle is a thrilling, gripping and entertaining rollercoaster of a read that looks at love, sexuality, friendship and how to survive if mutant killer insects who only want to breed and eat take over the world. What more could you ask for?

10 (=).

From the off, and indeed throughout, the world in Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours is, to be frank, pretty f***ed up. (I honestly tried quite hard to not use ‘the f bomb’ but it is the only word that seems apt.) Girls are now bred, yes bred, for three reasons. They can become a companion to the men in society who can afford it and have babies, which will only be boys as these girls have been bred to be breeders of the male line; they can become a concubine, and have sex (with no babies) with all the men in society who can afford it; or they can become chastity’s and shave their heads, wear black gowns and raise more manufactured young girls to keep the cycle ticking along. See, I told you, f***ed up, and that is only the beginning. I have a feeling Louise O’Neill is one of those authors whose careers we are just going to watch grow and grow and grow. Atwood, watch out, ha!

9.

Before I read it, I had some really odd preconceived ideas about H. G. Well’s The Invisible Man. First up I thought that it was a tome of some several hundred pages, wrong, it is a novella. Secondly I thought that it was set in the 1970’s (impossible as it was written in 1897) and involved some old man in a mackintosh who smoked, wrong, that is just something I naively surmised from an old 70’s edition of the book my mother had on her shelves. Thirdly I didn’t think I would enjoy it in any way shape or form, so wrong. What I got was an incredibly dark and sinister novel that suddenly becomes both incredibly moving and incredibly disturbing as you read on. Naturally with that in mind, I absolutely loved this book.

8.

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Imagine if Thomas Hardy and Cormac McCarthy had a bastard lovechild… He would be Benjamin Myers in my humble opinion and I think Beastings testifies that notion. I almost don’t feel I need tos say more, but I will. We know it is raining, we know that a young woman has fled the house she was living in with a baby that isn’t hers, we also have the sense that both her and the baby were in danger. We soon learn that she is being followed, although hounded/stalked sounds more sinisterly appropriate, and is heading for a secret island somewhere off the coast. Because on an island in the ocean no-one can sneak up on you. The question is if she can get through the forests and mountains of Cumbria and head to the ocean without being caught and without hardly any supplies. And with that, we are off…

7.

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I only recently devoured Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None yet it shot straight into my top ten without hesitation. Ten strangers are sent to an island under false pretenses, they are soon all accused of murder or implicated in a death, then they start to die one by one following the pattern of an old nursery rhyme. The premise is impossible, yet as Agatha Christie’s fantastic novel unfolds we soon come to learn that anything is possible, no matter how chilling or unbelievable it might first appear. An utterly stupendous thriller, once you have read it you understand why it is the biggest selling murder mystery in the world, ever.

6.

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Sometimes all I want as a reader is a bloody good story. I want a twisting plot, characters that walk of the page and that you love, hate or preferably a bit of both. I want mystery and intrigue. I want to be taken to a world I know nothing about and get lost in it and its entire atmosphere. I can be a right demanding so and so however Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist delivered all this to me in abundance as it took me on a gothic journey with Nella as she walked onto the threshold of Brant house in Amsterdam 1686.

5.

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2015 has also been a year where memoirs have been a hit, in several cases centring around grief and this is one of those. H is for Hawk is an incredibly special kind of read, which all the above culminates towards, simply put it is a generously open, honest and brutal yet beautiful book. Helen Macdonald takes us completely into her life and her world at a time when she was at her most broken and vulnerable and shares that with us in all its technicolour splendour of emotions. You will laugh, you will cry and you will have felt incredibly privileged to have spent time in the company of Helen, Mabel the Goshawk and the writer T.H. White.

4.

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Until this year I had never read a word of Patricia Highsmith’s, well don’t I feel a fool after reading this. Deep Water is one of the most entertaining, snarky, camply dark, vicious and twisted psychological thrillers I have read. It is also one of the most unusual as the reader watches a sociopath come to the fore from their normally meek mild mannered self… and we egg him on and like him, even understanding him oddly, the whole time. It is a fascinating insight into the mind of a killer, if this is a prime example of what Highsmith fondly described as “my psychopath heroes”, I can’t wait to meet the rest.

3.

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It seems that 2015 was the year of insects in fiction for me, this time with bees and heaven forefend ones that talk. From this alone I should have had some kind of anaphylactic shock to this book (see what I did there) however I was completely won over by the story of Flora as she works her way through and up the hive in Laline Paull’s wondrous debut The Bees. I have been talking about this book ever since and also been boring as many people as possible with the fascinating facts I learnt about these winged beings as I read. A book which for me had it all; brilliant writing, fantastic pace, fantastic facts and a real heart looking at class, religion and women’s rights.

2.

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Now then, this is the book I have yet to review and yet is a book which took over my life as I was enravelled in the whole life of another man, Logan Mountstuart. A man which I am still struggling to believe isn’t real as his diaries from 1923 – 1998, which make up William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, take us through school romps, to wild affairs, marriages, more affairs, wars and gossip with famous people through the decades and give us not only a vivid encounter with the recent history of Britain and its endeavours (which take us all over the world) but celebrate the lives of us strange folk and the power of the pen and the written word. Ruddy marvellous and a complete and utter nightmare to review hence why I haven’t managed as yet. You can hear me talking about it here though.

1.

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I talked about book tingles earlier in the year, that wonderful feeling you get when you read a book and the words just wash over you and you know everything in this book in front of you is going to encapsulate everything you love about reading. Carys Davies’ The Redemption of Galen Pike had that for me within paragraphs of it’s very first story. In this collection we are taken to places all over the world, to all walks of life and never given the story we expect in the beginning but something so much more; be it funny, dark or magical. It was a book that arrived completely new to me, no hype or anything and completely bowled me over. I adore this book with all my heart, it brought joy to my beardy face for the whole time I read it.

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So there we are the first half of my books for the year. I do feel like I should give some honourable mentions to Susan Barker’s The Incarnations, Susan Hill’s I’m The King of the Castle and Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart, but that will be deemed as cheating. Let me know your thoughts on those in my first list you have read and do pop and see my next list tomorrow. What have been some of your books of 2015?

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Durham Book Festival; It’s Been A Bookish Blast

So. That. Is. It. Durham Book Festival has come to an end for me. It has been an absolute bookish blast with over two days of non-stop bookish delight. I have been introduced to authors old and new (to me or debuts) and enjoyed every minute. From the Gordon Burn Prize (which I have now decided I want to judge one day), to the finale event discussing Wearside Jack it has been brilliant. Pat Barker thoroughly entertained me and made me want to read everything that she has ever written, I got to join in with a fascinating debate on hard evidence, I saw Lauren Laverne talking fashion, got to take part in Read Y’Self Fitter giggling away with our tutor Andy Miller, be thoroughly freaked out about the state of modern Russia and heard Patrick Gale and Liza Klaussmann talking about sexuality and sexual secrets. What more could you want and where else could you get all of this other than a literary festival?

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It has also been a real hoot (as you can see from my naughty gleeful look captured above brilliantly by Picador’s Emma Bravo) and the lovely team at New Writing North and Durham Book Festival have been wonderful hosts and putting up with diva demands, well they probably would have if I had made any. I didn’t honest. I got to meet lots of lovely people who I have not met before but I have spoken to for ages on Twitter, like the brilliant Ben Myers and Andy Miller, as well as some lovely faces that I have met before including some of the lovely young talented reviewers that myself and Lauren Laverne have given masterclasses to and who I had some ace chats with at the events…

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And they will be the lovely folk who will be blogging and reviewing for the rest of Durham Book Festival on the Cuckoo Review website and on the festival’s blog BECAUSE THE FESTIVAL IS NOT OVER and you can still go and see some corking events (Philip Pullman, Carys Davies, Stuart Evers, Mary Portas, Bill Bryson and more) over the next week, which they will all be reviewing on the site along with some of the books discussed and more. All good stuff!

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Durham Book Festival; The Story of Wearside Jack, with Mark Blacklock and Northumbria University

And so we come to my final event at Durham Book Festival at the end of what was a wonderful, wonderful weekend. Last certainly did not mean least. In fact the final event I went to was all about Wearside Jack and actually turned out to be one of the highlight events of the whole weekend so I went out with a bang, as it were.

For those of you who don’t know anything about Wearside Jack (and even though I had Mark Blacklock’s novel I’m Jack I didn’t, I just bought it because Benjamin Myers said I must, that is how easy I can be swayed) let me explain. Wearside Jack was the nickname given to John Humble who pretended to be the Yorkshire Ripper in a number of hoaxes. Humble sent letters, taunting the authorities for failing to catch him, as well as an audio-message spoken in a Wearside accent, causing the investigation to be moved away from West Yorkshire area, home of the real killer Peter Sutcliffe, and thereby helping prolong his attacks on women and hinder his potential arrest by two years. Some 25 years after the event, a fragment from one of Humble’s envelopes was traced to him through DNA, and in 2006 Humble was sentenced to eight years in prison for perverting the course of justice. And yes, I did just steal that whole explanation from Wikipedia. But you get the gist and it sounds fascinating, grimly so, doesn’t it?

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The session held up in the Burlison Gallery of the Town Hall was a rather wonderful event, especially if you love crime fiction and criminology. Mark Blacklock, who has written a fictional account of the tale of John Humble in I’m Jack, was joined by a panel of real life crime experts from Northumbria University to talk about the case. We had Professor of Criminology Mike Row, court expert Dr Michael Stockdale and law expert Adam Jackson who all talked about how the case worked, or in many ways didn’t, and how on earth someone could hoax a police force for so long – we soon learned that hoaxes are now put into an investigations frame work as oddly lots of people like to claim they have committed crimes they have nothing to do with.

It was utterly fascinating. The whole set up of the event with the fact and the fiction only made it all the more so. We heard all about the reality of how the courts worked at the time and how they work now, how evidence can be used and withheld, how a plea can change everything and how someone could completely baffle an investigation team and, horrifyingly, how that could lead to further horrendous crimes elsewhere. We also discovered how Mark went about turning history into fiction, the research he did, the sources he used and the way he brings in real and faked evidence to confuse the reader and make them wonder just what is real and what isn’t. I came away even more fascinated by criminology than I was before and, most aptly as it is what book festivals are all about, I couldn’t wait to read I’m Jack which will be my next read as soon as I have finished my rather cosy British Library Crime Classic. A brilliant finale to the festival for me to leave on, wanting more.

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Announcement of The Gordon Burn Prize 2015

I have not been to many book prize ceremonies, in fact the first one I went to was actually for The Green Carnation Prize only last year, but who doesn’t love a ceremony and wish they were invited to them all? Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Gordon Burn Prize 2015 ceremony which was, frankly, a ruddy marvellous event for anyone who likes a good book. Not that any of you who pass this blog would be up for that sort of thing would you?

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The night was held in the splendour of Durham Town Hall and kicked off as the very lovely Claire Malcolm, Chief Executive of New Writing North, took to the stage to tell us about why the prize was born and the aims it has and what makes a Gordon Burn Prize longlisted or shortlisted book. In essence it is a book that some how combines the world of the fictional and the factual, yet looks at either from a different standpoint, they also inhabit the kind of world that Gordon Burn was interested in with his own writing, which was varied and covered crime, music, the human condition. Basically rather unusual but bloody brilliant books. Lee Brackstone then got up to talk to the audience, which I should add unlike many a swanky prize was open to the public to get tickets which I think is a marvellous touch as they are the ones who are going to buy the books, about Gordon Burn himself. Well I was already intrigued from the premise of the prize, now I want to go away and read anything and everything that he wrote. I shall be scouring the shelves of every bookshop until I have them all.

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Then the shortlisted authors took to the stage to read from their work and also talk about their books, their influences, the prize and Gordon Burn (who felt very much like he was alive and living and breathing in the room with us) chaired by Peter Guttridge. I found this really fascinating. First up was Dan Davies whose In Plain Sight; The Life and Lies of Jimmy Saville is naturally causing some unease but I can vouch (being halfway through) that whilst being incredibly uncomfortable at points is an amazing book though I can also vouch you will get some really dirty looks, occasionally sneers, if you read on public transport. Dan talked about the first time he was in a room with Jimmy Saville when he saw his TV show being filmed and how whilst everyone else seemed to be in his thrall, he remembered being slightly scared of him and feeling this lack of warmth and emotion. Then as he got older he started to do more journalism around him and then the rumours started and so did the book. Really interesting stuff.

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Honor Gavin, who I feel might be the Lady Gaga of authors (and I mean that in the nicest of ways), read from her novel Midland. She talked about how she used her own memories of Birmingham and the stories of her family (her Gran in particular, and how her Gran reacted to that)to create another kind of literary landscape.  In doing so Peter said she creates a city of memories that is slightly out of sync yet very much part of the world at the same time, in which her characters inhabit making it ‘a novel out of time’ which I was enthralled by and could have heard her talk about for hours. I need to crack on and read that book pronto don’t I?

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Romesh Gunesekera read from Noontide Toll, which you may know I think is really, really fantastic having read it earlier this year. His reading was possibly my favourite as he went totally into the head of his main character, Vasantha a cab driver in Sri Lanka, and made us laugh, think and then moved us with the last line – which he does in every short story that forms the novel. He talked about how the novel started as non-fiction and then how he found the voices of Sri Lanka calling to him and becoming more vivid and then the narrative of Vasantha took over. He also talked about the state of Sri Lanka in a post war and post tsunami world, unsure of itself and where it fits in its own history and skin let alone in the world. If you haven’t read the book do, his back catalogue of work is now calling to me.

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Finally, last but certainly not least, was Peter Pomerantsev (Richard King couldn’t make the event due to personal reasons, though has made a video) who talked about his book Nothing is True and Everything is Possible which is all about his experiences of moving back to Russia in the mid noughties and working in the TV industry to get into all the nooks and secret crannies of the country we are all both fascinated and rather scared of. He talked about how he feels about the country as a Russian and a Londoner, and how he felt as his book became more and more timely and what he feels about the country right now. I suddenly got the Russian bug as he talked and will be attended the Modern Russia talk at Durham Book Festival later today to hear even more.

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We then had a chance for more wine and chatter (I was sat next to Ben Myers who is as lovely as I had hoped after falling in love with Beastings earlier this year) before a musical interlude from Paul Smith of Maximo Park, who had been commissioned to make a song around one of Gordon Burn’s works.

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Then it was time for the winners announcement made my Doug Johnstone, Suzanne Moore and Gavin Turk, and the winner was… Dan Davies!!!

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And then the merriment continued well into the night at Empty Shop, with much book chatter, more wine and possibly with me getting into bed with a pizza at the small hours of the morning – maybe. Seriously though, if you haven’t read the shortlist (or indeed the longlist) of the Gordon Prize please do go and get your mitts on them. I am going to look at all the previously longlisted, shortlisted and winning novels (as well as Gordon Burn’s books) and make it a mission to read them all over time. Who doesn’t like reading something different/unusual/quirky/edgy and a bit out of your comfort zone, after all?

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The Gordon Burn Prize Shortlist 2015

Sometimes it seems like it is another week and another book prize, however there are some quite different and unusual ones and for that reason (along with the fact that we all love a list of books don’t we?) I wanted to mention the announcement of The Gordon Burn Prize shortlist for 2015. One of these will join previous winners Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers and The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth (another two books I have been meaning to read for ages) when the winner is announced in October.

The criteria for the Gordon Burns Prize, set up by New Writing North with Faber & Faber, are books which challenge our perceived notions of genre and make us think again about just what it is that we are reading and non-fiction that explores in innovative and exciting ways topics that reflect Gordon Burn’s interests such as social history, sport, true crime, music, celebrity and art. Books where the reader begins to question the very nature of what he is reading. Fiction? Non-fiction? Faction?

 I think this sounds really interesting and (possibly bar sport) quite different which you all know I am a huge fan of. The shortlist has now been announced and the five books that judges actress Maxine Peake, authors Doug Johnstone and Roddy Doyle, journalist Suzanne Moore and artist Gavin Turk have chosen are…

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I don’t have the books I stole this from Twitter, apologies to the owners but its for a good bookish cause 😉

  • In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile by Dan Davies (Quercus)
  • Midland by Honor Gavin (Penned in the Margins)
  • Noon Tide Toll by Romesh Gunesekera (Granta Books)
  • Original Rockers by Richard King (Faber & Faber)
  • Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev (Faber & Faber)

Now I have to say other than the Dan Davies, which with its subject matter of Jimmy Savile has had a lot of debate and discussion going on about it, I have not heard of any of the other books and that always makes me really, really excited. So for that reason, along with something that I will be able to tell you all about on Thursday, I have decided that I am going to read all of them before the winner is announced on Friday October the 9th ‘oop’ north in lovely Durham as part of their literature festival.

Have any of you read any of these titles? What did you make of them? Are there any that intrigue you, might you be up for reading all five? Have you read either of the previous winners, Benjamin Myers or Paul Kingsnorth? What are your thoughts on the more left field (and I think rather exciting) book prizes?

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Beastings – Benjamin Myers

There are some authors you know you really ought to read. You like the look of their face, you enjoy the cut of their social media jib and, most importantly, lots of the people you trust have read their books and raved about them. Oh and you know they write dark novels that in the most recent cases tend to be about the British landscape. It’s just an endless list of ticks and pointers. Then you finally do and discover all these thoughts were right. This is what has happened with Benjamin Myers, who graced the blog with his bookshelves and his bibliophilic charm yesterday, and his latest book Beastings.

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Bluemoose Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 222 pages, bought by myself then kindly sent by the publisher for Fiction Uncovered

Rain fell like steel rivets.
It came down hard pile-driving into the ground. It was the first full fall in the weeks since she had left St Mary’s.
She had departed while the embers were still glowing. Upped and went before Hinckley started hacking in his pit. She’d bundled the bairn and gone out the back way. Taken one of the tracks out of town. Away from the streets and into the trees.
It was the best for both of them. To get out of that house. The only way
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Benjamin Myers fourth novel throws you in at the deep end from the off, as all the best books tend to do. You know a lot and yet very little. We know it is raining, we know that a young woman has fled the house she was living in with a baby that isn’t hers, we also have the sense that both her and the baby were in danger. We soon learn that she is being followed, although hounded/stalked sounds more sinisterly appropriate, and is heading for a secret island somewhere off the coast. Because on an island in the ocean no-one can sneak up on you. The question is if she can get through the forests and mountains of Cumbria and head to the ocean without being caught and without hardly any supplies.

What is so blinking clever about Beastings is the nature of its simplicity, which also makes it incredibly powerful. In the main we only have four characters simply known as the girl, the baby, the Priest and the Poacher (who the Priest has hired, along with his dog, to track the girl down). We have the seemingly simple premise of a girl who steals a child and is being hunted down. Yet we also have the question of why she is being hunted so coldly and ruthlessly, and without giving away any spoilers, the question of what links this girl to the Priest who is following her rather than the child’s father or mother. There are grey areas that we need to learn about.

Myers prose initially seems incredibly sparse, for a start not a word is wasted. There’s no waffle, there’s no filler, every word counts. Yet this is less a case of scarcity and more a case of hidden depths and leaving the reader to do some of the work and fill in the aforementioned grey areas, rightly or wrongly, as things are slowly revealed. The girl herself is mute and so her actions are what show us her true character whilst also making her plight and escape all the more difficult. The Priest doesn’t really want to talk, apart from when in his sleep he becomes loose lipped, other than when absolutely necessary.

In case you are thinking this book sounds like it is relentlessly dark, fret not. Firstly it reads like a mix of adventure and thriller (whilst astoundingly written) so you will whizz through it as in its essence it is a chase novel. When things get particularly bleak Myers often throws in some black comedy, it’s really dark but it will make you chuckle, occasionally despite yourself. I found this particularly so in the relationship between the Priest, who is odious, and the Poacher, who is like a village idiot meets hit man. That said overall this is not a book for those of you who like a cosy love story, this is a story of humans in their most unflinching rawness.

The Poacher looked at the back of the Priest’s pale thin neck – a neck that unlike his had not seen sun this past season. He looked at the Priest’s neck and thought how easy it would be to snap it with some snaring wire and then he idly wondered whether the punishment for putting a man of God in the soil was greater than that of a common man and then he thought of all the different ways he would dispose of a body out here if he had to. Of course pigs were the best way. Any countryman knew that a half dozen hogs could do to a body in half a day that which time and the elements and the scavengers would take half a year or longer to do. Because it’s the bones and the skull that are the tricky parts. And the teeth. Especially the teeth.

This is why Beastings is the perfect title and why Myers names it so. That’s the beastings he said. The mother’s first milk for the newborn. The best bit. Tit-fresh. When I said this novel was about the rawness of humans, I probably actually meant their most animalistic. The most base and in some cases utterly beastly ways in which they behave when trying to survive, for each of our four characters is fighting for survival in one way or another whatever their motives.

I said there were only four characters and actually that is a lie. There is one huge fifth main character and that is Cumbria and her mountains. Snarker Pike, Troutbeck Park, Seat Sandal, Dollywaggon Pike, Lyulph’s Tower, Prison Crag, Poadpot Hill and many more all brood in the background as our heroine makes her route of escape. Sometimes Cumbria is the perfect idyll of a place to hide, more often a threatening, dangerous and trickier customer. Always beautiful, always present, always watching, always celebrated. In essence what we have here is a literary thriller of the highest order and one that really stands out from the crowd and packs an intense, unflinching and disturbing punch as you read to its dramatic climax. It is also a love letter to Cumbria, be it a dark twisted one that has got covered in mud and torn as it was blown through a few hedges and down a few dells.

When asked to give a quote for Beastings recently, I described it as ‘Thomas Hardy meets Cormac McCarthy, need I say more?” I actually wanted to say “imagine if Thomas Hardy and Cormac McCarthy had a bastard lovechild” but I didn’t think that the literary world might be ready for such a statement or the images that it conjurors in so many ways. Anyway, I gave that quote firstly because Beastings is one of those books that feels like it has elements of classics of the past, feels contemporary and discusses issues (religion, nature vs. nurture, nature vs. humans) of the here and now plus could actually be set in some apocalyptic wasteland of a British Isles of the future. Clever, huh? Also secondly Myers writing and storytelling is just that bloody good. If I were a cult leader here is where I would endeth my Sunday Sermon from the Savidge Mount. So go forth and read it. Now.

Don’t forget to go and see Benjamin’s shelves and read about his utter passion for books here. It made me want to be his new beardy best mate and start a beardy book club with him. Who else has read Beastings and what did you make of it? Have you read any of Myers’ other novels? I think I am going to give Pig Iron a whirl next!

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Filed under Benjamin Myers, Bluemoose Books, Books of 2015, Review