Tag Archives: Jen Campbell

Independent Bookshop Week 2016 (And The Chance To Win A Book From One) #IBW2016

To turn away from all the dreadful news of late, lets head towards something that all of us book lovers, erm, love. Independent Bookshops. For today in the UK it is Independent Bookshop Week 2016, where e celebrate the wonderful independent bookshops up and down the country. So I thought that we could celebrate it here on the blog too. I have mentioned on many an occasion how much bookshops mean to me now and have meant to me over the years and how important I think they are in the world, so any chance to celebrate them is a good thing. I have found some of my favourite books in them, had wonderful conversations in them (with booksellers, friends, family and the occasional random stranger or two, sometimes with tea and cake) and have many many happy memories of my time in them. In fact my favourite picture of myself and Granny Savidge, who I miss going bookshopping with and chatting about books to dreadfully) was taken in my favourite independent, Scarthin Books.

Awww, the memories and the laughter… and the occasional string disagreement on an author or book. It was as much a treat going book shopping with my Gran in my early thirties as it was in my early years, just a slight shift of focus in the books I was looking at and hopefully the conversation. I have waxed lyrical about the bookshops I love and the books I have found in them in the YouTube (I know so modern) video below, if you are on YouTube do give this tag a whirl and let me know once you have or if you have already.

I won’t be heading to a bookshop today, as The Beard has gone away from a weekend working and so I am allowing myself a weekend in having a readathon by myself BUT you can be sure I will heading to some when I am in London later in the week. In fact myself and the lovely Jen Campbell are going to do lunch and Libreria (a bookshop I have been very intrigued by and not been to yet) which has lead my to an idea… If you answer the following questions by the end of Wednesday the 22nd of June I will choose one of you at random and buy you a book in Libreria based on your answers. I may even get you a tote bag if they do them. So the questions are…

a) What is your favourite bookshop. b) What is the last amazing book you were recommended or found browsing in a bookshop? c) What is your favourite book of all time?

Based on those I will try and find whoever wins a brilliant book and send it to you anywhere in the world? How does that sound? Right, I am off to stick my nose back in a brilliant book. Good luck.

Update – I belatedly picked a winner, well The Beard chose the number 20 at random so congrats to Marissa Gaudette who I will be getting a copy of Iain Pears’ Arcadia (based on her favourites) as soon as I get her address. 

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Sweet Home – Carys Bray

Having had one of the worst bouts of flu in years over the last week, hence the silence, the one thing that would have made it bearable would have reading. As I seemed to become allergic to light this was not possible until yesterday when I promptly devoured Cary Bray’s short story collection Sweet Home (which I discovered through Jen Campbell) and it proved the perfect reading prescription. Short captivating tales with a hint of magical that entertained me and allowed me to doze between each or every other tale and have slightly surreal and magical dreams that matched the books contents. This was a huge relief to me, for the last week while I have been (seriously) sweating, sneezing, coughing or having an occasional woe is me weep, all I have been dreaming about it giving politicians a tour or a very grey office block, seriously, on repeat. So as I said, this collection was the perfect short series of bursts of escapism.

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Windmill Books, 2016, paperback, short stories, 180 pages, bought by myself for myself

When it comes to short stories I tend to have two types that I really love, make that three. First there is the fairytale; be it a classic, a modern retelling or something completely new. Secondly I like short stories that have a twist you don’t see coming or pack a hefty punch when you least expect it. Thirdly I like a bittersweet tale that encompasses a whole novel in mere pages, I want it all – love, grief, happiness, devastation. In her debut collection Sweet Home, which was published in 2012 by Salt (and annoyingly I missed) and has now been republished by Windmill, Carys Bray delivers all three of these things that I love, sometimes all at once.

It is always difficult to summarise a collection, something I say in every single review I do of one I know, yet there are certain themes which Bray seems to be studying and exploring the intricacies with Sweet Home. The first, funnily enough, is ‘the home’. Through the collection what constitutes a home, what makes a happy one and if home really is where the heart is, are all looked at. In the story Wooden Mum, Bray cleverly looks at the role and respect a mother feels she is shown through the ways her children play with a dolls house and the wooden family within it. It is also the main point of the title story which looks at a woman who buys a piece of forest and building a house made from sugar and sweets…

Of course no one accused the woman of being a witch. But she was foreign. Her words percolated up the tunnel of her throat, espresso-thick and strong. Bad weather had eroded her face. Some believed that the sun had crisped her skin into coriaceous pleats. Others blamed the chaw of a wintery climate. No one knew where she had come from, though lots of people privately thought that perhaps she ought to go back.

This leads us nicely into the element of fairytale that runs through the book. In most stories there is mention of one or comparisons of one. It is probably the retelling of Hansel and Gretel in Sweet Home or in The Ice Baby, a wonderful and quite literally heartbreaking tale of a couple who are desperate to have a child and so far have been unable to. There is also the dystopic fairytale, if such a thing exists, The Baby Aisle where the busy working mum or dad can simply pick up a child in a supermarket, they even have reduced ones, it isn’t specified but I think you could probably get club card points with them too. This really is the second main theme and topic of Sweet Home, children and childhood. In stories like The Countdown, Bed Rest and the incredibly unsettling Just In Case, we find parents who have either lost children, are panicking about losing children or are looking at certain periods of worry in their own childhood’s. One of the most powerful stories in the collection is Scaling Never which is told through the eyes of a young boys as he deals with his own, along with his families, grief after the death of his sister Issy…

The house is full of sadness. It’s packed into every crevice and corner like snow. There are bottomless drifts of it beside Issy’s Cinderella beanbag in the lounge. The sadness gives Jacob the shivers and he takes refuge in the garden. Like the house, it is higgledy and unkempt. The lawn is scuffed and threadbare in places like a grassy doormat that’s felt too many feet.

For those of you who know of Carys Bray’s incredibly well received and read debut novel, A Song for Issy Bradley, this is where I am guessing the story originated and it has certainly left me with a real hankering to get to that novel very soon. Grief and death soon become clear preoccupations for Bray as much as birth, this also links into health and in many of the stories someone is ill be it bed rest for a child to come, a simple bug, Alzheimer’s or cancer. The latter are the case in two of my favourites tales, which sounds odd considering the subject matter. My Burglar made me want to cry as our protagonist goes around her house telling us, and her daughter, that she is sure she is being burgled or the most random items. Then there is what I think is the collections knock out story, Under Covers.

Carol’s bra is spread-eagled in the hedge like a monstrous, albino bat. The wind has blown it off the washing line and tossed it onto the wispy fingertips of the leylandii, where it reclines in a sprawl of wire, hooks and corralling lace. Despite her best efforts, she can’t reach it. Her washing basket is full of dry laundry. She has removed the pegs from the line and placed them in their little bag. But she can’t go back indoors until she has retrieved the fugitive bra. People might see it.

What follows here is the tale of Carol, her husband, and the two girls watching from the upstairs window and it is just so beautifully told and intricately woven. We see the story of the change in a marriage as an older woman tries to find her bra and thinks of all the things it stands for, from a healthy sex life to a healthy life and the two giggling teenagers who have their whole lives, and love lives, ahead of them. If it doesn’t choke you up and have you thinking long and hard about everything then you have no heart – there I have said it!

It is a testament to Bray’s writing that all these subject matters are dealt with in a way that is  honest, unflinching and confronting, yet told in a warm, emotive and tender way even when at their most bittersweet. Bray also does that thing I love so much, she makes the ordinary seem extraordinary and, particularly in the case of On The Way Home where we flit from person to person down a street, she finds the magical in the tales of everyday folk. I think Sweet Home is a wonderful, wonderful collection. I shall be heading to Cary Bray’s novels very soon indeed.

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Filed under Books of 2016, Carys Bray, Review, Short Stories, Windmill Books

The Story of Antigone – Ali Smith

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had the urge to return to my classicist roots, well genes if such things are in the blood which I feel they might be, and was working out how to do it. I plumped for the option of heading to a retelling by a favourite author and whilst I had Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad I decided to go for one I didn’t own by another author I love dearly too. Any excuse for a new book, I can’t lie. This was a book I had no idea existed until I saw Jen Campbell mention a while back, when doing a video on Ali Smith’s works. It was The Story of Antigone. So I promptly bought a copy and proceeded to read it in one big wonderful gulp one night after work. (I so need more books I can do that with, it’s quite the feeling to come home from work and somehow devour a whole book!)

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Pushkin Press, paperback, 2015, fiction, illustrated byLaura Paoletti, 100 pages, bought by myself for myself

Ali Smith sets herself no easy challenge in adapting the story of Antigone for a new audience, which this book is part of an initiative to do, because it is both complex and part of a the greek myths which tend to have glimmers of what could be bigger stories within the one epic. Antigone, a young Theban princess, has not long lost her father (King Oedipus) and now her brother Polynices has just been killed in battle. Polynices has been declared a traitor by the new King, King Creon, and so his body must remain outside, uncovered and open to the elements, to be eaten by crows. Should anyone dare to try and bury him they will be found and stoned to death. Funnily enough this is what Antigone wants to do, despite her sisters best efforts to beg her to leave Polynices and save themselves. Yet if you are facing death anyway what is there to lose?

In many ways the story of Antigone is actually a story that is really part of the story before it, and after it, if you know what I mean. I know you could say this of most books; however it is particularly so here. Many authors would struggle to set it up as a tale in its own right, though many have tried, Ali Smith seems to do this effortlessly. One of the instant ways in which she does this is to tell it through the voice (and eyes) of a crow. One of those crows that is probably going to get to chow down on Polynices at some point if Antigone doesn’t get there first.

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This works brilliantly. Firstly, despite my disdain for talking animals in fiction, who doesn’t like a talking crow? By their nature crows are a little bit sinister and somewhat untrustworthy and unpredictable by nature. Therefore being the perfect sarcastic and unreliable narrator who will appeal to readers of all ages. The crow is also, obviously, not human which also adds a distance to the story that is unfolding below. This to me makes the story at once all the more macabre and gory, because every Greek myth tends to be and crows delight on the bloody bits, and also oddly all the less disturbing as it takes away the human fear of death (which this story is all about) yet observes the human emotion of grief and makes the human need for power and control seem a bit daft frankly. In Smith’s hands the crow really is the perfect narrator.

“So,” the crow said. “What happened then was this. First his mother/wife killed herself, didn’t she, for ‘shame’. For ‘scandal’. And what did King Oedipus do then, for goodness sake? He put his hands in his own head and he took out his own eyes! And off he went, wandering the world like an old tramp, not a king at all. Typical still-alive stuff. His two sons. The big brothers of those two girls we just saw arguing, decided they’d share being king instead. The guess what happened? Go on. Guess.”

What I also really loved about crow and his voice (apart from the very witty interview he gives Ali Smith at the end about why she wrote the book, very meta and very entertaining) is that you are completely captivated. You also leave The Story of Antigone wanting to read a whole heap more around it. The way crow introduces the context of the story inside the story before and the story after (oh here I go again, making it sound all complicated unintentionally) hints at these othetr wonderful tales and leaves you desperate for more, as you can see above. I wanted crows version of the tale of Oedipus in more detail, maybe Ali Smith could just come back and adapt them all in a series all of her own?

Before I round off I do need to mention the gorgeous illustrations throughout by Laura Paoletti. As Smith does with the text, Paoletti again takes the old elements of the ancient classic and gives it a modern twist. I felt the pictures were at once contemporary and yet harked back to the wall paintings that you see when visiting a collection of Greek works in a museum or adorning the walls of a Greek ruin where they have survived. I thought this was a fantastic and apt addition to the book.

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The Story of Antigone was the perfect way back into the world of the ancient classics and myths and legends that I have been hankering after of late. It has left me most keen to go away and find more adaptations but also head back to the real thing. My mother, who is a classicist and who I saw last weekend, has told me I need to seek out a really good translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses so if any of you know of a great edition of that please let me know. A new translation of The Iliad has arrived this week, so I am wondering if may that is where I will head next, though it does look rather daunting. What do you think, just dive in? I also really want to try the other Pushkin ‘Save the Story‘ titles too, The Story of Gilgamesh by Yiyun Li particularly appeals.

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A Weekend in Ilkley (and Ilkley Book Festival!) 

I have spent my first weekend back in the UK away from home in the Yorkshire Dales/Moors and in the wonderful village (and mainly the pub) of Ben Rhydding next to Ilkley. What on earth was I doing there? Well apart from eating, drinking and chatting about books in the pub I was there  as part of the programme for Ilkley Literature Festival, which has just started and if you’re nearby you should really check out.

I was kindly invited by New Writing North to take part in a talk on writing and reading in the digital age and what social media, blogs and vlogs etc are doing for the industry, for readers and for writers. Chaired by (the lovely) Claire Malcolm, who is New Writing North’s CEO, I was on a panel with author and vlogger Jen Campbell and Unbound’s editor-at- large Rachael Kerr. It was a joy to do events with Claire and Rachael again and also to finally meet Jen! The audience were also brilliant. Annoyingly I forgot to take a picture of any of us together or the audience. I am a fool. 

I really love it when you get to do an event with an audience that is as engaged as last nights was. Some of the questions (which I will be answering in full soon here) really, really made me think. Never before has some asked me how responsible I feel about reviewing, or if they have I’ve never been made to think about it as much as I have since. Nor have I ever been asked what I feel my role is, if any, between author and reader. I didn’t think I had one, the audience weren’t so sure. Much to think on and come back to.

Before the event, after having checked in at the hotel which is a pub, I did manage to go around Ilkley. By which I actually mean I went to the wonderful Grove Bookshop… 

And parted with some cash as I somehow, because of the wonderful layout and selection of books, came away with not one but four books, it’s a sickness…

One I had actually asked if they had in (I’m Jack by Mark Blacklock) and they didn’t but managed to get in with a day’s notice. Now that is a bookshop to be proud of – and dream of having locally. Speaking of locals, I must mention the place I spent most of my time, The Wheatley Arms. No, I haven’t become a lush this was our hotel and it was, erm, lush. Look at my room…

I had a balcony all of my own. Now look at the Whitby crab and chips I had for my tea… 

I spent several hours in the restaurant and bar last night with Rachael, Claire and her husband putting the publishing and book world to rights. Before returning again for breakfast this morning and doing the same with Rachael and Jen before we all had to catch our trains. Well after a small lie in with a nice cuppa Yorkshire Tea (my fav) and one of the books I had bought in the worlds most comfortable bed.  

What a lovely weekend. Next weekend I am off to Durham Book Festival, more on that on Tuesday, but for now I will leave you with a link again to Ilkley Literature Festival, and these questions… What have you all been upto this weekend and what are you reading?

Oh and UPDATE the event I took part in has been reviewed. Me being reviewed seems most odd, thankfully it was a good one, phew. 

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#BuyBooksForSyria

The capacity for bookish bods to do wonderful and charitable things is quite something. Not long ago Patrick Ness set up a fundraiser for Syria through Save The Children, which is still taking donations, and has just blown up and now made over $1,000,000. In the last couple of weeks author and vlogger Jen Campbell announced her challenge to write 100 Poems in 24 hours from the 6th to the 7th of October for The Book Bus, a wonderful charity that sends mobile libraries to communities in various places across Africa, Asia and South America to help children learn to read, provide teaching materials and create school libraries. Now the book shop chain Waterstones, one of the few chain stores I love whole heartedly, have announced their Buy Books For Syria campaign….

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They have teamed up with authors and UK publishers to raise £1m for Oxfam’s Syria Crisis appeal. From Today they will be selling books in our shops from a range of authors with all the proceeds going to Oxfam. A wide range of authors are supporting the campaign, including Philip Pullman, Hilary Mantel, David Walliams, Neil Gaiman, David Nicholls, Marian Keyes, Victoria Hislop, Ali Smith, Robert Harris, Lee Child, Salman Rushdie, Caitlin Moran, Julia Donaldson and Jacqueline Wilson.

I was kindly asked if I would like to champion one of the books and once the list was announced I went and chose one of my favourite thrillers of the last year or so which is Tom Rob Smith’s The Farm. If you haven’t read this corker of a thriller then here is my review to give you a taster and to add an extra reason to get your mitts on a copy for this cause.

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Though frankly don’t even go and look at that just please do order the book, using this special link so the proceeds all go to Syria, if you haven’t read it yet. If you have read it then have a look at the rest of the special selection of books which you can buy in store or online using the special links here. Often when we take a moment away from our books and watch the news we feel like we can’t really do anything massive, well with this initiative we can, and all buy buying ourselves and/or our loved ones the gift of a book. Simple really, how can we not? I am off to go and choose a title or two myself!

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Head Down; More Reading, Less Everything Else…

I shouldn’t really be typing this. I should actually be busy reading and nothing else. But having looked at the next few weeks it seems that all I should be doing is reading and pretty much nothing else. You see, the thing is my bookish projects have started to get a little out of hand, though in a good way, I think…

Books Ahead

What you see above this is two piles of books I really need to read over the next few weeks, yes I said weeks. On the left are some of the books that I need to read or re-read for discussions that I will be having at the Liverpool Literature Festival (you can find the brochure here IOW Listing Brochure 22-3). I say some of the books as I am still waiting on a few and need to dig out a few Jeanette Winterson and Philippa Gregory novels before the big World Book Night launch that I will be reporting on and involved with launching this year in Liverpool and sort of kicking the festival off.

On the right we have some more books that I need to be reading (again am waiting on a few copies of other books by these authors) in preparation for forthcoming episodes of You Wrote The Book! which seems to have kicked off with a bang and now I am kicking myself with joy at some of the authors who have said yes (though Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Caitlin Moran still need final confirmations) and so might be making the podcast weekly instead of fortnightly.

Here I should note that I am in no way complaining about all this, it has left me all a bit daunted/panicked and a little muddled too. Which is why I need to stop talking, tweeting, photo posting, and blogging – well at least lessen them all – and just get on with reading shouldn’t I? I haven’t even taken into account that I will be reading the entire Women’s Prize shortlist for We Love This Book. Erm, let’s move on, shall we? Ha!

Anyway, I thought I would explain where I am at and why the blog and I might be a little quieter for a month or two (of course reviews of these books will pop up, as will bookish thoughts and reports from various events and things). I have said ‘Middlemarch’ reading is now postponed until further notice, I was going to say May or June but I don’t want to make a promise that I can’t keep so will update you after May if that is ok. Right, best get on with some of this lovely reading hadn’t I and stop this waffling on. What are you all reading at the moment?

P.S if you see me on Twitter too much can you tell me off, ha!

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In Other Words

So over the last few weeks I have been mysteriously hinting at what I have been up to as I have been working with Culture Liverpool on the first Liverpool literature festival. Well now I can finally tell you all just what I will be doing and all the events that I have planned for ‘In Other Words 2013’, and I am really, really excited about it…

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One of the things I am super excited about is that fact that Liverpool is the only city outside London that is hosting World Book Night for 2013. So on the opening night of the festival, which is in honour of the library re-opening after a huge revamp, is jam packed with exciting things as the ‘marketplace’ will be brimming with book swappers, book shoppers and even a cafe that is doing a special literary based menu. If that inst enough some of the authors (Philippa Gregory, Jasper Fforde, Jeanette Winterson, Jackie Kay and Patrick Ness) will all be at events on the opening night. Naturally I will be clamoring to get to these events, and these authors, to report back and have some serious fan-boy moments.

Over the next three weeks there are even more stonking events with James Herbert doing a special night of ‘Tales of Terror’ in some very dark and spooky infamous Liverpool tunnels, the Mersey’s finest poets Roger McGough and Brian Pattern (my favourite author as a kid) are appearing, as are Denise Mina, Janet Street Porter, Melvyn Bragg, Karen Campbell and Helen Walsh (who will be giving a writing workshop) and Rosie Garland having a book launch with a big circus… and much, much more! How awesome is that? And all of it will be (almost) on my doorstep. It is too exciting for words, in other words.

Now apart from going and being a real fan boy and a punter, I will also be hosting some events which are;

Novel Approaches: Ben Marcus & Keith Ridgway

Free | 24th April

6.30pm , Studio 2, Parr Street, 33-45 Parr Street, Liverpool, L1 4JN

Join authors Keith Ridgway and Ben Marcus in conversation with Simon Savidge about the novel, what makes it a novel, how it is evolving and how both authors, rather infamously with two highly talked about books of last year, are breaking the stereotypes of what can constitute a novel and how the written word can be used in many different ways.

Afternoon Tea With John Whaite

Ticketed | 28th April

Afternoon Tea With John Whaite , Liverpool Town Hall, High Street, Liverpool, L2 3SW

Join the winner of the Great British Bake Off 2012 for tea and, most aptly, baked goods in the delights of the Town Hall to talk about his time on the show, swapping banking for baking and how his new book John Whaite Bakes looks at food for any mood, plus he will share some top tips too.

Cost: £10 includes afternoon tea made by the Town Hall , Please book in advance at http://www.itsliverpool.com/culture

Council Estate Of Mind: Class And The Novel

Free | 29th April

6.30pm – 7.30pm , Kuumba Imani, Millennium Centre Cafe, 4 Princes Road, Liverpool, L8 1TH

Join authors Kerry Hudson, James Smythe and Claire McGowan, currently Director of the Crime Writer’s Association, in conversation with Simon Savidge about class and the novel. Why is it that the middle and upper classes have been more predominant in fiction and how the ‘council estate’ novel is now rising as its own sub-genre and how to give voice to the unspoken in society.

First Words; Debut Authors In Discussion

Free | 30th April

6.30pm – 7.30pm , The Attic, 33-35 Parr Street, Liverpool L1 4JN

How hard is the road to getting your first book published? Is being an author all you expect it to be? These questions and many more will be answered by debut novelists of 2013 Beatrice Hitchman, Sarah Butler and Gavin Extence, John Ironmonger and Kerry Hudson who debuted in fine form in 2012. They will also offer tips to budding debut novelists out there too.

Celebrating The Bookshop

Free | 5th May

2.30pm – 3.30pm , The Bluecoat, School Lane, Liverpool, L1 3BX

If you love words, you have to love a bookshop. Join Jessica Fox; who swapped NASA and the US for a book shop in Wigtown, Sarah Henshaw; who sells books aboard a barge she lived, worked and travelled on all last year; Jen Campbell; a bookseller whose books are about the odd things people say in bookshops and Mandy Vere; of independent bookshop News from Nowhere for a discussion on why we love a bookshop, why we need them and why the future is bright for them even in the age of the e-reader.

So all in all I am excited on all sorts of levels, in part because I am getting to interview some cracking authors for my own events, in part as I have been loving being involved in the cities first literary festival and also because I am going to just geek out with lots of book based goodies for a solid two weeks.

I will of course be reporting back on the blog and also on The Readers and You Wrote The Book! too, so if you have any questions for any of the authors or want me to report on any of the events specifically then do please let me know. I really had better get a wriggle on with some serious reading hadn’t I?

(Oh and well done Kateg who correctly guessed that all the books in the picture yesterday were off books by authors, well some of them, that I will be having events with at In Other Words, email me with your details to collect your prize!)

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