Tag Archives: Ted Hughes

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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Filed under Literary Destinations, Random Savidgeness, Reading Retreat, Travel

Grief is the Thing with Feathers – Max Porter

It has been brilliant having a good old sort out of books wherever they may be shelved, or indeed hiding, in the house as it has reminded me of the books I have to look forward to and also the ones that I have loved and the ones that I have loved and haven’t written about yet. One of the books which has probably made both the biggest impression on me, whilst reading and in the pondering it has left me with since, has to be Max Porter’s debut Grief Is the Thing with Feathers. Such an impression did it leave on me (and so many thoughts did it bring) I had to read it twice within a short space of time.

Faber & Faber, 2015, hardback, fiction, 128 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Once upon a time there were two boys who purposefully misremembered things about their father. It made them feel better if ever they forgot things about their mother.

It is no surprise that from the title of a novel such as Grief is the Thing with Feathers the subject is going to be, you guessed it, grief. Whilst the idea of members of a family coming to terms with the passing of a loved one and the effect this has on them might not be the newest of subjects, I think it is safe to say that I have never read a book that describes the varying emotions of grief in such an honest and fractured way. We see grief through the eyes of the three people in the house, a father and two sons, as they try to come to a way of understanding the loss that now surrounds them and the blank unknown of what lies ahead. Into this space appears Crow an unwelcome guest who is both helpful and hindering and who will stay put until these three no longer need him.

In other versions I am a doctor or a ghost. Perfect devices: doctors, ghosts and crows. We can do things other characters can’t, like eat sorrow, un-birth secrets and have theatrical battles with language and God. I was friend excuse, deus ex machina, joke, symptom, figment, spectre, crutch, toy, phantom, gag, analyst and babysitter.

What or who Crow is changes on the page as often as it will in the readers mind. Is this actually a crow that has just happened upon the scent of loss and wants to do some good? Should we judge him on his dark and pointed exterior for the trickster we see? Is Crow a manifestation of a husband’s way of dealing with the emptiness that invades every thought or is the manifestation of the two boys missing their mother? Is it a father’s madness taking on the form of his slight obsession with the poet Ted Hughes* as some sort of coping mechanism and/or breakdown? Is he an entire emotion come to life filling every piece of emptiness in these three’s house and worlds post death? Could Crow be all of these things? It is up to the reader to make up their own mind.

One of the reasons that I was so gripped/intrigued/horrified by Grief is the Thing with Feathers was the character of Crow, who is a riddle in himself and a puzzle you want to solve. I was also completely captivated by the writing. I felt whilst reading that I was under some kind of spell in the way it mixes the reality of grief, and the horror of it, with a slightly giddy yet unnerving sense of the fairytale or the supernatural. There’s a raw modern narrative and a very quintessentially gothic essence to it which I also loved. It also feels in many ways like an essay to grief that is also a poem, the language is wonderful even when it seems utterly bizarre, you are hooked.

Look at that, look, did I not, oi, stab it. Good book, funny bodies, open door, slam door, spit this, lick that, lift, oi, look, stop it.

The main thing that I really loved (if that is the right word) about this book however was the depiction of grief. I always have huge admiration for writers who tackle the difficult or the ugly things in life and, no matter how hard it might be to write or to read, embrace them and give us them with their full honesty, unflinchingly. As I mentioned when I read Cathy Rentzenbrink’s The Last Act of Love, grief is something which we really do not like to talk about and yet we all face and when we do we really need someone to talk about it with. Max Porter has created a novel which does this with a rage and a beauty that moved me so much.

Without sounding too daft, as I read this book I felt like I was going through grief again, in a strange way both for this fictional family that I have never met (because they don’t exist Simon) and for anyone I have lost in my life. On one page I would be slightly confused, the next I would be laughing like a drain, the following I would be howling and then there were those particular brutal bittersweet moments where we mourn everything we have lost and celebrate everything that we had, those memories which break our hearts but remind us of the wonder of love and the people we love or have loved.

The house becomes a physical encyclopaedia of no-longer hers, which shocks and shocks and is the principle difference between our house and a house where illness has worked away. Ill people, in their last day on Earth, do not leave notes stuck to bottles of red wine saying ‘OH NO YOU DON’T COCK CHEEK’. She was not busy dying, and there is no detritus of care, she was simply busy living, and then she was gone.

So to put it simply, I think that Grief is the Thing with Feathers is a rather exceptional book. It is one which puts you through the ringer, leaving you distraught and then hopeful. It is the sort of book you rush through once and then have to go back through and read slowly taking all the intricacies in and then pondering over it all afterwards. It resonated with me and affected me, which is all I ever hope for from a book – one of my books of the year.

*Oh, before I go I should mention the Ted Hughes connection which I have seen has caused some discussion over the interweb with many a bookish sort. If any of you are wondering if you need to have an appreciation of Ted Hughes and his Crow in particular my answer would be no… Because I have read very little Hughes and I had no idea that the Crow collection existed. Before you call me a heathen (possibly too late) I can say that having read Grief is The Thing With Feathers I have got a copy waiting for me at the bookshop to pick up on pay day. So not only did the book affect me greatly, it also got me heading for a poetry collection which is not my normal bag at all. What can I say? Something about the soul of this book resonated with me that I want to find out more around it, even though it is fiction. Yes, this book is that good, not that I needed to tell you again.

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Filed under Books of 2015, Faber & Faber, Max Porter, Review