May 2021

Poem | Quiz | Book Reviews | Literary Festivals | Writing Retreats | Short Form Group | Uplift?

A Poem to Ponder

from Hazel Ellis-Saxon 

Please Mrs Butler

by Allan Ahlberg

Please Mrs Butler
This boy Derek Drew
Keeps copying my work, Miss.
What shall I do?

Go and sit in the hall, dear.
Go and sit in the sink.
Take your books on the roof, my lamb.
Do whatever you think.

Please Mrs Butler
This boy Derek Drew
Keeps taking my rubber, Miss.
What shall I do?

Keep it in your hand, dear.
Hide it up your vest.
Swallow it if you like, my love.
Do what you think is best.

Please Mrs Butler

This boy Derek Drew
Keeps calling me rude names, miss.
What shall I do?

Lock yourself in the cupboard, dear.
Run away to sea.
Do whatever you can, my flower.
But don’t ask me.

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Brilliant Book Quiz from Penguin Publishing.

Full version here


Six questions where the answers all contain the surname of a British prime minister . . .

1. The Diana Chronicles is a book about the former Princess of Wales by which former editor of The New Yorker and VanityFair?

2. In Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, what’s the name of the classmate that Tom falls in love with?

3. What’s John Steinbeck’s longest novel, which takes its title from a phrase in the Bible and became a film starring James Dean?

4. Barry Humphries’s autobiography More Please chronicles his childhood in which city?

5. What name follows The Miseducation of . . . in the title of a lesbian coming-of-age novel by Emily M. Danforth that became the basis of an indie film in 2018?

6. Which African-American author’s works include Giovanni’s RoomNotes of a Native Son and Go Tell It on the Mountain?

And six where the answers all contain the surname of an American president . . .

7. Which British author’s works include Wise ChildrenNights at the Circus and The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories?

8. Who wrote A Confederacy of Dunces, published to great acclaim 11 years after he’d committed suicide – partly because he couldn’t find a publisher for the novel?

9. Who, in 1978, became the first woman to have a wholly self-penned number one single in Britain, with a song based on a novel of 1847?

10. Whose 1999 childcare guide The Contented Little Baby Book somewhat controversially advocates a strict feeding and sleeping routine for babies?

11. The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia was the only novel by which 18th-century critic, poet and lexicographer?

12. Who wrote the true-crime book In Cold Blood, often called the first non-fiction novel?


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Book Reviews

Hamnetby Maggie O’Farrell

If you have not read the reviews of this book, the quickest way to give you an overview is to say that it is about the son of Shakespeare and his wife, who dies at an all too early age, and is commemorated by his playwright father in the title of his work ‘Hamlet’ (Hamnet and Hamlet being entirely interchangeable in records of the time).

The author puts the name of Shakespeare and all its associations totally to one side and builds the world of Stratford in the late 1500’s, the families living there, their relationships, the bartering nature of marriage at the time, and the lives of Agnes (Anne Hathaway, as she is more commonly known), Will and their courtship, marriage and children.  

The character of Agnes is at the centre of the novel – a woman slightly out of kilter with the women of the day, a plantswoman who can brew potions to cure and salve ills, and who is a strong independent soul, sure and determined.  Her husband-to-be is drawn as a restless man, disengaged from his family’s business of glove-making, and fathered by an overly shrewd businessman, scornful and quick with his fists.  The interplay between the adults in this household is well portrayed, the shifts and subconscious concessions made by the younger couple, and the gradual diminishment of the older as Will takes control of his life, and Agnes proves herself to be more than capable in so many ways.

The children, especially the twins (Hamnet and Judith) fill this world – they are alive on the page, so beautifully written, and the bond between the twins, which is to play a shattering role in the tragic centre of the story, is vivid and moving.  The relationship between twins and mother is the focus of the tragedy – the all-consuming illness that Agnes is forced to fight with all her skills, and the ultimate outcome are so sensitively brought to the reader that I felt myself in the room with them all, watching, hardly daring to read on.

The second part of the novel deals with the aftermath, and the ways in which each family member deals with the heartbreak.  The final section, involving a misunderstanding between husband and wife is wonderfully written, allowing both parents their share of grief, and the possibility of a way forward from the devastation they have endured.  

Re-reading this, I realise that I’ve made ‘Hamnet’ sound like an all-out sob-fest, but it is so much more – Radio 4’s Front Row called it ‘Immersive… A real feat of the imagination’, and the Observer rated it as ‘… the novel of O’Farrell’s career…’  

You can’t say fairer than that!  Review by Tracey Robbins

Everyday Zen: Charlotte Joko Beck

I recently passed this book onto a friend and then realised I needed to replace it and promptly ordered a new one!

It was written by a Buddhist monk based in San Francisco. It is a straightforward guide to Buddhist practise, developed over her many years of living as a monk and teaching. Each chapter deals with a different aspect of Buddhist teaching and is followed by a Q and A session between her students and herself, around the aspect of bringing the teachings into everyday life. 

Joko came to Buddhist practise relatively late in life, in her forties. She had been married, divorced and had children, which somehow helps to give the book has an accessible approach to Buddhism as part of daily life, not as something esoteric and mystical. 

Since the pandemic many people have turned to various mindfulness techniques to help them cope with the demands of life under lockdown. I feel that Joko’s light touch with a very deep subject could sit alongside self-help books, as well as perhaps opening up a different view of how we might choose to live our lives in a more conscious and compassionate way.

Review by Angie Bennett

Notes from an Apocalypse: by Mark O’Connell

I wasn’t quite sure whether this was the ideal book for lockdown but in the event, I enjoyed it very much and sped through it. Mark O’Connell is a writer based in Dublin with a young family. He writes for newspapers like the Guardian and New York Times, and has won prizes for his last book ‘To be a Machine’. This latest book ‘Notes from an Apocalypse’ was written just before the Covid pandemic hit, and so in his 2020 paperback he has added an additional beginning chapter from this most recent apocalypse.

The book is essentially a memoir, not only about his apocalyptic anxiety but also about parenthood in these worrying times. He visits and interviews the American preppers, the Mars Society, millionaires buying up land in New Zealand, he spends time in the Scottish mountains and finally visits Chernobyl, that vision of a nuclear destroyed world. All quite fascinating and told with humour, insight and wit. I even learnt some new words – who knew what ‘refulgent’ meant?

It’s a good read, interesting and entertaining, and it might even spawn some ideas for stories in the sci-fi ordystopian genre.

Review by Maggie Weir-Wilson

An Unwanted Guest, by Shari Lapena

This novel only covers a weekend – minute by minute, but it’s brilliantly put together and fast paced so consequently keeps you gripped – to the very end!

Easy to read and the author has done a great job with all the characters so you can immediately relate to them without having to think ‘who’s that’.  

I don’t want to give too much away to avoid spoiling the intrigue, so my review is short and sweet but it’s a skilful ending with not one but two twists – so make sure you read to the very last page!

Shari Lapena worked as a layer and an English teacher before writing fiction.  She has two other novels – The Couple Next Door, and A Stranger in the House which are on my list of books to read!

Will be interested to hear what others think! Enjoy!

Review by Sandra Gordon

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Quiz Answers

Brilliant Book Quiz: Answers

1. Tina Brown
2. Becky Thatcher
3. East of Eden
4. Melbourne. (Like Humphries himself, the book does move on from there. The title More Please comes from the first words that Humphries apparently ever spoke.)
5. Cameron Post
6. James Baldwin
7. Angela Carter
8. John Kennedy Toole
9. Kate Bush (the single being ‘Wuthering Heights’)
10. Gina Ford
11. Samuel Johnson
12. Truman Capote

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Literary Festivals

The Stay at Home Literary Festival is back. The brainchild of author and senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow CJ Cooke, the festival began last year as a single tweet. A few short weeks later the festival launched, bringing together 220 authors and industry professionals with support from lead partner, Paper Nations. With 145 events held over two weeks, Stay-at-Home! debuted as one of the largest literary festivals in the United Kingdom.

You can find out more about the programme and register for places here.

Or follow this link:

Hay Festival

We’re delighted to launch our programme for the Festival’s 34th spring edition, broadcasting for free online from Hay-on-Wye to the world 26 May–6 June. Over 12 days, more than 200 acclaimed writers, global policy makers, historians, poets, pioneers and innovators join us to inspire, examine and entertain in events for all ages. All events will be closed-captioned and available to watch for free 24 hours from their live broadcast.

Full information here.

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Is UpLit your Genre? By Maggie Weir-Wilson

Last week and this I have been logging into a variety of webinars and interviews at the Stay-at-Home! Literature Festival organised by the University of Glasgow. During the two weeks there will be over 80 offerings, all free, although if you give a donation you can watch them all again and catch the ones you missed.

The session that particularly caught my eye at the weekend was UpLit. What was that? I wondered. In a panel discussion four new authors talked about their surprise at being classified by publishers in this new genre. The name means ‘uplifting literature’ and it is apparently all the trend at the moment. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the trauma of Covid and our search for comfort and hope. 

The authors on the panel were clear that their stories were not at all ‘fluffy’. For example, Matson Tayor’s first novel ‘The Miseducation of Evie Epworth’ is a family story both humorous and poignant, which he said cheered him up while he was writing it.  Family and relationship stories are firmly in this genre as with the books by two of the other panellists, Nicola Gill ‘We are Family’ and Gillian Harvey’s ‘Everything is Fine’. The final panellist, Victoria Dowd was a criminal barrister turned writer and felt that she could still deal with dark subjects like her murder mystery ‘Body on the Island’ with lightness and humour. A balance of light and dark was important, as was writing characters readers could empathise with and actually like. Comforting, uplifting and hopeful was the overall theme. I think I will have to hold off on that dystopian nightmare story then!

The Miseducation of Evie Epworth, by Matson Taylor

July 1962. Sixteen-year-old Evie Epworth stands on the cusp of womanhood. But what kind of a woman will she become?

The fastest milk bottle-delivery girl in East Yorkshire, Evie is tall as a tree and hot as the desert sand. She dreams of an independent life lived under the bright lights of London (or Leeds). The two posters of Adam Faith on her bedroom wall (‘brooding Adam’ and ‘sophisticated Adam’) offer wise counsel about a future beyond rural East Yorkshire. Her role models are Charlotte Bronte, Shirley MacLaine and the Queen. But, before she can decide on a career, she must first deal with the malign presence of her future step-mother, the manipulative and money-grubbing Christine.
If Evie can rescue her bereaved father, Arthur, from Christine’s pink and over-perfumed clutches, and save the farmhouse from being sold off then maybe she can move on with her own life and finally work out exactly who it is she is meant to be.  

Body on the Island, by Victoria Dowd

Ten stranded strangers.
A murderer on the loose.

Ursula Smart, along with her dysfunctional family, heads to Scotland for a gentle weekend of foraging and camping in the Outer Hebrides.

Their boat capsizes. Washed up on an uninhabited island, the Smart women face starvation, freezing conditions and — worse — no Wi-Fi.

A fun escape swiftly turns into a desperate battle for survival. Someone begins killing them off one by one.

Will our gang of Smart women escape or will they be next?

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Writing Retreats

Informative, relaxing English country garden retreats. 

*Perfect for boosting confidence & wellbeing.

*Ideal for those just starting out of their writing journey, established writers in search of a confidence boost or anyone who wants to explore writing as a way of getting those creative sparks flying.

*All retreats focus on YOU & YOUR work, with 1-2-1 discussions on next steps for your writing ambitions, synopsis & first chapter analysis, and the all-important submission package review for those at this stage.

*Maximum of 10 guests on each retreat.

How do I book my space?

Firstly, email to register. You will then receive a booking form to complete and will need to pay the non-refundable £100 deposit. The final balance will be due 1 month before the date of the retreat. If you want to chat about any aspect of the retreat, please don’t hesitate to either email or ring 07973 864612.

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Short Form Group