This month’s top 5 reads features titles by some of the independent publishers being showcased in the #bookblast10x10tour at talks being held in Waterstones’ flagship stores across the regions of England. Starting from Gower Street we have visited Newcastle, Leeds, Nottingham so far . . . and will be in Brighton next week Thursday, and Norwich the Thursday after . . .
Contributors: Alan Beard. Jendella Benson, Balvinder Banga, Sharon Duggal, Malachi McIntosh, Bobby Nayyar, C.D. Rose, Sibyl Ruth, Kit de Waal
“At one time connected to every other corner of the nation through a latticework of canals which facilitated the transport of raw goods in and finished goods out of the city, and across the world, Birmingham has been shaped by its industrial history – in particular by the working-class roots of so many of its inhabitants who gave their professional lives to these industries. This working-class foundation is inseparable from the city’s literature, reflected in the voices of its best-known contemporary authors: Jonathan Coe, Catherine O’Flynn, Benjamin Zephaniah, Kit de Waal, Joel Lane . . . to name just a few. [. . .]
The city derives a lot of its energy from those who have come from other parts of the world, their children and their grandchildren. (Birmingham is a youthful city, more than 40% of the population is under 25) [. . .] Almost all the stories, set at different moments in recent history, and in different parts of the city, inhabit a contained ‘separate’ world – whether it is a home that welcomes South Asian immigrants who work in the foundries, or the high-rise flat of a factory worker in love with his wife, or a house party thrown by a group of Birmingham Surrealists – an informal group of artists and intellectuals who gathered here between the 1930s and 1950s . . .” — Kavita Bhanot
Birmingham is a writer’s city with a long tradition of distinctive literary subcultures. Long-established novelists such as David Lodge and Jim Crace have spent most of their writing lives there, and the city continues to support and inspire a new generation of voices.
Bringing together fiction from some of the city’s most talented writers, The Book of Birmingham showcases and celebrates original and unusual writing, in all its forms.
Jane Draycott in her new translation of Pearl recreates the imaginative intensity of the original (Carcanet Press)
“Draycott’s version is compellingly human.” — Lachlan Mackinnon, Times Literary Supplement
Bernard O’Donoghue, a celebrated poet and translator of the Gawain-poet, provides an introduction comparing Pearl to the works of Dante and Boccaccio.
Pearl is a late 14th-century poem, now held in the British Library, written in a North-West Midlands variety of Middle English. It features medieval allegory, dream vision, spiritual associations, and appeals to what is eternal and elemental in human nature. It is thought to be by the same author as Patience, and Cleanness, and the romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The unnamed poet who wrote it was a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer.
A father, mourning the loss of his daughter — his “perle” or pearl — falls asleep in a garden and in a dream encounters “the Pearl, my girl” — a beautiful and heavenly woman — standing across a stream in a strange landscape radiant with jewels. He questions her and she answers . . . when the dreamer tries to cross the stream, he wakes up and reflects on its significance. Its portrayal of loss and consolation retains its force across six centuries.
Francis Plug: Writer in Residence by Paul Ewen (Galley Beggar Press)
“Bookish folk aren’t what they used to be. Introverted, reserved, studious. There was a time when bookish folk would steer clear of trendy bars, dinner occasions and gatherings. Any social of public encounters would be avoided at all costs because these activities were very unbookish. Bookish folk preferred to stay in, or to sit alone in a quiet pub. Reading a good book, or getting some writing done. Writers, in fact. Perhaps epitomised these bookish traits most strongly. These days, bookispeople, such as writers, are commonly found on stage, headlining festivals, or being interviewed on TV . . .” — from Francis Plug: How To Be A Public Author which was hailed as being a modern comic masterpiece.
Francis Plug is back. The loveable misfit is now adjusting to life as a newly published author. Interviews and publicity are coming his way, not to mention considerable acclaim. But Francis can’t understand why people think he was writing fiction . . .
He also has plenty of other problems – and very little money. Fortunately, he’s handed a lifeline when he lands a job as Writer-in-Residence at the University of Greenwich. Unfortunately, this involves interacting with more new people, which isn’t exactly Francis’s strong suit. Try as he might, the staff and students at the university seem to have great difficulty knowing what to make of Francis. (Not to mention the trouble that he has making sense of himself . . .). Oh – and now he also needs to hook in some big-name authors for the Greenwich book Festival, and has to write his own campus novel. The urgent questions build and build – and Francis is in no state to answer them Will he keep his job? Will he be able to secretly sleep inside a university office? Will anyone find out that he did a wee in the corridor? . . . Whatever next?
“One thinks of Goethe, one thinks of Shelley: one thinks of Plug. He is a force of nature, he is sage, bard and prophet: he is in addition a random menace, and at all times you need to know exactly where he is. They say there are no statues to critics. But the fourth plinth awaits Francis. Perhaps he can be chained to it.” — Hilary Mantel
The Silent Striker by Peter Kalu (HopeRoad Publishing)
“Marcus followed the coach, who, he decided, was built like an upside down street sweeping machine. The coach had a bin-like body and a head of bristle hair that stuck out sideways. And he went up and down in straight lines, making a lot of noise. He liked the coach. Mr Davies led him a little away from the rest of the team to where a tall, thin man was standing.
‘Marcus, get the ball and do your thing, it’s time to turn it on, right?’ the coach said.
Marcus nodded. He looked briefly at the man standing next to the coach. He had the sharp, assessing look of a football scout. They always came to the big matches.
‘Go on then, start playing.’
Marcus trotted back towards the centre circle. When he turned round, the coach was deep in conversation. Marcus saw the coach mouth ‘estate kids’ and ‘motivation’. He didn’t catch the rest.
He made his way to his position in the centre of the midfield. The wind was coming at them sideways now, driving rain through their Ducie High jerseys.
At the restart, the Chorlton left-winger raced all the way to the touchline then crossed. Only a diving save from their keeper stopped Chorlton scoring.”
Marcus is the best player in his football team. He’s so good that there’s a very real chance he’ll be signed by Manchester United. But when he discovers he may be losing his hearing, his whole world falls to pieces and he finds himself having to put them back together on his own. But is this feeling of isolation real or just a consequence of his behaviour? As he deals with parents, friends and first girlfriends, Marcus gradually understands that accepting the help of others is ultimately an acceptance of self. A novel about friendship and family, The Silent Striker explores the issue of disability, and deafness, and the different ways in which we can choose to handle it.
“This is a book full to the brim with the joy, heartache and passion for the beautiful game. Along the way it deals with racism, disability, bullying, jealousy, young love, family life and friendship – all without a single patronising or forced word from beginning to end. It is written in beautiful clear prose and tells a story that every lover of football and life will instantly understand.” — Melvin Burgess
The Pool and Other Poems by Anthony Gardner (Starhaven Books)
“What do we look for when we read, for the first time, a poet new to us? The plural makes assumptions, of course. We are people who go in for poetry; who write it, perhaps; certainly who read it as often or as naturally as we read prose. So we are not multitudinous; we are to some degree specialists, peculiar. Nevertheless, there are more of us around than people think. [. . .]
Anthony Gardner’s poems are adept at creating mood efficiently. At once you become master of his state of mind. You are, in effect, writing the poem with him. He takes on universal emotions; sexual love, fear of dying, the natural world, human limitations. In his long poem about a cancer scare, The Pool, he uncovers ‘a sense of love and compassion / out of time, out of fashion.’ Elsewhere, he pays Blake-like moments of attention to small moments, to the cosmic significance of the particular [. . .] The only poet Anthony Gardner reminds me of a little is Coleridge, because of a shared preoccupation with mood. And a more recent mood-master is Cafavy. Cavafy is also a master of place. The Gardner poems may need a change of venue.” — Grey Gowrie
“The concrete is cracked.
The ground is broken.
A drill like a fever rattles the teeth.
Men speak words that were better unspoken,
Fracking the sump oil that likes beneath.”
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