Friday 30 April 2021

Catherine Menon, "Fragile Monsters"

Catherine Menon is Australian-British, has Malaysian heritage and lives in London. She is a University lecturer in robotics and has both a PhD in Pure Mathematics and an MA in Creative Writing. Her short story collection, Subjunctive Moods, was published by Dahlia Publishing in 2018. Her debut novel, Fragile Monsters, was published by Viking in April 2021. Her website is here.

About Fragile Monsters

Mary is a difficult grandmother for Durga to love. She is sharp-tongued and ferocious, with more demons than there are lines on her palms. When Durga visits her in rural Malaysia, she only wants to endure Mary, and the dark memories home brings, for as long as it takes to escape.

But a reckoning is coming. Stuck together in the rising heat, both women must untangle the truth from the myth of their family's past. What happened to Durga's mother after she gave birth? Why did so many of their family members disappear during the war? And who is to blame for the childhood tragedy that haunts her to this day?

In her stunning debut novel, Catherine Menon traces one family's story from 1920 to the present, unravelling a thrilling tale of love, betrayal and redemption against the backdrop of natural disasters and fallen empires. Written in vivid technicolour, with an electric daughter-grandmother relationship at its heart, Fragile Monsters explores what happens when secrets fester through the generations.

As they will learn, in a place ravaged by floods, it is only a matter of time before the bones of the past emerge.

You can read a review of Fragile Monsters on Everybody's Reviewing here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the novel. 

From Fragile Monsters, by Catherine Menon

‘Aiyoh, Durga, you went to Letchumani for fireworks?’

Ammuma glares at the bright red bag I’m lifting out of my car. The trip’s only taken me an hour, but she’s already moved her rattan chair to the verandah’s edge to watch for me driving back into the compound yard. Her white widow’s sari is immaculate and clean-starched, and her skinny thighs make a shallow, mounded lap. She spends nearly all her time on the verandah now, rocking back and forwards in the sleepy heat. That was the first shock about returning to Malaysia: somewhere in the last decade my grandmother’s become old.

‘Kill us all,’ she adds, ‘these crazy ideas of yours, getting fireworks from the washer-man.’

Or perhaps not that old. She likes proper fireworks, I remember. All noise and glare, with a spice of danger if you stick your nose in too far.

It’s raining, and my sandals slip on the limestone steps as I carry the bag up to her. Sweat trickles down under my nylon shirt; I’ve been back two months but still can’t remember to dress for the climate here.

‘I was going to drive to Kuala Lipis, Ammuma,’ I say, ‘but Letchumani had a sign advertising fireworks and I thought ...’

‘Thought, hanh! Covered market in Lipis for good fireworks only, you should know that, Durga.

‘This mathematics rubbish you study,’ she mutters not quite under her breath, ‘all thinking and never common-sense.’

She’s fetched a plate of pandan cakes while I’ve been out and she pushes them across the table towards me with a not-to-be-argued frown. I left home a decade ago and Ammuma’s convinced I haven’t eaten since. Granddaughters, she thinks, ought to stay where they’ve been put.

‘Too late to change fireworks now also.’ She looks up at the evening sky. ‘Have to manage.’ She’s relishing this, like she does all small crises; running out of onions can last her all day.

‘Diwali puja will do now,’ she tells me briskly. ‘Prayer first, then play fireworks, ah?’

‘What, light the fireworks now? Ammuma, it’s pelting down.’

I sit next to her, on a small wooden bench that she ordered Karthika to move from the front room. I drove up from Kuala Lumpur four days ago, and the house still feels familiar and strange at once. My childhood home, but I can’t quite manage to be sentimental about it. It’s the wrong sort of home, or perhaps I was the wrong sort of child.

Just like on the day I left, the compound yard’s soaked and flooding. There are puddles under the stone walls and a few dry patches near the biggest trees. The angsanas have lost most of their blossom in the rain, and the scatter of yellow petals makes me catch my breath. Another memory, one I hadn’t even realized I’d forgotten: crouching behind those trees playing five-stones with Peony after school. Her laugh, her tangled hair, her fountain-pen tattoos. In Canada I pushed her out of my head, but back here in Pahang she’s everywhere I look. Friends for ever, Durga, she whispers, and for a second I’m fifteen again and everything is about to go wrong.

I take a deep breath, clenching my fists. Of all people, I should know Peony’s gone. Dead and gone; drowned in the banyan swamp fifteen years ago and nothing to be done about it. She’s a null object. She’s a zero module. She’s the limit of an empty diagram.

I unclench my hands and look deliberately over to the angsanas again. They’ve grown since those days, and there’s nothing behind their trunks except a sodden crate of banana leaves for the dining table tonight. I’d forgotten this about Pahang, the way the rain gets under your clothes and under your skin.

‘Durga? Are you listening?’ Ammuma prods. ‘Of course light the fireworks now. It’s Diwali, when else is it we’ll light them? Christmas? Birthdays-graduations? Next you’ll be asking for eating non-veg tonight.’

‘But there’s only us here to see them.’ I’m on edge, arguing when I know I shouldn’t. ‘Why bother just for us, and when it’s raining, too? I never did in Canada.’

Ammuma sucks in her breath, then lets it out again in a shower of scolding words. It’s a festival, she tells me, punctuating her sentences by slapping the broken wicker of her chair, how dare I suggest we ignore it? It’s far more important than rain, she says, far more important than grandmothers, even, and ungrateful granddaughters who’ve forgotten how they were raised.

‘But you don’t even believe in Lakshmi, Ammuma. You never did.’

Diwali’s for Lakshmi, a goddess who’s supposed to visit the brightest and cleanest houses every year. Ammuma doesn’t hold with her and never has: some goddess, she says, to go poking her nose into other people’s housekeeping.

‘Story is important only,’ she insists. ‘Doesn’t matter if it’s true.’

‘But you –’

‘And fireworks important too, for driving away evil spirits. Cannot tell, Durga, when a spirit is walking –’

She stops. There’s a loud clang from the compound gate, then another. Someone’s knocking. I can just make out a figure through the ironwork, then an arm snakes down to open the catch.

‘Who’s visiting today?’ Ammuma mutters to herself, and then the gate opens. A white man walks through, carrying a striped bag. He has a cap of combed brown hair that looks oddly familiar and he’s wearing a neatly tailored suit.


He ignores the mud and walks jauntily towards us, then sees me sitting next to Ammuma. He stops, squinting against the evening light. His smile falters and loses its way.


I start to shake. I know who he is, this man with his John Lennon hair. Peony’s voice is in my head again – friends for ever – and this man is bad news, he’s worst news. He’s fifteen years old news, fresh as yesterday’s eggs.

Wednesday 28 April 2021

Everybody's Reviewing passes 150,000 views!


Our sister website, Everybody's Reviewing, has now passed 150,000 readers!

Everybody's Reviewing promotes books and reading through book reviews, event reviews and author interviews. It has published 100s of reviews and dozens of author interviews over the last few years. As the name suggests, anybody and everybody can contribute reviews to the site, and the reviews can be of any book, new or old. 

To mark the milestone the site has just passed, Everybody's Reviewing is now inviting submissions for a new strand on the blog: that is, articles about "A Book That Changed Me."

For this new strand, Everybody's Reviewing is asking for short articles about any book that has had a deep impact on your life, your way of thinking, your way of seeing the world. Articles should talk about the book and the impact it had on you. As Oscar Wilde may or may not have said, "All criticism is autobiography."

Your article should be between 50-400 words in length, generally positive and sent to everybodysreviewing[at]gmail[dot]com. See also About & Submit for further information.

Finally, many thanks to everyone in our wonderful community - readers, reviewers, authors, editors - who have helped Everybody's Reviewing reach this amazing milestone.

Thursday 22 April 2021

Call for Entries: G. S. Fraser Poetry Prize 2021

Call for submissions for the 2021 competition!

Any student currently enrolled at the University of Leicester may enter.
Entrants may submit up to three poems.
Poems may be on any subject but must not exceed 40 lines.
Poems must not have been published or have won another prize.

How to enter
To enter please email your poem(s), one poem per page, in a Word or pdf attachment from your University email address to, with ‘G. S. Fraser Prize’ in the subject line and your name in the message.  

The deadline for submissions is: 5 p.m. on Friday 4 June 2021.

Results and Prize
The result will be announced on Monday 28 June. 
A prize of £50 will be awarded to the author of the winning poem.

Wednesday 21 April 2021

Marshall Moore and Sam Meekings (ed.), "The Place and the Writer"

About The Place and the Writer, ed. Marshall Moore and Sam Meekings

The Place and the Writer: International Intersections of Teacher Lore and Creative Writing Pedagogy is the inaugural work in Bloomsbury’s Research in Creative Writing series. The motivation for creating this volume was the occasional disconnect between theorists, educators, and practitioners of Creative Writing. The chapters in the book examine the spread of Creative Writing around the world, and how this has led to lore manifesting in problematic areas, such as workshop structure; canon; issues of authenticity and appropriation; and pedagogical clichés (‘write what you know,’ ‘show, don’t tell,’ ‘find your voice’). The volume challenges many areas of the received wisdom that persist in the field, as well as refracting these through the perspectives of voices from outside the traditional poles of English-language scholarship. The book is full of diverse contributions from around the world (from South Africa to Brazil to Finland to Japan) and these decentre historically dominant views and voices in Creative Writing to focus on the connections between teaching practices and issues of identity, culture, and practice. 

The book includes a chapter on writing memoir, 'Scenes of Judgement: Genre and Narrative Form in Literary Memoir,' by Jonathan Taylor of Leicester University. 

You can see more details about the book on the publisher's website here

Below, you can read about the editors, and an excerpt from the 'Foreword' of the book. 

Marshall Moore is a Course Leader in English, Creative Writing & Publishing at Falmouth University in the UK. He is the co-editor of this volume. He is the author of several novels and collections of short fiction, the most recent being Inhospitable (Camphor Press, 2018). With Xu Xi, he is the co-editor of the anthology The Queen of Statue Square: New Short Fiction from Hong Kong. His short stories have appeared in Asia Literary Review, The Barcelona Review, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (QLRS), and many other publications. He holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University. His website is here.

Sam Meekings is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Northwestern University in Qatar. With Marshall Moore, is the co-editor of this volume. He is the author of Under Fishbone Clouds (called ‘a poetic evocation of the country and its people’ by the New York Times), The Book of Crows, and The Afterlives of Dr Gachet. He has a PhD in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and has taught writing at NYU and the University of Chichester in the UK. His website is here. You can read more about The Afterlives of Dr Gachet on Creative Writing at Leicester here. 

From The Place and the Writer

Excerpt from the 'Foreword'

As one might expect from the title, Paul Engle’s landmark essay 'The Writer and the Place,' a meditation on the origins of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, proposes that the school's serene location in the American heartland has an inspiring, enlightening effect upon the students fortunate enough to be accepted to the program. This is not merely to do with the benign atmosphere created by mellow Iowa prairies and the lazy, muddy river running through them. Something greater is at work here: Engle's hypothetical young writer should find that Iowa offers—along with bracing criticism—an alternative to the hubbub of Hollywood and the noise of New York. Freed from big-city distractions, the young writer will have ample time and space to reflect upon their work. Also on offer is community, and Engle suggests this is one of the Workshop's greatest benefits: the company of other young writers with similar dreams, aspirations, and levels of talent creates a unique environment in which the work and the writer may flourish. However, it is the idea of place that propels Engel's thoughts on Iowa's mystique. There is an ineffable combination of solitude and down-home American goodness to be found there, he asserts. A creative singularity. Or an exceptionalism, if we are to view the matter through the lens of today's geopolitics.

While one can today read Engle's essay and appreciate the passion he felt for the program he helped establish and the bucolic location it occupies, a contemporary scholar-practitioner might raise an eyebrow at his assertion that '[w]e do not have that intense concentration of talent in one city, as certainly exists in Paris, London, or Rome, where writers either know each other or know a good deal about each other' (1961: 5). At least in the English-speaking world, New York must surely rival London in terms of literary output. Other North American cities boast respectable literary communities as well: Los Angeles, Toronto, Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans, Portland, and Vancouver come readily to mind. Yet what remains unquestioned in the essay is the supposition—the article of lore, as it were, or perhaps the myth—that a location offering a combination of beauty, stillness, and cultural virtue is a writer's nirvana. In such a setting, Engle suggests, writerly reflection will lead to the process of self-discovery from which inspired creative ideas will flow.

As expatriate scholars and practitioners, our combined experience both confirms and confronts these notions of place. Moore is from the American South, a region with a strong literary tradition of its own, distinct from that of the country as a whole. Growing up in semi-rural eastern North Carolina, he was keenly aware of the difference that accompanies Southern identity in the United States. However, it took him moving to California for that regional identity to assert itself. Moving out of the country several years later, first to South Korea and then to Hong Kong, he found that the regional distinction mattered somewhat less than it had in the context. Overseas, he was simply American. Meanwhile, Meekings is from the south coast of England, yet it was only when he moved abroad, living and working first in China and then the Middle East, that he began to notice the peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of English and British identity and how these had manifested in his educational experiences. In short, both our international experiences led us to consider the complicated relationship between practice and place and consider what other lores might look like, as well as how and to what extent might cultural beliefs around writers in general manifest in the classroom? This book attempts to answer those questions.

Monday 19 April 2021

Gemma Seltzer, "Ways of Living"

Gemma Seltzer is a London-based writer. Her work includes the Guardian’s award-winning virtual reality film ‘Songbird,’ the fictional blog ‘5am London’ and online flash fiction series Speak to Strangers about conversations with Londoners, subsequently published by Penned in the Margins. She collaborates with dancers, photographers and older adults to create writing and storytelling projects. Gemma has written for BBC Radio 3, performed her work at the Venice Biennale and runs Write & Shine, a programme of morning writing workshops, events and online courses. Gemma's new short fiction collection, Ways of Living, is forthcoming from Influx Press in July 2021. Her website is here.

About Ways of Living

Andie can see no other way to escape a wedding than by hiding in a tree. Esther starts a new life in a King’s Cross hotel with a bad-tempered ventriloquist dummy, while Gina finally leaves a group of infuriating friends – but not before providing them with a suitable replacement.

Ways of Living is Gemma Seltzer’s keen exploration of what it means to be a modern woman inhabiting the urban landscape. Here are ten stories of ordinary women going to extraordinary lengths to be understood, acting in bold and unpredictable ways as they map their identities onto London’s streets.

How do we speak and listen to each other? Who gets to talk? And what is the true power of quiet in a noisy world?

You can find out more about Ways of Living on the publisher's website here

Below, you can read a sample from the book. 

From Ways of Living, by Gemma Seltzer

Extract from 'Other Esther'

The train jerks away from London Bridge station. Other Esther is in a wicker carrycot on the seat next to Esther. She’s tucked under several blankets that reach her nose. Esther keeps adjusting the pillows and fiddling with the straps.

‘Leave me alone, I’m sleeping,’ says Other Esther.

Without Raphael, the voice isn’t right. He had years of practice, of course. Opposite sits a man with a cap and headphones, his eyes closed. Esther sits back and looks at her phone. Eighteen missed calls from her dad and loads of WhatsApp messages including family photos. She takes in the view from the window. Waiting on the train platform at Blackfriars, she notices a number of women standing alone, rummaging in a bag, involved in a book or staring at the tracks. She reaches under the blanket to touch Other Esther’s bare leg and wishes she could see the sky.

At King’s Cross, teenagers burst into the train carriage. Their teacher has a whistle that he blows. ‘Find a seat, find a seat!’ he calls, but they congregate near the doorway and along the aisles. Esther’s heart pumps fast. We understand her thinking. None of this would make sense to anyone else. No, it’s not a baby in here. No. So, it’s not a surprise that she’s soon stepping onto the platform, aiming towards the exit with the carrycot held to her chest.

Outside the station, there’s a row of shops then the road bends and leads to a long brown and concrete hotel building with four arches leading to a car park. It has identical flat windows like tired eyes. Esther sympathises.

‘Just for you, is it?’ says the woman behind the Travelodge counter. The price for a single is low because these rooms are in the older part of the building. ‘Or would you prefer something with a bit more space?’

Esther shakes her head and signs the forms. The lift delivers them to the third floor. As soon as they arrive, she unwraps Other Esther. ‘You’re not hurt?’ she asks.

‘I’m fine, no thanks to you,’ Other Esther says.

One of her pigtails is crooked and there are flecks of white on her dress. The two of them lie there, thinking their own thoughts. Esther follows the trail of clouds outside. It was clever of Esther to take the train but remain in London. Her dad probably thinks they’ve travelled down to the sea or up to Scotland. By now, he’ll probably have noticed his cash from the cabinet is gone. The bank might have filled him in on the rest of the story.

After a while, Esther says, ‘How about we freshen you up? I could do your hair, maybe?’ She leans over to take a handful of Wet Ones from her bag. ‘We’ll rest here for a bit.’

‘Finally, a good idea from you.’ Other Esther sounds like a stranger.

‘I think we’re both tired, aren’t we?’ Esther says and she feels older, like a parent.

Other Esther hums as her face is stroked with the wipe, and then her hair is brushed and plaited.

‘Do you love me?’ Esther asks.

There is no reply.

(An earlier version of this story was published in Cagibi journal here). 

Tuesday 13 April 2021

Maggie Butt, "everlove"

By Maggie Butt

A year when bookshops are closed is not the best for a writer, but it has been busy for me. My sixth poetry collection, everlove is published in April 2021 by The London Magazine Editions and my novel The Prisoner’s Wife was published by Penguin Random House imprints across the world in 2020, under my maiden name Maggie Brookes.

My poetry appears widely in international magazines and anthologies, and has escaped the page into a mobile phone app, choreography, BBC Radio 4, readings and festivals. I have judged a number of international poetry competitions.

My previous collections are the pamphlet Quintana Roo (2003) and my first full collection, Lipstick (2007). In 2010 a collection of  pocket-sized poems, petite, came out and in 2011, Oversteps Books published Ally Pally Prison Camp, the story of 3,000 civilians imprisoned at Alexandra Palace during the First World War told through a historical collage of poems, photos, paintings and extracts from memoirs and letters. Sancti Clandestini – Undercover Saints, a fully illustrated poetry collection, was published in 2012 and an exhibition to accompany the book was held at The Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden. My fifth collection of poetry Degrees of Twilight was published by The London Magazine in July 2015.

Poetry was my first love, but my career has spanned other forms of writing. After an English degree at Cardiff University I became a newspaper reporter, moving to BBC TV as a documentary writer / producer / director. I have a PhD in Creative Writing from Cardiff University and was a University Teaching Fellow and University Orator at Middlesex University, where I taught Creative Writing for 30 years. 

Poetry website:

Fiction website:

You can read more about The Prisoner's Wife on Creative Writing at Leicester here

About everlove

everlove brings together poems written over a six year period. The first section is a sequence of poems about the refugee crisis, inspired by the artworks of American artist Mary Behrens.  The second examines other issues close to many of our hearts including the climate emergency and personal loss. The third part celebrates the joys of the natural world and the adventures of life and love. 

Below, you can read three poems from the collection

From everlove


someone took your life
your life and tore it down the middle
down the middle then crossways into smaller
smaller pieces as if it was a letter
a letter from an unfaithful lover. 

So now you know that the gods, the fates
the fates, the gods
care less for you than a scrap of paper
a scrap of paper. 

And though you run about
run about and catch them all
all blowing and raining about you like ticker-tape
you can’t see how
how you could begin
begin to stick them together 
stick them together
to make a life again. 

So you tuck them carefully 
carefully into your pocket
and walk
and walk
and walk. 


ha, ha, ya-di-ya,
hoikin’ up the heaterin’
till all yer little froggies
start grippin’ and slitherin’ 
broilin’ up a pondstorm 
spewin’ out frogspawn;
an all yer soppysilly buds
simpering curtseylike
la,la,la daffydowndillys,
an all the stoopid sheepies 
bleatin’ well birthin’ 
slopperin’ out their mewlin’ 
lambikins on the grassygreen; 
an all the neverlearn peeps
optimisted, hopeblinkered
cheerfool an’ headsoft
let liddle chidderlins
disvest unglove 
castclout slipscarf 
sayin’ in like a lion
out like a lamb 
an me snickerin’ 
ha,ha, this’ll learn ya 
tempdrop icenose
sleetslash hailhurt
flakefall freezeball, 
snowstormin’ blizzardin’ 
hidin’ up the lambkins
an the daffydillys

Now I must be 

both motherandfather 
to myself 

scatter wisdom over myownhead 
like an upturned bowl of rose-petals 

name myself with sprinkled water
offer pie-and-mash advice 

pour out coldclean glassfuls 
of forgiveness 

remember to lovemyself
pridepuff at my small achievements 

love mostfiercely
my flocks of imperfections 

Monday 12 April 2021

Rob Gee, "The Day My Head Exploded: Poems About Healthcare"


Rob Gee, photo © Nick Rawle

Rob Gee qualified as a psychiatric nurse in 1994 and worked for twelve years in mental health units around the UK and Australia before becoming a stand-up poet. He’s performed at a hundred fringe festivals across the world and won numerous poetry slams, including the Edinburgh Slam, the Arts Council’s Lit Up Slam, BBC Two’s Why Poetry Matters Slam and the Orlando Poetry Smackdown. He’s received over twenty awards for his solo shows. Rob is patron of Leicestershire Action for Mental Health Project (LAMP) and lead artist for the Comedy Asylum: comedy shows written and performed by people receiving mental health treatment. He returned to nursing during the COVID-19 pandemic. His website is here.

About The Day My Head Exploded

By Rob Gee

The poems in this collection are drawn from my experiences as a nurse, inpatient and writer in healthcare settings. 

In the 1950s my great-aunt Ada and her sister Freda both immigrated to the UK from Ireland and commenced careers as mental health nurses. I didn’t start my training until 1991, by which time they had both retired. I’ll never forget the combination of mirth and pity in their eyes when I told them I was going into the profession. 

By the early 1990s, the institutions built in the Victorian era were starting to close. Long-stay patients were being moved out into 'the community,' while people with immediate mental health concerns were now treated in acute units. Nursing also started to become more academic in its efforts to be taken seriously as a profession. Whenever I discussed the job with my aunts it was apparent how much our role had changed. It's changed again since. 

Several poems here represent a snapshot of adult mental health nursing at the turn of the millennium. Since then, wards have become smaller and single-gender, smoking has been banned and uniforms have returned. The last of these would have pleased my aunts immensely, whereas I hardly ever wore a uniform in my career. 

Some poems here are from my days as a student nurse. Others are from a more critical perspective and they were written later, by an older me. Several are from my time working as a writer in healthcare settings and there are a couple from the COVID-19 crisis, when I returned to nursing. There’s also the title piece, loosely based on my experience of being hospitalised with meningitis ... 

Below, you can read four poems from the collection.

From The Day My Head Exploded

A Hug 

A hug can make you feel at home. 
It can soothe a broken soul 
and help you feel less alone.
A hug can let the warmth in 
when you’re chilly or reclusive. 
Hugs are often better than drugs, 
but they’re not mutually exclusive. 

Dr Brice 

Dr Brice put her name in the wrong part of the form 
and inadvertently sectioned herself. 
This amused us greatly, 
because she was bad for people’s mental health. 

She went on a trip to Venice, 
paid for by the drug company 
who were keen to invest in her impartiality. 

She changed everyone’s meds when she came back. 
Carnage ensued and people relapsed. 
One man’s mental health went so badly to shit 
that he smashed up the ward 
and put two nurses off sick. 

So don’t be like Dr Brice. 
Just stick to the guidelines from NICE. 

Whisky in Your Tea 

Breakfast isn’t what it used to be. 
We used to start the day with a pork pie 
and a drop of whisky in our tea. 
It would give your soul a glow 
and set you up for the day. 
Now it’s just a bowl of cornflakes, 
‘cause they took the whisky away. 
          Writer in residence, Elderly ward, summer 2019 

Human Carpentry 

If you are in your sixties or seventies, 
they give you a stainless steel hip, 
which is guaranteed for thirty years. 
If you’re in your eighties or above, 
you get a plastic hip, 
guaranteed for ten years. 

Rubber ants clad in green 
crawl in and out of the gap. 
She’s oblivious to their labours 
as she lies on her back, 
exhausted, after two long years 
crawling up from the bottom of a waiting list, 
and, looking at her gaping leg, 
my own begins to twitch. 

I spoke with her yesterday. 
She said it sounded ridiculous, 
but she was fond of the old hip 
that chased the wind with her 
on drunken nights of youth 
and had danced in endless circles 
around lusty amber halls, 
blissfully caressing the hips of others. 

Now it cripples her with pain 
in its knackered demise; 
they’re going to replace it 
with a virgin piece of plastic. 

Human carpentry replaces the parts 
that Mother Nature cannot reach, 
but two years is a long time 
to spend hobbling on your memories. 

          Student nurse, orthopaedics, 1993

Saturday 10 April 2021

Michael Schmidt, "Talking to Stanley on the Telephone"


Michael Schmidt is the author of several books of poetry. His Selected Poems (Smith|Doorstop) was a PBS Special Commendation. He has written Lives of the Poets, The Ancient Poets and The Novel: A Biography, and he has produced notable canonical and introductory anthologies. He is Editorial Director and Publisher at Carcanet Press and General Editor of PN Review. His latest book is Talking to Stanley on the Telephone (Smith|Doorstop).

About Talking to Stanley on the Telephone

Talking to Stanley on the Telephone rummages through the desires, frustrations and waning faculties of old age. The stories it tells add up to a vivacious celebration of life-spans and the darkening comedy of growing old.

You can see more details about Talking to Stanley on the Telephone on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two poems from the collection. 

From Talking to Stanley on the Telephone


          Texas, 1950

Yes, I could read.
                            No dogs
or Mexicans the large
round caps declared. ‘Papa,
we can’t go in.’ My new
red passport said as much.
‘They don’t mean us.’ He pushed
open the loud screen door
to a stale interior.

Little white serviettes
defined the seating plan.
Ketchup, French mustard. Our
bug-spattered Pontiac
with dust-dulled number plates
said ‘Mexico D.F.’
It shivered in the heat.

He was right. They didn’t
mean us. We fit, our skin
at home. The slow-bladed
ceiling fan made shadows
surge and plunge, like breathing.
They served us up the stuff
they’d eat themselves, unspiced,
prepared for the littlest
bear, neither too salty
nor sweet, not too hot or
too cold. We sipped, we smeared
bland red and yellow on
our burgers, overdone;

and grinning there, alert,
infernal black and brown,
a monster Doberman.

First and Last Things

There was, first off, the house we seemed to build
          Up in a tree, or under the floor, and lived
With all our creatures and with all we were –
          Pirate and doctor, sailor, angel, priest;
And then the first house made of mud or brick
          Furnished with whatever we could find
Of real stuff, like wood and parakeets
          And cushions, pottery and even framed
Pictures on the walls, they were real walls,
          Nails could be driven into them.
The pictures were of us as we grew older
          And they faded with us too as we grew older
The way pictures do or antique mirrors
          Discolour as the isinglass gets tired
Of showing what is there and turns instead
          Interpreter, an eschatologist
Who shows only what will be, which in the longer term
          Is, after all, what is, and ever shall be.

Friday 9 April 2021

Jane Feaver, "Crazy"

Jane Feaver is a novelist and short story writer. After an English Degree at Oxford, she worked at the Pitt Rivers Museum, then for a dozen years as Assistant Poetry Editor at the publishers, Faber and Faber. In 2001 she moved with her young daughter to Devon to take up a job at the charity, Farms for City Children. It is here that she began to write seriously, and published her first novel, According to Ruth, in 2007, shortlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award and the Dimplex Prize. After twenty years in the South West, where, latterly she worked as a Senior Lecturer at Exeter University, she moved, mid-pandemic, to Edinburgh, where she intends to remain. Her fourth book, Crazy, is published by Corsair this year. Her website is here

About Crazy

Crazy is a splicing of memoir and fiction, an autofiction, which, through the author’s recollection of an ill-fated romantic obsession, dips in and out of childhood to a present day, where she’s beleaguered by an unexplained pain. Questions of love, ambition and identity are held to account. But above all, perhaps, Crazy is about the process of story-making itself, and the ways in which those stories we absorb and accrue become the ones that have the power to break and to make us. 

Below, you can read an extract from the book. 

From Crazy

When I come back in, I ask him how it would be if I stopped taking the pill. He knows this is what I want, the drip-drip of my enthusiasm for children, how they give you the chance to start again, to see the world again from scratch.

‘It’s your body,’ he says. ‘Do what you like.’

Which I take to be a yes. Yes. He’s right, the one thing that isn’t finally in his control, that is in mine, that makes me equal to bird fish dragonfly lion. Yes, by the light of a silvery moon, a phosphorescence, the gentle pitch and creak of a bed on water as he follows me in; yes, to being in the boat together, held and being held, this long history of will-he-won’t-he-madness lain aside. Reptile marmoset phoenix bat. The pin hole of a universe through which the silken night is pushed and spread to cover everything, all creatures great and small, salted with starts, with planetary influence, the pollen shaken from flowers, dustings from wings of bees and other insects that sink straight into the pistil, the holy grail, well met, well met by moonlight, that silver kernel, that pip, which must have been there and you before I knew it. Was it? Whatever happened that night, something did, and for the first time in a long time I wasn’t making it up. 

Wednesday 7 April 2021

Isabel Costello, "Scent"

Isabel Costello’s debut novel Paris Mon Amour was published in 2016, followed by Scent in 2021 (Muswell Press). Her short fiction has appeared in many anthologies and magazines. She has run the Literary Sofa blog for ten years and is a keen supporter of independent publishing. Isabel is a writing mentor, tutor and book doctor and co-founder of Resilience for Writers. Originally from Wiltshire, she has lived in London for 30 years and has lifelong connections with France, where both of her novels are set.

About Scent

The cracks in Clémentine and Édouard’s marriage are becoming impossible to ignore. Her work as a perfumer is no longer providing solace and her sense of self is withering. Life tilts irreversibly when, decades after the disturbing end of a bisexual love triangle, Clémentine’s former lover Racha resurfaces. What does she want, if not revenge? Set in Paris and Provence, this is a beautifully written, intimate portrait of a woman navigating conflicting desires whilst dreaming of a fulfilling future.

You can read a review by Jon Wilkins of Scent on Everybody's Reviewing here. Below, you can read a sample from the opening of the novel. 

From Scent

At times like this, I take comfort in the fact I’ve never loved Édouard. I knew it all along but have never been one to dwell on uncomfortable truths. Frankly, I don’t know what I’ve been thinking for most of our time together. More than half my life. My husband chose me like an item on display, fresh but far from innocent. In fairness, I was willing. I’d seen where love could lead and I never wanted to go there again.

When today’s magazine interview comes out, thousands of people will see inside our home and my perfume shop. They’ll look at my clothes, the pictures on our walls, maybe squint at the spines of our books. They’ll think they know about my life, and they’ll be wrong.

I keep fiddling with my hair, debating whether to wear it up or down for the photos. For once Édouard is looking at me. Before I can even attempt to decode his expression, he says, ‘You know, in your line of work certain things could be seen as an investment.’ Our eyes meet and part in the mirror but I don’t release my grip; if anything, it tightens. Without intending to, I’ve been pulling my hair so hard that my face has lost most of its lines, my eyes wide and bright against the unfamiliar smoothness of my skin. It takes years off, just like that. If Édouard had never found me beautiful we wouldn’t be here, but what can you do?

Not what he was suggesting, that much I know.

His tone offends me more than anything: studiously uncritical, bordering on sympathetic, as if he thinks I’m seeking his blessing. And so fucking euphemistic – if we’re talking about taking a knife to my face, he should have the balls to say so.

I don’t react but the laser-like quality of the moment lets me see myself, the two of us, as never before. It’s been ten years since I looked like that, five since Édouard and I stopped touching beyond the minimum expected by friends and relatives. Which is to say, five years since my husband stopped touching me. I’m not looking for a consolation prize, but I am looking for something. More than this.

With an exaggerated gesture, I let my hair fall with a rush of relief as the blood returns to my cheeks. Édouard starts to make encouraging noises but it’s like trying to blow up a tyre he’s just slashed. He can think I’m doing this interview for him, if he wants. I’ve never made much effort with publicity and wouldn’t be now if Delphine hadn’t been so persistent, mentioning the idea every time our paths crossed. It’s all the same to me that she’s just married a powerful man Édouard wants in his corner with a crisis looming, but I am impressed by her determination to be her own woman, the only way to embark on marriage to a man with big ambitions. It took me a while to figure that out, but the way they look at each other tells me they have more than time on their side. Every day in Paris carries proof that love exists, in the air, on the streets and behind closed doors. Just not mine.

Saturday 3 April 2021

Teika Marija Smits, "Russian Doll"

Teika Marija Smits is a writer, freelance editor and mother-of-two. She writes poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Her writing is heavily inspired by motherhood, mythology, fairy tales and folklore, and has appeared in a variety of places including Atrium, Brittle Star, LossLit, Prole, Ink, Sweat & Tears, The Poetry Shed, Mslexia, Literary Mama, Shoreline of Infinity, Best of British Science Fiction 2018 and Enchanted Conversation. The former managing editor of Mother’s Milk Books, she is now an Editor-at-Large at Valley Press alongside running The Book Stewards – a writers’ support site that she manages with her husband. In spare moments she likes to doodle, draw and paint. She is delighted by the fact that ‘Teika’ means fairy tale in Latvian. Teika is on Twitter @MarijaSmits and her website is:

About Russian Doll

The poems of Russian Doll tell a story of metamorphosis and becoming. Charting the ever-shifting terrain of selfhood, they speak of the joys and challenges of being both daughter and mother; schoolgirl and middle-aged woman; and detail the many ways in which the stories of our lives are as multicoloured and multilayered as a Russian doll. 

From Russian Doll

Shades of Red

Once an actress, my Muscovite mother 
knew how to make an entrance. 
Striking in fuchsia 
she’d arrive late
to my school performance, 
call my name. Wave.
Have trouble finding her seat.
I’d glow crimson
and turn into the smallest
version of myself –
the littlest Russian doll,   
the one most easily lost; 
almost, but not quite, 


Curiosity, and a sudden thirst for savagery,
makes her split open the matryoshka –
pop pop pop pop pop
until ah!
how satisfying, 
the baby doll rests snug in her palms.