6 Books to get Stuck into This May

Words: Write Lion
Saturday 20 May 2017
reading time: min, words

Books from Nottingham's finest, reviewed for your pleasure...

Charlie and Bluebell Hill Boy
Colin Brett
£5 (People’s Histreh)

Writing in the voice of the people usually leads to a rough but authentic read, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Colin Brett’s Two Biographical Sketches: Charlie, and Bluebell Boy. This slim volume is an easy-to-read glimpse into a past world. Charlie, a fictionalised biography of Colin’s grandfather, tells of his life in Narrow Marsh before he enlisted in the First World War and (no spoilers, honest) what happened before his death at the Battle of Loos. Bluebell Boy tells the story of Colin’s life as a child in St Ann’s in the forties. Both titles make the past seem strange and different, and you soon realise how much we have changed as a society. Beyond the historical details, what is clear from the writing is Colin’s affection for his family and our city. The collection is available at Five Leaves, Waterstones and the Tourist Office. Sue Barsby

Provenance, New and Collected Stories
David Belbin
£2.99 on kindle (Shoestring Press)

Contemplative and somewhat nostalgic, David Belbin’s collection of eighteen short stories, Provenance…, offers a fleeting glimpse into the everyday lives of ordinary people. At first glance, each story appears mundane, but dig a little deeper and there is an enormous amount of emotional weight to Belbin’s stories. Provenance showcases a range of Belbin’s work, from his first published piece, Witchcraft, to four previously unpublished stories. The subject matter is diverse – exploring themes from friendship and middle-age, to music and art fraud. The majority of the stories’ protagonists are men who have reached, or are fast approaching, middle age. As they reach this point in their lives, they become increasingly aware of their own disillusionment; of the naivety of their former selves. Yet the echoes of past relationships, the niggling reminders of what might have been, are notions that ring true for us all. A thoughtful and emotive read. Helen Frear

The Forgotten and the Fantastical
Edited by Teika Bellamy
£8.99 (Mother’s Milk Books)

In a time of social unrest, literature tries, in varying levels of success, to explicitly tackle these issues in a true-to-life setting in order for us to relate. Instead of creating a world that mirrors our own in order to rationalise it, The Forgotten and the Fantastical takes us back to basics, and it works. Adult fairy tales may be an acquired taste, but these magical fables are undeniably satisfying. As with all Mother’s Milk publications, The Forgotten and the Fantastical focuses on issues of feminism and motherhood, concepts with vast grey areas in today’s society. Like Grimm’s tales when we were children, these tales are short, captivating ways of showing us right from wrong, a refreshing prospect that even adults need in these morally ambiguous times. On a simpler level, these stories offer much enjoyment through their mystical subjects, regardless of their important message. I eagerly await the sequel. Stacey Wylie

Rojava in View

Tony Simpson
£6 (Spokesman)

While the mainstream media fails miserably as a fourth estate, the Spokesman quietly holds all systems of government accountable through some thought provoking extracts and articles. In terms of Brexit, Tony Simpson suggests a Citizen’s Initiative is required to safeguard people from being used as ‘bargaining chips’ in negotiations, and offers up a draft proposal to be put forward to the European Commission. While foreign superpowers are bombing the shit out of Syria, we learn of Salih Muslim Muhammad’s attempt to establish a secular society in northern Syria based on social economic gender equality. Here, Arabs, Syriacs and Kurdish people are learning to live with each other, creating a social contract born of shared values. And while Turkey moves from a parliamentary to a presidential republic after a very dodgy referendum, we are asked to remember the 130 journalists and numerous politicians in prison for daring to challenge the processes that have allowed the latest country to undergo an authoritarian makeover. James Walker

Miriam’s Farm

Edited by Clive Leivers
£8.50 (Leen Editions)

During the first decade of the 20th century, D. H. Lawrence was a regular visitor to Haggs Farm. “Clothed in Virginia creeper and honeysuckle,” the idyllic surroundings offered temporary escape from his pit village home in Eastwood. It was here that he met Jessie Chambers who would send off one of his poems to the English Review and kickstart Lawrence’s career. The two got engaged, it all went wrong, and then Jessie had a proper strop when Lawrence depicted her as Miriam Leivers in Sons and Lovers. This slim collection of essays and conversations is a curt reminder that Haggs Farm is an integral part of our literary heritage. But there’s one problem; despite being a Grade II Listed Building, the farm has been left to rot, and the Barber family, who bought it in 1916, have no interest in preserving the Haggs as “a shrine to Lawrence.” Their resentment is probably born out of the fact that Cissie Barber drowned in Moorgreen reservoir aged six, and Lawrence recreated the tragedy in Women in Love. Perhaps City of Literature would like to intervene? James Walker

Matt Hill
£8.99, (Angry Robot Books)

Fiction is always most effective when it is used to hold up a mirror to the real world. Published right here in Notts, Matt Hill’s award nominated novel Graft feels equal parts familiar and alien, blending council houses and the Happy Mondays with sprawling sci-fi ghettos and three-armed ‘freak shows’. The story follows the lives of three characters as they navigate a distorted post-apocalyptic version of Manchester, each one finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and becoming entangled in a web of human trafficking that spans several dimensions. Cerebral and suspenseful, Graft tackles hefty themes of ownership and exploitation without ever losing track of its own distinct voice. Having said that, the story occasionally wobbles under its own weight, with side-characters becoming interchangeable, and ideas losing focus amidst the noise. Overall this is a solid and enjoyable piece of science fiction with an engaging premise and exciting execution. LP Mills 

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