Summer reading: Looking outwards, and looking back

Today’s recommendation comes from Jane Kremer, who will be shifting degree programmes to join Creative and Professional Writing in September, after stepping up and taking part in our student readings this year.

My recommendation is funnily enough a book that I got from our lecturer Jonathan after a reading. It’s called Guapa by Saleem Haddad and impressed me so much that I even consider it my new favourite book. Here’s why you should pick it up this summer: Throughout, the book has been written with a highly capturing writing style and plot. It deals with a young gay man – Rasa – who lives in the Middle East and stands in front of the shattered remains of his only big love in life. The plot reflects both on the relationship and why it failed, as well as on the main character’s childhood and upbringing.

I found it especially fascinating because the book gave me an insight into a completely unknown world – and I’m sure it will have a similar effect on anyone who has grown up up in Europe or other westernised countries.

The book reflects on the culture-clash of growing up with a Middle-Eastern father and a Western mother; on gay life in the Middle-East; on the political happenings during the Arab Spring. Then, when Rasa goes to study in the US while 9/11, he experiences a rapid shift of identity. After having felt different because of his homosexuality, his consciousness now shifts towards being a Muslim and he experiences what it’s like to wear this label in America.

The book is one of the rare works that manage to keep their quality up until the very last page – the ending is great, neither shallow nor otherwise disappointing.

A good book for people who like to broaden their horizons a little and who like to experience the feeling that they’re growing through the main character’s experiences! =)

This summer I will try to re-read El Principito (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and as you can see from the title, I will try and read it in Spanish. I remember that I really liked the book when I read it as a child, so it will be interesting to see what I think of it now, perceiving it through adult eyes.

Summer Reading: Hockey, jocks, pies and interruptions

Today’s Summer Reading recommendation comes from current 2nd Year Creative Writing student Amie Carden. Take it away, Amie…

My summer recommendation isn’t actually a book. I’ve been getting into webcomics recently, this one I binge read for hours after it was recommended to me by a friend of mine. With a cute art style, Check, Please! is about Eric Bittle, who is starting university in Massachusetts on a sport scholarship. Eric is a 5’6, blonde, amateur pâtissier who vlogs about his life and newly invented recipes. The loveable tiny member of the team really makes an impact on their team plays and on their living habits.

“It’s a story about hockey and friendship and bros and trying to find yourself during the best 4 years of your life.”

An adorable comedy around the friendships within a prestigious hockey team.


On a completely different note, I’ve been aiming to read this book for years. Since watching the film adaptation years ago, Girl, Interrupted has made me very intrigued as to what was missed out from the original diary, by author Susanna Kaysen. How many psychotic episodes didn’t make it to the final cut? What happened to them all after their stay in the ward? So this summer, I’ll be reading a memoir that shows just how insane it was to be sectioned in the 1960s.

Summer reading: international, anarchic and avant garde

Today’s Summer Reading recommendation comes from Juan Gutierrez, a current first year Creative and Professional Writing student:

Collected Poems by Raúl Gómez Jattin

Some might say Collected Poems contains the ramblings of a schizophrenic, a pervert, and a bum. Others might say it contains the beginning of all modern Latin American poetry aesthetic. It is all a part of the myth that has become Raúl Gómez Jattin’s life and work. His legacy is as spread out as it is controversial and he is both adored and despised by many. His work has not been forgotten, and his voice influenced an entire generation of poets in the rebellion to the rigid tradition of old Latin American literature. Collected Poems is an anthology that gives the English-speaking world a glimpse into the bizarre uniqueness of experimental Latin American poetry and the author’s brilliantly troubled mind. Raul Gomez Jattin paved the way for an academic acceptance and understanding of homosexual poetry and an anarchic structure. His poems capture the power of the Caribbean joie de vivre and his own existentialist conflicts, along with his sexual desires and his views on the people of Cartagena that surrounded him during his life. Aside from offering an interesting insight into a celebrated troubled man, Collected Poems is highly recommended also for the influence it has had on the Colombian literary landscape and the future of Latin American poetry.

Summer reading: for the footloose and fearless

Our next summer reading recommendation is from current second year Creative and Professional Writing student Philip Nash.

I’m going to recommend a travel narrative called The Places In Between by Rory Stewart. Stewart went on a solo hitchhike through Afghanistan, from Herat to Kabul, during a time of major terrorist threats when he could easily have been shot and killed. I was recommended it by a crazy American guy in my hostel in Utrecht who planned on hiking/hitchhiking from France to Greece.

Summer reading: Breaking the pattern

Our next summer reading recommendation is from Creative and Professional Writing lecturer Russell Schechter.

 Grey skies laden with menace. Chill winds gouging your skin like fairies with flick knives. Barbecue-blackened sausages which are somehow still trichinosis-pink at their core.

Ah, summer in England!

And time to read for fun. Oh, frabjous season!!

Here’s my suggested summer book guide: read what you want. Read what you really enjoy. And then read something completely different. If you never pick up non-fiction, read a biography. If you hate crime novels, read a murder mystery. Break your reading pattern and expand your horizons – for at least one book.

(What a mealy-mouthed recommendation. Criminy, just what you’d expect a miserable Creative Writing tutor to say.)

So here’s something more particular. Read a John Wyndham novel. It’s not exactly contemporary (he peaked in the 1950s), but good-golly-Miss-Molly was a he smart, economical and entertaining writer. Day of the Triffids. The Chrysalids. The Midwich Cuckoos. Pick one – you can’t go wrong. (NB Day of the Triffids is in the library!)

And remember to bring me back some rock from your holiday.

Summer reading: Angels and clowns

Our next summer reading recommendation is from first-year Creative and Professional Writing student Abi Silverthorne.

Image result for my name is minaMy summer recommendation would be My Name is Mina. It’s not necessarily a new release, but deserves a read by anyone who might have missed it till now. Fans of David Almond’s original work Skellig would be hard-pushed not to enjoy this prequel. It’s a fun and emotional step back into the fantastical world Almond built, only now through the surreal and slightly scatter-shot (but always funny) eyes of Mina. The book is never one thing, moving fluidly from fable to script to prose to poem to empty, interactive pages – it’s a pretty sensory experience to sit out in the garden with it and just go along.

Image result for stephen king it bookThis summer I’ll be bizarrely taking Stephen King’s It on holiday with me, because nothing says fun in the sun like a horror epic about the malevolent amalgamation of fear itself that terrorises children over decades.

Summer reading: From glum to glam – Richard Yates, Beatles and glam rock

Today it’s St Mary’s senior lecturer Richard Mills who offers up his summer reading recommendations and intentions.

The Easter Parade by Richard Yates should be read this, and every, summer. It starts with the genius first line  “Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life” , and after this despairing start, Yates continues to pile the misery on. This novel is guaranteed to ruin any beach holiday –  I love it!


Image result for beatleboneImage result for i read the news today oh boy bookKevin Barry’s novel Beatlebone is about John Lennon fleeing his fame (and his demons) in the west of Ireland. Beatlebone is a must for all Beatles fans, as is Paul Howard’s award-winning biography of Tara Browne, I Read the News Today Oh Boy: Tara Browne, The Short and Gilded Life of the Man Who Inspired The Beatles’ Greatest Song (reading the title will take you most of the summer). Howard’s book is an Irish Great Gatsby; that is, a cautionary tale about success and excess,  but unlike Jay Gatsby, Tara Browne’s story – which inspired Lennon to write A Day in the Life is all true!


Image result for shock and awe reynoldsImage result for New Selected Poems ted hughesI’ll be reading Simon Reynolds’ Show and Awe: Glam Rock and its Legacy. It’s a big summer read, coming in at 687 pages! And a recommendation for my second-year poetry class: I’ll be dipping into Ted Hughes: New Selected Poems 1957-1994. This is a must for all you mad, bad, dangerous po-heads… sorry, poets.

Summer reading recommendations 2017

If it’s good enough for the newspapers – who give over most of their books coverage over the summer months to literary and celebrity back-patting and one-up-personship – then it’s good enough for us. We’re going to use this blog to give our summer reading recommendations. What we’ve read and recommend, and what we’ll be reading this summer on the terrace of our Tuscan villa/down the local lido/sitting in our kitchen staring at the rain (delete as applicable). There’ll be entries from students to follow, but here to start is Creative and Professional Writing Programme Director Jonathan Gibbs.

Image result for the luminaries catton

Any first year students who enjoyed Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal this year, and have lots of time on their hands over the summer, might want to try her second novel, The Luminaries. Coming in at over 800 pages, The Luminaries is a densely-potted, intricately-structured novel set in the lawless gold fields of C19th New Zealand. It’s a masterpiece of historical ventriloquism, with prospectors, whores, bankers and ghosts, but you really need a good sun lounger to let yourself get lost in its pages. This isn’t a book to try to read on your commute.

 

 

 

 

Image result for home marilynne robinsonThis summer I’ll be returning to Marilynne Robinson’s Home, the companion-piece to her quite wonderful Gilead, which I read on holiday a couple of years ago. It’s a quiet, beautifully-written telling of the story of the prodigal son, set in the plains of Iowa, but I need some peace and quiet to let it work its magic. This isn’t one to read on your commute either.

 

The short and the sweet: prize-winning and shortlisted stories to read online

April is a busy month for UK short story competitions, with the biggest and richest, and one of the newest and hippest both announcing their winners – and the good news is that all of the shortlisted entries are available to read online, making these a great resource for readers and writers. What is the current short story scene looking like? And what kinds of stories are winning prizes?

Firstly, the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award was won by Bret Anthony Johnston for his story ‘Half of What Atlee Rouse Knows About Horses’. This short story competition is very much an establishment gig – it is only open to writers who have been published in the UK (not self-published), and in fact Johnston is Director of Creative Writing at Harvard University. You don’t get much more established than that! Previous winners include Yiyun Li, Junot Diaz and Kevin Barry (who we’ve studied on the St Mary’s CPW course – his winning story, ‘Beer Trip to Llandudno’ can be read here.

Here’s the opening paragraph of Johnston’s story. It’s a tiny masterclass in grabbing the reader’s attention: the reins being held out of the car window, the name Buttons, Buttons never once turning left. And in the use of language: simple when it needs to be, but with vivid notes of colour, interest and intrigue: swaybacked, carnie, cowgirls.

His daughter’s first horse came from a travelling carnival where children rode him in miserable clockwise circles. He was swaybacked with a patchy coat and split hooves, but Tammy fell for him on the spot and Atlee made a cash deal with the carnie. A lifetime ago, just outside Robstown, Texas. Atlee managed the stables west of town; Laurel, his wife, taught lessons there. He hadn’t brought the trailer – buying a pony hadn’t been on his plate that day – so he drove home slowly, holding the reins through the window, the horse trotting beside the truck. Tammy sat on his back singing made up songs about cowgirls. She named him Buttons. No telling how long he’d been ridden in circles at the carnival. For the rest of his life, Buttons never once turned left.

You can read the rest of Johnston’s story and the rest of the shortlist can be read online here. Will you go for Celeste Ng’s intense first person story ‘Every Little Thing’? Or the experimental, Borgesian games of Richard Lambert’s ‘The Hazel Twig and the Olive Tree’?

Lambert’s story would have suited The White Review Short Story Prize, except that, in contrast to the Sunday Times gig, this is only open to writers who haven’t had a full book (novel or collection of stories published) – ie open to emerging writers. (I, me, Jonathan Gibbs, was shortlisted for the first iteration of the prize, in 2013: it was won that year by Claire-Louise Bennett, whose Pond we have also studied at St Mary’s.)

The White Review is a journal very much at the avant garde end of the literary scene, and so they are looking for writing that “explores and expands the possibilities of the form”. The say the prize was founded “to reward ambitious, imaginative and innovative approaches to creative writing”.

The winner this year is Nicole Flattery, for ‘Track’, a suitably edgy and nervy look at love and celebrity in contemporary New York. Here’s the opening paragraph:

My boyfriend, the comedian, took pleasure in telling me about rejection – how it came about, how to cope with dignity, how it had dangerous, possibly cancerous, elements. He said if I pinched just above my waistband, where the unfamiliar portions of fat resided, that’s what rejection felt like. He claimed the link between cancer and repeated failure was irrefutable. He had a lot of new, unusual ideas. ‘Feel that,’ he said, grasping at my hips and thighs, ‘that’s the texture of rejection right there.’

You can read ‘Track’ and all the other shortlisted stories here and even go back and read the stories from the four previous years.

What do you think? Are these inspirational? What can you learn from them? Could you do better?

Breaking ground: teaching diverse voices at St Mary’s, Twickenham

The issue of diversity in publishing in the UK and beyond is one that has become increasingly prominent over recent years – although of course in academia the fight against the teaching of just “dead white males” has a much longer history. So long, in fact, that “dead white males” – the ‘giants’ of the Western canon – has been superseded as a term by the rather more slick descriptor “pale, male and stale”.

Recent attempts to push publishing towards reflecting the make-up of the British reading public include a special report from industry journal The Bookseller, and the inauguration of two prizes for black, Asian and minority ethnic writers.

The first-ever Jhalak Prize, organised by non-profit organisation Media Diversified, for best novel written by a BAME writer who is either British or resident in Britain, was won by Jacob Ross, for his Caribbean-set crime novel The Bone Readers.

And this year sees the second Guardian and 4th Estate BAME short story competition, for a short story written by a British or Irish BAME writer, won last year by Abiola Oni for her story ’75’, which you can read here. The deadline for this year’s competition is 2 April, and you can enter here. No entry fee, word count of 6,000 words.

Then, just this week, there was another attempt to promote British writers of colour, Breaking Ground, a digital guide to 200 of just those people produced by Speaking Volumes, a live readings and events organisation. You can see the full publication here, and we were of course keen to see just who gets covered – and, to keep the focus on St Mary’s, how many of these writers appear on our Creative and Professional Writing curriculum.

Well, by my count, six of them have been taught in our lectures and seminars – seven if you include Linton Kwesi Johnson, who isn’t in the list but, as an elder statesman of the British poetry scene, provides its introduction – and eight if you count Anthony Joseph, who will be coming to give a poetry masterclass in a couple of weeks.

Those that we’ve taught this year at St Mary’s are: Monica Ali, Warsan Shire, Salena Godden, Malorie Blackman, Jackie Kay and Helen Oyeyemi.

There are plenty more names we could be teaching of course, and I’ll be looking through the other 194 names with interest. It looks worth anybody’s time to check it out.