Library Finds: H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker

In today’s world, a person has to do a lot to stand out of the crowd if they want to get noticed. People have minimal attention span…oh, look! A talking parrot is trying to manipulate his way out of his cage! Oh sorry, guys. Now, turn to page 394 and let’s get this book review down in the books [bonus points to those who get the page 394 reference. I knew I could count on you].

Over Christmas break, I read a book called H(a)ppy by Nicola Barker. The setting takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where humans (as we know them) have ceased to exist and a new era of beings is born. Their world is a word of language that buzzes and glows.  The community of beings are called The Young, and was established out of the “floods, fires, plagues, and death cults” caused by the human race. The Young walk a new path called the Path of Light. They are taught to let go and move beyond God. They are given only minimal choices but “just enough choices” so that their minds will not again become overloaded and corrupted. The Altruistic Powers created the “Information Stream” which helps The Young balance their “chemicals” and “live in the moment.”

The story centres on a character called Mira A. (People are now gender neutral, and have no sexual organs.) The graph is hooked up to each individual to monitor their mind, will, and emotions. Mira A looks at a photograph on the information stream and starts to ask questions about the girl in their head which leads them on a downward spiral as they start to form “a narrative” in their mind – something that The Young are not supposed to do. They are supposed to always be at peace, clean and unencumbered and no longer to use their mind to have an individual life.

Words are highly significant in Barker’s book. She highlights words in different colors to help the reader understand the mindset of Mira A and their world. She also incorporates drawings, blank spaces, huge fonts, strange lettering and numbers within the book. She does a fantastic job of keeping the reader interested in her narrative as I have never seen anything like it before. Her style of writing and use of language is elegant, exciting, and refreshing, and her book made me think outside of the box. I highly encourage people to try H(A)PPY – I don’t think they will be disappointed.

(A)ri H(a)ines is a first year Creative and Professional Writing student.


Spring Reading 2018

Last night was the latest in our rolling programme of Creative and Professional Writing undergraduate readings, in the cosy back room of the very hospitable Prince of Wales pub. Despite a scheduling error that saw us double-booking with West London Varsity, the reading was very well attended, and we heard poems and story extracts from first years Beth and Jane, second year Alex, and third years Steph, Amie, Trish and Jess, as well as a couple of storming poems from postgrad Jo Harker, and even two short pieces from CPW lecturers Russell Schechter and Jonathan Gibbs – a treat not likely to be repeated any time soon! Well done to everyone who read, and roll on the next event, which will be towards the end of the semester, in May.

Library Finds: First Love, by Gwendoline Riley

shaun dicks rileyFirst Love is a book written for the millennial. It tackles the modern day minefield that is love and life. It takes us through the story of Neve, a modern women who is struggling, all through her perspective. It is a very well-written book that is obviously carefully planned out. It keeps your attention and makes you want to find out how it ends up for Neve. The narrative itself leans to comedic relief in places. I highly recommend it. It’s resonates more than you think it can. This book is a must read for any millennial or millennial at heart.


Shaun Dicks is a first year Creative and Professional Writing student.

Review: Women and Power

Mary Beard’s Women and Power: A Manifesto brings a calm, logical voice to the argument of feminism and women in power. Far removed from angry chanting or bra-burning, it is not only a look at examples of women being treated as inferior in society and politics, but a look at why.

Using years of scholarly knowledge, Beard takes us on a walk through ancient Greece and Rome to show us female figures, real and mythological, and relates them back to our current situation. The book is split into two parts, “The Public Voice of Women” and “Women in Power.” It’s quite a wee book at about 115 pages, and its handy size ensures it can be slipped into a handbag or back pocket. Uninterrupted, you can blast through it in under two hours.

Women who have had anything mansplained to them or told they didn’t know what they were talking about (which is most women) will read passages with a nod or a loud “mmm-hmm”, and also have a feeling of kinship with the mistreated women that Beard tells us about. But the demographic who should really read this book are the men. It perfectly details the distress and uphill fight as a woman to not make a “grab” for power, but simply to be heard. It encourages empathy and change without being emotionally charged or irrational. At times, the voice can be slightly cold, but it is always factual.

The ending is somewhat underwhelming, but delightfully honest. In thinking about how to fix this rift, all Beard can do is shrug and say (paraphrasing) “hopefully we’ll figure it out.” Hopefully, we do.

Review by Stephanie Marquardt, a third year Creative and Professional Writing student.

Library Finds: White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

It’s a long book, for sure. Three generations, two families. One (multicultural) Britain.

This humorous book gives an amazing insight into what it’s like not to be middle-class, not to be white, not to have been born in this country. It is a book about the friendship between Samad and Archie, who bonded over a dangerous and not quite legal issue they plotted in the end of the second World War. It is also the story about Alsana and Clara, their wives, who also bond – over their marriage problems.

But maybe most of all, it is a story of twins who are so different that their father despairs about it. Samad becomes more and more obsessed with religion and the fact that his sons do not care about Allah as much as he does. He believes that growing up in Britain damages them. There is a decision to be made…

A book from the St Mary’s library collection, reviewed by Jane Kremer, first year English and Creative and Professional Writing student.

Library Finds: Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

ellen willett infinite jestInfinite Jest is a collection of worldview-altering quotes. The plot tying it all together is the concept of an entertainment so addictive that its viewers will die of dehydration before turning it off. Across 1079 pages it traverses multiple genres such as hysterical realism, tragic comedy and postmodern satire. The plot follows the lives (mostly) of Hal Incandenza, a student at Enfield Tennis Academy, and Don Gately, a recovering drug addict at Ennet Recovery House. The novel explores addiction, withdrawal, recovery, family relationships, death, entertainment, linguistics and national identity. Set in the near future of dystopian America and spanning nine years, each subsidized by a specific corporate sponsor for tax revenue, Infinite Jest will teach you about consumerism, greed, social politics and the shallowness of pleasure. It moves you between characters and years so frequently you’ll give up on control, and in that is the magic reflection of daily life which Wallace aimed for; every scene demands to be read as an individual. Wallace’s language is effortlessly concise. Phrases such as ‘My chest bumps like a dryer with shoes in it’ are the real page-turners. Reading this novel feels like when you’re chasing something in a dream and you almost catch up to it but then you wake up, and that’s when the book ends. It’s irritating and inconclusive and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s a like a virus.

A book from the St Mary’s library collection, reviewed by Ellen Willett, third year Creative and Professional Writing student.

Library Finds: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, by Jeanette Winterson

I first checked out “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal” because I wanted to look at one of the books from the Voices in Contemporary Literature course and this one looked the most interesting.

Despite the title referencing when she moved out and her adoptive mother asking her the titular question “Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?” the book deals more so with Jeanette’s issues with the idea of being loved and wanted by those around her. This is shown particularly with the references to the fact her adoptive mother told her that “The Devil lead us to the wrong crib.” The idea of her being “The Wrong Crib.” Comes up often in the novel, whether it’s when she tried to behave “correctly” in the hopes of being acceptable and loved by the woman who adopted her, or later in life when talking about seeking her adoptive mother and being told she’d always been “wanted,” despite being given away for adoption.

Fittingly, as it is a book about her own life, “Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?” is not a set book where things go as they should in a ‘story’ the abusive adoptive mother is not entirely demonised as a monster and the book doesn’t end with a triumphant reunion with the birth mother making everything okay. Rather the book poses the question of nature vs nurture and how someone can love and be loved despite difficult circumstances.

I enjoyed this book and think that anyone else who enjoys learning about the lives of others also would enjoy it.

A book from the St Mary’s library collection, reviewed by Kirstin Richardson, first year English and Creative and Professional Writing student.

Library Finds: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

This is a book told from the voice of a boy who suffers from Asperger syndrome, and the insight we get into this character’s life is honest and heart-wrenching, without making you feel like the author is trying too hard. Christopher (the protagonist), finds his neighbour’s dog murdered and gets the urge to solve the mystery behind this death. Christopher’s condition makes his prose highly literal, and this sometimes makes him miss out the real truth behind certain situations. Despite making you quite emotional, this book also has  plenty of humour arising from Christopher’s naivety and his lack of embarrassment. All this gives us a new view of the world through Christopher’s honest and humorous voice.  Highly recommend it!

A book from the St Mary’s library collection, reviewed by Erica de Silva, second year English and Creative and Professional Writing student.

New Writing from Twickenham at The Exchange

Autumn 17Last night we had the latest in our rolling programme of undergraduate readings. This was a bit different, however. Rather than just sharing our work amongst ourselves, on campus or in the back room of a public house, we decided to thrust our students into the limelight in the first of what we hope will be the first of many public readings.

‘New Writing From Twickenham’ took place at The Exchange, and was programmed as part of the Richmond Literature Festival. It was something of a hybrid. The first half was given over to St Mary’s Creative and Professional Writing students, while the second was opened to the floor with open mic slots available for audience members. Each half was rounded off with a reading from the wonderful Eley Williams, who read two stories from her brilliant debut collection, Attrib.

The evening was a great success, with everyone reading to a packed cafe at The Exchange – the first time we’ve held one of our readings in this new cultural venue at the heart of Twickenham, and, again, I hope not the last.

It was marvellous to hear our students share their work, and for them to have such a great reception. So put your hands together for Shaun Dicks, Jane Kremer, Beth Fisher, Solomon Atkinson-Padmore, Martha Farrall-Hyder, Abi Silverthorne, Alex Mitchell, Amie Carden, Stephanie Marquardt, Ari Haines and Naima Young….

Eley Williams read two stories from Attrib., ‘Alight At The Next’, which you can read online here, and ‘Smote, or When I Find I Cannot Kiss You in Front of a Print by Bridget Riley’, which you can read online here. But really you should be buying a copy of the book itself, because it’s a corker.

Autumn 17 Eley Williams

Library Finds: The Shock of the Fall, by Nathan Filer

“5/5: Poignant, important and very realistic, this is another great 2017 read for me. The characters were so alive that I had to keep telling myself it’s a fictional novel and the story is so emotional at times it’s difficult, but the author’s ability to engage and captivate makes this an interesting read nonetheless. Only improvement would be to have more of it! (Especially the relationship between Matthew and his dad, I think.)”

So that was my goodreads review of The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer, but it’s not a great review, is it? The word “interesting” should be “outstanding”, the syntax and grammar isn’t at all perfect and, well, it’s just quite short really. However, despite all of that, the review matters because that’s how I felt the minute I finished this book. The story and the characters (and their billion emotions) were still raw and I just had to write about it. So, even though that review is far from flawless, I’m happy with it.

Nevertheless, I would like to add some more.

The Shock of the Fall features a boy named Matthew, and about his and his family’s lives, coping with his brother’s death. It is a raw story about someone dealing with grief but also their own mental health, which yes can be upsetting at times but due to his endless attempts to overcome each obstacle in his path, this read is both inspirational and astounding.

I would therefore recommend this read to anyone over the age of 16/18 (depending on the individual) as there are mentions of suicide attempts/ self-harm within the novel, but in my opinion it is definitely a novel worth reading.

A book from the St Mary’s library collection, reviewed by Beth Fisher, first year Creative and Professional Writing student.