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Bookends #5 April 22

This week’s bookends brings you a novel from the borders of Wales, a taste of new books due for publication in May and some advice for on how to enjoy poetry.

The Book
CreedHonno, an independent press based in Aberystwth, Wales, has been championing Welsh Women’s writing since the company was formed in 1986. Their latest title is a novel published in 1936 by Margiad Evans, a poet, novelist and illustrator who, though of English origin herself, closely identified with the Welsh border country. Creed was her fourth and final novel, all of which are set in the countryside of the Welsh Marches.

Honno describes Creed as a novel set in the fictional industrial Border town of Chepsford. It’s a place characterised by drunkenness and brawls. The theme of the novel is about suffering whith Evans showing domestic life unsettled by strong opinions on love and sin.

I’ve never read anything by Evans but I see that Honno has also published The Wooden Doctor which is about a troubled adolescent girl and her obsession with a doctor. I think I might give myself a treat and buy both…

The Post

I find it almost impossible to keep up to date with the output of publishers in the UK. Fortunatly I can rely on Susan at A Life in Books who does a monthly selection of new titles combined with her knowledge of the author’s previous work. I warn you however that reading these posts could do serious damage to your bank balance.

The May hardback selection is covered in two posts: part one and part two 
Expect to see the paperback selection post any time now.

The Article 

I know I am not alone in my struggles with poetry. I can appreciate the skill involved in compressing imagery into a few words but seldom, if ever, consider it an enjoyable eperience. I’m gratified to learn from an interview in The Guardian newspaper, that Thomas Foster, professor of literature at University of Michigan-Flint, had a similar struggle when he was in his younger days. He’s just written a guide called How to Read Poetry Like a Professor to help people like me overcome their difficulties.

In the interview he shares his tips for understanding and enjoying poetry including the advice not to start with the difficult poets… I wish those who set the school curricula would pay heed…..

 

 

Books to mark Wales’ special day

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus i chi!

daffodils in snow

March 1 is St David’s Day in Wales —St David being our patron saint — so usually a day for celebration of all things Welsh. The celebrations will be very muted this year however with schools closed and concerts cancelled because of Storm Emma, so I thought I would mark the occasion by highlighting some new books from authors and publishers based in Wales.

 

One Woman Walks WalesOne Woman Walks Wales. Ursula Martin is a remarkable account of a courageous woman. After a cancer diagnosis and then Ursula Martin was too weak to  walk more than a few steps. But she is a determined woman so she set a goal  to walk the four miles to her nearest post box every day. Her progress was so slow drivers would stop to offer her a lift. She persevered.

Her next goal was even more ambitious: to walk the 200 miles to her follow up appointment with the medical team. Coming out of the meeting, she headed back home on foot. And then just kept walking…..

In 17 months, she walked the length and breadth of Wales, across its beaches, up and down the coastal paths, through mountains, farms and urban sprawl.

One Woman Walks Wales is publsihed by Honno. If you order direct from their site they will make a donation of £1 to the Target Ovarian Cancer charity.

Also coming soon from Honno is Albi by Hilary Shepherd which is set in Spain in 1930s. The Civil War turns everything upside down for nine-year-old Albi and his family. They are under siege from outside and held captive by secrets within the home. Albi must sometimes close his ears and his eyes if he is to survive.

The Glass AisleSeren Books have a strong poetry collection, the newest addition to which is The Glass Aisle by Paul Henry. It features twenty eight poems including an elergy  to displaced workhouse residents, set on a stretch of canal in the Brecon Beacons National Park. A performance version of  The Glass Aisle, featuring songs co-written with fellow musician and songwriter Brian Briggs, (‘Stornoway’), is currently touring festivals.  More details can be found on the Seren website.

I mentioned another of their recent publications May by Naomi Krüger in my recent Bookends post. It’s a novel written from the perspective of a woman with dementia who is trying to piece together the fragments of her memory. Definitely one I am going to be buying.

Hummingbird.pngWelsh publisher, Parthian, is offering Hummingbird by Tristan Hughes, a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Wales. Born in  Ontario, he spent his childhood on th Welsh island of Ynys Mon. Hummingbird, his fourth novel takes him back to Canada, to a remote location where fifteen-year-old Zachary Tayler lives a lonely and isolated life with his father. One summer the enigmatic Eva Spiller arrives in search of the remains of her parents and together they embark on a strange and disconcerting journey of discovery. This novel won the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Award for 2018. More details are on the Parthian website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snow Sisters by Carol Lovekin [book review]

SnowSistersCarol Lovekin definitely can’t be accused of taking an easy path for her second novel Snow Sisters. It’s a cross-over between Gothic tale and family drama that juggles three narrative viewpoints and three separate timelines.  The result could easily have been a mess but instead it’s a multi-layered narrative about the enduring nature of the past and the resilience of sisterly love.

Snow Sisters takes place at Gull House, an imposing Victorian-style house in Wales complete with a fairy-tale tower and hiding places.  Storms and winds from the nearby sea-shore batter its stone walls and screeching gulls circle overhead but its inhabitants are protected behind iron gates, shrubs and a garden wall of gnarled branches of wisteria hanging in ropes.  It’s a house “redolent with the murmurs of people from other lives.” This was once the home of the Pryce family. Now it lies empty, abandoned when its last occupants; the sisters Meredith and Verity and their artist mother Allegra; were forced to move to London. Twenty years later Allegra makes a return visit to the house; a trip that rekindles memories of the past and the time when Meredith found a dusty sewing box in a disused attic. It proves to be a Pandora’s box, for in opening the box, Meredith unlocks the ghost of Angharad, a girl on the cusp of womanhood who has a horrific secret she must reveal before she can be at rest. The teenage girls, but most particularly Meredith, become the conduit for Angharad to tell her story but as it unfolds this voice from the past threatens to destroy the bond between the sisters.

The ghost aspect of Snow Sisters didn’t interest me greatly — I thought it leaned a little too much to the obvious  — but the depiction of the fraught relationships between the two girls and their mother was impressive. Allegra is a splendidly drawn character; a tempestuous woman who drifts about in beads and floating frocks leaving her daughters to feed, clothe and generally fend for themselves.  She comes across as a monstrous figure at times; one minute lavishing attention on her daughters , the next being cruel and dismissive. Meredith, the youngest, is her favourite; the daughter who can do no wrong but from whom in return she seeks adoration. Towards Verity she is hostile, particularly when the girl challenges her smoking and drinking habits and her affair with a much younger man. Allegra’s desire for happiness is what eventually drives the trio from the house despite her daughters’ objections. Yet Allegra is a mass of contradictions; narcissistic certainly but also vulnerable and pitiable in her constant pursuit of love.

With such a distant mother it is no surprise that the girls turn to each other for support. They squabble as all sisters do but there is a bond between them so strong that Verity believes “I know the shape of her heart. She’s under my skin, threaded into my heartbeat, her shadow is stitched to my edges.”  United against Allegra, they are also of one mind in their love for their home Gull House and the garden planted with varieties of blue flowers by their beloved grandmother.

The depiction of Gull House is one of the triumphs of Snow Sisters. It, more than the ghostly manifestations, gives the novel its atmosphere and its sense of the past breaking through. This is a house Meredith believes has a heart.  Though overgrown and a little forlorn by the time Verity makes her return trip, its allure is evident:

The elegant door, its blue-salt-worn to grey, still takes my breath away.

It’s a thing of beauty, this door, and even with the paint peeling, the shape of it remains insanely lovely. It sits in the stone facade of the house like a picture… At the top, set into the ornately curved frame, is a small window adorned with stained glass flowers. The curve continues out to the side and in it more small sections of glinting glass like jewels.

Every time I came across a description of the house and its gardens I wanted to immediately jump in my car and drive there, hoping against hope there would be a For Sale sign in its grounds and Angharad’s ghost will have been given notice to quit.

Footnotes

About the book: Snow Sisters is the second novel by Carol Lovekin. It was published by Honno in September 2017. In October it was chosen by the Welsh Books Council as their  Book of the Month. I received a copy from the publishers in return for an honest review.

About the author: Carol Lovekin was born in Warwickshire, England but has lived in Wales since 1979. The legends and landscape of wales inform her writing as she explains in this post about Snow Sisters for Book Trail.  Her first novel, Ghostbird, was released in 2016 . You can follow Carol’s blog here.

Why I read this book: I first heard of Carol Lovekin about a year ago when I went to a pop up bookshop in Cardiff in search of books by Wales-based authors and met some of the wonderful team at Honno. I do have a copy of Ghostbird which I meant to read this summer but somehow went off track. I thought I would make up for that omission by reading her latest novel.

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