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Welcome to The Literary Pig's blog - a safe haven for all those afflicted with
the unbearable urge to write.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Top reads of 2019

LitPig is getting ready for Christmas and planning his stocking fillers. If you're anything like me then your Christmas wish-list is packed with books (and chocolate). To help you choose some stocking fillers here are the top 6 books I've read and loved in 2019 (in no particular order):

Something Like Breathing by Angela Readman:
I have been a fan of Angela Readman's short stories for several years, I love her writing voice and was excited to learn of her debut novel 'Something like Breathing.' Readman's quietly beautiful writing translates perfectly to the longer form of a novel. I was soon immersed in the lives of the two narrators, Lorrie and Sylvie (the story runs from 1957 to 1960) on their remote Scottish island. This is the story of their friendship and Sylvie's unusual gift. How exactly Sylvie is special is slowly revealed. Readman does not deal in glitzy tricks or twists and character is everything in this novel. I fell in love with the gentle and very wise soul of Sylvie and I didn't want it to end. I'm still thinking of the two girls ... Lorrie was a force to be reckoned with but I'm fretful for Sylvie let loose in a manipulative world - though she'd clearly inherited her mother's resilience and backbone. I'd love to know what happened next for both of them ...

Ellie and the Harp Maker by Hazel Prior:
All the blurb about this novel is true. It is a heartwarming, engaging, uplifting story about love and friendship. It will also make you smile (a lot) and cry (a lot - but in a good way). I quickly fell in love with Ellie and Dan, the main characters and voices, and felt bereft when I finished reading. I could happily spend many more hours in their company, along with Phineas the pheasant.
This book brought me comfort at a difficult time. It is gentle, written with love and understanding. This has jumped into my top ten of favourite reads, it is a book I will return to again and again.

Little by Edward Carey:
This is an extraordinary novel. Beautifully written and incredibly atmospheric. I was soon immersed in 18th Century Paris and completely absorbed by the narrator's story. Marie 'Little'(later to become Madame Tussaud) is the most wonderful literary creation, her voice still lingers with me: naive and yet strong and determined. This charts the early life of Little as she learns to create wax models from her very odd mentor in Paris. We learn about life at Versailles (she slept in a cupboard), her obsession with the King's sister and ultimately how Little survived the turbulent years of the French revolution.
Carey's language and story carried me through this almost dream like novel, and his own illustrations make it something very special indeed. This is going into my top ten of favourite all-time books.

What She Saw by Wendy Clarke:
This is the terrific debut thriller from Wendy Clarke that kept me absorbed to the end and ticked so many boxes: super twists, page-turning story, characters you care about and a Lake District setting. Quality writing that quickly hooked me in, I read this almost in one sitting.

Ironopolis by Glen James Brown:
This was the most intriguing and unusual book I've read in a long time. Glen James Brown is an excellent storyteller who's characters are unique creations, authentic working class voices drawing you into the dark and at times sinister world of Ironopolis. Ultimately this is Alan's story as he searches for the truth of his father. We become immersed in the community over three generations as the Middlesborough inner city housing estate begins to fade and decay, along with its inhabitants. Jean (Alan's mum) writes her story in letters to a stranger. Henry is the strangely attractive mobile librarian with a  disturbing secret. Alan hunts down what happened on the Day of the Dark, and the New Year Eve's bomb explosion by meeting the misfits and outsiders (like himself) who are trying to make sense of their lives. Throughout the stories the mystical Peg Powler haunts the river and pipes, a creature conjured to scare young children she seems to have been a reality for several characters.
This novel weaves between black humour, horror and a gripping story line that makes you want to keep reading. There is a brooding oppressive darkness that pervades Ironopolis and it will follow you long after finishing.  An atmospheric debut from talented writer Glen James Brown.

HAG, a poetry collection by Zoe Mitchell:
If you love mythology, folklore and ancient history then I highly recommend HAG by Zoe Mitchell. Her poetry is infused with energy and jumps off the page. The writing is equally vivid, visceral and incredibly lyrical. Her classical knowledge is woven seamlessly with the everyday, her characters will linger in your dreams and often inspire you to go search out more details on what lies behind their stories. The natural world appears in several poems, one of my particular favourites is ‘Sycamore Gap’ featuring an argument between the famous sycamore and Hadrian's Wall. ‘Lullaby’ really is the stuff of nightmares and ‘A Matter of Common Talk’ will make you either laugh out loud or cringe (depending on your gender). There are goddesses, Ancient Britons, lovers and the lovelorn, along with the forgotten voices of women doomed for simply being women. Once read and devoured, then this collection is one to read again and out loud so you can savour the delicious rhythms and joy of words that Mitchell has crafted.

You can read more about the creation of Zoe Mitchell's debut poetry collection here.

What have been your top reads for 2019? Please share ...

Monday, 29 April 2019

HAG - debut poetry collection by Zoe Mitchell

It is my great pleasure to welcome poet, Zoe Mitchell, onto the blog today to talk about her debut collection HAG (Published by Indigo Dreams Publishing), which was the joint winner of the 2018 Indigo-First Collection Competition. I first met Zoe at Chichester University on the MA in Creative Writing then later joined a workshop group with her (and two others) where we meet regularly to share and review each other’s work (and to eat cake!). We’ve now been sharing work since the summer of 2015 and it’s been a real privilege to have seen many of the poems from this collection at an early stage of their evolution. It’s also incredibly satisfying to now hold the final collection, brought to life, and share it with others so they too can appreciate Zoe Mitchell’s incredible talents.

About Hag

HAG is the debut collection from Zoe Mitchell. The poems address the ongoing search for magic in the modern world. Using ancient history and mythology as well as the inspiration provided by a wild landscape, the poems consider how to live and endure in an increasingly complex and challenging world. From uncertain heroes and heartbroken heroines to vengeful and lovelorn goddesses, Hag considers the human cost of history and how each individual must carry the weight of their own experience.

About Zoe

Zoe Mitchell is a widely-published poet whose work has been featured in many magazines including The Rialto, The London Magazine and The Moth. She graduated from the University of Chichester with an MA in Creative Writing and was awarded a Distinction and the Kate Betts Memorial Prize. She is currently studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester, examining witches in women’s poetry. Her collection, Hag, was a joint winner of the Indigo-First Collection competition and was published in April 2019.
Twitter: @writingbyzoe
Instagram: @writingbyzoe

Q. Congratulations, Zoe, on the publication of your debut poetry collection HAG, can you tell us how it has been brought to life?

With regard to the individual poems, each one has their own story. Some of the poems were written whilst studying for my MA at the University of Chichester, some emerged from my current PhD research and others were written simply because they demanded to be written, for one reason or another. I wish I could tell you that I have a meticulous and fool-proof process for writing poetry, but I don’t really have one. The poems are inspired by things I’ve read or seen and blended with the real world, both in terms of news stories and my own personal experience. I have a particular interest in mythology and folklore, and I think some of those ancient stories hold great wisdom which still applies to our lives today.
The collection itself came about thanks to Indigo Dreams Publishing. I entered a selection of the poems found in Hag to the Indigo-First Collection Competition last year, and first of all I was excited and honoured just to have reached the shortlist. The prize was announced on National Poetry Day last year, and for me it took a while to really sink in that I had won. Even when I was working on the proofs for the book and discussing the cover with the Indigo team, I still couldn’t really wrap my head around it. Ronnie and Dawn at Indigo are a pleasure to work with, they helped me through every step of the process and I learned a lot about how collections are put together. I am very proud of the final collection, and a lot of that is due to their care and attention. Indigo Dreams really nurtures and supports writers, through their magazines as well as pamphlets and books, and it’s run by creative and caring people who understand poetry and poets so it was an honour and a privilege to work with them to bring Hag into the world.

Q. I understand for the collection and your PhD you have been immersing yourself in some interesting research. Tarot readings and witch summer school for example. You have to tell us more …

My PhD is focused on examining witches in women’s poetry. It’s a creative PhD, which means that alongside an analysis of major female poets who have written on the subject, I am compiling a collection of poems inspired by witches. As part of that, I’ve read a lot of history and mythology and visited various exhibitions and heritage sites, but I’ve also considered the value and practice of witchcraft in the modern world. I attended the WitchFest conference, taught myself to read the tarot and learned various simple spells, which I have since reflected on in poetry.
Recently, I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to attend a ‘Witch Summer School’ in Tuebingen, Germany. The weekend brought together academics from a wide range of fields to discuss the significance of the witch in culture. I met some brilliant and fascinating people, including a practising witch who had some excellent insights into the role of the witch in the modern world and in her life. I think perhaps my niece and nephew were a little disappointed that witch summer school didn’t turn out to be anything like Hogwarts – and honestly, I’m probably more Mildred Hubble than Hermione Grainger anyway – but I found the whole weekend very inspiring.
One of the things I really love about creative research is that it gives me a good excuse to explore the world and have adventures. Maybe no one really needs an excuse, but life so easily gets in the way of things and booking trips, whether that’s to a witch summer school or a visit to a historic site like Hadrian’s Wall, really help me with writing poetry. I think it’s because when we’re somewhere new, or with different people, we pay attention in a different way and poetry benefits from that close attention.

Q. What and who inspires your work? Do you have particular favourite poets or poems you always return to?

Is it too vague to say that the whole world inspires my work?! As I said, I am a very curious person and I love learning new things. I read a lot and also listen to a lot of podcasts – not just poetry podcasts but also factual podcasts like HistoryHit or Radio 4’s The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry – and I horde all the facts that fire my imagination and blend them for poems. The poem The Scarlet Mark from my collection came from a programme about the history and science behind red hair, for example. I am also a bit of a word collector, when I learn a new word, I make a note of it so that I can use it in a poem. Sometimes it might take years before the right poem emerges, but they all get used in the end.
Most recently, I’ve been writing poems which integrate the real world more closely with the mythological one. I doubt I’ll ever let go of my love of mythology, but we are living in strange and uncertain times and I think it would be impossible to ignore the political dimension at the moment. Sometimes I think it’s rather depressing that my work on witches is so relevant, but the truth is that women and particularly powerful women, are still treated with suspicion in the world. Poetry is a way for me to express my frustration and rage at the current situation, but also it’s a way for me to reflect on more personal aspects of my life.
In terms of favourite poets and poems, that is a very long list! My first ever favourite poet was Roger McGough because my Dad used to read me one of his books as a bedtime story and I used to request it over and over until he could recite the whole thing from memory, so he has a very special place in my heart for awaking my love of language and poetry. In my teenage years, I was very immersed in the work of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath and they’re still among my favourites. I love the work of Audre Lorde and I would recommend that alongside her poetry, everyone should read her essays, especially Poetry is not a Luxury and The Uses of Anger. With regard to poets working today, I am in absolute awe of Glyn Maxwell, he has a delicacy and tenderness to his writing that is breath taking and however many times I re-read his work, I can’t quite see how he’s done it. I loved Helen Mort’s collection No Map Could Show Them about pioneering female climbers, and I would also recommend checking out the work of Kate Garrett, who is a bit of a magical pixie in the poetry world, editing poetry magazines filled with magic, folklore and mythology as well as writing her own unique and very striking work.
I have spent a very long time thinking about which poems to recommend – I have decided to compile some from poets working today to narrow the field but that still makes it very difficult to make choices because there are so many poets working today and producing exceptional work.
The poem Unsung by Kei Miller has haunted me ever since I read it, and I admire the quiet tenderness and insight.
Maggie Smith’s poem Good Bones often re-circulates on the internet when a tragedy occurs and for good reason; it holds the very delicate balance between sad realism and hope.
Inua Ellams’ poem Shame is the Cape I Wear is so vivid and exact you feel like you’re right with him in his childhood memory.
And I know I said I would pick from poets working today, but I feel that the list wouldn’t be complete without including the poem Wild Geese by the late, great Mary Oliver because it has saved me more than once. There is such comfort in that opening line, “You do not have to be good.”

Q. Do you have any events/readings planned to promote collection so LitPig can put them in his diary?

I am speaking at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic conference on 18th May, and I currently have readings booked for Loose Muse in London in September, Gloucester Poetry Festival in October and Loose Muse in Winchester in December. I keep a full list of my upcoming events on my website and I’m always happy to have the excuse to read my work and talk poetry with other writers and readers, so I can also be contacted through my site if anyone wishes me to read at an event.

HAG is available to buy HERE from Indigo Dreams.
It’s also worth noting that Indigo Dreams are running a great offer again this year; if you buy four books from them throughout the year, you can choose a fifth one free. You don’t have to buy them all at once, you can buy them throughout the year and it all counts to a free book… which means that buying more books is saving money, which I feel is excellent news for anyone trying to decide if they need more books! (Although, and I am sure you will agree with me, LitPig, the answer is yes, you ALWAYS need more books.)

Thank you, Zoe, for such an interesting and informative interview.

My review:

If you love mythology, folklore and ancient history then I highly recommend HAG by Zoe Mitchell. Her poetry is infused with energy and jumps off the page. The writing is equally vivid, visceral and incredibly lyrical. Her classical knowledge is woven seamlessly with the everyday, her characters will linger in your dreams and often inspire you to go search out more details on what lies behind their stories. The natural world appears in several poems, one of my particular favourites is ‘Sycamore Gap’ featuring an argument between the famous sycamore and Hadrian's Wall. ‘Lullaby’ really is the stuff of nightmares and ‘A Matter of Common Talk’ will make you either laugh out loud or cringe (depending on your gender). There are goddesses, Ancient Britons, lovers and the lovelorn, along with the forgotten voices of women doomed for simply being women. Once read and devoured, then this collection is one to read again and out loud so you can savour the delicious rhythms and joy of words that Mitchell has crafted.

HAG is endorsed by dragons.

Monday, 4 February 2019

May We Borrow Your Country: new anthology by The Whole Kahani

Photo by Jags Parbha

LitPig is delighted to welcome this lovely bunch of writers, The Whole Kahani, onto the blog today and to share news of their new anthology May We Borrow Your Country. You can read my review of this anthology at the end of this post, but first let's hear about this terrific initiative ...

The Whole Kahani (The Complete Story), is a collective of British fiction writers of South Asian origin. The group was formed in 2011 to provide a creative perspective that straddles cultures and boundaries. Its aim is to give a new voice to British Asian fiction and increase the visibility of South Asian writers in Britain. Their first anthology Love Across A Broken Map was published in 2016 by Dahlia Publishing.

May We Borrow Your Country is a contemporary collection of stories and poems published by Linen Press. It looks at dislocation and displacement with sympathy, tolerance and humour. It is peopled by courageous, poignant, eccentric individuals who cross borders, accommodate to new cultures and try to establish an identity in a new place. In the process, they encounter different versions of themselves, like reflections in a room of trick mirrors. The stories and poems are written by women. They are evocative and multi-layered in their portrayal of relationships, family, ambition, careers and friendship. They offer a fresh look at metamorphosis and many catch that fleeting moment of transition between the familiar and the new.

Q: Can you tell us about the writers involved in The Whole Kahani, it sounds a terrific group of talent. How did you all come together?
The Whole Kahani was founded in 2011, so it’s been going for nearly eight years. Our members come from a range of different backgrounds – we have poets, novelists, short story writers and screenwriters. These days we tend to get approached by writers looking for a group rather than the other way around. Our readings and anthology launches are great places to meet us, and several of our current members joined after coming to hear us at festivals.
Q. In creating the anthology how did the group approach selecting prose and poetry pieces for inclusion? How did you decide on order and structure? Was this something you did as a group or were these decisions the remit of the editor?
We worked very closely with our wonderful publisher, Lynn Michell of Linen Press, to choose the pieces and ordering. It was a special challenge because this anthology includes both prose and poetry so we had questions of form to consider as well as questions of resonance and content. We all contributed a number of pieces and workshopped these together, so I think this made it easier since several of the pieces naturally worked well in proximity. Lynn also helped us find the resonances between other pieces, and consider how these might best be placed in the anthology.
Q. There is a strong theme connecting the pieces throughout the anthology, of people seeking to find and understand themselves, particularly when they find are living far from where they were born or their families. Were the writers asked to create work to a theme? Or was this something that naturally arose in the group’s writing?
We knew from the beginning that we wanted to write pieces that would discuss themes of “otherness”, belonging and crossing boundaries. One of the most interesting questions that came up was our choice of title. We were all very much in agreement that “May We Borrow Your Country” should not have a question mark – it should be a statement, or a question which expects no answer. We like the way it encapsulates a lot of different meanings, from colonisation to immigration, from cultural appropriation to cultural integration. It’s also wonderful to hear readers’ own interpretations of the title, as it means different things to everybody.
Q. Do you have any events/readings planned to promote the anthology?
We launched May We Borrow Your Country on Saturday 26th at the Gower Street Waterstones, to a full house. It was great to see so many other writers in the audience, and we do have more events planned. We’ll be speaking at the Wolverhampton Literature Festival on February 3rd, and we’re currently in talks with some more venues. We’ll be keeping everyone up to date on our twitter and website.
Q. Can you share what The Whole Kahani has planned for future projects?
Putting out our two anthologies (the first was Love Across a Broken Map, from Dahlia Publishing) has been such a great experience. We have another project in the pipeline, and in the short-term we’re looking to broaden the forms we work with. Our members have experience in writing such a variety of different pieces, and we want to emphasise this strength in all our future publications.

Social media links:
Twitter: @TheWholeKahani
Where can I buy the book?
My review:

May We Borrow Your Country is an anthology of prose and poetry involving women writers from The Whole Kahani writer’s collective. I thoroughly enjoyed this anthology, loving all the different perspectives within. I was delighted by the variety of character voices within the stories and poems, men and women trying to make sense of their lives and worlds particularly when finding themselves far from the homelands they grew up in. The stories were often poignant and bittersweet with both men and
women struggling to exert their personalities amid more dominant forces. But there is also plenty of humour here too and the uncanny. One of my favourites was ‘Natural Accents’ by Mona Dash, where: “After twenty years of living in a country where the sun rose and set at wildly different times depending on the season, and the clocks were changed to ensure a semblance of lights when people woke from deeply dark nights, Renuka decided she must acquire a pukka accent.” But be careful what you wish for … when Renuka invests in a voice box implant from the accent shop she declares her mother tongue as English forgetting the Indian language she grew up with. The story warns how in our rush to embrace normality and to ‘fit in’ we can sacrifice our cultural roots which make us what we are. Other favourites include ‘Fox Cub’ and ‘Sonny’ by CG Menon, ‘The Enlightenment of Rahim Baksh’ by Nadia Kabir Barb and the very funny ‘A Laughing Matter’ by Shibani Lal. Truthfully, I enjoyed every piece in this anthology, there really is something for all tastes and the writing is superb throughout.