Review

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Losing Henry by Ezra Williams #Shortstories #Review

Losing Henry is Ezra’s first published book of short stories. Published in 2007, 14 years before Fairytales and Oddities, it is a very different book to the latter.
The stories are more grounded, less abstract and a few have the same characters appearing. I’m not one for reading titles (or blurbs) – I prefer to get straight into a story so was rather surprised that having read two different stories about losing Henry, the one I thought was to be the title story wasn’t.

Both Ezra’s books are well crafted and written, depicting states of mind which is not surprising given the decade plus between the books. In their own way, they are commentaries of the societies of the time – I’m tempted to say London society but that is too specific, and British is too broad, so read them yourself and decide.

Don’t always expect a happy ending – life is not like that and that’s a trait of Ezra’s writing. He’s not afraid to tackle the darker side of life (or taboos for that matter). He pushes the boundaries – more so in Fairytales and Oddities than in Losing Henry.

TSL has published various collections of short stories – from the more traditional by Josie Arden, through to quaint English with a twist in Tea at the Opalaco (Jane Lockyer Willis) to activism and social change (Sue Hampton and Amna Agib). Nick Horgan and Johannes Kerkhoven have their own niche as does John Samson‘s Cold Fiction inspired by the album Cold Fact.

Of these, Losing Henry aligns most with Stuffed! while for ‘off the wallness’ and abstractness, Cold Fiction and Fairytales and Oddities take prime position.

If you would like to purchase a copy of Losing Henry, please contact TSL Publications so arrangements can be made… all other books are available through the links above.

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Authors and Writers #review #writingadvice

Keep remembering that you can please some of the readers some of the time, and some of the readers most of the time, but sometimes you will please only yourself, and you can never please all of the readers all of the time.

(p216)

Good advice from Jane Smiley in 13 Ways of looking at the Novel.

This has been a long read, not only because the book itself is long but because I took a break to focus on other things. My engagement with the book started soon after I started a local book group and felt the need to engage with novels beyond my historical themed interest.

Jane’s take on the novel and how it engages with the reader spoke to me, the relationship between author, paper and reader continuing to do so. Significantly, so does the quote above. This echoes with the advice I regularly give new writers – write the book you would like to read (unless you’re only out to make money, then read and follow the ‘how to write a novel’ books).

Jane’s analysis of the novel and how readers engage together with the little gems she imparts such as that quoted above make it a text I would recommend to new writers looking for guidance on what and how to write.

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Review: The Fever Trail – In search of the cure for Malaria by Mark Honigsbaum

Review: The Fever Trail – In search of the cure for Malaria by Mark Honigsbaum

For those who know me, I am not a fan of anti-malarials and will do anything to avoid having to take them. But I am also aware of the dangers of contracting malaria based on my research on World War 1 Africa and having heard some more recent horror stories.

Growing up in South Africa where there are areas which are malarial there was also conflicting advice about whether to take anti-malarials or not – was masking the parasite worse than trying to prevent the disease? And then, what to believe in the press everytime they pronounce there’s a cure?

Somewhere, I discovered this ‘little’ book charting the history of the cure for malaria. Rather surprisingly, it took me into South America. I naturally assumed, given my experiences, that the book would talk about Africa. No, it’s South America and it goes back to the late 1700s, early 1800s – ‘way before my time’.

Being a time traveller and stepping out of my usual time zones was eye-opening. I had no idea malaria had impacted on the world to the extent it did and for as long as it has. Connections with dinasours! And I’m rather disappointed to say, I have a new respect for this parasite which has survived so long, finding ways to mutate as it has. I almost feel guilty for thinking (desiring) its host should be eradicated. I will also tread gingerly next time I’m walking down Gower Street so as not to disturb the little critters underground (although Mark reassures readers that they are not infected mosquitoes in the cellars underground, they’re research assistants).

This is a fascinating accessible read which takes the reader on a journey over mountains, through civil wars, across lakes and seas, from earliest times to 2002 with a little bit of humour thrown in. I now understand this insect a little better – hard to believe it’s the third biggest killer on earth. Has it convinced me to take anti-malarials? Not really, but I will make sure I have my mosquito net with me.

And for those with an East Africa World War 1 interest, there are three almost passing mentions of the campaign and the challenges of malaria.

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Review: A Million Years in a Day – Greg Jenner

Review: A Million Years in a Day – Greg Jenner

I came across this book at the launch of the first Hillingdon Literary Festival back in 2015. Greg Jenner was the invited author of the evening (his brother Seb being the person behind the event).
Never having heard of Greg Jenner before, my ears perked up when Horrible Histories was mentioned – anathema to my professional historian ears – but he deserved a chance to be heard. I was sufficiently impressed to try one of his history books, never a Horrible History, and invested in A Million Years in a Day, which I only got to read in 2018.

Given how well Greg came across as a speaker, I was surprised at how slow and tedious I initially found the book, but having got through the first few chapters, it did seem to pick up pace. Perhaps this was done on purpose reflecting how he feels in the morning, only really getting going later in the day. For those who haven’t read the book, it simply (!) takes a day from the moment we wake to going back to bed (it is a Saturday) and explores the history of all the things we do and use, from toothbrushes to toilets, beds, clothing and food.

It’s not a book I’ll be putting on my ‘to read again when I ever get a chance’ list, but it will be staying relatively handy for its content and snippets of wonderfully useless information which can be dropped into conversation and talks to prove a point. There are ‘grand narratives’ but this is the first I’ve come across which deals with everyday life in a concise and recognisable manner.

It’s definitelly worth a read for those interested in how we got to where we are today in terms of daily habits and practices.

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Santa Claws: A dark tale of Christmas – Gabriela Harding

Santa Claws: A dark tale of Christmas by Gabriela Harding was a fascinating read.
A step or more outside my comfort zone, fantasy and horror, it appealed to my appreciation of difference. Clever twists and unusual takes on the ordinary.

This is a trait of Gabriela’s writing – the twists and turns, obscuring the norm. Before reading Santa Claws, a novel, I had encountered Gabriela’s short stories in the collection Sai-Ko which TSL published. That too, is not my usual reading material but as with Santa, each story is carefully crafted. All individual with a common theme – dark and twisted – running through.

I’m not sure Santa Claws is a young person’s book, perhaps better suited for teens able to handle the gore and suspense. And hopefully, the underlying moral and ethical messages concerning relationships and life in general filter though. While younger readers might well appreciate Santa Claws, Sai-Ko is most definitely adult material.

Be bold, step out of your comfort zone and have a read. Both titles are available at TSL (click on image below) or from Gabriela herself.

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It’s a little icy – review of The Ice Age by Brian S John

I took a detour from my usual reading material and read The Ice Age: Past and Present (1977) by Brian S John (and in his own words) – it was on my bookshelf having arrived there due to a course I was teaching some years back. Not having read it then, I thought it might be worth a read now. And it wasn’t a disappoinment.

It provided a fascinating insight into glaciers and the behaviour of ice sheets and ice rivers etc. Brian’s style was accessible for non-specialists without dumbing down – snippets of humour feeding in appropriately and treating the ice as living. Photos although in black and white helped explain or show what he was talking about.

What was striking was the interconnectedness of life – not surprising really but reinforced, I suppose. The other thing was how old the world is and that man only seems to have been around for about 10,000 years. There is no way I could be an ice scientist or geologist as my concept of big numbers is non-existent and the numbers mentioned in The Ice Age are BIG.
Apart from ice, animals and man get a mention too. How the woolly mammoth came to be extinct is addressed as is the habitation of Greenland and Iceland which used to be farmland before a change in climate led to the Eskimos chasing the Nordik settlers off the land. Yes, there used to be vineyards on Greenland. I assume it’s now too cold for such fruit to grow. Migration is another theme – not just of ice but of man and animals.

And the hardiest survivors, or at least the hardiest surviving remains? – well the award for that goes to the beetle! And not just for the head, thorax and wings, but more specifically the genitalia which some or other professor has specialised in studying (‘with great passion’).

I’m probably not going to read too much more on this topic but it was a pleasant and eye-opening diversionary read, putting what I’ve seen of glaciers in Chile and Iceland into context, and it does somewhat put a damper on the whole climate change hysteria – although I’m all for us doing our bit to keep the planet going for as long as we can.

Brian John has a blog on Stonehenge and the Ice Age

The closest any of our authors gets to ice is Anna Ryland with a mention of ‘snow queen’ in A Second Chance. And since writing this review, we can add Snow Crazy by Arnie Wilson.

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Black Iris: Poems from Jordan by Alexander Williams

Black Iris: Poems from Jordan by Alexander Williams

I met Alex at the premier showing of Heaven’s Rage (Leslie Tate and Mark Crane) in October 2017.

Alex is multi-talented. At the showing of Heaven’s Rage (Berkhamsted Live), Alex was singing numbers form the musical he’d written for a school production. Later I heard him at The Kitchen, Croxley, were he hosted Dial Up – an open-mic event featuring music, readings, poetry and whatever goes. THis was the last night at Croxley, the new venue being the Improv Theatre on Finchley Road (entrance the North Star pub. For those not wanting to travel, The Kitchen has a new open mic host).

Singing, writing musicals, a young adult novel written and poetry. I’m not a great poetry fan but asking Alex about his two-year stay in Jordan, he produced Black Iris, a short book of poems based on his stay.

Now this is poetry which speaks to me – reflections on life, what you see, in simple bite-size chunks. However, Alex’s use of words allows something simple to become multi-layered and nuanced. The poems covering an event or a range of experiences allowed an insight in a way a narrative would most likely have flattened, or telling rote.

Highlights included encounters with children and learning the language – reminscent of my early days of Swahili learning in Tanzanian schools; and how soon you settle in, forgetting to remind guests of morning calls and such like.

This is a poetry book I think I’ll find myself dipping into again on occasion. And for those wondering about the title: it’s the national flower of Jordan.

The gallery was not found!
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Ernest Hemingway

On our last day in Cuba, having visited Hemingway’s home – left exactly as it was when he’d been there – we chanced upon the launch of Ernest Hemingway’s Havana at the Buena Vista Curry Club – yes, you read right – this contains Cuba’s first Indian restaurant and is a tiny venue for literary events.

The food was great and so was the evening – giving a flavour of what Havana had been like in the time of Hemingway. Some of the artists performing had been alive in Hemingway’s day – the last member of the group which invented the Rumba, a Cuban diva and Victoria Hemmingway (assistant in Spain/Cuba, not a wife) giving some inside tales on Hemingway in Cuba, including the fact that Fidel Castro when he perchance met Hemingway mentioned that The Old Man and the Sea was his favourite novel (it gave tips on how to conduct a revolution).

Robert Wheeler, author of Hemingway’s Havana, captures some of the feeling in his blog (despite not being updated since 2015). Another place Hemingway frequented is the Hotel Ambos Mundos, the place we were having a drink when we discovered the evening show.

A full list of Hemingway’s books can be found on the Nobel Prize site. Heminway received the award in 1954.

Hemmingway’s first short story. He was the first to sign the Wall of Alassio in Italy.


Hemingway came to a sad end:

In Sai-Ko, Gabriela Harding refers to a Hemingway hat
Sue Hampton refers to the author in her short story The Minimalist
And the author features in comparison in Leslie Tate’s Heaven’s Rage
Bhupendra Brahmabhatt refers to Hemingway’s time in Africa in Kenya Days, Moonlit Nights