Edward Explores: London in the time of Covid

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As mentioned in the last post in this occasional series for fellow teddy bear appreciators, Edward was very excited to be taken on an adventure that required a train journey earlier this month. He travelled to London where he hoped to visit several of his favourite attractions. Sadly, some were either closed to visitors or had restrictions in place that prevented entry. Nevertheless, Edward had an enjoyable couple of days away with his bearers and returned home with tales to tell his friends.

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On disembarking the train, Edward took pleasure in a lengthy walk across the city, through several Royal Parks and along the river. He passed Buckingham Palace where his good friend Elizabeth sometimes works. Men with guns stood outside so he decided not to get any closer. The place was notably quieter than the last time he was there.

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After such a long walk it was good to arrive at the hotel where Edward would be staying. It had a big bed and a view of passing trains and tall buildings. Our intrepid bear decided that a nap was in order and settled down to rest with the complementary cookies to help keep him going until dinner.

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Edward had hoped to visit St Paul’s Cathedral but it was closed. This seemed strange given it is supposed to be a place for worship and quiet contemplation. He perched on a sign that seemed appropriate. Why it was there remained a mystery.

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Shops were open so a few important purchases were made, selected after careful consideration and tastings. Edward likes Whittard, although was sure on his last visit he was also provided with biscuits.

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Edward understands how important it is to take time to refuel when on an adventure. The Ivy at Tower Bridge provided a delicious chocolate bombe that was much appreciated.

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Edward regretted that he could not gain access to the Tate Modern as it is such an interesting building to explore. Instead, he observed Extinction Rebellion protestors gathered on the lawn as they prepared to cross Millennium Bridge. The surrounding streets were clogged with a great number of police vehicles, one of which had been given a parking ticket. Edward did not appreciate their noisy helicopter overhead but enjoyed the protestors’ musical offerings.

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Before returning home, Edward had a chance to chat to his good friend Paddington who told him the return of visitors has been most welcome, although his station remains quieter than it used to be. Edward then enjoyed a small snack before boarding his train.

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Edward was sad to say goodbye to London but concluded it is probably not worth visiting again until everywhere reopens with a full welcome. He was pleased that the fine weather enabled the outdoors to be enjoyed – especially along the lively South Bank – when so many indoor venues proved uninviting.

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Elizabeth enjoyed catching up with all the news of her capital city. Even with limited access, Edward agreed it was good to go adventuring again.

Book Review: Some Rise By Sin

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“But do not be like one of those cold, calculating men who know much and in consequence, believe others to be of lesser worth. Acquire knowledge and understanding of the world and also of your neighbour, not for what it may bring in worldly goods, but for its own end.”

Some Rise By Sin, by Siôn Scott-Wilson, is historical fiction set in 1829 London. Told from the point of view of a young man named Sammy, it focuses on the hardships faced by those who possess scant assets and capital, who must scrape together a living by whatever means available. Sammy works with Facey, a friend from their shared childhood in Portsmouth. With help from a network of friends, informants and labourers the pair steal freshly dead bodies from graves to sell to wealthy men with an interest in anatomy. These grave robbers are known as Resurrection Men.

The story opens with a heist that, unbeknown to Sammy and Facey, will lead to a great deal of trouble. Amongst the poor and struggling there are those who would wield power through violence, raising themselves up by crushing any who threaten their nefarious business dealings. Sammy and Facey are well aware of who to steer clear of but cannot always avoid coming under the radar of those with eyes across the city’s underworld. A mistake can lead to brutal punishment, sometimes death, and the authorities have little appetite to investigate.

The tale told focuses on those living hand to mouth existences, who must do jobs such as: collecting faeces for tanneries and vegetable gardens, running errands, transporting goods on handcarts, begging from those passing by on the streets. In the background are the wealthy, most of whom care little for the labourers and scavengers who they regard as no better than animals. As in any strata of society, some are capable of kindness but there are also many users and ne’re-do-wells.

The first half of the book sets the scene, bringing to life a dark and vicious London barely imaginable to the privileged of today. Descriptions are sordid and explicit, capturing the stench, gore and violence. The rich men who feature are a mix of callous and condescending. Those who mean well often conflate poverty with ignorance. The author’s character development is impressive, the sense of place key. Although a somewhat slow read in places, details add depth and are there for a reason.

Around the halfway mark the pace of the plot picks up markedly. There is a chase scene that crosses the city, almost descending into farce but adding welcome elements of black humour. From here the tension is retained, the reader becoming more invested in outcomes as characters’ mettle is tested – sometimes in what may seem foolish confrontations. The brutality continues but the pulling together of threads – kick-started by one key section of expository dialogue – makes sense of the inclusion of previous descriptions. I was left with questions but these did not detract from the page-turning race to the ending.

Notably, there are few female characters with only one fully developed, who also serves as a love interest for Sammy. This was a time when death was common – from violence, illness, infection and childbirth. The precarious healthcare of the time is explored within a thread, as is the means of survival for children left without parents. Poor men lived through their wits, fists and dubious morality. If those featured sought women this is not mentioned.

For readers who cannot bear mention of animal cruelty, be aware this is graphically described – a reflection of the times portrayed. Entertainments often involved watching the deaths of fellow creatures, with betting on outcomes amidst heavy drinking. The book opens with a dog being cruelly punished for theft and this is accepted as fair.

In amongst the stench and dirt there are good people, although also many who will place acquaintances in danger when offered money for information. The law exists only for the gentry – one scene brings to life the flawed reasoning for this. Justice for any is rare, predicated as it is on protecting wealth and status.

The tale told provides a strong depiction of an historical period focusing on the paucity of lives being lived day by day rather than on aristocratic marriage machinations, politics or national affairs. Although not always a comfortable read this is due to the realism. As well as offering a strong story featuring goings on many may not have been aware of, it is a timely reminder that if an underclass exists without redress to legal protection, they will seek to survive by whatever means they feel necessary. For those who derided the pomp and inaccuracies of escapist Bridgertonset in a similar time period – this antithesis may be right up their street.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Deixis Press.

Gig Review: Launch Party for Dreamtime by Venetia Welby

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Last Wednesday I travelled to London for my first book event since lockdown began in March 2020. Venetia Welby, author of the fabulous Dreamtime, had invited me to the launch of this, her second novel. The venue chosen was Vout-O-Reenee’s, a private member’s club perfect for what turned out to be a well attended and convivial party. Copies of the book were being sold by Sam Fisher of Burley Fisher Books. I was delighted to hear afterwards that he sold out, although do hope that those who couldn’t pick up a copy on the night have now made their purchases elsewhere. Dreamtime is such a good read.

Attendees were warmly welcomed to the party and invited to partake of a Dreamtime Cocktail. Deliciously refreshing as it tasted I suspect a few of these may send the imbiber to their own dreamtime a tad earlier than anticipated. I made the pragmatic decision to switch to white wine after one glass.

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A selection of fine cheeses and chutneys were available for the hungry. Seats in a small outdoor terrace offered a few moments respite from the friendly hubbub inside. 

Numbers quickly increased with new arrivals finding friends and acquaintances to chat to. There appeared to be a good mix of family, friends and fellow authors, although I spoke to only a handful of guests. With my natural reticence I was grateful Venetia had been happy for me to bring along my husband. We enjoyed observing and soaking up the atmosphere.

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All were in attendance to celebrate the publication of a book so there was excitement when the author stepped forward to give a reading, the crowd gathering round to hear her bring life to her characters.

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When finished, the appreciative audience applauded and called out as one, ‘More! More! More!’ – a first in my experience at a literary event. Venetia’s riposte was perfect, suggesting that those wishing to find out what happened next could buy the book. And they did.

The evening was far from over with more mingling (me trying to recognise faces from social media). As numbers gradually started to thin husband and I took our leave.

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It was lovely to be back amongst bookish folk after so long, and well worth travelling to the city for. If you haven’t yet picked up a copy of Dreamtime, I recommend you rectify this soon.

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Dreamtime is published by Salt and is available to buy direct from the publisher (click the above cover for link) or from any good bookshop.

Book Review: You Ruin It When You Talk

You Ruin It When You Talk, by Sarah Manvel, is the second novelette in Open Pen’s second five book series of small but mighty pocket sized paperbacks. I highly recommend you check out all these little nuggets of literary treasure. They are proof that succinct story telling can be as impactful and satisfying as more common weighty tomes.

Marketed as fiction, the tale is structured as a series of short anecdotes detailing encounters on the modern dating scene. These are as appalling as they are hilarious – an eye-opening exploration of the narcissism inherent when seeking a mate.

“Have you tried toning it down? Men will treat you better if they think you’re dumber than them.”

There are recurring characters: friends, coworkers, and sometime partners. Mostly though, the entries offer up conversation that lays bare ill-considered expectation.

“As the night wore on I was disappointed by my surprise. The glam location convenient for the tube back to his was supposed to guarantee him sex. And once it became clear his moves weren’t working, he spent the rest of the meal being rotten to me.
We split the cheque, so the unpleasantness at the end was limited to him kissing me outside the station, then stepping back and saying, “Wow, that was awful. You’re really bad at this.”
I replied, “Likewise.””

The narrator dates both men and women, most found through an online dating app. She encounters: the angry, the desperate, and the bizarre. One man was in regular phone contact with his mother who was interested in how the evening was progressing. Others are already in relationships. Both men and women are shown to be capable of insulting without, apparently, thinking.

“After a little chitchat, he said he liked my necklace.
“Thank you,” I said.
“And I’m really glad you wore it,” he said, “otherwise I’d have had nothing to compliment.””

The narrator is knowledgeable about films and enjoys sharing her opinions with those who also consider themselves aficionados. This does not go down well with certain men who will not accept that a women may disagree with them and be able to back up why.

It is not, of course, just men who can be awful.

“I walked into the Christmas party and the Romanian girl from marketing said, “Oh wow. This is the first time I’ve seen you look pretty.””

From those who spend the evening sharing intimate details of their exes to others who boast about having assaulted previous dates, the encounters can be horrifying as well as cringeworthy. They do, however, provide a rich seam to mine for humour and elucidation.

An entertaining unsheathing of the contemporary dating scene. Written with candid and always engaging flourish.

You Ruin It When You Talk is published by Open Pen.

Book Review: London Gothic

Nicholas Royle has been described by a Sunday Times reviewer as a ‘craftsman of disquiet’. London Gothic, his latest short story collection, provides a fine example of why he deserves such praise. Across fifteen deliciously disturbing tales, written between 2000 and the present day, he offers glimpses of contemporary London as seen through the lenses of artists – and other residents the aspiring and successful brush up against. Settings include: flats carved from once spacious houses, hipster style art galleries, and a ‘country house’ hotel. Alongside an undercurrent of the macabre there is much humour. Royle is not afraid to poke fun at his peers and those they may venerate.

The collection opens with Welcome, an apparently jolly letter to new home owners that quickly sets the scene for the author’s ability to summon unease.

There follow a number of stories that explore how little can be known of other’s reasoning – the perturbing methods they employ to solve troubling issues.

The Neighbours tells of a burgeoning relationship that stalls when the man feels shadowed by another couple paying too close attention. Much is inferred but the reader is trusted to reach their own conclusion.

This lack of spoon-feeding is a strength in these tales. Undertows pervade with questions hanging over what is real and what a product of a character’s history, personality and concerns.

The Old Bakery is something rather different, and a strong addition. In it, a sub-editor is working on a piece commissioned for a Sunday Supplement in which a wealthy couple are showing the space they have created from the titular building. The tone of the interview is faux-humble, exacerbated by the writer’s collusion and sycophancy. It is a wonderful take-down of smug artistes, nepotism, and the jealousy of those not included within inner circles.

Another story that strays from the themes of hauntings, doppelgängers and murder is Constraints. It harnesses a form that is somewhat experimental yet has been made to work.

Lesser known histories of the city add to the colour and flavour of many of the tales. Buildings referenced may or may not exist in real life but are still familiar. Changes have been made over time to structure and interior but they retain glimpses of what they once were. Incomers will try to cash in on the nostalgia this generates.

The author frequently plays with his reader, most obviously in the story, London. This includes a description that appeared to meander into rather boring detail, followed by a rejoinder for the inevitable lapse in attention.

“Go ahead. Skim. I’m just telling you what I saw. It might be important. It might not.”

Suitably chastised, I reread the paragraph. I will not spoil by saying if this were necessary.

Several stories contain elements that could be regarded as self-referential, challenging the reader to admit to a conceit that they believe they might know something of the author. I enjoyed the playfulness with which these were introduced.

London plays with many aspects of mise en abyme. The tale told is not always straightforward but provides much to reflect on.

The collection concludes with The Vote. Set in a hotel it is an allegory for Brexit but avoiding the usual bile and blame. Characters were pigeon-holed by newspapers. The Times man may have been ‘a former Guardian reader’ who ‘tired of that paper’s obsession with certain issues’. He can socialise with the Telegraph man, if only for their brief stay in this shifting space.

“The Times man was still in the game, still a player, a stakeholder. But he knew that he and the Telegraph man were basically from the same stock. They could get on. Their wives could get on. This was how the country worked.”

Mostly though the stories in this collection avoid any hint of politics, reflecting more on class and culture – and the chasms these create. They offer up a dark underbelly lurking within everyday situations. Fabulous, at times chilling, storytelling to curl up with as the evenings draw in.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Cōnfingō.

Book Review: A Jealous Tide

A Jealous Tide, by Anna MacDonald, is an elusory and richly evocative tale of people whose anchors to their small worlds prove inadequate for the shifting tides they face as life progresses. Narrated by an academic based in Melbourne, who is looking back on a winter spent in London, the prose is deeply embedded in her sense of place. Family, friends and other acquaintances are occasionally mentioned but mostly the story focuses on the narrator’s reaction to the stimuli of her surroundings – both immediate and awash with memory. 

Opening in Melbourne, the first few chapters set the scene. She feels a ‘familiar restlessness’ so books a flight to Heathrow. There follow several months during which she prepares for her extended break. She shares significant events from her backstory. She walks to calm unease, often by a river or down to the sea. Water is a recurring theme, both the comfort it offers and the danger it brings.

Enmeshed within the academic’s personal story is that of an RAF Lieutenant who died in the winter of 1919 from injuries sustained rescuing a woman from the River Thames. He had survived the war. The narrator speculates that the woman was broken by grief due to the conflict.

The narrator sets out to explore how lives are affected by trauma, especially those saved from suicide attempts. Starting with studies into shipwrecks – those who drowned and those rescued – she becomes engrossed in finding out what effect this has on the remaining years before death.

“I wanted to know what happened to these men who had been made strangers to the known world by their time cast away.”

In London, the narrator bases herself in Hammersmith – as she has done on previous visits. She walks the streets and along the Thames. She indulges in mudlarking, taking items found back to her bedsit to clean and examine before returning many to the river. In her turbulent imagination she gives these fragments stories, augmented by the research she undertakes at the British Library and Wellcome Collection.


Plaque to the Lieutenant on Hammersmith Bridge (currently closed)

The imagined story of the soldier who died and the woman he rescued add tension to the present day narrative. The characters are imbued with unsettling emotions, similar to those sometimes felt by the narrator.

“struggling for breath in the tourniquet of surrounding streets”

“the woman draws her two arms across the empty cavity of her chest”   

The impact on soldiers of being sent to war – the horrific actions and experiences they must accept there – segue with those who have survived shipwreck. 

“These men have been adrift in an inhumane place. But their real misfortune, it seemed, was to return from there.”

The many ‘stories of the drowned’ she collects leave the narrator feeling unanchored – a ‘sense of loss’ and a ‘creeping calcification’. She copes by introducing strict routines to her days. She considers her life as that which has

“already passed: the places already passed through, the people already passed by”

“the present could be felt only as the varying weather on my shoulders, as a shifting breeze or the welcome warmth of the sun.”

Water was where man came from and, in the narrator’s research, to which many will return. The small items collected from the Thames mud are all that now remain of those who once passed through the city. She is drawn especially to a fragment that bears markings resembling a map – reminding her of the streets she walks repeatedly and the life lines on her palm.

There are references to literature and films (I had to use Google) along with mentions of places of historic interest in the Hammersmith area (I am familiar with the location so could enjoy these). Mostly though the prose is a lavish array of imagery – never cloying, at times disturbing due to the ever present riptide of death.

This is an impressive piece of writing that pulls together a story of displacement and the struggle to survive life’s challenges. An intense but deeply satisfying read.  

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Splice.

Book Review: London Incognita

London Incognita, by Gary Budden, is a collection of interlinked short stories that explore the revenants and mythical beings that lurk in the shadows of our capital city. The people populating each tale conjure up nightmares of strange beasts that appear in a reality only they may be able to experience. Although rarely talked of, these creatures – in a variety of forms – have long existed.

When woven together, the collection is also a story of friends who frequented the underground music scene – rebelling against a culture of money making and populism, yet revelling in their inverted elitist clique. The stories explore the inevitable descent (or should that be ascent?) from youthful conviction, and the fiction of memory.

“Alex wondered when he and Sally’s experiences became memories, when those memories became myths, and when those myths would be forgotten.”

The book opens with a short tale that introduces the reader to the author’s tenebrous writing style. This is followed by Judderman – previously released as a novella published by The Eden Book Society and reviewed here. Set in the 1970s, the protagonists, Gary and Danny Eider, are relatives of Melissa – an artist and author who features in several of the following stories, many with contemporary settings. She, her musician brother, and the group of friends they have hung out with, from two decades previously, form the core of the collection. Not all survive.

Each of these characters has an interest in what they refer to as London Incognita, ‘a place half-seen, misunderstood but very real’. In describing the creatures they encounter – always unsettling experiences – there are references to fictional authors and their legendary works. This blending of what exists and what is from Budden’s imagination adds depth to the foundations on which these stories are built. The reader is encouraged to accept a shaded world beneath the widely accepted reality in which we, the faceless masses, are assumed to exist.

In their youth, the friends came together in support of the underground music scene, believing themselves arbiters of taste beyond popular appeal.

“music that endured the decades, music that was too weird or too aggressive for the current fashions that found their inspiration in arch irony and depressed hedonism.”

Decades later, after battling addictions and hollowly surviving, one of the men in the group is trying to recapture the time when his interest in this music felt authentic.

“PK needed to redocument himself, pin down what he loved and why”

The London portrayed is home to the homeless – druggies and ghosts. Graffiti and rubbish abut closed off building sites, keeping the discarded from areas now shiny and gentrified. Beneath are the sewers, where giant rats gorge on fatburgs, and a mythical queen lures urban explorers.

My Queen is a brilliantly grotesque account of a man seeking the fantasy of the old city – the dark energy being drained by ‘the vampires of capitalism’. He desires a connection with history, albeit one played out for clicks on social media.

“At times, he feels he’s nothing better than a high risk Instagrammer; what’s the difference between his photos of a sluice gate beneath the streets of Bruce Grove and some idiot’s selfie in front of a popular London tourist attraction? Nothing. All there is is the burning and futile desire to prove we exist.”

Melissa created a zine when she was nineteen, initially chronicling the music scene her brother was a part of, then going on to include works of fiction. The zine grew in popularity, becoming a classic, with early copies now sought by collectors. The final story, You’re Already Dead, is a multi faceted tale, set as she prepares an artistic retrospective focusing on the zine’s history – and, deliciously, promoting a book she has written. It neatly pulls the threads of each tale in the collection together.

“two decades documenting the world I inhabit, or perhaps the fish tank I swim in”

“These days there are zines about pretty much anything, most of them twee and pretty dreadful in my opinion […] but, like with anything, the good stuff survives and persists while the chaff falls away. This is what distorts our view of the past, I realise.”

There is a poignancy to the contemporary characters as they look back on their younger selves, when they were so contemptuous of the type of people they have inevitably become.

“I burned with nostalgia for times that never really happened. This older London we fetishised.”

What Never Was is a beautifully rendered tale of futures that might have been, and pasts forgotten – moulding photographs consigned to a skip.

Sky City pulls together characters who pass by briefly. It is not just imagined creatures lurking in shadows that affect lives.

Bookended by Judderman and You’re Already Dead, the collection also contains Staples Corner, and How We Can Know It, which was published as part of An Unreliable Guide to London – reviewed here. This is written from the point of view of the author, thereby adding himself to the cast of characters. These meta aspects, scattered throughout, work well.

There is a great deal of drug taking. Younger characters regard themselves as outside accepted society, better than the office workers who appraise them with equal disdain. Two decades later they can acknowledge what was conformity to a type – punk as a fashion statement.

“the pretentiousness and certainty and self-centred seriousness of young adults who think they have found an answer to the world. It’s painful when you realise the solution is not a solution at all.”

All of this is told in tales redolent with a darkness that can stalk anyone – predators threatening mostly through imagined dangers. When the Judderman and the Commare are unmasked towards the end, after what I feared would be some, perhaps ironically, twee development, it felt like a punch in the gut – all credit to the author for pulling that off.

I have read several, excellent non fiction books about urban explorers and psychogeographers seeking out the mostly unregarded aspects of well traversed spaces. This short story collection does this masterfully, with the addition of melancholy wraiths and the Londoners whose lives they change. It is a dark love story to the city – chilling tales to curl up with as the nights draw in. It is also an acceptance that time cannot be halted, even by death. People and places change.

“London is never finished”

“Build and destroy and repeat”

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Dead Ink Books.

Book Review: London Undercurrents

London Undercurrents: The hidden histories of London’s unsung heroines, north and south of the river, is a collaboration by two London-based female poets, Joolz Sparkes and Hilaire. The former concentrated her research around the Islington area although she has lived in many boroughs of London. The latter lived close to Battersea Park, overlooking the then derelict Power Station. Both had to dig deep to find the voices and experiences of local women, commenting, ‘It should not be so hard to find them.’

The poetry cycle created is presented in sequences that flow with the river running through the pages, offering up women from all walks of life over many centuries. All those included are based on research, with Background Notes at the end of the book explaining what inspired particular poems. There are also links to the project’s blog where interested readers may find out more.

Opening in Battersea Fields, 1685, we are reminded of the agricultural history of what has now been swallowed up by the changing city. Women grew crops and tended cattle. Goods were sold at markets or by peripatetic street sellers. The timeline moves back and forth, offering accounts of female office and factory workers. Their essential tasks kept businesses running, families afloat, yet they were neither noticed nor remembered. Many of the roles came with a risk to health, pay docked for time missed due to illness. From the age of thirteen these women were required to earn their keep.

Although badly paid and monotonous, the various jobs the women accomplished provided a spirit of camaraderie that they valued. When the ‘war effort’ required that they take on roles traditionally worked by men, many enjoyed the freedom and new skills learned. By the time the men returned, the women had changed too.

Not all the women featured are what may be considered traditional heroines. Yet it is clear that their actions, although more harshly punished, are no more or less reprehensible than that of men of their time.

The subjects are fascinating in the history they recount – presented in vivid, evocative stanzas. Good poetry such as this can convey so much in so few words.

I enjoyed the poems focusing on the working classes more than the better off, perhaps because their stories are less well known. As the punk from 1977 states, these women are:

“thrashing against
your label of ‘Woman’ –
what you want us to be”

Were you aware that Arsenal Women Football Club are only permitted to play at Emirates Stadium on occasion? Unlike the men’s team, mostly they are required to train and play elsewhere.

In the notes about the poem featuring a family of coin counterfeiters in 1893, we are told that women would be burned at the stake if caught; men were hung.

When the picture halls opened these provided a welcome if brief escape from the drudgery of everyday experience. There were also occasional trips to the seaside. Battersea Women’s Pub Outing provides a glorious image of women drinking and laughing together, larking about and being noisy. Why does this appear more shocking because they were female?

The sequence on education reminds of the importance of being taught to think rather than merely follow – of challenging the prevailing narrative and societal expectations.

And it is in provoking thought that these poems find their strength. Individually they are structured and written impressively. Put together, as they are in this collection, and they are powerful. They provide a social history of the city from an angle rarely considered. The voices of all these women deserve to be heard.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Holland Park Press.

Book Review: Black 13

Black 13, by Adam Hamdy, is the first in a proposed new series from the author of the high octane Pendulum trilogy. It introduces the reader to Scott Pearce, a former operative with MI6 who was driven out of the service when he refused to stand down after an horrific engagement in Islamabad. He believes the perpetrators are still at large and seeks some form of retribution. Scott is a formidable individual whose skills, strengths and lack of personal ties allow him to make clear decisions that may put him in mortal danger but for what he believes is the greater good. He is loyal to the former colleagues who have remained loyal to him.

The story opens with the murder of one of these colleagues, Nathan Foster. Like Scott, Nathan is no longer working for a government agency but is struggling to get by as a civilian. When a young lawyer, Melody Gold, recruits him on behalf of a shadowy client to investigate goings on at a bank, Nathan is drawn to the chance of some danger and glory. He has grown bored with his mundane work as a private investigator for suspicious wives or employers. However, what he discovers at the bank terrifies him and ultimately leads to his demise.

The action then moves to a beautiful beach location in Thailand where Scott is working under an assumed identity as a climbing guide and tutor while seeking gunrunners he believes are connected to what happened in Islamabad.  He is appalled when Melody turns up to recruit him in place of Nathan as only three people in the world should have known Scott’s location. With his cover compromised and powerful enemies on his tail he returns to England. On confirming the details of what happened to Nathan he plots revenge.

Scott asks another of his trusted former colleagues, Wayne Nelson, to act as bodyguard for Melody who is now also in danger. He contacts Leila Nahum, a disabled Syrian refugee and accomplished IT expert with an horrific personal history, whose life Scott saved during an MI6 operation. This small team works to find out who Nathan’s client was and who was behind his killing. What they uncover goes to the heart of the British establishment and beyond, into global networks of politics and wealth.

This is a slick, tense and fast paced thriller. Beneath the vividly described action – the fights, car chases and imaginative means of escape – the author effortlessly slips in thought-provoking social commentary. Arguments put forward can be made to sound reasonable to the disaffected who see their concerns being ignored by those in authority. The narrative explores how ordinary people can be radicalised and how some will go on to commit indefensible atrocities. It is a warning, a clarion call, for what could be happening in Britain today.

The varied and well drawn characters add to the enjoyment of what is an intense and compelling story. It offers escapism but is inventive enough to carry the reader through the many battles and complex conspiracies. Explication never detracts from the adrenaline fuelled escapades. Recommended for those who enjoy well written and electrifying action thrillers.

Black 13 is published by Macmillan.

I am touched and grateful for the limited edition proof I received, with a personalised inscription from the author.

Book Review: The Ground is Full of Holes

The Ground is Full of Holes, by Suzy Norman, is written in an abrupt and often opaque style. Much is inferred but little explained with the plot unfolding mainly through ongoing dialogue and character’s thought processes. The story focuses on a middle aged couple, Nancy and Marcus, who have been married for a decade and have no children. They live in a small terraced house in Fulham, West London, that is not entirely satisfactory to either of them – for differing reasons. Irish born Marcus is a consultant anaesthetist at Barts Hospital. Nancy is on extended leave from her high ranking position in the banking sector. Their marriage is under considerable strain.

Circling this couple are Nancy’s sister and her husband – Georgia and Shiv. Before Marcus, Nancy had been involved with Shiv and there are still tensions because of this. Neither Nancy nor Marcus are maritally faithful although they do not admit this to each other. Marcus’s current affair is with a nurse who assists him in operations. Nancy has her eye on another of her old flames.

Nancy clearly has ongoing issues to contend with that her family are growing impatient with. She turns for solace to her friend, Anna, who has troubles of her own.

His wife’s behaviour frustrates and at times angers Marcus. The fallout from this leads to a tragic error at work. Everything he has built appears to crumble at a time when Nancy needs her husband’s attention. Marcus directs his anger at his in-laws, deflecting the shame he feels for letting down, as he sees it, his own parents.

It took me some time to engage with the writing style and structure to the extent that I nearly gave up reading around a quarter of the way in. Once it became clear that development is more character study than plot driven I was able to accept what was being explored and dissected. I did not always enjoy the reading – the hankering for romance without effort at times veered too close to elements of genre fiction – although there is plenty to consider in the handling of troubled relationships. It is a family tale offering a snapshot of flawed characters, a marriage, and the difficulties inherent in wider family posturing and expectation. I did not find it satisfying to read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Patrician Press.