Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Jessamine O Connor


Jessamine O Connor
moved to the Sligo Roscommon border twenty-one years ago. A winner of the Poetry Ireland Butlers Café Competition 2017, the iYeats Poetry Competition 2011, the Francis Ledwidge Award 2011, and the Chultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich 2020 (in translation); she has been short-listed for others including the Doolin Writers Weekend, O’Bhéal International Poetry Film Competition, Hennessy Literary Award, Over the Edge New Writer of the Year, Cúirt, and The Red Line Book Festival competitions.  Studying for a degree in Writing & Literature at IT Sligo, her collection, Silver Spoon, is published by Salmon Poetry in October. Follow on Facebook.



What book(s) are you reading right now?

 

I’ve just put down a novel, which will remain nameless, that was too depressing to finish… and picked up Stephan Fry’s Mythos again which is brilliant; very readable and detailed study of the Greek myths. It’s pretty dense, so suits reading in chunks. I tend to have a few on the go, poetry and non-fiction in the daytime and a good story at night. I just finished Jenny Kleeman’s Sex Robots and Vegan Meat which is eye-opening: four articles really, on some disturbing and bewildering tech alternatives to sex, birth, food and death. And Adrian Duncan’s excellent Love Notes from a German Building Site, so good. Started Girl, woman, other last night.

A book you have given as a gift / recommended to a friend.

 

The very few books that I’ve bought more than once (or twice) are really stand-out, most recently Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward, which is just stunning: gritty, ghostly, illuminating and beautifully written. Ghosts, crack, slavery and the prison system in the southern USA. My House in Damascus by Diana Darke, for its straightforward picture of Syrian life, pre-destruction. Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut, which I only read for the first time fairly recently and blew me away, unfortunately I then bought it for someone who absolutely hated it! Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky, a poetry book that gets better and better every reading. And Reality Is Not What It Seems by Carlo Rovelli, for bending the brain. Oh and I’ve bought several Sarah Waters for friends as I absolutely love her storytelling, so well-constructed and written, and always giving a proper treatment of the women characters. 


A book yet-to-be-released which you are looking forward to reading.

 

Una Mannion’s novel A Crooked Tree; I’ve heard extracts and it’s mesmerising. Sarah Waters’ new book, whatever it is – long overdue!  

A book that you feel is underrated and deserves more attention.

 

Columbus and Other Cannibals by Jack D Forbes, a short and uniquely explained view of the European invasion of the Americas. Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman, an unforgettable novel about Europe and Russia and essential reading if very necessarily dark. Enderby, a series of comedy novels by Anthony Burgess, great for laughing out loud. 

A book with personal resonance.

I was just introduced to Elskie Rahill- her short stories “In white ink” and novel An Unravelling – and her descriptions of motherhood, particularly single-motherhood, really struck me. Perfectly understood and brilliantly conveyed. Oh, should have put her in the books I’m looking forward toparagraph! 

Saturday, 26 September 2020

Lorraine Carey

Lorraine Carey is a poet and artist from Donegal. Her work’s widely anthologised and published in Poetry Ireland Review, Abridged, The Ogham Stone, Orbis, Prole, Smithereens, Porridge, The Honest Ulsterman, The Stony Thursday Book and on Poethead among others. She has performed at Over The Edge, Of Mouth, North West Words, Culture Night and Listowel Writers’ Week. A Pushcart Prize nominee, her debut collection is From Doll House Windows (Revival Press).

 

What book(s) are you reading right now?

 

I’m reading Christine Dwyer Hickey’s The Cold Eye Of Heaven, John Steinbeck’s East of Eden and Simon Armitage’s Walking Home, A Poet’s Journey –a brilliant, often hilarious account of his wanderings along The Pennine Way. He chose to walk it in reverse, north to south and finished up in the Yorkshire village where he was born. Wondering whether it’s possible to pay his way on the proceeds of his poetry alone, he performs at events arranged in various locations every evening where he passes around a hat for the audience to contribute what they think he was worth. In his own words he described it as ‘256 miles of begging’.

 

I’m also reading Robert Lowell, Setting The River On Fire – A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character by Kay Redfield Jamison. I attended a workshop in 2019, facilitated by the author (a clinical psychiatrist and writer and expert in the study of mood disorders)  It’s a fascinating examination of bipolar illness and connections to creativity. Poetry wise I’m reading Mona Arshi’s Dear Big Gods, Kim Moore’s The Art of Falling and A Man’s House Catches Fire by Tom Sastry, and have recently discovered the brilliant work of Alycia Pirmohamed.

 

A book you loved reading at a child.  

 

A favourite was A Kestrel For A Knave by Barry Hinesm set in Barnsley, a small mining town in Yorkshire. Billy Caspar is bullied, neglected at home and treated as a failure at school. He discovers a new passion in life when he finds and tames Kes, a young kestrel hawk. It had complex themes, but Hines brought the Yorkshire landscape to life for me, whilst Billy and Kes nurtured one another. This classic had hope, survival and trust at its very heart and birds to me are the ultimate messengers, symbolic of freedom, protection, forgotten landscapes and so much more. I remember wanting my own falcon / kestrel but had to make do with Goldie - my canary. I adored Hilda Boswell’s Treasury of Poetry and everything from Beatrix Potter, who was also an exquisite illustrator and a huge inspiration. I enjoyed Malory Towers and all the Ladybird Classics.The illustrations mesmerised me as much as the stories. The spoof books called Ladybird for Grown Ups are hilarious, pairing classic drawings with new text and have titles like The Hipster, The Zombie Apocalypse, Mindfulness and The Shed. 


A book you have given as a gift / recommended to a friend.

 

Robert Hillman’s The Bookshop of The Broken Hearted remains one of the most beautifully written novels I’ve ever read.

 

Your favourite anthology.

 

It’s impossible to pick one. These treasures are always on my desk - Breaking the Skin: Vol. 2: 21st Century Irish Writing - New Irish Poetry, Staying Alive and Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Shine On (Dedalus), a marvellous collection of contemporary Irish poetry and prose in support of those affected by mental ill health.

 

A book yet-to-be-released which you are looking forward to reading.

 

Mona Arshi’s debut novel Somebody Loves You. A former human rights lawyer, her debut Small Hands (Liverpool Press) won the Forward Prize in 2015 for best first collection. Her ethereal poems remained with me for a long time after I’d heard her read at The John Hewitt Summer School in Armagh last year. She’s a poet I constantly return to, so I’m really looking forward to this novel.

  


Saturday, 5 September 2020

Susan Millar DuMars

Susan Millar DuMars has published five collections with Salmon Poetry.  The most recent, Naked: New and Selected, came out in 2019.  In 2020, Susan received a substantial bursary from the Irish Arts Council to support her as she completes work on her second short story collection, Cameos.  Susan and her husband, Kevin Higgins, have organised the Over the Edge readings in Galway, Ireland since 2003.

What book(s) are you reading right now?
 

A wonderful biography called Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality by Emily Sustein. It was published in1989 by Johns Hopkins, and it takes on Mary as a whole person, not just as her parents’ daughter or Shelley’s wife or a product of her age. Her will and intellect were absolutely extraordinary. I have loved Percy Shelley’s poems since I was about twelve, and I’ve read Frankenstein twice; it’s so much more than any of the movies would have you think. I’m a great fan of gothic, of the theme of transformation, so it’s right up my street. Next I’m planning to read Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, which is among other things a novel about a plague. I can’t think what brought that to mind!

 

A book you loved reading at a child.

 

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I read it again recently and it still holds up. It’s about a pre-adolescent girl growing up in New York who spies on everyone around her and keeps a notebook of what she finds out. She considers this research for her eventual career as a writer. Then her friends read her notebooks and get very angry. So it’s about learning when to be honest and when to be, well, kind. And about how hard it is to go from child to young woman. It’s a book writers tend to implicitly understand.

The first and last books on your bookcase/shelf.

 

The house is falling down with books, so many that all the shelves are full and there are stacks of books on the floors. I’m in the bedroom, and the shelves in here start with Zadie Smith, White Teeth, a doorstop of a novel which is just a joy, and which I often read from in classes when we’re discussing the uses of dialogue. The story takes place in modern London and the voices, the dialects, to my ear are gorgeous.  They come together like a symphony. Last on these shelves is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and with Others, which is one of my teaching bibles. Pat Schneider was a writer and writing teacher who lived in Amherst, Massachusetts; she died last month. She had the most wonderful approach.  She believed that everyone has a story to tell and we just need to be encouraged to tell it. She was anti-elitist, democratic and empowering. Kevin and I try to come at the ‘Over the Edge’ readings, which we’ve run for nearly eighteen years, with that same attitude. Pat Schneider’s writing has had a powerful effect on me. May she rest in peace.

A book you have read more than once.

 

There are several! I’ve read both Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby at least four times each. With Catcher it’s the narrative voice. It’s honest, it breathes, it’s perfect and utterly convincing. With Gatsby it’s the humour, the lushness and the extraordinary sadness. One of the best and saddest final paragraphs of any novel, ever.  

A book that you started but never finished.

 

Milkman by Anna Burns, which came out in 2018 and won the Booker Prize. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it.  I loved it, but it is written in an experimental style and each time I picked the book up again I’d be at sea, and it’d take me ages to get re-oriented. It was a busy period for me so I eventually gave up. But a friend (Liam Boyle, a wonderful poet) tells me I must get to the end, it is worth the hard work. I trust him, so I will. It’s in the pile by the bed now.

Friday, 28 August 2020

Trish Bennett

Trish Bennett writes about and the shenanigans of her family, and other creatures.  She’s performed at events in Ireland and the UK including Cúirt, North West Words, RTÉ, and BBC Radio Ulster.  In 2019, Bennett’s micro-pamphlet, Borderlines, was published by Hedgehog Poetry Press, and she received a SIAP Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

What book(s) are you reading right now?
 

I’ll be killed when my to-be-read pile falls on me. So be it. As far as I’m concerned, you can never have too many books. You need a book for every mood, and these days, there are many  moods. There's a stack in progress at any one time and a whack borrowed from the library on Libby. The daughter has got me into Kurt Vonnegut.  She knew I’d love his quirky satirical style. I’ve just finished Slaughterhouse Five and am now tackling Breakfast of Champions. So it goes.

 

Among my current stack is Selected Stories by Brian Friel. I love the way he said a thing, without saying anything. I find it fascinating to read the short stories that were the precursors to some of his most famous plays e.g. Dancing at Lughnasa.

 

Another one of my favourites in the stack is Imaginary Bonnets with Real Bees in Them, Paula Meehan’s stunning book of lectures from when she was Ireland Chair of Poetry.  Maureen Boyle knew I was a Paula fan, and told me about this book. She said I’d love it, not just for the poetry, but also because I’m a beekeeper.  She was right.

 

A book you loved reading as a child.

 

When I was under ten, the only tablets we had were forced into us under the threat of the wooden spoon.  Books were our escape from boredom on a wet day. I never had a favourite because I read so many, each one became the new favourite, until the next page-turner came along. We got our books from the local library. It was up the street in a portacabin on the grounds of the Primary School and open two days a week. The Children’s section was on the two bottom shelves. It was mostly Enid Blyton. I loved The Magic Faraway Tree Stories. I wanted to live in that tree.  As I pushed towards the teens, I was big into Malory Towers, and The Nancy Drew Mysteries.  I loved solving mysteries.  Dad hid stuff in our yard and gave me notes with clues to solve the puzzle or find the treasure.

 

My favourite of all the detective stories was The Three Investigators mystery series by Robert Arthur.  I don’t even remember the stories now but I still want that cool secret headquarters, a huge trailer filled with gadgets.  There was even a telephone.  When I grew up (in the dark ages), having a telephone in your secret hideout was a big deal. The Investigators den was hidden under piles of scrap in Uncle Titus’s scrapyard with a secret entrance and exit.  It was all so exotic.  I wasn’t even cool enough to have an Uncle Titus.

A book you have given as a gift / recommended to a friend.

 

That They May Face the Rising Sun, by John McGahern. It’s a while since I’ve read this masterpiece of a novel, yet it’s never left me. On a personal level I can identify with the rural area described by McGahern as I grew up in the country lanes of North Leitrim. 

 

It’s a book that takes a slow ramble, the prose is beautiful, poetic… "Happiness can not be sought or worried into being, or even fully grasped; it should be allowed its own slow pace so that it passes unnoticed, if it ever comes at all."

 

A book you have read more than once.

 

I’m currently sitting up in the small hours laughing to myself as I read The Best of John B. Keane, Collected Humorous Writings, a book that I’d bought for Dad years ago.  In my teens, I’d read Dad’s collection of John B Keane books, and saw his plays, The Field, and Sive, at our local Drama Festival. Keane was such a sharp observer of the human condition.  No more my own Father, he could turn anything into a witty story. 

 

Your favourite anthology.

 

I’ve been a huge fan of Nora Ephron ever since my mother-in-law, Moira, insisted I read I Feel Bad About My Neck.  I can identify with a lot of what Nora said now I’m at that age where ‘I remember nothing’:

 

"I have been forgetting things for years—at least since I was in my thirties. I know this because I wrote something about it at the time. I have proof. Of course, I can't remember exactly where I wrote about it, or when, but I could probably hunt it up if I had to."

 

My favourite anthology of hers is The Most of Nora Ephron, a collection of snippets from her screenplays e.g. When Harry Met Sally, and her most famous essays.  Nora had a fierce unapologetic wit and left us far too soon. 

 

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Ruairí de Barra

Ruairí de Barra
is from Co. Mayo and now resides in Co. Cork. He is a sailor, an award-winning military journalist, and a poet. His creative work has featured with Tinteán, A New Ulster, Live Encounters, Bangor Literary Journal, The Ranthology Anthology, Black Bough Poetry, The Boston Globe, Boston Accent, and all his work can be read on www.paperneverefusedink.com. Follow on: Twitter: @r_debarra @never_ink and Facebook.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

The books that I am reading right now are Shadow Warriors: The Irish Army Ranger Wing by Paul O’Brien and Wayne Fitzgerald, and While Nobody is Watching by Michelle Dunne. Shadow Warriors is great book, telling the history of the Irish Defence Forces special forces, and is packed with history & detail which bring just a little of Irelands elite soldiers into the light. As I personally know and have worked closely with many sailors who have gone on to become Rangers throughout my career, its great to see them being recognised in a book like this. I am also very proud to know and work with both authors. This is one more title in Paul’s ever-growing bibliography, and it also very special in that it is Wayne’s first book.


While Nobody is Watching is the first in a series of thrillers by Dunne, and it introduces a character called Lindsey Ryan and her adventures. Lindsey is a troubled woman, dealing PTSD and trying to rebuild her life. This book is one of those reads which makes you want to race to the end, and then race to the bookshop to get the next one! I was privileged to be a beta reader for Michelle, and it was a real thrill be able to walk into a local store and pick up a copy. A creative wonder woman, who is living and working amongst us ordinary folk on Cobh, our Great Island in Cork harbour. I always have one or two books on the go, and I have just received Origins: 21 Poems by Matthew M C Smith in the post yesterday, so I really am looking forward to reading that. Matthew is the Editor of Black Bough Poetry in Wales, another publication which is worth checking out whenever one gets a chance.

 

A book you loved reading at a child.

 

My favourite childhood book was The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. I was a total book worm as a child, and I worked my way through my older siblings collections as soon as I had finished my own. I read The Hobbit for the first time, about the age of 10 or 11, and I was hooked completely. I have always loved Tolkien since, I think I have read almost everything he created from The Adventures of Tom Bombadil to Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth which was compiled by his son Christopher. The Hobbit created my love for everything sword & sorcery and high fantasy. I even have several thousands of words of a draft of my own high fantasy novel, which has grown from a series of short stories I wrote, and which I go back to from time to time.

The first and last books on your bookcase/shelf.


I don’t have a bookcase at the moment! But the first and last titles in my various stacks and boxes are A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, and the simply beautiful The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson. Bryson’s work is truly special and I find that that I enjoy it more which each re-reading. Henderson’s book is incredible, that’s putting it mildly. Just absorbing and astonishing read, worth every seconds spent in its company! I think it is these both ‘must reads’ for everyone!

 

A book you have read more than once.

A book I return to again and again is The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, by Robert Tressell. Robert Tressell was the nom de plume of Irishman Robert Noonan, a house painter, born in 1870 in Dublin, who worked most of his life in England and who sadly succumbed to tuberculosis before it was published. His daughter Kathleen managed to have an abridged version publish in 1914, and a original version was published in 1955. It is an incredibly simple and hard-hitting book, it captures a working man life and view of the world as the century turned. I am always amazed that I came to this book much later in life than many others whom I now know to be huge fans of it, but the impact that it has had on me was still powerful. Here, captured in the words of a working man, in a time I had only read about, was a story of unfairness and anger, and yet also compassion and sympathy; there is also humour and history. This book is unforgettable, and it is one of those life changing works.

Your favourite anthology (interpreted here to mean a poetry collection).


My favourite anthology is Peacekeeper by Micheal J Whelan. Micheal is truly an inspiration, a polymath of the first rate. He is a historian, author, soldier, father, a good friend, and a very fine poet. I was first introduced to Michael's work through his book The Battle of Jadotville: Irish Soldiers in Combat in the Congo, 1961, which provided my real grounding in Irish military history of this historic battle and wider conflict, long before later books and films, Michael told the story of these forgotten heroes and his writing helped to bring their experiences and their service to life for me. It was a good bit later, when I read Peacekeeper, his first collection of poetry and it was in all honestly a revelation to read such strong poetry from a serving soldier of the Irish Air Corps.

There is an honesty, rawness and beauty in his work. There is so many points of truth within its pages, and it shines a light into the dark corners, where horrendous things have occurred and been inflicted on many innocent people. Micheal served overseas on United Nations Mandated missions, where in countries torn apart by war, he bore witness to the extremes of humanity; from the innocence and joy of children playing in the hills & paths of South Lebanon, to the appalling aftermath of civil war and genocide in hills of Kosovo. This anthology is powerful and moving, it speaks to the unspeakable and yet shows the hope and the goodness of simple, ordinary people, who can do extraordinary things. In keeping with Michaels character, the profits of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the veterans groups – Organisation of National Ex Service Personnel and the Irish United Nations Veterans Association.

Peacekeeper is another book which for me placed a bookmark in my life, its one of the ones I will remember and treasure for ever.


Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Anne Casey

Author of two collections published by Salmon Poetry - out of emptied cups (2019) and where the lost things go (2017), Anne Casey is a Sydney-based Irish poet/writer. A journalist, magazine editor, legal author and media communications director for 30 years, her work is widely published internationally and has won/shortlisted for prizes in Ireland, Northern Ireland, the UK, the USA, Canada, Hong Kong and Australia. Twitter: @1annecasey

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I usually have a novel and one or two (or more) poetry books on the go at any one time. I recently finished Dervla McTiernan's acclaimed The Ruin – a gripping detective novel set in the west of Ireland where I'm from. It was a real page-turner, so I've just started the sequel 'The Scholar'. In our current circumstances, it is somehow comforting to be amongst Irish names and places on the pages – it takes me home when I can't be there physically.

I'm also reading Paul Munden's brilliant poetry collection Analogue/Digital – "the four corners of the earth/ cradled in your palm/ like an all-purpose gadget" (from the poem 'A New and Correct Map of the World') is quite an apt description of the book itself. It is a series of startling revelations enveloped in inspired eloquence. If you want to fall in love with language all over again, read this.

I am simultaneously slowly savouring Felicity Plunkett's divine new poetry collection, A Kinder Sea, which resonate deeply, for its exploration of loss, its liminal beauty and its love affair with the ocean. "Separated, alone at sea/ for the ten lunar months/ it takes to make a child,/ you discover grief/ like someone diving into a dark/ envelope of undersea rock/ to find a dream's bones."

Meanwhile I am also currently thoroughly enjoying Melinda Smith's ingeniously innovative, highly entertaining, vitally important and deliciously, outrageously feminist poetry collection, Listen, Bitch, which features design translation by Caren Florance. Here is one of it's quieter moments: "and who's to say she did not/ take up, with relish, a pair of Tim's scissors/ and stab and stab, rending the membranes/ (those pale lady-veils), releasing the stinging/ pungence of witch-rage".

A book you loved reading at a child

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass – a combined edition gifted to me by my beloved Aunt Minnie prompted an imaginative epiphany for me as a child. I will admit that I had always been a dreamer, only partly present to the real world (and I still have one foot in the world inside my head most days), but this book set me off on many wild goose chases through the rabbit-hole-ridden local sandhills, so desperately wanting to find that Alice's magical Wonderland. There was always that delicious conundrum of whether you would choose the 'DRINK ME' potion to shrink or 'EAT ME' cake to grow bigger – not to mention all sorts of sage advice, like the Duchess's: "Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise."

A book you have given as a gift / recommended to a friend

I have gifted Eleanor Hooker's glorious poetry collection A Tug of Blue on more than one occasion. It is mesmerisingly, hauntingly beautiful and lusciously inventive. When I want to point someone to one of the many exciting things that are happening in Irish poetry right now, I send them here: "On my father’s side/ I am part fish./ When I am dead,/ return me to water./.../That part of me/ which is raven, on/ my mother’s side,/ will submit." (from the poem 'Ablution').

A book you have read more than once

Anthony Doerr's first novel, About Grace, is a book I will return to over and over – not only for its extraordinary story, but for the poetic beauty of its language and its innate wisdom: "All month the ice muttered and howled and whistled. The trees echoed back and forth among themselves. Taken collectively, the sound was of deep wounding, of winter inexorably taking the life out of things."

The impossibility of the central character's protective love for his daughter is heartbreakingly magnetising – a driving force through this captivating journey through nature and its formidable elements, loss, exile, longing and the saving grace of human kindness. Here is one of my favourite passages:

"Our entire bodies, flooded with water, are governed by electricity. Bring any two molecules close enough together and they will repel each other. We cannot ever touch each other, not really. We repel at a distance. Actual touch—real contact—is not possible. A fistfight, one person lifting another, even sexual intercourse—what you feel is only electrical repulsion, maybe a few thousand molecules sloughing off skin. Even our own bodies are not cohesive. Photons pass through our eyeballs, through the webbing of our fingers."

A book with personal resonance

Peter Boyle's exquisite book-length poem, Enfolded in the wings of a great darkness, which recently won the Kenneth Slessor Award for Poetry in the 2020 NSW Premier's Literary Awards, holds me utterly captivated every time I open it. Whenever I hear Peter read from it, I am moved to tears, brimming with the absolute joy of hearing language that transcends the page and transports us to the glimmering edge of everything we know to be real and beyond. 

It is a breathtaking exploration of love, terminal illness, loss and reaching beyond the void: "a moment stretched to the size of the universe", "that we are guests here, that we are summoned — so little of what we are stays in the light", "What does it mean that I am able to offer you parts of myself that even I am unable to name", “Is it the light that emanates from the dead, all this we have no name for?” and "far from the steady light/ she cast, I am again/ descending/ the spiral staircase of the self/.../ stripped/ of all armature/ surrounded/ only by ancient/ bone-words   how old/ this scent of aloneness."


Monday, 27 July 2020

Linda McKenna

Linda McKenna is from Kinsealy in North County Dublin, but has lived in County Down since 1995. Her debut collection of poems, In the Museum of Misremembered Things, was published by Doire Press in March 2020.  She has had poems published in a number of publications including:  Crannog, The Honest Ulsterman, The North, Poetry Ireland Review. She won the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing and the Red Line Festival Poetry Award in 2018.

A book you loved reading at a child.

I was brought up on a mixture of "girls’ books" from earlier times (Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, etc.) and Enid Blyton and Elinor Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School books. I desperately wanted to go to boarding school in Austria or Switzerland! I’m probably among the last generation of women brought up on the same books their mothers read. There were no young adult books when I was growing up, you went from Malory Towers to Pemberley. One of my favourite books though was Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes. I think it’s probably fairly unique among those kind of books in actually talking about money, (money as opposed to poverty or riches, actual pounds, shillings and pence) and how the girls’ earnings contribute to the household. I loved all the stage school bits and the descriptions of clothes. I can still vividly remember the acquiring and making of Pauline’s black velvet audition dress.

A book you have read more than once.

I am a big Dickens fan and Bleak House is probably my joint favourite novel ever (joint top with Kate O’Brien’s The Land of Spices). I reread it and bits of it regularly. I very often read in my favourites as opposed to rereading them in totality. I know people have problems with Esther and she can be irritating but every time I read the novel I find something new in it. At the moment, I am (thanks to my vague ideas about a second collection of poetry), obsessed with keys, locks and their symbols and I love the way Dickens uses Esther and her basket of keys to symbolise so much. I also cry every time over poor Charley going out to wash ‘because of the sixpences and shillings’.

A book that you started but never finished.

I decided this summer that lockdown might be a good time to attempt the Lord of the Rings books. I ploughed through the first one but gave up a few pages into the second. I don’t mind fantasy worlds and characters but it was just too confusing and why did people keep changing their names?! I liked the films except they should have kept Sean Bean alive for longer but the books left me cold. 

Your favourite anthology.

One of my favourite poetry anthologies is a book I picked up in the Chester Beatty Library shop. It’s Haphazard by Starlight: a poem a day from Advent to Epiphany, edited by Janet Morley. It’s a great collection of poems by a very diverse range of poets (from Shelley, Yeats, Tennyson, Hopkins, Eliot, Dickinson, DH Lawrence, Sylvia Plath to Edwin Muir, Elizabeth Jennings, Gillian Clarke). There’s a commentary on each poem linking it to the season and it includes two of my favourite poems ever, Kathleen Raine’s ‘Northumbrian Sequence, 4’ and UA Fanthorpe’s ‘BC:AD’. 

A book yet-to-be-released which you are looking forward to reading.

I have ordered Sasha Dugdale’s new collection, Deformations, (Carcanet Press). I love her Red House collection, especially the Red House sequence of poems with its breathtaking use of language and imagery. Deformations contains two linked sequences of poems, one of which is based around characters from the Odyssey. I’m also looking forward to reading Gaynor Kane’s debut collection of poems with Hedgehog Press and Geraldine O’Kane’s new collection with Salmon Poetry. Lockdown has delayed their launch too so hope to get them soon.