Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Talking Heads by Alan Bennett

I’ve recently read quite a lot of Alan Bennett – possibly as a result of having heard him speak at a recent National Association of Writers in Education conference.  I needed to buy The History Boys anyway and I picked up this volume too. On my Kindle I have his Writing Home which I very much enjoyed reading recently on holiday. This contains the original story of the lady in a van, and in fact he read from that at the conference.
I was very familiar already with A Cream Cracker under the Settee as this featured in a text book that I used to use for giving GCSE English tuition. I’m certain, too, that I saw the original BBC broadcasts.  I actually think I enjoyed reading them more that watching them. We’re told each time which actor presented the monologue and this with some effective stage directions helps to create a very vivid picture in the head of how the monologues would be performed.
It’s quite hard to define exactly what makes then so appealing. There are several elements I enjoyed:
·         The slightly larger than life characters.
·         The humour
·         The pathos
This particular volume includes an overall introduction by Bennett himself. The stand-alone  A Woman of  No Importance, and then the collections Talking Heads and Talking Heads 2, both introduced by Bennett. What he says is interesting, though I found the introduction to Talking Heads 2 a little too long.
We have plenty of story and plenty of character in this collection. Here Bennett really shows how these two components are interdependent. There is a good balance here. A Woman of No Importance reminds us of how Bennett’s monologues work.  The six plays in Talking Heads gets us used to that effective mix of humour and tragedy and Talking Heads 2 comes in with a real punch with some scenes that are slightly more disturbing.
I read a lot. I’ve found little as engaging as these texts even though I enjoy most of what I read.                

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Survivor by Tom Hoyle

I bought this book for the course I teach at Salford University: Intro to Children’s Literature. I always like to source some of the latest publications and I actually go to the Urmston bookshop to do this. It has a special sort of clientele. People who shop here are serious about books.        
Survivor did not disappoint. I’d label teen / young adult.  The cover says “For Fans of Cherub and Gone”.  Yes, that seems right too. It’s a thriller / whodunit. It keeps us guessing right until the end and even then you can’t be 100% sure. It’s really up to the reader to decide. That makes it absolutely spot on for young adults.  
Some really nasty things happen as protagonist George Fleet takes part in the Ultimate Bushcraft adventure holiday. He gives his account. After each part of this another voice speaks, often leading us to believe the perpetuator of the crime is someone we’ve met in the previous account. There will then be a text that looks like an official statement.  
George’s statements are somewhat longer than the others and read like a normal first person narrative. Nevertheless, they remain reasonably short and that with the shortness of the other texts makes this book very readable. You’re often tempted to read a little bit more as you can see that the next section is so short.
I read it very quickly.
I look forward to reading more from Tom Hoyle.    


Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Habit by Stephen McGeagh

I expected not to like this and intended to read it in a sort of detached intellectual way. I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, it is dark.  And no, it isn’t a comfortable read. There is plenty of foul language. We encounter some quite nasty scenarios. Yet it is engaging and gripping.
This is set in present day Manchester with a huge fantasy / horror theme. Yet it is not gratuitous horror. This city certainly has its creepy moments and we could easily imagine that what lurks behind the doors of its many night clubs is actually what Stephen McGeagh suggests.
This might be described as a new adult novel. Protagonist Michael is young and disaffected. He makes several mistakes yet somehow we like him. McGeagh captures his voice well. He has created a character that is rounded and plausible.
The book is published by Salt, a publisher we can always rely on to offer us something a little bit different, something that will make us think.  

Read Me Like a Book by Liz Kessler

I was privileged to go to a reading of this at the beautiful Portico Library in Manchester. This was hosted by Carol Ann Duffy and was part of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival.
For Liz Kessler this is a very interesting novel. She actually wrote it some time ago, and now its time has come. It is very different from a lot of her other material. Previously she wrote more fantasy and for younger children. This is a real life story and features an issue that is very important to her.   
Jodi Picoult describes this work as “a coming-of-age story with a twist.”  English teacher, Miss Murray, becomes the object of Ashleigh Walker’s love. Ashleigh gradually becomes aware of her own sexuality. Many people around her are supportive. A few are not.
Kessler uses a first person present tense narrative. This is not unusual in young adult books and gives an immediacy to the text.  We can really hear Ashleigh’s voice.
The author also manages to achieve a good balance between pace and emotional closeness. The story progresses at a pleasing speed yet we are allowed enough time to get into Ashleigh’s mind and feelings and to get to know her really well.    

Monday, 11 May 2015

Boys Don’t Cry by Malorie Blackman

I usually enjoy anything by Malorie Blackman. She’s a writer I admire a lot. Her writing is very readable. I’m 100% with her on her diversity agenda. There should be more representation of the diverse elements of the society in which we live yet those parts should not just be represented as issues.      
Boys Don’t Cry delivers in both these ways.  This is yet another well written book by Blackman. We care for the characters who are rounded and believable. The story keeps on giving. There is pace a plenty.
And we have diversity. Dante is a black single father. His brother Adam is gay. Blackman gives us both boys’ stories. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler if I say that we find that, actually, boys do cry.
There is story and not just an issue. An ex-girlfriend arrives with a baby. Dante’s baby. He agrees to look after it. But she doesn’t come back. Adam makes a fantastic uncle but he has problems of his own and can’t always help.
A really good read!