The Heeding by Rob Cowen


Orgin: Middle English Heden, Old English hedan, Old Saxon Hadian


  1. To mind, to regard, to take note of, to attend to; to observe.
  2. to pay attention, care
  3. To guard, protect


  1. Paying particular notice or careful attention tp advice or warning.

The Heeding is another of the longlist books for the Wainwright prize and is the second book of Poetry I have reviewed in the 13 years of doing this blog, it isn’t that I don’t like poetry but maybe I don’t sit and dole I had here and read Rob Cowen collection. He is a poet based in North Yorkshire, which I passed through quickly yesterday on my way up to the Northumberland where we are on Holiday and when I arrived I sat and read this collection of 35 poems that followed a year like another book win the collection it was written during the lockdown year and sees row Observations of this unique year and how it changed the world for tat one moment of time and both Nature and also the Nature of people. The book is also accompanied by a wonderful collection of bold and eye-catching illustrations from  Nick Hayes.


Indigo sky pressing down like debt.

All cars quietened; nothing stirs.

Late spring status, abandoned, wrecked.

Hell of a thing to be afraid of air

Of touch of family. Of friends. Of work

To not leave home for four days straight.

This is the opening verse of Noise off

I’m never overly sure how to describe a collection of poems but in this one, I just decided I would mention a few of the poems and how I as a reader connected to them. First is the second poem which is called Noises off and is about the new silence of Lockdown we all remember the clarity of sound we all got during the day when there is no cars, no planes in the sky factories are silent the world but also a world of new fears and worries is as it once captured here b Rob and his words far better than I can. Then we have starling which is an ode to that little coal-black bird ( which seemed apt as I am staying in a former colliery village at the moment) this described maybe seeing afresh this little bird which is yes noisy and often in loud groups but when you actually look at this little bird it is so beautiful with as Rob puts it the iridescent purples, greens and blues, the rare hues of petrol on water when describing its feathers. I loved those images and yes they are as soon as I read those words I saw them I was also reminded that I want to see the murmurations (the patterns in a flight of starling of which a large roost near to me is meant to be a place to see this wonder of nature.

We forget that you one shimmered through the frozen air; ripple bird.

Shape-shifter, dusk dancer. Murmurer, sh=ky writer,

Endlessly becoming in the darkening Gold;

Animals, patterns, waves.

And how e wonderstruck, witnessed a nightly unity against death

The second verse of the poem starling mentions their flight of them in groups and the patterns and shapes they make which is so eye-catching and one of the true wonders of Nature.

Well I just mentioned two from this collection in depth the collection is bookended with two poems called the duel about hawks hunting and Hawks reoccur in another Poem that I loved about seeing them in flight whilst driving and Like Rob how often does this happen on a motorway I always nearly crash and often think which bird it was I know Kestrels well as I have seen so many of the years but as for other hawks and how to know which is which glimpsed against the sky I am never quite sure. He also shows how he was touched by ovoid from his personal experience to that off the loss of those around him near and also faces in a crowd like a man at his allotment. Rob captures those mad twelve months in these 35 poems with a poet’s eye that ability t see beyond to describe and in a time like that is what is needed in a time of Madness and the uncertain nature of the world we need a poet to be are guide to cross the river of covid to make sense of the currents and eddies of that river to show us what we missed those little moments in that time like a collection of items which ties into the start of the book which sees Rob describe his desktop and the collection of items he has a stone, musket ball an otter print. Well, this is his desktop of that year his collection of items picked up along that year. Do you think poets can be beacons in dark times to guide the world around us?

Winstons score – + A, a stunning collection that captures in Amber a once-in-a-lifetime year of wonder and fear.



12 Birds to save your life by Charlie Corbett


12 Birds to save your life by Charlie Corbett

British Nature writing

Source – Library book

I take another step along the path of the Wainwright longlist books. It is strange I picked a book last month of my Trio of books that I had enjoyed was a memoir about grief this is another book around Grief. Charlie Corbett is a writer and a farmer that has spent his time between the Wessex Downs and Isle of Mull( you couldn’t get two places further apart in the Uk.he lives with his wife on the downs with his sons and a field full of skylarks which is one of the 12 birds of the book where he uses his love of birds and mixes into a memoir of Birds and the death and how his family coped when their Mother died and how birds have been viewed through time and he mixes them up this is his life in a hard time.

Peewits (otherwise known as lapwings or green plovers) are, in fact, a bird of the coast – a wader – but they breed up on hills during the spring and summer. And if you scan the sky in February, you might see great flocks of peewits circling up above looking for suitable places to nest. I almost drove off the side of the motorway when I saw such a sight not that long ago (once you develop a love for birds, almost crashing cars will become a common occurrence, I’m afraid)

I used to see these on a drive between towns growing up a bird we see a lot less of these days.

The book uses twelve birds native to the UK, which are common bar two of them which are harder to see the sections combine Charlie’s family life at what is one of the hardest times in people’s lives and that is the loss of a parent the effect on the wider family and how the sight of the birds and connections about myths and legends around the birds and how they have seen them over time. He also has a comic touch to describe some birds and their wider family-like calling a Jackdaw like the Danny deviate of the crow world. Then at the end of each section a guide to how to see each bird and how common they are and also it highlights how some birds over time have drastically declined those so common and still common mare getting less so like the little sparrow. It shows how we have to feed and make sure our gardens make birds welcome.

And if Danny DeVito had an extrovert cousin who liked to dress in Paris clothes, then that would be the Jay. The Jay is another characterful member of the Corvid clan. Though instead of the usual sombre black ensemble, the Jay sports a pink suit, bright white shirt with dazzling electric blue wingtips and a snappy black moustache under the beak. You’ll certainly hear a jay before you see one(its Latin name is Garrulous Glandarius). If you are walking through woodland, your ears will be assaulted by a shattering shriek, just as you remark to your walking companion, ” What the hell was that bloody awful noise?”, you’ll see this pinky-blue-white blur fly past with a kind of lazy undulation lollo. Yet despite its shouty call and garish costumes, the jay is, in fact, really rather a shy creature.It lives in woodland and really ventures out.

I loved this description of a jay in the section about Magpies.

I loved this as many of you know I love books that connect objects to things to memories it has always been something that has driven me as a reward this was one of the books that really jumped out at me of the Wainwright longlist. especially as I have always had a love of birds but also the myths and legends around birds which is something I have always loved. I often look for a robin when a bird is meant to be the soul visiting you at my mum’s grave site. They are one of the birds Charlie talks about. Then he talks about Kingfisher a bird I had on my wall as a kid one of the birds I love to see as you only ever see a brilliant blue flash as they so often disappear so quickly. He also has anBarn Owl which made me think of My work Owl there is a Tawny owl I have seen a few times it sites of a post at the back of work and I see it there and think I have seen a couple of things it has killed on the gardens at work. I think it is great as the first time I saw it a patient showed it me it made their day, especially showing me. Have you a favourite book that deals with Grief and its effect on a family?

Winstons score – B solid book around birds and grief and how they enter our lives their but sometimes we notice them more.

Goshawk Summer by James Aldred

Goshawk Summer by James Alfred

English Nature writing

Source – Personal copy

I decide to have this break and read some Nature writing which happened to be exactly the same time as we got the Wainwright Nature writing longlist for 2022. So I then decided to get all the books which I was so lucky to have found most of them on the Library system so Had to order to collect most of them as they are coming from all over Derbyshire. I am going today ( well actually yesterday !! as I wrote this yesterday) to pick up the first lot of books. But the two books I couldn’t get I ordered and they arrived before the weekend so I managed to squeeze in this book over the weekend James Aldred is an Award-winning wildlife documentary maker. He had just finished one project in Africa when he was hired to film some Goshawks in the New forest this is around the time of the first lockdowns in the Uk and he is able to go to the forest every day and to film the Goshawks during a summer that is like no other that has been for many a year and maybe won’t happen again. SO we see his observations of the forest and Goshawks.

Friday 10 April

The country’s been in lockdown for two weeks. I take our three boys into the empty landscape of the valley opposite for some decompression. They’ve been bouncing off the walls at home and it’s good to feel the stride of open ground. They bring their bows and shoot arrows high into the sky above the wide rhyme-locked levels. It’s a good way to let off steam for an hour or so. crossing one of the many small bridges. I glance down to see the five-toed pads of a dog otter imprinted in the soft mud.

I loved as he takes the kids out which many parents did he still sees the nature around him.

He has just returned to the Uk as we see Lockdown is happening and has just been given the job to sit in a Hide to film over the summer. In the New forest. We see as he travels back and forth to film in a world that is now quiet and how strange it is with nothing around that is usually the traffic on the roads, Planes in the sky all have vanished overnight and a new world of silence and quiet. As he settles deep in the forest in his Hide says how much he likes being in a hide hidden and watching whatever he is there to film. He grew up in the New Forest and is amazed when he sees the car parks fill as everyone went back into nature as he heads into the hide and watches this Family of Goshawks sit on the Eggs and then as the chick grows(there is an insight into how they choose which chick lives) we see the environment the bio system of the world of the Goshawks the world of the forest the squirrels which is the main diet of the Goshawks, other birds he sees he compares the other Raptures and places The Goshawks alongside them and how it all interconnects. All this is against the backdrop of the Pandemic and lockdown. I hope to capture the film he made of this Goshawk pair and the New forest in this time which is a time we may never see again.

Friday 8 may

A dry start. The forest leaves hang with mist, but the sky is clear and the 4 a.m. journey to goshawks is sublime. The full moon hangs huge and heavy above dark spires of conifer- a Spielberg backdrop in need of a flying silhouette. The road through Whitemoor glade is a bright bridge of silver and I turn of my lights to follow, rolling slowly forward as the trees eventually rise up to swallow the moon. As I re-enter the darkness a tawny owl is perched on a sign next to the road. It ignores me and remains poised with head tilted forward, listening to something in the leaf litter. I switch off the engine in their hope of watching it hunt, but it seems to notice me for the first time and flies off into the shadows.

his early morning walk to the hide deep in the woods.

I do wonder if in years to come we will get a series of books that will be described as Covoid lit or lockdown Lit. This time saw the best and worst of people but also as we see in James’s eyes it gave nature a small window away from the chaos of the world and  Pollution lessen as the cars on the road stop, I remember the driving to work myself in this time when some days I wouldn’t see a single car and also it was amazing hearing and see birds more than before. He captures this Goshawk couple in an extraordinary time this is a story of them but also has the reflections of the year which for James himself was a sad year With the loss of his father. I enjoyed the insight into a bird I haven’t seen it made me want to see a Goshawk at some point. Do you think there will be a section around ovoid and Lockdown in years to come or is it too early to tell? This was the first book I have read from this year’s Wainwright nature writing longlist.

Winston’s score – B a man in the woods captures a year like no other.

The Military Orchid by Joceyln Brooke

The Military Orchid by Jocelyn Brooke

English Nature writing

Source – personal copy

Well, I read Copsford last week and was bowled over by it and love the actual book itself it was a nicely presented work from the publisher Little Toller which until I brought that book I had never heard of so I went and had a look at there backlist of Nature writing classics and I choose two more to read and this is the first of those two books I selected Orchid Military which is the first of a trilogy by the English Writer Jocelyn  Brooke He was one of those old English characters he was in the military and had run away as a kid and then dropped out of Oxford before he joined the military in the medieval core this is also where he started to write and also discover the Orchid of the title of the book and also sent him what would be a google rabbit hole but then was discovering book after book and a journey of finding Orchids and the hunt for that one mystery Orchid.

Poor colonel Mackenzies! His book was not the best of introductions to its subject. Yet he was a true ochidomane, and I salute him across the years. I imagine him living in comfortable retirement in Surrey, in a red house with a drive and spiky gates, among pine trees; pottering on the downs above Betchworth and Shere but not often venturing further afield. Probably he did possess a copy of Bentham and Hooker, but he could have seldom have looked at it. It is a pleasing thought that another retired officer, colonel Godfrey, has written the standard Monograph on the British Orchidaceae (He also lives in Surrey)

His intro was the Colonel’s book on Orchids

The book opens as we see via a Mr Bundock how the young Jocelyn was drawn into Orchid and the first orchid he discovered was the Lizard Orchid this is the time he got one of the first of many books about the Orchids of Britain this was the colonel Mackenzie Orchids of Britain that was an example of a book that was written by the amateur nature writer. . But this book is where he discovers the Military Orchid ( `orchis Militaris). Which is the one orchid we see him hunting to discover if this very rare orchid is even confirmed as the book unwinds we Follow Jocelyn in the English countryside where we meet a cast of characters that are from a bygone age where the countryside is a mixture of snobs and those old country figures ( this remind me of living in Northumberland in my teens and the characters I used to pick up for my job in a day centre which had a number of character that reminds me of those that Jocelyn crossed. He also spends time abroad in his army career this is a mix of his military life and his growing love of Nature and Orchids as he gets more and more Orchid. books and he tells us about the writers on the whole a collection of amateurs like himself. We see if Evers gets to find this orchid and if it is even real.

Les seuls Vrais Paraadis, said Proust, sont les paradis qu’on la perdus: and conversely, the only genuine infernos, perhaps, are those which are yet to come. After the post-Munch period, with its atmosphere of slowly gathering crisis, the outbreak of war itself was like a sudden Holiday, bringing a sense of release, almost of relief: the kind of relief which an invalid feels when a definite disease has declared itself, replacing the vague, indefinable mails by a set of recognisable physical symptoms

I love this Proust quote(a little jealous I never got past the first books of Proust)

This was just what I need it is one of those books that is written by someone with a passion for their subject which for Brooke is Orchids alongside his growing up and witnessing Both wars and the inter war years and his Military career and home life. He mixes a comical view of the time of the world around him. Add to this is the wonderful Orchid pictures we get that illustrate a lot of the plants that we have read about. This is a mix of styles Memoir, Satire and military history during and after world wars it is also a quest work his ask is the Military Orchid you can see as the years go by and he hasn’t seen this rarely record Orchid does it even exist. It has a bit of Waugh, a bit of Edith Holden and added to that is his Quest it is a sort of Holy grail search for his beloved Orchid.He wrote a number of other books after this book, I will be looking out for the other two books in this collection of the collected trilogy as the other two books are meant to be as good as this one is. Have you read any books by Brooke? do you like memoirs that combine a love of Nature?


Winstons score – A two wars and the inter war years are a hunt for a mythical Orchid. Sees a man grow and discover a passion.

Copsford by Walter J. C. Murray

Copsford by Walter J. C. Murray

British Nature writing

Source – personal copy

I have decided a couple of years ago that every time I go and put flowers and visit where we scattered my mum’s ash which is about an hours drive from where I live in Derbyshire .I would by some nature writing my Mom and my Granddad who are also scattered on the same site in Macclesfield in Cheshire with were great nature lovers my granddad had a love of birds and birdwatching he paid for my old YOC membership growing up (the youth section of the (RSPB). So there is a mid-size Waterstones there which is slightly big than the one we have here so I went to the nature section and had a look round and actually had another book in my hand when this one caught my eye with its Black white cover which by the sheer tone of the photo you could tell it was an old print. The book was written by Walter Murray he was from Sussex and had been living in London in a third-floor flat when he decided he want to do a Thoreau (as in Walden) and he decide to return to Sussex and rent a heap the hep on the cover a cottage called cops ford and try and make a living of the land grow and drying herbs and making a simpler life.He had a lifelong love of nature and took photos of Nature the photos in this book are from the original book when it came out in 1948( The Copsford year was in the 20s though)

“No one ain’t lived in Copsford for more ‘an twenty year’ he protested “Its do be out of repair like’

“You’m best go an’ ; ave a look around first,’ he suggested. Then returning to the familiar rut, ‘Ice going ‘ ploughin’ in the ten-acre.’

He readjusted his hat and began to harness his two horses. He was happy again, so I set off across the field to inspect Copsford, this cottage “sech a mile from nowhere” where no one wanted to live.

He goes to look at cops ford after the farmer warns how it is derelict.

I am drawn to the idea of living away from it all one of the things I want to do in the future is go back to Northumberland and live in a small village. So the book opens when he decides to leave his third floor flat and his life in London and with his Dog floss his sheepdog. The farmer iS taken back when he asks if he can take on Copsford the cottage had been empty for decades and was broken down as you can see ion the cover also it is full of rats. So the opening few chapters we see him first trying to get at least one room liveable as he then tries to get rid of the rats from the property all this as he is having to fetch water and live by candlelight as he also reconnects with his childhood sweetheart a music teacher, this is about the time in the mid-twenties when Murray became a teacher and eventually a headmaster at his own school. What fools is his upon and downs as he Lears to live on the land and also at the end chapter sees him comparing what he made to how he lived in London to the money earned for rent and living costs in Copsford.

If the herb is taken too late from the drying-room, and this quite frequently happens when a spell of dry weather suddenly succeeds a long damp, blowdrying period, the plant is so brittle that it crumbles to dust. The rosette of pale green leaves of cleavers is so slight that there is always some loss of herb at the bagging-up time, but that is better than mould. Other herbs, if allowed to become to dry, just cannot be handled; they smash and crumble and fall away into useless fragments, Others again – a few – one never seems to be able to dry enough; they always feel moist or oily to the touch, no matter how many days they hang on the line

He learns how to dry the herbs he is wanting to harvest dry and sell



I said in the intro I called this a Thoreau he did similar when he went to live next to Walden lake it was a way to escape the pressure of the present and this is similar he just wants to capture the countryside and live on the land with his dog Floss and he does what he does is also start to notice the seasons and the world around him as he struggles to collect and work at his plan to gather and forage for Herbs to dry and sell. Then there is also the budding romance between him and his childhood sweetheart who lives near Copsford. The cottage itself becomes a character in the book, even more, when he decides to stay in the winter as he said it was the last gift it gave him. This book is timely there seems to be a movement toward a simple life post-Lockdown people have reconnected with nature and want a simpler life it’s strange that the Similar events in the 70s with strikes and cost of living crisis lead to the likes of the Good Life. I think we all love a bit of the countryside I know I love the mix of that and going to the city or a large town. This was republished just before the lockdown and maybe should be read if you like a year of nature-type books or want to see how the simpler life was never to simple even 100 years ago. Maybe it is the prototype Cottagecore book if you want to be present and live in the moment and be sustainable this is the book for you. Also, it has his wonderfully evocative pictures to bring to life the text and the year he spent there. Have you a favourite back-to-nature book?

Winstons score – +A just loved slipping into his year in copsford.


Cinema Stories by Alexander kluge

Cinema Stories by Alexander kluge

German fiction

original title – Geschichten vom Kino

translators – Martin Brady and Helen Hughes

Source – personal copy

If you have been following me for the last couple of years you will know since I discovered the works of Alexander Kluge. for me he should be better known than he is all those people going on about Sebald well this guy is like him but has been writing his documentary-style fiction usually around an event or subject I have reviewed four books by him so far. I have just been navigating on a personal odyssey through his works as I buy them. This is one of the books that maybe cross over his two main fields of filmmaker and writer. As ever it is a series of Vignettes 39 in total.

The ELDORADO movie theatre was located close to the border dividing the centre of Beirut from the South of the city, and still within the area destroyed by aerial bombing. Razed to the ground, only the foundation remained. The married couple who had run the venue for decades had cleared away the rubble and erected a tent on the flat concrete floor of the building, The projectors, which had been rescued, stood under this tent. In front of them, are rows of makeshift seats (chairs from a cafe); and in front of those, the screen. The sound of battle, sometimes coming closer, sometimes moving away, merged with the soundtrack of the films. The audience was somewhat safer under this tented roof than in the surviving houses, because destroyed buildings were seldom attacked for a second time and also because in this “cinema auditorium” there was no danger of being buried by falling masonry

The opening of the book and the story cinema in a state of Emergency

I will mention a few of the vignettes and leave you a lot to discover they are all around the subject of cinemas. The collection opens with a story that is a little way reminds me of a scene from the film Cinema Paradiso this is the story of a cinema in Beirut and the couple that ran the Eldorado cinema trying to keep it running with the war going on and how they showed whatever they could get hold of it to remind of when the cinema burnt down in cinema Paradiso and the carried on. Then we see how Erich Von Stroheim maybe was one of the first people in the film industry to invent who he was not the son of a hatmaker from Vienna he became a von and lived up whole was working his way up through the cinema. Then he turns to Walter Benjamin and his observations on how cinema and films can be used as propaganda. Then I read one that was a connection to a book that I had read that was by the wife of the Filmmaker Joris Ivens here we see how when his filming was interrupted by rain he then made a piece describing fourteen types of rain, like rain in the country, never-ending rain and the concentrated rain in Hurricanes. This is just a glimpse of the book I feel it is hard to write about many of the 39 vignettes in the collection.`I want to leave a few to be discovered.

1 A week of Rain with Joris Ivens

The radical documentarist Joris Ivens took advantage of a week of rain in Holland, during which he couldn’t shoot anything else, to film variations on the theme of rain. Hannes Eisler later composed music for these film sequences. His piece is called fourteen ways to describe rain

It reminds me of how many words the Inuit have for snow types and looks of snow. And how many words do we have for rain here in the UK!!


this book mixes the two worlds that Alexander Kluge is best known for cinema there is a real sense of some of these small tales he’ll have heard over the years and then he has used his writing talent to bring some of those sorts of insider tales gems he will have heard or even been involved with. The vignettes cover a myriad of subjects from actual cinemas, to what the power of film is to actors, filmmakers and myths of cinema. For me he is a writer you just want to read cover to cover in every book he is like that uncle with the great stories we all have someone that can talk and describe the world around us and make it interesting and Kluge’s world is c=inema he is an insider and these are those tales. I am still not sure why he isn’t better known here in English maybe it is the fact he falls in between styles of writing as a writer he has parts of short stories, narrative non-fiction, memoir or documentary fiction he is a polymath a true gem of the German cultural scene. Have you a favourite book from Kluge?

Winstons score – + A compelling vignette around his other job as a filmmaker.

Ninth Building by Zou Jingzhi

Ninth Building by Zou Jingzhi

Chinese Memoir

Original title – 九栋

Translator – Jeremy Tiang

Source – review copy

It was great when Hanford star got listed for the Booker prizes this year. I have been sent books by them since they started and it is great to see them get some more recognition as they are a smaller publisher and one of those like Istros and Nordisk that focuses on one area to publish works from. They have brought books from all over Asia in the last few years I have reviewed most of them here. This is one from a Chinese writer  I have often said I have a feeling I want a writer from China I can really connect with and I think in Jingzhi I may have he has written both fiction, poetry, scripts and here is what is a memoir but it is more an Episodic Memoir than a linear memoir but a work of fiction so Chinese Auto-fiction.

Ninth building was the building I lived as a child. It’s been demolished now, and on the same plot, they built a bigger, taller Ninth Building. My words concern the previous incarnation.

Before the block disappeared, I went back to take some pictures of it. A place I spent my early years. With its vanishing, there’d be no traces left of my childhood.

The loss of the building made him write this to remember the times and events in the Ninth building !!

I said this is a book that is a fictional memoir but it is more the writer sat and remember little episodes of his life and it follows him and his family in two times the first was his time in Beijing as a young boy the book is set in Beijing just as Mao and this cultural revolution is taking place and we see it through the eyes of aa young boy the young Zou as he is caught up in the fever of the times where they are told to tell on anyone that seems to not be the thing the party line. They want to be red guards as they seem heroes to the young kids buying armbands to be like them. Now we see this how he saw out at the time and that is as a kid sees things he wants to be accepted by his peers and telling on those around him in the ninth building is the way it is. The book captures this but also what it is to be a child in the midst of chaos and not see it as he said the building as he wrote this looking back had gone and there was now a larger building it captures China just as it is entering the dark times and we see this in the second two-thirds of the book which follows a now teen You as he and his family has been sent to the northern hinterlands of China in Exile like many people were from Beijing. So we see him in 1960 arrive in the village of Yangfangdian where they are expected to return to the land and have to toil and grow things the vignettes here are sparked by items events those little rascals he met twins he could never tell who was who. As they all toil in what they called a  return to the land but is actually really a labour camp for them as his father is here considered dangerous as he fails to comply we see a young man awaken in the horror of the wastelands of china working hard and trying to be a young man at the same time.

My family moved to Yangfangdian in 1960. All around our building were vegetable fields, and in the midst of this greenery were white stone tablets(commonly known as “Turtleback stones”) on which were inscribed huge characters, most of which we couldn’t recognise as we stared up at them. It didn’t help there wasn’t any punctuation at all. Nonetheless, we persisted in reading them out to demonstrate the joy of learning. several children would stand in a group and chant in unison. Something something memorial. some lines had not a single comprehensible word, and still we’d something-something-something-something our way through, no shortcuts. I get nostalgic now thinking of a gaggle of kids chorusing “Something”

His new home in the wastelands of China feeling out of place


I loved this captures his life and that is a tale that isn’t told in a Rosie way this is warts and all it shows how as a kid we can be swayed to do things one thing of how the Stasi in Soviet times influenced kids to think it was normal to watch and report own this around them. It shows how the red guard was made to seem like hers to the kids. One of my main problems with a lot of Chinese lit we get is it has never seemed to be very personal and this does this is Zou’s voice and his world we are dragged into as a reader from those days as a young boy as the craziness of the red guard and the cultural revolution are just taking hold of the country the way the young kids want the armbands and to be part of there own gang. Then the sheer tedium of life and backbreaking work alongside a coming of age work as he starts to see the woman around him among all this. Have you a favourite book from China or a book about the cultural revolution.

Winstons score – A -a writer I want to read more from !!

The young pretender by Michael Arditti

The young pretender by Michael Arditti

English historical fiction

Source – review copy

It was nice to be sent a new book from arcadia books which was a publisher I had reviewed books over the years and had sadly after its founder Gary’s death nearly vanished to it has been taken as an imprint by Quercus. I don’t read many historical fiction books but this one appealed as it has a number of themes I like people trying to make a come back. I also like the thought of the way actors travelled back in the day with touring companies crossing the country. it reminded me it has been a number of years since I last went to the theatre to see something. The book follows the comeback of the child actor Master Betty as he returned to the stage at the age of 20 after he was lauded at the age of 13 and was called the infant Garrick. But after a scandal, he disappears and now a man is trying to return.

It is not yet nine months since he died, so I realise that my sentiments may be coloured by my loss, but I doubt that even at the height of my fame,Papa was proud of me. He may been proud that others were proud of me, but that’s not the same. Poets Lauded me as Albion’s favourite snout, if I were his it was only because I lacked brother. Even when dukes and duchesses crowded my dressing room, he railed that he had exchanged the honourable life of a gentleman for that of a fair-keeper

After his father’s death, he looks back at his father the line about a brother touched me so sad!!

Netty had been on the boards since he was little and had played a lot of the major roles in Shakespeare plays and when he was Hamlet at Covent garden William Pitt had let parliament go early so they could go and watch him. We meet him as now a young man who is trying to regain fame but he also maybe wants to be seen as a man, not the boy that left the stage 6 years earlier now a taller fat man is trying to reclaim what he once was for himself not for his father. What we see in the theatre world in regency times where plays just happened here and then the actors don’t have much time to learn the plays and the world just seems very chaotic at times and unprofessional. We see as we follow him how the young boy was taught the stage trade by another actor Mr Hough when he was a boy. But this was what would now be called grooming in the way it happened and the abuse the young boy suffered. but when we see him remember his former glory the bad bits tend to be rosier and you get the sense of the horrors he saw as a child.

I think that Papa met him at the race. There was a course at Downpatrick, which he frequented, especially after the factory closed. It was his habit to bring people Springhill- people who in the old days… no matter! Mr Hough was there with several players from Belfast. Papa invited them to dine with us on their way back to the city. After showing his cups – she a=glances at the cabinet in which the fencing trophies of Papa’s youth are proudly displayed – “He must have remarked that he has a son with a zeal for drama, at which the players, knowing what was required them, called on you to recite, I sought to prevent it -”


How Mr Hough his teacher which came to teach but also abused the young actor as well

I loved the way we saw Betty trying to relaunch himself to be taken seriously but most of those around him still view him as the young boy he was many years ago. I loved the way he described his career and how he had been here there and everywhere as a  young boy, but then you think how his father maybe used his fame and overworked also such a young boy in an adult world wasn’t ever great for the young Betty and we see how the scars wear on the young man. This is a story that has echoes with the present with the ME too mob=vement and we think of things like how so many child actors I grew up watching went off the rails and suffered due to pressure of fame at a young age.  Arditti conjures up those actors going here and there chasing the jobs and performance in regency Britain so well the description of his fame at the time he conjures up the chaos behind the stage around the country and a time when going to see a play was the most important entertain for most in the country. Have you a favourite historic novel set in Regency times. Any other books around this time?

Winstons score – B a book that shows metoo has always been there and the follies of being a child star

The Blue Bedspread by Raj Kamal Jha

The Blue Bedspread by Raj Kamal Jha

Indian fiction

Source personal – copy

As it is Jubilee weekend here in the Uk I decided to try and read a couple of the books from the Jubilee list and this is the first one I choose to read as I just love the title of this book that is the only reason I had to on my TBR pile it was in the small shop in Bakewell that sells second-hand books and it just caught my eye with the title and then being described as an Indian coming of age novel on the front cover(which I think is maybe deceiving ) The writer Raj Kamal Jha has written five novels and is editor in chief of The Indian express. This was his debut novel he has won a number of prizes and his literature has been said to take its lead from the news he works on as an editor in a newsroom.

I could begin with my name but forgot it, why waste time, it doesn’t matter in this city of twelve million names. I could begin with the way I look but what do I say, I am not a young manny more, I wear glasses, my stomach droops over the belt of my trousers.

There’s something wrong with my trousers. The waist, where the loops for the belt are, folds over every time, so if you look at me carefully while I am walking by, on the street or at the bus stop, you will see a flash of white, the cloth they use as lining, running above my belt, peeping out

The opening lines of the book as he sits to write to the baby that is to be adopted tomorrow

The blue bedspread is a bedspread from a family and this night it has a small newborn baby on it and we are in a house in Calcutta as we see a man writing a long note to this babe the babe is the daughter of his dead sister and is due to be adopted in the morning and what he is writing here is a description of the events that lead up to that moment. In the story of a lower-middle-class Indian family. As the brother recalls the events of the past the blue spread iOS is a sort of recurring motif in the book. As the past and what has happened within the family are slowly revealed. the book is formed of chapters around each family member but starts with the narrator’s visit. the police station after a call telling him of his sister’s fate that she has died. What happens is we see what lies behind those curtains and here in this family it is a broken twist and as the book moves on becomes more so to its shocking last story of the last eight words of the narrator!

Blue bedspread

The bedspread was ten feet by nine feet, dark blue, almost purple, but her the years it had faded until it was blueish white, like our breakfast of milk and cornflakes. When we returned from school in the afternoon, we would lie on the bed, sister and I, our cheeks pressed against the thick fabric, our eyes fixed along the surface, imaging we were looking at the sky. And that the discoloured patches were clouds

The Blue bedspread I also think the fact they are on the bed together is maybe more than it seems!

This is a slow-burning book that sees what has happened in the family and between this brother and sister and their parents to get to that night as our unnamed narrator sits and writes this note to this newly born babe. As he puts it He could begin Wirth his name but he has forgotten it. This is a book that lingers with the reader long after you put the book down it is lifting the curtain into a family broken and twisted. The last book I remember hitting me so hard was Besides the sea although on a totally different subject it has the same impact and this book has an ending which is horrific. The book iS at times here and there in how the story is told,  but for me, this was the style it was meant to be as our narrator is a drinker and to me, this was how his mind was remembering events not in order in a linear way but as he thought of one person then he connected it to the next and as he kept longing at the babe and the blue bedspread it was as thou was the Proustian Madeleine as it was part of the family home and like the memories, it is worn and old. I was reminded in part of the Beautiful south song “The table” where a table is almost a character and this is the same the bedspread keeps cropping up and recurring in the stories this is a style I have also seen in the story collection Timoleon Vita come home where a dog is a recurring motif in the stories. Have you read any book like this that lifts the lid on a dysfunctional family?

Winstons score – B is an interlinking collection of stories told over the course of a night a family history that is horrific in parts.

Angel Station by Jáchym Topol

Angel Station by Jáchym Topol

Czech fiction

Original title – Anděl

Translator – Alex Zucher

Today I am in Czech Republic and a book from a writer who I have once before his book The devils workshop I reviewed in 2013. This book is part of a loose trilogy this is the second book being Sister silver (which is in the 1001 books to read before you die). Tool was in a rock band in the 70s and 80s he also because his father was a dissident he wasn’t able to go to university so he had a number of jobs such a stoker, construction worker and coal delivery man. I wonder if tat is where he observed the characters in the book.  and during the velvet revolution he wrote for the an independent paper at the time that would become an investigative magazine Respekt. He lives in Prague where the book is set it is set around the angel station which at the time the book was writer is a rough working class part of Prague.

His new job had seemed pretty fun at first. He’d never come across anything like it in his reading. But he soon realised it was wretched work, worse than all the rest, the kind of work that takes only the most severe extremes from the pristine flames and squalid filth that go into it, and first scars, then destroys whoever stumbles into the furnaces’ path. The guys who worked down in the factory basement were the true lowlifes. At first time he’d felt like a spy in enemy territory. Till it all ran together for him

I was remind of Hrabal

The book follows the lives of people that live in. and around angel station in the late 1990’s just as things in Prague are changing this is a place that has change this is a Moment caught in time. We have a collection of characters around the station we meet through or in passing with our main character Hooks he is a drug addict and has mental health problems at one point he is called Hooks the screw up and this is a man at the bottom of society an off relationship with Vera as he tries to get by in life. As we follow them shoot hop drugs and trying to get by along side this we see the other waif and strays around this rough working class station the religious preacher , the shopkeeper. this is a look at the harsh underbelly of a big city this is a time before Prague was the Prague of now the crime and dirt of the post soviet era is still there as we see capitalism creeps in.

But hooks, Hooks the Screw-up, says nothing. And Brownie comes again. And Hooks squints. And brownie comes again. With Jams, smokes, and stuff. Even a dirty magazine. He knows what comes in handy. But Hooks says nothing. Not out of stubbornness, he’s ashamed. He just can’t. He stopped talking little by little, like this: he turned see-ch-le-ss. But brownie talks. Including about Lubya

The crazies, who got used to Hooks like a new chair, and the doctors, who keep their opinion to themselves, everyone walks right past each other, jabbering away, just there somehow

Hooks is a twisted soul with lots of his own problems just trying to get by but is on as Nine inch nails put it a downward spiral.

this is a tale of its time which is the mid 90 it is like a lot of books around them The Will Self,  Irvine Welsh and Douglas Coupland to name a few it also has a dirty lit feel to it has nods to  Czech writers of the time (There is an obsession with rubbish I find sometimes in Czech Lit or is that just me) I was remind as the is a description of working by a furness and burning stuff (which has a bad scene in for animal lovers) which remind me of Hrarbal but also at times I was remind of Ivan Klima works of course these were writers before and around the time Topol started writing also I was struck with the black humour and world that could also remind me HIlbig the bleakness of this world of course both wrote curing and after post soviet Europe. I said in the intro this is a place caught in amber it is a place long gone in fact the sort of place described isn’t there or is there in big cities but isn’t at place like Angel station which is now been gentrified like many of the places that were like this in Prague or say Berlin. The book is a world of lost should in fact many years ago I used the term flotsam and jetsam to describe a novel set in a working class district in Paris and this is the same it is the washed mop and washed out of  society. I was a fan of Topol and Zucker his translator which always seems to capture the writers voices so well in his translations. Have you read any books from Either ?

Winstons score – + A lifting the stone and seeing those c aught underneath scurry around

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July 2022


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