Joy is a poet who loves being part of the current vibrant Spoken Word scene. She also takes her words to unusual places and has fun challenging many of the misconceptions people have about poetry. Earlier this year, she performed her poetry at the Isle of Wight Music Festival and is still giddy with excitement. Most days you’ll find her on the 3rd floor at Afflecks (Palace) in the Northern Quarter where she has set up an unusual space in her role as Creative-in-Residence.
I’ll be talking to Joy about her residency, her writing and poetry in general. And, as always, she’ll be sharing her selections for Apocalypse Books.
Tune in on Saturday at 2pm on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).
This week’s edition of Hannah’s Bookshelf (on North Manchester FM) was all about books set in museums – inspired by the book I’m currently reading (and more on that shortly). You can listen to the show on the player at the bottom of this post, but as promised here are the details of the books I talked about on the show. (As an aside, I am quite in love with museums – so much so, in fact, me and my husband got married in one. You can read about our special Night at the Museum in this post on our travel blog.)
This is the book I’m currently reading, and the inspiration for this week’s theme. Rowland’s novel is one of the British Library Crime Classics series. Way back in 2015, on the first ever episode of Hannah’s Bookshelf, I talked about Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon, which was the first of the series that I read. For my birthday this year, my parents-in-law bought me three more books in the series (how well they know me!): Thirteen Guests by J. Jefferson Farjeon, The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay and Murder in the Museum. My mother-in-law also picked up a secondhand copy of The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude recently, so I’m saving The Santa Klaus Murder and The Cornish Coast Murder for when we take our annual pre-Christmas trip to Cornwall in December.
Murder in the Museum begins in the reading room of the British Museum. As the book was written before the British Library Act 1972, the British Museum and the British Library are still the same entity and so ‘museum’ and ‘library’ are used interchangeably. The novel’s ‘affable chap’ and (very) amateur sleuth Henry Fairhurst is engaging in a little light people-watching, when he witnesses a man drop dead. The victim is Julius Arnell, a professor of Elizabethan drama. Inspector Shelley and Sergeant Cunningham arrive to investigate, but it’s not long before another murder occurs. Murder in the Museum is a pretty light example of Golden Age detective fiction, but it’s wonderfully evocative and enjoyable. There are some great descriptions of the museum reading room. I particularly like the depiction of the reading room at night, which I read on the show. (Murder in the Museum also includes the most wonderfully Golden Age murder weapon I’ve ever come across!)
As an aside, the British Museum Reading Room has featured in a number of other notable works of fiction. For example, it is the setting for the opening of M.R. James’s short story ‘Casting the Runes’, which was adapted into the 1957 film Night of the Demon.
A different type of book now – and a slightly different type of museum as well. Preston and Child’s book begins in 1987 and Dr Julian Whittlesey’s research expedition to the Amazon Basin. Whittlesey is seaching for the lost Kothoga tribe in order to learn about their culture and, specifically, their demonic lizard god Mbwun. When Whittlesey’s partner is killed, the scientist realizes that something is stalking him through the jungle…
We pick up the story in 1994, at a fictionalized version of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. A major exhibition is about to be launched, but plans are thrown into disarray when the bodies of two boys are found in the museum. The museum directors are keen to cover things up, but NYPD Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta, researcher Margo Green and journalist Bill Smithbank Jr. are on the case of the ‘Museum Monster’. They are joined by FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast, making this the first of 16 novels by Preston and Child to feature their idiosyncratic FBI specialist. A sequel to Relic – Reliquary – was published in 1995, and a film adaptation – The Relic – was produced in 1997. Disappointingly for fans of Preston and Child’s novels, the character of Pendergast was left out of the film entirely, with his investigative role passed entirely to D’Agosta.
While most of this week’s show was devoted to books inspired by museums, I thought it was only fair to include a museum inspired by a book (or rather, a museum created in tandem with a book). Nobel laureate Pamuk’s 2008 novel is set in Istanbul between 1975 and 1984, and it tells the story of Kemal Basmaci. Kemal begins the novel engaged to Sibel (a woman from his ‘own class’), but he becomes infatuated with his teenage cousin Füsun, who works in a clothes shop. At first the infatuation seems mutual, and they begin an affair. Things change after Füsun attends Kemal’s engagement party, as the young woman moves to another part of the city with her family. When Kemal eventually tracks her down, his attraction becomes obsession. Although Füsun is now married, Kemal befriends her family and attends dinner at her house most nights. Over the years, he steals thousands of mundane items from Füsun’s home (include a salt shaker she’s used and cigarette ends) and hoards them as a sort of personal museum to the object of his obsession.
In 2012, Pamuk established the Museum of Innocence in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul. Although the book and the museum were created in tandem, Pamuk has stated that they can also be enjoyed independently. The Istanbul museum presents the things that the novel’s characters wore, used and collected (including the salt shakers and cigarette butts), as well as a collection of maps and photographs of Istanbul at the time the novel is set.
Okay… so this next example isn’t quite a museum, but I really wanted to talk about it (and hey! it’s my show)…
The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs – also known as Dinosaur Court – are a series of sculptures that were commissioned in 1852 and unveiled in 1854. Designed and sculpted by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (under the scientific direction of Richard Owen, palaeontologist), they are the world’s first ever dinosaur sculptures. The story behind these sculptures is really fascinating, and very revealing of how the public’s love of dinosaurs was born. Sadly, palaeontology moved pretty quickly in those early days, and Hawkins’s sculptures were considered laughably inaccurate within decades of their installation. They fell into disrepair by the twentieth century, until some restoration work in 1952 began to revive their fortunes. Luckily for us, the sculptures were truly saved in 2002, with a full renovation and restoration project.
Dinosaur Court features in quite a few books (particularly children’s books), so I had to decide which one to feature on the show. I decided to go with Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle, because… well… it’s E. Nesbit, and she’s awesome. We begin the book with three children (Gerald, Kathleen and Jimmy), who are spending their summer holidays near Castle Yardling. They play a game of Let’s Pretend and believe that they’ve found the castle’s enchanted princess. Of course, typical of Nesbit’s fantasy novels, the castle’s magic isn’t quite what they think it is – and it’s not quite as much fun as the kids expected. Although The Enchanted Castle is a bit of a change from Nesbit’s previous novel (The Railway Children), there’s plenty of her trademark commentary on down-to-earth economic concerns and the limitations of fantasy/magic.
And I continued with the dinosaurs in my next selection. Life Before Man is Atwood’s fourth novel, and it’s about Elizabeth and Nate, an unhappily married couple who are staying together for the sake of their children. Both Elizabeth and Nate have been unfaithful, and the novel begins with Nate having been dumped by his most recent girlfriend and Elizabeth grieving after her lover’s suicide.
Elizabeth is the director of a (fictional) museum of natural history. Also employed at the museum is Lesje, a palaeontologist fascinated by dinosaurs and by ‘life before man’. Nate begins a slow-burn relationship with Lesje, who stands in sharp contrast to Elizabeth (the former is an ‘innocent’, while the latter is poised, cynical and self-aware). As the three people struggle to relate to one another, and as relationships shift and change between them, the idea of ‘life before man’ shadows them, serving as both a hopeful hint of something different and a cynical reminder of the ultimate pointlessness of their petty issues. It’s a mark of how accomplished Atwood is as a writer that these ideas work so well together, and that the continuous shadow of extinction that hangs over the novel’s protagonists never quite becomes morbid or nihilistic.
The final book on today’s show is a real favourite of mine. Kraken was the first China Miéville novel I read, and I was hooked from the very first descriptions of the Natural History Museum. It’s a richly entertaining book, which is steeped in Miéville’s characteristic ‘Weird London’ elements, as well as plenty of ‘real-life’ touchstones to keep you feeling like this might – just might – actually be reality.
We’re in London’s Natural History Museum for this final selection, and one of the museum’s iconic artefacts is at the centre of the plot. It’s ‘Archie’ – the museum’s rare Architeuthis dux (giant squid) specimin – who is the ‘kraken’ of the title. The books begins with museum employee Billy Harrow leading a tour of the Darwin Centre… but as the visitors eagerly await a glimpse of Archie, Billy realizes to his horror that the giant squid has been stolen. What follows is part urban fantasy, part thriller, part detective story. Billy is aided (sort of) by Krakenist cult member Dane, as well as the FSRC (Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crimes Unit – or ‘the bloody cult squad’, as they introduce themselves) and the ‘Londonmancers’ (holders of the knowledge of London’s magic). In the search for the giant squid, Billy is pitted against The Tattoo (a gangleader who happens to be a sentient tattoo), Goss and Subby (centuries-old assassins with a truly bizarre method of dispatching their targets – and, I think, my favourite characters in the book), and numerous other cults, sects and organizations (such as the ‘Chaos Nazis’). But which of these groups took the giant squid? And has it got anything to do with the apocalypse? And, if the answer to the previous question is ‘yes’, then just which apocalypse will it be?
If you’d like to read a bit more about the Natural History Museum (and a little bit more about Archie), there’s a post on our travel blog that might be of interest.
To hear more about all of these books, and my reasons for choosing them, you can catch the show again here:
Seamus is a poet living in the north of England with deep roots in the west of Ireland. He is a rare combination of scientist and artist who can sometimes be prone to thinking too much. In his recent first collection of poetry, Thinking Too Much, Seamus invites the reader to think about life, family, nature, politics, justice peace and society. There are moving memories, human stories, powerful images and touches of humour. Seamus has been described by prominent Yorkshire poet, James Nash, as a writer of passionate precision and great humanity.
I’ll be chatting to Seamus about his poetry and writing. And, of course, he’ll be sharing his selections for Apocalypse Books.
Catch us on Saturday and 2pm on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).
Tune in to North Manchester FM on Saturday at 2pm for Hannah’s Bookshelf. This week, my guests will be the lovely George Melling (Th’Owd Chap) and Sharon Lowe. If you listened to my live poetry show (part of the NMFM Live Music Day) in July, then you’ll have had a bit of a taste of George and Sharon’s poetry. I’m really pleased to be welcoming them back as guests on my regular show.
George Melling, performing pensioner poet from Wigan, has performed at many North West venues and headlined at several. He’s breaking into the Yorkshire spoken word scene later this year as guest poet, and he’s brought out a charity CD of his poetry set to music with proceeds going to Wigan and Leigh Hospice. George lives with Buttons the cat and his ukelele.
Writer, jobbing actor, singer, uke player, freelance artist, teacher and community activist, Sharon Lowe has been on the spoken word and performance poetry scene for a few years following getting the buzz while organising the Leigh & Wigan Words Together Literary Festival in 2012/13. A steampunk enthusiast, she is a regular around Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Lancashire performance events and enjoys working in community arts. She co-founded the community theatre company, Anteros, in 2015 and is a volunteer organiser of the Wigan Diggers’ Festival taking place in Wigan every September.
I’ll be chatting to George and Sharon about their work and, of course, they’ll be sharing their selections for Apocalypse Books.
Catch us on Saturday at 2pm on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online if you’re further afield.
Mick is a poet who writes lyrical poetry, covering a range of topics including cheese, life in general, football, nature, WW1, anti fracking, the steel industry, romance and religion. A number of his poems have been set to music by singer-songwriters and musicians. His latest booklet (containing 31 of his poems) is Poetry… Yours Sincerely Mr Neary. You might remember Mick from the poetry show I hosted during the station’s Live Music Day in July, when he performed a few of his poems live on the air.
A number of Mick’s poems have been set to music by singer-songwriters – including Baxter Rhodes and Jamie Squire – and one of those musicians (the lovely Tom Metcalfe) will be on Saturday’s show, performing his version of ‘Just Lads’.
I’ll be talking to Mick about his writing, and about poetry in general. And, of course, he and Tom will be sharing their selections for Apocalypse Books.
Tune in on Saturday at 2pm on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).
It was my birthday on Saturday, so I thought it would be kind of cool to devote this week’s Hannah’s Bookshelf to some of the books that were published the year I was born. Saturday’s show featured some of my favourite books that came out in 1978 (yeah… I know… I’ve given away my age there). You can catch the show again on the player below, but as promised here’s a rundown of the books I talked about on air.
M.M. Kaye’s epic novel is set in nineteenth-century India, and it tells the story of Ashton Pelham-Martyn (Ash), a young English boy who is orphaned and entrusted into the care of his Hindu nanny Sita. However, with the Sepoy Rebellion putting the young boy in peril, Sita decides to disguise him and pass him off as Ashok, a native Indian child. For years, Sita and Ash live in Gulkote, serving in the palace of Lalji, the crown prince. It’s here that Ash meets the lonely Princess Anjuli, and begins a friendship that will one day blossom into love. When Sita reveals the truth about Ash’s parentage, the boy must return to England and learn to be a proper ‘sahib’ – will he ever return to keep his promise to Anjuli?
As I said on the show, this book isn’t my usual genre of choice, but I thought it deserved a mention on the show. It was recommended to me by the same person who got us all hooked on The Thorn Birds (which I featured on my ‘guilty pleasures’ show) when I was at university.
I’m rather fond of John Irving’s novels – though, again, they’re not really my usual type of novel. I’m not sure if it’s the chattiness of them, or the way they follow characters through years and years of their lives, but there’s something about them that I really enjoy. The World According to Garp is one of Irving’s best-known novels, particularly since it was adapted into a film starring Robin Williams and Glenn Close in 1982.
The book chronicles the life of T.S. Garp, a man with no father (his mother did something rather bad to a brain damaged soldier – a ‘technical sergeant’ – in order to get pregnant without the assistance of a man) and with a penchant for amateur wrestling and fiction writing. Garp marries Helen, but their relationship is troubled by infidelity and tragedy. Alongside this, we also travel the bumpy road of Garp’s writing career (as in some of Irving’s other works, there are some embedded stories-within-the-story that are a real joy to read). When Garp’s mother Jenny writes her autobiography and becomes a feminist icon, the cast of Garp’s life expands to include a variety of larger-than-life (though tragic and sympathetic) characters.
What can I say about this next selection? I’m pretty sure it doesn’t need much of an introduction. Briggs’s classic is so well-known, not least because of the 1982 cartoon adaptation that is shown on TV every Christmas.
Illustrated entirely with pencil crayons and containing no words, The Snowman was intended to be an antidote to the ‘muck, slime and words’ of Briggs’s previous work, Fungus the Bogeyman. Although the adaptation transposes the adventure to Christmas Eve (and includes a trip to see Father Christmas), the book isn’t so specific about its setting. Also, though the cartoon named the little boy as ‘James’, he is anonymous in Briggs’s work. In a way, the lack of specifics only makes the book seem more universal – making the ending even more poignant.
I talk about detective fiction a lot on the show, but it tends to be more Golden Age crime than modern stuff. So it’s really cool to include a book by the woman who (in my opinion) inherited the title of ‘Queen of Crime’ from Agatha Christie. A Sleeping Life is the tenth Inspector Wexford novel by Rendell, and features a nice little puzzle (where the detectives must work out who the victim is, as much as who the culprit is) that wouldn’t be out of place in a Golden Age novel.
Rhoda Comfrey is found dead in a country lane after visiting her dying father. However, when Wexford and Burden begin to investigate, they can find no trace of the woman in London, despite the fact that she has supposedly lived there for twenty years. A fancy wallet found with the victim leads them to the victim’s second cousin, a writer named Grenville West, but Ms Comfrey remains strangely elusive.
In many ways, Wexford and Burden are the descendants of older literary detectives (Holmes and Watson, Poirot and Hastings), but I do enjoy the ways in which Rendell has updated her detective. Perhaps the most interesting alteration to the template is that Wexford is a father – not to a son and heir, like Margery Allingham’s Campion, but to daughters. Wexford’s daughter Sylvia features quite prominently in A Sleeping Life, allowing Rendell to play with questions of marriage and ‘women’s lib’ in ways that are interesting – if a little dated now.
Of course, I had to include a vampire on the list somewhere. 1978 saw the publication of the first of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Saint-Germain novels. Her aristocratic, cultured, seductive and charming vampire begins his adventures in 1743 in the Parisian court of Louis XV. At turns a horror novel and a romance, Hotel Transylvania sees our vampiric hero attempting to save the lovely – but naive – Madelaine de Montalia from a bunch of despicable Satanists.
There are quite a lot of books in the Saint-Germain series, set in different time periods. Also in the series are Blood Games (set in Rome, 60-70AD), Tempting Fate (set in Rome and England, in 1917-1928), Come Twilight (which takes place across the 7th-12th centuries in Spain) and Night Blooming (set in the court of Charlemagne). While you can read the novels in the order they were published, or you can follow the historical chronology of Saint-Germain’s (after)life, the titles work as standalone books, so you really can read them in any order. I’d recommend starting with Hotel Transylvania though, as it’s a great introduction to the immortal Saint-Germain.
On past shows, I’ve been a little bit scathing (perhaps unfairly) of literary fiction. On the whole, I’d describe myself as being more of a genre fan. However, there is a big exception to this – I’m rather partial to the work of Iris Murdoch. So it was nice to end the show with the 1978 Booker Prize Winner The Sea, the Sea.
The novel is narrated by Charles Arrowby, an arrogant and unlikeable playwright who has moved to a remote house on the edge of the North Sea in order to write his memoirs. In fact, the novel is written in the form of Arrowby’s journal, giving us a thoroughly self-centred, introspective and unreliable narrator. Despite supposedly getting away from the world, Arrowby manages to choose a retreat right next to the home of his teenage love, Hartley. Increasingly obsessed by the memory of their relationship, Arrowby becomes convinced that Hartley needs to be rescued from an unhappy and abusive marriage. But what is it exactly that Arrowby is idealizing?
Some critics are keen to divide Murdoch’s books into ‘early’ and ‘later’, with the latter category coming in for harsher criticism. I don’t see the divide so clearly myself, and I have favourites from among her earlier books (The Sandcastle and A Severed Head) but also from among her later output (The Philosopher’s Pupil).
And that brought me to the end of my birthday edition of Hannah’s Bookshelf. To hear more about these books and my reasons for choosing them, you can listen to the show here:
Bob and Martin were active individually on the local folk music scene for many years, but then they came together to form the duo ‘Bunting and Frolics’, cleverly doubling their repertoire to a stunning seven (7) songs! As Bunting and Frolics they have been getting away with their so-called ‘act’ for over two decades, thus proving that you CAN fool all of the people all of the time!
For many years Martin ran a successful folk club at The Star Inn, Salford, and, at the same time, Bob ran a failing second-hand stall on Conran Street Market. Lately, they have been involved in various projects commemorating the Peterloo Massacre, including a performance piece entitled ‘Peterloo – Soldiers On The Rampage’, in which they are joined by the writer of the work local folk leg-end Geoff Higginbottom.
Martin has a deep interest in local history, whilst Bob has a deep interest in gin.
We’ll be talking about local history and the Peterloo Massacre (including this year’s commemoration events), and (if I’m very lucky) Bunting and Frolics will be playing a few songs on the show. And of course, I’ll be asking Bob and Martin to share their selections for Apocalypse Books.
Tune in on Saturday at 2pm on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area), or listen online (if you’re further afield).
Gwyneth Jones was born in Manchester, educated by the long-suffering nuns of the Sacred Heart, Blackley and at Notre Dame Grammar School, Cheetham Hill. She is the author of many fantasy, horror novels and ghost stories for teenagers using the name Ann Halam, and several well regarded sf and fantasy novels and stories for adults: notably the Bold As Love series, and the Aleutian Trilogy. She has won the Arthur C. Clarke award (for Bold As Love); the Children of the Night award (for The Fear Man, as Ann Halam); the Tiptree award (for White Queen), two World Fantasy awards (for the story “The Grass Princess”, and for the collection Seven Tales and a Fable), the Philip K Dick award (for Life) and the Science Fiction Research Association’s Pilgrim award. She lives in Brighton with her husband, four intelligent goldfish and two cats called Ginger and Milo; she likes old movies, practicing yoga, and staring out of the window.
Gwyneth was my guest on Hannah’s Bookshelf on 16 April, and you can see more about that show here. This week, we’re going to be chatting more about Gwyneth’s work, and talking about books, Europe and rock ‘n’ roll (including the playlists Gwyneth wrote for the Bold as Love series).
Catch the show on Saturday at 2pm on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).
As part of this day of live performances, there’ll be a special Hannah’s Bookshelf as well. I’ll be on air 2-3pm, introducing live performances by some brilliant local poets. Here’s who’ll be on the show:
Joy France is fresh back from performing poetry at the Isle of Wight Music Festival and still giddy with excitement. Most days you’ll find her on the 3rd floor at Afflecks in the Northern Quarter where she’s set up an unusual space in her role as Creative-in-Residence.
Seamus Kelly is a poet living in the north of England with deep roots in the west of Ireland. In his recent first collection of poetry, Thinking too Much, Seamus invites the reader to think about life, family, nature, politics, justice peace and society.
Andy N is a writer, poet and sometimes ambient musician from Manchester. To date, he has published two solo books Return to Kemptown (2010) and The End of Summer (2015) with a third From the Diabetic Ward pencilled in for 2017 from Goya Press, and two split books A Means to an End (2011) with Jeff Dawson and Europa (2014) with Nick Armbrister.
William Michael Neary writes lyrical poems that cover topics including: cheese, life in general, football, nature, WW1, anti fracking, the steel industry, romance and religion. His latest booklet of 31 poems is entitled Poetry… Yours sincerely Mr Neary.
Sharon Lowe has been on the spoken word and performance poetry scene for a few years following getting the buzz while organising the Leigh & Wigan Words Together Literary Festival in 2012/13. She co-founded the community theatre company, Anteros, in 2015 and is a volunteer organiser of the Wigan Diggers’ Festival taking place in Wigan every September.
George Melling, performing pensioner poet from Wigan, has performed at many North West venues and headlined at several. He’s breaking into the Yorkshire spoken word scene later this year as guest poet. He’s also brought out a charity CD of his poetry set to music with proceeds going to Wigan and Leigh Hospice.
George’s CD is available to buy direct from Wigan and Leigh Hospice, or from any of the 13 Hospice charity shops. You can also get a copy from Joy France at her creative space in Affleck’s Palace. There’s more info about the CD here.
Tune in to the show at 2pm on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area), or listen online (if you’re further afield). And if you fancy popping along to the Manchester Communication Academy on Silchester Drive, we’d love to see you there.