Hannah Kate

poet, short story writer and editor based in Manchester

space 2

July 1, 2016

A (Literary) Journey to Outer Space

space 1

Last week’s Hannah’s Bookshelf had a bit of an intergalactic theme – inspired by British astronaut Tim Peake‘s return to Earth after six months on the International Space Station – and I featured some of my favourite books set in outer space. If you missed the show, you can catch it again on the player below. But, as promised, here’s a list of the books I featured on the show. Let me know if I missed your favourites!

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1917)

princess of mars

Not one of my favourite books, but definitely an interesting place to start for a run-down of books set on other planets. Edgar Rice Burroughs’s ‘planetary romance’ was originally published as a serial in All-Story Magazine (1912), but reissued in hardcover in 1917. It tells the story of John Carter, a Confederate veteran of the US Civil War, who is mysteriously transported to Mars while prospecting for gold in Arizona. There, he meets a tribe of Tharks (green Martians), rescues Dejah Thoris (the eponymous princess and one of the humanoid red Martians), gets involved in Martian politics, wins the girl and saves the day. A mixture of romance (in the older sense of the word), Western and swashbuckling adventure, A Princess of Mars is a significant early example of extra-terrestrial fiction, and it’s been cited as an influence by both fiction and non-fiction writers.

The book spawned ten sequels, including The Gods of Mars, Thuvia, Maid of Mars, The Master Mind of Mars and Synthetic Men of Mars. Like H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, the depiction of Mars in the books (though undoubtedly a fantasy of the colonial imagination) actually draws on contemporary ideas about the red planet, particularly the writings of Percival Lowell (Mars (1895), Mars and its Canals (1906) and Mars as the Abode of Life (1908)). A Princess of Mars was adapted into a film by The Asylum, the makers of Sharknado and Snakes on a Train.

Solaris by Stanisław Lem (1961)

solaris

Written in Polish, and translated from Polish to French then French to English in 1970, Solaris is probably Lem’s best-known work (in the Anglophone world, at least). The book is set on the Solaris Station, a research station orbiting an oceanic planet (the ‘Solaris’ of the title). For decades, scientists have been studying the enigmatic planet (giving rise to the scientific discipline of ‘Solaristics’), but have been unable to penetrate the mystery of its (living) ocean. Kris Kelvin arrives at the station shortly after the planet has been bombarded with high energy X-rays – just in time to experience the unexpected results of the experiment. An unsettling and philosophical exploration of the human psyche and the implications of attempts to know the unknowable, Solaris is a bafflingly beautiful (or beautifully baffling) book that, like much of Lem’s writing, is as much about the human conscious as it is about extraterrestrial life.

Solaris has been adapted for the big screen three times, by Boris Nirenberg (1968), Andrei Tarkovsky (1972) and James Cameron (2002). Outside of Solaris, however, Lem’s work remains rather under-read in the English-speaking world. For a great (and, at least for me, home-grown) introduction, I recommend the Lemistry anthology, published by Comma Press.

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl (1972)

glass elevator

Dahl’s sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory begins where the first book left off, with Charlie and his family riding in the glass lift that will take them to the chocolate factory. When Charlie’s grandmother Georgina mistakenly prevents Wonka from directing them back to the factory, the lift shoots off into orbit and the party find themselves docking at a newly opened space hotel. The travellers are initially mistaken for aliens by US president Lancelot R. Gilligrass, the party soon have some actual aliens to contend with – in the form of the Vermicious Knids. Let’s hope Wonka had the foresight to make his great glass elevator Knid-proof…

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator has never been adapted for the screen, apparently as a result of Dahl being disappointed in the 1971 adaptation of the first ‘Charlie’ book. Dahl intended to write a third ‘Charlie’ book, which would pick up where Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator left off – entitled Charlie in the White House – but only the first chapter of this book was written. The manuscript chapter of Charlie in the White House is held by the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick (1965)

palmer eldritch

Another unsettling and mind-bending sci-fi choice now – and an interesting companion to Lem’s Solaris (particularly when you find out about the odd relationship between the two authors). In Dick’s trippy dystopia, global temperatures have risen to the point where Earth is near enough uninhabitable and humans have set out on a massive project of colonization and expansion. In order to facilitate this, a ‘draft’ has been introduced, signing up unwilling settlers to be relocated to the harsh and primitive off-world colonies. For many, the only way of coping is to take the illegal drug Can-D while staring at a ‘Perky Pat’ layout, and to lose themselves in a shared hallucination of Pat and her happy little world. The novel follows the intersecting stories of Barney Mayerson (a ‘precog’ who works for P.P. Layouts and is facing involuntary resettlement to Mars), Leo Bulero (the head of P.P. Layouts and a recipient of extensive genetic modification or ‘evolution therapy’) and Palmer Eldritch (a merchant adventurer, rescued and shielded by the UN on his return from Proxima Centauri, amid rumours that he has brought back an alien hallucinogen – nicknamed Chew-Z – that’s even more potent than Can-D). It’s difficult to say exactly what happens next – but that’s pretty much the point of the book. It’s a complicated and uneasy read, where you’re left more with metaphysical questions about the nature of reality, rather than a solid understanding of plot.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)

hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy

Based on the 1978 radio series, Adams’s novel tells the story of hapless galactic traveller, Arthur Dent, who is recused from the destruction of Earth by his friend Ford Prefect (who, it transpires, is a Betelgeusian field researcher and writer for the titular travel guide). After hitching a ride on the Vogon Constructor Fleet, Arthur and Ford hook up with Zaphod Beeblebrox (President of the Galaxy), travel to Magrathea and discover that Earth’s true purpose was to serve as a super-computer tasked with calculating the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything’ (the answer to which, as computed millennia earlier by another super-computer called Deep Thought, is 42). I probably don’t need to say much more about it here though, as Adams’s novel is incredibly popular. In 2003, it was voted no. 4 in the BBC’s Big Read search for the nation’s best-loved book.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the first book in an ‘increasingly inaccurately named’ trilogy. It was followed by The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (the first two books in the series cover the events of the radio serial and 1981 TV series, though not in exactly the same order), then Life, the Universe and Everything, So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish and Mostly Harmless. In 2008, Eoin Colfer wrote a sixth novel for the series, entitled And Another Thing….

The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin (1972)

word for world is forest

Le Guin’s Hainish cycle of novels and short stories is set in an alternate universe in which the people of Hain long ago colonized all nearby planets (including Terra, or Earth), leaving a legacy of human beings (or humanoid beings) who are remotely related, but who have long since stopped communicating with one another. That’s an awfully simplistic way of introducing the complex backstory to the cycle, but it’ll have to do. The full Hainish history – and its array of worlds and people – is revealed gradually across a number of works, with each book or short story concentrating on a particular period or planet. The Hainish cycle comprises the novels and novellas: Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, The Word for World is Forest and The Telling, as well as seventeen short stories. I did toy with the idea of talking about other books, but I decided that The Word for World is Forest was an apt choice for this list, as it returns us (in a way) to some of the concerns that were swashbucklingly glossed over in A Princess of Mars.

The Word for World is Forest is set on Athshe, a forest planet inhabited by a pacifist people. Before the story begins, Athshe has been partially colonized by Terra, who have set up military logging colonies to strip the planet of its precious timber. The novella is told from three alternating first-person perspectives: Captain Davidson (a Terran military leader), Selver (an Athshean rebel who instigates an attack on Davidson’s camp in retaliation for the rape of his wife) and Raj Lyubov (an anthropologist who participates in the League of Worlds enquiry into the rebellion). The novella is more strident (almost didactic) in tone than the other Hainish stories, and its ecological and anti-war message is hard to avoid – it’s been described as an ‘angry’ book, which I think is a fair assessment. But as angry sci-fi goes, it’s undoubtedly one of the best.

And so I ended my extra-terrestrial edition of Hannah’s Bookshelf on a somewhat downbeat note (or maybe it was a warning note). If you’d like to hear more about any of these books, or my reasons for choosing them, you can catch the show again here:

1960s radio

June 23, 2016

Some of the Best Books of 1966

football 1

For last week’s Hannah’s Bookshelf, I decided to go with a topical theme. As we were right in the middle of the group stages of the Euros, I thought football could be a pretty cool topic – until I realized that I don’t actually know that many novels about football! (Maybe I should do a bit of reading so I have a list ready in time for the World Cup.) But then I thought… why not do one of my timewarp shows, and take a look at some of the best books of THE year for English football? I mean, of course, 1966 (which it turns out was a pretty good year for literature too).

You can listen to the show on the player below, but here’s a rundown of some of the literary highlights of 1966. Let me know if you think I missed anything out!

Third Girl by Agatha Christie

third girl

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that I started off with an Agatha Christie novel – and a Poirot one at that! 1966 saw the publication of Third Girl, a novel that pairs Poirot with Ariadne Oliver again (and also sees the return of Dr Stillingfleet, a character who had previously appeared in a short story entitled ‘The Dream’). Poirot is consulted by Norma Restarick, a young woman who believes she has committed a murder. It’s up to the great Belgian detective (with the help of his novelist friend, of course) to piece together the tale told by the troubled girl. Of all the Poirot novels, this one feels most closely tied to the time of its publication – it’s definitely set in the 1960s. So much so that Maurice Richardson, reviewing the book for the Observer, said: ‘After this, I shan’t be a bit surprised to see A.C. wearing a miniskirt.’

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

flowers for algernon

Originally an award-winning short story published in 1959, Keyes’s Nebula-winning novel tells the story of Charlie Gordon, a man with an IQ of 68 who works in a menial job. Charlie is attending literacy classes (taught by Alice Kinnian), and comes into contact with Dr Nemur and Dr Strauss, scientists who are pioneering a surgical procedure to increase intelligence. Charlie decides to have the surgery, and his life radically changes. Told through Charlie’s ‘progress reports’ (which begin shortly before he has the operation), Flowers for Algernon is a thought-provoking and moving book with a real kicker of an ending.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard

rosencrantz and guildenstern are dead

Tom Stoppard’s absurdist tragi-comedy was first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1966. It – loosely – reimagines the events (or, perhaps more accurately, some of the themes) of Shakepeare’s Hamlet through the eyes of minor characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The play opens with the eponymous (but almost interchangable) characters betting on coin tosses, though they have already tossed 92 heads in a row. This leads to a meditation on the nature of chance, existence and reality that permeates the entire play. The first version of the play I ever saw was actually the brilliant 1990 film adaptation, which stars Gary Oldman (as Rosencrantz), Tim Roth (as Guildenstern) and Richard Dreyfuss (as the player).

Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer

black sheep

Georgette Heyer is the undisputable queen of the Regency romance. Black Sheep is, in some ways, very much in the mould she created with Regency Buck in 1935 – a delicious promenade through the fashions and foibles of early nineteenth-century society, surrounded by characters inspired by the novels of Jane Austen. However, there’s a bit of a cynical edge to Black Sheep, and it offers an interesting contrast to many of Heyer’s other Regency romances. The story follows Abigail Wendover (aged 28 – ever so slightly older than the usual heroine) and her older sister Selina, as they take in the entertainments on offer at Bath. Step forward Miles Calverleigh, the ‘black sheep’ of the title – a man who doesn’t possess a title (shock!), doesn’t employ a valet (horror!) and works for a living (I need my sal volatile!). Miles and Abby make a refreshing pair – with a layer of maturity that’s sometimes lacking in Regency romances – and the dialogue, humour and chemistry between them is classic Georgette Heyer.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

in cold blood

Capote’s account of the murder of Herb Clutter and his family – and of the subsequent capture and conviction of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith – is the second bestselling true crime book of all time. It was co-researched (if not cowritten) with Capote’s childhood friend, Harper Lee, and remains a highly influential and popular ‘non-fiction novel’. Capote (and Lee) travelled to Holcomb, Kansas almost immediately after the murders in November 1959, and attempted to create an account of a devastating crime that rocked the small town community to its core.

And so to my final book… and the best-selling book of 1966 (in fact, one of the best-selling books of all time)…

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

valley of the dolls

Susann’s debut novel tells the story of three women (Anne Welles, Neely O’Hara and Jennifer North), following their lives, loves, triumphs and (most importantly) crises over twenty years. The ‘dolls’ of the title refers to barbiturates, the sleeping pills that all three of the women eventually come to rely on (for different reasons). Loosely based on the lives of various real life players on the Hollywood/Broadway scene (including, perhaps, Marilyn Monroe, Carole Landis, Judy Garland, Betty Hutton and Frances Farmer), this epic novel exploded onto the literary scene in 1966 (in part due to a canny marketing strategy by Susann and her husband), and has since sold over 30 million copies. Adapted into a film in 1967 (starring Susan Hayward, Barbara Perkins and Sharon Tate) and a miniseries in 1981 (starring Catherine Hicks, Lisa Hartman and Veronica Hamel), Susann’s book is the classic of its genre, and it paved the way for writers like Jackie Collins (who was included in my list of the top books of 1983), who would continue to fascinate readers with tales of the lives, loves and self-destruction of the rich and famous.

Susann’s next two books – The Love Machine and Once is Not Enough – were also big hits, making her the first author to have three consecutive titles on the New York Times bestsellers list.

To hear more about all of these books – and about my reasons for choosing them – catch up with Hannah’s Bookshelf here:

radio 1

June 7, 2016

North Manchester FM: Hannah’s Bookshelf, Saturday 11 June, 2-4pm

radio 2

Join me this Saturday at 2pm for Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester 106.6FM. My guest this week is the fantastic David Hartley.

David is a short story writer and performer based in Manchester. His latest collection of flash fictions Spiderseed was runner up in the Best Short Story Collection category at the 2016 Saboteur Awards. He is a regular performer on the Spoken Word circuit of Manchester and beyond and he runs his own spoken word night in Stretford called Speak Easy. His weird stories explore myths, futures, the uncanny and the unsettling, with a particular focus on animals and the natural world. He can usually be found loitering on Twitter @DHartleyWriter.

I’ll be talking to David about Spiderseed – and more! – and, of course, he’ll be sharing his selections for Apocalypse Books.

Tune in at 2pm on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).

Missed the show? You can listen again here:

radio 1

May 31, 2016

North Manchester FM: Hannah’s Bookshelf, Saturday 4 June, 2-4pm

radio 2

Join me on Saturday at 2pm on North Manchester 106.6FM for Hannah’s Bookshelf. This week, my guest will be the lovely Dori Ann Dupré (in another transatlantic interview).

Dori was born and raised in New Jersey. She graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in History and is a veteran of the United States Army. Dori currently works in the legal field in North Carolina, where she resides with her family. Scout’s Honor is her first novel.

Dori is donating proceeds from sales of Scout’s Honor to the University of North Carolina Lineberger Gastrointestinal Oncology Research Program and Colon Cancer Awareness, and you can find out more about this on the UNC Lineberger website.

I’ll be talking to Dori about writing her first novel and, of course, she’ll be sharing her selections for Apocalypse Books. Catch our conversation on Saturday at 2pm – tune in on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).

Missed the show? You can catch it again here:

gothic heroine 2

May 30, 2016

My Favourite Gothic Heroines in Literature

gothic heroine 1

Last week I was down in Canterbury, attending a conference at the University of Kent entitled Gothic Feminism: The Representation of the Gothic Heroine in Cinema. It was a great conference, with some really interesting papers, and I thought it would be cool to pick up on some of the themes in Hannah’s Bookshelf on Saturday. Obviously, as it’s a literature show, I concentrated on representations of the Gothic heroine in literature, rather than cinema.

If you missed the show, you can listen again on the player at the bottom of this post. As promised, here are the details of the books (and the heroines) I talked about.

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

mysteries of udolpho

No run-down of my favourite Gothic heroines would be complete without an eighteenth-century classic. I selected Emily St Aubert, as Radcliffe’s 1794 novel was one of the first late eighteenth-century Gothics that I read. When her beloved father dies, Emily is left orphaned and in the care of her aunt, Madame Cheron. When aunt marries the sinister Count Montoni, the two plan to force Emily to marry a man named Morano – and threatening plans start to take shape. Will our heroine escape her fate? Will she be reunited with Valancourt, her handsome and benign suitor? Will she ever get out of the imposing Castle Udolpho?

Uncle Silas by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

uncle silas

My next selection was some Victorian Gothic. Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1864 novel had me absolutely glued to the page when I first read it – and the locked room mystery at its heart was a big part of its charm, as I am a huge fan of locked rooms! Maud Ruthyn is the heroine here, an inquisitive girl who becomes fascinated by her father’s brother – the black sheep of the family – and the shadowy stories of scandal that surrounds him. When her father dies, Maud agrees to go and live at Bartram-Haugh with the mysterious Silas and his family… but will she survive to claim her inheritance?

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

nights at the circus

Of course my list of Gothic heroines has an Angela Carter book on it! I chose the 1984 Nights at the Circus – the story of Sophie Fevvers, a larger-than-life circus performer with a rather dramatic USP – for two reasons. Firstly, Fevvers is just such a memorable heroine that I felt she deserved to be on the list. And secondly, as with Uncle Silas, I just enjoyed reading the book so much. The book begins with journalist Jack Walser interviewing Fevvers about her life and career, plunging the reader into a fantastical (and perhaps unbelievable) world of magic, performance and other turn-of-the-century shenanigans.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

wide sargasso sea

You might have been expecting to see Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre on this list (but if you heard the show, then you’ll know why it’s not included). Rhys’s 1966 postcolonial novel (re)tells the story of a character who only makes a brief appearance in Brontë’s novel: Bertha Mason, the ‘madwoman in the attic’ and first wife of Mr Rochester. Reimagined as Antoinette Cosway (you’ll find out how she becomes ‘Bertha’ if you read the book), Rhys’s heroine is a fragile, tragic and passionate creation, and the author teases out the brutal and violent implications of a story only lightly alluded to in Brontë’s work. I first read Wide Sargasso Sea in 1995, and it remains one of my favourite books of all time. So this is a very strong recommendation!

Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr

ink exchange

Time for a twenty-first century heroine, and one of my favourite YA novels. I fell in love with Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely when I first read it, but I’ve chosen the 2008 sequel for this list, as there’s something truly fascinating about its heroine, Leslie. Marr’s series is about fairies, and the second book focuses on the Dark Court. When human teen Leslie decides to get a tattoo (an act intended to help her recover from a horrific trauma), she inadvertantly selects a design that will leave her tethered to Irial, the king of the Dark Court. Will she be able to escape the fairy’s ink? Or is she destined to remain tied to him forever? Ink Exchange is a very stylish book, with a strange mixture of nastiness and hope that makes for a very compelling read.

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

titus groan

And finally… the heroine (if you can really call her a heroine) that I spent a big chunk of my early teens wishing I could be. Titus Groan (and its sequel Gormenghast) is undoubtedly in my top ten books of all time, and this is partly because of the sullen, awkward, romantic and naive Fuchsia Groan. Peake’s 1946 novel is quite hard to describe, and is quite an unusual experience to read, but the term ‘fantasy of manners’ has become attached to it. Telling the story (or, more often, setting the scene) of the vast, crumbling edifice that is Gormenghast, the novel introduces us to the family of Sepulchrave, seventy-sixth Earl of Groan, and the rituals, traditions and ceremonies that govern their existence. Fuchsia is the earl’s fifteen-year-old daughter, who is ignored by her parents and annoyed by the birth of her new brother, Titus. Left alone for so much of the time, Fuchsia retreats to her rooms in the attic to daydream and scrawl wild pictures on the wall in charcoal. What’s not to love about that?

To hear more about all these books, and about my reasons for choosing them, listen again to Hannah’s Bookshelf here:

radio 1

May 17, 2016

North Manchester FM: Hannah’s Bookshelf, Saturday 21 May, 2-4pm

radio 2

Join me this Saturday at 2pm for Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester 106.6FM. This week, my guest will be the fantastic Dr Kate Ash-Irisarri.

Kate has had an interest in the Middle Ages since childhood, and has been working on medieval literature for over ten years since she began studying it at university. She received a PhD from the University of Manchester for her research on fifteenth and sixteenth-century Anglo-Scottish literary relations. Her research interests focus on medieval and early modern literature, with particular interests in historiography, memory, and literary confessions. She has taught at the universities of Manchester, Nottingham and Liverpool Hope, and is currently an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Manchester.

Kate has recently published on the poetry of Sir David Lyndsay as well as the political uses of sanctity in medieval chronicles.  She is currently writing a book on the use of memory in the formation of national identity in the aftermath of the Scottish Wars of Independence. She is the editor of the Older Scots volume of the Literary Encyclopedia.

I’ll be chatting to Kate about medieval and early modern literature and, of course, she’ll be sharing her Apocalypse Books selections with us.

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).

Missed the show? You can catch it again here:

weird weather 2

May 8, 2016

Some Weird Weather Recommendations

weird weather 1

Given how odd the weather has been in 2016 so far (we had snow at the end of April… what’s that all about?), I’ve been thinking a bit about weird weather in fiction. So much so that I decided to devote a whole show to it: on Saturday May 7th, Hannah’s Bookshelf was all about bizarre and freaky literary weather. You can listen again to the show on the player below, but, as promised, here’s the list of books that were featured on the show.

The Fog by James Herbert (1975)

the fog

Not to be confused with the 1980 John Carpenter film of the same name, James Herbert’s horror novel tells the story of John Holman, who is investigating a Ministry of Defence base in Wiltshire when an earthquake opens a crack in the earth. John’s car is swallowed up by the quake, but that’s not the worst part… the cracked earth is now releasing a sinister fog that turns people dangerously insane. John is the fog’s first victim – but he becomes the only man able to defeat the noxious cloud.

Okay… the deadly gas isn’t really ‘fog’ as such, so it’s not strictly speaking ‘weird weather’ (one book in and I’ve already cheated!), but it’s still a classic and deserves to be on the list. For me, the best bits of the book are the little horrific vignettes detailing the effects of the ‘fog’ on people up and down the UK. Stephen King described it as a work of ‘raw urgency’, and that seems a pretty fair assessment.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900)

wizard of oz

This may be the first time Baum’s beloved American fairytale has appeared on a reading list next to a James Herbert novel, but hopefully this isn’t too much of a controversial choice. (Incidentally, I’d love to know if anyone ever decides to use these themed shows as a reading list!) I doubt I need to explain why I’ve included The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on this list – the twister that carries Dorothy Gale to the Land of Oz must be one of the most famous bits of weird weather in literature. But perhaps not the most famous…

The Tempest by William Shakespeare (c.1610-11)

the tempest

Surely this must be the most well-respected and well-read example of weird weather in literature? Shakespeare’s tale of the shipwrecked Prospero – and the enslaved creatures Caliban and Ariel – appears on GCSE, A-Level and university syllabuses, and is an absolutely fascinating read (or, better yet, watch) for so many reasons. I included it on this list for the eponymous tempest, magicked up by Prospero as an act of revenge/reconciliation on his brother Antonio, but also for its inclusion of another freaky weather phenomenon: St Elmo’s Fire. When Prospero asks Ariel if the tempest has been created as he ordered, the subservient spirit replies:

“To every article.
I boarded the king’s ship; now on the beak,
Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin,
I flamed amazement; sometime I’ld divide,
And burn in many places; on the topmast,
The yards and bowsprit, would I flame distinctly,
Then meet and join.” (Act I, Sc. 2)

(Bet you can’t guess which song I played after I talked about this…)

The Snow by Adam Roberts (2004)

the snow

In a show dedicated to weather, I really wanted to include a book about my favourite weather: snow. And why not some sci-fi snow? Roberts’ novel begins with snow falling on London in September – which is slightly weird. But the snow doesn’t stop falling, and eventually the world is smothered under three miles of the stuff – which is a bit weirder. The book follows Tira, a woman from London who has managed to survive the apocalyptic snowfall, who is discovered by a group of miners from the newly rebuilt ‘civilization’ that sits above the snow. Told in an unusual style that mimics government transcripts, The Snow touches on issues to do with military law and censorship, but, as with several of the books on this list, it’s the eeriness of the weather that really stuck in my mind.

The Drought by J.G. Ballard (1964)

the drought

After the snow, I thought it might be time for some sun. First published as The Burning World, this early novel by Ballard followed The Wind From Nowhere (1961) and The Drowned World (1962), and was itself followed by The Crystal World (1966). This quartet of ‘catastrophe novels’ deal with the causes and effects of intense weather and natural phenomena that erode and destroy human life as we know it. The Drought is set during a years-long drought, brought about after rain ceases to fall (so it’s really the rain that’s weird, rather than the sun). Charles Ransom has been living at a gradually drying lake with an assortment of neighbours but, after a decade without rain, he finally decides to do what so many other people have already done and head towards the ocean. As with much of Ballard’s work (particularly the early novels) plot and characterization often take a backseat to the surreal landscapes and ‘strange beauty’ of the apocalyptic vision, and it’s an odd, unsettling, but really quite dazzling read.

‘Dracula’s Guest’ by Bram Stoker (c. 1890, published posthumously in 1914)

dracula's guest

No list of fictional weather would be complete without at least one Gothic text. No genre does overdramatic weather and punishing natural elements with such enthusiasm as the Gothic. Almost every Victorian penny dreadful I’ve edited begins with a storm, and the image of a sharp bolt of lightning breaking through the clouds on a perilously dark night is pretty much the genre’s catchphrase. So it’s only fitting I ended the show with a spooky bit of late Victoriana – I was spoilt for choice, but decided to go with Bram Stoker’s short story because it has a great description of hailstones (and, after the weird April hailstorms we had this year, I thought this was fitting). ‘Dracula’s Guest’ (probably) began life as an early chapter of Dracula, but it wasn’t included in the published novel. An unnamed narrator travels from Munich to Transylvania, unaware that his journey is occuring on Walpurgisnacht. When a storm breaks, and he violently assaulted by hailstones, the traveller is driven into a tomb for shelter… and now he must spend the night with something not quite of this world.

To hear more about all of these books and my reasons for choosing them, you can listen again to my Weird Weather special here:

radio 1

April 26, 2016

North Manchester FM: Hannah’s Bookshelf, Saturday 30 April, 2-4pm

radio 2

Join me on Saturday, 2-4pm, for Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester 106.6FM. This week, I’ll be chatting to the brilliant Sara Read.

Sara has been working on seventeenth-century women’s lives for ten years. She was awarded a PhD from Loughborough University in 2010 for her work on women’s reproductive health (including menstruation, pregnancy, miscarriage). She works as a lecturer in English at the same university.

Widely published in academic works, Maids, Wives, Widows: Exploring Early Modern Women’s Lives 1540-1740 is her first popular history book. It stems from her love of the era and her enthusiasm for the women she encountered in her academic work. She has articles on related topics in Discover Your Ancestors and History Today periodicals, and is a contributing editor on the popular blog, Early Modern Medicine.

I’ll be talking to Sara about her work and her writing, and, of course, she’ll be sharing her selections for Apocalypse Books.

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).

Missed the show? You can listen again here:

radio 1

April 20, 2016

North Manchester FM: Hannah’s Bookshelf, Saturday 23 April, 2-4pm

radio 2

Join me on Saturday at 2pm for Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester 106.6FM. My guest this week will be the fantastic John Reppion.

John was born in Liverpool, England in 1978. His writing career began in 2003 when he collaborated with his wife Leah Moore on a proposal for a six issue mini series entitled Wild Girl. The proposal was accepted and the series was published by Wildstorm in 2004/05. Since then the duo have written many classic characters including Doctor Who (in The Whispering Gallery with artist Ben Templesmith), Sherlock Holmes (in two original mysteries for Dynamite Entertainment), and Dracula (their adaptation of which is now on several university reading lists). They currently write the series Black Shuck and Storm Warning for 2000 AD.

John’s interests in fortean phenomena, esoterica, folklore, philosophy, theology and horror have led to his writing articles and reviews for numerous magazines and periodicals including Fortean Times, Strange Attractor, The Daily Grail and SteamPunk Magazine. 2008 saw the release of his first full length book 800 Years of Haunted Liverpool, published by The History Press. His Lovecraftian Liverpool tale On The Banks of the River Jordan was published in 2014 in Ghostwoods Books’ Cthulhu Lives! anthology. This year sees the release of more short Weird Fiction stories from John appearing in several anthologies.

I’ll be chatting to John about comics, writing, weird history and more – and, of course, he’ll be sharing his Apocalypse Books selections.

Catch us on Saturday, 2-4pm, on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).

Missed the show? You can catch it again here:

radio 1

April 12, 2016

North Manchester FM: Hannah’s Bookshelf, Saturday 16 April, 2-4pm

radio 2

Tune in this Saturday at 2pm for Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM. My guest this week will be the fantastic Gwyneth Jones.

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.

We’ll be talking about Gwyneth’s books and writing and, of course, she’ll be sharing her selections for Apocalypse Books. So please join us on Saturday at 2pm on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).

Missed the show? You can catch it again here: