Hannah Kate

poet, short story writer and editor based in Manchester

August 13, 2017

North Manchester FM: Hannah’s Bookshelf, Saturday 19 August, 2-4pm

Coming up on this week’s Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM, I’ll be chatting to the brill RJ Barker. We’ll be on air on Saturday, 2-4pm.

RJ lives in Leeds with his wife, son and a collection of questionable taxidermy, odd art, scary music and more books than they have room for. He grew up reading whatever he could get his hands on, and has always been ‘that one with the book in his pocket’. Having played in a rock band before deciding he was a rubbish musician RJ returned to his first love, fiction, to find he is rather better at that. As well as his debut epic fantasy novel, Age of Assassins, RJ has written short stories and historical scripts which have been performed across the country. He has the sort of flowing locks any cavalier would be proud of.

RJ’s novel Age of Assassins, from Orbit Books, is now available in all major book stores, online and on Amazon.

I’ll be talking to RJ about Age of Assassins and all things epic fantasy. And, of course, he’ll be sharing his selections for this week’s 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).

August 13, 2017

Game on! Some of my Favourite Fictional Sports

This week’s Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM was inspired by the North Manchester Games (which took place in Boggart Hole Clough on Saturday afternoon). Given all the real sports that were taking place in the Clough during the afternoon, I thought it would be pretty cool to look at some of my favourite fictional sports of the show. You can catch the show again on the player below, but as promised here’s a list of the books I featured.

National Velvet by Enid Bagnold (1935)

As there’s been a lot of promotion of the Sport England This Girl Can initiative, I thought it would be a good idea to start with a ‘This Girl Can’ classic for today’s show. National Velvet is the story of Velvet Brown, a teenage girl who becomes taken with the idea of riding a horse to victory in the Grand National. Along with her friend Mi, her mother Araminty (who once found fame swimming the Channel) and, of course, The Piebald, Velvet hatches a plan to disguise herself and enter the race.

Bagnold’s novel was adapted into a film in 1944, starring a very young Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney and Angela Lansbury. The film is a fairly faithful adaptation of the horse-racing plot, but the novel offers so much more in its presentation of Velvet’s chaotic and quirky family. It’s a charming book, and definitely worth a read.

The Mighty Walzer by Howard Jacobson (1999)

Something a bit closer to home now… Jacobson’s semi-autobiographical comic novel is set in the 1950s and tells the story of Oliver Walzer, a shy young Jewish lad from Manchester who discovers a talent for table tennis. We follow Oliver through his awkward teenage years – and Jacobson really doesn’t hold back on just how awkward some of his experiences are – to his acceptance to Cambridge University. And through it all, Oliver is determined to prove that he really is the ‘mighty’ Walzer, at least when he wields his paddle.

Jacobson’s novel combines self-deprecating humour, larger-than-life characters, slapstick, (almost) gross-out comedy, and biting satire. It’s a coming-of-age novel, but told from the knowing perspective of an older narrator looking back on the follies of youth. There’s a great sense of humour here, but also a wonderful sense of place evoked in both the descriptions and the language used. This is definitely an appropriate choice for a show inspired by the North Manchester Games.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)

Okay, so I really chose this book for one chapter in particular. I don’t think Carroll’s classic needs much of an introduction, not least because it’s already been saved for post-apocalyptic posterity in the Library at the End of Days. For this week’s show, I was most interested in the third chapter: ‘A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale’. The Caucus-Race is suggested by the Dodo, after Alice and her animal companions emerge soaking wet from the pool of tears. It’s a nonsense-race, obviously, which has no real start or finish. But at the end everyone gets a prize, so that’s nice.

I know it’s a bit of a cheat choosing a book for just one passage, but Carroll’s book is such a classic it’s totally worth it. Also, sometimes it’s good to remember that you don’t need rules or structure, you can just run around for a bit and then stop.

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (‘the exact shape doesn’t matter,’ it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no ‘One, two, three, and away,’ but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out ‘The race is over!’ and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, ‘But who has won?’

The Turke and Sir Gawain (c.1500)

Something a bit different now, though it’s still comic in its own way. The Turke and Sir Gawain is a late-fifteenth-century romance that survives in the Percy Folio. Although the poem has been mangled a bit (part of the manuscipt was torn up for firelighters, meaning that around half of the text is missing), it’s a cracking story that’s sadly underrated. The court of King Arthur is interrupted in its festivities by a sinister ‘Turke’, who demands the knights enter into a challenging game. Only Gawain agrees (obviously, he is Arthur’s greatest knight after all), and Turke insists that Gawain accompany him on a quest for one year to fulfil his half of the agreement. They travel to the Isle of Man, which is people by a race of Muslim giants – lead by a scathing, but rather cordial, Sultan – and Gawain and the Turke need to team up to defeat the giants and rescue their prisoners.

I chose this medieval narrative for my sport-themed show because of a bizarre tennis game that takes place in the second half of the poem. The Manx giants are determined to prove that Gawain is weaker than them, so they challenge to various feats of strength including a game of tennis with a brass ball. And then they decide there’s something even better they could use as a ball…

Okay, this might have marked the point when the sports on the show got a bit darker…

The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell (1924)

As a vegetarian and someone who is anti-blood sports, it would have been utterly inappropriate for me to feature a book about hunting animals for sport on the show. So I didn’t feature a book about hunting animals for sport…

The trope of humans hunting humans for entertainment has proved quite a popular one, featuring in novels, films, television programmes and cartoons. I decided to feature one of the earliest examples I could find. Connell’s 1924 short story is about Sanger Rainsford, a big game hunter who finds himself on the other side of the equation when he is stranded on an island with a man called General Zaroff. Zaroff has a game he likes to play with visitors to the island, but at least he always gives them a head start! Instead of heading off to Rio to hunt jaguars, Rainsford finds himself being hunted by a man who believes ‘Life is for the strong’.

If you’re a fan of the ‘hunting humans for sport’ subgenre, I’d also recommend Robert Sheckley’s short story ‘Seventh Victim’ (1953), which offers an interesting take on the subject, and of course Richard Bachman’s 1982 novel The Running Man.

And then, in a not dissimilar vein, there’s always…

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)

Hey! It’s about sport! There’s an arena, and competitors, and training…

Collins’s best-selling dystopian YA novel is probably well-enough known not to need much introduction. It’s the story of Katniss Everdeen, a young woman who has to compete in the brutal annual Hunger Games, a competition in which 24 young people are confined to an arena and forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of the masses. While the book has lots of common themes of YA fiction – a rebellious heroine, a potential love triangle, unexpected alliances and friendships – it’s the dystopian element that really fascinates me. Panem, the ‘world’ of the Hunger Games is fully of post-apocalyptic tyranny and strangely familiar inequalities. What I really enjoyed, though, was the way in which the Hunger Games – for all their apparent purpose as a ‘tribute’ to ensure social stability – were really just a reality TV show to keep the masses compliant. President Snow (the despotic ruler who presides over the annual bloodbath and its associated spectacle) really does understand how to use panem et circenses to control his people.

The Hunger Games was followed by two sequels: Catching Fire (2009) and Mockingjay (2010). And if you fancy reading more about young people forced to battle to death for a watching audience, I’d also recommend Koushan Takami’s Battle Royale (1999) and Bachman’s The Long Walk (1979).

To find out more about all of these books, and my reasons for choosing them, you can listen to the show here:

July 25, 2017

North Manchester FM: Hannah’s Bookshelf, Saturday 29 July, 2-4pm

Tune in this Saturday at 2pm for Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM. This week, my guest will be the fab Karen Woods.

Karen is a novelist and playwright, and was born and raised in North Manchester. She is the author of seventeen novels, including her newest title Torn (which comes out on 1st August). She has also written six stage productions, including adaptations of some of her own novels. Karen is currently working on rehearsals for a production of Black Tears, which is on at the Middleton Arena on Saturday 2nd September.

Karen left school without any formal qualifications and didn’t start writing until she was 39 years old. She got her inspiration from attending an adult literacy course which was offered by her former employers. Karen writes from the heart and always keeps it true to life, and she writes about subjects many people can all relate too. Having lived a colourful life, she uses her own experiences as background for her books. As well as writing, Karen is also an inspirational speaker for Forever Manchester, and has been interviewed in various newspapers and magazines. Torn – her latest release – is the third book in a trilogy that began with Broken Youth (Karen’s first novel) and Black Tears.

I’ll be chatting to Karen about Torn and the new stage adaptation of Black Tears, as well as about her inspiration and life as a writer. And, of course, she’ll be sharing her selections for this week’s 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).

Missed the show? You can catch it again here:

July 25, 2017

Parklife! A Selection of my Favourite Parks in Literature

Last week was #LoveParks week, an initiative by Keep Britain Tidy to show a bit of love for parks and green spaces across the country. As I’d been out and about taking #LoveParks pictures for the Friends of Crumpsall Park all week, I thought I’d turn my attention to my favourite literary green spaces on this week’s Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM. You can listen again to show on the player below, but as promised here are details of the books I discussed. Let me know if I missed any!

The Keys to the Street by Ruth Rendell (1996)

Quite a lot of my lists include a title by one of the Queens of Crime, and this one’s no different. Rendell’s book tells the seemingly unconnected stories of Mary Jago, Hob and Bean – three people whose lives revolve around Regent’s Park and its environs. Mary is a young woman who has left her abusive partner and is housesitting for an elderly couple at the edge of the park; Hob is a drug addict who beats people up to get his next fix; Bean is an old ‘upper servant’ type, who walks dogs for rich people in and around the park. When the body of a homeless man is found impaled on the park gates, a murder investigation is launched – but more will be revealed than just the murderer. The lives of the various characters we encounter may well be more deeply connected than we (or they) realize.

Not only is this a classic Rendell mystery – with detailed and compelling characters, and an incredibly evocative sense of place – but it’s also a great place to start a tour of literary parks. Here, the park is a place where disparate lives overlap, and where disconnected stories find a place of connection – even if only for a moment.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (1814)

Although the show mainly focused on municipal and urban parks, I thought it was only right to have one title that features a different kind of green space – the country park estate. And as the new ten pound note featuring Jane Austen has just been unveiled, it seemed fitting that I included Austen’s novel on my list.

Mansfield Park is the story of Fanny Price, who moves to the eponymous estate when she is ten years old. Fanny’s mother is struggling to cope with her large brood of children, and so sends her daughter to live with her sister and brother-in-law at Mansfield. Fanny is forced to negotiate new relationships with her cousins – Edmund, Julia, Maria and Tom – but is treated as a poor relation by their aunt Mrs Norris, and experiences a coolly distant relationship with her uncle Sir Thomas Bertram. When Fanny is seventeen, society at Mansfield is turned upside-down by the arrival of head-turning siblings Henry and Mary Crawford, and Georgian shenanigans ensue.

Mansfield Park is not always considered Austen’s best book – and it’s certainly not the most popular of her novels. Part of the issue lies with the heroine: Fanny Price is a very different type of character to Lizzie Bennett or Elinor Dashwood. The heroine’s rather priggish morality is a central focus, and the novel’s ending leaves some readers cold. Nevertheless, there is plenty of biting satire throughout the book, and it does have a bit more of an edge than Austen’s other novels.

The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford (1968)

I guess for people my age, this one is a bit of a given! Beresford’s classic children’s novel introduces us to the little rodent/bear-like creatures that live on Wimbledon Common, collecting up the rubbish left by humans and putting it to good use. As well as The Wombles, Beresford also wrote The Wandering Wombles (1970), The Wombles at Work (1973), The Invisible Womble and Other Stories (1973), The Wombles to the Rescue (1974) and The Wombles Go Round the World (1976). The books introduced us to Great Uncle Bulgaria, Tobermory, Orinoco, Bungo, Tomsk, Wellington and Madame Cholet (familiar to viewers of the TV show), but also Miss Adelaide (who wasn’t included on the show) and Alderney (who wasn’t in the original series, but appeared in the 90s reboot when people wrongly assumed she was a new character).

It probably goes without saying that The Wombles was adapted into a BBC stop motion animated series in 1973-75, narrated by Bernard Cribbens. There was a ‘new’ version made in 1998-99, but the less said about that the better.

Small Holdings by Nicola Barker (1995)

I’ve mentioned a couple of Barker’s novels on the show before, so it was great to be able to include one of her books on today’s list. Small Holdings is the perfect choice for a show devoted to municipal parks, as the plot revolves around the intricacies and eccentricities of urban park management.

The novel takes place in a council-owned park whose maintenance has been privatized. An odd little group of people – Doug, Phil, Ray and Nancy – has formed a partnership to bid for the maintenance contract. When the novel begins, this contract is up for renewal, and we follow the tensions the characters face as their group unravels under the pressure of the upcoming meeting. And by ‘odd’, I do mean ‘odd’. And by ‘unravels’, I really do mean ‘unravels’. Barker’s book has been described as a ‘comedy of errors’, but it’s much more unhinged and absurd than that. The characters are bizarre and unsettling; the situations they face are discomforting and often violent. You’re never really rooting for anyone as such – not even Phil, the introverted and unfortunate narrator – but the story is utterly compelling. Like a lot of Barker’s work, Small Holdings takes the mundane minutiae of an unlikely fictional setting, and turns it into a drama of human absurdity that is difficult to put down.

Entangled by Cat Clarke (2011)

I’ve included Clarke’s debut YA novel on my list, despite the fact that only a small portion of the novel’s action takes place in a park. The scenes that take place in the park are so significant to the set-up of the book’s plot that I thought it warranted a place of the list. Additionally, Clarke’s book offers an unflinching and realistic depiction of how teenagers view and use parks, so I thought it made for an interesting contrast to some of the other books I featured.

Entangled is the story of Grace Carlyle, a troubled seventeen-year-old who has decided to commit suicide. She goes to the local park, but is interrupted in her plans by the arrival of a young man called Ethan. As she waits for Ethan to leave, Grace drinks heavily and eventually passes out. When she comes to, she’s locked in a white room… and Ethan is her jailor. With only a stack of paper and pens to distract her, Grace begins to write an account of her life and the events that led to her decision to kill herself in the park. This seems to be something Ethan wants her to do… but who is he? and why is he holding her prisoner? Clarke’s novel pulls no punches in its depiction of teen life – there’s underage drinking, sex and self-harm – but it’s also one of the most painfully realistic portrayals of teenage mental health (in my experience) out there. Entangled is a dazzling book, and a definite recommendation – and not just for the park scenes!

The Park Bench/Un peu de bois et d’acier by Chabouté (2017/2012)

I thought I’d end with a very recent publication, but one that brings us full circle in a way. Chabouté’s acclaimed graphic novel was first published in French in 2012, under the title Un peu de bois et d’acier [A Little Bit of Wood and Steel]. An English-language edition was published by Faber and Faber this month, entitled The Park Bench.

And that’s what the book is about. A simple park bench. In a series of black-and-white panels, Chabouté charts the various anonymous people who use, interact with, claim and even deface this little bit of wood and steel over the course of days, weeks and seasons. There’s a skateboarder doing stunts across it, a baby toddling its first steps, pensioners sharing a cake together, and a man trying to read as a stranger strums blissfully on his guitar. No background or explanation is offered for these vignettes, but Chabouté’s images give us just enough detail to imagine the ‘characters’ and the circumstances that might have brought them to this particular bench at this particular time. I started the show by talking about the way Rendell’s novel uses Regent’s Park as the locus around which disparate characters’ stories revolve, and so it seems fitting to end with a book that’s a real celebration of the ways in which a park (and its bench) can be the stage for the ‘choreography of life’. It’s an absolutely charming book, and the perfect way to end my #LoveParks literary list. If you’re interested, Un peu de bois et d’acier was also adapted into a short film by Sandgate Productions in 2014.

To find out more about all of these books, and about my reasons for choosing them, you can listen to the show here:

July 11, 2017

School’s Out! Some of my Favourite Literary Schools

As the end of term is fast approaching, and this year’s GCSEs come to an end, I thought it would be good to take a look at some of the best schools in literature on Hannah’s Bookshelf (well, my brother thought it would be a good idea – the theme for this week’s show was actually his suggestion). So, Saturday 8th July was the School’s Out! edition of Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM. You can listen to the show on the player below, but (as promised) here are details of the books I featured. Let me know in the comments if you agree with my selections, or if you have any other recommendations!

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1961)

Set in Edinburgh in the 1930s, Spark’s novel tells the story of the eponymous teacher, and of the six young girls in the ‘Brodie Set’. Miss Brodie is a woman in her ‘prime’, and she identifies ten-year-old Eunice, Sandy, Mary, Rose, Jenny and Monica as the ‘elite’, pupils she will take under her wing and educate about the wonders of art history, classical studies… and fascism. She teaches her girls about her personal life, tells them about her travels, and confides in them about her love life. When the girls progress to senior school, Miss Brodie remains a significant influence in their lives, and they continue to visit her and experience her unusual views on educating girls. Of course, we’re warned from that start that things will unravel, and early flash forward tells us that one of the Brodie Set will eventually betray their teacher and destroy her career… but which will it be?

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was adapted into a film in 1969, with Maggie Smith getting the Best Actress Oscar for her wonderful portrayal of Miss Brodie.

The Rotters’ Club by Jonathan Coe (2001)

Coe’s novel follows a group of classmates at school in Birmingham in the 1970s. It’s been described as Dickensian in scope, as it features tons of intertwining plotlines and a dazzling cast of minor characters. Although the book shifts between the perspective of the classmates, the main protagonist is Ben Trotter, and it is his circle of friends, family and acquaintances that we’re following. Ben’s dad works at British Leyland. His best friend is Philip Chase, whose dad is a bus driver. There’s also Doug Anderton (whose dad is the shop steward at the British Leyland plant) and Steve Richards (who is the only black student at their school). Life is complicated and messy – and very 70s – in The Rotters’ Club, and while the boys plan out their future careers (as writers, as prog-rockers, as athletes), the world around them often threatens to overshadow them. It’s a coming-of-age novel, but it’s more than just the coming-of-age of an individual character – the book ends on the day of the General Election that brought Margaret Thatcher to power.

The Rotters’ Club was adapted for TV in 2005 by Dick Clement and Ian LaFrenais, and it starred Geoffrey Breton, Nicholas Shaw and Rasmus Hardiker. There was also a Radio 4 adaptation in 2003, which had David Tennant as Bill Anderton, and Frank Skinner as Sam Trotter (amongst other well-known names). In 2004, Coe wrote a sequel, The Closed Circle, which revists the characters a couple of decades later.

To Sir, With Love by E.R. Braithwaite (1959)

Braithwaite’s autobiographical novel is set in the East End of London. Ricky Braithwaite is an engineer from British Guyana. Despite having served in the RAF during WWII, he is unable to find work in Britain after being demobbed due to the colour of his skin. Eventually, he is able to secure a low-paying teaching position at Greenslade School, where is given charge of the oldest (and worst behaved) pupils in the school. After the kids do everything they can to discourage and demoralize Braithwaite, their teacher introduces a radical new approach to the classroom – he will treat them like adults, and in return they will treat him with respect. Braithwaite begins to get through to his charges, introducing them to museums and art galleries, but also taking a more pastoral role as well. Of course, the spectre of race is never far away (this is London in the 1950s) – and some have criticised the book for its almost utopian navigation of some of the societal problems faced by its narrator – but this is book that has a clear and unequivocal moral message about the importance of respect, dignity and honest communication.

To Sir, With Love was adapted into a film in 1967, with Sidney Poitier playing Mark Thackeray (the film version of Braithwaite). The setting was updated to the ‘Swinging Sixties’, and it also saw both Lulu and Patricia Routledge making their film debuts.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin (1968)

What list of famous fictional schools would be complete without the classic novel about a young boy who attends a school for wizards, eh? Le Guin’s book tells the story of a boy nicknamed Sparrowhawk, who is taught how to use his potential magic powers by his aunt, and is then apprenticed to a great mage (who names him ‘Ged’). Ged is sent to attend wizardry school on a neighbouring island, where he is admired by his classmates and teachers alike. There is one boy, Jasper, who is rather jealous of Ged, which leads to the two of them facing off in a duel. And when a spell goes awry, Ged must also contend with the appearance of a terrifying shadow creature (who cannot be named), which attacks him and scars his face. Ged must use everything he has learned to find out the true nature of the shadow creature and its connection to him.

Le Guin’s Earthsea is a world that appeared in eight short stories and five novels (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu and The Other Wind). It is a pre-industrial group of islands inhabited by humans and dragons, which exists in a fragile but desirable balance. As with much of Le Guin’s fiction, the Earthsea novels often explore what happens when this delicate balance is upset.

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens (1839)

Nicholas Nickleby was Dickens’s third novel, originally published as a serial in 1838-39. It follows the story of the eponymous protagonist, a young man who has to look after his mother and sister after the unexpected death (and bankruptcy) of his father. When his unpleasant uncle fails to offer assistance, Nicholas takes a job as an assistant at Dotheboys Hall School in Yorkshire, which is run by the brutal and tyrannical Wackford Squeers. If you think The Rotters’ Club was Dickensian, this is the real deal – there is an almost bewildering array of characters, a number of settings, and Nicholas’s life has twists and turns galore. But for the purposes of today’s show, it was Dotheboys Hall that interested me. The school, as Nicholas discovers, is a scam: Squeers takes in the unwanted children of wealthy families, and then neglects and mistreats them while pocketing the money he was given for their care and education. Squeers is a typically Dickensian villain – larger than life and utterly self-serving – but he is matched by the near-psychopathic cruelty of Mrs Squeers.

Dickens always claimed that Wackford Squeers was a composite character, with elements drawn from a number of schoolmasters the writer encountered during a tour of Yorkshire. However, critics have seen some rather close parallels with a particular man, William Shaw, who ran boarding schools in Bowes and was sued by parents for the neglect of their sons. Shaw’s great-great-grandson has suggested that, while his ancestor may well have been the model for Squeers, Dickens sensationalized and misrepresented the facts of his career.

Carrie by Stephen King (1974)

And so to my final book… what list of fictional schools would be complete without a tale of mean girls getting their comeuppance (and the obligatory weekly mention of Stephen King, of course)? Carrie was King’s first published novel, though it was actually the fourth one that he wrote. Set in the town of Chamberlain, Maine, the book uses newspaper clippings, articles, letters and reports to weave together the terrifying story of the town’s destruction. The protagonist is Carrie White, a sixteen year old who lives with her widowed mother Margaret, who is a fundamentalist Christian. The book begins with an iconic episode – Carrie’s period starts while she is showering after PE class. As her mother hasn’t explained menstruation, Carrie is terrified. Her classmates laugh and pelt her with sanitary products, much to the distaste and annoyance of their teacher Miss Desjardin. And then a lightbulb shatters over Miss Desjardin’s head… King’s novel is both a horror novel about a disturbed young woman with telekinetic powers, and a story about a misfit girl trying to cope with the perils and cruelties of high schools. One thing you can be sure of, though, is that it’s not going to end well.

Carrie was adapted into a film in 1976, starring Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. There was also a film sequel in 1999: The Rage: Carrie 2 (but I don’t recommend it).

To hear more about these books, and my reasons for choosing them, you can listen to Hannah’s Bookshelf – School’s Out! Edition here:

June 28, 2017

North Manchester FM: Hannah’s Bookshelf, Saturday 1 July, 2-4pm

Join me this Saturday at 2pm on North Manchester FM for Hannah’s Bookshelf. This week, my guest will be the fantastic A.K. McAllister (aka Al Keogh).

Born in Paisley, Al was brought up in Glasgow and Manchester. He’s the author of Colourquest, a storybook published by Flapjack Press and adapted for performance at the Salford Arts Theatre as part of the GM Fringe (Colourquest is on 6th-9th July). With his other hat on he’s a regular performer at spoken word and songwriter open mic nights in Manchester.

Al has worked in a bookies, a record shop and the building trade. He’s taught theatre, played in a post-punk band, and written a play for the Not Part Of festival. He’s also worked as a taxi driver for many years. His new project, Colourquest, is a fantastical adventure story about two children who live in a world without colour. Al likes Shakespeare, Beckett, Dylan Thomas, Irvine Welsh, northern soul, jazz, improvisation, punk/post punk, Motorhead, experimental art, curry, cheese and onion, Dr Seuss, thinking, taking photos and playing.

I’ll be chatting to Al about Colourquest (the book) and about the upcoming stage adaptation. We’ll also be talking about storytelling, performance and poetry. And, of course, Al will be sharing his selections for this week’s 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).

Missed the show? You can listen again here:

June 20, 2017

North Manchester FM: Hannah’s Bookshelf, Saturday 24 June, 2-4pm

Join me on Saturday at 2pm on North Manchester FM for Hannah’s Bookshelf. This week, I’ll be welcoming back the wonderful Sara Read, who was first on the show last April. We’ll also be joined via phone link by Jennifer Evans, Sara’s co-author on the upcoming book Maladies and Medicine: Exploring Health and Healing, 1540-1740.

Dr Sara Read is a lecturer in the School of Arts, English and Drama at Loughborough University, England. From 2012-2013 she was a post-doctoral fellow with the Society for Renaissance Studies. Her first monograph, Menstruation and the Female Body in Early Modern England, was published in 2013. After completing this project, Sara worked on miscarriage and pregnancy in literature an cultural texts. She is also the author of Maids, Wives, Widows: Exploring Early Modern Women’s Lives.

Dr Jennifer Evans is a Senior lecturer in History at the University of Hertfordshire. Her research focuses on gender, the body and medicine in early modern England. In particular, she is interested in issues of sexual health and reproduction. In 2012 she started work on a new project supported by a postdoctoral research fellowship from the Society for Renaissance Studies. The project investigates the relationship between masculinity and men’s sexual health in early modern England. Jennifer is the author of Aphrodisiacs, Fertility and Medicine in Early Modern England (2014). Along with Sara, Jennifer is a contributing editor of the Early Modern Medicine website.

We’ll be chatting about Maladies and Medicine, and about early modern medicine, fertility and healing in general. And as Sara made her selections last year, it’ll be Jen’s turn to make her choices for this week’s 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).

Missed the show? You can catch it again here:

Bonus content! If you’d like to find out more about Maladies and Medicine, check out this funky video by the authors:

June 14, 2017

North Manchester FM: Hannah’s Bookshelf, Saturday 17 June, 2-4pm

Join me on Saturday at 2pm for Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM. This week, my guest will be the brill Keith Hoare.

Born in Blackley and brought up Stretford, Keith eventually moved to London to work in the gaming industry, returning to the north some years later. Now retired and living just outside Accrington, with his partner and cat, he now spends his time writing. Keith is the author of twenty-one titles, spanning genres including crime fiction, fantasy and romance. His latest novel, Corrupt Money, is set in a run-down bingo hall in the north of England and delves into the work of organised crime and gambling.

We’ll be talking about crime, fantasy and bingo halls. And, of course, Keith will be sharing his selections for this week’s 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).

Missed the show? You can listen again here:

June 6, 2017

Some of the Finest Literary Castles

 

On Saturday, Hannah’s Bookshelf (on North Manchester FM) was all about some of my favourite castles in fiction. The show’s theme was inspired by my recent trip to Alnwick Castle in Northumberland. I love the medieval history and neo-gothic decoration of Alnwick Castle, and this got me thinking about some of the literary fortifications in the fiction I love. If you missed it, you can catch the show again on the player below. As promised, here are the details of the books I talked about – let me know in the comments if you think there are any gems that I missed!

Ywain and Gawain (14th Century)

For a lot of people, the idea of ‘castles in literature’ will conjure up images of the Middle Ages, so it seemed fitting to begin with something medieval. I decided to go with Ywain and Gawain – though it was a tough choice – a fourteenth-century romance about one of King Arthur’s knights. Ywain and Gawain is a retelling (not quite a translation, more a loose adaptation) of Chrétien de Troyes’ Yvain, or the Knight with the Lion, an Old French poem written in the twelfth century. It tells the story of the eponymous knight who, like so many other romance knights, is looking for a bit of adventure to fill his days. When another knight tells him about a magical fountain in the forest, Ywain rides out to find out – and ends up (obviously) fighting for his life.

There’s a lot more to be said about Ywain and Gawain – I’ve only mentioned the very beginning of the poem so far – but my focus on the show was on castles, and it’s during this huge fight that we get my favourite ‘castle scene’, in which the building itself seems desperate to join the battle.

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764)

If ‘castles in fiction’ didn’t immediately make you think of the Middle Ages, then perhaps it conjured up the image of a sinister Gothic castle. No list of literary castles would really be complete with a classic Gothic novel, and what better than the very first one?

Walpole’s novel features Isabella, an innocent young woman dragged into the horrors of Otranto by Manfred (our villain), who is determined to marry Isabella – despite already having a wife. Although we now understand The Castle of Otranto as a work of creative fiction written in the eighteenth century, when it was first published it proclaimed itself to be a translation of a manuscript from 1529. In this, and in its fascination with the labyrinthine dangers of the castle and the abbey (from which our heroine must escape), it sets the template for the first wave of Gothic fiction.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire (1995)

I felt that this list should have a fairy-tale castle on it somewhere, but I had real trouble deciding which one to include. In the end, I went for a retelling of a fairy-tale-like story, which is probably not quite the same thing! Regular listeners of my show will know that Maguire’s Wicked is one of my absolute favourite books.

Subtitled The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Maguire’s book tells the story of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz (and a whole lot of other story that isn’t found in Baum’s book) from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West, now given the name Elphaba. Maguire’s book has now been adapted itself into a massively success musical. I’ve included the book on this list for Kiamo Ko, the castle home of Fiyero, Prince of the Vinkus, with whom Elphaba has a complicated relationship throughout the novel. (NB: If you’ve only seen the musical, I should point out that this is part of the story is really really different in the book! Get Musical-Fiyero out of your head right now!) Elphaba retreats to Kiamo Ko in the final sections of Wicked. Because of the way Maguire weaves the events of Baum’s story into his own work, there’s something really chilling (and utterly compelling) about Elphaba’s relationship to Kiamo Ko… especially when you realize that you may have seen this castle, in another form, before.

The Castle by Franz Kafka (1926)

Having talked about ‘classic’ castles (medieval, Gothic and fairy tale), I turned to more modern treatments. What happens to castles in the twentieth and twenty-first century? What becomes of these imposing edifices when they’re no longer military fortifications or aristocratic seats?

The next book on my list is Kafka’s unfinished novel The Castle, which sees the eponymous structure put to work as the home of faceless bureaucratic authority. The protagonist K. is a land surveyor, called to a village by the castle authorities for some unspecified purpose. He has been instructed to meet with his official contact, Klamm, but arranging this meeting is not as easy as it seemed. Attempting to navigate the various administrative pitfalls, K. finds himself trapped in a village dominated by the castle and its officials (though we never see inside the edifice, nor really meet any of its inhabitants). Villagers praise the work of the castle, but their ambiguous and contradictory speeches reveal that no one really understands what, exactly, the officials actually do. Kafka’s work has become synonymous with claustrophobic and counter-intuitive bureaucracy, but The Castle is about much more than this. As K. is driven slowly mad by his situation, the novel makes us think about questions of individualism, isolation and salvation.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)

This next book offers a rather different castle. The castle in Smith’s novel serves no municipal or military function, but has been repurposed as a domestic residence (albeit a rather crumbling and ruined one).

Dodie Smith is perhaps better known as the author of 101 Dalmations, but her earlier novel is well worth a read. It is narrated by seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, a young woman with ambitions of being a writer, and who ‘captures’ the things that happen to her family in her journal entries. Cassandra’s father is a writer who, when his first novel sold well, took a long lease on a castle and moved his family into it. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to write anything more after that, and so Cassandra (along with her older sister Rose and brother Thomas) find themselves running out of money, trapped in a ramshackle castle in the middle of nowhere as their father gives in to his writer’s block. Things all change when an American family inherit the hall nearby – the arrival of Simon and Neil Cotton offer Cassandra and Rose the possibility of romance, but also the possibility of changing their situation and finding something more.

The Keep by Jennifer Egan (2006)

The final book on my list brings the castle right into the twenty-first century, though it’s undoubtedly still shadowed by all that has come before. Egan’s meta-fictional novel tells the story of cousins Danny and Howard, who were estranged after a cruel childhood prank almost killed Howard. As adults, the cousins reconnect when Howard (now rich and successful) persuades Danny to come and work with him in Eastern European – Howard has bought a castle, and he wants to transform it into a luxury hotel.

As is revealed fairly early on, the story of Danny and Howard is really a story-within-a-story, and there is more to this narrative than initially meets the eye. But this works really well. As the cousins become more and more involved (almost trapped) by the castle and its almost impossible geography, another story unfolds about imprisonment, confinement and escape. The castle is at the heart of this – as is its remaining resident, the Baroness von Ausblinker, who refuses to leave to make way for the hotel.

To find out more about the books featured on this week’s show, and about my reasons for choosing them, you can listen to the show again here:

June 4, 2017

North Manchester FM: Hannah’s Bookshelf, Saturday 10 June, 2-4pm

Tune in on Saturday at 2pm on North Manchester FM for Hannah’s Bookshelf. This week, my guest will be the brill Paul Morris.

Paul is the author of the children’s book, Time Traveller Danny and the Codebreaker, a time travel adventure that takes Danny Higgins into the secret world of Bletchley Park during World War II, where he meets Alan Turing. The book is part of the Time Traveller series, published by Stockport’s Seven Arches Press.

Paul has a very particular interest in writing a book featuring Alan Turing; his father was a practising lawyer and witnessed Alan Turing’s will when he lived in the town of Wilmslow, a few miles south of Manchester. Paul is himself a lawyer, but he has taken a break to follow his passion for writing. Although this is his first published book, his personal interest in this misunderstood genius provides readers with an exciting celebration of the brilliant man’s life.

I’ll be chatting to Paul about the book and his writing, and about Alan Turing. And, of course, he’ll be sharing his selections for this week’s Apocalypse Books.

Catch us 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: