Hannah Kate

poet, short story writer and editor based in Manchester

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:

May 29, 2017

Literary Nostalgia: Back to 1991

On Hannah’s Bookshelf this week (on North Manchester FM), I decided to have a bit of a nostalgia-trip to the year when I became a teenager… 1991. I picked out a selection of my favourite books published that year and talked about them on the show, accompanied (of course) by a selection of some classic pop tunes from 1991. As promised on the show, here’s a rundown of the books that were featured this week. You can also listen to the whole show on the player at the end of this post.

The Liar by Stephen Fry

The Liar was Stephen Fry’s first novel, and it features the utterly unreliable narrator Adrian Healey. Interspersed with enigmatic chapters in third person that describe various acts of espionage, the story of Adrian’s life is described, with a focus on three key moments in his life: his time at public school, his time at a (fictional) Cambridge college, and his time assisting his tutor Donald Trefusis in an international intrigue. I’ve mentioned my fondness for unreliable narrators on the show before, and Adrian is a great example. It’s probably best to keep the title of the book in mind as you’re reading, because Adrian’s story is often very very convincing! A number of reviewers have also pointed out similarities between incidents in the novel and those recounted in Fry’s autobiography Moab is My Washpot (1997).

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

Winner of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, A Thousand Acres tells the story of Larry Cook, the irascible (and increasingly unhinged) owner of a farm in Iowa. When Larry unexpectedly announces that he intends to leave farming and pass ownership of the farm to his three daughters – Ginny, Rose and Caroline – the Cook family is thrown into turmoil. The book is told from the perspective of Ginny, a farmer’s wife and Larry’s main caretaker. Ginny and her sister Rose raised Caroline after their mother’s death, and encouraged to leave the farm to practice law in Des Moines. With Larry’s announcement and the return of Jess Clark, their neighbour’s prodigal son, Ginny and Rose must face up to what the future might hold for them – but they also have to deal with the shadows of the past. A Thousand Acres is an interesting reimagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear, with Ginny and Rose offering up an fascinating altered perspective on Goneril and Regan. The book was adapted for film in 1997, with Jessica Lange as Ginny, Michelle Pfeiffer as Rose, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Caroline.

The Story of Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson

Jacqueline Wilson’s novel tells the story of ten-year-old Tracy Beaker, who lives in a children’s home (rather unaffectionately known as ‘The Dumping Ground’). Tracy is an unhappy and badly behaved girl, who was taken into care after suffering neglect at the hands of her mother. When Cam Lawson visits the home to write an article about the children, Tracy decides to help her out by telling her own story, and the two eventually bond. Written as a series of diary entries and filled with exaggeration, anger, honesty, creativity and sadness, The Story of Tracy Beaker is a very entertaining and original read. It was followed by sequels The Dare Game (2000) and Starring Tracy Beaker (2006), and was adapted into a very successful CBBC series starring Dani Harmer as Tracy and Lisa Coleman as Cam.

Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture by Douglas Coupland

I talked a bit (okay… a lot) on the show about Generation X and how I feel about belonging (just) to the generation of people known as ‘slackers’, ‘latchkey kids’ and the ‘MTV generation’. Obviously, it seemed appropriate to discuss the book that popularized the term. Coupland’s book was a sleeper hit, but it defined a certain zeitgeist of the early 1990s. The book takes a look at the lives of three protagonists who live in Southern California – Andy, Claire and Dag – and the ways they attempt to navigate life in ‘an accelerated culture’. Andy works as a barman – a ‘McJob’ (the other term that was popularized by Coupland) – and is trying to free himself from the pressures of a materialistic, capitalist culture. Dag is a Canadian who lives in fear of nuclear war, and Claire is torn between the freer ‘true’ existence of Dag and Andy, and the relationship she is building with yuppie Tobias. The novel’s structure is interesting: it has a frame narrative, but then fragments into stories told by different characters (some of which are made up), with Parts 2 and 3 introducing various new characters into the mix. The book feels a little dated now, and its focus is very SoCal, but rereading it brings back something of the cultural atmosphere of the early 90s like catching a whiff of perfume on an old set of clothes. I particularly enjoy the chapter titles, as they’re pretty much slogans for a generation: for instance, ‘I Am Not a Target Market’, ‘Purchased Experiences Don’t Count’, ‘MTV Not Bullets’.

Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord by Louis de Bernières

This is the second book in de Bernières’ Latin American trilogy, which began with The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts (1990) and continued with The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman (1992). While this trilogy isn’t as well known as de Bernières’ fourth novel, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (1994), I actually prefer them. Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord is set in a fictional Latin American country (with echoes of Pinochet’s Chile and 1970s Uruguay). When the eponymous philosophy lecturer, Dionisio Vivo, writes a series of letters and articles condemning drug barons and the government, he is brought to the attention of ruthless coca lord El Jerarca. His unbelievable escapes from El Jerarca’s assassins sees Vivo elevate to the position of saviour (or Messiah) in many people’s eyes, and women from around the country begin to follow him in the hope of bearing his child. The story is deeply inspired by the magical realist tradition, and it’s quite a dizzingly surreal read at times. But it’s also got a lot of quite searing satire in it as well, and its targets are pretty clear. Personally, I think the third book is even better than the second – but I’d recommend working through the whole trilogy to be fully immersed in this off-beat little world.

Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

Okay, so this one is a little bit of a cheat, as the English translation of the book didn’t come out until 1995, and on previous shows I’ve always used the date of the first English version of the book (if I originally read it in English, of course). But Gaarder’s Sofies verden was published in its original Norwegian in 1991, so I’ve decided it counts for this show. Gaarder’s novel begins with 14-year-old Sophie Amundsen receiving some mysterious communications: several messages and a postcard addressed to a girl called Hilde Møller Knag, then a packet of papers beginning a course in the history of philosophy. Sophie becomes the pupil of Alberto Knox, who leads her through the history of philosophy from the Pre-Socratics onwards, attempting to give the young girl the tools to answer the questions: ‘Where do we come from?’, ‘What are thoughts?’ and ‘Are we living in a dream?’ While Knox teaches Sophie about the ways in which people (mostly – as young Sophie herself points out – men) have attempted to answer those questions, the pair try and outwit the mysterious and seemingly omnipotent Albert Knag… before facing up to an astounding revelation. Gaarder’s book is a lively and engaging tale, with lots of information for those new to philosophy. And – maybe more importantly – it’s a really fun read.

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

May 14, 2017

North Manchester FM: Hannah’s Bookshelf, Saturday 20 May, 2-4pm

Tune in to North Manchester FM on Saturday at 2pm for Hannah’s Bookshelf. This week, my guest will be the fantastic Jo Thomas.

Jo Thomas (at least this one) is a speculative fiction author and editor who tends towards dark fantasies. She is the author of the Elkie Bernstein novels (25 Ways to Kill a Werewolf, A Pack of Lies and Fool if you Think it’s Over), and the co-editor of the Fox Spirit European Monsters and African Monsters anthologies.

I’ll be chatting to Jo about her writing, and about monsters. 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:

May 6, 2017

North Manchester FM: Hannah’s Bookshelf, Saturday 13 May, 2-4pm

Join me this Saturday at 2pm for more Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM. This week, I’ll be welcoming the lovely J.M. Sullivan to the show.

J.M. (aka Julie) is the author of Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles. Her debut has been hailed as a dark fantasy version of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland with an undead twist. When she isn’t busy spinning fairy tales, you’ll find her on Twitter, where she is the host of the monthly writing game, #AuthorConfession.

I’ll be chatting to Julie about her debut novel, Alice, and the joys of Twitter writing games (amongst other things). And, of course, she’ll be sharing her selections for this week’s Apocalypse Books.

Tune in at 2pm on Saturday 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:

May 1, 2017

North Manchester FM: Hannah’s Bookshelf, Saturday 6 May, 2-4pm

Join me on Saturday at 2pm on North Manchester FM for Hannah’s Bookshelf. This week, my guest will be the fantastic Gareth L. Powell.

Gareth is an award-winning author from Bristol. His alternate history thriller, Ack-Ack Macaque, won the 2013 BSFA Award for Best Novel, spawned two sequels, and was shortlisted in the Best Translated Novel category for the 2016 Seiun Awards in Japan. His short fiction has appeared in a host of magazines and anthologies, including Interzone, Solaris Rising 3, and The Year’s Best Science Fiction, and his story ‘Ride The Blue Horse’ made the shortlist for the 2015 BSFA Award. Gareth is currently working on a new trilogy for Titan Books. The first volume, Embers Of War, will be published in Feb 2018 and followed by two sequels, Fleet Of Knives and Light Of Impossible Stars. He can be found on Twitter via @garethlpowell.

I’ll be chatting to Gareth about alternate histories, writing speculative fiction and (obviously) the wonderful Ack-Ack Macaque series. And, as always, he’ll be sharing his selections for this week’s Apocalypse Books.

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: