Hannah Kate

poet, short story writer and editor based in Manchester

October 15, 2017

Buzzing! Some of my Favourite Literary Bees

Last Saturday, Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM had a bit of an apian theme, as I talked about a selection of my favourite books about nature’s magic pollinators… bees! You can listen again to the show on the player below, but (as promised) here’s a list of the books I included on the show. Let me know in the comments if I missed out your favourite!

Side note: I started off the show by mentioning a couple of cool beekeeping projects in North Manchester that you might like to check out. These were Medlock Bees (who meet at the New Moston Club on Parkfield Road North), the Manchester and District Beekeepers Association (whose headquarters are at the Dower House in Heaton Park) and the Baytrees Bee Project in Harpurhey. If you know of any others, please let me know in the comments.

And then it was on to the books! Here are the ones I featured on the show…

Coffin Road by Peter May (2016)

This was the book that inspired this week’s theme, as I was part way through reading it when the show was broadcast. Peter was a guest on the show back in April, and I’ve talked about his books a few times. Coffin Road is set mostly on the island of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, so I was really looking forward to reading it (we spent part of our honeymoon on Harris and absolutely fell in love with the place).

Coffin Road begins with a man washed ashore on Luskentyre beach, with absolutely no memory of who he is or how he came to be in the sea. As he struggles to piece together his identity, he discovers two confusing things: he may well have been involved in a murder, and he has hidden a series of beehives on the Coffin Road. Are these things connected? How can they be? Coffin Road weaves together a whodunit (made more complicated by the fact that one character doesn’t know who he even is) with a thriller that touches on very real concerns about the future of bee colonies across the world. And, of course, it’s all told with Peter’s distinctive and captivating sense of place.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (2001)

Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Melissa Owens, a 14-year-old white girl who lives with her abusive father T. Ray and motherly maid Rosaleen. Lily is haunted by jumbled memories of killing her mother when she was a small child. When Rosaleen is arrested and badly beaten for trying to assert her newly-enshrined right to vote, Lily helps her escape from the hospital and the two go on the run. They are guided only by a picture of the Virgin Mary as a black woman with the name ‘Tiburon’, which had belonged to Lily’s mother.

On arriving at Tiburon, Lily and Rosaleen discover that it is home to the headquarters of Black Madonna Honey, which is run by the Boatwright sisters (August, May and June). The runaways are welcomed into the business, and Lily is taught about beekeeping and honey harvesting. Of course, she learns a little something else along the way. There are plenty of actual bees in Kidd’s book, but also a good dollop of apian metaphor as well: honey and beeswax are a balm that heals life’s pains, and bees are symbolic of order and harmony. Though the book touches on some pretty dark subject matter, it is, as one reviewer put it, ‘more honey than vinegar’.

The Secret Life of Bees was adapted into a film in 2008, starring Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo, Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Hudson.

Royal Jelly by Roald Dahl (1960)

Moving away from honey now to another bee-favourite: royal jelly, the substance secreted by honey bees and used to feed larvae. Roald Dahl’s characteristically dark short story presents this substance in somewhat more sinister light.

First published in the anthology Kiss Kiss in 1960, ‘Royal Jelly’ was republished in the Tales of the Unexpected anthology and in Twilight Zone Magazine in 1983. It introduces us to Albert and Mabel Taylor, an ordinary couple who are tending to their newborn daughter. The baby is struggling to eat, and the Taylors are beginning to fear for her health. But then Albert, a keen beekeeper, hits on a solution that he believes will solve the problem. And it does… though there may be some additional consequences.

‘Royal Jelly’ is one of Dahl’s well-loved ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, and it was adapted in the second series of the TV series of that name (in 1980). Albert was played by Timothy West, and Mabel by Susan George.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Or, On the Segregation of the Queen by Laurie R. King (1994)

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is, perhaps, one of literature’s most famous beekeepers. As we discover in the short stories ‘The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane’ and ‘His Last Bow’, Holmes retired from Baker Street to keep bees on the South Downs in Sussex. He even, as we might have expected, wrote a textbook on the subject: Practical Handbook of Bee Culture with Some Observations Upon the Segregation of the Queen.

A number of writers have revealed a fascination with Holmes’s beekeeping retirement, and a desire to return to the elderly detectives Sussex seclusion. Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution: A Story of Detection has the (unnamed, but undoubtedly Holmes) detective as an old man living out his days with his hives, as does Mitch Cullin’s A Slight Trick of the Mind (upon which the film Mr Holmes was based). But I decided to include Laurie R King’s Mary Russell series on my list today, specifically the first book in the series.

Mary Russell begins the series as a 15-year-old Jewish American girl who comes to live in Sussex after the death of her family. There she discovers the great detective (middle-aged here, rather than elderly), and soon becomes his apprentice. It’s not only beekeeping that Holmes encourages Mary to pursue, and the young woman ends up reading Chemistry and Theology at Oxford. A few years later, when Holmes is consulted on a kidnapping case, Mary truly becomes his apprentice – paving the way to become a whole lot more in the future.

King’s series is quirky continuation of Conan Doyle’s Holmes – though some purists might not be happy with certain directions the character takes – and the books are people by an array of characters, from familiar faces (Dr Watson, Mrs Hudson, Mycroft), to cameos by other fictional detectives (such as Lord Peter Wimsey) and appearances by historical figures and writers (e.g. Sabine Baring-Gould and Dashiell Hammett). There are now fourteen books in the series, including A Letter of Mary, The Moor (which sees another hound stalking Dartmoor) and Locked Rooms.

Holmes’s bees come and go in the series, with some plots drawing heavily on their presence, and a number of the books making reference to Holmes’s textbook on beekeeping. While the books really focus on Mary and her relationship with Holmes, the fact that the detective is now also a beekeeper is never really far from our minds.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (2009)

The next book I included is really only because of one particular character, but it really is a very good book and so I don’t see why it shouldn’t be on the list!

The Year of the Flood is the sequel to Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, which tells the story of ‘Snowman’ (or Jimmy as we later know him), a man adrift in a post-apocalyptic world. As the novel unfolds, we flashback to Snowman’s pre-apocalyptic life, unravelling the part he played in the destruction of the human race and the devastation of the planet’s wildlife. Revealing the appalling end-point of corporate bioengineering, genetic manipulation and manufacted extinction events, Oryx and Crake is one part science fiction, one part stark warning about humanity’s future.

The Year of the Flood picks up where Oryx and Crake left off, introducing two new characters: Toby and Ren, women who have, like Snowman, survived the apocalypse against the odds. The book is told in flashbacks from both women’s perspectives. Where the first book focused on the corporate world to which Jimmy/Snowman is inextricably bound, its sequel focuses on the lower class people of the ‘pleeblands’, and specifically a group of cult-like self-sufficient farmers known as ‘God’s Gardeners’.

For the purposes of this list, the member of God’s Gardeners of most interest is Pilar (also known as Eve Six or The Fungus). One a senior scientist, Pilar now specializes in bees and mushrooms. She teaches new recruits the ways to handle bees and the importance of keeping their colonies alive. But there is a spiritualism infused in Pilar’s beekeeping – she believes that bees are the messengers to the dead. Although Pilar is not a main character as such, her wisdom and philosophy – and her bees – have a profound impact on the novel’s protagonists.

Atwood completed her trilogy with MaddAddam, which reveals a bit more about Pilar and offers a final resolution (and potential note of hope) to her post-apocalyptic tale.

The Forbidden by Clive Barker (1985)

How could I end this list without a little spoonful of absolutely classic horror?

Although perhaps better known through its film adaptation, Clive Barker’s short story ‘The Forbidden’ (which was published in the fifth volume of the Books of Blood anthology series) puts bees in a very different light to the previous titles on my list.

It tells the story of Helen Buchanan, a PhD student who is photographing graffiti for her thesis project. Helen wanders in a council estate called Spector Street – she ‘had seldom seen an inner city environment so comprehensibly vandalised’ – and starts to take pictures of its graffiti. She meets a woman named Ann-Marie, who tells her that the estate has been plagued by horrific acts of violence – acts which have been hushed up by the press and the police. Helen isn’t sure how far she can believe Ann-Marie, but when she stumbles into an abandoned maisonette daubed with a huge and imposing image of a face, she begins to wonder if there’s something evil at the heart of Spector Street.

The hideous vandalism bears the legend ‘Sweets for the sweet’ – a line that Helen can’t quite place, but which she finds deeply unsettling. As she reflects, there is something about ‘the sheer overabundance of sugar upon sugar, honey upon honey’ that discomforts her. The secrets and conspiracies of the residents of Spector Street converge with this sickeningly honeyed warning and Helen’s stubborn disbelief to conjure up the embodiment of all that is deeply wrong. Someone is coming… someone who smells of candyfloss and whose torso hums with a disturbing buzzing noise.

As I said, ‘The Forbidden’ is probably better known for the 1992 film adaptation Candyman, starring Tony Todd and Virginia Madsen. The film altered the setting from an unnamed northern city in the UK to the Cabrini-Green area of Chicago – changing and expanding the backstory of the eponymous apparation (and his bees) as well. The film is brilliant, but it’s well worth reading the short story. The sense of the troubled geography and community of Spector Street is very well-done, and the eventual appearance of Candyman – ‘this honeyed psychopath’ – is utterly and compellingly wrong.

And on that unsettling note, my apian-themed show came to an end.

To learn more about all of these books, and my reasons for choosing them, you can catch my Apian Special episode of Hannah’s Bookshelf here:

October 14, 2017

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

Tune in to North Manchester FM on Saturday for Hannah’s Bookshelf. This week, my guest will be the brilliant Shona Kinsella.

Shona is a Scottish fantasy author who lives on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond with her husband and three children. Her debut novel Ashael Rising was published by Unbound in February 2017. Shona’s short fiction has been featured in BFS Horizons and she can be found writing flash fiction on Patreon. When she’s not writing or wrangling children, she can usually be found with her nose in a book.

We’ll be talking about Shona’s fab debut novel, fantasy and world-building – and, of course, she’ll be sharing her selections for this week’s Apocalypse Books.

Catch us on Saturday at 2 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:

October 10, 2017

North Manchester FM: Hannah’s Bookshelf, Saturday 14 October, 2-4pm

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

Caroline studied Law at the University of Manchester and made Manchester her home. She has had short stories and poems published in a variety of literary publications and anthologies. Her debut novel, Beneath the Skin, was published by Avon HarperCollins on 5 October 2017.

I’ll be talking to Caroline about Beneath the Skin, short stories and all things creative writing. 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:

October 10, 2017

North Manchester FM: A Helping of History, Tuesday 10 October, 12-2pm

Tune in to North Manchester FM on Tuesday at 12 for the first ever Helping of History show!

I’ll be talking about some of the stories, characters and events that have shaped North Manchester. Tuesday’s show will be the first Helping of History, so I’d like you to get involved and let me know the sorts of things you’d like to hear about on the show. Got an interesting story about North Manchester’s past? Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn more about? Text the studio on 07555 461066 or tweet me @HannahKateish.

Also on the show, you can play along with my new Who am I? quiz – can you recognize the North Manchester building from the clues? And find out about what was happening on this day in history, when I read Yesterday’s Papers.

Catch A Helping of History on Tuesday at 12noon 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:

October 7, 2017

Coming soon! A Helping of History on North Manchester FM

Exciting announcement alert!

Starting on Tuesday 10th October 2017, I’ll be presenting a brand new show on North Manchester FM. A Helping of History – every Tuesday, 12-2pm – is all about local history. It’ll feature stories of colourful characters, bygone buildings and the events that shaped the place that we live. There’ll also be guests, interviews and music – and you can get involved by calling or texting in to the show. Check out the North Manchester FM website for details.

For updates on upcoming shows, you can follow my Facebook page or Twitter. I’ll also be posting details on this blog as well.

And don’t worry… Hannah’s Bookshelf isn’t going anywhere! I’ll still be taking my regular trip to the world of literature every Saturday, 2-4pm.

So make sure you tune in the A Helping of History (Tuesdays, 12-2pm) and Hannah’s Bookshelf (Saturdays, 2-4pm) on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).


September 25, 2017

Gothic to Goth: a weekend course in London

Come and take a trip to the dark side…

This October, I (or rather, my alter ego Dr Hannah Priest) will be running Gothic to Goth, a weekend course at the V&A in London. With lectures over two days, the course will cover everything from Bram Stoker to Robert Smith… from Sweeney Todd to Edward Cullen… from Strawberry Hill to Silent Hill.

Gothic to Goth will be on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd October, 11-4pm. I’ll be giving lectures on penny dreadfuls, Gothic romance and horror literature/film, and there’ll be some other wonderful lecturers giving talks on Gothic architecture, Dracula, Goth music and Alexander McQueen.

You can register for the course via the V&A website (info about course fees can also be found here), but here’s a little taste of what the programme will look like…

Saturday 21st October

Session 1. The Gothic Past
Lecturer: Dr Hannah Priest
Session 2. Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill
Lecturer: tbc
Session 3. Penny Dreadfuls and Victorian Pulp Fiction
Lecturer: Dr Hannah Priest
Session 4. Enter Dracula
Lecturer: Dr Sorcha Ní Fhlainn, MMU

Sunday 22nd October

Session 1. Goodbye Romance, Hello Horror
Lecturer: Dr Hannah Priest
Session 2. Dark, Punk and Goth
Lecturer: Professor Isabella van Elferen, Kingston University
Session 3. Gothic Style and Alexander McQueen
Lecturer: Claire Wilcox, V&A
Session 4. The Gothic Future
Lecturer: Dr Hannah Priest

Weekend courses at the V&A give you the opportunity to spend a couple of days immersing yourself in a topic, learning from experts, and enjoying the splendour of the V&A building.

To find out more about Gothic to Goth, or to register for the course, please click here for details.

September 25, 2017

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

Tune in on Saturday at 2pm on North Manchester FM for this week’s Hannah’s Bookshelf. My guest this time will be the brilliant Adrian Farrel.

Adrian is the author of Tales from the Wood, and many other fairy tale-inspired short stories. He’s also an innovator and standards-maker in Internet routing, working within the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) where he has participated in the development of many of the technologies that underpin the Internet. The mechanisms he helps invent are not visible to the normal user of email of the web, but are essential to how our access to the Internet is provided, making him more like an Internet plumber than a rocket scientist. Having co-authored almost 70 IETF specifications (known as RFCs), Adrian is acutely aware of the value of precision in language, but he also believes that even technical documentation has a right to flourish and not be dry as dust. He has carried this principle into the six reference books and numerous papers he has written, co-authored, or edited.

Writing fairy stories came as a surprise to Adrian and has developed into something somewhere between an obsession and a sickness. With fifty-eight stories published across three volumes there is no sign of the well drying up and new tales keep popping up, unbidden. Some are reworkings of well-known stories familiar to us from our childhoods, but with different perspectives; others tales were inspired by all manner of sources from Chinese folktales to obscure collections made in the nineteenth century; and some of the stories are completely original sharing only an atmosphere and archetypes with the old fairy stories.

Adrian lives and works in Llangollen in North Wales, but does most of his writing on long-haul flights and in hotel bars around the world.

I’ll be talking to Adrian about all the different types of writing that he juggles, including his own take on traditional fairy tales. And, of course, he’ll be sharing his 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:

September 20, 2017

3 Minute Scares is back for its second year!

North Manchester FM presenter Hannah Kate wants you to scare her this Halloween! She’s asking people throughout Greater Manchester to submit their scariest 3-minute stories for her annual creative writing competition. Writers keen to be crowned Greater Manchester’s spookiest wordsmith can submit a recording of their mini-tale via Hannah’s website, with the best entries being played on air on the Halloween edition of Hannah’s Bookshelf on Saturday 28 October. Winners will also have the chance to read their story at the Boggart Hole Clough Halloween Lantern Parade later that evening.

The Halloween flash fiction competition will be judged by horror author Simon Bestwick and Dr Sorcha Ní Fhlaínn of MMU’s Centre for Gothic Studies, with the writer of the best entry receiving a prize from Breakout, Manchester’s real life escape room game. Entries need to be 3 minutes long, meaning a word count of 350-400 words. The judges will be looking for style and originality, as well as how scary the story is.

Last year’s competition was won by Ian Peek, with a terrifying little tale about Jack o’Lanterns. North Manchester FM presenter Hannah Kate says: ‘Ian set the bar pretty high with his winning entry last year, but I’m looking forward to seeing what this year’s competition brings. The standard of entries from all over the region last year shows that there’s a lot of talent for terrifying out there.’

All writers need to enter the competition is a computer with a microphone… and a good story. Entries can be recorded via Hannah’s website. More information and rules of the competition can also be found on the website.

Hannah’s Bookshelf is North Manchester FM’s weekly literature show, and it goes out live every Saturday 2-4pm. The show has been running since January 2015 and has featured guests including Rosie Garland, Ramsey Campbell, Tony Walsh and Gwyneth Jones. The show broadcasts on 106.6FM for North Manchester residents and through the ‘listen online’ feature for the rest of the world.

September 20, 2017

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

Catch Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM this Saturday at 2pm. This week, my guest will be the fantastic Tony Williams.

Tony is a writer based in Northumberland. His novel Nutcase (Salt, 2017) is a retelling of the medieval Icelandic Saga of Grettir the Strong set in present-day Sheffield. He has also published a book of flash fiction, All the Bananas I’ve Never Eaten (Salt, 2013), which won Best Short Story Collection at the Saboteur Awards. His poetry books have been shortlisted for the Portico, Aldeburgh and Michael Murphy Prizes, and his pamphlet All the Rooms of Uncle’s Head (Nine Arches, 2012) was a Poetry Book Society pamphlet choice. He is Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Northumbria University.

Tony will be doing a launch event for Nutcase in Manchester on Thursday 28th September, 6pm, at MMU Writing School, along with Antony Rowland, who will be launching his new poetry collection M.

I’ll be talking to Tony about Nutcase, sagas, flash fiction and Sheffield. 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).

Missed the show? You can listen again here:

September 13, 2017

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

Tune in to North Manchester FM on Saturday at 2pm for Hannah’s Bookshelf. My guest this week will be the brill Sara L. Uckelman.

Sara is an assistant professor of logic and philosophy of language at Durham University by day and a writer of speculative fiction by night. Her research interests include interactive logic and questions of meaningfulness, especially the unique issues of meaning that fiction, and especially fanfiction, pose. She has had short stories published in Pilcrow & Dagger and Story Seed Vault and forthcoming in anthologies published by Hic Dragones and Jayhenge Publications, and is one of the organizers of the new SFF Reviews website.

I’ll be talking to Sara about her academic work, as well as her fiction, and about her new review site. 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 listen again here: