Hannah Kate

poet, short story writer and editor based in Manchester

January 19, 2022

North Manchester FM: Hannah’s Bookshelf, Saturday 22 January, 2-4pm

Join me on Saturday at 2pm on North Manchester FM for more News, Reviews and Short Interviews on Hannah’s Bookshelf. Here’s what’s coming up on this week’s show…

An interview with Martin Gittins I first interviewed Martin back in August 2016, and we last caught up in November 2020. Martin Gittins is a retired deputy headteacher with a lifelong interest in local history. During last year’s lockdown he published three books describing the history of Crumpsall, Cheetham Hill Road, and Collyhurst and Harpurhey. He is currently researching his next project ‘A History of Bury New Road’, to coincide with the Bury New Road Project which will run for the next 9 months.

A review of a poetry pamphlet from Wild Pressed Books I’ll be reviewing How Not to Multitask by Jo Weston

A review of a new short story collection from Johnny Mains I’ll be talking about They’re Out to Get You, Volume One: Animals and Insects

And What Are You Reading?… the section of the show where I ask writers about the books they’re reading at the moment. This week I’ve got another selection of reviews and recommendations. And if you’re a writer who’d like to take part, check out this post with details of how to join in!

Plus… you can hear my round-up of news from the World of Words. If you’ve got a news story you’d like to share, please use the News Form to submit it to the show.

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

January 17, 2022

Read a Rainbow: Orange

On this week’s Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM, I was talking about all things orange in the second of my semi-regular series of colour-themed shows. I’ve ambitiously decided to follow the colours of the rainbow with this, so it’ll be yellow next time!

You can listen to the show on the player below, but as promised, here’s a list of the books I talked about on the show…

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)

I know I don’t always go for the obvious choices on my themed shows, but I couldn’t resist this time. As well as being (I think) the best-known book with ‘orange’ in the title, Anthony Burgess was born in Harpurhey, so it would have been rude not to include him on a North Manchester FM show! As I said on the show, A Clockwork Orange is one of those books that people are aware of without necessarily knowing what it’s about (and it has been somewhat overshadowed by Stanley Kubrick’s controversial film adaptation). Burgess’s satirical, dystopian novel follows Alex, a teenager involved in the ‘ultra violent’ droog subculture, committing crimes of increasing brutality. When Alex is sent to prison, a possible ‘cure’ for his violent tendencies is offered, but this will remove some of the young man’s free will. A Clockwork Orange isn’t an easy read, but it’s still a very thought-provoking one.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (1985)

The next book on my list was also a bit of an obvious one. Winterson’s 1985 novel is something of a coming-of-age tale, loosely based on the writer’s own upbringing. The protagonist is a young girl called Jeanette, who is brought up in a Pentecostal religious community and believes she is destined to be a missionary. However, Jeanette’s growing understanding of her own sexuality is at odds with the community (and with her mother’s beliefs), and she must find a way to navigate and stand up to this. Jeanette’s story is woven through with references to other literature, and the protagonist often understands her own identity through other literary figures. At times, this is almost like a quest or an adventure, and at others it’s more an interrogation of ‘story’ and the ways in which overtly fictional narratives can still be true, in a more fundamental way. This is the first book on today’s list that can really be called a coming-of-age tale, but this is a theme I kept coming back to on my orange-themed show.

Kumquat by Jeff Strand (2014)

Kumquat is an interesting book, as it’s an example of an author writing outside their more usual genre. Strand is much better known for writing comedy-horror, so Kumquat (a romantic-comedy road trip) is something of a departure. The book tells the story of Todd, a man in his mid-thirties who doesn’t really have much to show for his life. Todd meets Amy, a terminally ill woman, at a film festival, and somehow the two agree to go on a journey together to visit a really good hot dog place. There’s tenderness, comedy and a bit of tragedy as Todd and Amy’s relationship develops, as well as some unexpected encounters on the road. I’m not going to say anything more about the hot dog, but the book does do a good job in reminding us that it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters.

Tangerine by Edward Bloor (1997)

Turns out, there are a few books out there called Tangerine, but I wanted to include Bloor’s 1997 YA novel for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s a coming-of-age story with some fantastical (or heightened) elements, so it fits really well with the rest of today’s list. But secondly, it does have some descriptions of actual tangerine groves, so it was nice to be reminded that sometimes a fruit can be a fruit, rather than a metaphor! Tangerine is the story of middle-schooler Paul, who is visually impaired and a keen football player. A somewhat bizarre series of incidents lead to Paul attending Tangerine Middle School, on the other, poorer side of his town, and this kicks off another series of incidents that forces Paul to confront some difficult truths about himself, his family and his town. Tangerine is an off-beat coming-of-age story – not fantasy in the slightest, but still somewhat strange – and some of the revelations are pretty unsettling. But, like (almost) all the books on today’s list, it has a protagonist that you can’t help but root for.

Marmalade Hits the Big Time by Andrew Davies (1984)

I had to include this one on my list for the pure nostalgia. I loved Marmalade Atkins when I was a kid, and marmalade is orange, after all. In case you’re unaware, Marmalade Atkins – the worst girl in the world – was created by Andrew Davies. The first book was published in 1979, and the TV series was made a couple of years later. The books and series were very much of their time, in that they had that late 70s/early 80s anarchic feel that characterized a lot of kids TV back then. I chose Marmalade Hits the Big Time as an example of the series, and in this story Marmalade and her partner-in-crime Rufus (a talking, and very badly behaved, donkey) head to London together to cause trouble there. Although there’s a young heroine here, this is definitely not a coming-of-age story. Because Marmalade never learns.

The House of Rust by Khadija Abdalla Bajaber

This seemed like a really appropriate book to end today’s list (whether or not you agree with me that rust is a shade of orange!). A lot of the books on the list have been coming-of-age tales that engage with ideas of storytelling and the hero’s journey. Bajaber’s novel explores these ideas too, presenting its protagonist Aisha as a heroine on a journey within a fabulist – almost magical realist – narrative. Aisha’s life and community is defined by the sea, though as a girl she is encouraged to see her future in a more domestic setting. When her fisherman father goes missing at sea, Aisha sets out on a voyage of adventure and self-discovery, beset by fabulous perils and challenges. The House of Rust is a beautifully written book with a memorable heroine, and it was a great place to end today’s Read a Rainbow show!

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

January 8, 2022

A Year in Books: 1921

On this week’s episode of Hannah’s Bookshelf (my weekly literature show on North Manchester FM), I took a look back to 1921. I talked about some of the more interesting books that were published that year – all a matter of personal taste, of course! You can listen to the full show on the player at the end of this post, but, as promised, here’s the list of books I included on today’s show…

Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery

I started the show with an instalment of a beloved series, but a later instalment with a slightly different tone and focus. Rilla of Ingleside is the eighth book in Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, and it focuses on Anne’s daughter Rilla. Rilla begins the book as a fun-loving fifteen-year-old, looking forward to attending her first adult party, but when the outbreak of WWI means that her story takes a very different direction. This is a coming-of-age story, but not the one you might expect. The book is quite frank about the shadow the war cast over Canadian families, with some surprisingly sensitive exploration of the emotions experienced by young men who chose not to enlist. Rilla of Ingleside is somewhat sombre way to begin today’s list, but it’s characteristic of a certain tone that pervades a lot of the popular fiction of 1921.

Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim

This next book isn’t as well-known now as perhaps it should be, but it’s one of those books that, when you discover it, you want to be a bit hipster about it. Von Arnim’s novel tells the story of a naive and isolated young woman who falls into a relationship with an older, richer man. When the two marry, he takes her back to his imposing mansion, which she discovers is ‘haunted’ by the memory of his dead first wife, the eponymous Vera. Sound familiar? Vera shares a lot of ground with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and it’s a great antidote for those of us who found the later book a bit unsatisfactory in the resolution it offered to both of the Mrs de Winters. It’s a thoroughly unromantic exploration of an unhappy marriage (two unhappy marriages, really), with Von Arnim’s characteristic eye for dissecting human nature.

Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley

The next book on the list was the debut novel by Aldous Huxley. Set at a country house party for a collection of upper middle-class guests, Crome Yellow is a satirical look at social mores and fads, with some surprisingly frank comments on sex and sexuality. While Huxley might be better known now for Brave New World, Crome Yellow is worth a read to understand the development of the ideas discussed in the more famous book. Like a few of the books on today’s list, Huxley’s satire gives an indication of the various ways the shadow of the Great War lingered over 1921, with biting commentary on the failings of humanity (including a move towards a more selfish and individualistic society) suggesting possible causes for the war and its aftermath.

The Witch-Cult in Western Europe by Margaret Murray

This next book is one that’s been highly influential over the past century, though many people don’t realize it. In 1921, Margaret Murray published an anthropological study of pre-Christian religious practice in Western Europe, arguing that ‘witchcraft’ (as it was identified by the Inquisitions) was in fact a surviving remnant of a pagan religion. The book was based on numerous misconceptions, and it was (and continues to be) debunked by various historians and anthropologists. However, the idea of a pre-Christian pagan religion that survives in ‘witchcraft’ practices has proved to be an incredibly attractive one to the popular imagination, and Murray’s hypothesis directly influenced the development of neo-paganism and the modern conception of Wicca. It’s quite amazing to think that some of the ideas Murray posited here are only actually a hundred years old.

The Coming of the Fairies by Arthur Conan Doyle

The next book is probably better known that Margaret Murray’s, but it’s an equally odd one. First published in newspapers in 1921, and then collected into a book the following year, Arthur Conan Doyle’s exploration of Faerie and the ancient creatures that live there was a response the Cottingley Fairies photographs. Although the pictures had pretty much been debunked by late 1921, Conan Doyle stuck to his belief that two young girls had successfully photographed a group of fairies. On the show, I suggested that both Conan Doyle and Murray’s books – while seeming a little far-fetched or historically inaccurate – were indicative of a growing interest in alternative spirituality and spiritualism that would feed into the development of neo-paganism later in the twentieth century. I’m not sure if this was definitely a response to the war and the pandemic, but it’s certainly suggestive of a search for meaning in a rather terrifying world.

The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer

The final book on today’s list was the one that I suggested was most influential – in literary terms at least. The Black Moth was the debut novel by Georgette Heyer, and her first Regency romance. As I explained on the show, this book was at the vanguard of the redefinition of ‘romance’. Prior to the 1920s, ‘romance’ as a literary category was understood as tales of adventure, exotic travel, derring-do and the occasional supernatural occurrence (like Dracula or White Fang – both of which were marketed and reviewed as romances on publication). Along with the Mills and Boon publishing house, the work of Georgette Heyer was instrumental in shifting focus onto books aimed at female readers, in which exotic travel and feats of derring-do served as the backdrop for a heterosexual love plot. And thus, romance fiction as we now know it was born.

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

January 5, 2022

Hannah’s Bookshelf: What Are You Reading?

Writers! Want to share your reading reviews and recommendations on the radio? I’d love for you to take part in What Are You Reading? on Hannah’s Bookshelf in 2022!

What Are You Reading? is a monthly feature on Hannah’s Bookshelf (my weekly literature show on North Manchester FM), in which writers tell us a bit about the books they’ve been enjoying recently. And, of course, there’s an opportunity to say a little something about your own work or upcoming publications as well.

Taking part is really easy, and you can send in as many contributions as you like. All you need is a microphone and an internet connection. When you’re ready to send something in, just hit the ‘Start Recording’ button below, and then submit it when you’ve finished recording.

A few more details that might help:

– Make sure you introduce yourself and your work at the beginning of your recording. Start with something like ‘Hi, this is Writer McWriterson, author of the Books O’Pages series of novels…’

– Aim for a maximum of 5 minutes, though there’s plenty of flexibility with timings

– Talk about what you’ve been reading recently, including whether or not you’d recommend the book to others

– Don’t forget to plug anything you’ve got coming out soon as well, if that’s relevant

– And please remember to include your name and email address when you submit your recording (you’ll be prompted to do so)

– If you’ve got any queries, or need an alternative method of submission, please just email me

Ready to go? I hope so!

December 30, 2021

Be My Guest on Hannah’s Bookshelf in 2022!

So… we’re coming to the end of 2021… and I’m starting to put together the schedule for a new year of Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM. I’m hopefully going to be able to do both live (in our studio in North Manchester) and remote interviews (via Skype)… and I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to be on the show.

Writers, academics, publishers, editors, booksellers, librarians… I’d love to interview you for the show! In case you don’t know, Hannah’s Bookshelf is the weekly literature show on North Manchester FM, every Saturday at 2-4pm. The archive of previous years’ shows is here, and you can check out previous guests’ Apocalypse Books selections here. Fancy coming along and chatting about your own work? Email me via the contact form, tweet me, or send me a voicemail.

And don’t worry if you’re not in the North Manchester area (or even in the UK)… I’d still love to hear from you. Drop me a line. 🙂

December 28, 2021

Hannah’s Bookshelf: Round-Up of 2021

It’s time for my annual round-up post of the past year on Hannah’s Bookshelf, my weekly literature show on North Manchester FM. It’s been a bit of busy year on the show, as I returned to full-length interviews, mostly (but not entirely) done remotely in the virtual studio. I also caught up with some of the show’s previous guests in shorter interviews throughout the year. As well as this, I continued to review fiction and theatre, and put together themed reading lists for my Special Editions. All sorts of stuff, really.

Below is a round-up of everything that happened this year on the show, but I’d like to say a big thanks to North Manchester FM for letting me continue to haunt their airwaves and to Rob Shedwick (aka Digital Front) for being my unofficial producer on the show.

I started the year off with a themed show. This tradition started off as sort of a joke, but it’s become a bit of a habit of mine to begin the year with a post about books from a century ago. So, instead of doing a round-up of books from 2020, I talked about books from 1920. You can see a list of the books I featured on that show here.

It was an absolute pleasure to get back to doing full-length interviews again in January, and the first two guests I welcomed to the show were Anthony Briscoe and Andy Redsmith. I also got chance to catch up with a previous guest on the show, Rachel Mann.

And I also reviewed a couple of books in January. I talked about Love, Sex and Death, a poetry collection by Hallie Fletcher, and Whispers, a novel by Bonné Bartron this month.

February was all about the new guests on Hannah’s Bookshelf. I had four full-length interviews on the show this month. I talked to Beverley Butcher, Julian Edge, Katherine Horrex, and Diarmid MacArthur.

In March, I welcomed Jack Horner and Allison Symes to the show. I also caught up with previous guests Lucy Hounsom and Jeanette Greaves.

In addition this, I reviewed three novels: Key to Yesterday by Jonathan Young and Dennis Houghton, The Searching Dead by Ramsey Campbell and Blood Moon by Catherine Lundoff. And I also talked about Dear People of No Colour, a short film by Esosa Ighodaro (part of the Homemakers from HOME programme).

This month saw the return of the (Not Quite) Live Poetry Special, featuring performances this time from Chris Campbell, Sunita Thind, Elisabeth Horan, Tony Harrison, Hadley-James Hoyles, Martin Elder, Chris Neilson, Dorinda MacDowell, Christopher Monk, Bridie Breen, Kate Wilson and Katherine Horrex. You can see more info about all of these poets here. And also in April, I had a themed show, with a reading list all about fictional Hairdressers and Barbers. You can see a list of the books featured in that episode here, and a playlist of the music I chose to fit with the theme here.

Also in April, I welcomed two new guests to the virtual studio for interview: Simon Michael and Rose Cullen.

In May, I interviewed Jo Weston, Barrie Condon and Ian Taylor. I also spoke with Caroline Kelly about the upcoming Festival of Libraries, and caught up with previous guest Kim Bannerman.

And this month, I reviewed two non-fiction books (All Sorts of Things Might Happen: The Films of Jenny Agutter by Ian Taylor and The Author Who Outsold Dickens: The Life and Work of W.H. Ainsworth by Stephen Carver), a collection of short stories (Whisky for Breakfast by Christopher Mooney) and a film (Godzilla vs Kong).

June began with my Festival of Libraries Special, in which I spoke to a number of the people involved in Manchester City of Literature‘s inaugural Festival of Libraries, including Ivan Wadeson (Executive Director of Manchester City of Literature), Fergus Wilde (librarian at Chetham’s Library), Mike Garry, Rosie Garland, Charlotte Wetton, Lydia Hounat, Anjum Malik, Ruth Yates, Michelle Collier, Ella Otomewo and James Holt. You can see more about the festival and the guests on this special episode here.

I welcomed Bonnie Meekums and Gaynor Jones to the show in June, and caught up with previous guest Barbara Angela Kealy.

Finally, this month saw reviews of two novels on the show: Somebody’s Voice by Ramsey Campbell and Matilda Windsor is Coming Home by Anne Goodwin.

Lots of interviews this month… I spoke to Tom McColl, Matt Cook, Johnny Mains and Hadley-James Hoyles. And I also caught up with Ramsey Campbell.

Also in July, I reviewed The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada, a book by Angela Buckley, and The Global Playground, a dance performance by Theatre-Rites.

I had one themed show in August, and it was a Mystery Theme to celebrate my birthday! You can see a list of books (and also find out the theme) in this blog post, and you can hear a playlist of the music I featured on the show here.

My first interview of the month was an exciting one, as it was the first live studio interview I’d done since 2019! It was a pleasure to welcome Louise Finnegan to the actual studio! Of course, it was also a pleasure later in the month to welcome Anne Goodwin to the virtual studio, and then to catch up with Jamie Ryder.

I also reviewed two books in August: Keir Starmer: The Unauthorised Biography by Nigel Cawthorne and The Nurse Who Became a Spy: Madge Addy’s War Against Fascism by Chris Hall.

I had two special editions in September. First up, it was my Greater Manchester Fringe Special, featuring a number of the performers, writers and directors taking part in this year’s GM Fringe Festival. There’s info about all the acts that took part in the show here. Later in the month, I did another themed show, and this time the theme was Radio (a bit of an obvious one, really). You can see a list of the books I talked about here, and there’s a playlist of the music from the show here.

In addition to this, I spoke to Christopher Mooney and Alan Bilton.

But wait… there’s more… I had three extra shows in September! On 14th, 21st and 28th September, I hosted three Hannah’s Bookshelf GM Fringe Reviews Specials, featuring reviews of the shows I saw this year at the festival.

Two special editions this month… one was a colourful themed show, all about the colour Red. You can see a list of the books I featured on this show’s list here, and a playlist of the music I played here. The other special edition was my annual Halloween Special, featuring this year’s 3 Minute Scares competition (which was won this year by Rachel Halsall and judged by Ramsey Campbell). As is tradition, I presented the Halloween Special in fancy dress.

Also in October, I interviewed Gill James (another live-in-the-studio interview!) and Lesley Affrossman.

And there was still time for a few reviews. I talked about The Ballad of Maria Marten, a play by Eastern Angles, Sandy, a play by Peripeteia Theatre Company, and Born to the Dark, a novel by Ramsey Campbell.

And more content this month! The second series of Ten Tales: Ghost Stories for North Manchester started in October, with weekly original stories from me every Friday throughout the winter. The stories broadcast in October were Redeem Thy Misspent Time (set in Blackley Village) and Nocturne (set in Crumpsall).

Plenty of interviews this month… I spoke to Paul McQuade, John Darwin and Phillip Carter. And I caught up with old friends of the show Sarra Culleno and Heather Burnside.

Just one review in November, of Safely Gathered In, a short story collection by Sarah Schofield.

And there were four more Ten Tales stories this month as well: The Third Uncle George (set at Blackley Cemetery), The Ice Palace (set in Cheetham Hill), Bradshaw’s Vinegar (set in Moston) and Wireless (set near Heaton Park).

There were two interviews and two reviews in December before things got a bit festive on Hannah’s Bookshelf. I welcomed Sarah Schofield to the show, and I caught up with Christopher Monk. I also reviewed two novels: Being Amani by Annabelle Steele and Loving Country by Julian Edge.

After that, there were two festive specials in December. First, it was my 3 Minute Santas Pre-Christmas Special, featuring a selection of flash fiction from Dorinda Ann MacDowell, Lisa Williams, Fiona Linday, Allison Symes, Rosemary Johnson, Amanda Steel, Andy N, Rosie Cullen, Julian Edge, Martin Elder, Michael Forester and Tony Harrison. And then it was my Christmas Special, in which I talked about a selection of festive books that were published this year. You can see the list of books I featured on the show here.

There were also four more Ten Tales stories in December: Peril in Darkingford (set in Cheetham Hill), Cream Crackers (set in Crumpsall), Nut-Nan in the Hazel (set around Boggart Hole Clough) and the festive finale One Hundred and Thirty Aged Men Sat Down to an Excellent Dinner (set in Prestwich).

Just one show left (sort of) this year… and I hope you’ll tune in!

Coming up at 2pm on Saturday 1st January, it’s the Hannah’s Bookshelf New Year Special. Tune in to hear my personal Apocalypse Books highlights of 2021. As always, you can listen on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).

Happy New Year!

December 27, 2021

Happy Christmas! Some Festive Book Recommendations

This year, the Hannah’s Bookshelf Christmas Special on North Manchester FM was on Christmas Day (Saturday 25th December). As has been tradition on the show for a while, I devoted the episode to a selection of festive fiction to enjoy with your Christmas pudding. And, in a tradition that started last year, I only to included books that were published this year. You can listen to the show again on the player below, but, as promised, here are the books that I featured on this year’s festive list…

Midnight in Everwood by M.A. Kuzniar

The first book I talked about on today’s show was Midnight in Everwood, a (loose) retelling of The Nutcracker. Kuzniar’s novel opens in Nottingham in 1906, with a young woman called Marietta who dreams of being a ballerina. Unfortunately, Marietta’s family have other plans, particularly when they become rather beguiled by their new neighbour, Dr Drosselmeier. Marietta wants to dance, not to be married off to a man of her family’s choosing. But when Dr Drosselmeier constructs a special set for Marietta to perform at Christmas, she finds that she has even bigger things to worry about. The spell Dr Drosselmeier has been weaving turns out to be more magical than she thought, and Marietta is transported to Everwood, a fairy tale setting with a dark shadow looming over it. With lusciously festive settings and poetic, descriptive prose, this is a delightful Christmas read. Perfect for the season… and a perfect way to start of this year’s Christmas Special!

Gifts by Laura Barnett

Gifts is an equally festive book, though its setting is somewhat less fantastical. Barnett’s novel is set in a fictional small town in the present day. It’s set at Christmas – of course – and specifically it’s set the year after a Christmas spent in lockdown. Gifts is a novel, but it’s a novel told through twelve separate but interlocking short stories. In each chapter (each story) a different character reflects on their relationship with another, trying to weigh up the perfect gift to buy for that person. As the stories unfold, we find characters coming to terms with the previous Christmas, dominated as it was by a sense of isolation and loss. The gift-hunting becomes a way of working through this – and working through the complexities and occasional heartbreak of those relationships that were changed as a result of lockdown – and the book ultimately becomes a story about kindness, humanity and those connections that we all promised we’d never taken for granted again.

Stay Another Day by Juno Dawson

And now to a book that’s quite different… and yet, still quintessentially Christmas. Stay Another Day is the story of the McAllister siblings – Fern, Rowan and Willow – who are getting together at the family home for Christmas, but who are each bringing a few secrets with them. Dawson’s YA novel is a sweary, funny, sometimes in-your-face book about three young people who are working out their next steps in adult life, but it’s also a book that goes to some dark places, exploring issues of mental illness, self-harm and eating disorders in a direct way. That said, it is a festive book, because what could be more Christmassy than a difficult family get-together? I enjoyed the way Dawson’s writing created a relatable and engaging sibling dynamic, but also the way it captured something about the effect returning to the parental home as a young adult can have (i.e. that reversion to certain childish behaviours). This is a different sort of Christmas story to the previous two books, but it’s still undeniably festive (even when it’s probing at the more difficult aspects of family celebrations).

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

The next book offers a quite different take on the festive season, but one which still feel quintessentially Christmas (if a little more muted and thoughtful). Keegan’s novel is set in Ireland in 1985, in a small town dominated (in a rather mundane way) by the church. The protagonist is a coal merchant named Bill Furlong, who is working his busiest time of year in the run-up to Christmas. Bill’s life isn’t too bad, though he knows that it could be better, and he lives with his wife and five daughters. One day, as Bill is making a delivery to the convent, he discovers something that he believes is wrong, and he must decide whether to do the right thing (and risk his family’s security) or turn a blind eye. Small Things Like These is a novel that takes the simple and small aspects of life and situates them clearly within in the bigger picture. It is a story about the cruel and brutal things humans can do to one another, but it is also an exploration of kindness, compassion and redemption, which seems so apt for the season.

The Haunting Season

The next one was pretty much a no-brainer for me as soon as I saw it. Taking its cue from the long tradition of Christmas ghost stories, The Haunting Season is a collection of new short fiction from eight acclaimed writers. The stories differ somewhat in style, tone and setting, but the collection is unified by an atmospheric and evocative focus on both haunting (in its broadest sense) and the season (with some, but not all, of the stories specifically set at Christmas). With stories by Imogen Hermes Gowar, Bridget Collins, Natasha Pulley, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Elizabeth Macneal, Laura Purcell, Andrew Michael Hurley and Jess Kidd, this is perfect winter reading – I only wish now I’d read it by candlelight!

From Shetland, With Love at Christmas by Erin Green

And the final book on today’s list was From Shetland, With Love at Christmas. I wanted to include a book that was more definitively ‘cosy’, and it seemed fitting to include one that falls into the chick-lit genre (and I don’t mean that term in any derogatory way), as this is such a popular Christmas genre. I was drawn to Green’s book partly for the setting – it’s set in Lerwick on Shetland – and partly because of the interesting narrative technique she uses. The story is told from three alternating first-person perspectives: Nessie, Verity and Isla are three women who have arrived at Lerwick Manor to work in various craft-related jobs. While the book does have two romance plots, it’s really a story about female friendship, following your dreams, and, of course, preparing for the Yule Day celebrations on the island. A lovely way to round off today’s festive reading list!

To hear more about all of these books, you can listen to the show again here:

December 27, 2021

Hic Dragones: Winter Writing Prompts (Week 2)

Last week, I wrote a series of winter-themed writing prompts for Hic Dragones, the dark fiction small press where I’m editor-in-chief. I continued the series this week, posting daily prompts with a slightly heavier Gothic-inflection on the Digital Periodicals social media.

Digital Periodicals is a series of eBook editions of Victorian penny bloods, remastered and formatted for your reading pleasure by Hic Dragones. You can buy the titles as complete editions, or in instalments for that true penny dreadful experience.

My prompts went out daily on the Digital Periodicals social media, but here they all are in one place.

December 21, 2021

Hic Dragones: Winter Writing Prompts (Week 1)

Following on from my Clayton Hall-inspired writing prompts, this week I’ve been posting another series of slightly weirder winter-themed prompts for Hic Dragones, the dark fiction small press where I’m editor-in-chief. Each day this week, a mini writing exercise has been published on the Hic Dragones social media to stimulate the darker corners of your imagination. And then next week, there’ll be daily writing prompts on the Digital Periodicals social media as well.

Here’s all this week’s posts in one place for you.