Hannah Kate

poet, short story writer and editor based in Manchester

May 23, 2020

Clayton Hall: Writing Prompts (Week 3)

Over the last three weeks, I’ve been posting writing prompts inspired by some of the places associated with Clayton Hall. I stared with the hall itself, then went to Crumpsall Park. This week, I moved to Bailey’s Wood.

Bailey’s Wood (in North Manchester) is a remnant of the medieval Blackley Deer Park. In the late Middle Ages, the Byron family were the subinfeudatory lords of Manchester. Their house was at Clayton Hall, and the Blackley park was one of their hunting grounds, stretching from the edge of Harpurhey into Alkrington. When the Byrons lost the last of their money and power in the seventeenth century, Humphrey Chetham bought Clayton Hall, and Humphrey Booth bought a portion of the Blackley park, where he built Booth Hall. In 1894, part of the Booth Hall estate was sold to Manchester Corporation, who turned it into Boggart Hole Clough. The other part, with the hall and Bailey’s Wood, was sold to the Prestwich Guardians, who tore down the hall and built Booth Hall Hospital. The hospital is now gone – there’s a new housing development in its place – but Bailey’s Wood remains as an ancient woodland and former farmland, nestled between the Booth Hall and Crosslee estates.

Each day this week, my park-inspired writing prompts have been shared on the Friends of Bailey’s Wood social media, but here they all are in one place for you.

May 17, 2020

Clayton Hall: Writing Prompts (Week 2)

Last week, I posted a series of writing prompts inspired by Clayton Hall. For the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be travelling around the story of the hall, and posting prompts inspired by some associated places. This week, I began with Crumpsall Park.

Crumpsall Park (in North Manchester) is a remnant of the Chetham estate. Humphrey Chetham (1580-1653) was born in Crumpsall Old Hall, which stood at the Cheetham Hill end of the estate, but the family’s lands stretched over what is now Crumpsall Park (opened as a municipal park by Manchester Corporation in 1899). As an adult, Humphrey Chetham moved to Clayton Hall, where he lived for the rest of his life.

Each day this week, my park-inspired writing prompts have been shared on the Friends of Crumpsall Park social media, but here they all are in one place for you.

May 9, 2020

Clayton Hall: Writing Prompts (Week 1)

Due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis and lockdown, Clayton Hall is currently closed to the public. The volunteers are looking forward to welcoming visitors back to the museum as soon as they’re able to, but in the meantime, as the Hall’s writer-in-residence, I’ve put together some short writing exercises inspired by the Hall and the things you can find there. These were shared on the Hall’s social media each day this week, but here they all are in one place for you!

May 3, 2020

Clayton Hall: An Alliterative Poem

Last year, Clayton Hall held a ‘Book at Bedtime’ funday event for children and families. They had loads of different activities on, and kids were encouraged to come along dressed as their favourite characters. As the Hall’s writer-in-residence, I was there to do a poetry activity. Or rather, the Wicked Witch of the West was there…

The Wicked Witch of the West was writing a poem about Clayton Hall, but she needed the children to help! Because she’s the Wicked Witch of the West, she loves alliteration, and so she asked all the children to think of their very best ‘h’, ‘c’ and ‘ch’ words to add to the poem. And wow! the kids were really helpful!

By the end of the day, the Wicked Witch of the West had a huge list of excellent ‘h’, ‘c’ and ‘ch’ words. All she had to do was take those words and make them into a poem.

It was a bit of a challenge fitting all the words together (and some of them had to be saved for another time), but in the end the Wicked Witch of the West had a slightly silly alliterative poem inspired by the children’s imaginations and the hall. Hope you like it…

A Chair for Mr Chetham

An alliterative nonsense poem by Hannah Kate and the children who visited Clayton Hall

Near a hut that’s a home and a hot hot hot tub,
there’s a huge hungry hedgehog who’s out on a hunt,
and a hen hopping round in a horrible hood.
They’re helping at home-time and hurrying here,
to the house with a heart and a HUMPHREY.

A chatterbox chicken is eating some cheese,
and a cheeky cheetah cheats at a challenge,
like a chuckling charming champion.
There are chalks and charcoals inside the church,
and a chimney and a chair for Mr CHETHAM.

The colossal cow thinks he’s catching a cold,
the clumsy caterpillar climbs over the cloth,
and the cackling crocodile bakes cakes with the cat.
There are clicking clocks and Christmas Cups
in this colourful cabin in CLAYTON.

Hisses and hiccups and a horrendous howl!
A haunted hammer is hitting the hedge,
and the hyperactive hamster hides in his hole.
The hippy hippopotamus puts his hat on his head,
and goes home to a happy hello at the HALL.

April 19, 2020

An Update on Hannah’s Bookshelf & A Helping of History

This is a slightly belated update – sorry about that! But you may have noticed that there’s been no new episodes of Hannah’s Bookshelf since New Year, and I wanted to fill you in on where things are up to with North Manchester FM and my shows.

As you might remember, North Manchester FM was fundraising for a move to a new station. Thank you so much to everyone who supported our crowdfunding campaign (either by offering a donation or recording a message of support). I really appreciated that.

Sadly, the crowdfunding wasn’t successful. However, North Manchester FM was able to secure some last-minute contingency grant funding and a new premises. Yay!

The station’s move took a little longer than expected, and we weren’t been able to broadcast live shows during that time. So Hannah’s Bookshelf and A Helping of History went on hiatus until the new studio was ready, and we knew what the new schedule would be. As part of the changeover, a new transmitter was due to be installed, to restore a reliable FM signal for broadcasting.

And things were progressing nicely with the new studio, with plans for us all to be back on air… in mid-March. Ah.

The world, as you know, had other plans. The UK lockdown has meant that we can’t properly move into the new studio, and the new transmitter has not yet been installed. However, with some technical magic, North Manchester FM is now streaming via the website (with all content being produced and scheduled remotely) and we’re hoping to have the FM signal sorted soon.

Hannah’s Bookshelf and A Helping of History will continue to be on a bit of a break for now, as the pressures of my day jobs during the current crisis mean I don’t currently have time to produce full-length shows at home. The good news is that I have an archive of over 370 shows from the five years I’ve been on air – all available to you for free here. To get you started, there are round-ups of all the episodes of Hannah’s Bookshelf and A Helping of History on my blog.

I’ve also made all 10 of my Ten Tales: Ghost Stories for North Manchester available again, so if you missed them the first time round you can listen to them here.

I’m really hoping that Hannah’s Bookshelf will be back on air at some point soon. And I hope you’re all keeping safe and well.

Big thanks once again for your continued support for the show and for community radio. It really is appreciated.


Hannah x

December 27, 2019

A Helping of History: Round-Up of 2019

I’ve had another really enjoyable year of presenting A Helping of History, my local history show on North Manchester FM. I’ve told loads more stories of North Manchester’s past, welcomed some fantastic guests to the studio, and been out and about at various events and exhibitions. I’ve also done my weekly read of Yesterday’s Papers, looking at the local papers from 1941 through the year. Here’s 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 haunt the airwaves and to Rob Shedwick (aka Digital Front) for being my unofficial producer on the show.

The 2019 Helping of History show schedule began in January with a show dedicated to Corporation Housing in Blackley, and this was followed by a programme about the proposed (but failed) incorporation of Failsworth with Manchester at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The next show in January was my first interview of the year, when I spoke to Owen Hammond about Broughton House (past, present and future). This show also featured a short interview with Sir Richard Leese about progress in the sad case of Crumpsall Library. The final show of the month featured Three Tales of Old Collyhurst.

I began February with a show about one of the North Manchester ‘power families’: Meet the Chethams. This was followed by an episode devoted to a particular strand of Prestwich history… the history of public punishment (think Star Chambers and stocks)! I also welcomed a couple of guests to the show this month, to talk about some really interesting projects that explore and celebrate our local history. I spoke to Katrina Navickas about her academic History of Public Space project, and to Julian Hill about the Our Life theatre project, which is looking to gather stories from local people about the communities of Moston and Harpurhey.

This month, I decided to start including theatre reviews on my other show, Hannah’s Bookshelf. However, I quickly found that I didn’t always have enough space on that show for this content, and so I sneaked a few of them in on A Helping of History as well. This month, I review 2084 and Tea and Two Sugars. Given the content of my shows this month, I think these theatre reviews fit quite well!

March began with an interview with the Theatres Trust about their Theatres at Risk register. In this interview, we talked about Broughton’s Victoria Theatre, and so the second half of the show was devoted to looking at the opening ceremony of that theatre (and the famous visit from Bram Stoker). The next show this month was a chance to go back to a selection of the iconic North Manchester buildings featured on last year’s Who Am I? quiz, and then the week after I had a little wander through a book about the local area: Crofton’s History of Newton.

The final Helping of History this month included two interviews. I spoke to author Denise Beddows about her book, The Cheetham Hill Murder: A Convenient Killing?, and to the People’s History Museum about their new exhibition, Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest.

Two episodes about particular area of North Manchester for the first half of April… the first was all about the incorporation of Crumpsall into Manchester, and the second was about the history of Langley. These were followed by a show explaining some of the curious place and street names in the area – Fourways, Vauxhall Court, Chain Bar and Middleton Old Road.

On St George’s Day, I presented a Special Edition of the show recorded the previous day (Easter Monday) at the Middleton Pace Egg play. And then the final show of the month was an interview with Alexandra Cropper at the Manchester Jewish Museum, in which we talked about the very exciting renovation plans for the museum in the coming few years.

In addition to all this, I also included a cheeky theatre review in April. This time, it was a review of Visitors.

I started this month by interviewing local historian Les Leggett about the former Crumpsall Wesleyan Methodist Cemetery, which was on the site of the current Cheetham Hill Tesco car park.

The next show in May was all about the history of Drinkwater Park and Irwell House. Then, there was another opportunity to revisit some more of the landmark North Manchester buildings that were included in last year’s Who Am I? quiz. And finally, I talked about the story of Young Langley (an heir of the Langley family in the fourteenth century) and the legend of his abduction by Robert de Holland.

This month started with a rare crossover interview with Hannah’s Bookshelf. I played an edited version of an interview from my literature show with Polyp and Eva Schlunke about their new graphic novel about the Peterloo Massacre. And then I had a show featuring Three Tales of Old Chadderton.

Two really excellent guests in the second half of the month… I spoke to Zara Hakobyan about the Aratta projects looking at Armenian heritage in Greater Manchester – and as a bit of bonus content in this show, I also included some miscellaneous stories of Moston’s past – and then I spoke to Jacqui Carroll of REELmcr about their new community film about Samuel Bamford, Our Sam – The Middleton Man.

In addition to all this, I also managed to fit a theatre review in as well – a review of Yvette.

This month, I presented episodes of the show on Hannah Mitchell, Barnes Green and the trial of Sidney Faithorn Green of Miles Platting (and this show also included a little additional story about the Miles Platting Mission). I also had a show featuring a Cheetham Hill Miscellany, with a number of curious little stories about the area, and an episode looking at the Queen’s Park Hippodrome and the Blackley Electric Theatre.

As it was festival season in July, I had a lot of theatre reviews on the show this month. I reviewed productions in the Incoming Festival: The Basement Tapes, Electrolyte and No One is Coming to Save You. And in the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival: Gobby, Wake Up Maggie!, People are Happy on Trains, Blue Lines, The Joy of Cam, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Rice, socially [un]acceptable, Drowning in Silence, Memoires d’un amnesique, Frozen Peas in an Old Tin Can and The Greek. Phew.

In August, I very much enjoyed co-presenting a show (on my birthday!) with fellow North Manchester FM presenter John Barker. We covered lots of birthday and anniversary events, including the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre and the 120th anniversary of the opening of Crumpsall Park.

Crumpsall Park also featured in the next show in August, in which I talked about the Crumpsall Observatory and also about William Crabtree observing the Transit of Venus in Broughton. The final show of the month was all about myth-busting – I asked listeners to text in with things they’ve ‘always believed’ about our local history, and we talked about whether or not they were actually true!

This month began with another visit to the People’s History Museum, to talk about their new exhibition, The Most Radical Street in Manchester?. The exhibition features some of Katrina Navickas’s research into the History of Public Space, which she talked about when I interviewed her back in February. In the second half of this week’s show, I followed up my interview about the PHM exhibition by talking about the Boggart Hole Clough Prosecutions, which were one of the consequences of the Independent Labour Party rallies that took place in the Clough.

The next show in September featured Three Tales of Old Alkrington. One of those tales intrigued me so much that I devoted all of the next show to exploring it further: The Singular Disappearance of the Old Man from Jumbo. (And you might have noticed that I really was taken by this story, as it inspired one of my Ten Tales: Ghost Stories for North Manchester as well!). And then the final show this month was all about Scuttling on the Rochdale-road.

I included a couple of theatre reviews on the show this month as well: No Man’s Land and Red Dust Road.

October on A Helping of History saw me talking about Heaton before Heaton Park, and then the history of Strangeways Hall. As this latter broadcast was interrupted before the end, I returned to the story of Mrs Margaret Taylor of Strangeways the following week as well. I also presented a show in October dedicated to the Listed Buildings of Heaton Park.

As this month also saw celebrations to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Citizens Advice Manchester, I invited Rosi Avis of CAM (who also presents the Here to Help show on North Manchester FM) onto A Helping of History, and we talked about the history and development of the organization.

One final bit of October content… another theatre review! This time it was of Thunder Girls.

This month, I looked at some collections of curious tales about specific areas of North Manchester. First, it was tales of sport in Cheetham Hill, then it was Miscellaneous Middleton, and finally a Prestwich Pot Pourri. The final show of November was all about Tripe Colony in Miles Platting.

December started off with rather a big question – and what that I should probably have addressed a long time ago on the show – what is North Manchester? To explore this, I looked at the Curious Case of Beswick. The next show this month was all about trains! I looked at the history of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, and its significance for the North Manchester area (and beyond).

And then things got a bit festive… I looked at what I called some ‘Christmas Crackers’ – little curiosities from the local papers about Christmases past. And then I shared some Christmas Memories on my Christmas Eve show – reminiscences from North Manchester residents about the festive season.

Just one show left this year in 2019!

On New Year’s Eve, I’ll be presenting a Yesterday’s Papers Special, reading the local papers from the week between Christmas and New Year, 1941. As always, you can catch the show on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).

Happy New Year!

December 27, 2019

Hannah’s Bookshelf: Round-Up of 2019

I had a pretty full-on year presenting Hannah’s Bookshelf in 2019. As usual, I’ve welcomed some absolutely fantastic guests to the studio, as well as recording interviews with writers from further afield (much further in some cases!). I’ve also featured some great original fiction and poetry, and themed reading lists for my Special Editions. 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 haunt their airwaves and to Rob Shedwick (aka Digital Front) for being my unofficial producer on the show.

The Hannah’s Bookshelf 2019 schedule began on the 5th January with a Recent Reads show, where I reviewed a selection of the books I’d read the previous months. My first guest of the year was on the show the following week – Isabelle Kenyon of Fly on the Wall Press. Also in January, I also interviewed Jaki McCarrick and Comma Press’s Ra Page.

As we’ve done for the past few years, volunteers from North Manchester FM were at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival on Friday 25th January, broadcasting live from the event. You can hear my highlights of the festival show here.

I began February with a bit of literary nostalgia in my first themed show of the year – Back to Y2K. You can see details of the books I talked about on the show in this blog post. My first guest of the month was Roger Foss, and I also interviewed Ged Austin. Finally in February, I hosted my (now) annual Live Poetry Special. You can see details of the wonderful poets who appeared on that show in this blog post.

February also saw the introduction of a new feature on the show – theatre reviews. On Hannah’s Bookshelf this month, I played reviews of Dave Gorman’s stand-up tour, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, SparkPlug and Tea and Two Sugars.

In March, I welcomed Antony Rowland, Susan Barrett and Pamela Turton to the NMFM studio.

Also this month, I hosted a couple of Special Editions of Hannah’s Bookshelf. The first was a That’s What She Said Special, featuring interviews with a number of writers taking part in the TWSS performance night. You can see more about the writers featured in this show in this blog post. As a little bit of bonus material, this show also featured interviews with Manchester International Festival about the launch of their 2019 programme, and with contributors to Practicing Place: Creative and Critical Reflections on Place, a new book launched in Manchester in March. The second Special Edition was my Manchester Irish Writers Special, to mark the group’s 25th anniversary. You can see more about the group and the writers featured on the show in this blog post.

Four fantastic interviews in April. I began with a transatlantic interview with Pepper Gomez, and then I chatted with Jack Barrow and Barry Faulkner. The final interview of the month was with poet Benjamin Guilfoyle.

Also in April, I played out another theatre review – of Kingdom this time.

And another four amazing guests on the show this month! May began with an interview with Icy Sedgwick. Then I had my first ever interview with a writer based in Africa (Nairobi, to be specific): author Vered Ehsani. In the second half of the month, I spoke with Tim Major and Frank Burton.

And another theatre review on the show this month – I played out my review of a recent production of Richard III.

There was quite a lot going on in June! I began with an interview with Paul Fitzgerald (aka Polyp) and Eva Schlunke. And then, I had my first ever interview with a guest based in Australia (I’m really working my way around the globe): Kaite McKenna. This show also included, as bonus content, an interview with the Shaw Centre about a new book of stories written by centre-users.

On the 15th June, North Manchester FM was on the road again. Myself and other volunteers were at the University of Manchester Community Festival, speaking to various presenters and researchers about their work. You can hear my highlights of the festival here. And then I presented another Recent Reads show, in which I talked about the books I read the previous month. There was a little bit of bonus content on this show as well, as it included an interview with the directors of the Greater Manchester Fringe, a little preview for the final show of the month… my Greater Manchester Fringe Special. In this show, I spoke with writers, performers and directors taking part in various shows on the programme at this year’s GM Fringe. You can see information about all the productions featured on the show in this blog post.

As if this wasn’t enough, I also reviewed a couple of theatre shows in June as well: dressed. and The Hired Man.

July began with another Special Edition. Like last year, I was at the Portico Sadie Massey Awards for Young Readers and Writers this year, and I interviewed a number of the prize-winners, organizers, teachers and guests. I was also joined in the studio by Paul Morris and Martin Griffin, two of the judges on this year’s prize. You can see more about the guests on the show in this blog post.

The next show of the month was a themed show: Angry Books. You can see a list of the books featured on the show in this blog post. The following week was an unthemed show, as unfortunately the planned interview that week was cancelled. It was actually a lot of fun chatting randomly about books, inspired by a few texts from listeners, of course!

As July was GM Fringe month, there were a lot of reviews of fringe theatre production on the show this month. I reviewed Underwater, The Yank is a Manc! My Ancestors and Me, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, The Empathy Experiment, The Suitcase, the Beggar and the Wind, The Death of a Muse, The Melting of a Single Snowflake, skank and Holy Land!

Three fantastic guests and two themed shows in August. This month, I interviewed D.M Wolfenden, C.J. Harter and Elizabeth Ducie.

My themed shows were on Fictional Comedians – and you can see the books I talked about on the show in this blog post – and Fictional Astronomers – the reading list is in this blog post.

September kicked off with a couple more themed shows. First, I tackled Fictional Letter-Writers (i.e. books that revolve around a character and their correspondence, rather than writers of fictional letters). You can see the books that I talked about on the show in this blog post. And then, in honour of Friday 13th, I looked at some Bad Luck Books – and you can see the titles that were on my list in this blog post.

I also had two great guests on the show this month. I interviewed Leanne Beadle and Michael Forester.

October started with an interview with Jack Nolan, followed by an interview with Denise Beddows (who had previously appeared on A Helping of History, my local history show on the station.

Then I took a little look at some of my favourite Literary Twins, and you can see the books that made that list in this blog post. The final show of October was my Halloween Special, featuring the runners-up and winners of this year’s 3 Minute Scares competition. As is now tradition, I presented this show in fancy dress. Not ideal for radio, but that doesn’t seem to stop me!

I also had another theatre review in October. This time it was Pizza Shop Heroes at the Orbit Festival.

Loads of interviews in November! I started the month speaking to Rose Condo, one of the performers whose GM Fringe show I reviewed in July. And then I interviewed Laura Harper, who was one of the creatives whose GM Fringe show I sadly missed this year (and I was extra gutted about that after speaking to Laura about her work).

The month continued with interviews with Sarra Culleno, Isobelle Cate and Rachel Mann.

And so to December and the end of another year. I began the month with an interview with Judy Morris and Elaine Bousfield of ZunTold Press. This was my final studio interview of 2019, but it was a lovely one to end with!

And then it was jingle all the way for Hannah’s Bookshelf! My pre-Christmas Christmas Special once again featured some festive flash fiction submitted for this year’s 3 Minute Santas, and then (as is now tradition) my Christmas Special featured a run-down of some recommended reads for the festive season. You can see the books I chose for this year’s Christmas List in this blog post.

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

Coming up at 2pm on Saturday 28th December, I’m doing my end-of-year show. Tune in for my personal Apocalypse Books highlights of the year. 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 21, 2019

Happy Christmas! Some Festive Book Recommendations

This year, the Hannah’s Bookshelf Christmas Special on North Manchester FM was on Saturday 21st December. As is now tradition, I devoted this show to a little selection of festive fiction to enjoy with your stollen. 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…

Mistletoe by Alison Littlewood (2019)

I thought it would be good to start this year’s list with a recently published title. Littlewood’s novel came out just in time for Halloween, though it’s really a Christmas book (as the title suggests). Mistletoe is a ghost story – and unashamedly so – with lots of the ingredients that make for a compelling festive read.

Grieving the deaths of her husband and son, Leah moves from Manchester to a remote farm in Yorkshire. Maitland Farm is dilapidated and remote, but it has a family connection for Leah. However, as soon as she moves in, she’s beset by a series of creepy and unsettling incidents that suggest something supernatural may be afoot. The story entwines the troubled history of Maitland Farm (which has a mystery at its heart) with Leah’s own issues, and the past and present begin to blend in sometimes disturbing ways. Mistletoe is a Gothic Christmas tale – full of snow and folklore – with the eponymous plant working as an important symbol throughout the narrative. Leah moves to Maitland Farm, in part, to avoid Christmas, but it seems that some aspects of the season simply refuse to be ignored.

With Our Blessing by Jo Spain (2015)

Another evocative tale now, which also uses elements of the Gothic to conjure up a pretty creepy Christmas story (though in a different genre to Mistletoe). Spain’s debut novel, With Our Blessing, is a crime novel set in Ireland.

The story is set in 2010 and begins with the discovery of the body of an elderly woman in a Dublin Park. The woman’s body has been mutilated and displayed. It doesn’t take long for the police to discover that the woman was a nun – which puts a different complexion on the case. The book actually begins with a prologue, set in 1975, in which a baby is removed forcibly from its mother. This prologue, along with the discovery of the nun’s body, sets the stage for a story about a dark feature of Ireland’s history – the Magdalene Laundries. D.I. Tom Reynolds is brought onto the case, and he travels to an isolated convent with his team to investigate. The fact that it’s the run-up to Christmas, and that the convent gets snowed in shortly after the Gardaí arrive, makes for a very atmospheric story. And Spain’s characterization – particularly of Reynolds and his team – combines with this atmosphere to create a very compelling novel.

With Our Blessings is the first in Spain’s D.I. Reynolds series. It was followed by Beneath the Surface (2016), Sleeping Beauties (2017), The Darkest Place (2018) and The Boy Who Fell (2019).

The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter (1903)

Another book set in the run-up to Christmas (though one that is mercifully free of gruesome murders and ghosts). For many years, Potter claimed that The Tailor of Gloucester was her personal favourite of her illustrated books – and, surprisingly, it was based on a real-life occurence.

The eponymous tailor has been asked to make a waistcoat for the Mayor of Gloucester, who will be getting married on Christmas Day. One bitterly cold day, the tailor sends his cat Simpkin out to do some shopping (which is perfectly normal thing to do in a Beatrix Potter book!), including getting a twist of silk to finish off the waistcoat. While Simpkin is out, the tailor discovers that the cat has been trapping mice under teacups, and he frees them all (thus thwarting some intended gruesome murders, one assumes). Simpkin is angry about losing his mice, and so hides the twist of silk. And then, the tailor falls ill! However will he finish the Mayor’s waistcoat in time for Christmas?

Potter’s inspiration appears to have been the story of John Prichard, a Gloucester tailor and a contemporary of Beatrix Potter. Prichard was commissioned to make a suit for the new Mayor of Gloucester, and got a little help from some friends to do so. However, just as in Potter’s book, the suit was unfinished, because there was ‘no more twist’!

Cuckoo by Sophie Draper (2018)

There seems to be a bit of a pattern emerging with this year’s festive selections… here’s another book where the main character gets snowed in at a remote location in the run-up to Christmas! (Although, in this one, we do actually get to see some Christmas celebrations!)

Draper’s novel is a thriller. It has shades of domestic noir and a touch of Gothic-inflection, but it essentially a thriller at heart. Caro Crowther moves back to Derbyshire (in the run-up to Christmas!) after the death of her stepmother, Elizabeth. Caro’s father died when she was a child and, due to the terms of his will, Caro has inherited his estate on Elizabeth’s death. Reluctantly – Caro didn’t have a happy childhood – she returns to the home she shared with a stepmother who hated her. And it seems she’s not particularly welcome in the village. Much of Cuckoo revolves around Caro remembering long-buried incidents from her childhood, including the cruel punishments meted out to her by Elizabeth (the most notable of which involved a ‘Pear Drum’ and a disturbing fairy tale). But there is something else going on in the present. As the snow falls, and Caro is cut off from the rest of the world, a series of strange incidents and disturbances unsettle her. In some ways, Cuckoo shares common ground with Littlewood’s Mistletoe, but the revelations that come in Draper’s book are really quite different. Cuckoo‘s a real page-turner, with great atmosphere and an ending that’ll have you pondering for a while after you finish reading.

Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford (1932)

Something a bit different now… Mitford’s Christmas Pudding is a rather light-hearted comedic book about Gloria, Lady Bobbin and the Christmas house party she throws at Compton Bobbin in the Cotswolds. This is a book that is set in a very distinct milieu, thought it is peppered with acid criticisms and satire of the upper classes and their silly mores (of course, coming from Nancy Mitford, this is more self-deprecation than class warfare!).

Present for the festivities at Compton Bobbin are Paul Fotheringay (a writer whose recent tragedy has been disappointingly dubbed the ‘funniest book of the year); Lord Lewes (a stuffy man who begins the book in love with one visitor, but soon falls for Lady Bobbins’s daughter); and Lady Bobbins’s children, Philadelphia and Roderick. In Mulberrie Cottage, close to Compton Bobbin, rich ‘courtesan’ Amabelle Fortescue is spending Christmas with her friends Sally and Walter Monteath (characters who also appeared in Mitford’s earlier novel Highland Fling). Suffice to say, there’s plenty of gossip from Bright Young Things, disappointment at the cancelling of the hunt, and people falling in love with each other with worring alacrity. Christmas Pudding is a book that is very much of its time and of its type – but it has a certain festive charm about it that makes it a fun read during the Christmas season.

Festive Spirits: Three Christmas Stories by Kate Atkinson (2019)

Today’s list ends with a little collection of short stories from highly regarded (including by me) author Kate Atkinson, which was published in the autumn. I’m going to avoid saying too much about the content of this one, as the stories are quite short (it’s a real bite-sized book) and so it’s hard to introduce them without giving too much away. Suffice to say, it’s the perfect size for reading while you’re waiting for your Christmas dinner.

The three stories in the collection are very much in Atkinson’s distinctive voice, and offer slightly skewed perspectives on the festive season. The pain of Christmas-time (particularly when you’ve had a tough time and just want to avoid festivities) is explored here, as well as the melancholy feeling that comes with the impending end of a year. Are these stories festive? Do stories have to be cheerful to be festive?

Not according to today’s list they don’t! It’s kind of fitting to end with Atkinson’s collection, as it does feature someone who is trying to avoid Christmas, which takes us right back to where we started today!

To find out more about these books, and my reasons for choosing them, you can listen to the Hannah’s Bookshelf Christmas Special here:

December 12, 2019

Two Festive Shows from A Helping of History

Christmas Special

The Helping of History Christmas Special will be on Christmas Eve this year. On Tuesday 24th December, 12-2pm, I’ll be sharing some special memories of North Manchester’s Christmases past. Tune in to hear about the festive season in Harpurhey, Blackley, Moston, Miles Platting, Cheetham Hill and Crumpsall over the years.

Missed the Christmas Special? You can catch it again here:

New Year Special

And then on New Year’s Eve, 12-2pm, tune in for a Yesterday’s Papers New Year Special. I’ll be looking at the local papers from the days between Christmas and New Year 1941, and sharing some of the stories and features. What did the end of 1941 look like to Mancunians?

Missed the New Year Special? You can catch it again here:

Tune in to A Helping of History every Tuesday at 12 on 106.6FM (if you’re in the North Manchester area) or listen online (if you’re further afield).