The Post I Didn’t Want To Write – But Needed To.

I really struggled with this post.  Half of me was saying delete it, the other half was telling me to press the publish button, so as you can probably gather by the fact you are reading this, the publish desire was stronger than saying nothing.

This is not the year I should be writing this post, I never wanted to write this, but I guess that at least when I am gone too, there will be a tiny part of the internet that has my memories stamped on it.

Normally end of year posts like this are brilliant to write, if only for the fact that you can look back at your year, and think – I can’t believe I did that!

In terms of book blogging, I have to say that 2019 was undoubtedly the most amazing, fulfilling and fantastic year I could have wished for.  I met Antonia, who is the host of Booktime Brunch on Chiltern Voice and she very kindly asked me to be a guest on her programme. I have been on Booktime Brunch three times now, and honestly, being with Antonia is just like sitting with a good friend talking about books! She is one of the most kindest and genuine people I know, and am so pleased I plucked up the courage to reply to her tweet!

Antonia and I at Chiltern Voice Radio Station!



Henley Literary Festival – plus a tote – what more could a Bookworm want?!

After plucking up the courage to approach them, I was lucky enough to live tweet at the Henley Literary Festival, which was a mixture of nerve wracking and brilliant.  Sara, Tom, Martha and Sam could not have been kinder, and really helped me all through an absolutely unforgettable day.

I met not only the authors (and could only mumble and blush “I loved your books so much” to them, who were all so lovely!), but also finally got a chance to meet Alison Barrow, Louise Swannell and Becca Mundy, who have been brilliantly supportive to me ever since I started Years of Reading!

It was a hectic, fantastic, memorable day and I loved every single minute.



Tring Book Festival



Fired up by my braveness – or the fact I thought why not, I also approached Alison and Ben at the Tring Book Festival to ask if I could live tweet for them too!  They were so kind and welcoming, and it was a book bloggers dream event!  I was gutted I couldn’t go to more, and I loved it. From the moment I got there, I felt part of the team and it was a fabulous day.

Ben went one stage further and let me help with the social media for the Festival which was a dream come true! Plus it gave me a real insight into how a Book Festival really works, and it was fantastic to be involved with the inaugural festival – I can’t wait to see what happens next year… watch this space… !

Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award Shadow Judge


I have to admit that when I first got the email from Maddy asking if I would like to be a Shadow Panel Judge on the Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award, I thought it was an elaborate phishing email!

Fortunately it wasn’t, and I cannot tell you how amazing it was to be part of such a prestigious and fabulous prize.  Not only did I discover books that were unlike anything I had ever read, I also finally met some of my Bookish Friends in real life that I had only talked to online.  As well as Anne, David, Linda and Phoebe who were my fellow Shadow Judges, I also met Patrick, Clair, Eric, and Ova. We’ll skip over the part where I went up and hugged a woman before realising it wasn’t Phoebe – but to be fair they did look identical!

I needed to get all of that out of the way, not to brag or show off, but to kind of explain why I did these things.  Why 2019 was the year all these things happened.

Honestly, I could give you all some flannel about being nearly 50 and ‘finding myself’ and ‘making time for me’ but it is far simpler than that.

My Mum passed away in March, and I just thought, what is stopping me? What is the worse that could happen?

The last conversation we had before she passed away, she told me that she was proud of me and was glad I had found what made me happy. She said that her illness had made her realise that there were times she had wondered what if, and she didn’t ever want me to look back and think the same.

I realised I didn’t either.  I was always someone’s Mum, someone’s wife, someone’s daughter and I am not saying I don’t love that, but it is not enough.  I know some people love being at home and get great joy from what they do, and I absolutely admire and get it, but God, I was bored.

It was suddenly like a switch had been flipped, and I realised that first of all, people can only say no – which is why I never tweeted publicly, or wrote some teasing ‘You will never guess what I’m doing’ tweet, because quite frankly, I would have looked a right banana if it never came off!

As I thought about it, I reckoned that most of the people I would approach to ask were technically young enough to be my children, and I always treat people with respect at all times, suddenly, asking someone didn’t seem scary any more! Little by little, with each small success, be it a publicist very kindly agreeing to send me a proof, or someone sending me a thank you tweet for recommending a book, I realised I knew this was something I could do. Long conversations with my bookish best friend Amanda (Bookish Chat) who has been the best cheerleader a woman could wish for, were just what I needed to keep going.

Does this mean that my grieving has stopped and now all I care about is books? Absolutely not – Christmas has been an emotional, heartbreaking mixture of seeing the joy and happiness my kids have (when not trying to wind each other up), and filled with the searing pain of not being able to ring the one person I could share my Christmas with. I forgot to cancel a book I ordered for Mum and I cannot tell you how much it hurt when I held that book in my hands, but that I can’t bear to return it.

Grief is not something you deal with and put away, ready to move on after a length of time. It is an ever present sadness and catches you the most when you least expect it. The most pain can come from the most random thing – from seeing an advert for a telly programme I know Mum would love, to having to explain it all to people you haven’t seen for a long time, when they ask you how your parents are.

This was not what was supposed to happen to my Mum yet, I was not ready for this, I want her here with me and it hurts like hell.

I guess what I am trying to say to you all is this.  All I have ever done since starting Years Of Reading Selfishly is talk about books I love.  Along the way, I have not only realised that I am actually quite good at it, and I do know my bookish onions (thank you fabulous and wonderful Siobhain), but that Years Of Reading Selfishly is mine, and I can do whatever I want with it!

As we go into 2020, all I know for sure is that I will never stop talking about books, that I am grateful for every book I am sent, and I love what I am doing.  I am not going to worry what other people think, or not ask for something because I feel I haven’t earned the right. You know what, I have.

Thank you to every single fellow blogger, author, publicist, and bookish person who has helped make 2019 for Year of Reading so unforgettable – I can’t ever thank you all enough, and have finally found my perfect tribe!

This time next year, who knows? I could have had another wonderful Book Blogging year, or I might have decided that I am done and have stopped doing it all together.

At least I will be able to look back and say I loved every single crazy, full on minute of it, and that’s all that matters right now.  It’s just not fair my Mum isn’t here to see it too.

Lots of love,



Bone China by Laura Purcell

Laura Purcell: Bone China

Published By: Bloomsbury Raven

Available online and from all good bookshops

What They Say:

Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft’s family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken.

But Dr Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the same disease in the cliffs beneath his new Cornish home.

Forty years later, Hester Why arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralysed and almost entirely mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try and escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers that her new home may be just as dangerous as her last.

What I Say:

‘Can a woman control a house, a family, through something as brittle as porcelain?’

If you have learned anything about me in our time together, you will know that The Silent Companions is quite possibly my favourite novel. If you need to know why, you can read my review here. I also adored Laura’s next novel, The Corset – and of course I reviewed it!

What you also need to know about me, is that if everyone is raving about a novel at a particular time, I tend to put it to one side to read later. If there is a lot of hype, I need to step away and read the novel when I’m ready without everyone else’s opinions! With Bone China, I wanted to appreciate it when I was ready to read it without everyone else telling me what I should think because I wanted to make my own judgements.

I decided that I wanted to read Bone China before Christmas, and I’ll explain why on Twitter and Instagram very soon.

Well, what can I tell you?

Laura Purcell has written another novel that is so perfectly pitched, which draws you in from the first page and holds you in its thrall to the last. I loved the fact that her writing of landscapes, of lives, of a world which is so close to our own, yet so far from our understanding is one which you cannot help but sink in to from the first chapter.

This is the story of the Pinecroft family, who live in the family home called Morvoren in Cornwall. When Hester Why arrives to take up a post there, she is assigned to look after Miss Pinecroft, who is vulnerable and unable to speak, and sits in her room surrounded by piles and piles of blue and white bone china.

Hester is not an innocent woman who happens to find herself here, she has a past and former identity as Esther Stevens, and as a maid to Lady Rose. She has left behind her a trail of destruction and damage, and has picked up an addiction to gin and laudanum which makes her far from a paragon of virtue – but endeared her even more to me!

For me, the notion of a woman who is slightly disclocated from the world is a delicious and absorbing one. Hester finds herself in this world that is so far removed from the society she has come from, but at the same time, she brings with her the understanding and acceptance of how servants should behave. Her departure from Lady Rose’s employment was far from auspicious, but at the same time, she knows in order to survive, she has to fit in with what is expected of her.

Morvoren is a house creaking with secrets and unspoken understanding. We learn that Miss Pinecroft has a young charge called Rosewyn who is hidden away from the world, and although in her early twenties, is like a child and is fiercely protected by the ferocious Creeda. A woman who has been with the Pinecroft family for a very long time, and rules the house with a devotion that is bordering on the obsessive.

Added to this domineering woman at the head of the household, there are unexplained noises and lights when the household tries to go to sleep, and Miss Pinecroft’s refusal to communicate or move from the room filled with china. This is why Laura Purcell is such a brilliant writer, her talent is the teasing of the unknown, the suggestion of something that we want to discover, but at the same time unsettling us so we are reluctant to confront it.

The narrative switches between the time of Hester Why, and Miss Pinecroft’s story as an assistant to her Father, who is a Doctor on a mission. He has decided that he wants to find the cure for consumption, a disease that left him widowed and without two of his children. Louise is enlisted to help him tend to a group of convicts who are suffering from consumption, and her father has decided to bring them to the caves that are under Morvoren in an attempt to cure them.

In my opinion, this is where Bone China elevates itself above a traditional gothic novel. Louise has not been allowed to ever express herself, she has always had to follow her father’s wishes and help him in his quest to find a cure for consumption. What we see in these pages is an intelligent and inquisitive young woman who has no choice in her destiny other than to appease her father. Her sense of duty means that she has pushed all her feelings and emotions away functions only as a living reminder to her father of the wife he has lost.

As preparations are made for the arrival of the prisoners, a young woman called Creeda is sent to Morvoren to serve the family in exchange for medical help from Dr Pinecroft. As the reader, we soon realise that this mysterious woman who is so entrenched in the traditions and folklore of the Cornish people is the catalyst for a chain of events that will permeate the whole of the Pinecroft family and Morvoren forever.

The prisoners are treated by Dr Pinecroft and Louise, and as the days pass, unexplained things start to happen. Cupping glasses find their way from the treatment table back into boxes, marks appear on the men, and they are convinced that there are fairies trying to drag them away.

Could this be true? After all these men are seriously ill and could be hallucinating, but also they are criminals who could be lying as a means to escape. Added to this sense of confusion and tension, Louise finds herself attracted to one of the prisoners called Harry, and in this underground world unlike any other, she starts to discover who she really is as a woman with devastating consequences. The caves are filled with the sensation that the Pinecrofts and the prisoners have disturbed something no one can explain, and that all of them will have to pay the price.

In the present time, Hester is aware that even though she cannot be certain as a woman reliant on drugs and alcohol, something is very wrong in Morvoren. The way that Creeda exerts control over the household, fixated in her belief that the fairies are intent on their desire to take back with them any woman of child bearing age, disorientates Hester even further, as we are never quite sure what is real and what is the product of Hester’s drink and drug induced reality.

Laura Purcell’s measured and controlled writing means that Bone China is a novel that never falls into the unbelievable. It is not a tick the box clichéd gothic novel, but a sublimely disturbing piece of fiction that disorientates and delights with each chapter. Every character is flawed, hiding from a world they don’t fully understand, but that only serves to make them believable and relatable.

Bone China is an exquisite exploration of a world we cannot explain and do not want to face. As you race to the conclusion, you understand just like Hester, that sometimes the only way to confront your demons is to face them head on whatever the cost.

I loved it.

The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award – The Shadow Panel Winner.


For the past three weeks, I have been reading and reviewing The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award Shortlist.  It’s been an incredible experience – to read books that have challenged me, frustrated me, and made me sometimes stop in my tracks and love the words inside them.

As you may or may not know, on Thursday 21st November, I met with Anne , David, Linda and Phoebe at a meeting chaired by Houman Barekat to discuss who we wanted to be the Shadow Panel Winner.  It was a lively discussion, and it was fantastic to finally meet the very people who I knew so well on Twitter and Instagram! I really found it intriguing to see what we all thought of the Shortlist, and at times how similar our views were, but believe me, there were a few instances where we were poles apart in our opinions!

Before I reveal who we chose as our winner, here is a recap of each of the shortlist for you.


Kim Sherwood was born in Camden in 1989 and lives in Bath. She studied Creative Writing at UEA and is now Senior Lecturer at the University of the West of England. Her pieces have appeared in MslexiaLighthouse, and Going Down Swinging. Kim began researching and writing Testament, her first novel, after her grandfather, the actor George Baker, passed away and her grandmother began to talk about her experiences as a Holocaust Survivor for the first time. It won the 2016 Bath Novel Award, was longlisted for the 2019 Desmond Elliot Prize and shortlisted for the 2019 Author’s Club Best First Novel Award.

Testament by Kim from riverrun which is an imprint of Quercus Books, was actually the first book from the Shortlist that I decided to read.

You can read my review here,

If you would like to buy a copy, you can of course buy one from all good bookshops, or online or from the riverrun website here.



Yara Rodrigues Fowler is a British Brazilian novelist from South London. Her first novel, Stubborn Archivist, was published in 2019 in the UK and USA. It was called ’stunning’ by Olivia Laing, ‘visceral and elegant’ by Claire-Louise Bennett and ‘breathtakingly written’ by Nikesh Shukla. Yara was named one of The Observer’s nine ‘hottest-tipped’ debut novelists of 2019 and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize. Yara is also a trustee of Latin American Women’s Aid, an organisation that runs the only two refuges in Europe for and by Latin American women. She’s writing her second novel now, for which she received the John C Lawrence Award from the Society of Authors towards research in Brazil.

Yara’s book, is published by fleet, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group. It was my next choice to read and review for the Shortlist, and here’s my review of Stubborn Archivist.

If you would like to buy a copy, you can do from all good bookshops, online, or from fleet directly here


Julia Armfield lives and works in London. She is a fiction writer and occasional playwright with a Masters in Victorian Art and Literature from Royal Holloway University. Her work has been published in LighthouseAnalog MagazineNeon Magazine and The Stockholm Review. She was commended in the Moth Short Story Prize 2017, longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Prize 2018 and is the winner of The White Review Short Story Prize 2018.

Julia’s book of short stories Salt Slow, published by Picador was my third read for the Shortlist, and you can read my review here.

It is available to buy from all good bookshops, online, or from Picador directly here

raymond antrobus twitter816698769..jpg

Raymond Antrobus was born in Hackney to an English mother and Jamaican father. He is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Complete Works III and Jerwood Compton Poetry. He is one of the world’s first recipients of an MA in Spoken Word Education from Goldsmiths, University of London. Raymond is a founding member of Chill Pill and Keats House Poets Forum. He has had multiple residencies in deaf and hearing schools around London, as we as Pupil Referral Units. In 2018 he was awarded the Geoffrey Dearmer Award by the Poetry Society (judged by Ocean Vuong). The Perseverance (Penned In The Margins, 2018), was a Poetry Book Society Choice, the winner of the Rathbones Folio Prize and the Ted Hughes Award, and was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and Forward Prize for Best First Collection.

Raymond’s book of poetry, The Perseverance, is published  by Penned In The Margins and was my final read for the Shortlist.  You can read my review here.

It is available to buy from all good bookshops, online, or you can buy it directly from Penned In The Margins here.

There you have it, the four finalists and the four works we as Shadow Panel Judges had to read and review.



I am very proud and honoured to reveal, that The Sunday Times/University Of Warwick Young Writer Award Shadow Panel Winner Is…

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield from Picador Books!

Many Congratulations to Julia and Picador Books!

I am not ashamed to admit that I am absolutely thrilled with this decision.  I also have to tell you that once I finished this book, as I was writing my review I read some of the stories again, and it just confirmed what I already knew, that they are brilliant.

The panel was unanimous in their praise for Julia’s book, and it was really interesting to see not only how we all loved the same and we all loved different stories, but that we all saw something that spoke to us in them. For me, it was the amazing untapped power that the female protagonists have within them, and that their transformations and experiences show us that we all have the potential within us to achieve what we truly deserve.

I have slowly started to read short story collections recently, and Julia’s book has made me want to read even more.

It is a book I will absolutely recommend endlessly, and is one that undoubtedly can be re-read and treasured.

Trust me when I tell you that this was a really difficult decision, all the works on the shortlist are brilliant, unique works that I would urge you all to read. They are all very different, but the one thing they have in common is that they reveal the wealth of literary talent that is all around us, and that for me, the most important thing I can do as a reader, is challenge myself to read more widely, and take a chance on something completely different.

So, what do you think of the Shadow Panel decision?

The final decision now rests with The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Judges – Andrew Holgate, Kate Clanchy, Victoria Hislop, Gonzalo C. Garcia and Nick Rennison.

The Winner will be announced on 5th December at the London Library, and I wish the judges and the shortlisted authors lots of luck – trust me, it is not an easy choice to make!

Follow #youngwriterawardshadow and @youngwriteryear on Twitter and Instagram to hear more about The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Shortlist, and of course, to find out who the Overall Winner will be..

The full article about the Shadow Panel is here

You can also read the blogs of the other Shadow Panel Judges to see what they thought too..

Anne Cater at Random Things Through My Letterbox

David Harris at Blue Book Balloon

Linda Hill at Linda’s Book Bag

Phoebe Williams at The Brixton Bookworm

I will be letting you all know what I think about the Winner too, in my final blog post as part of the Shadow Panel (sob!)!


Miles of Sky Above Us, Miles of Earth Below by Steve Denehan

Steve Denehan: Miles of Sky Above Us, Miles of Earth Below

Published By: Cajun Mutt Press

Buy It: Here

What they Say:
Steve Denehan is an extraordinary poet. In this debut collection, he writes about ordinary everyday events in his life and does so in a way that will resonate with the reader. His poetry brings unforgettable impact into small spaces, reveals the fabric of solitude in epic proportions, and tells stories of the moments where life truly exists

What I Say:

I have to admit that the prospect of reviewing poetry is always an unsettling one. How can you do the poet justice when all of their poems mean something to them, and you are constrained by the acceptable length of a blog post!

In Miles of Sky, Steve has written a book of poetry which is accessible and heartfelt. For me, the main driving force behind the selection of these poems is the theme of family – especially the relationship that he has with his daughter Robin. We see how Steve is learning to be a father and discovering all the joy and disappointments that go hand in hand with his caring role. The reader is privy to his thoughts on being a dad at school, while another details his experience of having a daughter at Christmas, and all the joy and stress that being a parent can bring.

In his poem half eaten cookies and carrots, he gives us an insight into what it is like being a member of his family at Christmas time:

“I look at her, bundled into her car seat

fading with every passing streetlight

as we drive toward the Christmases to come”

The poem is successful because it taps into what we all know and understand about Christmas. The need to be part of the family, the traditions and customs that every family has, and the idea that as a father, he is experiencing these with his daughter for the first time. There is a sense of nostalgia and comfort taken from this poem, which makes us not look only to ourselves, but also to those around us to understand what it means to be part of the family.

The poems featured in this collection, have many different themes, but I feel the main one that is subconsciously in all of them, is the idea that underneath our skin and the way we act, we all have the same hopes and fears. It is the belief that we are all constantly trying to find our way in the world when everything around us is changing. Parents are getting older, children are growing up, and our memories constantly changed in the retelling of them.

The poem Dublin airport for me, was a perfect example of this. We see how as a child, Steve would watch the aeroplanes fly above his head, and as all children do, they would not only be absorbed by the sheer size of the planes, but also keep looking at believing that the pilot and the crew would be able to see him. A trip to the airport is seen as a wonderful magical and mystical thing:

“we would watch the planes from the viewing gallery

impossibly huge, almost prehistoric

their rivets gleaming

the pilot setting settling into the cockpits

as if it were not a magical thing”.

Of course, as a child the gigantic aeroplanes, and seemingly mystical and hypnotic airports were things of complete wonder. As you grow up becoming an adult, these ideas lose their appeal, and you’re simply a person getting onto a plane. Life is not exciting anymore. However, when Steve is on a plane, and he looks down and see his mum hanging out the washing, that magical element returns to his life. I found that this poem which reminiscences about the naivety of childhood, (and having looked up at the sky many times as a child to follow the trails of the aeroplanes!) really resonated with me.

Steve’s poetry is very easy to read. Short sharp verses that sing across the page. They take on a rhythm of their own, and it is impossible to read them in your head, because you want to read them out loud. They are at times joyous, at times thoughtful, but always with a very heavy sense of Steve’s personality permeating the poetry.

I have to say for me, the poems I liked the best, were those that focus on his family. You can see how intensely personal this work is to him, and in writing this poetry about his daughter, I had the sense that he was trying to create a legacy for her to look back on and understand what her childhood meant to him. Increasingly, so many of us forget to write down what happened in childhood, and we are relying on the photos we might have taken on our phones rather than some tangible remembrance of our days gone past.

In Miles of Sky Above Us, Miles of Earth Below, Steve has put on paper his innermost thoughts and feelings about what it means to be a father, a son, and an observer of the life around him. It is very poignant to read, intensely personal and is a book of poetry that is imbued with his sense of self and his need to ensure that his family is never forgotten. To make poetry accessible is very difficult, and in this collection, Steve has done just that.

I get the sense as a reader that this work was not an easy one for him to curate, but that in doing so, it has perhaps not only helped us understand about what his life means to him, but has provided him with a tangible body of work that helps him to articulate how he perceives his place in the world and his relationship with his family. It is a wide ranging collection of poetry that is impressive in its scope and ideas, and taps into many themes that will strike a chord with lots of readers.

Thank you to Isabelle Kenyon for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

Here are the other amazing bloggers taking part in this blog tour. Please do follow them to find out what they thought too.

The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Shortlist – The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus

Raymond Antrobus: The Perseverance

Published By: Penned In The Margins

Available to Buy From All Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say:

An extraordinary debut from a young British-Jamaican poet, The Perseverance is a book of loss, language and praise. One of the most crucial new voices to emerge from Britain, Raymond Antrobus explores the d/Deaf experience, the death of his father and the failure to communicate. Ranging across history, time zones and continents, The Perseverance operates in the in betweens of dual heritages, of form and expression emerging to show us what it means to exist, and to flourish.

What I Say:

I think the idea of reading this collection was something from the start of my experience as a Shadow Judge that I was slightly anxious about. I was aware that Raymond Antrobus had burst onto the British Poetry scene in a blaze of glory, but having to review his collection for the Sunday Times/ University of Warwick Young Writer Award was absolutely out of my comfort zone. The last time I read poetry critically was probably when I was in University over 25 years ago.

Right from the start, and the very first poem, Echo, you are aware as a reader that this is an intensely personal and autobiographical collection from Raymond Antrobus. He is deaf and as if that was not isolating enough, he is also the child of an English mother and a Jamaican father. Raymond Antrobus has always been at the edge of a society that seemingly continues to move all around him, not understanding either his needs or his heritage. How do you attempt to find your place in a world when you are not recognised by it at all?

The Perseverance is an unapologetic debut that not only recounts his own experiences as a deaf British-Jamaican poet, but also makes the reader (as I did) stop and look up the references to other people from history to understand the importance of their inclusion in the work. We learn about his fractured relationship with his father, the life of his family, and there are also poems which feature deaf people who have their own stories to tell. I thought that this was an eclectic mix which worked well – quite simply because it often disrupts the rhythm of the poems, and whereas in one I could understand and appreciate it, others made me stop and read about the subject and then apply that knowledge to my re-reading of them.

What I thought was very clear about the work, is that Raymond Antrobus wants us to listen to him. How can we possibly understand what it means to be deaf, when we are hearing? We cannot possibly know the reality of being deaf – we may be able to make sweeping generalisations, but it is the minutiae, the day to day things that we take for granted that we need someone to articulate for us, to help us truly understand what we need to do to foster inclusion as oppose to exclusion. The addition of sign language symbols, and the redaction of Ted Hughes’ poem ‘Deaf School’ which was filled with misconception and ignorance, immediately addressed by his poem After Reading ‘Deaf School’ by the Mississippi

In the poem Dear Hearing World, I felt it was really Antrobus’ manifesto, a way of detailing exactly what the hearing world need to understand in order for us to make any progress. It is raw, visceral and real, borne of a life lived and ignorances exposed. The writing is sublime, the imagery is authentic, and there is the absolute sense that our inability to fully appreciate what barriers we have created in our society, that there is a whole world of experience which has been denied a history.

He says:

“I mulled over long paragraphs because I didn’t know

what a natural break sounded like, you erased

what could have always been poetry

This for me is a theme that runs all through his collection. That you have standing in front of you a man who wants to be heard – not only for his own story, but for all of those other deaf people who have come before and after him. There is no one better qualified to educate others about the reality of being deaf than those who are.

In the title poem of the collection, The Perseverance is the pub where his father spends a lot of his time, with Raymond stood outside, waiting for him to return. Theirs is a difficult relationship – it seems that this is a pattern of behaviour that is usual in their lives, and interestingly, Antrobus is excluded from that world too. He is neither Jamaican nor British, not allowed inside the pub as he is a child, but cannot hear what is going on anyway. His own perseverance is deeper than simply waiting for his Dad to emerge and take him home. Even knowing that he is beaten by hs father, Antrobus seems to simply want to be acknowledged and loved by him. There is no doubt that Antrobus’ father loves him, and is fiercely defensive of his son, but their relationship is far from a traditional one, with his father open about his sexual conquests and his treatment of him is at times upsetting to read.

We learn that Antrobus’ father has dementia, and I thought it was incredibly poignant that the final poem in the collection Happy Birthday Moon, is about that most intimate and traditional idea, of a Dad reading his son a bedtime story. In that moment, where they are completely alone and just being with one another is the most real and exquisite recollection of what every child wants. To be heard.

“I’d like to be the Moon, the bear, even the rain

Dad makes the Moon say something new every night

and we hear each other, really hear each other,

As Dad reads aloud, I follow his finger across the page.”

Perhaps this is the point of The Perseverance. Antrobus has honestly and unapologetically showed us what his life is like. The passion and determination that permeates the poems in this collection is a way of standing in front of us and asking us to hear each other. Truly hear each other. It is at times, not an easy work to read, and honestly, at times I was frustrated with Antrobus for making me stop to find out what he was talking about. I felt it disrupted my experience as a reader, but it was balanced with moments where I was just blindsided by the most beautiful poetry that just mesemerised me .

The Perseverance is a poetry collection unlike anything I have ever read. In its pages it encompasses so many themes such as love, loss, grief and the unique life that Antrobus has lived. To read it is to be party to his world and his frustations, his realities and his relationships, and his desire to ensure that his history and those of deaf people is no longer sidelined by those who should know better.

Read it and learn from it, let it make you understand the way in which our society has not listened to those who don’t automatically fit in, and then like Antrobus tells us, understand that that we need to really hear each other.

Raymond Antrobus was born in Hackney to an English mother and Jamaican father. He is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Complete Works III and Jerwood Compton Poetry. He is one of the world’s first recipients of an MA in Spoken Word Education from Goldsmiths, University of London. Raymond is a founding member of Chill Pill and Keats House Poets Forum. He has had multiple residencies in deaf and hearing schools around London, as we as Pupil Referral Units. In 2018 he was awarded the Geoffrey Dearmer Award by the Poetry Society (judged by Ocean Vuong). The Perseverance (Penned In The Margins, 2018), was a Poetry Book Society Choice, the winner of the Rathbones Folio Prize and the Ted Hughes Award, and was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and Forward Prize for Best First Collection.

Follow #youngwriterawardshadow and @youngwriteryear on Twitter and Instagram to hear more about The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer Award Shortlist, the authors and what the Shadow Panel think too.

The Sunday Times/University Of Warwick Young Writer of The Year Award – 2019 Shortlist Revealed.


I am hoping that you have all been excited as I have to find out which authors have been shortlisted for this year’s Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of The Year Award 2019!

It is an amazing and intriguing shortlist, featuring authors who will entertain and educate you, challenge your perceptions and preconceptions and draw you completely into their worlds.

Are you ready?


Want to go and make a cup of coffee first?

Is the suspense killing you?


It is my privilege and honour to reveal the four shortlisted authors:



I am incredibly excited to read and review these books, and to discuss them with you and my fellow Shadow Judges.

So, the works are:

Testament by Kim Sherwood – Published By riverrun

The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus – Published By Penned In The Margins

Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues-Fowler – Published By Fleet/Little, Brown

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield – Published By Picador

Here is a little more about each book.


Testament by Kim Sherwood from riverrun tells the story of Eva and her relationship with her Grandfather.

She is making a film about his life, and when he passes away, Eva discovers a letter from The Jewish Museum in Berlin asking if they can use his testament of Holocaust experiences.  Eva realises her Grandfather Silk endured many things during the Holocaust, and in uncovering his unspoken history, she is forced to confront her own. By exploring the past, Eva will change the future of her family forever.

I haven’t read this one, and am so looking forward to losing myself in this novel. It ticks all my historical fiction boxes, and am always interested in learning about the lives of those whose unheard voices form such an important part of the world around us.

I will of course, be blogging about Testament and all the books on the Shortlist, and hope you join in the discussion too.


The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus from Penned in the Margins, is a book of poetry which is also his debut work.

It is a collection of Raymond’s life experiences about language, history and identity, and also is a profoundly personal work which details the reality of being a deaf person and all the judgement that brings. The Perseverance is about Raymond’s relationship with his family, the importance of communication and the things that are not said as much as those that are.

I have to admit, that I was slightly nervous about the idea of reading and reviewing a collection of poetry, although I love reading it. Suffice to say, that I have started dipping in as I couldn’t wait, and I know it is going to be an awe inspiring book that will create lots of discussion.

I can already see the immense power that Raymond’s words have on the page and am ready to educate myself about a world I currently know nothing of.



Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler from Fleet/Little, Brown is the only book on the Shortlist that I have prior knowlege of.

I was lucky enough to see Yara in conversation with Zeba Talkhani and Daniel Hahn at the Henley Literary Festival earlier this year.  The passion and emotion with which she spoke about her life experiences and the search for identity when you don’t apparently fit in to the culture you live in was intensely moving.

The Stubborn Archivist is a novel that uses other people’s perceptions and conversations to form a picture of the protagonist. At the same time she is attempting to find her own identity in a world trying to find a way to be seen, and she is also dealing with the knowledge her body has been traumatised. It is told in fragments and challenges the preconceptions we have about a traditional novel.

I know it is going to be a unique and thought provoking insight into the meaning of identity, culture, self and belonging.


Salt Slow by Julia Armfield from Picador, is a new title to me.

It is a collection of short stories, which uses the body in all its forms as its inspiration. I am being completely honest when I tell you that short stories are not something that I would usually pick up, however, as part of being on the Shadow Panel, this is as much a chance for me to put aside my own preconceptions, and to challenge myself to read more widely.

I have to say that the whole premise of Julia’s book just make me wants to start reading it now! The notion that the everyday world is mixed with the mystical and gothic one is just the sort of genre I love – the sense of unease and tension is an interesting and unsettling one.

I will be sharing my thoughts with you on my blog and Twitter and Instagram, along with the rest of the Shadow Panel Judges.

Well, there we are! What do you think? Have you read any? Are you like me when I see a Shortlist and want to get hold of copies of them right away and follow it (I do it all the time!)

I am really excited to start reading all these titles – they may be outside my comfort zone, but that makes it even more interesting as a reader and Shadow Judge as I will be learning about myself and challenging my ideas about fiction and form. I have to say when I found out which books were on the Shortlist, it made me want to stop and read them all at once!

Over the coming weeks, I will be posting my reviews on my blog, and keeping you all updated as to how I am getting on. I would love to hear what you think, and don’t forget to see what Anne, David, Linda and Phoebe are saying too.

If you want to get involved, please do use #youngwriterawardshadow to chat to us, if there is anything you want to know, or even so you can read along with us all too!

You can also read more about the Award and the Shortlist in more detail here

I will be posting my very first review soon – now my only problem is deciding which one to start first..!

Lots of love,




The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award


I am, as always, going to be completely honest with you all about what news I have to tell you.

When I first received an email asking if I would be interested in being a Shadow Panel Judge for the Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award, I thought it was an elaborate phishing email!

Someone had obviously watched my social media, clocked my love of reading and talking about books, and I was sure they would tell me that in return for me depositing a sum of money into account offshore somewhere, I would of course be a Shadow Judge on one of the most well known literary awards.

The thing is, after replying, the email was totally legitimate!

I am very honoured, a little bit flustered, and quite a bit speechless, to tell you all that I am going to be a Shadow Judge for the 2019 Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award!

It has been so difficult not to say anything to you all, but at last I don’t have to worry about saying something I shouldn’t!

Just in case you don’t know much about The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award, here’s what you need to know..

It’s an annual award of £5,000 for the best book – fiction, poetry, non-fiction or anything else published in the last year by a writer under 35 and there are three prizes of £500 each for the runners-up. The previous winners include Adam Weymouth, Sally Rooney, Max Porter in recent years, and Zadie Smith, Sarah Waters and Robert MacFarlane have also been recipients of this Award. The prize also signed up The British Council as its international partner in 2017.

The University Of Warwick also offers each year’s winner a not only a ten week residency at the University,  but also year round digital support as well.

I am going to be joined on the Shadow Panel by these amazing bookbloggers too:

Anne Cater who is at Random Things Through My Letterbox

David Harris who is at Bluebookballoon

Linda Hill who is at Linda’s Book Bag

Phoebe Williams who is at The Brixton Bookworm

It’s going to be a fabulous experience, and am so looking forward to us all getting together to decide our Winner in November!

We will be using the hashtag #YoungWriterAwardShadow to keep you all updated.. please do follow us and our hashtag, and if you want to ask any questions, read along with the list, or want to know something, let us know. After all, who doesn’t love to talk about books?

We are acting as the Shadow Panel, but of course there are the 2019 Official Judges too.

They are authors Kate Clanchy, and Victoria Hislop and the panel is completed by the Literary Editor of The Sunday Times Andrew Holgate

In case you are interested, and want to know what we are doing and when, here are some key dates for you:

The Shortlist will be revealed on Sunday 3rd November.

The Shadow Panel Winner will be announced on Thursday 28th November.

The Prize Giving Ceremony and Winner Announcement will be on Thursday 5th December at London Library.

Over the next month, I hope you will join me as I read, review and talk about not only the four shortlisted books, but also show you behind the scenes as to what it is like to be a Shadow Judge for this Award!

So there you have it!  Am still having to pinch myself that it’s really happening, and that this is not all a bookish dream..!

I am so excited not only to read, review and judge the shortlist, but also to be part of such a prestigious award and to work with brilliant and passionate book lovers too!

Here’s hoping you all follow along and do please tell us what you think about the shortlist and I’ll be talking a lot about this on Twitter and Instagram- it’s really important to me that you all feel part of this too!

Now, am off to have a lie down and perhaps pinch myself again as I wait to get ready for the Shortlist, and to find out which authors I will be reading over the next few weeks….

Lots of love,




It’s Here..! My Booktime Brunch with Antonia Honeywell on Chiltern Voice

grayscale photo of vintage radio beside stove with cooking pot


Thank you so much to Antonia for sending me a copy of the Booktime Brunch Show!

Feel free to have a listen, hear how much #Booklove (I know!), there was in this show, and let me know what you think!

To all the people I tagged in my previous post, have a listen to see what we said about you … (all lovely I promise..!).

Thank you for all the wonderful feedback already, and now you can hear the whole thing..


I hope you enjoy it as much as I did doing it, and let me know if you have any suggestions of books we should be talking about for our Autumn and Christmas Special.

Lots of love,



Over Forty Shouldn’t Mean Overlooked.



My name is Clare, I am 48 years old, happily married, two kids, one bonkers Springer Spaniel, and I love to read.  I love reading literary fiction, novels written by women, about women, and have always gravitated towards female authors.

What does this have to do with anything?  Quite simply because sometimes, I would like to read a novel that has an older woman at the centre of it, who is someone I can read about and think – finally, a character who is not an amalgam of all the cliches of every seventies sitcom ever.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about my reading and blogging, and especially how women of my age are represented in fiction.

Here are some depictions of women my age that really get on my nerves.

I am going through the menopause, and although I have hot flushes and occasionally forget things, it also means that I am incapable of functioning and that I am reliant on my 13 year old to show me how to use technology.

I dress how I want, if it’s what I feel comfortable in then I don’t really give a monkeys what anyone else thinks – but apparently my wardrobe should only consist of beige, elasticated waists and comfy shoes.

I am extremely capable of many things, am not meek or mild, but apparently I should be dependent on my husband to mow the lawn or fix the leaky tap while I do the ironing and get flustered about cooking a roast dinner.

Wife, Mum, Daughter, Sister are titles for these women, but they don’t define me.  How I think and behave makes me who I am.

This morning I saw that @MsLisaMilton who is an executive publisher at @HQStories  along with @gransnet  are running a competition for all female writers over forty, where they are asking entrants to write a story which features a leading character over the age of forty.  If you fancy having a go, you can find the link here to enter.

Lisa then tweeted a link to this Guardian article, which talks about the realistic depiction of women over forty in fiction.  In it, Alison Flood talks about the research from HQ Stories and Gransnet which was compiled from a survey of women over forty (I completed it too).  The Survey looks at how women feel they are portrayed, and what their reality is.  Alison notes in her article how it is an important initiative and that there are already some older women characters out there.


There are of course such characters, but do you know what, we need to start talking about this topic so much more widely now.

As an over 40’s blogger – and bloody proud of it since you ask, I know there are lots of women who really want to see those characters in fiction that we can relate to.

Don’t assume that because we are over 40 we are dead from the waist down, don’t assume that we are always caught in a never ending cycle of housework and shouting at teenagers, resentfully sorting out the laundry while everyone else around us is having lots of sex and are happy in their marriages. Don’t assume we all have a family around us to help with the logistics of childcare, or that we are spending our evenings sorting out our tupperware cupboards while our partners snooze on the sofa.

Over 40 does not mean the end of our lives, in my experience it has been the start of a whole new one.

I want to see older women in my fiction who are made stronger by their experience, who revel in their knowledge of the world and are happy and balanced, who don’t have to be validated by the labels that everyone around them has created.  I want to read about women who have the self-belief to do what they want simply because they can.  I want to read about women like me, and every other woman over 40 I know.

I believe that Book Bloggers are a really important part of any discussion like this.

We love to talk about books, and I know I am always looking for novels I want to read that have a main character that makes me want to turn the pages.  Along with publishers like HQ Stories, there are so many opportunities for this idea to become a reality. There is a huge resource sat only a keyboard away, a whole group of dedicated and enthusiastic Bloggers who would love to help shape the way that fiction is created and consumed, who will happily shout about these books and authors as widely as possible.

The discussion about how women over 40 are depicted in fiction has already started, I for one am going to seek out more novels that already do this, and try to redress this in my own small way. If you are reading this post, and you know of any novels I should be shouting about, tell me.

Together, publishers, readers and bloggers have an amazing opportunity, not only to change the way women are portrayed but to also talk about women over forty who are writing too.  There is an incredible group of women on all sides just waiting for this opportunity, and when we work together we can really make a difference in the world of fiction.

My name is Clare, I am a 48 year old reader and blogger, and I’m from this point on, I’m absolutely #ForTheWomenFromTheWomen


Something To Live For by Richard Roper


Richard Roper: Something To Live For

Published By: Orion Books

Buy It: here


What The Blurb Says: 

All Andrew wants is to be normal.

He has the perfect wife and 2.4 children waiting at home for him after a long day. At least, that’s what he’s told people. The truth is, his life isn’t exactly as people think and his little white lie is about to catch up with him. Because in all Andrew’s efforts to fit in, he’s forgotten one important thing: how to really live.

And maybe, it’s about time for him to start…


What I Say:

You can see from the photo that is at the top of the blog post, that this is a proof that was carried everywhere with me.  I first started reading it at 9.32 on Saturday 25 May in the quiet carriage on the train (spookily very apt as you will discover!) to London Marylebone.  I am telling you this seemingly irrelevant fact as a way to apologise to anyone in that Quiet Carriage, because it made me laugh – loudly, and I didn’t even care I got tutted at – twice!

The thing is, Something To Live For is one of those books.  You know when you have read something so perfect, that when you meet someone else who has read it too, all you need to do is look at each other and say ‘I know’, with an acknowledgement that you are both now part of that club.  It is the book I needed to read at this point in my year, because it is a fabulous, life affirming novel that made me stop and think about how I interact with everyone and the world around me.

The hero of this story is Andrew.  He works for the Local Council and is tasked with finding if people who pass away alone have any relatives or friends who can be informed.  This means that Andrew has to go into houses that are left in the state when the person passed away.  Some are pristine, and some are not, but all of them contain the life and story of the person, and Andrew has to try and find any connections to others that they may have.

In cases where they don’t, Andrew takes it upon himself to attend their Council provided funerals to make sure that someone is there for them.  As far as his colleagues are concerned, every night Andrew goes home to his wife Diane, and his two children, and falls into the usual mundane domestic routines we all know and recognise. 

The thing is, there is no Diane and no children.

Andrew has invented them, using a complex set of spreadsheets and fabricated memories and anecdotes to make sure that he blends in seamlessly with everyone else around him.

Andrew’s actual home life is that of a man without a Mum and Dad, an estranged and erratic sister called Sally, a dismal flat where his only solace is his model trains (told you it was spooky!), and the online friends he has made in his model train forum.

One day, a new employee called Peggy starts working with Andrew, and a whole new world that Andrew could never have envisaged, opens out before him.  Peggy bursts into his world and Andrew starts to realise he is drawn to her and that maybe he is entitled to be happy. Except Peggy who is unhappily married, believes that Andrew is a happily married father of two. 

In an excruciating turn of events, Andrew’s boss Cameron decides the team building exercise should be a Come Dine With Me experience, with each employee hosting a dinner party at their house. How can Andrew possibly take part and risk his carefully constructed reality come crashing down around him. Should he risk telling his colleagues and more importantly Peggy the truth, and lose everything including her friendship, or say nothing?

This dilemma is intertwined with Peggy and Andrew on their own mission to find a lady simply known as ‘B’ who is in a picture found at the house of one of their clients called Alan Carter. They head off to Northumberland to attempt to trace her, and it is there that away from other people that their relationship changes for ever.

Richard’s writing is pitch perfect the whole way through. His innate skill in making Andrew a character you root for from the very first time you meet him, and the fact you feel every pain, disappointment and glimmer of joy that Andrew does, is testament to his talent as a novelist. It is also witty, clever and filled with passages of such poignant writing on love and loss that it made me stop and re-read them.

I am not ashamed to say that this novel made me cry several times, as Andrew relived his estrangement from his sister and mother, and the awful heartbreaking incident that stopped him living his life. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is simply a light hearted, fluffy novel, because it isn’t. It is a beautifully written story of one man slowly finding his way back to the world he has shut out, and a novel of love, hope and connection.

Something To Live For is a very special novel, that I will insist everyone makes time to read., It has a wonderful, likeable protagonist at the centre, and in a world where we are so reliant on connecting with people via screens, we learn that Andrew and people like him, simply need us to put down our phones and take a minute to look up and speak with the people we might otherwise never see.

I loved it.

Thank you so much to Gigi from Orion for my copy in exchange for an honest review.