The Leeds Big Bookend’s Twelve Books of Christmas

Excuse me for being a little quiet on here recently, I’ve been in the big smoke trying to make my way in the publishing world. . . Busy times!
Here’s a piece I wrote for The Leeds Big Bookend last week. How many of these Christmas classics have you read over the holidays?

THE BIG BOOKEND BLOG

By Steph Bryant

As we open the final Advent calendar window, accomplish the final gift shopping mission, and carol sing our Santa hats off, Christmas Eve is upon us. But among the best parts of Christmas, aside from the chaotic celebrations and festive frivolities, is the literature. There is a wealth of festive reading to be done – and every person has their own favourites – but here is a selection of books that have made our Christmas lists over the years . . .

  1. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

A classic Christmas book! Dickens provided us with many iconic scenes and characters, with Ebenezer Scrooge’s journey from cold-hearted and selfish to a cheery Christmas do-gooder, and Tiny Tim’s famous closing line ‘God bless us, everyone!’. The morals of this Christmas tale remain timeless, and remind us of the true values of the festive period.

For Rebecca Leeming, our…

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The Liebster Award!

liebster2I am thrilled to announce that The Readersphere has been nominated for The Liebster Award! Thank you very much Vicky Pointing of What Vicky Did Next for choosing this blog 😀

The chain-effect of the Liebster Award is a great way of showing appreciation for young and up-and-coming blogs. Nominees for the Liebster Award have to have less than 200 followers, which made choosing my 10 blogs very difficult. So, like Vicky, I have chosen 5 of the most promising blogs in My Reader that I deem extremely worthy of exposure, followers and likes!

My Nominees:

Wordsworth is My Homeboy because this is a great blog on literature and the lifestyle of a poet and aspiring academic at the University of Sheffield. And Wordsworth crops up a fair bit too!

Rosa Reads because literature student Rosa reads, reviews, photographs, video-blogs and features literature of all varieties in a witty and thoughtful way.

Emily Rose Duffy because, although very new, this blog is very committed and Emily consistently posts humorous and interesting pieces about her “idiot abroad” adventures in Quebec.

Academic Ninja because this blog about politics and media has a lot of potential and needs a push to keep posting!

The Force of Wilber because these excellent flash fiction stories, poetry entries and general thoughts of a writer deserve some recognition.

The Liebster Award states you must answer 10 questions set by your nominator, and set 10 questions for your own nominees. Here are my answers to Vicky’s questions:

1. If you could only save three items from your home, what would they be?

Assuming that my mum, dad and brother were safely out of the house, I would grab my degree certificate and my box of my favourite photos. As I can’t decide, I would bend the rules slightly and wear my favourite Karen Millen dress (so that doesn’t count!), and – presuming the house isn’t burning down too violently – I would flip a coin and take either my battered copy of Mrs Dalloway or Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

2. Which habit of yours annoys your partner / housemates the most?

Living in my parents’ house, the main issue was my clumsiness and occasional heavy-footedness. They had to replace a few bulbs from the light fitting directly beneath my bedroom due to my clumpy footsteps. Dainty, as ever…

3. If you could be any superhero or mythic god for a day, which one would you choose and why?

Purely because her name sounds similar to mine, my initial thought was Persephone (Stephanie, Persephone..). However, then I realised she get’s abducted by Hades, and I didn’t fancy that. So I would choose Edesia, the goddess of feasting. What could be better than eating masses of food and being worshipped for it?!

4. What’s the worst lie you’ve told to get out of something you didn’t want to do? (this includes pulling a sickie at work)

Hmm, I can’t lie. Generally, blushing and stuttering happens and then I just own up. Sorry for the boring answer!

Alexandre Colin paints Byron as Don Juan with Haidee. Photo by AllPosters.

The 1831 Alexandre Colin painting of Byron as Don Juan with Haidee.
Photo by AllPosters.

5. What book, poem or film do you wish you had written / directed?

I really wish I wrote Lord Byron’s epic poem Don Juan simply because it is so clever. The ottava rima is so difficult to write – Byron totally knew this, he is showing off throughout the whole poem. I have the utmost respect for Byron who not only makes it fit and rhyme, but also makes it so entertaining. There are so many LOL moments in Don Juan, and I wish I had the talent to write such a comic and poetic masterpiece.

6. How would your friends describe you, in five words?

Leggy? Loyal? Hard-working? Approachable? Honest? These are traits I hope I have…

7. Why do you have a blog?

I wanted to start a literary blog because I finished my English Literature degree in June and did not want to lose my reading momentum. Now I’m pursuing a career in book publishing, I want to keep up-to-date with the industry and I thought reviews were a good way to do that! 

8. What one thing do you find most helpful when writing / blogging? e.g. silence / music / biscuits

When I write I have to be in silence. Any music distracts me, even wordless music. However, I have occasional intervals of dancing around my room to loud music to try and counteract the Stir Crazy Syndrome (!). And of course, chocolate-based snacking is always a help.

9. What’s been the most fun thing about blogging so far?

The most fun thing is the responses you get from people. One of the writers from the LS13 anthology told me that my review had inspired him to continue working on his novel, that he had unfortunately abandoned. This made me so happy, and I am determined to make my blog a place to celebrate books, and not axe them!

10. What’s the hardest thing about blogging?

The hardest thing for me is blogging regularly. I try to achieve quality not quantity, which therefore means I take my time writing. I’d much rather produce something insightful and well-written for my followers, than something rushed just for the sake of meeting a deadline.

And my 10 questions for my nominees are:

1. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

2. What is your greatest achievement so far?

3. Which period of time do you wish you were alive in, and why?

4. Marmite: love it or hate it?

5. Which fictional character (from films, TV, plays, books) do you wish was real, and why?

6. Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

7. What/who never fails to make you laugh?

8. Do you have a favourite place to write/blog?

9. What is the aim of your blog?

10. What do you enjoy the most about writing your blog?

Rules of the Liebster Award:

  • Each nominee must link back to the person who nominated them.
  • Answer the 10 questions which are given to you by the nominator.
  • Nominate 10 other bloggers for this award who have less than 200 followers.
  • Create 10 questions for your nominees to answer.
  • Let the nominees know that they have been nominated by going to their blog and notifying them.

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Review: ‘The Reason I Jump’ by Naoki Higashida

The Reason I Jump, Naoki Higashida, Sceptre Books.

The Reason I Jump, Naoki Higashida, Sceptre Books.

Title: The Reason I Jump: One Boy’s Voice from the Silence of Autism

Author: Naoki Higashida, translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell

Genre: Non-fiction

Publisher: Sceptre Books

Publication date: 1st July 2013

Rating: 8.5/10

Over the last two weeks I have undertaken a work experience placement in the Sales department of Hodder & Stoughton. I thought it would be both relevant and interesting to review one of their titles whilst I was there, for an example of the kind of work they publish. The Reason I Jump was published by Sceptre at the start of Summer 2013, and since then its sales have had a steady momentum of popularity and success. The book consists of 58 questions and answers about autism, with Naoki’s creative writing pieces dispersed in between. So, in true Naoki Q&A style, here is my review…

Q1) What intrigued you about The Reason I Jump?

Written by a thirteen-year-old autistic boy, The Reason I Jump is a handbook of answers and explanations to aid the parents, friends, teachers and generally anyone who encounters autistic people. By using an alphabet grid and keyboard, Naoki Higashida is able to give the autistic population a voice, where some would otherwise be unable to communicate or express themselves.

Naoki’s concise explanations to frequently asked questions shatter the stereotypical preconceptions of autism as a self-involved, ignorant and anti-social condition. He, rather, unveils the truths of being an autistic person, and invites you to understand the real people behind the condition, and the hardships they go through.  According to The National Autistic Society, nearly two-thirds of adults with autism in England do not have enough support to meet their needs. This statistic alarmed me: The Reason I Jump offers you an insider’s view of the effects of such neglect, and pleads for help and empathy from so-called “normal” people.

“Can you imagine how your life would be if you couldn’t talk?”

Q2) Did The Reason I Jump help to explain the differences between “normal” and autistic people?

Yes. The distinction between “normal” people and autistic people is insisted upon by Naoki, and he maintains a distance between ‘us’ and ‘them’ throughout the book. This is saddening, but true. There is a definite barrier in communication for autistic people, triggering problems with conversation, emotions, reactions; basically being unable to express any indicator of feelings. Due to this impossible obstacle, autistic people are very much separated from “normal” people, leaving them at times miserable, misunderstood and trapped inside bodies that they cannot control.

Naoki Higashida, author of The Reason I Jump. Photo by Miki Higashida

Naoki Higashida, author of The Reason I Jump.
Photo by Miki Higashida

In one of his answers, Naoki writes about his fascination with nature, and the autistic perspective in relation to the natural world. It seems that, in some unknown way, autistic people do see the world in a different light to “normal” people. Surely we all have the same eyes and senses – but perhaps, some senses are heightened than others with autism, and weakened in other areas like communication.

When asked if he would want to be “normal”, interestingly, Naoki declines the offer. Just as autism is The Unknown to us, being “normal” is just as mystifying to him. As autism has no cure, it is all about learning to live with this very difficult condition, whether you’re “normal” or autistic. The Reason I Jump would be such a useful and fascinating guide for someone like a parent or teacher who can identify the autistic behavioural patterns in their child or student, and then get answers why they do this, or why they don’t do that.

“[…] Those people who help us study, they actually need more patience than we do. They need to understand our eagerness to learn, even though from the outside we may not appear to be keen students. But we are. We, too, want to grow.”

Q3) What did you like the most about The Reason I Jump?

What I find most remarkable about this book is the short story I’m Right Here’ included at the end. Naoki well and truly obliterates the common myth that autism hinders creativity and empathy. Very skilfully, he crafts a heartfelt story of love and loss, Heaven and Earth. This ability is usually believed non-existent for an autistic person. Not only does Naoki anticipate the emotional impact of his story, but he also manipulates the emotions of the reader. Through this burst of creativity and imagination, Naoki proves that autism does not render you emotionless or unable to empathise with other people. For me, this really underlined the poignancy of this condition. To feel everything “normal” people feel, yet to be unable to show it, must be very lonely indeed. The Reason I Jump opened my eyes to the realities of autism, and I have so much respect for people with this condition now I have read Naoki’s account.

“One of the biggest misunderstandings you have about us is your belief that our feelings aren’t as subtle and complex as yours. Because how we behave can appear so childish in your eyes, you tend to assume that we’re childish on the inside, too. But of course, we experience the same emotions that you do.”

Q4) Where can I buy The Reason I Jump?

The Reason I Jump is available in Hardcover, Paperback and eBook formats through Amazon.

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Day 35: Postbox 56 part 3

Check out Vicky Pointing’s latest flash fiction challenge! 35 days, 35 stories. Here’s a taster…

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Review: LS13

LS13 Ink Lines, Valley Press

LS13, Ink Lines and Dead Ink

Title: LS13: A New Generation of Leeds Writers, edited by Wes Brown

Authors: Dan Annett · Cristina Archetti · Jenny Beech · Matthew Bellwood · SJ Bradley · Sarah Brooks · Joshua Byworth · Rosa Campbell · Max Dunbar · Gareth Durasow · Aissa Gallie · Lizzi Hawkins · AJ Kirby · Adam Lowe · Zodwa Nyoni · Caleb Parkin · Adam Z. Robinson · Richard Smyth · Claire Stephenson · Matthew Hedley Stoppard

Publisher: Ink Lines and Dead Ink

Publication Date: 7th June 2013

Rating: 8/10

Individually they are emerging writers under forty, living or working in Leeds; together they are a community of creativity and innovation. The LS13 anthology bears the subtitle ‘A New Generation of Leeds Writers’, binding each of the twenty young writers to the influence of their city and their age group. The editor Wes Brown affirms the top twenty list is ‘by no way a definitive selection of a co-ordinated “Leedsness”’, and presents the anthology as a sample of the city’s literary life.

On considering the collection as a whole, one word was boldfaced in my mind: diversity. Not only in the content of the writing, but there were no set patterns in the forms, narrative styles and themes either. LS13’s content ranges from sea-shanties to science fiction, flash fiction to poetry, magic realism to film pieces; all that was missing was John Cleese popping up in between each piece saying ‘and now for something completely different’!

Adam Lowe reads his work at the LS13 launch. Photo by Steve Evans

Adam Lowe reads his work at the LS13 launch.
Photo by Steve Evans

This, for me, really nails the essence of Leeds. Such an international and independent city reflects the unique work of its inhabitants, and the individuality of twenty Leodensian imaginations seems to be the linking factor in LS13. In order to give a taste of the anthology’s fresh, compelling content, I will comment on a few texts that I engaged with the most.

Kicking off the collection is writer, publisher and producer, Adam Lowe and an extract from his novella ‘Monster’. Written in multiple perspectives, Lowe creates a jerky yet intricate narrative that gradually reveals and builds upon character and plot. The fantasy elements of this text creep through traditional legends like the Beowulf, and the cyber world. However, the first person present tense narrative adds a sense of immediacy and realism, as the reader can access the interior thoughts of each character, like a human bond. This clever fusion of two genres reiterates the non-conformist and boundary-breaking approach to writing in Leeds.

Jenny Beech at the launch of LS13, June 2013. Photo by Steve Evans

Jenny Beech at the launch of LS13, June 2013.
Photo by Steve Evans

Something completely different – and completely brilliant too – is Jenny Beech’s short story ‘The Gap in the Curtains’. This story is my personal favourite: it captures the confining, suffocating numbness of depression from both the exterior and interior perspectives. Beech seamlessly weaves between Will and Jo’s thoughts, displaying the significance of interiority of mind and space when dealing with loss. I found it impossible not to empathise with each character. It seems the overarching theme of the text was a comment on the fragility of human nature and the inevitable place of emotion within life. Five stars to Jenny, for making me cry on the train.

Another playful piece is Rosa Campbell’s ‘Melville’. As a seventeen-line poem all in one single phrase, I found particular interest in the way it sounded aloud. Naturally, the minimal punctuation and the hanging connectives increase the speed that you read, so it appears almost a confessional burst of feelings. Campbell’s overflowing words and detailing of the characters’ separation reveals the frenzy of emotion in such situations, like a stream of consciousness. ‘Melville’ achieves this expression of life perfectly and the power of poetry is acknowledged in the final lines: ‘[…] I don’t know| If you meant to be poetic but my god, |There’s nothing but poetry here.’

AJ Kirby at the LS13 launch. Photo by Steve Evans

AJ Kirby at the LS13 launch.
Photo by Steve Evans

AJ Kirby’s ‘Extract from Prometheus City: A Leeds Crime Novel’ is also a text that stood out to me. Although LS13 only divulges a fragment of Kirby’s work, his skills in narrative perspective and plot dynamics are very apparent. An omniscient, and sometimes free indirect, narrator stalks Alex through Leeds back to her apartment. The precise description of the streets of Leeds draws a parallel to the geographical accuracy of Joyce’s Ulysses in Dublin, where the character’s journey is mapped out by the author. Monitoring Alex’s location further presents the text as ‘A Leeds Crime Novel’, with Kirby’s narrative techniques imitating detective work. AJ Kirby’s innovative approach to writing is just one example of LS13’s calibre of work.

Keeping the reader on their toes, Aissa Gallie offers a very different view of Leeds in her ‘Film Piece: The Spaces Between Us’. Writing with a camera lens vision, Gallie describes a mundane scene of family life in a Leeds park. The three characters, a mother and her children, are connected in multiple frames of vision. It seems the purely imagist text is minimal in language, yet the images show a permanent familial bond; perhaps this strong link between the characters is one that is best expressed through film. This variety of form in the LS13 collection is what I particularly like about this book, and it says a lot about Leeds’ literary diversity.

Richard Smyth reading his winning story 'Deep'.  Photo by Steve Evans.

Richard Smyth reading his winning story ‘Deep’.
Photo by Steve Evans

Chosen by the poet CJ Allen, the LS13 competition winning story, ‘Deep’ by Richard Smyth, follows the daydream of a nameless cricketer. Time yo-yos from present to past as Smyth skillfully reveals the poignant story of the protagonist’s youth. I found myself absorbed in the character’s memories, and then abruptly brought back to the present; a technique that I think works best in the short story form.

LS13 has successfully given the city of Leeds a whole new range of literary voices. 2013 has been a fantastic year for the city in terms of building upon the community of writers, poets, playwrights and literary enthusiasts through festivals, events, and books like this. LS13 is available to purchase in both paperback and digital formats here.

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Review: ‘Shark’ by Wes Brown

Wes Brown's Shark, published by Valley Press, 2013

Wes Brown’s Shark, published by Valley Press, 2013

Title: Shark

Author: Wes Brown

Publisher: Ink Lines, at Valley Press

Publication Date: 1st August 2013

Genre: Social Realism, Political

Rating: 7.5/10

Cosy in my poolside bubble of holiday bliss and sunshine, I read Shark, where the soldier-turned-pool hustler John Usher plunged me straight into the deep end of Broken Britain. Published earlier this year by Valley Press, Shark relates the anticlimactic homecoming of a West Yorkshire warrior to a land of no hope and no glory. Wes Brown depicts his protagonist as an outsider to his country, struggling to find his place in a society that can’t seem to accommodate its own war-heroes.

The novel presents a bare, visceral vision of modern day life, and rejects the sugar-coated veil that hides it. From the beginning, Brown immerses the reader in the dulcet tones of the North, with monosyllabic grunts and guttural Leeds dialect. This minimalistic, almost primordial, mode of communication reiterates the blunt delivery of how John sees Britain. Shark does not shy away from the frankly nauseating stories of corrupt soldiers, and images so shocking your brain cells will squirm with repulsion. The worst part is that this hideous picture of the world is not fictional, and Brown’s unapologetic narrative doesn’t let you escape that.

Brown excels in his use of the stream of consciousness mode, capturing John Usher’s awareness and his progression towards a better life. In a recent blog for The Leeds Big Bookend, Brown describes his first vision of John Usher as ‘a man playing pool by himself in the shadows’. This faceless silhouette echoes Shark’s unblinking focus on Usher’s interiority and the complexity of his psyche, not his appearance.

Shark is a story of a shell-shocked man whose internal mind is dictated by a conflict between his memories of war, and the present day. With this in mind, I saw a connection between John Usher and Virginia Woolf’s psychologically disturbed character Septimus Warren Smith from Mrs Dalloway. Woolf presents Septimus’ distorted thoughts through a stream of consciousness; similarly, Brown shows John’s scattered regressions into the past through an unceasing, interior monologue.

[…] Just to get away from the chaff daze, the noise and pictures of war that stay in his head and the montage of violence; how his day feels bruised, open, empty without the necessity for war, for structure, the MoD’s guidelines on how to live your life, every day. But that’s gone. No more bombs. But the rattle stays in your head, still combs through your thoughts. You can’t escape it, you can’t let go of yourself, the way you were and the things you did.

With Shark, Broken Britain and the Iraqi battlefields don’t seem that far apart. Both are founded on opposition and division; Us and Them. Wes Brown offers an insightful vision of modern day Britain through the eyes of one man, flitting between past and present, war and peace. A rebellious, stimulating read, even if it did burst my holiday bubble.

Shark is available to buy in paperback or digital formats from Valley Press or Dog Horn Publishing.

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Welcome to The Readersphere!

IMG_2443HELLO out there and welcome to my blog! Follow me to find inspiration for your reading to-do list: the new, the old, the exhilarating, the moving, the epic, the short, and everything in between.

Expect book reviews of up-and-coming writers and texts; fresh perspectives on current issues in the literary world; and a few “spotlight” posts on notable work.

The aim of The Readersphere is to share books and connect with the masses of literature lovers in the Blogosphere, Twittersphere, and beyond… I endeavour to cover a wide range of genres and literary forms to keep the reading community in even closer circles!

So, if you are a writer and would like to spread your words, please contact me via the form below and I can review your book! Alternatively, tweet me @steph_bryant.

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