July Book Giveaway: win a copy of The Women of Versailles

July Giveaway The Women of Versailles

You’ll need to hurry, because there are only a few days left for you to enter our monthly giveaway – and this month, the prize is a copy of Kate Brown’s ‘extraordinarily timeless’ debut novel, The Women of Versailles.

To enter, simply sign up to the Seren newsletter before 1st August:
https://www.serenbooks.com/newsletter/signup

Book Giveaway The Women of Versailles


About The Women of Versailles:
The Women of Versailles Kate Brown
Princess Adélaïde, daughter of Louis XV, is at odds with the etiquette of the French court. Adélaïde envies her brother, is bored with her sister and, when Madame de Pompadour, a bourgeoise, comes to court as her father’s mistress, she is smitten, with dangerous results. Adélaïde pushes against the confines of the court, blind to the difference between a mistress and princess, with tragic results. Forty-four years later, under the looming shadow of the revolution, what has happened to the hopes of a young girl and the doomed regime in which she grew up?

‘Dark and rich, The Women of Versailles is filled with political intrigue, sexual awakening, and the roots of revolution.’ – Peggy Riley

 

We will pick a winner at random from all our email subscribers on 1st August. Make sure you have signed up to Seren News before then to be in with a chance of winning!

Why not give your friends a chance to win too, by recommending that they sign up to our newsletter before the end of the month using this link?
www.serenbooks.com/newsletter/signup

 

 

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Summer Sale Bestsellers

bestsellers summer sale

There’s still time to take advantage of our big summer sale, which ends midnight tonight. But what should you buy?

All our books are half price, and that includes a gloriously diverse range of books – everything from novels and short stories to poetry, biography and travel books – so we can’t blame you if you are struggling to choose what to read next. To help you decide, take a look at our sale bestsellers below.

 

Poetry

This Is Not A Rescue Emily Blewitt1. This Is Not A Rescue, Emily Blewitt
£9.99  £4.99
Top of the charts is young Welsh poet Emily Blewitt’s striking debut collection.
In This Is Not A Rescue, vibrant love lyrics contrast with poems confronting trauma and violence. Lighter themes include an homage to Jane Austen and an irreverent portrait of a Star Wars character.
‘Here is a riotous, cacophonous and wonderful book. Here is an important new voice in British poetry.’
– Jonathan Edwards, author of My Family and Other Superheroes.

Basic Nest Architecture Polly Atkin2. Basic Nest Architecture, Polly Atkin
£9.99  £4.99
Coming in a close second is Polly Atkin’s first collection, which follows her Mslexia Prize-winning pamphlet, Shadow Dispatches. Atkin has already built up a loyal readership for her complex, intelligent, densely metaphorical lyrics, often inspired by the beauties of the Lake District where she has made her home for a decade. The remarkable poems in Basic Nest Architecture are a testament to her persistence and artistry: as well as being profoundly personal, they reach out to the modern world in all it’s complexity and diversity.

Heat Signature Siobhan Campbell3. Heat Signature, Siobhan Campbell
£9.99  £4.99
There is a beautiful ruthlessness to the poetry of Siobhán Campbell, and it comes as no surprise that her latest collection, Heat Signature, is proving so popular in the sale. These are poems of moral tension, of provocation, but they are also artful: full of marvellously terse textures, of clashing consonants, subtle rhymes and insistent rhythms.
The blend of dark comedy, tragedy and politics is entirely typical of Campbell’s complex, thoughtful and profoundly entertaining poetry.

What the Water Gave Me Frida Kahlo Pascale Petit4. What the Water Gave Me: Poems after Frida Kahlo, Pascale Petit
£8.99  £4.49
‘Pascale’s poems are as fresh as paint, and make you look all over again at Frida and her brilliant and tragic life.’ – Jackie Kay, The Observer
What the Water Gave Me contains fifty-two poems in the voice of the iconic Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo. More than just a verse biography, this collection explores how Kahlo transformed trauma into art after the artist’s near-fatal bus accident. Petit, with her vivid style, her feel for nature and her understanding of pain and redemption, fully inhabits Kahlo’s world. Each poem is an evocation of “how art works on the pain spectrum”, laced with splashes of ferocious colour.

 

Fiction

Ritual, 1969 by Jo Mazelis1. Ritual, 1969, Jo Mazelis
£8.99  £4.49
Jo Mazelis’ darkly beautiful short story collection is your favourite fiction book so far. These subtle, unflinching stories explore the unsettling borderland between reality and the supernatural. Ranging from early twentieth-century France to 1960s South Wales and contemporary Europe, we are introduced, with singular vision and poetic language, to characters caught up in events and feelings they do not fully understand or control.

six pounds eight ounces Rhian Elizabeth2. Six Pounds Eight Ounces, Rhian Elizabeth
£8.99  £4.49
In second place is Rhian Elizabeth’s tragicomic tale of growing up in the South Wales valleys.
Hannah King is a liar, so everyone says. That means her stories of growing up in the Rhondda must be treated with caution. Rhian Elizabeth opens Hannah’s notebook up on her own little world of crazy friends and crazy family, and a crazy school with crazy teachers who aren’t always what they seem. From dolls and sherbet lemons, to a bright student who drops out of school in favour of drink, drugs and glam rock up on an estate which feels like another planet, Hannah, it seems, has always been trouble.

3. Larkinland, Jonathan Tulloch
£9.99  £4.99
Jonathan Tulloch’s remarkable new novel isn’t officially released until 27 July, but that hasn’t stopped it being one of our most popular books in the sale.
A pitch-perfect realisation of Philip Larkin’s poetic world, Larkinland follows the moving misadventures of would-be poet Arthur Merryweather, revealing the loneliness, commonplaces, fears, lusts and hope we all must face. Drawing on meetings with the women in Larkin’s life, Larkinland casts startlingly fresh light on one of Hull’s greatest ever poets.

4. Ibrahim & Reenie, David Lewellyn
£8.99  £4.49
David Lewellyn’s impressive and daringly human book comes in fourth on the fiction list.
Ibrahim is a young Muslim ex-student with a tough few years behind him, and Reenie, a seventy-five year old cockney, has her life’s luggage in a shopping trolley, complete with an orange tent and a cockatiel. Meeting by chance in Newport, the odd couple discover they are both walking from Cardiff to London, and not for charity. Ibrahim & Reenie follows their journey and the unexpected relationship that builds between them.

 

Non-Fiction

Dark Land, Dark Skies, Martin Griffiths1. Dark Land, Dark Skies, Martin Griffiths
£12.99  £6.49
Proving popular in our non-fiction list is Martin Griffiths’ Celtic re-interpretation of the night sky. Dark Land, Dark Skies is an exploration of how ancient Welsh peoples may have used their legends and beliefs to understand the stars above:  Leo, for instance, becoming a fearsome boar, and Pegasus (coupled to Andromeda on his back) representing the goddess Epona riding her white horse. This is a fascinating book, suitable for both amateur and professional stargazers.

2. Mametz, Aled Hughes
£14.99  £7.49
Aled Hughes’ extraordinary photographs are an artistic commemoration of the Battle of Mametz Wood, the most significant battle in World War I for Welsh troops. Over 4,000 soldiers of the 38th Welsh Division were killed or wounded there in July 1916, and Hughes’ photographs show the lingering evidence of this devastating event: images of actual trees from the war (some ‘embracing’ artillery shells), battlefield detritus, military mementoes, and images of places of modern pilgrimage and remembrance. It’s not hard to see why so many of you have chosen to buy this remarkable book.

Wild Places by Iolo Williams3. Wild Places, Iolo Williams
£19.99  £9.99
We hope all those of you with fresh new copies of Iolo Williams’ Wild Places don’t keep them pristine for long – this book is for exploring Wales’ wilderness with, rain or shine, and is compact enough to take with you on all your journeys. Informative and lavishly illustrated, Wild Places will reveal rarities like the Snowdon lily and the Snowdonia hawkweed, show you where hares box and otters swim, where to spot dolphins and salmon, and where to see Wales’ great variety of hawks and other birds of prey.

Writing Motherhood Carolyn Jess-Cooke4. Writing Motherhood, ed. Carolyn Jess-Cooke
£12.99  £6.49
Last but certainly not least is the Writing Motherhood anthology, a deeply moving and inspiring selection of poems, interviews and essays by female creatives. Why are still asking female writers with children how they find time to write? This book challenges preconceptions about motherhood as a creative hindrance, portraying the exquisite moments of motherhood as often enriching artistic practice instead.
‘Essential reading for anyone who is a mother, or who had a mother, and is interested in how motherhood and creativity intertwine.’ – Helen Cadbury

 

The half price sale ends at midnight. Take a look at all we have to offer on the Seren website.

Half price summer sale Seren

Summer sale, half-price spotlight: Alun Lewis

Half price Alun Lewis summer sale

Our Legend of the Month’s extraordinary war poetry, short stories, and biographies (written by John Pikoulis) are all included in the half-price summer sale – and the offer ends this Sunday.

Who was Alun Lewis?
Alun Lewis was born on the 1st July, 1915 in Cwmaman. A pacifist by nature, Lewis nevertheless eventually joined the Royal Engineers as World War Two broke out, and later qualified as a Second Lieutenant despite how unhappy military life made him. In December 1942, he arrived at a new station in Nira, India, and in the same year his poetry collection Raiders’ Dawn was published. It would be the only collection published during his lifetime. Lewis died on 5th March, 1944, in what many maintain to be a tragic accident. After his death came the publication of his second collection of poetry, Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets (1945), followed by Letters from India (1946) and In the Green Tree (1948). Most recently, Lewis’ lost novel from the 1930s, Morlais, (2015) has been brought into print for the first time, marking the centenary of this great writer’s birth.

See below for our selection of Alun Lewis titles.

Alun, Gweno & Freda by John PikoulisAlun, Gweno & Freda, John Pikoulis
£14.99  £7.49
Alun Lewis maried Gweno Ellis in 1941, but they were almost immediately separated as Lewis prepared for his deployment with the British army’s Royal Engineers. Alun, Gweno & Freda delves into the charged relationships Lewis maintained with Gweno, and with Freda Ackroyd, an expatriate in India, arguing both were key to his writing and his mental health. The circumstances surrounding Lewis’ death by a single shot from his own gun are illuminated, too, contributing to the ongoing debate about whether this was an accident or suicide.

Alun Lewis Collected PoemsAlun Lewis: Collected Poems, ed. Cary Archard
£9.99  £4.99
Lewis’ remarkable body of poetic work is skillfully brought together by editor Cary Archard. The Collected Poems includes the complete texts of his two published books, Raiders’ Dawn (1942) and Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets (1945), reprinted in chronological order and retaining the important
original section headings under which Lewis chose to arrange and group his poetry. Lewis’s two collections are a remarkably detailed and full account of the experience of becoming a soldier and going to war. As Archard states, ‘no-one can read this collection of poems, together in one volume for the first time, without being struck by how the singularity of his voice permeates a surprising diversity of forms’.

Morlais Alun LewisMorlais, Alun Lewis
£12.99  £6.49
South Wales. The Depression. Choices for young people are limited yet miner’s son Morlais Jenkins seems destined to follow the educational route out of Glannant, despite his lowly background. When the local colliery owner and his wife offer to adopt Morlais on the death of their son, his parents recognise the opportunity for an even brighter future for Morlais. But what price must each of them pay? As the story unfolds through turbulent times in their mining village, Morlais comes to a new understanding of life as he grows from a young boy into a young man.
Founded on vivid and authentic passages of everyday life, Morlais is an enthralling story of place and people and shows what an exciting talent was lost when Alun Lewis died aged only twenty-eight.

Alun Lewis: A Life, John PikoulisAlun Lewis: A Life, John Pikoulis
£8.95  £4.47
From his childhood days in the depressed valleys of South Wales, Lewis felt he had a vocation to be a writer. Pikoulis traces Lewis’s development from the remarkable schoolboy stories written as an unhappy boarder, through his university education at Aberystwyth and Manchester to his return to the valleys as a teacher. Lewis’s poems and stories, authentic and moving, were popular with both readers and critics, catching the tone of the ’phoney war’ years, and later the disturbing but exciting experience of his war in India. His vivid letters home, which have been compared to Keats’ letters, capture both the atmosphere of war and the essence of Lewis’s character, and Pikoulis draws on them to portray a fascinating man and writer.

 

Half price summer sale Seren

 

 

Friday Poem – ‘The 2nd Razumovsky Quartet and the Reductionists’, Vuyelwa Carlin

Friday Poem Vuyelwa Carlin

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘The 2nd Razumovsky Quartet and the Reductionists’, from Vuyelwa Carlin’s fourth collection, The Solitary.

Vuyelwa Carlin The SolitaryKnown for her distinctive style that owes something to Emily Dickinson’s brevity, Carlin is a surprising and unusual voice in modern poetry. This fourth collection features four distinct sections: the first includes a series of poems dedicated to two young grandchildren and to an autistic son. The second concerns itself with music, art, ageing and dementia. The third section has poems that recall the landcscape and people of Africa; there are also vivid pieces about wartime Poland, the Third Reich and the Holocaust. The final, title section, ‘The Solitary’, is a long sonnet sequence inspired by the lives of religious solitaires.

The Solitary is half price (£3.99) on the Seren website until midnight, Sunday 23 July, as part of our summer sale.

 

The 2nd Razumovsky Quartet and the Reductionists

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Solitary is available from the Seren website: RRP £7.99 £3.99 (until midnight, Sunday 23 July)

Join our free Book Club for 20% off every book you buy from us

 

 

Half-Price Hidden Gems: Prize-winners from the archives

Half-Price Hidden Gems Seren Archive

Today we shine the spotlight on some hidden gems from the archives – fiction, poetry and non-fiction prize-winners from years passed which, if you haven’t read already, come highly recommended.

We’ve just passed the mid-week hurdle, and that means there’s only a few days left to take advantage of our half price summer sale. If you’re struggling to choose your next read, why not start with one of the extraordinary books below? These are the oldies and goodies from the Seren archive.

John Haynes Letter to PatienceLetter to Patience, John Haynes
Costa Poetry Award Winner, 2006
Set in Patience’s Parlour, a small mud-walled bar in northern Nigeria, at a time of political unrest, Letter to Patience is a vividly atmospheric book-length poem divided into cantos. The poem is not only a biography, or an essay on post-colonialism, it is an epic portrayal of a beautiful and troubled country and of one man’s search for meaning in difficult times.

Touch CoverTouch, Graham Mort
Edge Hill Short Story Prize Winner, 2011
From a young child adrift on an ice-filled lake to an ageing farmer facing life alone, the twenty-one stories display a deep sensitivity to both the natural world and to human relationships. In skilfully crafted prose, vivid with detail, Mort examines the strength and fragility of life and the ties that hold us within it.
Touch spans twenty years of short-story writing, and includes the Bridport prize-winning story ‘The Prince’.

Hilary Menos BergBerg, Hilary Menos
Winner of the Forward Prize, Best First Collection, 2010
In this extraordinarily vibrant debut collection, icebergs floating down the Thames jostle with transvestites in Singapore, aliens wading the Hudson River and the lively crew from the local slaughterhouse. We go shopping with Ingomar the barbarian and watch Bernard Manning gigging at Totnes Civic Hall. Throughout, Menos brings a sophisticated sensibility to her poetry. Her subjects are seen aslant, with ironic as well as tender intentions.

 

Gift of a Daughter Emyr HumphreysThe Gift of a Daughter, Emyr Humphreys
Wales Book of the Year Winner, 1999
Archaeology lecturer Aled Morgan and his wife Marian flee to Tuscany, and the home of old friends, to escape a family tragedy. Yet even immersed in Etruscan culture, Aled finds that friendships aren’t all they seem, and that his wife has become almost a stranger to him. The Gift of a Daughter is a novel of delusion and self-knowledge, tradition and change, loss and identity in which the pace, plotting, characterisation and dialogue are as faultless as we expect from a writer of Emyr Humphreys’s experience and skill.

Nerys Williams Sound ArchiveSound Archive, Nerys Williams
Winner of the DLR Strong Award, 2011
Shortlisted for both the Forward Prize Best First Collection and the Michael Murphy Prize, Sound Archive is a strikingly original first collection of poems. Using formal strategies similar to modernist painting: abstraction, dislocation, surrealist juxtaposition, the poet conjures a complex music, intriguing narratives, and poems full of atmosphere that query identity, gender, and the dream of art as a vehicle for emotion and meaning. Williams confronts our preconceptions about what it might mean to be a woman writing against the background of two formidable traditions: that of Welsh-speaking Wales and of English literature.

Watching the Fire Eater Robert MinhinnickWatching the Fire-eater, Robert Minhinnick
Wales Book of the Year Winner, 1993
Watching the Fire-eater
covers variety of subjects: third world poverty and the internationalism of alcohol, rugby through the eyes of a vegetarian, nuclear power, sunbathing and a thanksgiving dinner for the demise of Margaret Thatcher. But at the core of this essay collection is a vivid series of attempts to strip away the exhausted mythologies of the writer’s own country and the increasingly-packaged places he visits. Whether in the rainforest or the big match crowd, Minhinnick’s language: acid, imagist, compassionate, celebrates the people he meets and, fleetingly, defines their lives.

Nia Wyn Blue Sky JulyBlue Sky July, Nia Wyn
Barnes & Noble Discovery Prize Winner, 2009
Set between the summers of 1998 and 2005 in Cardiff, Blue Sky July follows the story of a mother whose child suffers a devastating brain injury. It traces her journey into a world hidden away in society’s pockets as she battles against impossible odds to heal him.
Through Wyn’s intimate day by day musings, the book explores the impact of the tragedy on her home life, love life, friendships and connection to the world, as the most extraordinary relationship unfolds between them. Blue Sky July won the Glen Dimplex Biography Prize and was shortlisted for both the Good Housekeeping Book of the Year, and Wales Book of the Year.

Time Being Ruth BidgoodTime Being, Ruth Bidgood
Roland Matthias Prize Winner, 2011
Time Being is Ruth Bidgood’s tenth collection, and a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. It has been said, rightly, that Bidgood’s work is ‘emphatically a poetry of location’ and it is the history and nature of her particular region of mid-Wales that most inspire the author. Her distinctive voice has a quiet authority but also a subtle, conspiratory edge, as if she is letting one in on a secret, unveiling a hidden fact, or making a discovery. She avoids sentimentality, but – unfashionably – not sentiment; an observation can engender joy or sorrow or fear uncluttered by irony. These are ambitious attempts to transcend the lyric and move towards a more epic, multi-faceted form equal to the many experiences of her long life.

The Colour of Dawn, Yanick Lahens
Winner of the RFO Award (2009); Prix Millepages (2008); and Prix Richelieu de la Francophonie (2009)
Port au Prince, Haiti. The police roam the streets and no-one is safe. Fignolé, musician and political radical, is missing. His sisters Joyeuse and Angelique search for their young brother amid the colourful bustle, urban deprivation and political tension of the city. Eventually they will find him, but in the process they will also have found more about themselves than they wanted to know. The Colour of Dawn is a tense, passionate and vividly told story of small victories of hope in the face of a seemingly impossible fight against a monolithic regime.

Bilbao–New York–Bilbao Kirmen UribeBilbao–New York–Bilbao, Kirmen Uribe
Spanish National Literature Prize Winner, 2009
Bilbao–New York–Bilbao takes place during a flight to New York and tells the story of journeys by three generations of the same family. The key to the book is Liborio’s fishing boat, the Dos Amigos: who are these two friends, and what is the nature of their friendship? Through letters, diaries, emails, poems and dictionaries, Kirmen reflects on the art of writing, and the distinction between life and fiction. Kirmen’s novel, translated by Elizabeth Macklin, creates a mosaic of memories and stories that combine to form a homage to a world that has almost disappeared, as well as a hymn to the continuity of life.

 

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Summer Sale: Seren books half price this week

Summer Sale Half Price

Much like the nice weather, the Seren summer sale isn’t hanging around: for one week only, all our books are half price.

Seren Summer Sale books half price

Everything from poetry to novels, short stories, art, history and biography are included, and with so much choice, we thought you might like a helping hand deciding what to read next. Take a look below at our summer sale suggestions.

Best for… taking on holiday:
The Women of Versailles Kate BrownThe Women of Versailles by Kate Brown
£9.99 £4.99
This gripping and immersive novel tells the story of Adélaïde, daughter of King Louis XVI. Envious of her brother, bored with her sister and smitten with her father’s bourgeoise mistress, Adélaïde struggles with her budding sexuality and a desire for freedom of expression, both of which conflict with the expectations of the restrictive court of Versailles. Forty-four years later, under the looming shadow of the revolution, what has happened to the hopes of a young girl and the doomed regime in which she grew up?


Best for… devouring over lunch:
the man at the corner table rosie shepperdThe Man at the Corner Table by Rosie Shepperd
£9.99 £4.99
These poems are exquisite meals, to be consumed amidst surprising intimacies. The voice is one of urban sophistication; a merciless charm that teases and tempts us with sensual evocations of food and place. The gorgeous place settings of these poems are not just carefully delineated backdrops. They toy with our interpretations of ‘at table’. As in a Dutch master ‘tablescape’, they become symbolic of our relation to ourselves, to others and the world.


Best for… armchair reading:
Waterfalls of Stars Rosanne AlexanderWaterfalls of Stars by Rosanne Alexander
£12.99 £6.49
Rosanne Alexander paints the landscape and wildlife of isolated Skomer Island in vivid detail, drawn from her ten years spent as a warden on the uninhabited nature reserve. Waterfalls of Stars is a love-letter to this remarkable island, which is an important breeding ground for many birds, and populated by a stunning array of wildlife such as puffins, manx shearwaters, seals, and kittiwakes. With her lyrical evocation of the natural world and its enthusiastic and resourceful approach to the problems of island life, Alexander’s book is sure to inspire and entertain anyone who has felt the need for escape.


Best for… livening up a long journey:
significanceSignificance by Jo Mazelis
£9.99 £4.99
Lucy Swann is trying on a new life. She’s cut and dyed her hair and bought new clothes, but only gets as far as a small town in northern France when her flight is violently cut short. When Inspector Vivier and his assistant Sabine Pelat begin their investigation, the chance encounters of her last days take on a new significance.
Jo Mazelis’ Jerwood Prize-winning novel is utterly addictive, and the cast of characters who brush ever so briefly against Lucy Swann in her last days are vividly imagined.

Best for… when you’re out and about:
Wild Places by Iolo WilliamsWild Places, Iolo Williams
£19.99 £9.99
Springwatch’s Iolo Williams picks his favourite forty nature sites in Wales and describes them in breathtaking detail, revealing rarities like the Snowdon lily and the Snowdonia hawkweed, where hares box and otters swim, where to spot dolphins and salmon, and where to see Wales’ great variety of hawks and other birds of prey. This informative and lavishly illustrated book confirms Wales’ pre-eminence as a country rich in stunning landscape inhabited in abundance by all manner of life. Take it with you on your travels, and discover all the delights of natural Wales.


Best for… broadening the mind:
Dark Land, Dark Skies, Martin GriffithsDark Land, Dark Skies by Martin Griffiiths
£12.99 £6.49
The constellations haven’t always been the province of Greek and Roman gods: ancient peoples around the world have looked up and added their particular myths to the heavens, only to have them subsumed by the Classics as the science of astronomy developed. Astronomer Martin Griffiths repopulates the night sky with figures from Welsh myths and legends, including the heroes of the Mabinogion, in this Celtic reclaimation of the night sky. Complete with star charts for the entire celestial year and 80 photographs of astronomically interesting objects, this informative guide is suitable for amateur and professional astronomers alike.


Best for… curling up with before bed:
The Tip of My Tongue Trezza AzzopardiThe Tip of My Tongue by Trezza Azzopardi
£8.99 £4.49
Enid wants a dog and wants to be a spy, but listening in on adult conversations doesn’t seem to bring her any nearer to understanding their troubled world. For all that,when times get tough and she has to stay with the Erbins, particularly her rich and spoilt cousin Geraint, she has plenty of verbal ammunition to help her fight her corner. Trezza Azzopardi transforms the heroine from The Mabinogion’s ‘Geraint and Enid’ into a brave 1970s girl from downtown Splott in Cardiff who, no matter how difficult the circumstances, always seems to get the last word. The original Enid defends her misguided husband by warning him of approaching villains, even though he has forbidden her to speak. Azzopardi’s young Enid is also unlikely to respect a gagging order.

 

We hope you enjoy browsing our summer sale. The half price offer ends at midnight on Sunday 23 July, so don’t delay – see what you can find before the time runs out.

 

 

 

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Friday Poem – ‘Brown Furniture’, Ellie Evans

Friday Poem Brown Furniture Ellie Evans

This week our Friday Poem is ‘Brown Furniture’ from The Ivy Hides the Fig-ripe Duchess by Ellie Evans.

Ellie Evans The Ivy Hides the Fig-ripe DuchessEllie Evans’ first and only collection, The Ivy Hides the Fig-ripe Duchess, was published in 2011, a year before Evans sadly passed away. In this exhilirating book, the author uses a surrealist palette of imagery and a tightly focused idiom, taking us on strange journeys: to the post-apocalyptic world of the title poem, or into a skewed 18th century Venice in ‘The Zograscope’. There is also a palpable delight in technique: you will find a sonnet, a villanelle, triolets and a concise free verse where she employs rhyme, half-rhyme, and subtle alliteration.
‘Brown Furniture’ doesn’t take us to strange worlds or uncanny places, but the personification of an old oak cupboard evokes the oddity of aging, its painful straining: ‘I dent the carpet … you shove and shove/ and your eyes pop.’ The surface simplicity of the poem veils deep wells of meaning.

 

 

Friday Poem Ellie Evans Brown Furniture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ivy Hides the Fig-ripe Duchess is availabe from the Seren website: £8.99

Join our free Book Club for 20% off every book you buy from us

Short Story of the Month | ‘Swimming’ by Katie Munnik

Katie Munnik Swimming Short Story

July’s featured Short Story of the Month is ‘Swimming’ by Katie Munnik. Katie is a Canadian writer living in Cardiff whose prose, poetry, creative non-fiction and reviews have appeared in several magazines and anthologies; her first collection of short fiction will be published by Wild Goose this autumn. In ‘Swimming’ she paints a vivid picture of a hot day on the beach, a suggestion of something sinister hidden by the calmness of the sea.

 

Swimming

This is an extract. Read the full short story for free on our website.

 

Light and water and sand and warmth. Peace on the way here, too, which can’t be guaranteed these days. Seems of late we’re getting slammed doors and tears every day, and then I stand in the kitchen, taking long, deep breaths. It’s not as if I can’t remember what it’s like to be her age, but try convincing her of that. In such a rush to grow up. She doesn’t see how soon it will all be coming her way; how few years we have left before she’ll be leaving. We could almost count it out in months.

But not today.

Today, she is relaxed. Stretched out on a beach towel, her pale skin courting that perfect, golden glow and her nose already freckling. Long-limbed and lovely. She’s lying on her belly, reading a paperback from the library and chewing on a pencil. From time to time, she underlines something or scribbles in the margin. I’m only watching out the corner of my eye and I wonder what she’s adding to the story, but I don’t ask.

We left her dad at home, working on the new cedar deck. He’ll be sunburnt and spent when we get home, his skin covered in sawdust. He’ll be happy.

This beach is a favourite of mine. It’s not far from the city – only half an hour in the car – and we usually have the place to ourselves. My mum loved it here and used to bring us along on the bus, with a travelling rug and a thermos in the tote bag and her long hair tied back in a scarf. I’d steal her sunglasses and pull faces, pretending to be a bug, and she’d take them back and set them on top of her head, then straighten my pigtails and tell me to go collect some shells. She looked like a movie star, my mum. She’d like to be here now, I’m sure. I’d like that, too.

The sun is already hot on the sand and my skin feels tight. ‘You okay here?’ I ask, ‘I was thinking of going in for a swim.’

‘Fine, Mum.’ She doesn’t look up from the page and her voice is soft and distracted.

The sand is warm and dry under my feet. A breeze blows gently. Not enough to turn the pages of a book. The horizon looks hazy, and I wonder if it’s the heat. Does heat do that over water? I’m wondering about this when I hear a call from the dunes, so I turn to look back and there’s my daughter looking up from her book. Then I hear the crow call again. I smile, catching my mistake, and my daughter waves her hand and lets out an echoing caw. I wave back and turn again to the sea.

The water is cold, but it always is and I don’t hesitate. Step after step after step until I can lower myself in and let the water catch my weight. Long strokes pushing out, the water deepens under me. Further along the coast, there are rocky stretches and cliffs, too, but this bay is gentle and so is the sea. Everything is quiet. The birds must be further out, fishing where the water is deeper or tucked away on their cliffs to watch the world. All I can hear is the sea’s song, lapping and rippling around me.

I swim out a hundred strokes, counting with each breath.

A wave catches me with my eyes closed, mouth open, and I flip onto my back, full of sea. I spit out my breath and taste my heart in my mouth, wondering how a wave caught me unaware like that. I’m blinking now and everything shatters into reflected light as I find the surface again and try to balance, but another wave is coming, so I take a breath and tuck myself safely under the surface. The strength of the running water somersaults me and I can’t fight it. Surfacing again, I look for the next wave, but there isn’t one. The sea is flat…

 

Continue reading ‘Swimming’ for free here.

 

 

Friday Poem – ‘To a Comrade in Arms’, Alun Lewis

Alun Lewis To a Comrade in Arms Friday Poem

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘To a Comrade in Arms’, by our featured Legendary Author of the month, Alun Lewis.

Alun Lewis Collected Poems‘To a Comrade in Arms’ was originally published in Lewis’ first collection Raiders’ Dawn, which appeared during his period of service in Burma during World War Two. Raiders’ Dawn featured fourty-seven poems, and effectively answered the critics’ questions about the absence of war poets in that conflict. Alun Lewis is often seen as a poetic mouthpiece for the reality of the Second World War, his poetry faithfully communicating the mundane and sombre details he experienced.
In 2015, to celebrate the centenary of Lewis’ birth, we published Alun Lewis: Collected Poems, which contains this and other poems from Raiders’ Dawn, plus a selection from Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets (1945), and uncollected poems. A body of work which has endured and which transcends the label ‘war poetry’, Collected Poems is complete in itself, and full of promise of greater things.

 

Friday Poem To a Comrade in Arms Alun Lewis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alun Lewis: Collected Poems is available from the Seren website: £9.99

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An Interview with Polly Atkin

Interview with Polly Atkin

From nature, to places we call home and poetic inspiration – today we talk to Polly Atkin about her debut collection, Basic Nest Architecture.

Polly Atkin interviewPolly Atkin lives in Cumbria. Her debut poetry pamphlet bone song (Clitheroe: Aussteiger, 2008) was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award, 2009. Her second poetry pamphlet Shadow Dispatches (Seren, 2013) won the Mslexia Pamphlet Prize, 2012. In 2014 an extract from her first collection, Basic Nest Architecture, was awarded New Writing North’s Andrew Waterhouse Prize for ‘reflect[ing] a strong sense of place or the natural environment’. Polly has taught English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University and the Universities of Strathclyde and Cumbria.

 

Basic Nest Architecture Polly AtkinIn Basic Nest Architecture, the contrast between city and country, natural and unnatural, is at the forefront of many of the poems – did this theme emerge organically through the process of your writing, or was there a conscious fascination with the urban & rural you sought to explore from the outset?
I think the poems try to trouble the idea of these binaries – I’m not a fan of binaries generally; they always over-simplify – and especially the way people use terms like ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ or ‘rural’ or ‘urban’ to certain ends. The natural/unnatural dichotomy in particular is something that really bothers me. Natural to whom, or what? Unnatural how, and in what context?

There’s a very practical movement behind the appearance of some of those concerns in the poems – in 2006 I moved to Lancashire, and then to the Lake District – after seven years living in East London. People often think of the Lake District as a kind of little wilderness, but it’s actually one of the most populated national parks, with over 40, 000 people living within its boundaries. It contains towns and villages and a vast array of different kinds of managed lands, yet we are constantly encouraged to see it as wild and empty ‘Nature’, including by the Lake District National Park Authority themselves. People have a tendency to associate the rural with the past, and the urban with the future or with modernity. This association is as ancient as cities themselves, and hard to challenge. I don’t know what the best answers to our current environmental crises are, but re-examining some assumptions about how we live, and what we live with, seems pretty central to me. I’ve been doing that in a very small way in my own life, and I hope the poems are doing that too.

Which do you find a better source of poetic inspiration – the natural world or the urban one? Do you think your poetic style has shifted as you’ve moved from city to country?
I would never say one or other was more ‘inspirational’. A poet I respect a lot said to me a while ago ‘you’ve found your place’, and I think that’s the key, for me at least. I loved living in London whilst I was there, but when I left, it was coming out of a long fever or something. I had never loved a place I lived in before Grasmere, only the things a place provided for me, and the ways it allowed me to live. Really loving the place I woke up in every day was a radical difference for me.

As for style … I’m very much of the mind that it is important to keep learning and developing and changing, as a person, as an artist. What influences that change and growth can be many things, from what you read, to social and political changes, to changes in your environment. If I’m still writing the same way in ten years time that I am now, I’ll have to have a serious word with myself, if someone else doesn’t get there first.

In ‘Buzz Pollination’ we see a bee attempting to take pollen from a woman’s bracelet: ‘tricked by the blossom/ of my bracelet’s fat fake pearls, their delicious/ lustre’. The pearls are pretty yet useless – would you say this is indicative of the human preoccupation with aesthetics?
Partly … people can get very focused on the external without considering usefulness, and yes, that might suggest a preoccupation with aesthetics over function. But I wouldn’t say beauty didn’t have a purpose. Going back to the first question, those beads are something inorganic that is mistaken as organic. It’s not the fact that they’re not ‘natural’ that’s the problem, or that they’re fake pearls and not flowers, but that they’re in the wrong place. The bee needs flowers, and the flowers need the bee. But from my very selfish human perspective, the bee’s inappropriate attraction to my bracelet made me feel like the bee and I had some kind of connection. I liked it; liked the fact it kept coming back to me, as though that made me special, even though I knew on a larger scale that meant both the end of the bee, and the end of pollination. So maybe it’s really about human selfishness, and prioritising the human experience over the needs of the non-human.

Several of the poems seem to express the view that urbanization is destroying the natural world in the name of progress, particularly in the poem ‘The New Path’. Do you think that more should be done to protect British wildlife? Do you hope that your poetry inspires its readers to be more active in protecting it?
That’s a big ask for a poem, isn’t it? The most I can hope for is that some of these poem might make some readers question some of the ways they respond to the things around them, including, but by no means limited to, animals. There are a lot of debates about what animals should or should not be protected. I’m very aware of my status in Cumbria as an off-comer – an incomer, raised in an urban environment – exactly the kind of person who would sentimentalise foxes or badgers, and prioritise of the aesthetics of the landscape over practical concerns. ‘The New Path’ is literally about a new path, which seemed grotesque in its insistence on ease of movement, and in its inappropriateness in the landscape. But, like the road in the epigraph, ‘we take it nonetheless’. Why? Because it’s easier. If it allows access to someone who was unable to use the more aesthetically pleasing old path, maybe it’s not the new path that’s unreasonable.

Some of the poems capture the unease and discomfort at not feeling at home in either your location or your mind – for example ‘Dreams’ and ‘Colony Collapse Disorder.’ Did you find it difficult to write about such personal feelings, particularly when writing about your illness, or was this cathartic?
I wouldn’t say it was either particularly difficult or particularly cathartic, no more so than writing anything. Chronic illness, pain, and all the strange and marvellous things that come with them, are facts of my life. I write about them in the same way as I write about anything. Another way of looking at it is that all my writing is filtered through my mind and my body, my experience of the world, so I am always writing through those things, through personal and bodily feelings, whether they are the subject of the poem or not. Everything is both personal and totally impersonal in a poem. Once you write about it, it is outside you. It no longer belongs to you. I do joke a lot about ‘the Plath consolation’, that idea of ‘grit into art’, but it’s a very troubled concept, particularly where Disability is concerned. I recently heard David Constantine answer a similar question, and he said (in my poor paraphrase) that writing can’t be redemptive, or consolatory, that it can’t change the facts of real life, but that what it does instead is imagine different ways of being, different human possibilities. I thought that was very beautiful.

Lastly, what can we look forward to next? Are you working on any other exciting projects, or appearing at any events soon?
I’m working on new poems, but I’m not quite sure how they’ll come together yet. I’ve been working on a sequence about experiences of venesection (taking blood) as a treatment for Haemochromatosis, which will be included in a Wellcome Trust funded project called Books of Blood. Two of the poems from this sequence are going to be published in an anthology, Gush (Fronetac House, 2018), ed. by Rosanna Deerchild, Ariel Gordon and Tanis McDonald. I’ve got some other possible projects lining up but I can’t talk about them yet!

I’m lucky to have quite a few readings and events over the next few months including:

  • Guest Poet at The Garsdale Retreat, ‘Writing The Land: Crafting Poems from Inspired Communion’, Sedbergh, Wednesday August 23rd 2017.
  • Reading for Caught by The River at The Good Life Experience, Hawarden Estate, Flintshire, Saturday September 16th, 2017.
  • ‘Northern Poets’ event at Durham Book Festival, Saturday October 14th.
  • Reading with Elizabeth Jane Burnett at Kendal Mountain Festival, Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal, Saturday November 18th, 2017.

I put new events up on my website, so keep an eye on https://pollyatkin.com/events/ if you’re interested.

 

Basic Nest Architecture is available on our website: £9.99

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