Bar 44 Tapas y Copas: A tasty first look…

In this post, we’re bringing you a tasty first look at the highly anticipated Bar 44 Tapas y Copas cookbook which is publishing 8th November. 

Whether you’re meeting up with friends or enjoying a romantic night in, this delicious recipe for Tuna Tartare with Apple Ajo Blanco is sure to satisfy. Find plenty more delicious recipes just like this one in the book.

This autumn, brothers Owen and Tom Morgan, the force behind critically acclaimed, family-run restaurant group Bar 44, take the nation’s tastebuds on an unforgettable getaway. Bar 44: Tapas y Copas is the must-have tapas book of the year, packed with over one hundred beautifully photographed, out of this world Spanish recipes you can make in your very own kitchen.

“A great go-to recipe book.” – Matt Tebbutt, Saturday Kitchen

Tuna Tartare with Apple Ajo Blanco

300g fresh sashimi-grade tuna

50ml dark soy sauce

1 tbsp manzanilla sherry

Juice of 1 lime

For the ajo blanco

250g blanched almonds

100g white bread, crusts removed, then roughly chopped

3 slow-roast heads of garlic, peeled (see Note below)

200ml extra virgin olive oil

500ml pressed apple juice

2 tbsp amontillado sherry

Freeze the tuna for 48 hours to eliminate any parasites and bacteria and make it safe to eat. This is essential, so plan your meal ahead of time. Defrost the tuna in the fridge overnight.
      To make the ajo blanco, place the almonds, bread and garlic in a bowl, then add the olive oil and apple juice. Mix together and leave to soak for 1 hour.
      Transfer to a blender, add the sherry, grapes, cucumber and apples and blitz for at least 3 minutes. If you would like the purée to have a smoother consistency, press it through a fine strainer using the back of a large spoon. Season to taste, then chill until needed.
      Sharpen your knife as much as possible for clean, consistent cutting, then dice the tuna into regular 1cm cubes (no larger). Place in a bowl, add the soy sauce, sherry and lime juice, toss with a spoon and use straight away.
      To serve, pour some ajo blanco into the bottom of your serving bowls and top with the tuna. Garnish with the toasted almonds and coriander leaves, plus a drizzle of extra olive oil if you wish.

NOTETo roast garlic, preheat the oven to 200ºC/180ºC Fan/Gas mark 6. Place whole heads of garlic in a roasting tray and roast for 1 hour. Peel and use as needed.

Pre-order Bar 44 Tapas y Copas on our website: £25.00

Join us at Bar 44 Bristol this Thursday (4th November) for the in person launch. Tickets include a signed copy of the book, food and drink on the night and a donation to the Llamau and Street Smart charities. Find out more on Eventbrite www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/168241002367.

In this video Owen Morgan shares some of his favourite memories of Spain. Find more fantastic stories from their travels in the book.

Recipe: Summer Berry & Coconut Milk Ice Lollies

Get a sneak peak of what’s to come in Sarah Philpott’s new book with this delicious recipe for Summer Berry & Coconut Milk Ice Lollies from The Seasonal Vegan.

A kitchen diary of seasonal recipes with a delicious mixture of fine food writing and beautiful photography. This guide to eating with the seasons takes a realistic approach to shopping cheaply and sustainably, and proves that the vegan lifestyle is anything but expensive. Features recipes for all seasons, a section on dishes that can be enjoyed all year round, and menu ideas for special occasions.

 

Summer Berry & Coconut Milk Ice Lollies

10 minutes, plus freezing time

Makes 4 lollies

Ingredients

1 x 400ml can full fat coconut milk

1 punnet strawberries, hulled and sliced

1 punnet raspberries

1 handful fresh mint, chopped, stalks removed

Method

In a large bowl, stir together all the ingredients and spoon into ice lolly moulds. Place in the freezer and when frozen, remove from the moulds and enjoy.

 

Photograph: Manon Houston

The Seasonal Vegan is available to pre-order on the Seren website: £12.99

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Guest Post: Cath Drake – Inside the shaking city

Cath Drake’s debut poetry collection The Shaking City is due to be published on the 14th April. In today’s guest post, she reflects on its unexpected comfort given the situation we find ourselves in.

Inside the shaking city

“… a guide to staying clear-eyed, combative and caring in unsettled times.”
Philip Gross

My debut poetry collection The Shaking City is due for publication in a fortnight’s time. I could never have dreamed how this endorsement from Philip Gross on the cover, and indeed the book itself, would suddenly take on such relevance in the time of Coronavirus.

While I was finishing writing it, the environmental crisis became increasingly urgent. And just as it is being printed, the global pandemic has also descended on our lives. Now everything is interpreted by the utter transformation and precarity of life in lockdown.

We are all in the ‘shaking city’ together. We all were before but now it’s more obvious. We’ve had to radically change in the face of the pandemic.  We still need to radically change in order to address the environmental crisis, and indeed to survive as a species.

My book explores endurance to change, personal and global – the ‘shaking’ is an energy that holds both the extremes of discomfort and opportunity.

Each poem in the ‘Shaky School Album’ sequence contain ‘shaking’ at a point of change – a release, a realisation, a time when you face the unknown and come out the other side. It can be unnerving and exhilarating.

Some poems explore shaking in the unearthing of trauma, personal and societal. It can take courage and forbearance to face this kind of shaking, essential for positive change, and not to become enveloped by it.

The stories and characters in the book find solace in ways that are helpful or less helpful, often in unusual places or unexpected ways. Both are worth voicing, in the very least to be able to have compassion for all the ways we find comfort.

There are poems about misfits who turn out to be more in touch with their own sense of ‘shaking’ or aliveness in the cracks and corners of society than those following the norm. I wanted to explore mundane and imaginative worlds in order to get closer to what no longer makes sense to me – how our way of life increasingly undervalues community and the natural world.

 ‘This joyful, exuberant, wildly imaginative collection exhorts us all to unmoor our minds, to ‘live’ among the strange and shining.’
– Kate Potts

There is joy in seeing the world anew, in seeing each incredible infinite detail. I believe an environmental lens is vital to wellbeing and survival. I’ve been flying that flag since I was a teenager and when working as an environmental writer, journalist and broadcaster for many years in Australia. It has been very dispiriting seeing this care slip so easily down our list of priorities in my lifetime (although these last couple of years it’s moved back up the agenda, at least before the pandemic.)

The absurdity of not putting our natural world first has always distressed and astonished me and in the book I turn to an Australian folkloric Bunyip to help express this for me.

Another theme in the collection is the difficulty of being so far from home living over the other side of the world. Right now, in lockdown, we feel physically distanced wherever we are. Most of us feel this yearning on a daily basis. I hope it is at least partly, yearning with gratitude – the moments I’ve been able to spend with friends from home are deeply precious memories.

Our city is shaking. Even if it takes all our ability, even if we are particularly vulnerable, can we stay alive to it and come out the other side making better sense of our fragile world? I hope my book can help in some small way to find new ways of seeing in this difficult time.

 

The shaking city of Australian poet Cath Drake’s debut poetry collection is a metaphor for the swiftly changing precarity of modern life within the looming climate and ecological emergency, and the unease of the narrator who is far from home. Tall tales combine with a conversational style, playful humour and a lyrical assurance.​ The poet works a wide set of diverse spells upon the reader through her adept use of tone, technique, plot and form. She is a welcome new voice for contemporary poetry.

 

The Shaking City is available to pre-order on the Seren website: £9.99

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Happy International Women’s Day 2020!

Over the year’s we’ve been fortunate enough to work with a long list of fantastic female authors, all of whom bring something unique to the Seren list. There are too many to mention each by name in a single post, and so for International Women’s Day 2020 we’re shining a light on some of the women writers we are publishing in the first half of this year. Keep an eye out for their books coming your way soon.

Katherine Stansfield
We Could Be Anywhere By Now, March 2020

Katherine Stansfield grew up in Cornwall and now lives in Cardiff. Her poems have appeared in The North, Magma, Poetry Wales, The Interpreter’s House, And Other Poems, Butcher’s Dog, and as ‘Poem of the Week’ in The Guardian. Katherine’s debut collection Playing House (2014), a pamphlet All That Was Wood (2019), and her second full-length collection We Could Be Anywhere By Now (March 2020), are all published by Seren. She is also a novelist, with five novels published to date. Her latest titles are The Mermaid’s Call (third in her historical crime series set in Cornwall in the 1840s) and Widow’s Welcome (a political fantasy novel co-written with her partner and published under the name DK Fields). Katherine is the recipient of a Writer’s Bursary from Literature Wales. She teaches for the Open University and is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow.

Cath Drake
The Shaking City, March 2020

Cath Drake lives in London and has been published in anthologies and literary magazines in the UK, Australia and US. Sleeping with Rivers won the Mslexia Women’s Poetry Pamphlet Competition in 2013 and was a Poetry Book Society Choice. She has been short-listed for the Manchester Poetry Prize, and was second in the 2017 Resurgence Poetry School Eco-poetry Prize (now called Ginkgo) and highly commended in the same prize in 2019. Her work has included campaigning, copywriting and storytelling for good causes, environmental writing and award-winning journalism.The Shaking City, forthcoming from Seren at the end of March 2020, is her first full collection.

Sarah Wimbush
Bloodlines, March 2020

Sarah Wimbush comes from Doncaster and currently lives in Leeds. After winning the Yorkshire Post Short Story Competition in 2011 she began writing poetry. Her poems are rooted in Yorkshire with tales of childhood, colliery villages, and Gypsies and Travellers, and they have appeared in a variety of magazines including; the North, The Rialto, The Interpreter’s House, Stand and Strix. She won first prize in the Red Shed Poetry Competition 2016, and second prize in the Ledbury Poetry Competition 2019 where the judge, Daljit Nagra, described her poem as ‘linguistically charged’. A winner of both the Mslexia Poetry Competition (2016) and the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition (2019), she received a New Writing North – New Poets Award in 2019. Her debut pamphlet Bloodlines (Seren, March 2020) is the winner of the Mslexia/PBS Women’s Poetry Pamphlet Competition 2019.

Sarah Philpott
The Seasonal Vegan, April 2020

Sarah Philpott is a freelance copywriter and proofreader for a variety of organisations, and a fluent Welsh speaker who has appeared on S4C and ITV Wales to talk about vegan cooking. She is a regular guest on Radio Cymru, has written for Wales Online and writes restaurant reviews for the Wriggle app and website. She has a recipe column in Cardiff Now magazine and was featured in an article about vegetarianism in the Sunday Telegraph magazine, Stella. Sarah also has a vegan food blog, Vegging It. Her first vegan cookery book, The Occasional Vegan was published in 2018 and her second The Seasonal Vegan is forthcoming from Seren this April.

Kate Noakes
Real Hay-on-Wye, May 2020

Kate Noakes is a poet whose seventh and most recent collection, The Filthy Quiet, was published by Parthian in 2019 and was reviewed by the Poetry Book Society. Her work has been widely published in magazines in the UK, Europe and beyond. She was elected to the Welsh Academy in 2011. She lives in London where she acts as a trustee for writer development organisation Spread the Word. She reviews poetry for Poetry London, Poetry Wales, The North and cultural website London Grip. She can be found reading from her work all over the country, notably most recently at the 2019 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. Kate has degrees from Reading University and the University of South Wales. She teaches creative writing workshops in London and beyond and offers one to one poetry coaching. Real Hay-on-Wye (May 2020) is her first non-fiction title.

Katrina Naomi
Wild Persistence, June 2020

Katrina Naomi has published four pamphlets of poetry, including the Japan-themed Typhoon Etiquette (Verve Poetry Press, 2019). Her collection The Way the Crocodile Taught Me, (Seren, 2016) was chosen by Foyles’ Bookshop as one of its #FoylesFive for poetry.  Katrina was the first writer-in-residence at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in W Yorks, and since then has been poet-in-residence at the Arnolfini, Gladstone’s Library and the Leach Pottery. Her poetry has appeared on Radio 4’s Front Row and Poetry Please, BBC TV’s Spotlight and on Poems on the Underground. In 2017 she was highly commended in the Forward Prizes. She has a PhD in creative writing (Goldsmiths) and tutors for Arvon, Ty Newydd and the Poetry School. She received an Authors’ Foundation award from the Society of Authors for her new collection, Wild Persistence (June).

Rhian Edwards
The Estate Agent’s Daughter, June 2020

Rhian Edwards is a multi-award winning Welsh poet, renowned for bridging the gap between page and stage poetry. Her first collection Clueless Dogs (Seren) won the Wales Book of the Year 2013, winning the hat-trick of prizes. It was also shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2012.  Rhian also won the John Tripp Award for Spoken Poetry, winning both the Judges and Audience award. Rhian’s pamphlet Parade the Fib (Tall Lighthouse) was awarded the Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice for autumn 2008. Rhian’s poems have appeared in The Guardian, TLS, Poetry Review, New Statesman, Spectator, Poetry London, Poetry Wales, Arete, the London Magazine, Stand and Planet. Her second collection The Estate Agent’s Daughter is forthcoming from Seren in June.

Sue Gee
Just You and the Page: Twelve Writers and their Art, June 2020

Sue Gee is a novelist and short story writer. She has published eleven novels, including The Hours of the Night (1995), winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year award, The Mysteries of Glass (2005), long-listed that year for the Orange Prize, and Reading in Bed (2007) a Daily Mail Book Club selection. Her most recent novel is Trio (2016). She ran the MA in Creative Writing at Middlesex University from 2000-2008 and was awarded a Royal Literary Fund Fellowship at the University of London Graduate School in 2008. Since 2010 she has taught at the Faber Academy, and worked as a mentor for the Write to Life group at Freedom from Torture. With the novelist Charles Palliser she has for some twenty years run monthly author events at Stoke Newington Bookshop, under the umbrella N16 Writers & Readers. She is a frequent contributor to Slightly Foxed.

Jayne Joso
Japan Stories, June 2020

Jayne Joso is a writer and artist who has lived and worked in Japan, China, Kenya and the UK. Now living in London, she is the author of four novels, including My Falling Down House (2016) and From Seven to the Sea (2019). Her journalism has been published in various Japanese architectural magazines and in the UK’s Architecture Today magazine. She has also ghost written on Japanese architects for the German publisher, Prestel Art. She is the recipient of the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation Award, given to artists whose work interprets Japan to other cultures and was longlisted for the Rathbones Folio Award 2017. Her forthcoming short story collection Japan Stories (Seren, June 2020) reveals Japanese life in city and countryside through a variety of characters notable for their shared humanity.

 

Find more amazing books written by women on the Seren website

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Friday Poem – ‘Wales’ by Peter Finch

Our Friday Poem this week is ‘Wales’ by Peter Finch from his forthcoming collection The Machineries of Joy. Peter will be reading from this new collection at the Seren Cardiff Poetry Festival on Saturday 15 February.

The Machineries of Joy is the vibrant, uproarious, pointed & wildly entertaining new collection from renowned Cardiff-based performance poet, Peter Finch. Known for his inventive and multi-faceted formal strategies & his best-selling psycho-geographical peregrinations around Wales and the USA, he gives us the world in all its contemporary complexity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Machineries of Joy is available to pre-order on the Seren website: £9.99

Peter will be reading from The Machineries of Joy at the Seren Cardiff Poetry Festival on Saturday 15 February at 12pm. Book tickets online here.

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An Interview with Robert Minhinnick

Robert Minhinnick is one of Wales’ (some would say Britain’s) most eminent writers. Next month we publish his latest novel Nia, the third book in his coastal trilogy all set in the same fictional resort. Ahead of its publication on the 1st October, Robert talks to us about the novel’s themes, its characters and what inspires him.

 

 

In Nia, dreams, memory and time all flow into one, leaving the reader to decide for themselves what is real and what is in Nia’s imagination. What about this structure draws you to it when writing and how is it important to the development of your characters?

Frankly, ‘madness’ is a big part of my life, and how it is socially perceived. Schizophrenia continues to play a role in my family, via my mother and her sister, aged 93 and 91. During World War II, my father contracted malaria, in Burma. The result was periodic delirium. My writing tries to explore ‘madness’ and delirium, and relate them to memory and dreams and the very act of writing ‘fiction’.

Throughout the book you touch on themes of the environment and climate change. Do you think it is important that authors use their voice to highlight issues to their audiences, and why in particular are they important to you?

You’re interviewing someone who is co-founder of Friends of the Earth Cymru, in 1984, and the charity ‘Sustainable Wales’, ongoing.

This is your third novel set in the same fictional community, each with interlinking characters but separate, stand-alone stories. How have the community and its inhabitants changed over the course of the series? Will we see any more writing set in the same place?

The fairground is a constant theme. It’s a powerful metaphor, a constant source of drama. I can see it from my attic. I like the idea of a particular family or community being examined.  After all, staying/belonging are familiar themes in fiction.

Nia is a book dominated by sunshine, even drought. Limestone Man experienced a suffocating sea-fret. The town’s economic circumstances always play a part, as does its history, and they are very much based on Porthcawl where I live. The street names, for instance, are the names of ships wrecked off the Porthcawl coast.

You take Porthcawl and the Merthyr Mawr dunes as the inspiration for your fictional town. Why did you choose to reimagine that place?

I write about where I live. I decided long ago that I should celebrate Porthcawl and the areas between the mouths of the rivers Ogwr and Cynffig. My writing is one way of achieving this. In Nia, I also celebrate my time in Saskatchewan, and my brief periods in Kerala and Amsterdam. Writing about different places can create an interesting friction – a little like icebergs grinding against each other in the South Saskatchewan river.

Some may say that the structure of Nia is reminiscent of that of prose poetry. How does your long career as a poet influence your prose style?

Originally, Nia possessed chapter names. I dispensed with these at a late stage, as I felt they directed the reader too forcibly. One of my friends is disappointed by the first two novels in that there seems no real ‘resolution’. Of course, I tell him, even death does not resolve matters…

How has your fiction style developed over the course of writing this series? Did the process of writing Nia differ from that of your previous novels? 

I’m older. But still wishing to learn. The character of Nia is developed because some years ago the former fiction editor at Seren, Penny Thomas, told me I should strengthen my female characters.

Nia is obsessed with words. What is your relationship with them?

Well, obsessional might be the correct description.

Another blurred boundary between time and place, comes about through the travel stories vividly recounted by Nia’s friends throughout the book. In what way is the theme of travel important to the book, and to Nia’s story in particular?

I wanted to write about Saskatchewan. There are poems actually written there incorporated into the text of Nia. Also memories of visiting Auschwitz, Amsterdam, Kerala and New York. But the editing process removed many references…

Nia’s perception of her life seems unstable throughout: she constantly questions her own sanity and her role as a mother. These kinds of traits can be seen in the lead characters of your other two novels as well. What draws you to this type of character as a narrator?

All my narrators are ‘unreliable’, and plagued by self-doubt, dreams and delusion. That’s why memory blends into delirium. The fairground is an excellent means of depicting this. I look at the eyes of my grandchildren as they encounter the funfair, or ‘the shows’ as we used to call it, and wonder what they see…

At the heart of Nia’s story, is her dream expedition with her friends into the unexplored caves beneath the dunes. Why did you choose to centre the action of your book on a caving expedition, and what is the significance of the trip to Nia?

It’s a fictional expedition, but Nia doesn’t dream it. Yet she experiences many other dreams in this novel about the dunes, their history, flora and fauna.  ‘The Shwyl’ caves are based on ‘the Schwyll’ cave system, which provided fresh water for the Bridgend area (including the Seren office) until recently, using ‘the Great Spring of Glamorgan’, which emerges in Ewenni.

Thus, it’s a real place, little known yet fascinating. Perhaps Nia feels intimidated by the travel stories of Isaac Pretty and Skye, and it’s her way of competing with two seemingly powerful personalities, who have returned to her community.

Nia will be available on the Seren website from the 1st October 2019. Pre-order your copy now. 

Robert Minhinnick’s ‘Sea Holly’ series is a set of three novels that follow generations of one family – the Vines – and a cast of characters brought up in the same location, which is dominated by the sea, wild duneland, and a funfair. 

Friday Poem – ‘Angry Birds’, Eoghan Walls

Friday Poem Angry Birds

This week our Friday Poem is the opening number from Eoghan Walls’ forthcoming second collection, Pigeon Songs – ‘Angry Birds’.

Pigeon Songs Eoghan WallsPigeon Songs follows on from Walls’ much-praised debut, The Salt Harvest. From the first poem, we have a sense of the poet’s themes and preoccupations: we have a richly metaphorical and densely allusive style, a pull towards formal metre and structures. There is also the occasional vigorous vulgarity, adding a touch of blue humour to the canvas, breaking up the formal rigour. Family is a potent presence in poems inspired by parents, grandparents, partners, children. They often emit a sort of energy, a fierce gravitational pull of emotion around the burning heart of a poem ultimately about love, or the sorrow of losing a loved-one.

 

Friday Poem Angry Birds Eoghan Walls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pigeon Songs is due for publication on 28 February. Pre-order your copy now from the Seren website: £9.99

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Friday Poem – ‘Gen’ by Jonathan Edwards

Friday Poem Gen Jonathan Edwards

Costa Award-winner Jonathan Edwards is gifting us a splendid second collection, Gen, which arrives next week. Our Friday Poem today is the title poem from this new book.

You can catch Jonathan at Poetry in Aldeburgh on Sunday 4 November, 11:30am, where he will be reading some of his new poetry. Tickets available here.

Jonathan Edwards GenGen is a book of lions and rock stars, street parties and servants, postmen and voices. In the opening sequence’s exploration of youth and young manhood, the author sets his own Valleys upbringing against the ’50s youth of his parents and the experience of a range of pop culture icons, including Kurt Cobain and Harry Houdini. These poems give way to a sequence of monologues and character sketches, giving us the lives of crocodiles and food testers, pianists and retail park trees. Other poems place a Valleys village and the characters who live in it alongside explorations of Welsh history and prehistory, and the collection concludes with a selection of sometimes witty, sometimes heartfelt love poems. All in all, Gen is a superb follow-up to Edwards’ debut, My Family and Other Superheroes, which won the Costa Poetry Award in 2014.

 

Gen Jonathan Edwards Friday Poem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gen is available to pre-order from the Seren website: £9.99

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An extract from A Simple Scale by David Llewellyn

David Llewellyn A Simple Scale Extract

In David Llewellyn’s compelling new novel, A Simple Scale, a single piece of music starts a story that takes us from Soviet Russia and McCarthyite Hollywood to post-9/11 New York, as the mystery of the lives of two gay composers is uncovered.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, a man arrives in New York to claim that the theme tune of a popular tv series, said to be written by composer Sol Conrad, in fact belongs his grandfather Sergey, an eminent Russian composer who was sent to the gulag by Stalin, and from whom Sol stole the score. Conrad’s young PA Natalie is determined to defend her elderly employer, but as she digs deeper she discovers worlds of which she barely knew – Russian labour camps, McCarthyism, repressive governments, and the plight of homosexuals in the USA and USSR during the twentieth century.
Rich in detail and atmosphere, David Llewellyn explores the points at which the personal and the political meet. Throughout, his depiction of ’30s Leningrad, ’50s California and post-9/11 New York is only too believable.

Our featured extract begins on page 24 of the novel. It opens onto a wintery scene, in what was then Leningrad…

 

Chapter 2:
LENINGRAD, FEBRUARY 1950

Another time, another place; the city grey, the snowflakes falling in the street like ashes. Beneath the station’s clock tower, two heavy doors swing open with a gasp, and Sergey Grekov steps out, his coat held around him and his gloveless hands clasped tightly in his armpits. Thirty-seven years old but prematurely grey and uncommonly thin, he looks at Leningrad as if it still might be a mirage.
From everything he has been told these last few years, he was anticipating ruins. Hollow buildings and charred timbers, streets strewn with rubble. Instead, he finds it repainted and rebuilt,and yet the place is different,as if everything has been moved around in his absence, as you might rearrange the furniture in an old room.
He’s unaccustomed to choice. When he comes to a junction, he can go in any direction; left, right, straight ahead. The space is almost limitless. No perimeter fence, no watchtowers, no guard dogs. Yet this isn’t complete freedom. His papers tell him where to go and when. The tenement, the factory. Disobey them, and there’s every chance they could send him
back.
The streets around the station are almost empty. The few people he passes look shabby, not how he remembers them. Moscow was always the peasant city, the place where people look as if they’ve just arrived from the country. Not Leningrad. Not Piter.
Moskovsky Prospect is busier, especially once he’s crossed the bridge. There, he moves through a shuffling black mass of other people, winter coats and hats dusted with snow. A xylophone-ribbed dog shivers and keeps pace with him along the gutter. Red and white trams whisper through the slush, passengers pressed against windows opaque with steam. The bell of a nearby clock strikes one.
The last time he saw this street it was through the windows of a police car, in the early hours of a Tuesday morning. It was August then, the air already humid, and stuffier still inside the car. He remembers an agent, a lad barely older than twenty, lighting his cigarette for him – his own hands were cuffed – and the way the car was filled almost immediately with smoke.
As a young man, Leningrad’s winters seemed so much colder than this – far too cold to consider walking very far – but the last leg of his journey was spent in a train compartment with ten others. They took it in turns to sit, but there was no room to lie down and sleep. Cold as it might be, it’s good to be out in the open. Besides, he has known far colder.
His papers tell him to report to the tenement building no earlier than 3pm and so, to pass the time, he finds a café where he orders coffee, black bread and a bowl of rassolnik.
The secret police and their informants were everywhere in the north; guards spying on prisoners and even prisoners spying on guards. No-one trusted anyone. But what about here, in this café? The skinny lad behind the counter, perhaps. The old woman eating some indeterminate grey mush out of a chipped bowl. The crooked figure hunched over a newspaper in the far corner.
The soup, when it arrives, is mostly barley and carrots, little in the way of meat. Sergey dips his bread into the soup. He hasn’t eaten in more than a day. The broth dances on his tongue. Its warmth spreads out, from his chest and through his limbs and into his fingers and toes. He closes his eyes, and when he opens them again he senses someone staring at him.The figure in the corner; the small man with stooped shoulders, his face drawn, pinched and beetle-browed. Though as threadbare and hungry-looking as everyone else in the city, this man could be secret service.
After studying him a moment longer, the stranger gets to his feet, tucks his newspaper into the inside of his overcoat, and crosses the café.
“Seryozha?” he says, his smile a gash of yellow teeth and greyish gums.“Sergey Andreievich?” Sergey nods slowly, waiting for the stranger’s smile to fade, and for him to say there’s been a mistake, that Sergey should never have been released, that his rehabilitation is incomplete and that he will be placed on the very first train back to Komi, by orders of the MGB.
“Do I know you?” he asks.
The stranger laughs. “Know me? Sergey! Of course you know me! It’s me! Vasily Nikolayevich. Sidorov! Vasya!”
Vasily Sidorov. A name he’s neither said nor spoken nor even thought about in years. When did they last see one another? Perhaps the night of the premiere, or in the days that followed. No, his memory of that time is too clouded to picture the exact scene. When he first laid eyes on him, however… this he remembers clearly.
A rehearsal room, backstage at the Kirov. Secretary Remizov taking Sergey on a tour of the theatre, introducing him as “our latest genius”. Echoing against a polished floor, the sound of a piano playing one of Chopin’s nocturnes. In the studio, holding the bar, a young man, eighteen or nineteen, with dark, lightly curled hair, performing a series of degage, and stopping only when he noticed the presence of a stranger.
Now, in the café, Sergey’s innards clench. He hardly recognises him.
Vasya?”
The man draws out the facing chair and sits.
I knew it was you!” he says. “I work nights at the children’s hospital, and every day I come here for lunch, which is really supper, I suppose. But every day I come here, and I know everyone who comes in, if not by name then by face. I see them every day. But you, as soon as you walked in, I thought, ‘Hold on, he’s new.’ And then I looked at you again, and I realised it was you.”
Yes,” says Sergey, smiling almost painfully. “It’s me.”
How long has it been? Ten years? Fifteen?”
Twelve.”
Twelve years. Well. Can you imagine? Twelve years. Incredible. I heard you were up in Archangel, writing music for a theatre company. That’s what everyone was saying. Is it true?”
Sergey shakes his head.
Oh,” says Vasily. “They must have got it wrong. But you’re here now.”
Sergey nods.
And it’s so good to see you! I hardly see anyone these days. We were, well, you know… One oughtn’t say such things in public, but people like us, the artists, we weren’t exactly front of the queue when the rations were being handed out. Were you here at all, during the blockade?”
Sergey shakes his head.
Of course not. Silly question. But you were lucky. Say, are you going to eat all of that bread?” “Yes.” “Only, if you weren’t, I have some wood in my flat that I could swap. It’s good, too. It’s not damp and it won’t burn too quickly, not like some of the cheap shit that’s going around.”
No, I’m quite hungry, so-”
Do you have a place to stay?” Sergey tells him that yes, he has a place to stay, in Kirovskiy, near the Kirov plant.
Nice, nice,” says Vasily.
Is it?”
Oh, yes. And prestigious, too. You’re lucky. Have you moved in yet?”
Not yet, no,” says Sergey. “I only got here an hour ago.”
Oh, well,” says Vasily. “If you’ve not moved in yet, they might not have wood. In your rooms, I mean. They don’t always give you fuel, when you move in. Some places, it takes weeks. So, you know, if you don’t have any…”
Sergey draws his plate closer and dunks what’s left of his bread into the rassolnik.
You must be hungry,” says Vasily. “I know they don’t always have much bread on the trains. I’ve heard, a friend once told me, if you want a bigger ration of bread…” His voice drops to a whisper. “If you want a bigger ration of bread, you have to give the ticket inspector a blowjob. Is that true?”
Sergey smiles. “I wouldn’t know.”
Oh, then you must be hungry,” says Vasily, laughing and coughing at the same time.“Say, listen. I live near here. When you’re finished, let’s go to mine. I’m on the third floor, so it’s not too cold,and I have some vodka.”
A loaded invitation, but Sergey has nowhere else to go and two hours till he can report to his tenement. When the bill is settled he and Vasily walk the short distance to Vasily’s building, just off Sennaya Square.
Twelve years ago Vasily Sidorov lived not so far from here, in an apartment complex on Sadovaya Street, and Sergey remembers summer parties when they would congregate on a small terrace overlooking the square ,and they would drink champagne; Soviet champagne, of course, but ice cold, and sparkling and as crisp as a fresh apple.
Vasily’s new building has no terrace. One of its two entrances is sealed shut by a frozen snowdrift, and the other opens only when Vasily barges into it with such force that Sergey worries he – and not the door – might break.
Once inside, they are taken up to Vasily’s floor by a gloomy hallway and a flight of stairs that smells strongly of piss, while Vasily’s room smells mustily of tobacco smoke, mildew and dust. Sergey recalls Vasily having a small collection of illicit Persian rugs and a mantelpiece crammed with ornaments, but this new place – if it can be called new – is sparse, decorated only with a few pieces of old furniture. The floor and the walls are bare.
Please, sit,” says Vasily. “I’ll get us some vodka. I only have one glass. Do you mind having yours in a teacup?”
Not at all.”
What am I saying? You have the glass, I’ll have the teacup. As you may be able to tell, I don’t do much entertaining these days…” Vasily opens a cupboard and takes out the vodka, a chipped teacup and a cloudy tumbler. He crosses the room with an awkward, scuttling motion; bug-like, a spider creeping along a skirting board. He was once the most graceful man Sergey had ever met. Small in build, but not feminine. Women and men alike considered him beautiful. Now he reminds Sergey of a gargoyle or some grinning demon, a didko, from an old folktale. He takes to the sagging armchair opposite, and for a moment they sit in silence; Vasily still smiling at him, scrutinising him.
It’s incredible,” he says, at last. “That you came here. To Leningrad. It isn’t often men come back. Usually, well, usually they’re sent to some other place. Remember Remizov?”
As if the room has grown a degree or two colder, Sergey flinches. “Yes,” he says. “I remember him.”

 

 

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Friday Poem – ‘Sundays too my Dad got up early’, Ben Wilkinson

Friday Poem Sundays Ben Wilkinson

This week’s Friday Poem, ‘Sundays too my Dad got up early’, is a sneak peek into poetry critic Ben Wilkinson’s startling debut, Way More Than Luck (publishing 28 February).

Way More Than Luck Ben WilkinsonFrom the thumping heartbeat of the distance runner to the roar of football terraces across the decades, Ben Wilkinson’s debut, Way More Than Luck, confronts the struggles and passions that come to shape a life. Beginning with an unflinching interrogation of experiences of clinical depression and the redemptive power of art and running, the collection centres on a series of vivid character portraits, giving life to the legends of Liverpool Football Club. By turns frank, comic, sinister and meditative – ‘the trouble with you, son, is that all your brains are in your head’ – these poems uncover the beautiful game’s magic and absurdity, hopes and disappointments, as striking metaphors for our everyday dramas.

 

Sundays too my Dad got up early Ben Wilkinson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Way More Than Luck is available to pre-order from the Seren website: £9.99

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