Friday Poem – ‘Without Narcissus’, Rhiannon Hooson

without narcissus rhiannon hooson

Last night, we welcomed a chilly December in Chapter Arts, with Rhiannon Hooson reading poems from her debut collection, The Other CityIt seemed appropriate to have Friday’s Poem from this beguiling new release, for those who missed out.

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Rhiannon reading to a full house at December’s First Thursday event

the-other-city_quicksand-cover-copyWith a sharp focus and beautiful resonance, the deeply felt poems from The Other City  tend to travel in distinct streams: some reference and re-make narratives from classical Greek myth; some rework elements of Welsh history, both ancient, and modern. There are also a number of poems exploring the idea of otherness and the uncanny, where actions are done and undone, and the familiar made unfamiliar.

 

Without Narcissus

The lack of his blindness shocks the silver water black.
Your palm’s slap against its surface is looped silence:
bare shoulders with their heron stoop,
the wet ropes of your black hair, the empty water
and the stiff-leafed lilies which break for sharp fingers,
their pink throats silent and smiling. Speak.

Over the water the red rock leans and watches.
Your nails like fish-scales break against
the cool shadow of its noon, and the silence. Speak.
Even the fish have voices, even the rough
hush of the trees, even the birds.You press your body
to the dark-loomed sediment and learn its silence, touch the red
heat of your mouth to the rock and learn the syllables
of its unspeech. Speak.

Birds watch you writing the mangled sign of your name
wet hair strung across the tangled mats of cress,
white fingers and their fish-belly pallor, your white lips
kissed against the petals of the lilies.You can speak
their silence back to them so well, so well.

 

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An extract from Masque by Bethany W. Pope

an extract from Masque by Bethany W Pope

Enjoy this extract from Bethany W. Pope’s debut novel, Masque, now available from serenbooks.com (or your local bookshop!)

Masque by Bethany W PopeAbout Masque:
Masque is a richly gothic retelling of Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera. Centre stage is would-be opera singer Christine, who, despite being devoted to her art, attracts the attention of both the Phantom, and rich theatre owner Raoul. The resulting mix of love, rage, art and murderous intent, is explosive.

 

This extract begins on p.11 of the novel and is our first introduction to The Phantom – Erik – a deformed and complex character, both monstrous and kind. Unlike Leroux’s original The Phantom of the Opera story, Masque is told from the perspective of the three main characters, so we see directly into the mind of the much-maligned Phantom, and can judge him as we see fit…

 

ERIK
1.
My father was a master mason. I never met the man but I
spent the first decade of my life inside the house he built
and so I feel I know him. The lathes of the attic communicated
with me as much through their shape (he was
exacting when he laid out the angles of the eaves) as did
the notations he left in pencil on the undersides of the
unfinished, unpainted struts which supported the ceiling. I
inherited the crabbed handwriting he used to mark out his
measurements, though I am far more articulate than he ever
was in artistry, architecture, or print.
Although he was skilled with the trowel and could lay
travertine so tightly that its texture was more like marble
than limestone, he was more renowned for the beauty of
his person that the skill of his hands. He won my mother
with his looks and he left her a sad ghost of the gay girl he
married, haunting the house that he built on Rue Rouge.
I learned about him through the letters he left to my
mother, retained by her in memory of their apparently passionate
courtship.They were bound by a blue ribbon, an
appropriate memento of an innocent girl. One envelope
contained a bright lock of hair that must have been his,
since mother’s was as dark as a sewer rat’s. The letters were
naïve, almost innocently crude. They were full of phrases
about the things that he wished that he could do to her
body and peppered with prayers for many years of marital
bliss. They were written in the kind of cheap ink that an
uneducated man would favour. He did not expect them to
last, or be held on to.The sepia was grainy and badly mixed,
this combined with his handwriting in such a way that it
seemed as though his words were written out by a sexually
precocious child with a fondness for experimenting with
matchsticks. As I said, my handwriting is no better, but at
least the ink I use is superior.
I always thought that writing was a bit like the telepathy
those spiritualists in the paper are always talking about. It
makes sense, if you think about it; one mind communicates
to another through a series of black blotches which transmit
thoughts directly into another’s brain. You, reading this,
whoever you are, can hear my voice (a sweet, trained tenor)
without ever having to worry about viewing the flesh that
produces it.This is lucky for you: all my gifts are internal.
In any case, my current habitations remind me of my
childhood home. These damp vaults are rather like the basement
where my mother moved my crib once the
neighbours complained that my cries disrupted their business.
The house my father built was tall and narrow, the
walls of dark grey granite, polished to the high shine of
gravestones. He meant his home to be a living monument
to his skill and a permanent advertisement for his services.
The roof was tiled with slabs of greenish slate, and the
windows were small and imperfectly glassed. When I was
older, I replaced them as a gift for my mother. I spent a
whole afternoon removing the warped and watery panes,
replacing them with sheets I’d poured myself. I learned the
art of glazing, sneaking every night to the factory down the
street. When the time came that I had spent enough hours
watching the midnight production shift pouring the sheets
of reddish molten sand into the mould, I tried my hand at
it myself. I waited until the Michaelmas holiday and stole
the machinery (I provided my own materials, lugging bags
of silicone that I’d found in the cellars among the unopened
bottles of wine and the skeletons of rodents). I love the look
of glass as it is being poured. It is honest, then, about itself.
Cooled, it only seems a solid. It never fully hardens. Over
centuries, window glass will melt.
There is no such thing as stasis.
In any case, my mother loved the finished product; windows
that let the light in without warping what she saw on
the street. She was so thrilled she squeezed my upper arm
through the thick fabric of my jacket. I swear she almost
hugged me. In any case, for once she did not shudder at my
smell or flinch away from the feel of my corpselike body.
The houses on either side of ours were dedicated, in their
own way, to music. Dancing girls and cabaret, absinthe and
cheap champagne that the likes of those poets who styled
themselves ‘Romantic’ drank themselves to death in. My
widowed mother hired men to refurbish the attic into a
series of rooms that she furnished with sticks she’d bought
from brothels, closed in raids by the province governor the
previous summer. She did not sleep on them and rarely
bothered to change the sheets, so she didn’t have to worry
about bedbugs. She made a good living, I must say, giving
the drunks who seethed from her neighbours in the early
morning a bed off of the streets.
For my fifth birthday she made me my first (and for a
long time only) birthday present; a mask cut from a length
of chamois that she bought from a glover. It was more like
a loose sack with holes cut for eyes than a proper garment
but it did its job well. The sight of me ceased bothering her.
As I grew older, she let me come up more frequently –
although once she had a steady stream of lodgers I never
had the run of the attic again – my father’s writing was long
since buried behind plaster. I wore the mask without complaint
– it was far from uncomfortable and it had a nice smell,
as did the sachets of mint and violet that she sewed into my
clothing. If she almost never touched me, she did love me as
best as she was able, being young and easily frightened.
After a few years of proving my capacity with panes of
glass and basic home repairs, she hired a blind tutor to teach
me letters, music, mathematics. He would come and sit for
hours in my basement room, complaining of the effect of the
chill on his bones and making me memorise many disparate
packets of learning. When I surpassed his ability to teach, as
I soon did, I had many books close at hand and I turned to
them to expand my knowledge. I read everything from
Archimedes to fairy stories. As I recall, I had a special affection
for La Belle et la Bête. My mother bought me as many books
as she could afford through mail-order – often secondhand.
She resold them after I had squeezed them of their nutrients,
though I demanded permission to keep the fairy tales. They
were a balm to me, with their stories of transformation. They
provided me with a sharp and dangerous hope.

 

Buy your copy of Masque now: £9.99

Claim 20% off this and all future orders when you become a Seren Book Club member

Book Giveaway: win a copy of Masque by Bethany W. Pope

win a copy of masque by bethany w pope

Enter now for the chance to win a copy of Bethany W. Pope’s gloriously gothic novel, Masque.

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

win a copy of masque by bethany w pope

 

About Masque:
Masque by Bethany W PopeMasque is a richly gothic and psychological retelling of Gaston Leroux’s classic, The Phantom of the Opera. Centre-stage is promising young singer Christine who, despite being devoted to her art, attracts the attention of both the Phantom (Erik), and rich Parisian theatre owner Raoul. The intensely ambitious Christine finds herself caught between the twin evils of the Phantom’s murderous pursuit of artistic perfection and Raoul’s ‘romantic’ vision of her as a bourgeois wife. Control slips away as the three characters are led onwards by the intensity of their passions, and the beautiful masked skull of the opera house itself looms large over their respective fates. The resulting mix of love, rage, art and murderous intent, is explosive.

The winner of this giveaway will be chosen at random from all our email newsletter subscribers on 1st August 2016, so if you haven’t already, hurry and sign up for our newsletter before the end of the month if you want it to be you!

An extract from Boy Running | Wales Book of the Year shortlist

extract from Boy Running Wales Book of the Year

The winners of the Poetry, Non-Fiction and Fiction Categories, and the overall Wales Book of the Year Winner, will be announced in just two weeks. Seren have two titles in the running for the awards, and before we find out the results, we thought you might enjoy reading an extract from each of our nominated books. Look below and you’ll find an extract from Boy Running by Paul Henry (shortlisted for the Open University in Wales Creative Non-Fiction Award).

Studio Flat

Socks hang like bats from a skylight.
They may be dry in time for the moon.
The camp site owner’s water-feature
drains more blood from the sun.

Cars queue for the narrow bridge.
Birds catch their pulses and fly.
I am suddenly old. What’s an attic
but a bungalow in the sky.

And where are you, my sons?
I heard your voices in the bells
of snowdrops pulled by the wind.
These tulips have lost their smell.

Perhaps I could tell you, one day
where the snowdrops went, why old men
dry their socks on the moon, and what
darkened the skylight, just then.

 

Ring

I can’t get the ring out of my finger.
How long till it disappears
this ghost ring, twenty years deep?
I’m branded. Is it the same with you?
Your fingers were slenderer than mine.

 

We hope you enjoyed reading this free extract from Boy Running by Paul Henry. Keep an eye on the Seren blog, as we will be announcing the Wales Book of the Year Awards results in just over two weeks time.

About Boy Running:
Paul Henry has gained a reputation as one of of the best poets in the UK. Boy Running is his beautiful sixth collection and the first to follow  The Brittle Sea: New and Selected PoemsAlso a singer-songwriter, Henry is known for his precise lyricism, intimate tone and a cast of characters inspired (like Dylan Thomas) by his childhood by the sea in Aberystwyth, West Wales.

What do dads read?

It’s Father’s Day this weekend, and an opportunity for publishers to sell more books to that particular segment of the marketplace. It’s obvious from the annual Father’s Day offerings that Sport is one of dad’s favourite reads – especially if there’s a major international tournament occurring. Other pressies that will bless you with paternal approbation are books on War, Mass or Serial Killings, and Music (especially rock, blues and jazz; anything with a whiff of authenticity). Tie-ins to comedy TV panel shows are good. So, too, are novelty books about hobbies: World’s Greatest DIY Disasters, Cricket’s Top 100 Nightwatchmen, and extreme sports: Parkour in Powys, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Men read less fiction than women, so if you buy a novel, play safe and get one set in a war zone. Written by a man.

But how much do you love your dad? On Father’s Day, does he get what he wants, or something that’s good for him? Come to that, good for everyone. It’s a complex and nuanced world. Shouldn’t dad’s horizons be broadened? Maybe they aren’t as limited as reductive marketing categories would have us believe. Isn’t it time to throw tradition out of the window, and this year, get dad a book written (whisper it softly) by a woman?

Books from the Seren list, written by women, that dads would like:

Losing Israel Shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year, Jasmine Donahaye’s moving and honest account of the collusion of her kibbutznik family in the displacement of Palestinians in 1948 spans travel writing, nature writing and memoir.

The Man at the Corner Table Rosie Shepperd’s debut collection features fabulous, sophisticated poetry about food and its central place in cultures around the world.

Star-Shot Mary-Ann Constantine’s stylish novel, set in and around Cardiff’s National Museum, is a subtle urban novel with a supernatural twist.

What book would you choose to give to your dad?

 

Friday Poem – White Clover

friday poem white clover lynne hjelmgaard

This week our Friday Poem is taken from Lynne Hjelmgaard’s new collection, A Boat Called Annalise.

A Boat Called Annalise Lynne HjelmgaardLynne Hjelmgaard was born in New York and has lived in Denmark, Rome, Paris and London. Her collection, A Boat Called Annalise, records the years she and her husband spent sailing on a boat to the Caribbean and back. The author beautifully evokes life at sea, the dream-like nature of the tropics, and the halcyon days of a marriage.
Hjelmgaard moves from scenes of risk and turbulence, of wild beauty on the open water, to visions of their dream-like destination in the West Indies. The author’s clear-eyed and tender observations are as insightful about the paradox of paradise: tropical splendor amidst local poverty, as they are about the challenges of relationships at close quarters.

 

White Clover
For Dannie
white clover lynne hjelmgaard annalise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Buy your copy now.

 

50% Off All Books: Editors’ Picks

50% off all books this week

2016 has arrived and with it, our January sale. For one week only, enjoy 50% off all books available on our website!

That being said, we know choosing which books to buy can be a little tricky so our three editors are on hand to give their book recommendations. Be it poetry, fiction or non-fiction that tickles your fancy, we have suggestions for one and all.

Mick Felton Non-Fiction Editor
Mick Felton – Non-Fiction Editor

As our non-fiction editor, Mick sees a wide variety of books each year, including everything from history, crime, autobiography, music and sport. So which two books does Mick think you need most on your shelf?

 

The Road to Zagora by Richard Collins
The Road to Zagora

After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, Richard Collins sets off with his partner Flic on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. The Road to Zagora is a singular travel book which takes in India, Nepal, Turkey, Morocco, Peru, Equador and Wales.
Though not shy about the hardships of the disease, any sentiment of self-pity is denied through Collins’s resolute and independent-mindedness and the quality of writing.
£9.99  £5.00

Losing Israel by Jasmine Donahaye
Losing Israel

After discovering by chance that her family had colluded in the eviction of Palestinians in 1948, Jasmine Donahaye set out to learn the story of what happened. Her discoveries challenged everything she thought she knew about the country and her family. Losing Israel is a moving and honest account which spans travel writing, nature writing and memoir. Jasmine explores the powerful and competing attachments people feel for their country and its history, by attempting to understand and reconcile her conflicted attachments, rooted in her family story – and in a love of Israel’s birds.
£12.99 £6.50

 

Amy Wack Poetry Editor
Amy Wack – Poetry Editor

Amy has read and enjoyed a dazzling array of poetry over the twenty-plus years she’s been with us. Trying to narrow down her choices to just two books was hard, but here goes…

 

A Formula for Night: New and Selected Poems by Tamar YoseloffTamar_quicksand cover

The eagerly awaited summation of Tamar’ work, encompassing selections from four published print volumes: Sweetheart, Barnard’s Star, Fetch and The City with Horns; and poems from her collaborations with artists: Formerly, Marks and Desire Paths.
The book also includes a generous selection of beautiful new poems, which are often artful explorations of paradox: death/birth, dark/light, clarity/mystery.
£12.99 £6.50

House of Small Absences by Anne-Marie Fyfe
House of small absences
Anne-Marie Fyfe’s poems have long dwelt on the role that the spaces we inhabit, the places in which we find security, play in our lives: House of Small Absences is an observation window into strange, unsettling spaces—a deserted stage-set, our own personalised ‘museum’, a Piedmont albergo, underground cities, Midtown roof-gardens, convent orchards, houseboats, a foldaway circus, a Romanian sleeper-carriage—the familiar rendered uncanny through the distorting lenses of distance and life’s exigencies, its inevitable lettings-go.
£9.99 £5.00
Penny Thomas

 

Penny Thomas – Fiction Editor

Which fictional words would Penny have you delve into first? We’ve published a beautifully varied range of books, and below are just two of Penny’s favourites.

Swimming on Dry Land by Helen Blackhurst
swimming_on_dry_land_72
Twelve-year-old Monica Harvey is looking for her sister Georgie, who has disappeared. The Harvey family has recently moved to Akarula, south-west Australia, having been persuaded to set out in search of a new life by their rich Uncle Eddie, who owns the town. Unbeknownst to them, Georgie isn’t the first person to vanish.
As their dream-like vision of life in outback Australia begins to be tainted my mystery and deceit, the history of the land unfolds and answers to the strange disappearances slowly suggest themselves.
£9.99 £5.00

Foreign Bodies by Candy Neubert
foreign bodies
Fresh from the UK, Emma thinks she has fallen in love with a place, a person, and pursues the man of her dreams with a colonial zeal. But for all her poetic sensibilities, she seems unaware of the destruction she is capable of leaving in her wake.

A beautifully written first novel, Foreign Bodies explores the spaces between people, and the nature of encounters in romantic idylls on the other side of the world.
£7.99 £4.00

 

Don’t forget, absolutely everything on our website is 50% off– so if you’re eager to see beyond our suggestions, then go forth and discover a new read for the New Year on our website.

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Half price offer ends midnight, Sunday 10th January. Happy book hunting!

The Roots of Rock, from Cardiff to Mississippi and Back: Listen Online

The Roots of Rock, from Cardiff to Mississippi and Back

Peter Finch’s latest book The Roots of Rock, from Cardiff to Mississippi and Back charts the evolution of rock and popular music, from a 1950s valve radio playing in a suburban Cardiff terrace to the reality of the music among the bars of Ireland, the skyscrapers of New York, the plains of Tennessee, the flatlands of Mississippi and the mountains of North Carolina. For each chapter there is a playlist of suggested records to listen to whilst reading, to bring alive Peter’s many sharp-witted stories. To give you a taste of Peter’s world of music, we’ll be creating playlists for each chapter which you can listen to on our Youtube Channel. The first of these is now available, so take a listen below…

Chapter 1: Howlin’ Wolf in City Road

This entertaining book is part musical autobiography, part travel literature and also an exploration of how music can create a world for the listener that is simultaneously of and beyond the place in which is is heard.

The Roots of Rock, from Cardiff to Mississippi and BackFinch gives us sharp-eyed accounts of gigs from Champion Jack Dupree to the Garth Mountain Boys, muses on the importance of the Dansette record player, ponders why Elvis never came to Wales (except multiply in Porthcawl’s legendary Elvis Festival), visits musical shrines and theme parks – Dollywood, Grand Ole Opry, Graceland, Stax, rides along with singing cowboys and recalls his attempt to form a band, The Blueswailers. Add in music in Ireland and Wales (and in Welsh), the Bible Belt, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Etta James, Ray Charles, Bert Jansch, Taylor Swift, Alan Stivell, Chet Atkins, the Appalachian Mountains and Pigeon Forge and Finch’s world of music is as broad as the last six decades allows.

We hope you enjoyed the playlist above. You can buy the book on our website.

The Road to Zagora | Travelling with Mr Parkinson

In 2006, author Richard Collins was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Spurred on by news of his illness, Richard and his partner Flic resolved to seize life by the horns and see more of the world. The Road to Zagora tells the story of their subsequent adventures.

the road to zagora by richard collins

Here at Seren we’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of The Road to Zagora, a unique sort of travel memoir in which the author explores the good, the not-so-good and the surprisingly funny aspects of travelling with Parkinson’s disease. We thought we’d give you a sneak preview of the book to wet your appetites – so read on to hear about the adventures of Richard, Flic, and Mr Parkinson.

A is for Aqaba (Jordan)

Travelling enriches your life and changes your understanding
of quite a few things. Home is a different place on your
return. You are a different person, having travelled. I have had
some preconceptions of other people and places quietly
overturned. I spend a lot of my time at home now because of
my poor health and have the opportunity to reflect on these
things. Or I do something daft like make an A to Z of place
names, each from a different country, and write a little
anecdote about each one. I once spent a couple of rainy days
doing this, starting with Aqaba in Jordan:

Forget Lawrence of Arabia arriving in Aqaba on camelback at
the head of a Bedouin army: we crossed the desert by bus, in
comfort, with wi-fi and air-con and reclining seats.

Aqaba is a port but also a seaside resort, a holiday destination
for Jordanians. We were at the beach on a Friday, the
Muslim holy day, and found that it wasn’t wall-to-wall joylessness
as Sunday is in some parts of Christendom (we once saw
a children’s playground in the west of Scotland with a sign
Closed on Sundays). People may have been to the mosque in
the morning but now they were having fun. Women were
dressed conservatively, some in long black robes, but it didn’t
stop them from going into the sea, snorkelling or messing
about on inflatable plastic ducks.

We had already had our preconceptions of Islamic society
challenged in the first Jordanian town we visited. The shoe
shop proudly displayed in their window a number of pairs of hi-heeled thigh-high leather boots in a choice of colours, red or
black. Did the women we passed on the street wear these under
their long robes? In what other context, we wondered, would
they be worn? I really can’t imagine.
The people of Jordan are renowned for their hospitality,
friendliness and sense of humour.

The Road to Zagora, Richard Collins

 

Richard Collins

 

 

 

 

I hope you enjoyed this cheeky preview of The Road to Zagora! If you did, then good news – you can find the book in our store here, and get a 20% discount through our store.

Forthcoming Title: ‘Jonah Jones: An Artist’s Life’

To be released on 18th July 2011.
Author:

Peter Jones

Sculptor, painter, letter cutter, stained glass artist, novelist, travel writer, academic and administrator; Jonah Jones (1919-2004) was a twentieth century renaissance man.
Born near Newcastle into a family of miners he became a librarian before reluctantly volunteering for a non-combatant role in the Medical Corps during he second world war. He saw action in North Africa but also met a number of artists and craftsmen in the RAMC who fired his own passion to become an artist. After the war, now married and having survived severe case of TB he settled in his family’s homeland of Wales and began his ‘on the job’ education as a sculptor and letter cutter. Much of his early work was at Clough Williams-Ellis’s Portmeirion villages. The two became close friends and Jones widened his circle to include Richard Hughes, Bertrand Russell, John Cowper Powys and Huw Wheldon.

In a varied career Jonah Jones produced intimate sculptures, monumental installations, and beautiful inscriptions, in addition to writing novels published by leading London houses, a biography of Clough Williams-Ellis and a hugely regarded survey of the lakes of North Wales.