Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ Review

This iconic classic has been on my must read list for a while now. When I finally got around to it I inwardly slapped myself for not picking it up earlier. With the unique two-sided expression of Scout, who is now an adult recalling her childhood Harper Lee manages to explore the discrimination against African Americans in the Deep South in the 1930s through the innocent eyes of a child.

I was quite surprised to notice the infamous court scene and disruption is only a minor event whereas Scout’s childhood adventures and crises become the forefront of the narrative. Harper Lee manages to achieve a narrative that does not drag whilst delaying its major event of the accused rape against Tom Robinson to beyond half way through the novel. However, this captured my attention much more as I became fully absorbed in the daily lives of these people and in turn, understood the subtle ways black people were discriminated against in this period. I also found the structure and pace easy to follow; the disruption of studies forced me to stop half way through but I returned to it with no confusion about where I had left off. Saving me from the torturous flipping back through pages to remember who was who.

The characters all have a unique, memorable voice that adds life to the neighbourhood and does not leave anyone in the shadows. Each special individual leaves a mark on Scout’s childhood and embeds a moral learning curve into the narrative. The family disputes and coming of age events add a realistic edge to the novel that can leave the reader with a more emotional and questioning response when finishing it. I can assure people that this is a ‘read before you die’ novel.

Friday Interview with Helen Cadbury


Helen Cadbury was born in the Midlands and brought up in Birmingham and Oldham, Lancashire. She writes fiction, poetry and plays and is currently working on a sequel to To Catch a Rabbit. Currently she is a York based writer whose debut novel, To Catch a Rabbit, is joint winner of the Northern Crime Award and was launched by Moth Publishing , May 2013.

new cover

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

When I was five, I wanted to be a writer (although I couldn’t actually write), an actor or an ice cream man’s assistant. I enjoyed writing, once I got the hang of which way round the letters went, but got distracted by an acting career and didn’t really settle down to write until I was 40. I have never sold ice cream, so I have that to look forward too.

Would you say there are writers out there that everyone who wants to write should read?

I think anyone who writes should read good writers, in a range of genres. Occasionally read ‘bad’ writing, but not too often, as it will depress you that such a thing got published and may influence you in the wrong way. In crime, I would recommend Denise Mina, George Pelecanos, Mark Billingham or Louise Welsh for stylish prose, interesting characters and gripping plots.

What made you write a crime novel?

All the best stories are crime stories. Look at Red Riding Hood, for example. I started off trying to write what I thought was a literary novel, but once I began to pursue the idea of someone going missing, then the idea of a crime obviously presented itself.

What sort of research did you have to do to write /To Catch a Rabbit/?

I did most of the research towards the end of the writing process. When I had a full manuscript, I showed to a serving PCSO for feedback. I also went to a very interesting talk on forensics at the Harrogate Crime Festival, which led me to know what else to look for on the internet. I don’t do massive amounts of research but I did find a very useful YouTube video of a burning car, which was obviously more practical than trying it out myself.

What’s your creative process like? Do you need to be alone to write? Coffee shop maybe?

Agh! If only I had a routine or anything I could reliably call a process. I’m a bit nomadic actually, moving from the kitchen table, to my bed, to the library, depending on my mood. I find coffee shops are better for writing poetry, as I can get too distracted by what’s happening around me to stay in the world of a novel.

Was it a surprise to win the Northern Crime Award?

Yes. It was amazing. You hope for something, then it happens. The only other times I have felt quite so happy was finding out I was pregnant with my sons.

Do you think that writers, especially non-prize winners, need to be constantly going to signings and events to publicise their work?

I quite like public events, because I’m an extrovert, and I go quietly bonkers shut up indoors all the time, but some writers find them more difficult. I think it’s very hard to assess how worthwhile they are in terms of book sales, but I’m sure they help with word of mouth. If readers find it interesting to meet authors, then it is valuable. Social media may be more effective, but if you’re not doing any events, what are you talking about on social media? Where are the pictures to prove you exist?

How’s the sequel coming along?

The sequel is with my agent and making it’s way, I hope, towards publication, but it may still need a bit more work, we’ll see…

Do you have any advice for getting published? Such as important things to include in a query.

This is probably a whole different article in itself, but fiction writers need agents. Competitions or awards can really help you to get noticed and get an agent. If you’re writing directly to an agent, talk about the book. Like any exercise in selling, you need to show why it is unique and why they might want to represent your book. Consider small presses, they are more likely to publish an unagented writer.

What about more general advice for aspiring writers?

Writers write. And read other writers. And re-read what they write themselves, to get it right. You may not be able to keep up with all the films, TV series, parties that non-writers are into, especially if you are a fiction writer. It is very, very time consuming, but if you love it, you won’t care. Oh, and if you are not intending to be single for your entire life, fall in love with someone who loves you enough to put up with you being a writer. It will make you extremely anti-social and is very unlikely to make you rich.

Review: Deathless – Catherynne M. Valente

“What is the world but a boxing ring where fools and devils put up their fists?”

Valente based Deathless (2011) on the Russian folktale, The Death of Koschei the Deathless, which can probably be best compared to Bluebeard. Ivan marries the warrior princess, Marya Morevna, who forbids him from entering their cellar. When he inevitably does so, he finds Koschei, a demon, chained up. Cue trials by Baba Yaga, numerous coincidences, a battle, and a happy ending.

In Deathless, Marya is the protagonist, rather than Ivan, which allows Valente to answer the question of why on earth Marya was hiding Koschei down there in the first place (something which Alexander Afanasyev clearly forgot to ask when The Death of Koschei the Deathless was first collected in Narodnye russkie skazki). The imagery and scope of her novel is as rich as one would hope of a fantasy kingdom running parallel to revolutionary Russia.

The novel is only made a tougher read because Valente is preoccupied with the inevitability of the fates of Marya, Koschei and Ivan. She clearly wants us to question the agency of a fairytale heroine, but by having characters that know exactly what will happen, and say as much (frequently) it serves to weaken the tragedy. She doesn’t so much toy with the element of surprise, as beat it into submission, and also tends to be heavy handed with large and anticlimactic time jumps between the sections of the novel.

The structure of the novel is frustrating, but the beauty of Valente’s unambiguous, vivid prose makes Deathless overwhelmingly readable.

Salt Publishing Novella Competition


Do you want to be part of a new experiment in British fiction? Salt is calling for submissions for a new series of digital-only novellas as an extension of its SALT MODERN FICTION list.

What we’re looking for

Your novella must deal with 18 to 24 year olds living in contemporary inner-city Britain. We want issue-led works that tell the truth about what life is like for the young in these islands. Crime, drugs, fun, hope, immigration, integration, joblessness, laughs, love, loss, loyalty, music, sex, surviving and tragedy in modern Britain. We want to hear the stories that will make us sit up and stare in wonder. Lie awake at night. The stories that will break our hearts. Make us laugh out loud. Make us cry. The stories that tell the truth.

For more info: http://blog.saltpublishing.com/2014/01/03/modern-dreams-calling-for-submissions/



Independent Press Event: Penned in the Margins and Holophin

‘Tom Chivers and Luke Kennard talking about Kennard’s incredible novel Holophin and the world of independent publishing’

29th January 2014

Quad South Hall


FREE event, please click here to book

Tom Chivers was born in 1983 in South London. He is a writer, publisher and award-winning arts producer, and runs the independent literary arts company Penned in the Margins. His poetry collections include How to Build a City (Salt, 2009), The Terrors (Nine Arches, 2009) and, as editor, the anthologies City State: New London Poetry and Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins, 2009 & 2012). Since 2006 Penned in the Margins has published over thirty-five books spanning poetry, criticism and experimental fiction, andtom chivers produced numerous arts events, projects and tours including Generation Txt (2007), Kalagora (2010), Riot Actholophin_stacks (2012) and Electronic Voice Phenomena (2013). Recent publications include Holophin bkennard high resy Luke Kennard (Winner of Best Novella, Saboteur Awards) and The Shipwrecked House by Claire Trevien (Longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award). From 2007 to 2011 Tom was co-Director of the London Word Festival.

Luke Kennard will discuss his incredible novel  at this special event! Luke Kennard is the author of four volumes of poetry, two pamphlets and a novella called Holophin. His second book, The Harbour Beyond the Movie was shortlisted for the Forward Prize in 2007. He lectures at the University of Birmingham and is working on his first novel.

Hookline Novel Competition

The Hookline Novel Competition is open only to students and graduates of MA writing courses. Our judges are book groups – those readers who meet each month to discuss the joys and disappointments of a designated read.

To find out more, click the image below:


November Round-Up

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSo it’s been a pretty exciting November. On the 7th we had a fabulous book launch with Nuala Casey and Matt Haig here at YSJ. Matt read from his latest novel, The Humans, and reminded us all why it’s great to be a human, from the point of view of an alien. Matt’s lively and moving writing is highly recommended. Nuala Casey, a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing here at YSJ, read from her debut novel, Soho 4 a. mNuala held the audience with her atmospheric and gritty prose, taking us through the shady streets of Soho. Nuala doesn’t wait around either, her next novel, Summer Lies Bleeding will be out next summer. Both writers responded to questions from the audience with generosity and refreshing honesty, and we all got an insight into the discipline and hard work necessary to become a successful writer.

Last week we were incredibly proud to see our first SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTUREScohort of joint honours Creative Writing students graduate in the grand York Minster. We were all dressed in our finery, struggling to balance our hats and comparing our gowns. JT Welsch definitely won that particular contest…



We know that all our students are going on to do great things, and are happy to have the pleasure of continuing to teach some on our MA.


Finally, novelist Barrie Sherwood gave a wonderful reading of his latest work, Sandia, yesterday evening. Barrie was a lecturer here at YSJ for five years and recently left to teach in Singapore. It was lovely to see him again, and lots of his previous students turned up to wish him well and thank him for being an inspirational teacher. Barrie’s new novel is remarkable, a work that shows a novelist at the height of his ability. I was bowled over by the control and power of the prose. I can’t wait to read the whole thing.


There are more exciting events coming next year, including a reading of Holophin by Luke Kennard, who will be joined by Tom Chivers of brilliant independent press Penned in the Margins. We are also welcoming an literary agent, and looking forward to the York Literature Festival, where we’ll get to see Germaine Greer, Nicholas Royle, Alison Moore, Emily Berry, Helen Mort, Rebecca Goss (to name only a few).

An Audience with Barrie Sherwood

18th November, Quad South Hall 7.00pmImageServerup

Free but please book by clicking Barrie’s author pic:

Barrie Sherwood is Assistant Professor in the Division of English, School of Humanities and Social Sciences. He studied at Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia, Concordia University and the Universite de Montreal before completing his PhD at the University of East Anglia in 2009. His first novel, The Pillow Book of Lady Kasa (DC Books) was published in 2000 and his second, Escape from Amsterdam (Granta, UK; St Martin’s Press, USA) in 2007. His research and teaching interests comprise a broad range of contemporary fiction, including narratives of photograph and text.

Reading: Matt Haig & Nuala Casey – 7/11/13

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7 November 2013 – Quad South Hall, 7pm

A reading by local novelists, Matt Haig and Nuala Casey. Matt will be reading from his fourth novel, The Humans (Canongate, 2013) and Nuala will be reading from her debut novel, Soho 4AM (2013).

Please book your free ticket by clicking on the link below:

Eventbrite Ticket

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