Book reviews book shops Earlyworks Press Short stories

The Several reasons why Finbar’s Father is unique

There’s a story here I read about once a year. It’s unique, and it transports me every time.

This book is The Several Deaths of Finbar’s Father & other stories, published in 2014. It’s the anthology of the very best works that came to us through our international competitions the year before.

A moment contains an adventure-filled life, and a life is bargained for on a cliff-edge: one is glimpsed in the back row at a lunchtime concert, another smashed by a careless blink. In these stories, you will visit a sun-soaked castle, its towers in starry heavens, its basements deeper than the roots of trees. You will step into other worlds (minding the gap) and find new life in the everyday. These are stories of life as it is lived; life that can be snatched from mountain spirits or rewritten from the end backwards, blighted from the start or suffused with indelible blessings.

Magic moves in a music recital, the steps of a once-upon-a-time plains tribe and the boozy farewells of an urban evening class. Enjoy lives that were, lives that almost were and lives that might just be.

The authors whose work featured in this book are all worthy of attention but, I just have to tell you this: when I sent an email to the address Julian Holt had given us, to tell him he’d won our main competition with ‘The Several Deaths of Finbar’s Father’ and that I therefore wanted to name the next year’s anthology after his story, I didn’t get an answer for a while, and when I did, it came from a relative of his.

This story was Julian Holt’s one and only published work, and he died before he knew it had won a competition. It does not read like a first attempt. Rich, well crafted and complex, it is a story about a man who loved, briefly, and a boy who lived in books – it is a story about a life in a stolen moment and above all, it is a story to go back to again and again.

Well, having read it this afternoon, and told you about the book and its poignant uniqueness, I am now going to settle down to read some of the jewels that go under the title of ‘& other stories’ in this book.

The Several Deaths of Finbar's Father - cover pic

Buy The Several Deaths of Finbar’s Father from Foyles

Buy The Several Deaths of Finbar’s Father from Blackwells

As is so often the case with small press books from a year or so back, they say ‘not available’ but, if you ask, they can order it (that’s why it’s on their websites!) Our distributors *will* supply. Or….

If you’re in or near Hastings, and you’d like a copy of The Several Deaths of Finbar’s Father & other stories, please contact me to have one delivered to your door, post free.

Book reviews book shops Circaidy Gregory Press Corbyn Hastings Labour Politics

Left Books Forward

Heads up – this looks like a political post, and it is – but mainly, it’s one of my ‘Books for Christmas’ soapbox posts…

We in Hastings were quite surprised when we heard that Momentum was an organisation for wild young Trots. We in Momentum Hastings thought we were a group of all sorts of people who had been looking for a better way of going on, and thought the new Labour Leader at the time, Jeremy Corbyn, might open the door to that.

It was clear that a lot of powerful people – many of them sitting behind big, shiny Labour Party desks – really did not want to let change happen. We invited Richard Seymour along one night to tell us about all that. He detailed for us a lot of the behind-the-scenes manouvrings that had gone on, and predicted a lot more: nasty, shameless, worrying things – all of which have since come to pass – and he told us that whilst he supported our efforts and hoped we’d win, he didn’t really think Jeremy Corbyn would be able to survive it all as Labour leader.

Well, he was right. Momentum is something else altogether now, and so is the Labour Party. If you’re thinking ‘where do we go from here’, you could do a lot worse than read his book now, and think over what happened, and why…

Or you could spend Christmas immersed in these enlightening – and gripping – stories of one of humankind’s most extraordinary attempts at socialist revolution…

“…it is a success in its own terms, and is a place you can learn about the greatest revolution ever while enjoying an exciting tale.” – Richard Allday in Counterfire
Reviewed by Sheila McGregor in The Socialist Worker

These titles are available from good lefty bookshops, including Bookmarks in London and Bookbuster in Hastings.

Or, if you’re in or near Hastings, contact me to order, and have them delivered to your door, post free.

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Christmas lights on the beach

Dear Home Secretary,

Fairy lights are on the trees and the lamp posts in the town centre, and the coloured lights are appearing in the shops and the windows of everyone’s houses, but these lights are the ones people of Hastings took to the sea-front, as a farewell message to the families who drowned in the English Channel this week.

They drowned in the sea because France rejected them and Britain would not help them. It’s very clear that you, like the former Home Secretary, who was our Hastings MP, do not prioritize people whose families come to Britain seeking sanctuary, or a more bearable life, you prefer to prioritize ‘our own’ – but could I ask you to look at it like this?

How do you think the people of seaside towns like ours feel, looking out over that cold, dark sea at night, and thinking there may be families drowning in that cold, dark sea? How do you think we feel, knowing that you are asking our RNLI – volunteers, who do the work they do because they care deeply about people – you are asking them to turn their backs on those people, and you are asking our border forces to do a ‘push back’ which will lead to more drownings?

I don’t believe that you are unable to find a humane solution to this. I don’t believe you are trying. The people of Hastings have been going down to the waterline to help frozen, soaking wet, terrified refugees for a long old time now.. This Christmas, if you wake up in the night, never mind the little match girl, try to imagine a little girl drowning in that cold, dark sea. For as long as that is happening, our country is not civilised, and your party is not the party of ‘law and order’, or ‘family values’.

Yours sincerely,

One who stood on the Stade tonight, unable to stop imagining families drowning in that cold, dark sea.

People of Hastings stand vigil for the drowned refugees, November 2021.
Book reviews book shops Earlyworks Press Short stories

Cover Stories

One of the things I loved about working on our short story and poetry anthologies was figuring out how to put the covers together. The  contents would be of excellent quality – we published the very best from the shortlists of our annual, international short story competitions, so the quality was guaranteed – but their style and subject matter ranged across every genre and every topic you could imagine. Finding a title and a ‘look’ that worked for all the stories was always a challenge but sooner or later, something would emerge.

Here are three memorable examples:


How do you know?

Ancestors linger in darkness, held by the attentions of the living. A monk prepares to answer the eternal question. An accident victim loses his memory, another loses something less tangible. One artist dreams of snow, another of the sea – but what do their artifacts dream of? The last performing tiger in the world meets the mob… and then there are the crocodiles…. In these shape-shifting stories murderers, sleuths, monks and marketing wonderboys all battle with their unique visions of the world but who wins, and how will they recognise victory when it comes?

24 stories to keep you awake

Complex roof tops and elevations of Manchester

But what to put on the cover? Himself and I had spent a memorable weekend exploring the architecture of central Manchester that year and in the end, we picked on a detail of a bull from one of the gargantuan city centre memorials…

Font cover: recognition

Significant spaces

Just how much can a missing character-card matter to a schoolboy? Can you recognise true love? What can be forgiven, what should remain hidden, and what will be revealed? Lance Hanson’s ‘Sleeping Jesus and the Green Goblin’ seemed to set the tone for this cascade of tales about things that are not where they should be, or not what people expect them to be. Can you fill the spaces?

Well, Earlyworks Press club member Cathy Edmunds came up with a jigsaw with some pieces missing. That seemed to fit the bill, but what to put in the spaces? I have no idea why, but after some rummaging around, a photo of mine of this extraordinary yew tree from Crowhurst, just outside Hastiings which also has some significant spaces, seemed to be the thing. Oh, and there was the title. Significant Spaces…

Detail of front cover: significant spaces

Loretta’s Parrot

An escaped parrot changes lives on the streets of Glasgow, an art historian finds a young lover too much to handle, a big-game hunter meets an unexpected nemesis – and that’s just the first three stories. The collection also offers a window into the lives of amnesty activists and kidnappers, soldiers and aid workers, jazzers, photographers, Irish dancers and taxi-drivers – through stories fizzing with love, laughter, fear and revenge, fairytales, dreams and nightmares.

But I had fallen in love with Loretta’s Parrot. And a mental image of him, flapping around in the tenements of the city throwing a bit of holy chaos into so many lives gave us the theme – but you know what? None of us had such an image in our photo collections so, as ever when that happened, our Cathy Edmunds picked up her brushes and paint, and got to work. Fantastic! There he is, Loretta’s Parrot…

Loretta's Parrot

You can order all these books from any decent independent bookstore but if you’re in Hastings, give me a shout and you can have a special Christmas offer – all three delivered to your door for £12. That’s three excellent Christmas presents nailed in one go.

Three books: Significant Spaces, Recognition and Loretta's Parrot.
Book reviews book shops Circaidy Gregory Press Earlyworks Press Poetry Uncategorized

The Astonishing Worlds of Mandy Pannett

How many years ago did I jump on a train to Arundel to have lunch with Mandy Pannett, and talk about organising a poetry collection competition? It happened before the Corbyn movement swept me away for several years of single-minded battle; it happened before the most urgent women’s campaign of my lifetime, and before COVID, and I am looking into a long-gone world to write this.

I ask myself how to make that long-ago world come alive again, the world of river and café and castle, all ancient stonework gleaming in cloistered sunshine – and the wondering leads me into Mandy Pannett territory. It’s more real than Monday, despite being as far away as last night’s dream.

‘Tell it slant’ is a phrase of Mandy’s that evokes the necessary skill – do I have that skill? The first work of Mandy’s that I read was The Onion Stone, which took me to Shakespeare’s days, and sparked off a million diamond-flash worlds because it evoked, involved and manifested an idea, but it WOULD NOT tell the reader what it was. I was captivated, haunted, for ages. She calls it ‘telling it slant’. You can read about how that works here.

The onion stone by Mandy Pannett  - front cover
Who – or what? – was Shakespeare?

Mandy worked with Catherine Edmunds on that poetry collection competition, and two brilliant books came out of that. Firstly, one of my all-time favourite poetry collections, Georges Perec is my hero from our winner, Caron Freeborn.

Georges Perec is my hero book cover

Why Georges Perec?

How are we to speak of these ‘common things’, how to track them down rather, flush them out, wrest them from the dross in which they remain mired, how to give them meaning, a tongue, to let them, finally, speak of what is, of what we are.

– Georges Perec, ‘L’infre ordinaire’

The other book to come out of that poetry collection competition was Convergence – the meeting place of eight poets, edited by Catherine Edmunds and Mandy Pannett, and beautifully juxtaposing sets of poems by Andie Lewenstein, John Wilkes, Eilidh Thomas, Anthony Watts, June Wentland, Mick Evans, Rata Gordon and Angela Arnold – and of course, featuring Cathy Edmunds’ drawing of that most famous meeting place at St Pancras.

Convegence: the meeting place of eight poets - book cover

We lost Caron Freeborn too soon.

I last saw Caron when, back over Arundel way, I got lost in a visionary dream at the launch of Mandy’s The Wulf Enigma – an enigmatic evening if ever there was one, with music, poetry and plans – such plans! – alongside the River Arun.

The Wulf Enigma - front cover

Here’s the enigma

Mandy didn’t believe me about the hyperbolic plane (if you didn’t click the link above, you don’t know what I’m talking about) but you know, I stopped tippy-tappy typing just then, and started thinking about The Wulf Enigma again, and it led me off down yet another train of thought that hadn’t occurred before, so I maintain that it contains infinite folds of story, illuminating infinite worlds, and so you will never tire of being fascinated by it.

Thank you for all those worlds, Mandy Pannett.

Convergence, The Wulf enigma and Georges Perec: front covers

Buy The Wulf Enigma from Foyles or

Buy Georges Perec is my hero from Foyles

Or contact me to order either of those, or Convergence, and your books’ll be in the post directly.

Book reviews book shops Circaidy Gregory Press Earlyworks Press Hastings

Can you see us under all these bushels?

I always thought it was something leafy and twiggy we were hidden under but it turns out it’s a kind of bowl.

Bushels (or in some translations, ‘vessels’)

“And no man, when he hath lighted a lamp, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but putteth it on a stand, that they that enter in may see the light. For nothing is hid, that shall not be made manifest; nor [anything] secret, that shall not be known and come to light. Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he thinketh he hath.”

— Luke 8:16-18

Hidden things

No, I haven’t gone all religious unless that really is the bit in the Bible where Jesus is telling everyone about how small presses work. It’s a huge task, bringing a new title to the public. It’s not just that you can’t afford the posters on the railway stations, the stand at the London Book Fair and all the rest of it – it’s also that distributors and corporate bookshops tell lies about you.

Yes, all our books are available through the standard supply chain as well as from our friends, the local indie bookshops but if you look in the big online bookstores, they tend to be labelled ‘unavailable’. They may even be missing the cover image. And if you go to closed-system shops like Waterstones and ask for one of our books, the staff may not even admit they exist.

The Titans

The reason for this is distributors. Big businesses don’t like ordering from little businesses, they like ordering in bulk from big distribution companies. We little presses do  supply the distributors, but if they don’t happen to have a pallet-load in the warehouse, their automated system punches out that word ‘unavailable’ – not true. My own little press is particularly bespoke here because we happen to be just a few miles  away from one of those gargantuan book warehouses so every week, our Jim bravely goes over there on the train, clutching a weeksworth of individual shop orders – sometimes even just one book – and weaves his way through the security gates, the articulated lorries, the pallets and the forklifts, and hands his little packet over to the giant, book-munching system. That means that even if the great big store labels one of our books ‘unavailable’, you can still order it, and you’ll probably get it within a week. Indie bookshops generally do this willingly. Even Waterstones do, if you can convince the innocent person behind the till that the stock list they are logged onto is not the be-all and end-all.

So why do they say ‘unavailable’? It’s because they’re all – knowingly or not – part of a big global plot to get everyone in the world reading the same hundred books. It’s so much easier to manage, if everyone’s reading the same hundred books. ‘Unavailable’ means ‘we’d have to make a small effort to order this so why not save us the bother and buy one of this week’s top sellers instead?’

The Good old days

What used to happen was that we’d go to all the local events and exhibitions, and do our own marketing.

Kay Green and Lesley Samms at Pure Arts Exhibition in Battle

Here I am with Lesley Samms at one of her amazing Pure Arts Festivals, with our Hastings Modern Art Beach Book, and What’s the Story?  – a beautifully illustrated account of some of the artists and printmakers at work in their studios in and around Hastings.

Unfortunately, recession came along, closely followed by COVID and Brexit and – how long ago did I last do a real world book event? They are starting to happen again now. They’re few and far between, though and in the meantime, we really need to tell you that we are NOT UNAVAILABLE!

Here I am at FantasyCon – oh, feels like decades ago! With the glass-twiddler from George Street, Kate O’Hearn, Terry Pratchett and er… the Green Knight.

At Fantasy con with Kate O'Hearn and Terry Pratchett

The world is beginning to open up again. I’ve recently seen authors Chris Tennent and Simon Edge announcing their presence out in the world…

All being well, Earlyworks Press and Circaidy Gregory Press will be out there again in due course. It’s vital, because once people have actually seen and handled a book, maybe had a chat with the author, it becomes familiar and once the book is familiar, people will go into shops and order it. If the distributors get orders for a book regularly enough, they will actually stop pretending they’re ‘unavailable’, take in some stock and admit they’re ready to take orders. That’s how small press titles ‘break through’ to the level where even Waterstones will admit they exist.

Meantime, I tend to put Foyles links in blog posts, for people to buy their books because Foyles are the best known of the stores that are pretty good at ordering small press books without making a fuss – or else I put local indie shop links such as Printed Matter and Bookbuster in Hastings. If you’re not in Hastings, the chances are, the indie shops where you are will be just as good so please ignore those ‘unavailable’ tags. They are telling Porkies.

Buy The Hastings Modern Art Beach Book at Foyles

Buy What’s the Story? from Pure Arts

Or if you’re in Hastings, drop in to Printed Matter or Bookbuster or contact me for free home delivery.

Book reviews book shops Circaidy Gregory Press Poetry Uncategorized

Women writing poetry – scary?

Ask a poet for a bit of text to for the back jacket, to encourage readers to open her book, and you get this….

Wormwood, earth and honey

Selected poems by Catherine Edmunds

teasel scratches, bramble catches

deep inside my den of mischief

mud pies splatter, cracked plates clatter

if you dare to enter here

insects bite you, ferrets fight you

creepers catch you, magpies snatch you

hidden dangers trap all strangers

don’t you try it, don’t you dare

I will chuckle, smirk and giggle

deep inside my den of mischief

faith is forfeit, friendship fickle

if you dare to enter here

So all I can say is read Catherine Edmunds’ poetry collection if you dare. It’s very good.

There’s a gentler welcome to Marilyn Francis’s ‘red silk slippers’ but don’t be fooled – she doesn’t miss a trick. Here’s the title piece …

red silk slippers

Yesterday we celebrated all the Christmases

we’d missed since you left and this morning there’s sunshine

and a light frost and I have red silk slippers from Thailand.

Outside, blackbirds peck for worms

on the square of turf where the old cat is buried

and I have bright wooden birds from Singapore to dangle

lifelike from the branches of the lilac tree.

The heating pipes grumble, wind lullabies

through the chimney and I have a lucky Chinese cat

whose silvered paw waves back and forth

tick-tocking the seconds

between yesterday and tomorrow.

This morning there’s sunshine and a light frost

and I have red silk slippers from Thailand.

Or you could read

Into the Yell,

Sarah James’s most excellent collection – but I can’t guarantee she won’t yell at you.

Into the Yell by Sarah James, wormwood earth and honey by Catherine Edmunds, and red silk slippers by Marilyn Francis

Buy wormwood, earth and honey from Foyles

Buy red silk slippers from Foyles

Buy Into the Yell from Foyles

Or if you’re in or near Hastings, contact me to take up our Christmas offer of all three books, delivered to your door for £16

activism economics Housing media NHS Politics prejudice Uncategorized

Transports of delight!

Oh, what an original idea! Gather up all these alarming, inconvenient people and send them to some far-flung corner of the world we have a bit of control over.

It worked before, didn’t it? That’s why Australia is what it is. Come to think of it, lots of UK citizens who hadn’t been marked as undesirable followed them, once the country got on its feet. I think we should all consider jumping the gun this time – depart Cruel Brittania, and go with the refugees to a new world built by those the Tories always did, and always will think of as ‘undesirables’.

Now, what next? As they dismantle and sell off the remains of our services (the NHS is to all intents and purposes under the hammer in parliament this week) which of the Victorians’ cruel ideas do you think our abysmal politicians are going to try out next in their endless attempts to avoid the obvious truth?

The obvious truth

We had the best NHS in the world. We had transport, power, education and care services that were faulty but sort of worked. Now so many of us are struggling to find dentists, get medical and social care, we realise ‘sort of’ was a lot better than nothing. We got as far as ‘sort of’ because we had a government that saw its job as running the country, and local authorities that saw their jobs as running the services in their areas. We knew that all those administrators were there to provide people’s needs. They were paid to do it, and paid enough to live decently, not to get rich off our services. For decades, we’ve been told our services all needed to be sold off because they were faulty. Not so. We needed a government that would keep at it, make the poor services better and the good truly great.

Demand better – demand change. If you’re over 50, you’ll know we did it once before so we can do it again. If you’re under 50, ask granny how the NHS, housing, education, social services etc etc used to work. Fight back. If acting on your own doesn’t work, get some people around you and become an active part of everyone who’s demanding better.

What’s it got to do with refugees?

All those services we fought for and won in the last century – we did all that in time when (as now) lots of people emigrated to the UK when things were unsustainable where they lived. They came because they heard the UK was better. This was not a bad thing. They can’t help coming now. The ones who reach the north coast of France and get bullied into the sea by the French authorities are a minority of the refugees on the move. Pity them – they’ve landed in a country with a merciless government, and next to no local services.

But one thing we do know about the people washing up on our beaches is that they’re strong enough and clever enough to get that far. Maybe they’re strong enough and clever enough to help make a new country, either here or on the other side of the world when we all get sent to the Falklands for stealing our daily bread, like desperate people did in the bad old days before the NHS, social care services, etc etc.

This week’s ‘Destruction of the NHS’ Bill in parliament

If you want some help fighting back, contact the People’s Assembly Or try your local Trades Council. Or check if there’s a local branch of Defend the NHS where you are.

economics media Politics


Where do you lay the blame?

The current mood across the nation is what some drivers call ‘hoot first, brake second’. If something goes wrong, the first thing do is decide whose fault it was and have a go at them.

Most people agree, now, that the national response to COVID went badly, badly wrong. First off, it was most definitely the fault of the government. They fiddle faddled around over public safety measures and lockdown dates, whilst just about everyone else threw themselves into working out safe ways of going on, volunteering with food banks, with local teams to help those who were isolating at home alone and, in small armies it seemed to me, helping out at vaccine centres once the roll-out started.

Later, people got more chaotic, and some got rebellious, over masks and lockdown rules – who was to blame for that? The government again, with their hokey cokey of rules and lockdown dates.

But some people refused the vaccines. At first, I was saying (and I still do say) vaccine take-up does not need to be 100% to work, so there’s room for a few who just can’t go along with the practice for whatever reasons – fear of needles, fear of side-effects, objection to vaccine ingredients – there are loads of reasons.

But surely the government can’t be blamed for the ‘freedom’ protesters and the spread of anti-vax conspiracies? Well actually, they can. Consider this: both the social rules (masks, distancing etc) and the vaccine roll-out are PUBLIC health measures. It’s quite possible to come to the conclusion that you personally don’t need them, or even that they might pose a risk to you personally, but that’s not how public health actions work. The idea is that you join in because, overall, it helps the most people. You may well be doing something that’s not necessary or not well suited TO YOU for the sake of someone at the other end of the country. It’s best for ‘us’ if you have a concept of the collective ‘us’.

Some people don’t do solidarity. They don’t get the ‘us’ thing. Whose fault is that? Who’s been pushing for a selfish, capitalist, me-for-me economic system for decades? Who’s insisted on an education system that’s all about league tables, and personal victories? Who’s been using divide-and-rule tactics to turn people against each other, and protect themselves from the consequences of their bad policies?

And some people suspect the government – and all establishment ‘authorities’ are lying to them, and mean them harm, so they simply don’t believe that the vaccines or other measures are good for us. Whose fault is it then, that people no longer trust the government or the suits reading the news?

Hmm. It’s not that bloke in the shop that’s not wearing a mask, or the woman down your street who thinks the vaccine is an evil trick, is it?

And as for the latest attempt to blame the Chinese – well, who knows? And does it matter? Coronavirus is not the only troublesome virus, and the military and industrial authorities in most countries mess around with viruses. The reason any virus can become a global problem is the amount and speed of international travel. There are people who are so over-paid and so over-involved in international power-games that they are jumping on planes and zapping round the world ALL THE TIME – and the odd time they get a week or so when there’s nothing international to stick their oar in, they jump on planes so they can go show off their diamonds at big, expensive parties.

Who are they? Government ministers and their big business chums – the people who are supposed to spend their time running the country. Let’s give our neighbours a break, do our best to do what’s right, and don’t forget, when the elections come round, BLAME THE GOVERNMENT.

Book reviews book shops Short stories young fiction

The kids already know about giants, unicorns, mermaids and dragons, but …

We all know some people are a whole lot more keen to tell their stories than others. All those big hairy mythical creatures – and even some watery ones – were eager to get into the pages of the story books…

The faun, in his woodland scene, surrounded by vines, eagerly tells his story

…but one little creature was better at listening than telling, and whilst you may not have heard of him, you have *certainly* heard of all the stories *he* knows about…

The froggicorn hides in his pool, until the ancient teller of stories comes and finds him

Here is your chance to find out about a not so well known story. Click here to unlock the secret story…