Everybody's Reading

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Natalie Beech, interviewed by Sonia Tailor

Natalie Beech is the Associate Playwright for Written Foundations Theatre Company, with her play Collegiate making its debut at The Bread & Roses Theatre last year. Her short plays have won competitions with Sheer Height Theatre Company and Unmasked Theatre Company, going on to be performed at Arcola Theatre, The Hawth Theatre and Story City Festival. She also works with local universities to run workshops and create issue-based drama, with short plays The Island and Currents recently performed at De Montfort University.

ST: How do you explore modern issues through the use of drama?

NB: I think it’s important to examine points of view that are not yours, in order to explore an issue properly. Audiences are intelligent and it’s important that you don’t insult that, or leave them feeling you are biased or haven’t considered something properly. I personally want to use drama because I think live performance and theatre commands people’s attention in a way almost nothing else does right now. If you’re watching a film, reading a book or an article, you can easily be distracted by your phone, social media etc. With drama, there’s a human being in front of you, emotionally responding to the impact of the issue you are exploring. There’s something very intimate and powerful about that.

ST: Why is it important for you to present the perpetrator’s viewpoint in your plays?

NB: I don’t think we really get anywhere in tackling issues if we don’t explore the perpetrator’s point of view, or try to understand why they commit an act or their mentality at that time. Plus - I think it is fascinating to go into the mind of someone who is very different to you, that’s the fun of writing!

ST: What techniques do you use to create strong voices?

NB: I often use the voice of people I have met or know, to help get speech patterns accurate and realistic. I am a firm believer that character is the most important aspect of drama, so making sure you know your characters inside out will mean that they become real people in your head, and write the story themselves.

ST: How do you maintain a balance between exposition and drama?

NB: Exposition can be used interestingly, particularly with monologues. Having your characters decide what they want to tell an audience about themselves and what they want to hide is great on stage, and allows audiences to come to some of their own conclusions about your characters and story. It’s fairly obvious, but I think I would just advise not to show all of your cards at once, slowly reveal things over the course of your story, and that will create drama in itself. 

ST: How do you effectively intertwine dialogue with monologues?

NB: Monologues can be quite hard going for an audience, so it works to break it up with dialogue and vary things a bit. I tend to use monologues when I want the audience to see the drama through the perspective of a character, and dialogue when I want them to see how something is in in reality. This dictates how I intertwine them and why I decide to use dialogue or monologue.

About the interviewer

Sonia Tailor is a political writer, studying an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. She has organised vigils and demonstrations, and in 2007, she travelled to Jordan to make a documentary about Iraqi refugee children. For many years, Sonia was the Youth Page editor for Peace News (newspaper) and she currently runs a book blog on Instagram: @soniareads.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Review by Siobhian R. Hodges of "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold

It doesn’t get much darker than a fourteen-year-old girl being raped and murdered, her body forever hidden in a sinkhole while she watches, from heaven, her family struggle to cope. Alice Sebold avoids the mystery of a ‘Whodunit’ plot, revealing the facts at the start to create an intimate story of Susie Salmon’s death and how it affects her family and friends, but with a supernatural slant.

As narrator, Susie talks openly about her killer (neighbour and loner, George Harvey) but is unable to tell her family. They are oblivious that the monster they are searching for is living next door. Although they have occasionally seen and heard Susie when they are missing her the most, ultimately, she is bound to heaven – a place Sebold describes as being a personal world unique to everyone, made up of the individual’s “simplest dreams”. For Susie, it is the high school she never grew old enough to attend with soccer goalposts in the distance, her favourite magazines as textbooks and swing sets with “bucket seats made out of hard black rubber”. There, she meets others with similar dreams whose heavens intertwine with hers, like Holly (who becomes her roommate) and Franny (a woman in her mid-forties who becomes their guide). Sebold paints a clear picture of Susie’s heaven and you cannot help wondering what your own personal one would look like. But as she switches between settings on Earth and in heaven, it becomes evident that the author has a keen eye for detail with world-building.

Even in her own personal heaven though, Susie will never have what she desires most – to grow up. She is a young girl who will never graduate, marry or have children. This is why she is often drawn to Earth, to watch her friends and younger sister (Lindsey) experience these milestones. It is difficult not to feel some of the sadness and frustration Susie feels. Likewise, as she narrates life going on without her, we get to know the people closest to her and sympathise with them as they battle the loss of their daughter/sister/friend/lover and try to cope in a way only a torn family would understand. Susie’s voice is strong and genuine throughout, written how a typical fourteen-year-old speaks – she is full of life, for someone who is dead.

There is a reason Sebold’s The Lovely Bones became an instant success upon its publication in 2002. The story is gritty, heart-warming and cleverly written. Although the author deals with the rawest of emotions, her omnipresent narrator spectating from the afterlife makes for an interesting read. The Lovely Bones is memorable to say the least and Sebold manages to capture the realism of love, grief and moving on.

About the reviewer

Siobhian Hodges is an MA graduate in Creative Writing and a part-time script editor for the Leicestershire-based film company ‘Gatling Gun Productions’. She is currently polishing her first novel and writes short stories and poetry in her free time.

Review by Miranda Taylor of "Matilda" by Roald Dahl

This is now my favourite book. I love Matilda, the main character. She is very cute and also very clever. In the story, she realises she has magical powers. She also loves reading. She is the cleverest person in the school. My favourite chapter is the one where Bruce Bogtrotter eats all the chocolate cake. I love the picture of him afterwards, when he is happy and fat from all the cake, and he has beaten the Trunchbull. I also like the end of the book, because the Trunchbull thinks she is being haunted by the ghost of Miss Honey’s daddy. She gets very scared and runs away. Then Miss Honey lives in her house and adopts Matilda, and they live happily ever after. 

About the reviewer

Miranda Taylor is eight years old. She likes My Little Pony and reading. She has a twin sister called Rosalind. 

Review by Leonie Sturman of "The Heart Goes Last" by Margaret Atwood

There is always a scramble in the bookstores and online when Atwood brings out another of her books; this one was no exception. With Brooker’s Black Mirror haunting anyone watching it on Netflix, The Heart Goes Last would fit right into a chilling episode. 

This is probably not the book to start on if Atwood is new to you – her classics being the likes of The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin. However, this new book is engaging and frightening in its close-to-the-bone commentary on our current society. So much so, I had to put the book down for a week as I did not want it to end. 

In a state of homelessness, against the backdrop of a country in economic turmoil, protagonists Charmaine and Stan sign up for Consilience – an experiment in society. Even the beginning hooked me. Atwood has the eerie ability to hit the nail on the head when it comes to writing about what matters now in the world. Stan and Charmaine could be anyone. Two wanting-to-work individuals caught out by the lack of jobs and money in their community. 

Consilience feels like a dream, a new slate. For two months, they live in a happy 1950s-esque society filled with stuffy TV shows and happy faces. The next two, they swap it for the prison, where their jobs change. During that time, their ‘Alternates’ live in their shoes in their house and then swap to the prison when Stan and Charmaine come out after two months. Seems perfect? As with a great deal of Atwood…far from it!

Very soon Consilience starts to echo the totalitarian values of Stalin’s Communism or perhaps close to our own modern society of cameras and CCTV.

Soon, you have fallen down the Atwood rabbit hole full of Elvis and Marilyn sex robots, mass surveillance, patriarchy, sexuality and exploitation of identity. And look out for that blue teddy bear! There is always something hypnotic about Atwood’s prose and the way she weaves her themes throughout until they burst out of the pages, along with the chilling realisation that this is not so far from the world we live today. 

About the reviewer

Leonie Sturman is an English teacher specialising in teaching A-Level Creative Writing, and a part-time writer. She sometimes delves into performing her work in the sleepy county of Suffolk, often exploring the darker aspects of femininity and society ills. 

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Review by Annalise Garrett of "The End" ed. Ashley Stokes, featuring paintings by Nicolas Ruston, and stories by various contributors

It is inevitable that there will be a moment in our lives where we will think the end is near, whether the thought is triggered boarding a plane, watching a loved one die of old age or an accident, or even those close calls that make you question how you survived such an event. Fifteen Endings to Fifteen Paintings is a project by Nicolas Ruston to explore how an art form can operate through different media, as described in the introduction of the book The End, edited by Ashley Stokes. The book consists of fifteen interpretations by writers who have chosen one painting each by Ruston. Each painting is ambiguous with few hints towards the genre of the short story that follows it. 

Every chapter captures the emotional response of its writer, inspired by a black and white etching by Ruston. ‘The End’ is first seen as a large, dominating white text situated in the centre of each painting, and is also the central theme for the fifteen narratives that follow each painting. Fifteen detailed, uncomfortable, thought-provoking narratives present a multitude of emotions. Some paintings are much clearer than others in that they present us with a familiar object, hinting what the story that follows will entail. Each painting is then crafted into words, as it were, to arouse feelings of anxiety, or nostalgia in the reader, or even perhaps to draw the reader into the writer’s paranoia and vision of ‘The End’.

There, of course, are chapters you connect with and are more drawn to than others – paintings and stories that speak to your unconscious mind, your own anxiety and experience with more power than others. There were times where I felt suffocated, uncomfortable when reading certain stories. The stories vary in style and content. The power behind chosen sentence structure and word choice changed my mood and at times I had to put the book down to walk away for a moment before returning to complete the story. Even now I am reminded of the stress I felt on one particular interpretation of a painting. Each story, each memory presented a new thought, a new location, a new passage to the end of something, whether it is life or opinion, whether it is the narrator’s life or someone they are observing. Something ends, even if it is the fictional story itself.

On finishing each story, my attention was drawn back to the beginning of the chapter – the image of ‘The End’. At times the first few lines of a story directly connected image to text, or sometimes it was the final sentence or idea, or even the story as a whole. Back and forth I flicked from painting to word, from chapter to chapter; I sometimes understood the connections, and sometimes I was so caught in the narrative I forgot the painting. There are recurrent themes – such as reference to someone dying, something or someone leaving, or even a habit abandoned. In this way, the reader is teased by the notion of the end throughout. I felt a constant anticipation to find out what will end, who will end and even why.

When each story ended I found myself back to comparing the painting to the words, or the memory, the narrative, the character or setting. Stokes is right in saying the book never ends and you will re-read it: I have read it twice and I want to read it again. When walking in the street or around the house I picture my surroundings like the painting, a black and white etching telling me a story, an end; I text my family and friends more often now than before. The End: Fifteen Endings to Fifteen Paintings made me think about my situation, my thoughts, and I hope others look at these painting by Ruston and their interpreters’ stories. 

About the reviewer
Annalise is a student in her third year at the University of Leicester, studying BA English. She is currently on an Erasmus year abroad at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Outside of her studies Annalise paints and writes as a hobby, hoping to use her degree to work towards a career within the art industry. 

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Review by Ariane Dean of "Trysting" by Emmanuelle Pagano

When looking back on any relationship, whether it be with a partner or a much-loved friend, there are small moments that may seem insignificant, or may seem hugely important, but that nevertheless stay with us long after that person has left our lives. Emmanuelle Pagano’s book, Trysting, is a love song to the small moments, whether they are good or bad. Not so much a collection of short stories, but gathered snippets from people’s lives, written first in French and entitled Nouons-nous, it has since been translated into English by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis. The book is published in English by And Other Stories, and in the original French by P.O.L.

Every passage is short, the longest being around a page and half, the shortest just one line. This approach gives one the feeling of dipping into someone’s memories, exploring their past, and examining the responses that they may not have given at the time. Each piece is beautifully crafted, and even the bad times are recounted in a steady, calm manner, providing reflection and peace to experiences of great emotion.  The little tales are deeply nostalgic, a glimpse inside the mind of a stranger.

What I adored about this book was that nearly all the passages were non-gender specific. The stories are told in first person, and while they reference pronouns for their partner, the speaker tells little about themselves, enabling the reader to easily input their own personality and experiences into the story. Sometimes it feels like a friend confessing something they had long kept bottled up, other times it is something you yourself had half forgotten. Each passage works in a new object, place, or time, and finds new meaning in simplicity.

Although the stories are unrelated, there is a strong sense of them being tied together, with an underlying theme of the strengths and weaknesses of human nature. The people in these stories seem very real – they are dealing with ordinary worries and loves. However, Pagano’s beautiful writing and the incredible translation makes them seem vastly more important. There are lines that stayed with me for a long time after I had finished reading, and sections that I read aloud to my partner that conveyed ideas far better than I ever could.

My final thoughts on Trysting are that it was unexpectedly comforting. I had expected after the first few stories to find them sad, a little heart-breaking. Dipping in and out and reading a few little stories every now and then, I discovered that the book makes one feel much less lonely in traversing the difficult points in human relationships. Emmanuelle Pagano’s calm, measured approach to the uneasy things that could be made dramatic far simpler, and I closed the book feeling surprisingly much better than when I went in.

About the reviewer

Ariane Dean is a third year student at the University of Leicester, studying English. She has written theatre and comedy reviews for Buxton Fringe Festival over the last three years, and is working on editing past NaNoWriMo attempts to try and make them readable.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Review by Alyson Morris of "I Had It In Me" by Leonie Orton

Leonie Orton’s memoir, I Had It In Me, is an autobiographical account of a difficult upbringing, intertwined with quotations from plays by her famous brother, Joe Orton.

Authors of autobiographies rarely grip readers - unless there are intricate and emotional details of human thoughts, such as those brilliantly conceived by Colm Toibin, or augmented with shattering descriptions of poverty and human survival, such as those created by Frank McCourt. Delightfully, Leonie Orton’s exposés hit hard. They capture the emotional damage caused by a loveless mother-daughter relationship, and define her early life with such disturbing detail and force, that readers will undoubtedly wrap their arms around little Leonie and hold on tight.

As a fan of Joe Orton’s sardonic accounts of life, I can see where all that cynicism came from. Younger sister, Leonie Orton, describes their upbringing with candor, and dishes out multiple servings of pathos for the reader to vividly imagine being right in the thick of it. Their mother, Elsie, who is by far the most dominant and captivating character (in a disturbing sense), is a callous, selfish and downright cruel mother and wife. She may have dished out a morsel of love to her sons, but her wickedness towards her daughters and the bullying of her ‘weak’ husband, will afford no pity from readers. Yet Elsie is a compelling read, and is sadly missing from the second half of the book.

Throughout Leonie’s story you will become increasingly compassionate towards her. You will become exposed to her tragic young life at Fayrhurst Road and then Trenant Road council estates, and watch her struggles with education so that she ends up with little choice but to work in factories. Enjoyably, the author’s memories of this time are highlighted with quotes from Joe Orton’s plays such as Entertaining Mr Sloane and What the Butler Saw. These references demonstrate links between his characters and members of his family, and expose the damaging influences of Leonie’s childhood, which has ignited a cynicism and wit that she shares with her brother.

As the autobiography evolves, you hear how Leonie struggled but succeeded in forcing herself out of Elsie’s template, into education, and finally into love. The second half of the book, triggered by the tragic death of her brother, quickens in pace. It also lacks the references to play scripts and Elsie. Despite the unsavoury depictions of Elsie, her absence is felt. And Joe Orton’s accounts of human behaviour linked to Leonie’s life are also missed. One powerful message in this part of the story is that we grow with Leonie. She moves from higher education into better jobs, and finds love with John Foster. Sadly, the affair ends in another tragic death, this time at the expense of the NHS, rather than Joe’s murder being at the expense of his lover.

As the final section of the book emerges, the pace slows again as Leonie appears comfortable with the re-introduction of brother, Joe. The final chapter is real page-turner, like reading Leonie’s accounts of her mother. The last pages take you on a journey with Leonie while she searches for the missing pages from Joe’s London diary. These pages are said to expose the reasons for his death in 1967.

Leonie now runs the Orton Estate and is often interviewed about her brother. She should now be interviewed as an author. She did have it in her, and I hope that we hear from this author again. I also hope that she now has all the love she can get.

About the reviewer
Alyson Morris is the Course Director for English and Creative Writing at Coventry University. She teaches modules for writing picture books, theatre and radio scripts and travel articles. Alyson writes poetry and short fiction, is Executive Editor of the Coventry Words magazine, and is currently studying for a PhD in creative nonfiction at the University of Leicester.


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Review by Robert Richardson of “You Say You Want A Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970” (exhibition at the V&A Museum, London, 10 September 2016 – 26 February 2017)

An entrance ticket for You Say You Want A Revolution?  includes the issuing of a headset and device that provide a soundtrack synced to the different rooms (and electronic wizardry means there is no need to press buttons). The soundtrack includes the spoken word, but it is mainly pop and rock music from the period. It is as much a part of the exhibition as the artefacts it complements. I think this is a good decision and preferable to having a section analysing music in a cold, detached way: it successfully communicates how music was pervasive during this time. For me, though, it failed to include some of the period’s strongest sounds, where is the edginess of MC5 and Captain Beefheart, and the challenging satire of The Mothers of Invention and The Fugs?

I thought the earlier parts of the exhibition were the most effective, because I suspect they draw more on the V&A’s own extensive holdings.  We are plunged back into a time when “Swinging London” was style central for the planet, and the fashions still look amazing. A small section on Twiggy, the working class “Queen of Mod,” shows her as the perfect model for styles soon adopted as street fashion, more brilliant and alive than anything Paris or Milan could muster. It was also the era of the peacock male, as celebrated in The Kinks song Dedicated Follower Of Fashion. Mick Jagger appeared on Ready, Steady, Go!, the greatest pop programme of the day, wearing a military tunic purchased at I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet (the original shop sign is in the exhibition), a boutique in Carnaby Street. By noon the next day all similar jackets had sold out. Before the internet and mobile phones, television on its own could create speedy trends.

When entering the rooms presenting war, social unrest and protest, the colours drain away and unsurprisingly the mood is sombre and disturbing. A mannequin has the uniform and shield of the feared CRS, the riot police de Gaulle, in 1968, ordered to suppress the student riots in Paris. They clubbed to the ground anyone in their way, not just students but tourists and journalists as well. Close by is footage of the equally ferocious American police clubbing demonstrators for black civil rights. These were violent times, and of course included the horrors of Vietnam. Later in the exhibition, we learn that towards the end of the decade B52s of the US airforce dropped bombs on North Vietnam in such vast quantities that the explosions were close in magnitude to nuclear weapons. I was uneasy about the cursory way the exhibition presented the war, but to be fair, with a wide-ranging agenda this is unavoidable, and of course it has to be there. The war cruelly informed the era, and reinforced a counterculture that both demonstrated against it and turned towards creating an “alternative society.”

I found the presentation on drugs and psychedelia to be the most disappointing section. There should have been more emphasis on cannabis use and the movement to legalise it. The highhanded, hypocritical judgements of those who happily used alcohol, a legal but arguably more destructive drug, are still resented to this day. LSD was legal in Britain until late 1966, and exhibition text states its role in expanding consciousness and a “revolution in the head,” but a video simulation of a 1960s light show (often a visual accompaniment to hallucinogens and psychedelic music) is quite simply lame. I suppose health and safety prevented an actual light show from taking place. The hippie drug culture should have been engaged with more thoroughly: there is for instance plenty of archive material on Timothy Leary that could have been used. Testimony on good and bad acid trips would have also been interesting. One positive aspect of this section is the relating of the psychedelic experience to eastern religions. While China under Mao adopted Marxism, hippies reversed the direction. There was a rejection of the hegemony of Western-centric systems of thought and the monotheistic religions with origins in the Middle East, and one of the most important reasons for this interest in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Zen was for some people these religions and philosophies matched insights gained from dropping acid.

San Francisco’s 1967 Summer of Love is referred to, but the exhibition underperforms by not giving enough space to it, the years immediately leading up to it and those that followed. San Francisco was by far the most important place for the counterculture. What happened there spread throughout the world, via the sensationalist mainstream media and the more enthusiastic underground press such as the International Times (IT) in London. Hippie ideals and alternatives were also communicated by the psychedelic music generated in San Francisco by bands such as Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and It’s a Beautiful Day, and the blues of Big Brother and The Holding Company and their singer, Janis Joplin. There were the Be-ins at Golden Gate Park, and the Diggers, modelling themselves on the movement of the same name in 17th century England. The San Francisco Diggers serviced hippiedom, and this included providing free food as both a necessity for those without money and a radical stand against consumerism. Where is the material giving prominence to these San Francisco phenomena?

The room dedicated to Woodstock is the most spectacular. Extracts from the film of the festival are shown on a big screen, and there are plenty of seats for watching the likes of Jefferson Airplane and Country Joe and the Fish. Artefacts from that weekend abound, including some of the notes left on a particular tree: a rallying point for those who had lost their friends in the huge crowd: no text messages in those days!  The enduring sound of the festival is Jimi Hendrix’s version of The Star-Spangled Banner. His playing and use of feedback brought about a fierce musical reflection and condemnation of the violence of his country, both in Vietnam and at home.

The late 60s advanced the causes of feminism and gay rights, and also environmentalism, which is the subject of a strong final section. The hippie communes in America, some of which lasted into the 1970s, are mapped out. Taking responsibility for growing food and living generally in ways that cared for the planet, the communes were a practical response to an increasingly damaged environment. This was a concern of the counterculture that in a time of the climate change denying President Trump deserves a continuing emphasis.

This final section also mentions that Steve Jobs saw the closeness brought about by psychedelic drugs as a catalyst for the internet, and in 1995 Stuart Brand, who in the 60s founded the Whole Earth Catalog, stated that the derision the counterculture had for centralised authority became a philosophical foundation for the leaderless internet. These positions help to explain the quasi hippiedom of Silicon Valley.

I have taken issue with some aspects of this exhibition, but make no mistake there is wonderful material, and the lively exhibition design means that something of the late 60s zeitgeist is present, which is quite an achievement. There is often a pleasing dialogue between general information and specific objects: you can read about the interest in Indian music and see George Harrison’s sitar; you are informed about the origins of personal computing and then can look at the first computer mouse.

John Lennon sang this exhibition’s title, “You Say You Want A Revolution?”  and on display are the HAIR  PEACE; BED PEACE placards from John and Yoko’s 1969 Bed-Ins for Peace, their  “happening” in Amsterdam and use of fame to stage a protest. A few months later in Montreal, they recorded Give Peace A Chance. Let’s do that, shall we?

About the reviewer
Robert Richardson is a visual artist and writer. His work is included in Artists’ Postcards: A Compendium (edited by Jeremy Cooper, published by Reaktion Books, London). He is a member of the Biennale Austria association of artists, and recently exhibited online with the Paris based Corridor Elephant publishing project. In 2014, his solo exhibition TextSpaces was exhibited at Eugen Gomringer’s Kunsthaus Rehau in Germany. He is also the co-editor, with William Pratt, of Homage to Imagism (AMS Press, New York).

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Review by Simon Cole of "Welcome to Leicester," ed. Ambrose Musiyiwa and Emma Lee, and "Born to Run," by Bruce Springsteen

Home Thoughts From Abroad

Holiday reading is important to me. It has to be a conscious choice as the pile of books by the bedside gets bigger, and the time available to read them gets smaller. So a half term break saw two choices make the cut. Springsteen's Born To Run, and Welcome to Leicester: Poems about the City.

Springsteen has produced a magnificent rollicking read, as he heads from sleeping on the beach surrounded by all of his few possessions to mega stardom. Along the way he hasn't lost his sense of humour, of irony and of who he has lost along the way. His descriptions of his battles with himself and his depression are vivid and moving. 

Having engaged with The Boss, I turned my mind back to Leicester, taking myself very quickly from Asbury Park, N.J. To Spinney Hill Park, LE5. Early on in the Welcome to Leicester anthology Paul Lee recalls Spinney Hill Park, in 'her green lap', he recollects how

delighting feet sloshed through
The dew-slick flood of grass

I was hooked. I loved the evocations of places I knew as a child, and know now. The cinnamon scents washing over the Caribbean Festival, the colours and tastes of the Belgrave, THAT view of Old John from the top of London Road and late night in Granby Street. That is a scene that every police officer who has ever worked the night time economy would recognise as Julia Wood describes 'The cash-machine drunks on the pavement.'

There are two omnipresences throughout that are brought to life. The unblinking oversight of a dead King, and the inspiring tale of the fox that was an underdog. 'We've won the bloody football', writes Steve Wylie, 'while policemen laugh', before expressing guilt that he isn't exactly sure who one of the heroes adorning the lampposts in the city actually is! The sense of sport bringing together all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds is writ large throughout. It does capture what it felt like to be in Leicester as the impossible happened, as people danced in the street, as tears were shed, as Nessun Dorma rang out, and as one in four of the population headed for Victoria Park to sing and shout and cheer themselves hoarse. I suppose that as I write this I appear to have 'something in my eye'. The poems capture that feeling very emotively.

Overlooking all is one man. Whilst I would love that man to be the chief constable it is, of course, Richard the Third. 'A pile of bones, Both regal and diminished', a Plantagenet, a resident of York, a talisman, a commentator, a source of inspiration. In Charles G Lauder Jr's 'The City' he is the King hailed by the City one day, before his 'usurper' is festooned the next. Together with the bespectacled 'Italian alchemist' Ranieri as his Caesar, the miraculous discovery of the King in the car park runs as a driving force for a renaissance of civic pride.

For me the biggest theme is of belonging. Poets describe a search for a place to be home, where they can be themselves. Farhana Shaikh writes 'To Leicester Where We Belong', and of her grandparents arriving with just a single suitcase to their name. Some of the language and places of the past used in many poems reminded me of my own grandmother, Leicester born and bred. She would recognise the sounds of the market, the stories of those that make things, the chance to look out from the City into the county beyond. The image of Hui-Ling, Chen's 'Night Swans on the Grand Union Canal' would have resonated with her.

So what's not to like? Inevitably some of the writing grabbed me, and some didn't. In a collection of almost 100 poems and 150 pages that is unsurprising. I felt that some of the footnotes were a bit utilitarian and unnecessary; part of the joy of reading new things is finding out what is being alluded to for yourself.

What I loved most was the swirl of images and names that look like the place that I live and work in every day; the Diwali wheel, Idi Amin, The Big Issue, Windrush, suffragettes, hope, DNA, DMU, Attenborough, Watermead Park, the Haiku hike around Aylestone Meadows and even some policing. I especially loved the stately dance of Maria Ronner's 'On A Bus', as cultures meet, and the niqab and woolly hatted anorak find out a way to get along.

So, as I sat far away watching waves roll endlessly into a foreign beach, I found myself back in landlocked Leicester. Perhaps Browning should have written 'O, to be in Leicester' as he reflected on his home thoughts from abroad.

As Rob Gee shouts 'I am from Leicester, and I can do anything.' I have even got my own pen and paper, well... laptop... out and have started scribbling down some poems of my own, me ducks!


1. Welcome to Leicester is available from Dahlia Publishing: http://www.dahliapublishing.co.uk/2016/09/welcome-to-leicester/
2. See also, Kershia Field’s review of Welcome to Leicester, http://everybodysreviewing.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/review-by-kershia-field-of-welcome-to.html and Eliot John’s review of the anthology, http://everybodysreviewing.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/review-by-eliot-john-of-welcome-to.html
4. See also Ambrose Musiyiwa's blog post on the anthology, http://ambrosemusiyiwa.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/new-poetry-anthology-celebrates-city-of.html

About the reviewer
Simon Cole QPM is Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police.