Wednesday, 21 February 2018

My Year in Books 2018: January

This post is part of my New Year's Resolution. I realised at Christmas that I'd started to fall out of a couple of habits. (1) I haven't been finding time to read for pleasure. (2) I'm out of practice at writing short-form reviews (to be frank, I don't seem to be able to do any short-form writing at all at the moment!).

So, I have resolved to read more books just for fun, and to write short (250 words maximum) reviews of each one as I go along. These are just the books I've read because I liked the look of them - so I won't be including any books I read to 'officially' review, for academic research, for a long-form blog post, or for my radio show. The plan is to post the reviews on here each month (though, let's be honest, how long am I actually going to stick to a New Year's Resolution??).

Here are the books I read in January...

Faithful Place by Tana French (2010)


Faithful Place is the third of French’s ‘Dublin Murder Squad’ novels. I loved the first two novels, In the Woods and The Likeness (particularly In the Woods). The novels aren’t a series as such, but rather feature detectives from the same fictional squad. Each book has a narrator who had appeared as a minor character in an earlier novel. So, the narrator-protagonist of Faithful Place is Frank Mackey, who previously appeared in The Likeness. Frank is a murder detective, who is estranged from his dysfunctional family. He’s called back home on the discovery of a twenty-year-old suitcase during construction work on the estate (the ‘Faithful Place’ of the book’s title). The suitcase belonged to Rosie Daly, Frank’s girlfriend. Once upon a time, Frank and Rosie planned to elope to England, but on the night they were due to go, Rosie didn’t show up. For two decades, Frank believed that Rosie had gone to England on her own… but the discovery of her suitcase makes that seem unlikely. Frank is drawn back into his old life to find out the truth about Rosie’s disappearance. I love French’s writing, and Faithful Place is a gripping and compelling story. I didn’t like it quite as much as her two earlier books – perhaps because it doesn’t feel quite as richly layered (the earlier two were almost dazzling in the way past and present narratives intertwined), or perhaps because I found the denouement a bit predictable. Still, it was an enjoyable read and very well-written.

The Trespasser by Tana French (2016)


Because I can be a bit bingey with my reading, the next book I read this month was another of French’s Dublin Murder Squad novels. But I made a mistake and went straight to the sixth and most recent title, instead of carrying on in order. Good thing it’s not a straight series, eh? The Trespasser features Antoinette Conway as the narrator (she’d previously appeared in one of the books I accidentally skipped), a hotheaded detective who’s teamed up with Stephen Moran (a minor character in Faithful Place). Conway and Moran are assigned to a case that looks like a straightforward domestic, but soon discover (obviously) that there’s much more to it. I’ve got to admit, I didn’t enjoy The Trespasser as much as French’s other novels, though it was still undoubtedly well-written. Conway is a bit of a cliché – the short-tempered rookie with a chip on her shoulder, the woman fighting to be taken seriously in a man’s world – and the case itself is a little flat compared to some of the others French has created. As Conway and Moran discover the victim’s hidden depths and secrets, I couldn’t help but think back to The Likeness, which was a much richer and more compelling read. That said, I’m not giving up on French, as she’s still one of the best writers of police procedural thrillers (not always my favourite genre) that I’ve come across. I guess she just set the bar high with In the Woods and The Likeness!

Broken Harbour by Tana French (2012)


Continuing with my Tana French binge: Broken Harbour is the fourth of the Dublin Murder Squad novels. The narrator-protagonist is Michael ‘Scorcher’ Kennedy, who appeared as a minor (rather unsympathetic) character in Faithful Place. This was the best example of French’s narrator series so far. On the one hand, Broken Harbour redeems and clarifies some of the negative characteristics seen in the previous book; on the other, the presentation of Kennedy here is always shadowed by what we saw in Faithful Place. The book is in first-person, so we’re seeing the narrator through his own eyes, and it’s good to have the earlier book as a reminder of how this comes across to others. The case in Broken Harbour is multiple murder: the seemingly happy Spain family have been brutally attacked in their home. It appears that Pat Spain has snapped and killed his children, attempted to kill his wife Jenny, and then committed suicide. But (obviously) there may be more going on here… The Spains lived in a house on a ‘ghost estate’ (a housing development abruptly halted mid-construction as a result of the financial crash). French creates a setting that is paradoxically claustrophobic and desolate, to great effect. Added to this, her detective brings further ghosts to the investigation, not least his memories of the estate’s former existence as Broken Harbour, a holiday village he visited as a child. I really enjoyed Broken Harbour, certainly as much as The Likeness and almost as much as In the Woods.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (2017)


I bought my mum this book for Christmas, as I’d heard good things (and it was shelved in the bookshop next to other writers that she likes). She read it, then passed it to me. She didn’t give anything away but wanted me to read it so we could talk about the ending. Behind her Eyes was marketed on this ending – the publishers claimed it was one you would never see coming, and exhorted readers not to give anything away after they’d discovered the twist. The book is told from alternating perspectives. Mostly, it switches between Adele, the fragile but devoted wife of psychiatrist David, and Louise, a much warmer and engaging character, who works as a secretary at David’s new practice. Almost accidentally, Louise begins a relationship with David and a friendship with Adele, quickly suspecting there’s something lurking beneath the surface of their marriage. In a way, it’s a shame the publicity for the book focused on the shock ending. Ignoring the twist, Behind her Eyes is really well-written and compelling, and Louise in particular is a wonderfully crafted unreliable narrator. The growing tension of the relationships between the three main characters make for a real page-turner. But, sadly, the ending is a let-down. You don’t see the twist coming because it belongs to an entirely different genre to the rest of the novel and feels somewhat incongruous. Turns out my mum wanted me to read it so she could tell me why she didn’t like the ending.

The Child by Fiona Barton (2017)


Barton’s second novel was apparently a Richard and Judy Book Club pick – and I’ve had some disappointing experiences with these in the past – but the plot description seemed right up my street. (And it’s another book with alternating first-person unreliable narrators, which appears to be my jam this month.) When the skeleton of a new-born baby is discovered during building work in London, journalist Kate Waters is intrigued and determines to find an angle on the story. Meanwhile, the discovery of the body causes anxiety for a woman named Emma, and hope for grieving mother Angela, whose daughter went missing several decades earlier. These three women are our main narrators, and we switch between their perspectives on the ‘Building Site Baby’ case. Barton’s novel is nicely readable, and the intertwining of the story’s threads is well done. I admit, I initially had a bit of trouble distinguishing Emma from Angela, but the book finds its voice(s) as the story progresses, and the decision to hold things together with Kate’s investigation was a good one. Of course, there’s more to the story than just the death of the child, and the various revelations were pretty well paced. The Child was an enjoyable and gripping enough read, which I finished in a couple of sittings. It’s a solid thriller, but I wouldn’t say it was a stand-out (and I did work out the ending about halfway through). Overall, I’d say this was a solid ‘cold case thriller’ novel, but not particularly mind-blowing.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey (2014)


The last book I read this month was Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing, a book which got a lot of praise on its publication, and which has been compared more than once to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The novel’s narrator is Maud, an older woman with dementia, who is concerned that her friend Elizabeth has gone missing. As with The Curious Incident, we are given a mystery through the eyes of someone who doesn’t actually know what it is they’re investigating, and we’re encouraged as readers to look beyond what is being described to what must be ‘really’ happening. But Elizabeth is Missing is much more than this. Despite her narration being distorted, fragmented, repetitive and contradictory, Maud is an engaging and sympathetic protagonist. As she interacts with other characters (who, supposedly, understand what’s happening), I found myself empathizing with Maud’s frustration, internally shouting at one character in particular ‘Just answer her question!’. As the story progresses, Maud increasingly sees the behaviour of others as difficult and erratic, and it’s hard not to feel the same as a reader. That said, Maud’s occasional moments of self-awareness are painful and poignant (as is the ending). But my favourite part of the book was the copious notes that Maud left for herself, in order to retain a focus on the mystery of Elizabeth’s disappearance. These made the book feel a bit like an old lady version of Memento, which I very much enjoyed. Highly recommended.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Performers Wanted for Live Poetry Special


On Saturday 17th March, Hannah's Bookshelf on North Manchester FM will be hosting a live poetry special. I'd like to invite poets and spoken word performers to come along and perform their work on the show.

The Hannah's Bookshelf Live Poetry Special will be going out live from the studio in Harpurhey, North Manchester at 2-4pm. It will be broadcast on 106.6FM (in the North Manchester area) and online (for the rest of the world). Performance slots are 6 minutes long.

Whether you're a veteran performer or new to reading your work, I'd love to hear from you. Drop me a line via email, Twitter or Facebook if you'd like to perform. Slots will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.

Please share this with anyone you think might be interested!

Sunday, 10 December 2017

OUT NOW: The Darkest Midnight in December, edited by Storm Constantine (Immanion Press, 2017)

A new collection of seasonal ghost stories, including 'Log', a tale of festive foliage by yours truly...


The ghost story is a Christmas tradition; shadows looming over the brightly-lit tree in a room where logs crackle in the hearth, and the smell of spice and brandy fill the air. Outside the weather is chill; perhaps snow is falling. The house is far from town – lights twinkle in the distance. And over the festive season, as people gather to celebrate and welcome in the New Year, eerie breath might be heard in a dark corridor, hurrying footsteps overhead, a sigh in the depths of a stairwell. When all are supposed to be happy and secure, the intrusion of fear, grief or sadness are alien, and yet bizarrely integral to a time of celebration whose roots lie in ancient, pagan festivals. What stirs in the darkness?

Contents:

An Eye for an Eye by Rosie Garland
On the Loop Line by Misha Herwin
Holly and Ivy by Fiona Lane
The House with the Gable by Nerine Dorman
When He Comes Home Through the Snow by Storm Constantine
Bethany's Visit by Jessica Gilling
The Supernatural Stocking by Rhys Hughes
Log by Hannah Kate
Driving Home for Christmas by Fiona McGavin
Gift from the Sea by Adele Marie Park
Kindred Spirit by J.E. Bryant
A Midwinter Nightmare by Suzanne Gyseman
Spirit of the Season by Rick Hudson
The Shadow by Wendy Darling
Jay's Ghost by Louise Coquio

For more information, or to buy a copy of the book, please visit the Immanion Press website.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

3 Minute Santas - Festive Flash Fiction Wanted


A call for seasonal submissions to be broadcast on the radio!

In response to some comments on my 3 Minute Scares competition for Hannah's Bookshelf on North Manchester FM, I've decided to do something a bit different at Christmas this year. Say hello to... 3 Minute Santas!

I'm looking for recordings of festive (not necessarily Christmas) stories for inclusion on my radio show on Saturday 16th December - but they can only be 3 minutes long! Stories are welcome from anywhere in the world, and in any genre. A selection of 3 Minute Santas will be broadcast on the show on 106.6FM (in the North Manchester area) and on digital (for the rest of the world) - and don't worry, there's a 'listen again' feature just in case you're in a different time zone!

3 Minute Santas isn't a competition, but a call for submissions. It's open to anyone, and the more the merrier! For details of how to submit a story, just click here. The deadline is Sunday 3rd December.

And please do share this info with anyone you think might be interested!

Friday, 6 October 2017

OUT NOW: TransGothic in Literature and Culture, ed. Jolene Zigarovich (Routledge, 2017)

A new academic edited collection on the Gothic, with a chapter from me on Horace Walpole, Twilight, Black Mirror, 17th-century politics and the meaning of romance...

This book contributes to an emerging field of study and provides new perspectives on the ways in which Gothic literature, visual media, and other cultural forms explicitly engage gender, sexuality, form, and genre. The collection is a forum in which the ideas of several well-respected critics converge, producing a breadth of knowledge and a diversity of subject areas and methodologies. It is concerned with several questions, including: How can we discuss Gothic as a genre that crosses over boundaries constructed by a culture to define and contain gender and sexuality? How do transgender bodies specifically mark or disrupt this boundary crossing? In what ways does the Gothic open up a plural narrative space for transgenre explorations, encounters, and experimentation? With this, the volume’s chapters explore expected categories such as transgenders, transbodies, and transembodiments, but also broader concepts that move through and beyond the limits of gender identity and sexuality, such as transhistories, transpolitics, transmodalities, and transgenres. Illuminating such areas as the appropriation of the trans body in Gothic literature and film, the function of trans rhetorics in memoir, textual markers of transgenderism, and the Gothic’s transgeneric qualities, the chapters offer innovative, but not limited, ways to interpret the Gothic. In addition, the book intersects with but also troubles non-trans feminist and queer readings of the Gothic. Together, these diverse approaches engage the Gothic as a definitively trans subject, and offer new and exciting connections and insights into Gothic, Media, Film, Narrative, and Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Contents

- Foreword, Susan Stryker
- Introduction: 'Transing the Gothic', Jolene Zigarovich
- Chapter 1: 'Beyond Queer Gothic: Charting the Gothic History of the Trans Subject in Beckford, Lewis, Byron', Nowell Marshall
- Chapter 2: 'Go to Hell: William Beckford’s Skewed Heaven and Hell', Jeremy Chow
- Chapter 3: 'Transgothic Desire in Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya', Jolene Zigarovich
- Chapter 4: 'That Dreadful Thing That Looked Like A Beautiful Girl: Trans Anxiety/Trans Possibility in Three Late Victorian Werewolf Tales', Ardel Haefele-Thomas
- Chapter 5: 'Monster Trans: Diffracting Affect, Reading Rage', Harlan Weaver
- Chapter 6: 'More Than Skin Deep: Aliens, Fembots, and Trans-Monstrosities in Techno-Gothic Space', April Miller
- Chapter 7: 'Gothic Gender in Skin Suits, or The (Transgender) Skin I Live In', Anson Koch-Rein
- Chapter 8: 'The Media of Madness: Gothic transmedia and the Cthulhu mythos', Jason Whittaker
- Chapter 9: 'Black Weddings and Black Mirrors: Gothic as Transgeneric Mode', Hannah Priest
- Chapter 10: 'The State of Play: Transgressive Caricature and Transnational Enlightenment', Ian McCormick

For more information, please visit the publisher's website.

OUT NOW: Werewolves, Wolves and the Gothic, ed. Robert McKay and John Miller (University of Wales Press, 2017)

A new academic edited collection on werewolves from University of Wales Press, featuring a chapter by me on bad dads, painful transformations and the embarrassment of morning-after nudity...

Wolves lope across Gothic imagination. Signs of a pure animality opposed to humanity, in the figure of the werewolf they become liminal creatures that move between the human and the animal. Werewolves function as a site for exploring complex anxieties of difference – of gender, class, race, space, nation or sexuality – but the imaginative and ideological uses of wolves also reflect back on the lives of material animals, long persecuted in their declining habitats across the world. Werewolves therefore raise unsettling questions about the intersection of the real and the imaginary, the instability of human identities and the worldliness and political weight of the Gothic.

This is the first volume concerned with the appearance of werewolves and wolves in literary and cultural texts from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. Drawing on representations of werewolves and wolves in literature, film, television and visual culture, the essays investigate the key texts of the lycanthropic canon alongside lesser-known works from the 1890s to the present. The result is an innovative study that is both theoretically aware and historically nuanced, featuring an international list of established and emerging scholars based in Britain, Europe, North America and Australia.

Contents

- Introduction, Robert McKay and John Miller
- Like Father Like Son: Wolf-Men, Paternity and the Male Gothic, Hannah Priest
- Wicked Wolf-Women and Shaggy Suffragettes: Lycanthropic Femme Fatales in the Victorian and Edwardian Eras, Jazmina Cininas
- Postcolonial Vanishings: Wolves, American Indians, and Contemporary Werewolves, Michelle Nicole Boyer
- The Good, the Bad, and the Ubernatural: The Other(ed) Werewolf in Twilight, Roman Bartosch and Celestine Caruso
- ‘Becoming woman’/Becoming Wolf: Girl Power and the Monstrous Feminine in the Ginger Snaps Trilogy, Batia Boe Stolar
- ‘Something that is either werewolf or vampire’: Interrogating the Lupine Nature of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Kaja Franck
- Saki, Nietzsche and the Superwolf, John Miller
- A Vegetarian Diet for the Were-wolf Hunger of Capital: Leftist and Pro-animal Thought in Guy Endore’s The Werewolf of Paris, Robert McKay
- Everybody Eats Somebody: Angela Carter’s Wolfish Ecology, Margot Young
- ‘But by Blood No Wolf Am I’: Language and Agency, Instinct and Essence – Transcending Antinomies in Maggie Steifvater’s Shiver Trilogy, Bill Hughes
- Transforming the Big Bad Wolf: Redefining the Werewolf through Grimm and Fables, Matthew Lerberg

For more information, please visit the publisher's website.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Gothic to Goth: a weekend course in London

Come and take a trip to the dark side…



This October, I’ll be running Gothic to Goth, a weekend course at the V&A in London. With lectures over two days, the course will cover everything from Bram Stoker to Robert Smith… from Sweeney Todd to Edward Cullen… from Strawberry Hill to Silent Hill.

Gothic to Goth will be on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd October, 11-4pm. I’ll be giving lectures on penny dreadfuls, Gothic romance and horror literature/film, and there’ll be some other wonderful lecturers giving talks on Gothic architecture, Dracula, Goth music and Alexander McQueen.

You can register for the course via the V&A website (info about course fees can also be found here), but here’s a little taste of what the programme will look like…

Saturday 21st October


Session 1. The Gothic Past
Lecturer: Dr Hannah Priest
Session 2. Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill
Lecturer: tbc
Session 3. Penny Dreadfuls and Victorian Pulp Fiction
Lecturer: Dr Hannah Priest
Session 4. Enter Dracula
Lecturer: Dr Sorcha Ní Fhlainn, MMU

Sunday 22nd October


Session 1. Goodbye Romance, Hello Horror
Lecturer: Dr Hannah Priest
Session 2. Dark, Punk and Goth
Lecturer: Professor Isabella van Elferen, Kingston University
Session 3. Gothic Style and Alexander McQueen
Lecturer: Claire Wilcox, V&A
Session 4. The Gothic Future
Lecturer: Dr Hannah Priest

Weekend courses at the V&A give you the opportunity to spend a couple of days immersing yourself in a topic, learning from experts, and enjoying the splendour of the V&A building.

To find out more about Gothic to Goth, or to register for the course, please click here for details.