Monday 1 April 2024

April's online gathering with Rose Ruana and Julian Stannard

  Sunday 21st April at 7pm UK time

This month's free online gathering brings together two wonderful writers: the poet Julian Stannard and the novelist Rose Ruane, who will be reading from, and discussing, their latest books.

If you're not already on the guest list and would like to join in please leave your full name and email address in the comments section at the end of this blog.

Rose Ruane was originally a visual artist working in performance, sculpture, drawing and video. Stories and language were always part of her art practice, but as the written word crept further and further into her art and gradually edged out making and performing, she had to admit that she had become a writer instead.

She undertook the MLitt in Creative Writing at Glasgow University, and subsequently won the Off West End Adopt a Playwright award in 2015. She writes plays, makes podcasts, performs spoken word and occasionally still has a go at drawing and making things just to see if she still can.

She lives in Glasgow with her ever-expanding collections of twentieth century kitsch and other people’s letters, postcards and photographs.

Her debut novel This Is Yesterday was published in 2021. Her latest, Birding, is published  by Little Brown the week after this programme is broadcast! You can pre-order here:

Julian Stannard has been described as the poet of cabaret. His poems sing and weep in equal measure; a poetry of wretchedness and hilarity, of discombobulation and the bizarre. In his new collection Please Don't Bomb the Ghost of My Brother a dead brother returns on a white horse, a musical stag slips off to New York, the Kray Twins reappear, a summer pudding is carried across a heath, a pair of buttocks escapes their owner, a couple makes love on a rain-soaked stoop, the Mongols catapult concubines over the parapets, a dead friend walks out of his grave like a twenty-first century Lazarus, a blind boy breaks into the Kelvingrove Gallery and makes off with Salvador Dali’s crucifixion, Ezra Pound – half fish, half man – rises to the surface of the Venetian lagoon, and after ten years in the Cicada Lunatic Asylum the narrator finds peace in the Umbrian town of Bastardo.

‘Imagine 'Carry on Rilke', or Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal reworked as an end of the pier pantomime, and you get something of the flavour of Stannard's brilliant new collection. The mysterious poems are darkly funny, and the funny poems are disconcertingly mysterious. I can think of no better companion to have at your side as civilisation's walls collapse and the world spins crazily from its axis.’ —Alan Bilton

Order from Salt here:

Join us, and keep the lights burning.


Sunday 25 February 2024

An evening with Lara Pawson and Orla Owen

Here's news of next month's online gathering, the third of twelve planned for 2024. 

If you're on the guest list you'll automatically get a zoom link at 6pm on the day. If you're not on the guest list but would like to be, please leave your FULL NAME and EMAIL ADDRESS in the comments section below. And spread the word! It's free to join.

Sunday 24th March at 7pm (UK time)

Join two extraordinary writers for readings and conversation prompted by two very different books.

Lara Pawson

Lara Pawson’s Spent Light is an unclassifable novel-memoir-essay hybrid, examining the hidden lives of objects – toasters, pepper-mills, fridge-freezers, Brazilian gaucho spurs – spinning off wildly into an account of the entire world of resource extraction and forced labour and industrial murder, alongside traditions of craft, reciprocity and affection.

‘Reading Pawson you realise how obedient most writing is, constrained by squeamishness or protocol … Lara Pawson’s writing is brilliant, unnerving and shockingly alive.’
                                                                                                                – Miranda France, Times Literary Supplement

     ‘Spent Light asks us to begin the work of de-enchanting all the crap we gather around ourselves to fend off the abyss – because we’ll never manage that anyway, the book warns, the abyss is already in us. But love is too. There might be no home to be found in objects, but there’s one to be made with other people. I think, in the end, this powerful, startling book is a love letter.’
                                                                                                                 – Jennifer Hodgson

‘I’m flabbergasted by the naked determination on show here, not to say the talent. Page by page, image by image, association by association, Lara Pawson develops a picture of the world that you won’t be offered anywhere else: stark, unremitting, brilliantly formed and written.’
                                                                                                                   – M. John Harrison

‘A shocking book. Lara Pawson’s merciless and exquisite prose adorns everyday objects with the violence of history – the savage comedy by which living creatures have become broken, petrified things. I will never look at a toaster or a timer, a toenail or a squirrel, the same way again.’
                                                                                                                    – Merve Emre

Spent Light is, obviously, not comfortable reading, but it is wild, bold writing in league with perfectly clear thinking, and while disturbing it is also, in a satisfyingly dark and absurd way, comic. Shelve it with Lucy Ellmann, Miriam Toews, Jenny Offill; brilliant, disillusioned women in absolute control of glorious prose.’
                                                                                                                    – Sarah Moss, Guardian (full review here)

‘Pawson, who explored Angola’s forgotten massacre in her first book, In the Name of the People (2014), writes with a grotesque beauty. […] Pawson has created something very much her own here. It’s not fiction, it’s not non-fiction, it’s not memoir and it’s not an essay. What it is is a reminder that everything in this world is connected and that stories are everywhere, even in objects we might otherwise overlook.’
                                                                                                                    – Susie Mesure, Spectator

Order direct from CB editions here:

Orla Owen

Orla Owen's third novel Christ On A Bike was published by the award-winning Bluemoose Books on 25th January 2024.

Cerys receives an unexpected, life-changing inheritance, but there are rules attached. Three simple rules that must be followed...

Routinely unnerving, each chapter becomes progressively more uncomfortable as the source of the inheritance comes into question. The novel goes to some startlingly dark places in its exploration of free will and family ties, and what starts as a deceptively engaging light entertainment about sibling rivalry becomes a wild journey into madness, mayhem and murder.   

It's only been out for a couple of weeks so no press reviews as yet. But take a look at all the five star reviews on Goodreads! I read it in. asingle sitting and was completely immersed--a brilliant idea, brilliantly realised.

Do join Lara, Orla and myself for an hour of readings and conversation. We look forward to seeing you.

Our next gathering witll be on Sunday 21st April.

Keep the lights on, wherever you are.


Sunday 4 February 2024

An evening with Melissa McCarthy and C. D. Rose

You can watch a recording of this online gathering here:

Passcode: .F4Q6T^x

Sunday 11th February at 7pm UK time

Join us for an hour in the company of two of the very best contemporary authors who (it turns out) share a particular interest. You'll get an exclusive Zoom link at 6pm UK time. Please leave your email address at the foot of this blog if you're not already on the guest list and you'd like to join us.

Melissa McCarthy's latest book is Photo, Phyto, Proto, Nitro,  a collection of essays published by Sagging Meniscus Press)

    Photo: to do with light. 

    Phyto: plants and flowers. 

    Proto: the first, the original. 

    Nitro: it blows up.

From Troy to Hiroshima, Crimea to the nuclear Nevada desert, we make our tracks over the war-scratched globe, and when we reach a ruin or a destination we read the markings, record them using various forms of photography. Later—or much, much later—someone else in turn will try to understand our silvery traces. These are the threads that Melissa McCarthy follows, unpicks, weaves again into a nexus of light and time: the mirrored silver cells of a shark’s eyeball, sunlight glinting off the foam and sea wrack of the Aegean on flower with corpses, the silver salts of photographic paper, silver grave-treasures at Ur.

Like an archaeologist in her own strange literary landscape, McCarthy cuts through layers of history and technology to realign the dead and their images. She examines both what can be photographed and what remains always just beyond the frame, and photography itself. It’s a practice involving chemicals and the action of light. But it’s also an organising principle for literature and beyond: there are marks made—by us, on us—that we can’t yet fully see or understand, though they push on through to the surface, always re-blooming.


C. D. Rose's new novel is Walter Benjamin Stares at the Sea, published by Melville House.

Welcome to the fictional universe of C. D. Rose, whose stories seem to be set in some unidentifiable but vaguely Mitteleuropean nation, and likewise have an uncanny sense of timelessness—the time could be some cobblestoned Victorian past era, or the present, or even the future. In these 15 dreamlike tales, you’ll meet a forgotten composer who enters a nostalgic dream-world while marking time in a decaying Romanian seaport; two Russian brothers, one blind and one deaf, building an intricate model town during an interminable train ride across the steppe; a journalist whose interview with an artist turns into a dizzying roundelay of memory and image. Ghosts of the past mingle with the quiddities of modernity in a bewitching stew where lost masterpieces surface with translations in an invisible language; where image and photograph become mystically entwined, and where the very nature of reality takes on a shimmering sense of possibility and illusion.

C. D. Rose is an award-winning short-story writer, and the author of the novels The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure and Who’s Who When Everyone Is Someone Else, as well as the story collection The Blind Accordionist. He lives in Hebden Bridge.

A book that belongs on the same shelf as Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, Nabokov’s Pale Fire, and several works by Zoran Zivkovic, Stanislaw Lem and David Markson.” — Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

A collection of entrancing literary fables from an underrated master of the form.

Saturday 13 January 2024

LONGITŪDINĒS: an online gathering


Sunday 21st January at 7pm UK time

Joins us for a lively and inspiring hour in the company of the international team behind LONGITŪDINĒS, a multilingual magazine for creative writing, literary translation and the arts, with print and digital editions, and exclusive online content.

We hope this will prompt you to subscribe and/or donate to the crowdfunding scheme which will be launched tonight. We need to raise a modest £2k to secure the future of this excellent international publication.

If you're not already on my list of subscribers leave your email address in the comments box at the foot of this blog and I'll be in touch.


Introduction from Will Davies

About the magazine and the first two issues - a discussion with Antonio Ganbacorta, Andrea Romanzi and Amin Fatemi

Will on the  Kickstarter campaign 

Prerecorded audio/video multi-lingual readings of ‘From Switzerland’ by Peter Robinson (pre-recorded)

Closing remarks and thanks


Taking part (live or pre-recorded)

William Davies is a writer and library manager from southeast England. He has written for Literary Review, The Radio TimesReview 31 and various academic journals.

Amin Fatemi is a translator and Irish literature scholar. He is currently finishing a volume of poetry translation of an indigenous oral poetry tradition in southeast Iran.

Antonio Gambacorta is a translator and literary scholar, currently writing a collection of short stories, and editing two volumes on Samuel Beckett.

Peter Robinson's latest collection of poetry is Retrieved Attachments (Two Rivers Press): His edition of Giorgio Bassani's Collected Poems, translated in collaboration with Roberta Antognini, has recently appeared from Agincourt Press in New York: Winner of the Cheltenham Prize and the John Florio Prize, he is Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Reading.

Andrea Romanzi teaches Scandinavian Languages, Literatures and Translation at the University of Rome, Sapienza and Università Statale, Milan. He has translated several novels from Norwegian and English into Italian, and in 2019 he was awarded the Bodini Prize for best emerging translator for his translations from Norwegian.

See the website:  

Wednesday 3 January 2024

The Pale Usher's New Year Literary Quiz

To mark the New Year I'm sharing this quiz. It originally featured (in a slightly different form) in one of our live online gatherings back in 2020, which I hosted as 'The Pale Usher' (with acknowledgements to Herman Melville). 

There are 23 questions (plus a warm-up exercise) and 100 points to be earned. Of course you could use the internet to find the answers, but where’s the fun in that? Please resist any temptation to do so because it will be much more satisfying if you tackle this as an analogue exercise. (You could, of course, collaborate with friends, family or bookish others. That would be nice.)

This will take you 15-20 minutes to complete, or to fail to complete. You’ll need a pencil and paper to keep your score. 


To warm up, simply match the title of the novel on the left to its author on the right. One point for each correct match

Cold Comfort Farm Jilly Cooper

Malarky Iris Murdoch

The Young Visiters Claire - Louise Bennett

Some Tame Gazelle Bernardine Evaristo

The Notebook Flannery O’Connor

Riders Stella Gibbons

Girl, Woman, Other Anakana Schofield

A Good Man is Hard to Find Daisy Ashford

Nuns and Soldiers Ágota Kristóf

Pond Barbara Pym

Total 10 points.

Now on to round one.

Round 1


What, apart from their varying degrees of celebrity, connects the following?
    Lord Byron


    Gabriele D'Annunzio

    George Formby

    J. G. Farrell

     Sigmund Freud

    Lilian Gish


    Edna St. Vincent Millay

2 points for the correct answer.

2. Curious deaths of noteworthy writers.

Two points for each correct identification. Which writer gave up the ghost . . .

a) after swallowing a martini olive toothpick on a cruise liner? 

b) after choking on the plastic cap of an inhaler?  

c) after being felled by a tree struck by lightning in the Avenue des Champs-Élysées the day after expressing a fear of meeting precisely such an unlikely end?

d) in 1973, after walking into the sea in Brighton? 

e) after claiming to have drunk 18 straight whiskies? 

f) suddenly, at the age of fifty-two, in digs, while drinking brandy to celebrate a BBC  commission? 

Total 12 points.

3. Man of letters.

Virginia Woolf described him as 'more repulsive than words can express, and malignant into the bargain'; Lytton Strachey called him 'a worm' and F. R. Leavis thought him 'the epitome of all that men mean by the word philistine'. 

Which influential 1920s editor and critic attracted such obloquy? (Two points)

For a bonus point: The editor  and critic in question was also an acknowledged expert on what indigenous dairy product?

Total 3 points.

4. What do poets know?

Which distinguished 19th century poet believed that railway engines ran in grooves and that all cigars, regardless of size or quality, cost the same? 

Total 2 points.

5. A handy coinage.

'Kitchen sink' was the critical term applied to downbeat realist writing of the 1950s, and particularly to dramas such as Look Back in Anger. Where did this useful phrase originate? (Two points for a complete answer)

Total 2 points.

6. Best. Limerick. Ever.

For two points, which eminent historian wrote the following?

Seven ages, first puking and mewling,
Then very pissed off with one's schooling,
Then fucks, and then fights,
Then judging chaps' rights,
Then sitting in slippers, then drooling.

Total 2 points.

7. Alliteration dept.

With acknowledgements to Nemo’s Almanac . . .  Two points for each author you correctly identify:

a) Academics, actors who lecture,
Apostles of architecture,
Ancient gods-of-the-abdomen men,
Angst-pushers, adherents of Zen,
Alastors, Austenites, A-test

b)  We had chaw chaw chops, chairs, chewing gum, the chicken-
        pox and china chambers
Universally provided by this soft-soaping salesman.

c) Lock the door Lariston, lion of Liddisdale,
Lock the door Lariston, Lowther comes on,
The Armstrongs are flying,
Their widows are crying
The Castledown's burning, and Oliver's gone.

d) I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
          dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air.

e) Womanhood, wanton, ye want;
       You're medelying, mastres, is manerles;
Plente of ill, of goodness slant,
         Ye rayll at ryot, recheles.

Total 10 points.

8.  What a camp Jungian chum of mine calls 'a coinkidinky'.

The wildly creative television cartoon series Adventure Time has two lead characters introduced in the credit sequence song of each episode as "Jake the dog and Finn the human".  Here they are:

Jake and Finn share their names with two characters in which debut novel by which twentieth century Dublin-born author? (One point each for the title of the novel and its author.)

Total 2 points.

9. Playing Possum.

Perhaps the performers Noel Fielding and Julian Barrett had T. S. Eliot in mind when they named the gorilla companion of the enigmatic shaman Naboo in their cult telly series The Mighty Boosh. What's the connection? 

(from left)  Barrett, gorilla, Fielding

 (from left) Eliot, Eliot, Eliot

Total 2 points.

10. Handsome tribute (unsolicited).

Which poet said to which man of letters, following the memorial service for which other poet: 'Sir, you formed me!' (Name all three, one point for each)

Total 3 points.

Round 2

11. Ouch.

Which poet wrote to another poet about a third poet on 5th September 1946? Name all three poets, with one point for each.

'I used to think that he knew how to put down good words. And now I have been reading  […], a poetry book. And I find in the words of this book there is a lot of poll  lis sill ab bick fuss sin ness (“the total generosity of original unforewarned fearful trust”),  and a lot of ad dough less scent sew dough Smith oller gee (“Oh, which are the actors,  which the audience?”), and a lot of Europe-falling-about-our ears and Oh-my-dearest and  playing with abstractions […] and your- eyes-are-mineshafts -to-your-heart and  HELPLESS GESTURES  […] because HE CAN’T THINK WHAT TO SAY.'

Total 3 points.

12. Nasty, very.

Which modernist English writer and painter reminded which modernist American writer of 'toe jam'? (One point for each writer, and a third point if you identify the volume in which the unflattering description appears.)

Total 3 points.

13. In praise of . . .

Through who or what is Christopher Smart (1722-1771) expressing his reverence in these lines? (2 points) 
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him. 
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way. 

For a bonus point, what was the category of Smart’s accommodation when he wrote the poetry (A Song to David and Jubilate Agno) by which he is remembered? 

Total 3 points.

14. Book of the film.

In the French novel D'entre des mortes by the writing team of Boileau-Narcejac, a wealthy businessman named Gévigne employs an ex-cop called Flavières to follow his troubled wife around the boulevards of pre-Occupation Paris.

In which film, adapted from the novel, are the two male characters named, respectively, Gavin Elster and 'Scotty' Ferguson (one point) and in which city is the film set (one point)?

Total 2 points.

15. Mind the gap.

Source the following breathless phrases (Two points for each)



I'veneverbeensoinsultedinallmylife (clue - it's in the only novel published by a writer already featured in this quiz)

Total 6 points.

16.  Audience reaction. 

Which modernist author was transfixed by a technical flaw in the projection during a matinee screening of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, later writing about the experience for an American magazine. The flaw caused a large black formless blob to appear briefly, which struck the author as a possible representation of consciousness, or something.

Caligari: A Room of One’s Owner (clue)

Total 2 points.

17.  Of Man's First Disobedience, and the Fruit / Of that Forbidden Tree

Writer/director Armando Iannucci once observed that Milton's opening lines from Paradise Lost can be sung to the theme tune of which popular American cartoon series? 

Total 2 points.

18. A three-pipe problem.

What precise London address was home to Sherlock Holmes, the world's only consulting detective? 

Holmes' Sweet Home

Total 1 point.

19.  Little known fact.

For two points, which celebrated poem, written in 1935, originally began in an early draft:  
    North, north, north 
    To the country of the Clyde and the Firth of Forth.  

For a bonus point, what’s the next line (which appears as the first line in the published poem)?

Total 3 points.

20.  A link to bygone days of yore.

To date, ten British writers have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The first was Rudyard Kipling in 1907. Name the other nine (with one point for each). 

Total 9 points.

Round 3

21.  Noms des plume.

Which Victorian author published under the pseudonyms George Savage Fitz-Boodle, Michael Angelo Titmarsh, Théophile Wagstaff and C.J. Yellowplush, Esq. ? 

Total 1 point

22. What do the initials stand for? 

Two points for each complete name. (One point if you get only one)

a) W. H. Auden

b)  J. M. Barrie

c)  P. D. James

d) C. S. Lewis

e)  J. K. Rowling

Total 10 points.

23. Dead trims

The following celebrated authors all have interesting hair. 
One point for each one you correctly identify.

(a) Clearly survived a William Tell incident in the roaring ‘20s.

(b) His London landlady thought that her tenant looked like ‘Our Lord’.

(c) A combover beginning just south of his left hip.

(d) The doctor will see you now.

(e) You looking at me?

Total 5 points.

Cumulative total 100 points.


That’s it. Email me for the answers, or wait until I post them on Friday January 5th.