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Travels with a mobile library – Part 1

By Ian G Evans, on 16 May 2018

By Justine Humphrey, MA student on the Library and Information Science programme

At the end of May I will be finishing my library job for the summer, but just in case I miss the library environment I shall be working for ECHO Refugee Library http://echo-greece.org/projects/   in Athens, Greece. Together with, Education, Community, Hope and Opportunity (ECHO) the aim of the library is to nurture a space of learning and creativity, a place to cultivate the mind – that one part of us that can never be held captive. It is a place where goals and ambition can be worked towards, regardless of the grim reality of the present. The library space provides the following:

  • Books and a quiet reading space
  • Access to online learning and information on educational opportunities
  • Language learning resources and informal small group tutoring
  • Advice on university and job application processes
  • A space for community-led creative workshops

Back last September I discovered the project from a poster in the staff-room at work giving details about Simon, who was walking from the Bodleian to the British Library to raise awareness and funds for the project. It caught my eye and I immediately thought about volunteering, but as I had just returned to work for the new academic year and was about to embark on a Masters in ‘Library and Information Studies’ I decided now was not appropriate, so I put it to the back of my mind and decided to wait for the right time to make contact. I started my course at UCL in early October and within two weeks I discovered that my fellow student was the Simon in the poster at work. This brought the project to my full awareness again and I started to wonder if I might be able to focus my dissertation around it.

Soon after this I had a meeting with my supervisor where I discussed the possibility of working as a volunteer for ECHO Refugee Library and using the research to write my dissertation. I expressed my concern around the sensitive nature of the refugee situation and how I did not feel comfortable using interviews and questionnaires under such fraught circumstances. My supervisor suggested I approach it as an auto-ethnography; with a degree in anthropology this was music to my ears.

With the coincidence of meeting Simon and the support of my supervisor it was confirmation that I was meant to volunteer and work for the project. So, plans have been made and both myself and Simon have committed to spending initially three weeks in June as a volunteer team to operate and support the mobile library in Athens. The cherry on the cake was when we both bid for UCL’s Dean’s Funds of £200 and were offered the full £700 for travel costs and expenses, I was blown away. Apparently this is unprecedented and confirms the commitment from UCL and their support for this unique project.

So the plan is to travel to Greece, work with ECHO Refugee Library and write about the experience as an auto-ethnography for my Masers dissertation. Along the way I hope to support and raise awareness of both the refugee’s plight and the importance of a mobile library.  On my return and having lived the experience I will share more of my travels with a mobile library.

Justine Humphrey, Library Assistant

Oxford Brookes University

If you would like to support ECHO and help them keep ‘dreams and drive alive’ go to:  https://chuffed.org/project/echorefugeelibrary

The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times – Xan Brooks

By Hannah M Smith, on 29 April 2018

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018

“Grantwood House is a place for marvels and magic and for radical prose.”

The Clocks In This House All Tell Different Times by Xan Brooks is an enchanting, magical tale about the most disturbing and depraved elements of human survival.  Taking place a couple years after the first world war, the story follows several characters that have been drastically changed by the conflict that gripped England for so long. Haunted by the challenges presented with trauma, the characters are drawn together through their search for survival and desire for a future.

Lucy Marsh and her brother Tom are orphans of the war effort. Sent to live with their grandparents in an economically failing bar, Lucy and Tom lead average childhoods. That is until one Sunday evening Lucy is invited to the woods for a fantastical meeting of the Funny Men. Lucy, along with orphans Winifred, Jon, and Edith begin meeting with the Funny Men every Sunday evening in exchange for a small monetary stipend paid to their grandparents. A point that Lucy is very proud of. Each of the Funny Men, named after Dorothy’s companions from The Wonderful Wizard of OZ, are residents in the Grantwood Estate charitable foundation for wounded soldiers, and suffered extreme disfigurement during the war. Lucy and the other children perform tasks for the Funny Men that they regard as only mildly distasteful but overall they value the small pleasures afforded to them by the outings. When tragedy strikes the orphans and Funny Men, the activities are forced to end.

However, both Winifred and Lucy contrive a way to continue their enterprise with the Funny Men, becoming increasingly involved with the Grantwood Estate. As the girls are given access to the estate they are pulled into a world of spiritualists, camels, lavish parties, eccentric house guests, trays of cocaine, expensive gowns, and ever flowing alcohol. Grantwood House becomes their world filled with boundless adventure and mysticism. But beneath the surface lies even more terror and danger.

Brooks expertly uses beautifully constructed prose to contrive experiences that are just beyond belief. The humor and happenstance is enthralling and charming which only adds to the horror experienced by the reader as the story slowly reveals the real activities of the Grantwood Estate. The house, just as the novel, possesses a gorgeous exterior that is quickly dispelled for anyone who occupies the space. While Lucy is first enamoured by her work with the Funny Men, that too, loses its appeal with time and experience. Brooks does an excellent job at playing with his readers, ensuring that the characters and activities of the story are never what they initially seem. Furthermore, the story ambitiously tackles themes of poverty, class, war, nostalgia, and disillusionment. Each character’s moral standards are constantly in flux with very little self acknowledgement of contradiction on their behalf. While the novel is written to emulate the style of simpler fairytales, there is nothing simple or pure about this story.   

Often, it is the Funny Men, who are called monsters for their appearance. However, Brooks’ characters are all monsters at one point or another, as they blur the lines between wants and needs, survival and desire, choice and entrapment. The Clocks In This House All Tell Different Times is an utterly magical read that will enrage and disgust readers beyond their wildest imagination.

Brittany Yost

The Clocks In This House All Tell Different Times was published by Salt Publishing 

 

We That Are Young – Preti Taneja

By Jessica B S Brotman, on 28 April 2018

Peculiar Ground – Lucy Hughes-Hallett

By Hannah M Smith, on 26 April 2018

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018

What should we do? Reinforce our walls or tear them down?

Lucy Hughes-Hallett, the Costa Award-winning author of The Pike, poses this question in her beautifully-written and engaging debut novel Peculiar Ground. She tells the story of Wychwood, a great house and its surrounding park which was enclosed by a wall in the 17th century. We trace Wychwood’s journey from its inception in the 17th century, when it was designed by the awkward, reticent landscape-maker Mr Norris under the orders of the ambitious and troubled Lord Woldingham who now chooses to enclose himself and his family in Wychwood after being thrown out of his ancestral home during the English Civil War. The restoration of Charles II leaves the inhabitants of Wychwood uncertain and afraid; these turbulent emotions continue to blur the boundaries between security and confinement, between ‘prison’ and ‘paradise’.

We do not only meet the initial inhabitants of Wychwood but return to the great house nearly four hundred years later to meet a new lively cast of characters. I was initially disappointed when Mr Norris’s narrative seemed to end and we skipped forward to 1961, as another wall goes up in Berlin, but I recovered from that quickly we I was introduced to the innocent yet perceptive voice of Nell, the eight-year-old daughter of Wychwood’s land agent Hugo Lane. As strange and contradictory as it sounds, it is walls that both divide the inhabitants of Wychwood from the outside world but join them together with its past inhabitants. Christopher Rossiter and his wife Lil, the new owners of the grand house and park, along with a plethora of frustrating, comic and overall secretive guests, have built their own personal walls and seem to have forgotten how to let people in. Indeed, the Rossiters in particular seem to be unsure of whether it would be worth it to bring down their walls.

We learn that tragedy precedes enclosure as throughout the book we gain glimpses into a tragedy that revives itself nearly four centuries later and joins two very different families in their immeasurable grief as well as adding an element of melancholic magic to a book otherwise focused on realism. The reader follows the Rossiters, the Lanes and the other guests of Wychwood until 1989. I must admit that it was delightful to meet a grown-up Nell and Flossie.

Sometimes the narrative can seem a little crowded but even then, the writing is engaging and thoughtful. Hughes-Hallett displays a writing style that shifts effortlessly between perspectives and mediums, smoothly switching from the main narrative to letters and newspaper articles. It was easy to become wound up in her characters’ lives. My reactions to her diverse ensemble ranged from wanting to have a long chat with Flossie to the urge to yell at the immensely frustrating Benjie. Peculiar Ground is a large novel and I did not initially expect to get through it as quickly as I did, but the narrative is so vibrant and pulsing with energy that you find yourself compelled forward, forgetting the fact that it is long past midnight and you have to get to work the next day.

Meera Santiapillai

Peculiar Ground is published by Fourth Estate

How Saints Die – Carmen Marcus

By Hannah M Smith, on 25 April 2018

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018

A story is like a net: you have to make your own; you have to throw the loops just right; you have to be careful what gets in and what gets out, what you catch and what you keep.

Carmen Marcus’s semi-autobiographical debut follows ten year old Ellie Fleck, a fisherman’s daughter growing up on the Yorkshire Coast. Ellie doesn’t understand why her mother has disappeared, but finds comfort in the stories that her father tells her of sea-gods and the ocean. As the world around her becomes ever more strange and uncertain, the lines between the real and the unreal begin to blur.

Ellie is a deeply compelling, delightfully strange child with a wild imagination. Her voice is utterly unique; it comes as no surprise to learn that Marcus is an acclaimed poet. Her use of sound and rhythm creates a stream-of-consciousness narrative which carries the reader along like a current. The author is at her strongest when she evokes the world of Ellie’s childhood, using incisive details like the netting needles that “hang like wooden fish from the wall” of her father’s Baithouse. Her characterisation of the ocean itself is complex and affecting; its draw hangs over Ellie and her father throughout the novel. From the rituals and superstitions of fishing life to the atmosphere of a small, claustrophobic community, Marcus creates a setting that feels grounded and utterly real, with deep roots in personal experience.

The author also does an excellent job of developing the novel’s secondary characters. The narrative is primarily told in Ellie’s voice, but is interspersed with short chapters focused on her parents and other key adults in her life. Marcus deftly uses these instances to shine light on the depths and vulnerabilities of these individuals. While Ellie begins the novel as a child, over the course of the narrative she starts to glimpse her parents as the complex, damaged people that they are. While her prose may be lyrical, Marcus does not shy away from the difficult and often brutal experience of growing up. Ellie’s struggles at school will be achingly familiar to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider.

One of the most innovative features of the book is Marcus’s use of magical realism to explore societal perceptions of delusion and mental illness, although I would have liked to have seen this integrated from an earlier stage. The novel occasionally struggles with pacing: at points, the plot veers between sluggish and hurried. However, this is compensated for by Marcus’s expertly written prose and beautiful world-building. How Saints Die is not a novel to be devoured in one sitting — it should be savoured and lingered over.

Overall, Carmen Marcus has written beautifully evocative exploration of mental illness, alienation and belonging through the eyes of a child. The characters and stories within it will cling to you like sea salt on your lips.

Ciara Corrigan

How Saints Die is published by Harvill Secker

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

By Hannah M Smith, on 24 April 2018

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018

With her debut novel and Sunday Times Best Seller, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman presents us with the pulling down of the walls that Eleanor, the protagonist, has built as a self-defence mechanism to a horrendous past and a present wrenching feeling caused by loneliness and social isolation. Eleanor Oliphant declares she is absolutely fine but, in truth, there is only thing that can scare her more than to be “left all alone” and that is to be “left with her”, her manipulative and conniving mother.

Thanks to a fruitless juvenile crush on a local singer and – in Eleanor’s view – a dull and ill-mannered IT guy, Raymond, Eleanor gradually familiarizes herself with social conventions, sheds lingering guilt and begins to realize she deserves happiness. The readers witness Eleanor’s outward and inward metamorphose which transpires little by little as Honeyman does not fail to implant the ways resistance acts against change, even if it is a welcoming and positive one.

Raymond is a ray of hope in Eleanor’s dark tendencies and it becomes clear for the reader through digging – not so deep – beneath Eleanor’s words that he is a kind-hearted and loyal friend. Their bond, although recent, quickly becomes profound and their relationship tantalizes the readers’s appetite for a developing romance far more desirable than Eleanor’s daydreaming about her crush on a local singer.

Throughout the book which is organized in the “good”, the “bad” and the “better days”, Eleanor ventures to convince more herself than us that she is completely fine. Gail Honeyman presents us first with the good days in Eleanor’s life which are strikingly rife with the haunting effects of scarring incidents and reverberating loneliness’ overtones. The funny, eccentric, and unintentionally rude Miss Oliphant often fails to find the golden ratio of being fine, and the readers follow her when she feels at her prime for the first time in her thirty years of living and when she falls down to the abyssal depths of loneliness and depression.

In her efforts to re-organise her life, Eleanor is required to abandon her most entrenched and comforting element which is her everyday routine comprised of repetitive office work, Tesco pizza and cheap vodka. I often felt the urge to grab Eleanor by her shoulders and tell her she is the rude one in most of the situations and it is impossible she cannot fathom that the singer is completely unaware of her existence. Nonetheless, although she comes across as quirky and inconsiderate, Miss Oliphant only desires to be honest and she always had “been aiming for pleasant and friendly”. The narration continuously reminds the reader the problem of making assumptions and how easy it can be to pass judgement standing on a vantage point.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine upsets the false premise of normality in family life as Eleanor makes the characters around her and readers alike to reconsider before taking happiness and social relationships for granted. At the bottom line, having family and friends is not a given but a privilege. As the book moves forward, Eleanor bends the reader with her moving story and insightful comments of her surroundings. Prepare yourself to counter comic outbreaks following Eleanor’s sharp observations, misjudgements and detailed stream of consciousness that amply offer cathartic and enjoyable moments.

Not ever before being an outcast has been so relatable, quotidian and purely honest. Eleanor ceaselessly fights to “disappear into everywoman [and everyone’s] acceptability”, forgetting midway to accept herself. However, she finds the courage to receive help and pick herself up. This is the book for the precise moment you determine to keep going against adversity or you decide to be more understanding and empathetic towards other people’s struggles. The book, in a word, is humane.

Sotiria Kalpachtsi

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is published by HarperCollins

How to be Human – Paula Cocozza

By Hannah M Smith, on 23 April 2018

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018

Paula Cocozza’s debut novel How to be Human is one that will remind you of multiple stories you’ve read in the past, while remaining wildly and uniquely different to all of them. Wild animals? Check. Love that borders on mania? Check. The city and nature butting up against each other in sharp contrast? Check.

The story follows Mary, a woman in her late twenties living in Hackney as she navigates the world after the breakdown of an intense and controlling relationship. Her life now, it seems, consists mostly of a dull job, an irritating boss, a mother conspicuous only in her absence and the histrionics of her next-door neighbours. With an endless expanse of eventless days stretching out before her, is it any wonder that Mary turns her attention elsewhere?

Namely, to a fox. While the infestation is considered by the rest of the neighbourhood to be a nuisance or even a threat, Mary grows fond of one fox in particular – she only one she ever sees, though the neighbourhood insist that there are many of them. This fondness develops into ardour, develops into obsession as we start to doubt the stability of Mary’s mental state and her reliability as a narrator. As the novel progresses, Mary becomes convinced that the fox is leaving gifts for her; she then begins to give romantic descriptions of “her Fox” and tells her diminishing human contacts that she is “seeing someone new”. She begins to exhibit the same behaviours she believes the fox is showing towards her – possessiveness and protectiveness – which are the same qualities that seemed so oppressive in her ex. She stops going to work and starts crawling around on all fours in the wilderness behind her house. All the while, the wilfully childless Mary begins to feel more and more drawn towards her neighbour’s newborn, Flora, an attraction that cannot fail to evoke a sense of dread in the reader. All is not well with poor Mary.

At its heart, the novel is an unsettling look into loneliness, human connection and the boundary between civilisation and wilderness. These themes are made clear because although Mary is a purposefully dull character stuck in a dreary life, she is incredibly reflective and aware of the metaphors that surround her, making her demise all the more disturbing. The reader has the sense that the world described through Mary’s eyes is not the world as it really is; all characters in the book are presented as difficult to understand and empathise with because that is how they appear to Mary. Their actions often seem hyperbolic, random and unmotivated; hence the trouble Mary is experiencing with forging friendships. The relationships she has had in the past are given equally little attention – specifically, the relationship with her ex-fiancé and with her mother. Neither is fully explored, which on one hand leaves them feeling unsubstantiated, but on the other makes a wider point about the way our protagonist connects (or fails to connect) with other people. The reader is denied fleshed-out or realistic relationships and is left wanting – just like Mary.

Reading this book feels like a game of Buckaroo that never ends. To Mary, time seems stretched and scenes are unnaturally elongated, with a matter of hours spanning multiple chapters. This is certainly atmospheric but can also make for a frustrating read at times. The tension keeps building and building without respite, intensified as the reader is sucked into Mary’s world almost against their will. Absorbing and subversive, Cocozza’s debut will certainly give you some food for thought.

Annie Warren

How to by Human is published by Hutchinson

Announcing the Carnegie Medal Shortlist

By Jessica B S Brotman, on 15 March 2018

The CILIP Carnegie Medal is the longest-running award for children and young adult literature in the United Kingdom, and yesterday, its shortlist for 2017 was released. The list highlights the importance of social commentary and diverse representation in children’s and young adult literature, and Patrick Ness’ inclusion sets him up to be the first author ever to receive the award three times. We are excited to see a shortlist of beloved authors and inclusive works, and we are eagerly awaiting the prize’s final announcement on June 8. Please see below for the full shortlist for the Carnegie Medal!

     Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean (Usborne Publishing)

     Rook by Anthony McGowan (Barrington Stoke)

     After the Fire by Will Hill (Usborne Publishing)

     Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans (David Fickling Books)

     Release by Patrick Ness (Walker Books)

     Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk (Corgi)

     The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Walker Books)

     Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick (Orion)

The shortlist for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal, awarded for outstanding achievement in children’s illustration, has also been announced and can be viewed here.

Publishing the Future Event

By Hannah M Smith, on 12 March 2018

Interscipt header

Interscript is hosting a panel event, ‘Publishing the Future,’ covering topics of diversity and inclusivity within the publishing industry as well as digitalisation and the future of academic publishing. With fantastic speakers, including guests from Knights Of, don’t miss your chance to ask the panel your questions and the opportunity to hear their thoughts on the future of the publishing industry. The event is this Thursday so make sure to reserve your seat here!

When:

Thursday, 15 March 2018 from 16:30 to 19:00 (GMT)

Where:

G12, Torrington (1-19)

University College London

Torrington Place, London

London, WC1E 7HB, UK

Organisers:

Interscript is an academic student-led journal and magazine that publishes research and articles on publishing topics. We welcome submissions from professionals, academics, and postgraduate students.

International Women’s Day & a Fabulous Longlist!

By Hannah M Smith, on 8 March 2018

So it’s International Women’s Day and, if there wasn’t already enough excitement surrounding the celebration of all the wonderful women in our personal lives and those who have shaped lives for women across the ages, the Women’s Prize for fiction has also released their 2018 longlist!

Set up in 1996, the Women’s Prize for Fiction (previously Bailey’s Prize and the Orange Prize) ‘celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing from throughout the world’. The winner receives £30,000 and a limited edition bronze known as a ‘Bessie’.

One of this years judges Sarah Sands said: “What is striking about the list, apart from the wealth of talent, is that women writers refuse to be pigeon-holed. We have searing social realism, adventure, comedy, poetic truths, ingenious plots and unforgettable characters. Women of the world are a literary force to be reckoned with.”

The books in the longlist are:

H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
Sight by Jessie Greengrass
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy
Elmet by Fiona Mozley
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

The shortlist will be announced on 23rd April and the winner announced on 6th June. Get reading and decide your favourites!!