RSS Feed

Beautiful Trees by Nik Perring

Roast Books have just published another of Nik Perring’s intriguing fictions.


It’s the second in a trilogy of stories following the lives of Alexander, Lucy and Lily. Just like the first, Beautiful Words, it resembles a children’s book. (The third will be Beautiful Shapes.)


Nik is a flash fiction magician conjuring whole lives with small, careful details. He goes back and forth in Alexander, Lucy and Lily’s timelines and whilst describing various trees gently relates moments to it. For a book so brief it’s surprisingly moving, but that’s because Perring is extraordinarily good at this. A written review can’t quite explain how this all works. Suffice to say it is all very uniquely Perring. His words are accompanied and enhanced by illustrations by Miranda Sofroniou, and you should probably buy a copy for yourself and one for your favourite person too.

Smash Lits with Stuart Evers

1 What would your superhero power be?

I would like to be able to make people laugh even though it’s the last thing they could ever imagine doing.

2 What was the last text you sent?

It was the number of the taxi company through which I’d booked my wife a cab. All of my texts are brutally factual.

3 You are wallpaper. What is your pattern?

My father loves wallpaper; I have never seen its point. I do love a diagonal stripe though, so diagonal stripes in black and white. A bit Bridget Riley-ish, I suppose.

4 Who is your favourite TV dad?

Joe DuBois from I-see-dead-people crime show Medium. Joe is the moral centre of the DuBois family: he loves his wife and three kids, holds down a job and has to deal with Alison’s gift – she solves murders via clues presented by murder victims – while rarely complaining that he and the rest of the family are merely adjuncts to her working life. It’s a strange show in lots of ways: on the face of it, it’s a lurid repoint of the traditional cop show; but it’s actually quite an astute examination of family life when one member of that family perpetually puts those outside of the family first. That the show manages to present this in a subtle way is why it is one of the best popular crime shows of the last thirty years.

5 Bacon VS Tofu – who wins? Why?


Bacon is essential in coq au vin. A world without coq au vin is not worth living for.

6 Have you ever had a nickname?

Before I came to London sixteen years ago, I had never had a nickname. I now have lots, none of which I particularly love or loathe. I won’t say what they are. I can’t imagine Samuel Beckett telling anyone that he’s known as Becky by the blokes down at the chess boards in the park; or Virginia Woolf admitting that Vita Sackville-West always called her Foxy, and you should always aspire to follow the lessons of the greats.

7 You have to swap places with one other writer for a week. Who and why?

AS Byatt. I hear she has an excellent swimming pool.

8 What is the oldest piece of clothing in your wardrobe?

I have a suit that is comfortably twice my age. The cut and material of old suits are vastly superior to contemporary counterparts. Even old suits from Burtons make you feel like Terence Stamp waiting for Julie Christie.

9 Did you find Bob Monkhouse funny?

Monkhouse wrote the best clean joke I know – When I said I was going to become a comedian, they all laughed. Well, they’re not laughing now – and often he had a gift for piercing self-laceration. But I always found him slightly sinister, slightly sad, rather than really funny.

10 What’s your favourite swear?

At the moment I like piss-wristed.

11 What’s your favourite thing from childhood that you’ve still got?

Crippling self-doubt and a colossal ego.

12 Who is your favourite Neighbours character?

I think it was Jim Robinson’s sister who on arriving for Scott and Charlene’s wedding gave them a gift of baby clothes. Everyone looked shocked and she said, well what did you expect me to think? Whoever she was, she was a highlight whenever she cropped back into it.

13 Have you ever seen a ghost?

No. They do, however, tend to crop up in my fiction a lot.

14 What would your motto for life be?

The same as is embroidered on Malcom Tucker’s tea-towel.

15 Do you have any writing rituals?

I don’t have the time for rituals, which is a shame. I’d love to be able to say I can only write after eating a nectarine, or walking through mulchy fields, but it’s more of a case of where- and whenever.

16 What sandwiches would you make for a picnic with Dave Eggers?

I tend to avoid making sandwiches for picnics, what I’d really like is some garlic roast chicken thighs and some cold sausages. If Dave is unhappy with that, he can provide his own.

17 What colour is fatherhood?

It’s the same shade of blue I see as I listen to side two of the Beatles’ Abbey Road LP.

18 What is your default pub drink?

I like pale ales, so will order one of those. Guinness if not.

19 Do you talk to yourself?

All the time. It is an ongoing narrative of increasing desperation.

20 What question should I have asked you?
Why do you love Columbo? One day I will answer this question in over 40,000 words.

Thank you so much for taking part in Smash Lits. I now want to watch Medium and read your Columbo essay more than you could guess. Those of you who’d like to know more can head over to Twitter @StuartEvers

Your Father Sends His Love by Stuart Evers

In this collection, Evers deftly explores fatherhood. He’s an unfussy writer whose clear prose allows the stories to unfold smoothly (before sometimes tripping us up and challenging our assumptions) using small details to great effect;

“A silent cabbie aside from his metronomic sniffing.”


“Rosemary moved to be with her parents upsatate. Like Russian dolls, a mother retreating to her girlhood bedroom.”

“These Are The Days” is ostensibly about a relationship between a Grandfather and his Granddaughter. Twenty-one year old Anna unexpectedly turns up at her Grandfather’s home. He appears to be a doting, gentle man, but is unmasked as a negligent father and husband before once again becoming a sympathetic character as his son is revealed as a bully. It’s a tricky thing to pull off, but Evers makes character switches flow naturally and these grey areas are gorgeously insightful.

A man sits in a pub, waiting for his bereaved friend to arrive, rehearsing small talk in “Something Else To Say.”  Repetition is used to convey the sheer lack of anything useful one can say when someone’s child has died. All the vital stuff remains unspoken and yet is beautifully conveyed in this touching tale.

I think the title story; “Your Father Sends His Love” is astonishing. It’s definitely the best story I’ve read this year and is an incredibly powerful piece that I don’t want to ruin for anyone else by attempting to describe. I could not stop thinking about it for days after; I was haunted by it and it’s well worth the price of the book alone. As it’s positioned half way through the collection, the stories after perhaps suffer a little in comparison. “Charter year, 1972” seemed strangely clunky; a set up and a punch line.

The last story “Live From the Palladium” has a similar source to “Your Father Sends His Love” and I’m fascinated by how Evers takes this material and shapes it into such achy and perceptive fiction.

If you’re a fan of quietly powerful stories (and who isn’t?) then do give this a read.

Smash Lits with Sarah Hilary

Sarah Hilary has created a brilliant detective series featuring DI Marnie Rome. She recently won the 2015 Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year for her debut, Someone Else’s Skin, and today marks the paperback publication of her equally dark, twisty and engaging follow-up, No Other Darkness. Obviously it’s time to ask her the really tricky questions. Drum roll please…

1) What was the last text you sent?

To a friend, telling her I hoped the wind wouldn’t play merry hell with her bell tents. It’s a long story.

2) Does your mother play golf? (Question provided by Michael Richardson)

Once, but it was crazy golf outside a Welsh tearoom and only to keep peace between me and my siblings.

3) Who is your unlikely crush?

Norman Bates. I have my reasons.

4) Bacon VS Tofu – who wins? Why?

Bacon kicks tofu’s arse. Then they team up to beat the crap out of quinoa. Because that’s bacon’s duty, and tofu does as he’s told.

You make me laugh with your quinoa hate :)

5) Your writing is music, what style is it?

Psycho shower scene meets Panic at the Disco. Everyone mosh-pitting until they drip with sweat and drop to the floor.

6) Can you make up a poem about tinned peaches? (winks to those in the know)

The end of the world comes in cans
With blue labels and tastes of pink
Served on a plastic fork.
(Or, to answer your question more succinctly, no I can’t.)
(Ooh, you can. I think that’s rather chilling.)

7) Have you ever had a nickname?

Tiger. Sadly not after the girl from the Double Deckers.

8) What makes the wind blow?

Something to do with the sun and atmospheric pressure. Plays merry hell with my mate’s bell tents.

9) Do you believe human beings can spontaneously combust?

No. It would spoil too many great crime stories where the killer thinks he’s been very clever incinerating a corpse near a fire-place.

10) What’s your favourite thing from childhood that you’ve still got?

My bloodymindedness.

11) Have you ever written an angry letter to a magazine or “news” paper?

Yes. I once explained to Mslexia why being snooty about fan fiction was a bloody silly idea. They published the letter, too. I think I might become an angry letter writer in my old age.

12) Have you ever woken up laughing?

Not recently.

13) Who is your favourite Neighbours character?

I never watched it. I watched The Sullivans. John was my favourite in that. And I do love Kylie.

14) Who is your fave TV crime fighter?

Patrick Jane. His hair curls like the sea coming in and his smile is a sunset smiting the sand.


15) What’s your favourite sweet?

Peppermint creams. Not the kind covered in chocolate. The plain kind, in the waxy wrappers.

16) What sandwiches would you make for a picnic with Lorrie Moore?

I would attempt a sandwich layer loaf, which my mum used to make in the 80s. You take a loaf of Hovis wheatgerm bread, unsliced, which you cut into three horizontal sections before adding three different fillings and slapping it back together again. Then you slice it like you normally would and–wowzer, you’ve got three layers of fillings in one slice. My mum used to smear peanut butter on the top crust. It’s retro, and a bit cheeky.

17) What was your favourite book as a child?

The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon. A book of short stories. My favourite was a wonderfully nasty one called The Lady’s Room.

18) What would you do if you were invisible for the day?

Sneak into Battersea Power Station and rearrange all the geegaws in the showroom flats. Then I’d nick Sting’s lute for a laugh.

19) What’s your favourite swear?

Oh fuck buckets.

20) What question should I have asked you?

Am I a good liar?

Ha! Thank you so much for taking part in Smash Lits. I wish you more and more success. 

Literary snobbery, bookshops, libraries and books that people want to read.

I’ve been working as a Library Assistant for six months now. I had imagined that my bookselling knowledge would easily transfer to library work and it’s true that my customer service skills have helped, but that’s about it. Of course I’m still handling books all workday long. l unpack books, shelve books, find books. These things are similar and yet not at all the same. Other skills have been needed. The library wonderfully provides up to two hours free internet access for all users each day and I gladly assist people to use computers. People also need a lot of help with photocopying (which was unexpected and my heart sinks when they ask how to enlarge and scan and so on; I’m getting there though.) Often people want someone to chat to while they collect their Blue Badge, or drop off their borrowed books. Many times customers come in hesitantly and ask questions. It’s so good to be able to find them answers and see them leave the library satisfied. From Baby Rhyme Time to Knit and Natter groups the library service offers something for everyone. It’s a remarkable thing and vital as libraries provide equal access to information for all. I am proud that I am playing my own tiny part in it. You can sense a but though, right?


But, it’s a really big reality check for a book snob like me. Contemporary literary fiction is my thing. I read it, write it, review it, discuss it. For years I sold it. My social media feeds are full of likeminded people. I read broadsheet reviews. I have writer and bookseller friends with whom I chat about books. Sometimes it’s easy to believe literary fiction is as important to everyone as it is to me and I have to remind myself that it’s not. For every person that used to come into the bookshop looking for the latest literary must-have there was a customer proudly stating they never read at all. Hey, I have pals who aren’t into books. I’m married to a man who only reads graphic novels. It’s not how I judge people, but it is something I’m deeply passionate about. I thought that my years of working in the fiction section at Waterstones would be invaluable in recommending books to library users and helping them find what they want. In the six months I’ve worked in the library I have not needed this knowledge. Firstly, people don’t seem to ask for recommendations often. I suppose when you’re not paying for the book there’s less at stake. The library demographic in this county seems to be overwhelmingly children and old people. There are far fewer teenagers through to people maybe in their late 50’s. All the stereotypes that I try to avoid are true; the older women like sagas and romances and the men like crime novels. The latest Peter James novel is the book that’s had the biggest interest and people jostled for places on the reservations list. There is literary fiction available, but it doesn’t get out so much. I have awkward conversations about books with colleagues. They ask if I’ve read XYZ and I have not. I would not. I don’t want to be this awful judgmental bitch, but oh wow, there’s a lot of frothy shite being read. And that’s absolutely fine, isn’t it. We all like what we like. I do miss shiny, new fiction and go to Waterstones and lovingly tidy the tables, patting the delicious litfic, reassuring myself.

What it says to me as a writer is interesting. I worried initially that it meant there simply isn’t a demand for litfic, but now I think it’s likely that readers of this style of fiction are bookshop buyers rather than library users, as I was for years. A library will source whatever book it’s asked for, if it can, so I assume nobody is asking. Of course on the shelves you can find good quality novels, I’m not saying they aren’t there, however, they are nowhere near as popular as I imagined. I have tried adding them to displays to see if they get checked out as a consequence and maybe one or two have, but overwhelmingly the preference is clear. This may only be true of my area; I’m working in small village libraries, not city ones.


And of course I’m well aware that fiction is fiction and to label something as commercial fiction/genre fiction/literary fiction isn’t always helpful, but my preference is for quality literary fiction and as my husband said when I discussed it with him and called myself a snob because I don’t read the books my colleagues have mentioned to me, “It’s like someone assuming you’d like a Boyzone song because you told them you like music.”

Anyway, libraries, whoo, excellent places and it’s great to enjoy my job and get to feel all glowy from being helpful, I just won’t expect to have a conversation about the fiction I adore.

Smash Lits with Polly Samson

Posted on

1) How do you organise your book shelves?

The bookshelves are all full.  They are hopelessly disorganized, though in the sitting room I have a book case dedicated to my late mother-in-law’s books and another to those of my late aunt.  Finding the books I need on their shelves makes me feel close to both women and their taste in fiction is very much in line with mine.  Lots of Jean Rhys, Elizabeth Taylor, du Maurier and yards of lovely green-spined Viragos.  All the new books that make their way in to the house live in piles up the stairs.

2) What would your superhero power be?

To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray.

3) What is your favourite cheese?

Babybel but mainly for the making of lips with the wax after it’s eaten.

4) You are wallpaper. What is your pattern?

An explosion of 70s orange and yellow discs

5) What was your favourite book as a child?

Joan Aiken’s A Necklace of Raindrops

6) What was the last text you sent?

To my son to confirm that I’ll collect him from the train

7) Who would play Julia and Julian in the film of your book?

I hope a couple of  previously unknown actors who both go on to win Oscars for their roles.

8) Bacon VS Tofu – who wins? Why?


Bacon.  I’ve never craved Tofu or heard it sizzle invitingly.

9) What colour is Tuesday?

Yellow, obviously.

10) Have you ever had a nickname?

Many:  Clarence (the cross-eyed lion) was particularly unwelcome as a six-year-old with a squint.

11) What is the oldest item of clothing in your wardrobe?

My dad’s toweling T-shirt

12) Do you have a favourite pen?

Yes, but it’s a fountain pen so I am often cross with it.

13) Do you believe human beings can spontaneously combust?

As a child I got a book out of the library about it and it kept me awake for years.  Wish you hadn’t reminded me.

(Oops, sorry.)

14) Have you ever written an angry letter to a magazine or paper?


15) Have you ever had your fortune told?


16) How do you put your duvet cover on?

I don’t have a duvet.  

17) Who is your favourite Neighbours character?

Never seen it so I don’t know.


18) What’s your favourite swear?

Hells bells and buckets of blood.

19) What sandwiches would you make for a picnic with Hilary Mantel?

I don’t want to go on a picnic with Hilary Mantel.

20) What question should I have asked you?

I am sated.

Thank you so much for taking part in Smash Lits, Polly.

I reviewed Polly’s latest novel, The Kindness, here and throughly recommend it to fans of sumptuous prose and twisty stories. All sorts of information (and gorgeous pictures) can be found at Polly’s website.

Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald

I was given Adult Onset by my boss. (I think she is my reading twin and it’s very cool to have met someone whose reading tastes seems to chime so exactly with my own.) I’d never heard of Ann-Marie MacDonald before, but wow, Adult Onset is a stunning novel and MacDonald is an exceptional writer.

The novel is about motherhood and family and how the past informs the present. I won’t be able to do it justice here. Please trust me when I say it’s rare to read someone who writes with such insight and has the ability to portray the workings of a mind reaching for distant truths with such clarity.

Mary Rose is marred to Hilary. They have adopted one child and Hilary has given birth to another. Mary Rose has chosen to stay home and be “Mumma” and during the week in which the novel takes place Hilary is working away. Beginning on Monday and finishing on Sunday we journey alongside Mary Rose as she negotiates her way through the days of toddler tantrums, domestic crises, parent’s, siblings, and her aching arm; the result of childhood bone cysts, which niggles and nags and flares, beginning the examination of her past.

This book is so damn quotable. Paragraph after paragraph of amazing writing.

“How do you tell yourself what you already know? If you have successfully avoided something, how do you know you have avoided it?”


“Mary Rose felt guilty for not feeling warm and happy. Instead of melting into a smile, she felt her face go positively Soviet in a pre-glasnost kind of way. She knew she looked like Brezhnev and there was nothing she could do about it. If she rummaged in her basement, she could probably find the box marked WARM AND HAPPY. But who knew what else might be down there, she didn’t have time to go through it all.”


“Mary Rose has thought Rochelle socially awkward, but it dawns on her now that Rochelle may be that rare personality type, the Fearless Pauser.”

So excellent. I will now hunt down everything she has written.

Incidentally, I knew nothing about the author until after I finished reading. I thought this the finest novel I’ve read since Miriam Toews’ superb “All My Puny Sorrows” and it’s interesting to discover that not only are both Canadian, but that this novel is also apparently somewhat autobiographical. I think there’s something incredibly powerful about the truth that comes from fiction and wonder if what makes these novels so strong is the honesty that resonates with the reader.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,409 other followers