As Christmas shopping season begins in earnest, there are plenty of ideas in this Fargate From The Madding Crowd for gifts for the booklovers in your life; why not support local writers, publishers and booksellers? We have another double helping of Literary City this fortnight to fit it all in.
My read of the fortnight is Fiona Mozley’s Booker shortlisted Elmet. Let me know what you make of it. As always, I’d love to hear your reader reviews or problems you’d like to me solve with the right book.
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Read of the fortnight - Elmet by Fiona Mozley
How do we know who is the villain and who is the hero of a story?
The central figure of Elmet is Daddy, a towering figure of a man; a bare-knuckle boxer who sustains himself with outbursts of violence. He takes our 14-year-old narrator Daniel and his sister Cathy away from the their conventional lives and builds the three of them a house on land that does not belong to him (in the legal sense, anyway), and without any sort of formal permission. There is no doubt that Daddy is a hero to Daniel and to Cathy, and to us as we see the world through their eyes.
But he would certainly be the baddie if this story were told from the point of view of Mr Price, the landowner. It’s all in the perspective. Much of Elmet is a meditation on ownership and power. What Daddy wants is to live outside of social constructions altogether; to create, and inhabit, his own version of the world where normal rules don’t apply.
For a while this small family manages to successfully carve out their own unique idea of what a good life looks like, and to live it. Right down to the quietly accepted unconventional gender identities of Cathy and Daniel.
But in the end they cannot keep reality from encroaching on their idyllic woodland home.
And the consequences are horrific; we end with scenes of the most shockingly gothic violence I’ve read in a long time. Brilliant.
I was expecting Elmet to be all Celtic heritage and ancient legend.
But instead, we get something much more contemporary; more political and incisive about inequality in the world today.
Two of my favourite books are Wuthering Heights and Danny The Champion Of The World. Parallels have been drawn between Elmet and the former (not least in the indomitable figure of Cathy, who is nothing short of magnificent, taking her blazing revenge on behalf of centuries of women, like a naked Carrie.) But I found myself spotting more correlations with the latter. And I mean that as the most sincere of compliments. Unconventional, isolated parenting. A casual disregard for the law. Living a simple life in tune with nature. A thoroughly unpleasant landowner. The absurdity of men owning land at all. A superheroic father figure. But this is not a children’s book. And the ending is horrific. Brilliant, but horrific. You will be unsurprised to learn that I loved it.
Literary City: The sheffield Connection
Forgotten Fiction is an independent bookseller based in All Good Stuff, the social enterprise emporium of local craftspeople opposite Tamper coffee on Arundel Street in Sheffield city centre. The shop specialises in less well-known books, especially beautiful and unusual copies, making it the perfect place to buy special books as presents.
The range includes Persephone titles, as well as translated European novellas from Peirene, reading group favourites, modern classics and newly discovered treasures. And while you’re there, you can take a look at all the other gifts on offer from small local makers and sellers.
Or if you’re buying for friends and family whose taste runs more to books about the outdoors, why not support a local publisher that is going from strength to strength? Vertebrate Publishing has just won the prestigious Boardman Tasker Award for mountain literature with its book Art of Freedom, the biography of Polish mountaineer Voytek Kurtyka, by Bernadette McDonald.
Art of Freedom was described by local poet Helen Mort, chair of the award judges, as: ‘A profound and subtle profile of one of the international climbing world’s most complex mountaineers. We felt the writing was meticulously crafted and that the book makes extreme mountaineering accessible to the lay reader.’
Beginning life as a graphic design agency in 1994, Vertebrate has now published over 200 books in both print and digital formats, and is one of the world’s leading publishers of outdoor titles.
Following the award announcement, Vertebrate’s managing director Jon Barton said: ‘I’m thrilled by the news of Bernadette’s award, which is a reward for both her hard work, and the work of our small team here in Sheffield. We’re committed to seeking out and publishing the best mountain literature titles and I hope our books inspire people to explore the hills and mountains outside their own front doors.’
The publisher has also just announced that they will make regular donations from the sales of another of its books, Peak District Mountain Biking, to local mountain bike trail advocacy group Ride Sheffield.
Ride Sheffield was formed in 2009 and represents the interests of mountain bikers in the Sheffield and Peak District area by championing access issues and launching trail building initiatives, including the UK’s first crowdfunded mountain bike trail at Lady Canning’s Plantation.
Donations to Ride Sheffield contribute towards trail repairs, trail building and supporting the volunteers as they champion access issues on behalf of Sheffield and the Peak District’s mountain bikers. A full list of Vertebrate Publishing titles can be found on their website https://www.v-publishing.co.uk/ If you are a Sheffield-based publisher, bookseller or writer, and you’d like to feature in a future Literary City then get in touch and I’d be happy to help you spread the word.
If you’re looking for the perfect gift for the romance novel fan in your life, why not snap up a copy of the newly-released Joe and Clara’s Christmas Countdown, by Sheffield-based writer Katey Lovell.
Lovell’s debut novel, The Singalong Society for Singletons, was set in her home city of Sheffield. For this follow-up, she has crossed the Pennines into Lancashire.
But we won’t hold that against her.
Lovell says: ‘As a romance writer living in Sheffield, weaving the city’s nuances into my first novel was relatively easy.
“This time it was a bit harder as, although I did know Manchester from travelling there for concerts and to shop, I was less familiar with the main tourist attractions which were to play a key part in the story. But I made numerous research trips across the border to ensure I captured Manchester’s unique spirit in Joe and Clara’s Christmas Countdown. I hope I’ve done it justice’.
The book tells the story of the run up to Christmas for Joe Smith, a man who is heartbroken but knows he should be celebrating with friends and family and making the most of the season. For Clara, Christmas is the most magical time of the year.
And she wants to make Joe love it too. She knows he’s hurting, but she’s determined to heal his broken heart in time for the big day.
* The book is published by HamperImpulse, and is available now in ebook and paperback.