Friday, 7 August 2009

Laura Dockrill and Bookarmy's First Film Shoot!

Yesterday, Laura Dockrill visited Bookarmy Towers to do some filming with us. For those of you who don’t know who Laura, aka Dockers MC, is, where have you been?
As well as appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 6, many UK national newspapers, this year she headlined Latitude Festival’s Poetry Arena.

Laura is a poet and illustrator and at only 23, she is a rising star. She has been compared to the likes of Quentin Blake, described as a poet for the ipod generation, charged with making poetry cool, and tipped by The Times as one of the top ten literary stars of 2008. The accolades just keep coming, but rest assured this isn’t hyperbole; this lady is really good. Not only is she an excellent performance poet, she’s also a lovely person with colourful clothes, who doesn’t mind in the least if it takes several takes to get a video clip just right.

If you want to see Laura in action we will be putting up our very first bookarmy author video next week. It features Dockers MC performing one of her own poems and then reading another piece by poet Lemn Sissay.

If you can’t wait until then, take a look at Laura in action at Latitude last year.

Posted by Hannah

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Have you heard about the UK's most prolific library book borrower? No? Well, take a look

Posted by Hannah

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

'Serena', by Ron Rash

The book I've been struggling to put down this week is Serena, the latest novel from American poet and author Ron Rash. It's an absolute doorstopper at almost four hundred tall, tall pages, and I must admit the prospect of getting stuck in there wasn't immediately appealing. Apart from anything else, it doesn't fit in any of my bags. How could I be expected to read something that doesn't fit in any of my bags? It just didn't seem right.

Once I finally did manage to get past my sizeism, however, it took only a few minutes to realise that while the book may be long, it certainly isn't long-winded. Rash's prose is sparse without being spartan, and as tough and unyielding as the Serena of the book's title. The new bride of Pemberton, a logging tycoon based in the inhospitable mountains of North Carolina, Serena arrives in her new home and instantly takes control of not only her husband's business but of every last person she encounters. Unfortunately, her power over Pemberton has come about nine months too late, and past indiscretions haunt him in the form of his illegitimate baby son, Jacob. Serena is initially as undaunted by Jacob's existence as she is by every other obstacle she comes up against, but when a miscarriage renders her infertile, her thirst for vengence is awakened.

Rash's writing, although stripped back, is beautifully expressive, and his skill for characterisation is truly superb. Serena herself is an utter triumph of the imagination; Rash really does have the courage of his convictions, and unlike many authors he doesn't lose his bottle at the crucial moment when it comes to creating an out-and-out baddie. Marvellously self-serving and calculating, Serena is feared and admired by everyone she meets. The men at the logging company spread - and, to varying degrees, believe - rumours that she is some kind of monstrous superhuman. She trains an enormous eagle to catch snakes and rides around on a majestic white arab with the bird perched on her arm. She confronts death perhaps not joyously, but certainly indifferently, and killing things (deer, bears, people. Lots and lots of people) doesn't phase her at all. In one deliciously overwrought scene she makes love to Pemberton, who is soaked in the blood of a man he has just murdered at her behest, and allows the red to stain her own stomach. If you've been suffering from wishy-washy bad guys lately, Serena is guaranteed to cure what ails you.

If there is a flaw in this magnificent character, it is only that her wickedness is so unremittingly extreme that she does occasionally run the risk of tipping over into campy pantomime villain territory. Fortunately, Rash's ever-controlled, evenly-paced prose acts as the perfect foil to his anti-heroine; no matter what heights of diabolical excess her personality may threaten to soar to, his words never fail to contain her, even as the action gathers towards its explosive climax in the book's final chapters.

Although Serena has been out since 2008, Canongate are releasing a new edition of it which will hopefully help to garner its author the attention he most certainly deserves. You can - and should - pick it up in the UK from the 6th of August 2009.

Posted by Eilidh

Monday, 6 July 2009

Samuel, Skeletons, and Swine Flu

Last Saturday, on the south bank of the river Thames, I settled down to watch a performance of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.

"By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,

Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?

I first read Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem when I was ten. The only lasting memory I have of it is the line ‘Water, water everywhere/ Nor any drop to drink’. Quite a pathetically scant memory to have of my first encounter with one the best loved poems of the Romantic period. I can’t blame it on the teachers, they were fantastic, but it’s a long poem to learn to love at ten, especially when you are reading it to yourself. But had I participated in an all singing, all dancing performance of The Ancient Mariner like this one, I’m sure I’d have remembered at least the poem’s story. The primary school children who took part in this south bank performance, I know will remember more than one solitary line.

The performance, which was a co-production between The South Bank Centre and The Young Vic, incorporated dance, acting, music and a wonderful huge marionette skeleton. It was clear a huge amount of time, preparation and effort had gone into this hour and a half performance. The music was brilliant, the conductor had the children exactly where she wanted them and the whole space around was used. There was flag waving, flare lighting and an ice-cream van – why not?! But the only thing that I found a little disappointing was that the Ancient Mariner was reading from a script. At the time I thought this a little tardy, but then, when googling the performance, I read it was because swine flu had hit the actor cast for the part and a replacement had to be found at the last minute, so all was forgiven. Get well soon, Ancient Mariner.

London Literature Festival runs 2nd-16th July.

Posted by Hannah

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Review of Eleanor Catton's The Rehearsal

The Rehearsal is a Russian Doll of a novel. Let me explain. The story is based around a student-teacher sex scandal at a local girls school, but instead of these two characters being the protagonists of the novel, it is told by those around them, some of whom neither the student nor teacher have ever even met.

The characters of the novel are all performers – a saxophone teacher and her host of students, a drama student and his father who is really a one dimensional psychoanalyst, disturbed and disturbing. Each of them is affected by the scandal in one way or another, some directly but most, indirectly. The relationship is the nucleus around which all the other episodes of the story are wrapped layer upon layer, one play inside another, like a Russian Doll.

The reader is placed in the position of an audience member watching a play, or rather several interwoven plays at various stages of rehearsal, but a rehearsal for what? This line of thought could take us on a philosophical path, but as the novel offers no grand over arching conclusion, perhaps we shouldn’t continue, other than to say Eleanor Catton engages with the idea of performance, and how we are often cast to perform a role we wouldn’t necessarily choose for ourselves, with humour and confident creativity.

All this talk of characters may have mislead you. This novel isn’t a character based book. Mostly the characters are little more than shadows that pass across the page; characters in a play script you are reading rather than watching, without much flesh or personality. This isn’t a criticism of the book. The novel doesn’t suffer in any way due to the reserved character studies. In fact, I think this aspect makes the book because it allows the ideas of identity and relationships to shine, and the words to dominate, which, in the words of Emily Perkins, ‘makes language seem new’:
The overhead lights have dimmed and she is lit only by a pale flicking blue, a frosty sparkle like the on–off glow of a TV screen. The saxophone teacher is thrust into shadow so half her face is iron grey and the other half is pale and glinting.
(read a longer excerpt)

Eleanor Catton is an exciting new writer and I'm already looking forward to her next book.

Posted by Hannah

Friday, 19 June 2009

Bookarmy's First Author Interview

On Wednesday, I conducted bookarmy’s first face to face author interview with Kate Pullinger. We met in a cafe in Shepherd’s Bush, London. To be honest, I was a little apprehensive, this being my first BA interview, but thank goodness, Kate was absolutely lovely. We talked about her new book, The Mistress of Nothing, and her work with digital storytelling, but I’m afraid that is all I’m going to tell you. I’ll be adding the interview to the site soon, so if you want to know what Kate actually said, keep checking Kate’s author page.
We will also giving away 5 signed copies of The Mistress of Nothing throughout July, so look out for how you can enter.

Posted by Hannah

Monday, 15 June 2009

Litro Live, 11th June '09

Last week I went to Litro Live, an event run by the excellent Litro magazine and hosted by the Betjeman Arms in St. Pancras International Station. Books, booze, music and, well, trains; what more could I have asked for?

Unfortunately I arrived a couple of hours late owing to the tube strike (curse those workers; it’s almost as if they don’t care about my social engagements at all). However, I was in time to catch readings from Geoff Dyer, Jake Arnott and Gemma Weekes. Gemma is also a singer and performed briefly after she’d finished reading. Her music was perfectly designed to accompany wine, and it was very lovely and relaxing indeed – probably my favourite part of the evening.

Copies of works by all the authors were on sale but - as my book-hoarding tendencies have recently been reaching levels that may be indicative of some kind of serious personality disorder - I decided to be strong for once and resist the urge to buy. I did, however, take a photo of Jake Arnott’s novel, which seems like the next best thing to actually owning it. It instantly caught my eye because, as you can see, it’s very pretty and bright and I’m a magpie when comes to very pretty and bright books; I DO judge them by their covers, I’m afraid.

I also had my first experience of witnessing the DJing talents of Jamie Byng, otherwise known as the man behind the immensely successful revival of Canongate’s fortunes. This happened quite unexpectedly and was actually somewhat surreal. I was the tiniest bit tipsy and for a moment wondered if my eyes were deceiving me. However, hallucinations of prominent literary figures in incongruous circumstances have never previously been amongst the symptoms of my intoxication so I had my doubts. I headed home not long afterwards to do the Google homework I really should have done beforehand, and discovered that spotting Jamie behind the decks is not as rare an occurrence as one might imagine and that he apparently does this sort of thing quite a lot. Who knew? Not me, obviously.

Although this was the first Litro event I have been to I hope that it won’t be the last, and if you happen to be a London-dweller I would strongly recommend checking out their website for details of their monthly live shows.

Posted by Eilidh