Reading Round Up/2014 Update

Two weeks of bliss and now back to the grindstone. I haven’t been on the Internet really at all this last month as been so busy, finishing my PG Dip (joy), preparing to start the MSc/MA dissertation (double joy), and generally getting my head in gear. There are going to be a lot of changes in my life this year, most importantly I’ve decided to concentrate on purely professional pursuits rather than my extra-curricula activities, so won’t be taking any bookings for the Travelling Suitcase Library this year, or planning any other events outside of what I do in my day job. I’m also not going to be involving myself in projects like Leeds Ladyfest-though will be offering support throughout the year as obviously it is close to my heart! I’m scaling down Envelope Club a bit too, but I’m going to have a proper think about that at the end of the month.

I’ve had an awesome few years (considerably less so over the last year) being involved  in extra-curricula stuff, but this year I think I am going to have to be really selfish and say No to things. So I’ll probably not be blogging that much either. I’m going to carry on with the book reviews as honestly they make me happy, and will hopefully make this have a more professional slant.


I have read a few books over the Christmas (are we still allowed to say that? It was only, like, two weeks ago) hols that I have wanted to rant about a bit.

I re-read Sense and Sensibility, after watching the first half of the ITV adaptation of a few years ago with a friend and realising it must be a good ten years since I had read it and what a revelation! I loved it, because it is just so indescribably bleak. It is basically a travel diary of a bored and repressed young woman forced to put up with the society of awful people because of the kyriarchy of the time and is just so depressing for it. I loved the little comic touches throughout and there isn’t a better written utter cowbag than Lucy Steele, oh I wanted to punch that woman in the face! I read it on my Kindle so can’t get a book cover but it was very enjoyable and included lovely illustrations.


My next read was this stunningly cheesy looking historical epic, the first in the three part series which I will blatos be completing. I found it after looking at one of the ‘if you like Jean Auel’ lists on goodreads, and although this is definitely more Mammoth Hunters than Clan of the Cave Bear, for a description of pre-historic life it is equally well written and obviously very well researched. The story of Chagek, a young woman living off the American North West Coast around 8000BC, who experiences every type of horror going when her family is destroyed by the Murderous Short Ones. The first half of the book was a real struggle to read as there is literally no remitting from the endless tragedy Chagek goes through. It all gets much better though, and her story, whilst sad, is a lovely one. The ways of life are very well explained without just being an endless list of detailed activity, and by the end of the book I was just desperate for Chagek to find an apple tree or something, as the people seem to live entirely off whales and seals and, whilst feeling rather sticky myself after doing nothing but eat meat and cheese and chocolate for three days I felt even stickier after the third feast of blubber and eggs kept in sand and oil.

The final book I read I no longer own because I immediately put it in the charity shop pile. The River Road, by Frances Parkinson Keyes, was randomly pulled out of my bookcase by me being unable to decide what to read next and I was really chuffed when I did as from the outside it looks like a lovely Southern Fantasy, a bit naffer than Gone With The Wind. The story of plantation owners living in Louisiana in the early 1920s, published in 1946, I expected the racism, but the utterly vile and crass way the lives of Black and Italian people were described in the book was upsetting to say the least. Which is such a shame as the plot itself, involving a shopgirl marrying a plantation owner and saving the family’s reputation by the end, was lovely and really subtly done, and it had some characters I would have otherwise really have liked to follow. But I cannot read or promote a series which is just so racist and was gutted to find it so.

I would have read a heck of a lot more over my holidays, and normally do, especially seeing as I had no homework, but I have also discovered Craft in a  major way, got a crochet hook and a load of wool and have so far made two hats, mostly whilst watching the superb (apart from the miscast of Elizabeth, who was too old for the role, even though I LOVE Anna Maxwell Martin, and Darcy, who was just a bit wet for my taste) Death Comes to Pemberley. A zillion times better than the book, it also featured a frankly gorgeous Matthew Goode who has considerably reignited my love for a thin man in a fitted jacket. Would love to see a proper P&P with him and Lydia in it, as they were Ace.

So yeah, work and wool craft seems to be the plan for 2014, and may it be a good one!


Lit Fest Love

So a few months ago now, Leeds got all ansy about the editor of Granta magazine being quoted as saying Leeds was “completely out of the literary world”, which I wrote a post about.


This morning, my basic premise that actually Leeds and Yorkshire in general is amazing for literary events and we should be bloody thankful for that was proved true by the launch of the Ilkley Lit Fest programme, and an email announcing the headline acts for Wakey Lit Fest.

Ilkley this year includes Alexander McCall Smith of the Ladies’ Detective Agency fame, Germaine Greer, Shirley Williams, and Sarah Dunant, whose latest book Blood and Beauty I reviewed a couple of weeks ago and is marvellous.

What I’m most looking forward to, however, is Maggie O’Farrell, on Saturday 5 October. Maggie O’Farrell is the author of bestsellers The Vanishing of Esme Lennox and The Hand That First Held Mine, her latest Instructions for the Heatwave I reviewed for ForBooksSake a while back.

For me, however, she is the woman who wrote the book that made me cry more that anything else other than possibly The Red Tent as a teenager. After You’d Gone is simply a beautiful beautiful piece of writing, includes the best description of a first date ever ever and a relationship that to be honest I’ve been measuring every one in my life to, which is I know a stupid thing to do (it being fictional and all) but read it, and I’m sure you’ll understand. I’m going to meet Maggie O’Farrell and I’m just going to cry in front of her I know it.

And Wakey is just as mint! Tracy Chevalier, whose latest book The Last Runaway I reviewed earlier this year and enjoyed massively, is one of the headliners on the 21 September, which I’m also massively looking forward to. The full programme isn’t being announced until the 19 August, but I’m sure will live up to expectations! I’m also planning a wee book swap and if that’s as wonderful as last year’s I’ll be in for a treat of a night-that was the book swap that saw me discover The Group!

And of course marginally closer to home we’ve got Morley Lit Fest, another of my highlights of the year.

I’m going to be going to see Alison Weir on Sunday 6 October for sure, she’s discovered A Dangerous Inheritance, which is now out in paperback and marvellous.

A very very busy looking September/October  for me AND we’ve got LadyFest on the 19th October. So don’t expect to see much of me outside of a festival until gone half term!

World Book Night, so good I blogged it twice…

So World Book Night has come and gone for another year, and what a lovely WBN it was! Once again the Travelling Suitcase Library took over my local pub, Arcadia, filling it with books, and bunting.

A happy customer!

 I was giving away Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses, a powerful dystopian YA romance book, and I was also joined by the lovely Jimi, who found out about the event through the World Book Night website, who was giving out copies of Casino Royale, which went down a treat with the pub regulars.

World Book Night @ Arcadia

We were joined by the incredibly supportive Leeds Big Bookend Crew, whose festival I’m really looking forward to, and the Leeds Ladyfest Crew were on hand selling awesome merch, the bags really came in useful for carrying the books back!

The Ladyfest Crew and the Awesome Bags!

 And of course the Travelling Suitcase Library was its usual busy self, as most people turned up to the event with bags upon bags of books to swap.

Books Make People Excited!

 This year’s event was smaller than previous ones, World Book Night is now such a big event with so many people giving books all over Leeds-I was really chuffed to be handed some in Leeds Book Station by Leeds Met Library-it is hard for someone on their own to organise. I couldn’t do a buffet, and the least said about my buns the better. But for the people who came, and supported the event for the third year running (and it was SO NICE to have people bringing books they got last year and loved to be swapped again) we had a lovely evening, I got to wear a frock, and many people found a stack of books. M

Me, and my suitcase, looking a bit pink at the end of the night!

Thank yous… The Arcadia Team, Graeme, Sarah and Hayley for being so lovely and letting me take over for another year. Reb and Dave for being so incredibly kind and helpful, Fiona and The Big Bookend, L and P from Ladyfest and the Leeds Feminist Network Massive, fellow giver Jimi, B and friends, Luey, Lou, Tom and Jim, H, G/R, EB Snare and the Twitter Crew and P for just being wonderful.

Originally appeared on the Travelling Suitcase Library blog.

Completely Out of the Literary World?

Living in Leeds, according to John Freeman, the editor of Granta magazine, quoted in The Guardian yesterday, makes you “completely out of the literary world”.

Freeman was speaking in reference to the hometownof Sunjeez Sahota, a writer whose work I have not read, who was including in the magazine’s 20 most promising young writer’s list. I don’t know anything about how Sahota got into reading or writing, but I do know this-saying that living in Leeds makes you ‘out of the literary world’ is xenophobic, incorrect, and further evidence of a London orientated arts culture that rips the heart out of the North and then tells us it’s our fault for being so oafish and uncultured.

Leeds has a vibrant, and growing, literary culture. The people of Leeds swap books, go to bookish events, support local writers, and discuss what they are reading in a variety of ways, all of which are celebrated and welcomed in the city. Libraries, social clubs and bookshops work together to support and promote literary initiatives and, from LadyFest to I Love West Leeds, literacy and literature is interwoven with arts, music and other creative enterprises to form part of a pulsating, vibrant, local culture, often run by people doing it on a shoestring or no budget, for free, for the love of it, in their own time.

Leeds has two local literature festivals within city boundaries; Headingley Lit Fest, whose mission statement is to highlight Headingley’s historical and contemporary contribution to literature, and the ever-expanding Morley Lit Fest, which last year included events by AL Kennedy, Fiona Shaw and Monique Roffey.  These festivals are not only excellent examples of local people coming together to create something marvellous, they’re also very very good value for money – especially compared to that beacon of literature in the North, Ilkley Literature Festival-a mere half hour away from Leeds. We are hardly strapped for literary things to see and do.

 This year sees the return of the Leeds City Centre Big Bookend, where local writers present their work. This festival is also creating its own ‘writers under 40 to watch’ list in the form of the LS13 Writers competition, which no doubt Granta will be subsequently ignoring, it not counting until London notices you.

What I suspect Freeman means is that Leeds isn’t the home of any major publishing houses, and you don’t see many agents wooing fabulous clientele in Wagamama’s Trinity. Except there are, and they probably do, in between signing books in a pen shop (?).

This quote has made a lot of people, including myself, who had dedicated a hell of a lot of time, effort and my own money over the past three years on the Leeds lit scene, a bit miffed. But it’s also brought just how big the lit scene in Leeds is to the forefront of a debate, and that is something that, actually, we should be thankful for.

If you live in Leeds, and are as pissed off as me at this, join me in celebrated our literary scene on World Book Night, on Tuesday 23 April, in Arcadia, Headingley from 7. I’ll be packing the Travelling Suitcase Library to the brim with wonderful reads, let’s show em that Leeds Loves Literature, and no flippant comment from someone who should know better is going to change that fact.

World Book Night @ Arcadia


I’m really pleased to be able to once again celebrate World Book Night at the wonderful Arcadia Bar, for the third time. 

 World Book Night is the wonderful event that sees thousands of people been given a book, recommended by another person, for free. This matches the ethos of the Travelling Suitcase Library completing and I’m really proud to keep it local, in my favourite pub, and once again be able to share books and reading with the regulars and  locals of Headingley.

 I’ll be there, Travelling Suitcase Library is tow, from 7ish, and we’ll be having a book party until about 10. I’m giving away copies of Malorie Blackman’s wonderful book Noughts and Crosses, which you must read if you haven’t, as well as the regular book swap. 

I’ll be using the downstairs side room, so it will be accessible. Arcadia doesn’t allow children in the pub, sadly, as it doesn’t have a licence for them, or pub crawls or fancy dress. I’m also claiming the space as body positive and Leeds Ladyfest will be selling tickets for their calender lotto. There may also be cake.

 If you’re a giver, and this sounds like your thing, please do join us. You can email me bookelfleeds @ Gmail dot com, join the Facebook group, or just turn up on the night.


I’ve been all over the place this last week, wearing various different hats (though still can’t afford a tiny top hat…).

On Thursday I wore my book hat and hosted a Recommended Read/Travelling Suitcase Library event for World Book Day as part of Ryedale Book Festival. Held at the Old Lodge Hotel in Malton, which is possibly the poshest place I have ever been to (they had individual faceclothes to dry your hands in in the loo…) the evening was delightful, and I met a few local authors (and got some new books!) and also met my Gran’s favourite Jessica Blair, also known as Bill Spence, a genuinely lovely gentleman who gave me a lot of supportive advice.

Me Bill Spence

Then on Saturday I was wearing my Isn’t Leeds Brilliant hat. Love Rouge, my favourite bakery in Headingley, is back open and massive, with an upstairs dining area, and still serving the most delicious cupcakes, as well as breakfasts and a huge range of teas. Although I couldn’t stop for breakfast (which I WILL be doing At Some Point) I did treat myself to some of their delicious cupcakes, including the red velvet and the nutella cupcakes making my kitchen look sexy below.


Then in the afternoon I volunteered to help out on the tea and cake stall at Left Bank Leeds during another fantastic Steampunk Market, which I always go and spend far too much money in. This year being no exception, I walked away with the cutest purple handbag, two pairs of earrings and a couple of comics. I loved working on the tea stall, and can strongly recommend giving a few hours of your weekend to help a great cause, the more I learn about Left Bank the more I love it. I also got to go in the Vestry, which was a bit of a treat! The tea stall was serving cakes and buns by Murtons Bakery, on Cardigan Road, and I can confirm their jam tarts are spectacular.

Me Left Bank

All in all, a cracking weekend. Mother’s Day is never the happiest of weekends for me and throwing myself into having a Lovely Time made this one my favourite for a while!

Friday Reads

Firstly, this isn’t the cover of my copy of this wonderful book, and I shall endeavour to replace the picture above asap. I got this at the Wakefield Lit Fest book swap, and honestly, I picked this book up purely for its cover of a busty dark haired wench clinging desperately to the chest of her massive angry looking man, with a background of suitably dark Satanic mills thinking it would be a bit of a romp and was unbelievably surprised to find some of the best written and most gripping historical fiction I’ve read this year. This was like reading’s Susan Boyle.

The story of the Mortymers, a hard working but troubled family living in the Welsh iron making regions in the early 19th century and the beginnings of the Chartist movement and the Unions.  Told from the point of view of Iestyn, it opens on his first day of work in the furnaces aged eight, chipping away at iron ore in the freezing cold. The opening chapters had me hooked instantly, and the relationships between Iestyn, his hard, conservative father and firebrand older sister were so instantly implanted. I fell in love with this entire family. The Mortymers are strong and proud and their lives are shaped by the world erupting around them. 

Set in community of starving workers whose lives are completely in the grip of their masters who abuse them and use them as chattels to further their comparatively massive fortunes as they begin to stand up against the tyranny of a system where you are paid in tokens which can only be used in certain shops, where the prices are controlled by the masters who own entire towns, mountains and furnaces and mines and all. This is a Welsh Inheritance and so well written and informative about the time. You can feel the people’s anger, and sympathise with the Chartist movement, though the ever present danger of the militant Scotch Cattle adds tension to a plot which wrings you out emotionally-if you’re not sobbing at the end you have less soul than I do.

This book is funny and poignant and beautiful, I now really want to visit the area of Wales it is set. The characters leap off the page and into your heart and there they stay, more than once this week I’ve thought about the Mortymers and wondered how they’re doing (which I realise is slightly ridiculous) and I am very much wanting to read the rest in this series, though maybe in a little while after I’ve had time to get over this book!