Review: Lydia by Natasha Farrant

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Cover image from Goodreads

Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride & Prejudice

Natasha Farrant

Chicken House (2016)

Fifteen year old Lydia Bennet thinks a journal is an awfully dull birthday present. She lives in ‘the Depths of the English countryside where nothing EVER happens.’ However, Lydia’s world is soon to become a lot more exciting with the arrival of the militia in Meryton, and a handsome nobleman courting her eldest sister. When she is given the chance to go to Brighton, at last Lydia has the chance to show her family that she isn’t the flighty, stupid creature they think she is. She will show them what Lydia Bennet is made of.

Natasha Farrant brings Lydia Bennet to exuberant, energetic life. She makes her quite a modern young lady – one who resents the limitations put on women of her time. Her love of dancing and dramatics remains, but we also see Lydia as someone who longs to be taken seriously, and not be a mere source of amusement (or embarrassment). With Lydia’s trip to Brighton, Farrant introduces an original subplot with memorable and exotic characters. Of course, I particularly enjoyed her nod to That Scene from the BBC Pride & Prejudice adaptation.

Farrant’s attention to detail in terms of clothing and customs is impressive (her descriptions of the bathing machines were brilliant) and she creates a book that is respectful of Austen while being an entertaining read in its own right.  The diary format is very effective, Lydia’s voice is earnest and lively. Lydia brings a welcome feminist slant to Austen’s work and takes a fresh look at one of Pride & Prejudice’s less likeable characters.

Originally reviewed for LoveReading4Kids.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW COMING SOON!

Review: What’s a Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne

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What’s a Girl Gotta Do?

Holly Bourne

Usborne (2016), YA Contemporary

This feminist is READY to declare war on the patriarchy.

In the third book of Holly Bourne’s Spinster Club trilogy*, Lottie, the fiercest of the trio, goes on a feminist crusade to call out every instance of sexism she sees for a whole month. After being sexually harrassed on her way to college, Lottie decides that enough is enough and she is going to take a stand, against every sexist song, poster and comment. Lottie is strong, but she doesn’t realise just how difficult her task may be…

I didn’t think I could love Holly Bourne any more than I already did, and then she wrote What’s a Girl Gotta Do?  Her writing is so strong, she perfectly captures the sense of frustration that comes with dealing with sexism. As Lottie says:

I’m not psychic, I’m just highly experienced in sexual harrassment, like pretty much every other girl on this earth who dares to walk places.

The things Lottie calls out (razors costing more because they’re pink, the lack of female writers on the school curriculum, depictions of women in advertising) may seem small, but as she observes they all contribute to a culture of objectification. Just as Lottie opens her fellow students’ eyes to the sexism around them, I think Bourne will awaken feminist sensibilities in her teen (and older) readers.

Lottie has her moments of triumph, but she also has to deal with trolls, or the realisation of just how much work there is to do in the struggle for gender equality. Bourne shows how difficult it can be to strive for what you believe in, and how fatigue and frustration can set in. Lottie ultimately decides that she has to fight for what is right, but the pressure her project puts on her is clear. Lottie is a confident and powerful character, but we also see her vulnerabilities in this book, and she sees the error in some of her behaviour. I liked that Bourne made a point about everyone having to deal with problems in their own way.

This book (and indeed, the whole series) deals with some tricky topics but never in a preachy way. Bourne’s writing is humorous and entertaining. What’s a Girl Gotta Do? is  really funny. Lottie’s project is called ‘The Vagilante Project’ and has the fantastic tagline ‘Letting the cat lady out of the bag.’ The friendship between the girls is brilliantly written and I like that Bourne also shows the strains that can come into friendships. She creates relationships that are credible and complex. I liked the romance element of the book, and (slightly spoilery) Evie and Oli getting together made me extremely happy.

Lottie is ambitious and fiery, she wants to be prime minister and make a change in the world:

 …someone has to be prime minister. Why can’t it be me? I am smart enough. I am strong enough. And I really, honestly want to take this shitty world we live in and use whatever strength, intellect and passion I have to leave it a little better off than when I found it. I don’t just want to complain about the world, I want to change it.

A truly brilliant conclusion to one of the best YA trilogies out there at the moment. I only wish Bourne’s fierce feminist books had been around when I was a teenager!

* While this book does refer to events from Am I Normal Yet? and How Hard Can Love Be? I think it also works as a stand alone.

Here I am being excited about What’s a Girl Gotta Do?, and about seeing Holly Bourne at DeptCon2 in October!

WAGGD

 

 

 

 

Interview: Alice Oseman (Solitaire, Radio Silence)

I was delighted to interview Alice Oseman, author of Solitaire and Radio Silence. Her two YA novels have been praised for their authentic teenage characters, she was a teenager herself when Solitaire was published. I loved Radio Silence (review here) and was particularly impressed by the diversity of the cast, the focus on friendship, and the way the podcast was integrated into the novel.
We chatted about fandoms, the internet, Alice’s writing process and more…
Alice Oseman
When writing, do you begin with a character, a scene or a plot idea?
Definitely with character! My plots change all the time but as soon as I have an idea for a character, they stay with me the whole way through.
Do you plan a lot, or dive straight into the story?
I plan in extreme detail! I need to know precisely what I’m doing and where I’m going before I start to write.
What was the main thing you learned from writing Solitaire?
That’s such a difficult question – I learnt so much! One of the main things was probably how to use subtext.
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Cover image from Goodreads

You have written a couple of Solitaire novellas. Who would you revisit from Radio Silence?
I would LOVE to write some Radio Silence novellas. I’d most like to write one about Daniel.
The internet plays a big role in both of your books and you also use a lot of pop culture references. Often writers are warned off putting in too many contemporary references as it ages the book, however it can make a book very much of its time. Where do you stand on this?
I don’t try to hide from the idea that my books are very much ‘of their time’. I aim for as much realism as I can in my writing – I love trying to completely represent the world that I live in right now. And I very much enjoy reading books that are ‘of their time’ – books written in the eighties and nineties and early 2000s. Hopefully, in the future, people will enjoy reading what the world was like in 2016!
There is a huge YA community on the internet now. Was has been your experience of this?
I’ve been a big part of the YA community on Twitter for quite a while! I find it a little stressful and intense, but ultimately, it’s amazing to see such a huge community of people all coming together in their love of books. That can only be a good thing.
Radio Silence has a really diverse cast of characters. When did you become aware of a need for diversity in YA at the moment?
Some time between Solitaire’s publication and starting to write Radio Silence. I read loads about it online and started to understand how important it was that I use my privileged position to do some good for others. Nowadays, it’s very very important to me, and although I’m nowhere near perfect and still learning so much more, I will always want to have diverse casts in my books.
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Cover image from Goodreads

You’ve spoken about the We Need Diverse Books campaign in interviews, and I was wondering which diverse YA books you would recommend?
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is one of my personal all-time favourites.
Fan culture is also important in your work. What fandoms are you part of? What has it been like seeing fanart/fanfiction for Solitaire and Radio Silence?
I’m very aware of fandoms, though I’m not sure how many I can really say I’m a part of! I know a huge amount about fandom simply from being on the internet for so long and being immersed in fandom spaces, but despite being a huge lurker online, I’m not a very active participant in many fandom spaces. I will say that I’m very knowledgable about the YouTube fandom, and lived through the huge uprising of the Glee fandom and the Sherlock fandom. And seeing fanart/fanfic for my books is one of the most exciting things I see as an author! It’s an honour that someone enjoyed my works so much that they were inspired to create something of their own.
You’re an artist, and I was wondering if you draw/use a lot of visuals when you write?
I do! I draw my characters a lot – it really helps me to visualise them and understand them better.
One of my favourite things about Radio Silence was that it had friendship at its core. Do you feel there is too much ‘insta love’ in YA at the moment (particularly heterosexual insta love)?
Absolutely, and I find it very frustrating, undoubtedly because it’s quite unrealistic. I understand why people enjoy reading insta-love – people want to believe in true love, after all! – but I’m tired of it, and I enjoy writing something different. I think friendships and other types of relationships are just as important as romances.
The characters in Radio Silence are about to go to university. I feel that characters approaching/in university are underrepresented in YA (Fangirl is a brilliant book and an exception to this). Why did you choose to have older protagonists in this Radio Silence?
I specifically wanted to write about the process of leaving school and going to university in Radio Silence, and I felt the best way to do this would be through characters about to make that change. It’s a time of great emotional upheaval, and I wish it was written about more!
Can you tell us anything about your next book?
My next book is about boyband fandoms, fame, obsession, and, as usual, the existential pain of being alive.
A big thank you to Alice Oseman for her wonderful answers, and I am looking forward to her next book!

Blog Tour Review: Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby

Thanks to Harper Teen for inviting me to take part in the Things We Know by Heart Blog Tour and for sending me a copy of the book to review! The full schedule for the blog tour can be seen beneath my review.

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Things We Know by Heart

Jessi Kirby

Harper Teen (2016)

YA Contemporary

Quinn Sullivan lost the love of her life when her boyfriend Trent was killed in an accident. It has been 400 days, and Trent’s loss is as painful as ever. She thinks that if she can find the recipient of Trent’s donated heart she might find some closure. Recipients of his other organs responded to her letters, but not the boy who received his heart. She only wants to see Colton Thomas; she never intended to meet him, and she certainly never intended to fall for him. But can she ever be with him, when he reminds her so much of her loss?

This is a poignant story about grief and learning to live again. Both Quinn and Colton have their struggles and secrets, and both characters are nuanced and well drawn. Quinn goes on a real journey in this book, learning about herself and learning to love life again.  She embarks on a tentative relationship with Colton, taking it one good day at a time. Their relationship can be summed up by this Emerson quote referenced in the book: ‘Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.’Kirby writes places beautifully, the locations Quinn and Colton visit sparkle off the page.

Sunlight streams in through the opening at the mist that hangs in the air aglow, illuminating each tiny water droplet. All around us the water catches the sunlight and throws it against the walls of the cavern, waving and dancing.

The Things We Know by Heart is as much about family as it is about romance. I loved Quinn’s outspoken grandmother, and her feisty sister. These secondary characters had stories of their own, and were interesting and believable. The relationships within the family are well developed throughout the book. We how the tragedy has impacted upon the rest of the family, and how they all support each other. However, Kirby also explores how Quinn and Colton need independence from their families, how all the support can become smothering. The family dynamics were my favourite part of the book.

This love story is not a conventional one, and there are some ethical questions around it. However I will not deny that it was very cute, and I was rooting for them. The end was a bit rushed for my liking, but this is certainly an enjoyable summer romance.

I love the cover design by Erin Fitzsimmons, with the pattern of hearts in the background, and the scribbly black loveheart in the title.

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Review: Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

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Finding Audrey

Sophie Kinsella

Penguin (2015)

YA Contemporary

Audrey can’t leave her house anymore. Even inside she wears dark glasses, making eye contact is just too much. Her therapist, Dr Sarah, suggests making a documentary and looking at people through a camera as a step in her recovery. She also suggests Audrey tries taking a trip to Starbucks, something that seems utterly terrifying. However, when her brother’s friend Linus enters her life – with his orange slice smile, cute notes and optimism – she finds a new sense of hope.

For the most part, I enjoyed this book. I felt Sophie Kinsella explored social anxiety well, and gave a real sense of how debilitating Audrey’s anxiety could be. The scene in which she panics and runs out of Starbucks gives the reader a palpable sense of her anxiety, of how overwhelming it is for her to be out in the world. I also liked that the events that led her to this point were never fully explained, as it put the focus very much on the present and on her struggle to cope with and manage her anxiety. I know some readers found the lack of a big reveal about the bullying at school disappointing, but I liked that Audrey stuck with only sharing what she wanted to. She grows a lot throughout the book, and learns more about herself. Her journey was quite an emotional and inspiring one, and she is a likeable heroine.

Linus and Audrey made a cute couple, but they seemed to get together very quickly, especially when Audrey’s issues are taken into account. This ‘insta love’ was just not credible for me. The notes they exchange and their nicknames and challenges were very sweet though.  I was worried going into this book that it would be one of those stories in which a boy magically cures/rescues the girl. I was glad to see that while Linus is very supportive of Audrey, her recovery comes from within, with help from her therapist and her family. Some aspects of this were a bit speedy in my opinion, but I was glad it ended on a hopeful note. There’s still a long way to go for Audrey, but she is getting there.

One of my main quibbles with this book was Audrey’s family. I felt the mother’s character was quite over the top. Perhaps this is because we are seeing things through Audrey’s eyes, but her behaviour seemed quite extreme. There were some funny situations, but at times the family bordered on ridiculous and I think this took away from the book for me.  I liked how Audrey’s relationship with her brother Frank was developed though, and I enjoyed the inclusion of the film transcripts.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read. I love the cover design (by Will Steahle) I think it’s very cool. I hope Sophie Kinsella writes more YA and while I had some issues with the book I think it was a good exploration of social anxiety, and gave a positive view of therapy an medication. Most of all, Finding Audrey recognises that recovery is not a straight line, or a straight graph.

life is all about climbing up, slipping down, and picking yourself up again. And it doesn’t matter if you slip down. As long as you’re kind of heading more or less upwards. That’s all you can hope for. More or less upwards.

Review: More of Me by Kathryn Evans

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More of Me

Kathryn Evans

Usborne (2016), YA

Once a year Teva splits in two. The newer version of herself takes over her life, while the younger version is trapped at home with the rest of her past selves, all stuck at the age they were when they split. Teva tries to maintain the illusion of having a normal life – school, friends, boyfriend – and keep everyone from discovering her terrible secret. Her mother has warned her about how the world would react to their freakery.However, as Teva approaches her seventeenth birthday, she decides the split won’t happen again. She wants to live her life and have a future. She’s going to fight with all her strength, even if it means fighting against herself.

A strange and startling read, More of Me gets under the reader’s skin. The premise – twelve girls sharing one identity, the new self ripping itself from the old self – is original and chilling. Evans does not leave out any of the squirm-inducing detail. I won’t deny that parts of this book really freaked me out. I felt some of the secondary characters could have been developed more (particularly Tom) and that the revelations towards the end (while clever) happened rather speedily. However, overall this was a gripping read, and one I won’t be forgetting anytime soon!

Originally reviewed for LoveReading4Kids

 

Review: How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

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Samantha Ellis

Chatto & Windus (2015)

Samantha Ellis’ How to be a Heroine (wonderfully subtitled Or What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much) is part memoir, part literary criticism. The journalist and playwright charts her relationship with heroines as she grew up, linking them to her own life and her family’s past. She discusses fairytales, classics and modern classics with characters ranging from The Little Mermaid to Elizabeth Bennett and Esther Greenwood. I was delighted to see the Fossil sisters, of Ballet Shoes, discussed. This was a favourite book of mine growing up. Pictured below is my rather tattered paperback copy, and a lovely special edition one of my sisters gave me as a birthday present.

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It is an emotional read, as Ellis revisits and reexamines her heroines. In the introduction she speaks about herself and her friend’s disagreement over which Bronte heroine was their favourite – Cathy or Jane. This leads Ellis to return to some of her beloved heroines and examine what drew her to them in the first place. In some cases, returning to these books as a feminist is problematic, something many readers have experienced. Ellis explores how we can reconcile these issues with our lingering love for these characters. I agreed with many of her readings, and shared her disappointment when Jo March’s literary ambitions were quashed.

‘Though I’m beginning to think all readings are provisional, and that maybe we read heroines for what we need from them at the time.’

In considering her life in light of her journey through books, Ellis shows how different characters have helped or inspired her. It is a wonderful demonstration of the power of reading and how heroines can help us be the heroine of our own story. (Ellis quotes Nora Ephron ‘Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.’) It is also a very inspiring book, as Ellis shows her own journey to becoming a writer, and her own struggle with the traditions of her faith. Many of Ellis’ heroines are also writers, and she examines what it is to be a woman and a writer, or a woman working in theatre. Ellis is honest and open about her life – about her heritage, her relationships, her seizures – and her writing is candid and readable.

How to be a Heroine shows the joy reading can bring, how characters can comfort us and give us strength. I thoroughly enjoyed the references to many books I have also loved, and several titles have been added to my reading list.  This book is one voracious readers will enjoy, and it is definitely one I will be lending and gifting to friends.

Review: Nina is Not OK by Shappi Khorsandi

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Shappi Khorsandi

Ebury Press (2016)

YA/Crossover

Nina does not have a drinking problem. She’s like any other seventeen year old: partying, drinking, having fun. Her mum and her friends worry about her, as her drunken exploits become worse and worse and she remembers less and less of what has happened the night before. However, when a night gone wrong is broadcast on social media Nina’s world comes crashing down around her.

Louise O’Neill has described this book as a YA Rachel’s Holiday. I would say it’s a cross between Rachel’s Holiday and Asking For It. Like Keyes and O’Neill, Khorsandi does not hold back when showing us her protagonist’s pain. At times it is hard to keep reading and to witness Nina spiralling out of control. Nina’s voice is fresh and honest, and her story feels very real. I liked that a lot of the book was given to her recovery, and what a struggle this can be. Nina is far from perfect but she is a likeable and sympathetic protagonist, someone the reader wants to help and protect.

This book is also notable in that is has a mixed-race protagonist. Nina’s sexuality is explored in the novel too, with her own prejudices and misconceptions about bisexuality being challenged. Crucially, just as Nina is more than her addiction, she is also more than her race or her sexual orientation. The other characters are also nuanced and interesting. The dynamics of Nina’s relationships with her friends and family are well drawn out and explored. This is a book about drinking, about consent and social media, but it also a coming of age novel that has a lot to say about family, friendship and self worth.

This is an engaging read with a strong voice at its core. Highly recommended to older teens, and to adults also as this book has definite crossover appeal. I look forward to reading more of Shappi Khorsandi’s writing.

Poetry Interview: Alicia Byrne Keane

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How did you first come across spoken word poetry? Was there a particular poem/poet that made you want to join the scene yourself?
I guess I would have first been exposed to spoken word poetry, or to people giving public readings in which there was a performance element, at the ‘Speakeasies’ held by the Trinity College Literary Society, maybe about four or five years ago at this stage. They’re basically open mic nights where people can read either original work or a poem or short story they like. Then, a few years later, one of my friends introduced me to the Monday Echo, a weekly spoken word and music night in Dublin, and I instantly became a regular there because they have a lovely atmosphere and they’re very welcoming to new poets. The poets performing around that time would have been for instance Stephen Clare, Ailish Kerr, and John Cummins, among many others. And I think I was trying to write like them a bit.
Could you discuss some of the poets who’ve influenced you? With your spoken word work rhythm is so important that music and rap must have an impact too.
I know really embarrassingly little about music aside from literally the most famous bands, so maybe I got the idea of having really rhymey poems from listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers when I was eleven or something like that. (LOL) I would say poetry-wise, Patti Smith and John Cooper Clarke would be influences, the former because of her dreamlike imagery, and the latter for his funny rhymes and insults.
Who are your favourite poets at the moment?
I know she’s sort of the go-to famous spoken word poet, but I’d really have to say Kate Tempest for performance poetry. Her stuff is so original that even though she’s been around for years but I’ve never really seen anyone successfully emulate her style. And in terms of page-poetry, I’ve got really into Paul Muldoon in the last few years. I have a bunch of his books but I saw him do a reading in a church in Oxford recently which was really great. He does such odd things with words.
You have lived and studied in both Dublin and Oxford, what are the respective poetry scenes like?
The Dublin poetry scene continues to amaze me, there’s so much on. This year was particularly packed I think because there were so many 1916 centenary-themed events. The publicity around 1916 stuff was so everpresent in Ireland, but what I noticed was that loads of poetry events found really original takes on the centenary celebrations so it never really seemed overdone, and I think that’s a good indicator of the huge creative diversity the city is currently experiencing. Oxford was different and in part I still feel unqualified to comment on its scene because I lived there for so short a time. When you think about it, in comparison I’ve been living in Dublin pretty much my entire life! But my sense was that since it’s a smaller place, there are fewer events on, which is inevitable. But I saw – and participated in – some really interesting nights where the standard was very high, particularly a night called Gin & Phonics that’s run by the Oxford Poetry Society. They have a huge interdisciplinary range of performers – DJ’s, poets, comedians, acoustic musicians – and this sounds like a cliché but no two acts are the same, it’s really varied.


Did you write much poetry as a teenager? I really hope you wrote bad angsty poetry too, although in your case it was probably good angsty poetry!
I actually didn’t write poetry at all during that time! I wish I had though, for the cringe value. I was really uncool and terrified of having unusual hobbies that would surely further confirm the depths of my uncoolness. That was the logic. But when I was a kid I did the thing of trying to write fantasy novels about people who lived in forests and horses who could talk and stuff.
How did your poetry develop in college, through studying English Literature and through involvement with literary journals or events such as Cave Writings?
That’s a really interesting question, English Literature-wise I think I got influenced at first by Romanticism, which we had a module in in First Year, and with my sort of oversimplified understanding as an eighteen-year-old I thought ‘great! I can write all this poetry that is really aesthetically pretty and completely irrational and illogical’, and I tried to write these big eloquent rants that make no sense in retrospect. But that was still a good grounding, I think. Also getting a knowledge of things like postcolonial and feminist theory has given me a good background in social justice issues which would obviously help the poetry. College poetry events played a huge role because I basically didn’t write poetry at all before, and I started writing because a certain journal was looking for submissions, or a certain open mic night was on. So that was a big creative motivator. Cave Writings are brilliant, they started around my final year of college when I had got very set in my poetry ways, and they were doing all this mad stuff like pairing poetry with visual art or with factual talks about rugby and zoology and things. So that was a very refreshing perspective, I think what they do is really original.
Your poetry is very honest, and I think you tackle a lot of relatable topics from bad relationships/dating woes (‘Hey Hey Hi Hey Hi How Are You’), to anxiety (‘Plastic Cups’), and loneliness (‘Sometimes I Am Sad Here’). Do you find poetry therapeutic, and how do you feel about being so open in your work?
That is a really scary bit actually. There’s a level of distance when something’s written on a page because you can’t immediately picture the author and you sort of view the piece of writing in isolation. But the thing that’s quite bizarre about performance poetry, when you think about it, is that you are being seen and judged and there’s an implicit consensus that the poem is autobiographical, because you’re up there saying it. But it is really therapeutic, especially if a load of poets are performing together, because there’s a sense you’re all in the same boat. It does get a bit like a support group at times, which is sort of funny.


I’ve noticed a lot of your poems have ghosts, or creepy houses that seem alive. Would you say this is an interest in the supernatural, a sense of unease, or is it more a connection to the past?
I went through a phase when I was living in Oxford that definitely translated into there being a lot of spooky ghosts in the poetry. I was living in an old creaky attic room with a weird ancient wardrobe, and I was very isolated at times just studying up there so I’d be thinking over my whole past basically, so I guess there were both kinds of unease. I think I’m partially messing about the supernatural stuff (only partially) but not so much about the past stuff.
What role does place play in your poetry? You often write about rooms or houses and I love this image of Dublin: ‘could we count the lights in the office blocks still lit and watch the Liffey black and slow moving and thick like a void that reflects in a technicolour yawn all the neon and the litter and the lights left on and the tarmac glitter in the bruising dawn and the stuff that’s bitter and the stuff that’s gone.’
Place has such a role, and it’s generally Dublin, and it’s generally either Dublin in the early hours of the morning when everything’s a bit horrible and you’ve had an argument with someone, or the sort of mystical view of Dublin that arises when you’re walking around at night on wet streets remembering all the places where various things happened. But I do also write about other places I’ve temporarily lived, both in Ireland and abroad, so there is a definite recurrence of weird apartment rooms, and I think that signifies a different thing, a sort of alienation.
When you’re starting a poem, do you work it out on the page or verbally? And what do you think makes a poem more suited to the page, or to performance?
It usually starts because I get an idea for a pair of lines or something, going around in my head, but I’d do most of the actual composing of the poem on paper because my memory is terrible. I would say that performance poetry is generally more colloquial, sort of messier and more stream-of-consciousness or something, and that page poetry is more condensed and implicit. I know I write either long rhymey poems for spoken word, or very short minimal poems for the page, but that’s perhaps a needlessly black-and-white distinction. I think a lot of the poets I see performing, Niamh Beirne for instance or Lewis Kenny, write stuff that would be equally striking whether it’s performed or written down. I was at a Poetry Ireland talk recently where a bunch of these really good poets like Doireann Ní Ghríofa were all debating about spoken word, and they were saying that any poem that’s performed aloud should also be equally readable on the page. I agree there, now I’m not so sure my poems achieve that, but I definitely know some people whose spoken word poetry is really succinct and rhythmically precise, and you get the sense that it would be equally suited to the page and to performance.
How do you develop poems for spoken word? How do you learn them off, how have you grown as a performer?
I think the only poems I ever successfully finish are the ones that I write fully formed, all in the one go, like a sort of rant. Sometimes I’ll have an idea for a poem and I’ll be trying to make it work for ages, adding little bits here and there, but that’s usually a sign that it’ll eventually get abandoned. So I think maybe the most solid poems happen when I feel strongly about something on a particular moment. I honestly think my poems are easier to learn off than most because they rhyme like a song. I find non-rhyming poems almost impossible to memorise. I think I’ve grown since doing spoken word stuff because I think, as a performer, you have to view the entire night as a cohesive show that you’re participating in with all the other performers. I think you have to adapt and tailor your poems to what other people have done. That doesn’t necessarily mean pandering to a certain atmosphere or aesthetic, like going, ‘oh everyone’s been doing comedy stuff so I can’t do my serious poems, I’ll be a buzz kill’, or thinking ‘everything so far’s been really serious, will my poems seem too silly?’ But I DO think it teaches you to view yourself in relation to other performers, and calibrate your work to theirs. Like to refrain from doing a set that’s too similar to someone else’s if they’re on right before you, or to provide variety by dramatically changing the mood from that established by the previous poet.
Recently you have been writing poemlets ( I love ‘You’re Really Something’ and ‘Hypochondria’). What draws you to shorter poems, and how has your style developed?
My friend Saul Philbin-Bowman writes the shortest poems imaginable and I guess that’s where I got the idea, that and from things like the Scottish poet Edwin Morgan’s ‘One Word Poems.’ I just think there’s something really cheeky about poemlets. I had previously only written very long poems and I think I got very anxious that maybe I was incapable of being minimal, but I think now I’ve gone to the opposite extreme. I think I was studying loads of Beckett when I started writing poemlets, and I found his idea of trying to write less and less really attractive.

Alicia poemlet
Your first collection We Could Be in the Sky is being launched next week. Congratulations! How did you decide which poems to include and where did the title come from?
Thank you! I’m actually launching it with the help of the same friend, Saul, and we sort of came up with a structure where we’d include three poemlets, three medium poems, three long poems, and a short fiction piece. So it’s very structured, it’s all about the threes. Saul actually suggested the title since it’s the final line of one of my poems. It’s a reference to being on an aircoach bus on the way back from Cork when it’s completely dark outside, and you feel like you could be anywhere, like in the sky. I think it’s a nice sentence anyway.

We Could Be in the Sky will be launched in The Workman’s Club, Wellington Quay, Dublin at 8pm on Thursday June 23rd.

For more of Alicia’s poetry check out her website: https://aliciabyrnekeane.wordpress.com/

 

 

Top Ten 2016 Releases (so far!)

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Top Ten Tuesday is a feature run by The Broke and the Bookish in which bloggers make bookish lists. This week’s theme is our top 2016 releases so far.

Needlework – Deirdre Sullivan

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Nothing Tastes As Good – Claire Hennessy

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Knights of the Borrowed Dark – Dave Rudden

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How Hard Can Love Be? – Holly Bourne

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Shrill – Lindy West

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Children’s Children – Jan Carson

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Eligible – Curtis Sittenfeld

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Nina is Not OK – Shappi Khorsandi

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Making It Up As I Go Along – Marian Keyes

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Underwater – Marisa Reichardt

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