Thirty years after Penny Taylor’s death, Judith Taylor has published a book of her life, and it’s a beautiful tribute to a wonderful young woman. Crammed full of art, letters, stories, poems, photographs and memories.
The book is available here. Lesley at Scott Martin Productions was also fortunate to chat to Judith and John Taylor, and has put together a little film of that interview.
I am not sure if someone in my position is best suited to review this book. On the other hand, perhaps I am the best person. Let me explain. I have known all my life that I was adopted, and have borne that knowledge happily and without problems. I always believed that my parents were good people who wanted the best for me, and that my birth parents had felt the same.
This book told the tale of a simple Welsh girl, Bethan, who found herself pregnant in the years following the second world war. The father of her baby was an ex-prisoner of war who was working at her family’s farm. Their relationship was loving, though massively disapproved by the Bethan’s parents. Bethan is forced to give up her baby and Thorsten is forced to leave the farm.
I found the book to be initially confusing as I couldn’t always get my head around the characters. However, it didn’t take too long to understand the multiple viewpoints. It also didn’t come easily how Lucilla/Laura would narrate passages about herself in the third person.
Once I realised why this was happening, I relaxed into the book and couldn’t put it down.
The more I read of all the characters and their life difficulties, the better the book became.
I could write so much, but don’t want to give spoilers. All I will say is that most people might read this book assuming that a reconciliation between two lost souls (Lucilla and her birth mother, Bethan) would be the book’s inevitable heart-warming ending. However, the actual ending wasn’t expected, and the book was better as a result.
All I can say is that the book was beautifully written, gorgeous and poetic, particularly in the early chapters set in Wales. I felt such a strong sense of time and place.
‘The Adoption’s heart-wrenching themes are difficult and passion-inducing. So many times while I was reading this, I became angry at the treatment of victim characters.
Of course, Bethan and Thorsten shoudn’t have been forced to give up their baby to adoption, just as Harriet and Merfyn should not have been allowed to take the poor child and abuse her both emotionally and physically. I was adopted at about the same age, but my own experiences were wonderful. All I could think was Poor Lucilla.
Initially I wasn’t convinced that I would enjoy this book,. I felt it was either going to be too clinical (the name ‘The Adoption’ seemed to imply this) or that it would be saccharine-sweet and unpalatable. It was neither. Searching for a birth parent doesn’t always bring the expected and desired results, either with relation to the people involved, or with relation to how we might feel about it.
I loved ‘The Adoption’. I loved it far more than expected.
I’ve looked at this subject in some depth in my novelette, ‘Changes’ which is now part of a collection called ‘Conflict Management’ by Meredith Schumann.
Having just completed the reading of three books which meant nothing, and which irritated and which annoyed me, I was thankful that ‘The Sunday Philosophy Club’ had arrived at the top of my reading list.
It is the story of Isabel, who lives in genteel comfort with her daily housekeeper Grace. Isabel experiences the unfortunate falling of a young man from the top tier of a concert hall. When the young man dies, she can’t help wanting to know more, given that she was likely the last person to have eye contact with him before he hit the ground.
The book’s name comes about because Isabel is editor of a philosophy journal, and the book regularly refers to the ‘Sunday Philosophy Club’. As in ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ snippets of everyday life are interspersed with philosophical considerations and wonderings, both academic and everyday. We also get inside the head of Isabel. She’s intense, interesting and popular, but harbours a secret crush on her niece’s ex-boyfriend.
Having been encouraged to read quite a few of Alexander McCall-Smith’s other works, I came to this book with a preconceived idea of what TSPC might offer.
In general, I was pleasantly surprised. There were inevitably a few issues – for example, where the writing indicates the POV of more than one character. It is something I’ve worked hard to remove from my writing, so am ultra-aware.
But, as a philosophy graduate and a fan of music-related writing, a book featuring not only a philosopher but also a musician meant I was happy to continue reading this enjoyable and relaxing book. Though there was no real depth, no real character development, and no real plot, I did enjoy reading this rambling, ambling thought process and musings on everyday events.
It’s been a few years since I read a McCall-Smith book. I think I’ll read some more.
Have you ever walked into a gig and felt calm and inspired, even before the music begins? Even when you’re an ancient prog-folk-rocker like me, and even before you’ve sat down? Well, that’s what happened when I went to see Ivan Campo at Preston’s Harris Art Gallery on Valentines Day 2020.
Firstly, the location was gorgeous. I’ve been to the Harris many times before but never to an event, so my assumption was that the concert would be held in a suite deep within the building: somewhere dull and bland with flat acoustics and plenty of audience space. I couldn’t have been more wrong. When we arrived, the band were setting up in the space just behind the lobby’s glass doors. In front of the small stage we could see a chic collection of bistro style chairs and tables.
It was then that I realised this was to be an intimate gig of maybe 50 attendees, yet the space was vertically massive. The ‘concert hall’ was three storeys high, and the band’s tuning-up sounds floated around the tables and up, through the art galleries, into the stunning ceiling cavity. When the doors opened, we accepted a free glass of Prosecco, then sat ourselves directly in front of the stage.
Ivan Campo has a seemingly simple set up: Adam on lead vocals and guitar, Will on keyboard, guitars, backing vocals and glockenspiel, and Ben on guitars, bass, percussion, clarinet and backing vocals. But Ivan Campo’s sound is anything but simple. Of course, they utilise many elements of folk music, particularly in the vocal harmonies, but the band exhibit elements of pop and choral music too, as the band’s musical influences are multiple and complex.
Each person listening to their music would be aware of different influences, but I found myself hearing Nick Drake, early Crosby Stills, Nash and Young, The Beatles, The Trees, Mellow Candle and even early Genesis. I even detected elements of The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, though these are rare! In ‘Darling Diva’ , there’s definitely a Bonzo feeling to the enunciation and of the verses in particular, and with its near-muted backing voices, the lead voice floats.Whatever their influences, Ivan Campo’s musical talents blend together in a cohesive whirl of gorgeous sounds.
I didn’t stop smiling the entire time, as watching and listening to Ivan Campo transcended pleasure and became unaccustomed joy. Yes, it was certainly connected with the quality of the musical performance, but also with the music’s feel. It exuded positivity and optimism – particularly ‘The Bloodhound and the Fox’ with its gentle organ sound and powerful lyrics, and in the bouncy harmonies of ‘Roll On’ with its staccato guitar and enticing foot-tapping rhythm.
This gig showcased some great music that moved between genres. ‘Forgetful Fredrick’ had a great reggae/calypso sound with its snappy, syncopated guitar and jolly glockenspiel. Incidentally, the whistling in this and in other tunes is an unexpected pleasure that’s simple but so effective. More jolliness arises in ‘Lotus Eater’ – a feel-good song with an early-Beatles skiffle feel, that changes to The Everly Brothers when they sing ‘Every day, gets a little stronger’. Taking a totally different tack, ‘A Chancer’ incorporates reggae-sounding rhythm guitar and a gorgeous lead guitar in this understated piece. Taking another direction, ‘Roller Disco’ tells of waking up in 1959 wanting to go to a roller disco. With its delightful hand shaker, doo-wop backing vocals sound and bass, it is funny, sweet and very feel-good. Weirdly, ‘Local Dealer’s catchy piano reminds me of Billy Bragg’s ‘Waiting for the Great Leap Forward’!
Ivan Campo have a wonderful percussive sound, especially as there is no drum kit. Everything is percussive! Consider ‘Season of the King’ with its gorgeous, rolling piano and motifs, with a tune that particularly suits Adam’s voice, and is brought into another dimension with the clicked-fingers percussion, shakers and syncopated rhythms. Also, in ‘The Mirror’ , amidst the gorgeous seemingly-complex harmonies of a tune that seems too pure to have arisen in our cynical times, the timings are satisfying and tight, assisted by sonorous clarinet notes and the clicking of clarinet keys for percussive effect.
The harmonies and the way the voices merge together are just mild-melting. In ‘The B&B’ the lyrics are great ‘ I know I’ll survive only if I try’, ‘A real reverie.’. ‘Wouldn’t you agree?’ ‘Was it all just a dream?’ My particular favourite part is the ‘It’s difficult. Impossible to see.’ There’s something astonishing about how those harmonies are delivered and how the words are articulated with a beautiful use of silence. In ‘Invisible Man’, the simple effective guitar picking is topped with almost-whispered singing of ethereal harmonies, and the simplest of keyboard accompaniments. ‘Crome Yellow’ presents us with such a Kinks-like feel at the beginning (Kinks but darker), with rich folk harmonies, and syncopated rhythm guitar. In ‘One Minute War’, the articulation of the word ‘Suddenly’ is gorgeous.
Not every band is able to use sparsity to the best effect, but Ivan Campo does. They use a chugging guitar sound on ‘Hurricane Ivan’ to start, and this is reflected by the singing style. As the song progresses, the tune becomes more lyrical, though the sparseness of the arrangement is effective. In ‘Blind Spot’ the harmonies and lyrics are exceptional especially on the lead up to the chorus. Even the chorus is pretty sparse, but so beautiful as a result.
It’s as if the band has fully orchestrated, then stripped right down to only what was essential.
And it is this musical self-awareness that made the band so special. These guys were not afraid of using their instruments and voices unpretentiously. ‘Liquor Mountain’ was sweet and reminiscent of something in the long ago past, and ‘Obscene Dream’ was glorious with its descending and ascending sweetness, and of silence. And again, reminiscent of a time gone by with its gentle, almost-whispered singing, ‘Rat Race’ begins in the manner of one of those brilliant busking tunes that cheers you as you walk past. But soon it becomes a hush little baby style version of something Beatles-like. How could such a thing be described in mere words? In ‘Could the Devil be a Gentleman’ I was instantly reminded of the Orkney and Shetland folk I adored in my teen years. I love the clarity of the fingerpicked guitar and the sound of the voices, especially the line ‘By the thoughts of a restless day’ which gives me tummyache and brings tears to my eyes.
This was one of the best gigs I have ever attended. Perhaps the best.
Acoustic music is often considered to have less breadth and depth. Not so. Of course, the grandeur and echo-chamber effects of the venue added to the atmosphere. But it was all about the band and their pure music. I purchased Purchased four Ivan Campo EPs on my way out – and have been listening to them ever since. This will definitely not be my final Campo gig.
Read this book ‘No Matter What‘ by Lesley Atherton
Review by Guest Blogger, Lauren O’Neill
‘No Matter What‘ is a short tale told from the point of view of Jayne Smith, a ghost writer who loves her job. She enjoyed the challenge of trying to write a book, autobiography or memoir in a way that it would seem her clients had written the books themselves. That is, until a certain supermodel named Hawk was sent her way, bringing not only stress and trouble along with him but also a past that Jayne had long since left behind.
Lesley Atherton does a really good job of drawing you in and keeping you there and interested until the very end. Usually for me, short stories are just something to read to pass the time but with ‘No Matter What‘, I found myself enthralled with every word.
Even for a short story, each chapter flowed easily from one to another, I never found it difficult to get to the next page, never got stuck on a paragraph and never struggled to find the motivation to continue.
Jayne Smith, the protagonist of the story, is a woman who doesn’t find the need to impress or be a different person just to appease her peers and clients. Throughout ‘No Matter What’, I noticed how I didn’t agree with everything she believed but I still wanted her to come out victorious, be it ignoring the “supermodel version of Christopher Ecclestone” that was Hawk or being able to one day get the recognition she truly deserved for her hard work.
Without giving too much away, I saw myself mentally making note of every word she wrote, putting it away for later. This may just be a short fiction story but within it, you’ll find many things you could put to use in your life. As I started reading, I had somewhat of an idea in my head on what ‘No Matter What‘ was going to be about. Boy was I wrong!
For a 64 page story, there were so many twists and turns that kept me guessing and I have to admit, I never would have predicted what was going to happen and I think that’s quite a feat.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed ‘No Matter What’: the story was interesting, gripping and even quite helpful in some places. It kept me intrigued and excited to keep on reading to find out what happened to Jayne and if Hawk had caused any more trouble for the poor woman.
I would definitely recommend ‘No Matter What‘ to you if you enjoy a quick little fix of humour, excitement, mysterious supermodels and a ghost writer with more to her than she lets on, if you enjoy all that, then this is the story for you.
See also ‘Conflict Management’ by Meredith Schumann, Lesley Atherton’s new author name.
David Holding takes a wander through Victorian Bolton in his book ‘The Dark Figure: Crime in Victorian Bolton’ so I thought I’d stroll through the 21st Century version, for good and for bad.
Second, some goods.
Skaters yell to each other. Despite the heat and
brightness of the day, they wear long sleeves and beanies and there isn’t a
single t-shirt or pair of sunglasses to be seen. We watch as they zoom about,
but we’re mainly looking at their facial expressions – pride, cool,
nonchalance… The joys of being young.
We park in the multi storey where weekend
parking is free, and we manage to find a spot on the first floor. It’s never happened before.
Thirsty, we flop into a café for a much-needed drink.
I can’t place the accent of the man who takes our order, but he’s so friendly
and recognises us from our previous visits. He asks about the family and gives
us each a toasted teacake on the house.
We spend two hours rummaging round X-Records and
emerge with music, DVDs and a pretty funky Led Zepp-inspired shirt. I absolutely
love the friendly organised chaos of this place.
We decide to eat at the Cherry Moon café, just
up the road. It is a place for gamers of all types, for comic book fans, and for
diners who like good food. We certainly go mad for their halloumi fries, and my
crushed avocado on sourdough toast is superb. Yep, this has to be the coolest
and friendliest place ever. Oh, happy days.
A community police officer smiles at us and comments ‘Isn’t it a beautiful day?’ If he’d been wearing a bowler hat or flat cap I’m sure he would have raised it for me. ‘It’s certainly warm, I reply. ‘I think the lions are happy’. I gesture over to the distinctive town hall step statues, and note the affection for the town’s people in the officer’s eyes. ‘Good job. We don’t want hungry lions rampaging round Bolton. We have enough problems.’
We do our fish and vegetable shopping in the
covered market. The place is clean and bustling and the choice is fantastic. We
purchase Caribbean curry to accompany the fish, and I suspect the man dishing
out the chickpeas is the cheeriest person in the whole town. We leave, arms clutching
food bags and faces glowing with anticipation of our evening meal. It feels
We take a trip round the museum and gallery and
discuss the photographic exhibition and Egyptian displays. Another two hours
happily spent. We don’t call in at the aquarium this time, as we need to get
The roads are busy, but I’m astonished when a
pedestrian stranger leads us from the car park and onto the road. He holds up
the traffic with a grin, and waves as we drive away.
David Holding takes a wander through Victorian Bolton in his book ‘The Dark Figure: Crime in Victorian Bolton’ so I thought I’d stroll through the 21st Century version, for good and for bad. First, some bads.
The car park’s one we’ve been to hundreds of times,
but they’ve changed the entry method. We assume it’s owing to the homeless
people who regularly slept on the landings, and perhaps also the drug transactions
we’ve seen occurring in this place which stinks of urine and is peppered with
Three men sprawl on the ground, backs leaning up
against a wall. One is more lying than sitting and the other two surround this
incapacitated friend. ‘Spice’ a woman says, as we pass. Sugar and spice and
things not nice.
A woman squats on the corner wearing a filthy,
navy blue sleeping bag. We pass a little later when she’s being questioned by the
community police officers who wander the town centre. She is insisting that she
was innocent of a crime, while they are insistent on her guilt. A small crowd
gather to listen. Meanwhile, a young near-toothless man, lies on a nearby bench
and watches with open mouth.
Undeterred by cardboard policemen at the pound
shop’s entrance, an elderly lady in an unseasonably heavy camel coat pockets a chocolate
In a large health and beauty shop, a dead-faced woman hovers by the make-up stands. She opens tubes, installing their contents on her face inexpertly and with speed. When two young staff members inform her that this is not acceptable, she immediately scurries away without a word.
A charity shop assistant discusses their recent spate of shoplifting, and the cheek and sense of entitlement of such people. Another customer comments: ‘They must be pretty desperate to steal from this place’. The two workers ignore her slight.
Three young boys scare an elderly woman with their
play fighting. She stumbles, and the boys disperse.
Two teen girls mock a larger than average woman
who is reclining in an arcade-salon chair to get her eyebrows done. Her body
spills over, and the teens, with perfect skin and perfect bodies, point and
laugh. The woman hears, and her smile freezes.
It’s June 23rd 2019,
and I want to say a massive happy 83rd birthday to Richard Bach, author of 70s
classic, ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’.
Back in the 80s, I discovered this mind-blowing book in the eclectic library of two aging peace campaigners. I read it in a single sitting, then immediately began again. It delivers the clearest of messages:
It isn’t only acceptable to be different – difference is desirable.
Society inevitably values conformity when really it should be seeking uniqueness, free-thinking and transcendence.
Of course, stability, regularity and rules are important.
But there is always space for those who think outside these
limits, as ‘Jonathan’ does.
Plot-wise, ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ focuses on a radical young seagull who has ambitions to live differently to his fellow gulls. They exist only to eat, but Jonathan spends his days in more noble pursuits – perfecting experimental flying techniques. Undaunted by failure, even being ostracised by his fellow gulls doesn’t make him give up.
Like Jonathan, achieving my own ambitions hasn’t always been
easy, but this book has given me the strength to carry on more times than I
care to remember.
And it’s because of this that I recommend EVERY writer read this book, and EVERY artist. In fact, EVERY creator of EVERY kind.
But this isn’t only a book for creators, it’s a book for any free-thinker, and for everyone who has experienced isolation, disassociation or social exclusion – you too have much in common with this short novel’s titular character, and will have much to gain from Richard Bach’s writing.
So, Richard, have a wonderful birthday. Mine is one small voice among many, but I’m grateful to you for making me realise it’s OK to stand out, to leave behind the familiar, and to work towards achieving your dream, no matter what.
The protagonist of James Lee Burke’s ‘Heaven’s Prisoners’ is a man called Dave Robicheaux. He sounds a good guy who is trying to put a ‘life of violence and crime behind him, leaving homicide to run a boat-rental business in Louisiana’s bayou country.’
So, that’s all well and good. Potentially interesting, even.
Within the first few pages we read of Dave who is out fishing with his wife, Annie, and how they observe a small plane crashing into the sea. It isn’t long before Dave dives to the wreckage and finds four bodies and a little girl, barely alive.
At this point I was still thinking I might enjoy the book. After all, the first few pages set a colourful scene of bayou fishing and Louisiana life, but things quickly went downhill. The largest part of this novel was truly awful. Of the 350 pages in this edition, I found only 25 or so in any way compelling…
The film of the book was described as an ‘erotic thriller’ and it is obvious within a few pages of beginning the book that that the reader would be subjected to more than the average number of sex scenes. To be fair, those scenes aren’t badly written, but there are far too many. Also, they are relatively tasteful, but not at all erotic!
Though the book was written in the 1980s, the style and
language of the writing were far more reminiscent of the early 20th
century, say the period between the 30s to 50s. I wish I could say that I
enjoyed the dated feel as generally I do love early 20th century
work, but it was irritating. Almost offensive.
I don’t think I’ve read another book where the writer thinks it is adequate to simply describe person after person as ‘Negro’ – as if that is the only character point of any relevance. I would definitely have preferred to hear how white sweat drops dropped onto a black man’s skin while he did something or said something, rather than hearing yet another simple telling that there was a ‘Negro man’ over there. Within two chapters I was getting VERY annoyed. Within four, I was bored. And I’m a person who NEVER gets bored.
Most of the book is about revenge, low-life people, drinking, drugs, crime, murder, whoring and eating. Sigh.
The book begins with a crashed plane, but the plot (such as it is) soon deviates from this. It should have been the focal issue, yet instead served merely as an introduction, and as a way of bringing a little girl Alafair (who was largely irrelevant to the story) into the life of Dave. Instead we get plots and sub-plots, wonderings, erratic action and pointless crimes. None of these seem to drive the story forward, instead just confuse the reader. Despite the plot’s meanderings, the writing style was far too simplistic and regularly incorporated a ‘the sky was blue’ feel which was deeply unsatisfying to the reader.
‘Heaven’s Prisoners’ – I’m not even sure I understand where it got its name. Neither writing nor story were heavenly and my attention was at no point held captive.
I was utterly gobsmacked to discover it had been regarded so highly that
it was made into a film. One word comes most readily to mind – ‘Why?’
In short, ‘Heaven’s Prisoners’ was dated, dull and not at all deep. The front cover made a tasty snack for my guinea pig, and that’s the best I can say about the book and its contents.
When writing of any claustrophobic situation, three factors are key.
The characters must be multi-dimensional.
The writing must be deep and psychologically detailed.
The lack of various settings must be countered by an unputdownable plot.
The lifeboat drifts
Other reviewers of ‘The Lifeboat’ have indicated that it offers personal insights and rich characterisation, and that it is ‘unputdownable’. I desperately wanted to love this book as the setting is fascinating. The book is mainly set in a lifeboat following the disastrous failing of a ship on its way to New York. The lifeboat drifts, at first one of many, then later, apparently alone.
A retrospective perspective
The vast majority of the book is written retrospectively by
the main character, Grace. Following her rescue, Grace and another two lifeboat
survivors (both women) are put into prison awaiting trial for their role in the
murder of Mr Hardie, an experienced seaman. Initially he’d kept the 30-strong lifeboat
going, but his instability predicated his eventual downfall. Not enough was
made of his drifting into the realms of the unreliably insane – and the
rebellion of his fellow lifeboaters came too quickly and as somewhat of a
Worse, in terms of the story itself, Grace relates events in a journal and does so solely for the purposes of justifying her actions. Inevitably, the reader then experiences nothing beyond the ‘facts’.
The journal was as cold as a court transcript, and as dry as a ship’s log
I’d been excited to read ‘the Lifeboat’ but Grace’s journal seemed to just plod along relating largely pointless details of lifeboat life, never once getting properly inside the survivors’ heads. The journal was as cold as a court transcript, and as dry as a ship’s log. Was this done intentionally as a stylistic choice?
The book enlivened a little only after the scantily described rescue had taken place and when three women were incarcerated awaiting trial. Such trials did take please in the nineteenth century, yet this fictional account seems unbelievable. Contrived, even. As did manipulative Grace’s final resolution.
Had this book been less about the day to day and more about the mental grief, it would have succeeded. But, for me, it failed as the characters weren’t up to the challenge. Had ‘The Lifeboat’ done this, I would have been unable to put it down. Sadly, it sunk.