A Very Literary Cake

By Inés Gregory Labarta

NWLSMay163The very last Northwest Literary Salon of the season and I promised myself I wouldnt cry – in front of everyone, I mean. It has been a year full of inspiring authors, a friendly audience of fellow readers and writers and the excellent company of the best hosts one could ask for: Yvonne and Naomi. And we have also been spoiled with the talent of musicians such as Noni and the culinary skills of our dear Filbert’s Bakery from Lancaster.

No wonder I have been mourning since then!  Because this was the last NWLS of the season, Yvonne and Naomi brought us three writers instead of two: Paul McVeigh, Essie Fox and Sophie Duffy.

Essie Fox is an incredibly talented author (check out Elijah’s Mermaid if you love the Victorian era!) and illustrator. I had the pleasure of discussing our mutual love of all things Gothic and how collecting books can become a question of life or death (I’m referring to the danger of bookshelves so incredibly loaded with volumes that the possibility of an avalanche  seems increasingly likely).

Many people had told me afterwards that Sophie Duffy‘s vivid descriptions brought them back to the happy days when they were students at Lancaster University during the 1970’s. As a student now, I feel very proud to know my university has made it to the world of fiction, and I’m particularly intrigued about her novel Bright Stars because it also depicts my favourite city in the world – Edinburgh!

One of the things everyone loves about the NWLS is the storytelling, the opportunity to get to know different characters whilst exploring exotic settings. And Paul McVeigh took this to another level: his performance was as good as seeing a play, as he suddenly metamorphosed into a witty twelve-year-old from Belfast – the young narrator of his novel, The Good Son.


All the writers shared advice on what to do while you’re waiting to get your work published. It seems easy to envy those who are accumulating awards and going around the country launching their books, but what many people tend to forget are all the years – sometimes even decades! – of hard work behind the scenes.Paul McVeigh explained that after his first novel was published, his strategy was to stop writing for a while and focus on promoting it as much as he could. Are we writers supposed to adopt the role of ancient minstrels and go around sharing our stories? I personally think it sounds appealing…


NWLSMay162All this was topped off by a beautiful (and heavenly) cake by Filbert’s. Everyone had the chance to speak to the authors, meet new people and discuss affairs from the literary world. It is because of events like this that we, lonely creatures known as authors, leave our desks and get out the real world to get inspiration and motivation from people who understand and share our struggles.


This first season of NWLS was supported by Lancaster University, Lancaster Arts City’s First Friday initiative, and the lovely staff at Waterstones. It wouldn’t have been possible without the the effort and dedication from its founders, Naomi and Yvonne along with the support and talent of many musicians as well as Filbert’s Bakery. A lovely group of volunteers helped every single month to receive people at the door, set up and distribute food and beverages, and, the loyal audience brought warmth and curiosity. We rarely had an empty seat!

Have you enjoyed the NWLS with us? Are you like me still mourning the end of this season? Lets keep promoting it so a second season arrives soon!

Three Authors for the North West Literary Salon Anniversary!

by Inés Gregory Labarta

The North West Literary Salon has been bringing you stories, writers, music, food and the best literary company for almost a year now. As all the good things in life, our first season comes to an end, but our lovely hostesses, Yvonne Battle-Felton and Naomi Kruger dont want to go without launching one last great literary party. Victorian mysteries, the possibility of learning why Creative Writing matters, and a writer who can use twitter to tell stories: all this on Friday 6th May, 7pm at Waterstones, Lancaster. Want to join us?

Paul McVeighPaul McVeigh has written plays and short stories, but his first novel, The Good Son, came out in 2015. This story is set in the authors hometown of Belfast during the troubles, and it has been said that it envelops the reader with humanity and its down-to-earth humour leaves you laughing. Paul is involved in several projects such as The Word Factory and the London Short Story Festival and shares writing tips and interesting news on his blog. Curious about him? Listen to his short story Tickles!



SophieB&W-Matt-Austin-44Sophie Duffy was bored so she decided to take a Creative Writing evening class in Sussex. Now she has three novels published and has received several prizes such as the Luke Bitmead Award for The Generation Game. Were proud to say shes also a graduate from the Lancaster University Creative Writing MA. Wish you could ask her how to achieve success in writing and publishing? Sophie shares her knowledge through Creative Writing Matters, a writing school of international reach.


Essie Fox for BiogEssie Fox started working in the publishing industry as an illustrator, and finally as a writer. All her gothic stories are inspired by the fascinating Victorian Era, so if youre a fan of Penny Dreadfuls, corsets or spiritualism you probably want to read her novels. Her blog, The Virtual Victorian, will also bring you an insight into this period of contrasts. For example, did you know that mermaids liked to swim around Herefordshire? Elijah’s Mermaid is inspired by this belief



If writing is your path, come to the final literary salon of the season to share experiences with people who have taken the same route. If youre an avid reader, what could be better than having the author by your side, reading you her or his own words? Add delicious food from Lancasters local – and loved – bakery, Filberts, as well as live music and the best company – students, artists and book lovers.

Sound like a good Friday plan?

Check out our free tickets and bring along friends to celebrate the North West Literary Salon’s Anniversary!

April’s salon: Falling for two debut writers

April’s First Friday falls on the very first day of the month, and in the spirit of fresh beginnings, we will be welcoming two talented debut writers to the North West Literary Salon.


Deborah Andrews’ first novel Walking the Lights will be published by Freight in June 2016. Described as a ‘feminist Withnail & I’, the story centres on Maddy, a young actor finding her way and facing her past in mid-90’s Glasgow. Deborah will be giving us a sneak preview of what’s in store and answering questions about her journey as a writer.




Society of Authors Awards June 2011Kim Moore  Eric Gregory Awards
Society of Authors Awards June 2011 Kim Moore Eric Gregory Awards

Kim Moore’s first collection The Art of Falling includes poems steeped in realism and the language of the North. They touch on diverse themes including relationships, music, wolves and the people and places of Kim’s native Cumbria. Described as ‘vigourously alive’, ‘direct and compelling’ the poems seem like an appropriate way to welcome in the cruelest month, waking us up as the nights get lighter, ‘not designed to soothe or beguile’.


Order your FREE tickets, and join us on Friday April 1st at Waterstones, King Street, Lancaster for an evening of words, discovery, beginnings, food, discussion and music. We’d love to see you there!

The Intangible Line Between Reality and Fiction: Literary Talks

By Shona Jackson

It’s Friday evening, dusk has settled and the North West Literary Salon is humming with conversation and the lilting acoustics of local musician Noni. As our writers take their seats, an evening of fantastical worlds and candid realities unfolds.

Writer and journalist Kirsty Logan begins the evening with a reading of the title short story from her award-winning collection The Rental Heart. She effortlessly marries an urban, contemporary landscape with fairy-tale whimsy. As the ebb and flow of lovers passes through the narrator’s life, they rent and subsequently return clockwork hearts. It’s poignant, enchanting, but also strikingly raw. Kirsty quips about being twenty-four and melodramatic when she wrote the piece following a break-up, of wanting to take out her heart and buy a new one. The second piece she shares is ‘The Elephant Dance’ from her short story collection The Portable Shelter. In it, she invokes a familiar trope, that of running away with the circus. But rather than escaping past wrongs, the protagonist embraces her mistakes, gleeful to see them bound in tight ropes and glittering. Logan uses fairy-tales and the fantastical as a lens through which to examine human realities, framing the familiar in an enchanting new light.

Next, acclaimed novelist Charles Lambert reads excerpts from his book, With a Zero at its Heart, a collection of prose fragments. Twenty-four chapters, with ten paragraphs, each 120 words. There’s something inherently satisfying about the exactness. The sections frame fleeting memories like photographs, they’re ephemeral, but intense, vivid. Charles was half way through writing the book when his mother died. The knowledge adds a certain urgency to his words, a necessity to pin down and preserve memories. As he reads, we fall through playful childhood recollections, spelling sex in wooden blocks while his mother watched Emergency Ward 10, drifting into meditations on words: some are silky smooth like blancmange. The most striking section draws on Lambert’s expatriate life in Italy. It depicts a nightmare of waking up in the country he was born to find he can no longer speak the language, reduced instead to babyish murmurs. The collection is exquisite, resonant; delving into the capacities of memory and imagination.

Both of our writers blur the line between fiction and reality. Kirsty’s stories are otherworldly, yet at their core lies raw human experience, and while Charles’s writings seem biographically rooted, narrating memory feels an awful lot like creating fiction too. Join us next month for more literary wonder.

North West Literary Salon 4th March: Spring Awakening

By Shona Jackson

With spring lingering on the horizon, and a long catalogue of alphabetised storms (hopefully) behind us, the grey skies and icy northern winds are beginning to mellow. If you’re still thawing from the winter months, then get your FREE tickets and wander along to the North West Literary Salon on Friday 4th March at 7pm, for a restorative bout of literary sunshine with our esteemed writers. As always, there’ll be music, nibbles and an abundance of engaging conversation.

CharlesLamberNovelist Charles Lambert lives and writes in the central Italian town of Fondi. His debut novel Little Monsters is a bildungsroman, bridging the landscapes of WWII Britain, and post-war Italy. Beautifully written and intensely thrilling, we follow the protagonist’s journey through time, as sinister threads from the past threaten to unfurl once again in the present. His most recent book, The Children’s Home, is a gripping neo-gothic fairy tale, described by Kirkus Reviews as a ‘one-of-a-kind literary horror story’. Lambert follows in the vein of greats such as Nail Gaiman and Roald Dahl, yet with psychological unease, palpitating suspense and surprising glimmers of hope, Lambert’s work promises a refreshing twist on classic genres.

KirstyLogan_CreditToMonkeytwizzleWriter and journalist Kirsty Logan resides in Glasgow with her fiancé and rescue dog. Her enchanting short story collection The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales, takes an age-old form and reshapes it with the lick of modernity. Adorned with fantastical imagery, her short stories navigate clockwork hearts, paper men, lascivious queens and a floating circus. The collection was the acclaimed winner of the Saboteur Award for Best Short Story Collection, among numerous other accolades. Her debut novel The Gracekeepers features the dreamy yet tumultuous seascapes of a flooded world, and traces the journeys of two women fighting against an encroaching tide.

For a little spring awakening this month, join us at the North West Literary Salon on the 4th March for thrillers, fairy tales and thought-provoking discussion.

February Literary Salon: A Master Class in Death and Destruction


by Shona Jackson



On Friday 5th, Lancaster is dark and dank, streetlights glare, and the wind moans as I make my way along King Street. Inside the salon the brooding atmosphere continues, with gripping readings of a slightly sinister nature from our esteemed writers.

Acclaimed novelist, poet and playwright Dennison Smith kicks off the evening with a reading from her latest book, Eye of the Day. Her lilting drawl takes us to 1930’s Vermont, on a night guttering with fire and rain. In the dark, a locomotive crashes and a man is impaled, in a gripping scene of tragedy and violence, pitted in the wilderness. An extract from a further chapter brings us back within the safety of four walls, though domestic space in the novel proves equally as disconcerting. A faded woman sucks martini olives, trading uncomfortable truths with her nephew who lingers uneasily. Dennison is an expert at painting subtle shades of violence- from external, explosive events within the earthy landscape to internalised trauma framed within domestic walls. As she reads, she enthrals her audience. She seems to be speaking from inside the novel, within the shoes of her characters. Later, in the Q & A, Smith speaks about the personal threads of the narrative, her familiarity with the landscape and the intertwined strands of her own family history.

Writer and lecturer Sarah Dobbs reads the first chapter of her debut novel Killing Daniel. We enter the narrative in a submersion, as a thrashing body is plunged into a lake and held down. It’s a gripping, nightmarish montage, rich in textures: worn brown leather, a glimpsed tattoo, purpled lips and water-pooled eyes. The scene is vivid, arresting, with almost lyrical descriptions balancing the grotesqueness of the murder. After, as though for light relief, Sarah reads a commissioned short story, Bone in the Ant. She takes us inside a bustling café, loud with chatter and the slurp of drinks. Cutting through the chaos with chilling clarity are the absentminded thoughts of an adolescent girl, pondering how to kill her twin, who suffers from locked-in syndrome. Not so light relief. Sarah is endearing as she reads, re-writing her work as she goes, I’m going to change that bit. Yet, as it is, her work is startling, poignant, and effortlessly evocative. A further string is added to her bow with the reading of a poem, I Will Repeat You– a heart-wrenching conversation with grief.

Both writers are experts at extremes- crafting intricate scenes of violence, trauma and pain. Their work is a testament to their talent as writers, and their ability to imagine beyond their own parameters. As Dennison Smith macabrely remarks in the Q and A, it only takes killing a fly to experience, albeit on a minute scale, the act of murder.

Escaping the February Blues

by Shona Jackson

February is a liminal month, caught somewhere in the limbo between winter and spring, biting cold winds and occasional bouts of sunshine. If the temperamental weather is leaving you distinctly blue, the North West Literary Salon is the perfect antidote. Join us on Friday 5th February at Waterstones, King Street, for an evening of escapism with our esteemed writers.

1461-DennisonSmith2014-083Dennison Smith, a novelist, poet and award-winning playwright, lives between a small island in Canada and London. Her first novel, Scavenger, adapted for the stage as Desert Story, is a cross-cultural work caught between the artifice of the American suburbs and the earthy spiritualism of a Navajo reservation. Lyrical and potent, Smith refers to it as her ‘most autobiographical novel’. Eye of the Day, her latest book, tracks the journey of two protagonists, divided by class, across 1930’s America during World War Two. Dennison Smith handles the historical novel delicately, carving new narrative terrain from the familiar pages of history.

SarahDobbsSarah Dobbs is a writer and lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Sunderland. Her first novel, Killing Daniel, is a cross-cultural thriller, charting the parallel stories of Fleur in Manchester, and Chinatsu in Japan, and their possibility of reconnection. It’s a novel of tightly held secrets, cutting betrayals and bold, engaging characters. Dobbs is also the author and co-editor of English Language, Literature and Creative Writing: A practical guide for students. She is currently launching the University of Sunderland’s inaugural short story award, and working on her second novel, Death Day.

On the 5th February, come in from the cold and warm yourself with live music, refreshments and engaging conversation. Order your free tickets here. Escape the bitter northern wind and drift across decades and continents with tales of warmer climates from our accomplished writers.